Sep 26, 2009


Catholic Martyr to reform and the father of the Czech nation, Jan Hus, being burnt at the stake,
July 16, 1415

Before setting out this morning for the Church of Our Lady of Victories to welcome dear Pope Benedict, I will first walk over to Old Town Square, to lay a blood red rose at the statue of Jan Hus, the saintly reformer who died for many of the same issues of reform we are struggling for today some 600 years later. My apologies if this seems wearily familiar and even a little depressing, but somehow the memory of Hus fills me with peace and joy. After all, in the eyes of eternity, 600 years is less than an eye blink. I feel that Saint Jan is with us today as we welcome another representative of Petrus at the head of a church still struggling with the same issues which brought Hus to the stake in 1415. At the moment of his death, he was denied a confessor because it was deemed improper for a heretic to receive the sacraments (sound familiar?). Benedict, as a German,  will no doubt be well aware of the fact that the Hussite movement of reform was one of the defining elements in the rising sense of nationalism among the Czech people, many of whom resented the German domination of greater Bohemia.

The doctors of the university required from Hus and his adherents an approval of their conception of the Church, according to which the Pope is the head, the Cardinals are the body of the Church, and all regulations of the Church must be obeyed.

Hus protested vigorously against this conception since it made the Pope and cardinals solely the Church. Nevertheless, the Hussite party seems to have made a great effort toward reconciliation. To the article that the Roman Church must be obeyed, they added only "so far as every pious Christian is bound."

In explaining the plight of the average Christian in Bohemia, Hus wrote, “One pays for confession, for mass, for the sacrament, for indulgences, for churching a woman, for a blessing, for burials, for funeral services and prayers. The very last penny which an old woman has hidden in her bundle for fear of thieves or robbery will not be saved. The villainous priest will grab it.”

At the place of execution he knelt down, spread out his hands, and prayed aloud. Some of the people asked that a confessor should be given him, but one priest exclaimed that a heretic should neither be heard nor given a confessor. The executioners undressed Hus and tied his hands behind his back with ropes, and his neck with a chain to a stake around which wood and straw had been piled up so that it covered him to the neck.

At the last moment, the imperial marshal, Von Pappenheim, in the presence of the Count Palatine, asked him to recant and thus save his own life, but Hus declined with the words "God is my witness that I have never taught that of which I have by false witnesses been accused. In the truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, I will die today with gladness." He was then burnt at the stake.

Dying prophecy
Hus' last words as he was being tied to the stake were that, "in a hundred years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform can not be suppressed." Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses of Contention to a church door in Wittenberg 102 years later.[3

The Czechs, who in his lifetime had loved Hus as their prophet and apostle, now adore him as their saint and martyr, a national hero.
(taken from Wikipedia)

Two hundred hears later, at the battle of White Mountain, the independent 'Protestant' Czech nation was decisively crushed by the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Catholic League, and Roman Catholic culture was re-imposed by force on the Czech lands. The Jesuits entered the city of Prague en mass and engaged in a massive building campaign which made Prague one of the most 'churched' cities in  Europe, surpassed only by Rome for the number of churches per square mile.

As one looks over the skyline of the Old City, the evidence of this imposition is clear to see, giving the false impression of a very pious, religious city. But to the Czechs these steeples are simply a reminder of the profound humiliation of the Battle of Bila Hora when the Czech lands came under the domination of an imperial power that imposed it's religious ideology through force.

If you think this is just a bit of dry history, think again. The impact of this profound humiliation for the Czech peoples is written in blood in the stones of this melancholic city and accounts in large measure for the supposed 'atheism' of the Czech peoples. In fact, the Czechs find their spiritual sustenance in nature and  their salvation in music, and keep themselves far removed from religious ideologies.

When Pope Benedict steps inside the Church of Our Lady of Victories this morning, he will be entering a church first built by the Lutherns in 1613 and dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. After the Battle of White Mountain, when most Lutherans were driven out of the city, the church was handed over to the Carmelites who re-dedicated it (ironically) to  Our Lady of Victory.

Pope John Paul II, in a moment of genuine magnanimity in 1999, apologized for the cruel treatment meted out to Jan Hus and asked that an inquiry be opened into the possibility of removing the charge of heresy. I would go further and say the cause for his future canonization must begin.

Welcome to Prague, Pope Benedict, and may the spirit of Jan Hus inspire you.


William D. Lindsey said...

This is a beautiful and very moving meditation, Jayden. I have been to Prague only once, but on that visit, I was struck by impressions that you sketch so well, as someone who lives there.

I felt a deep sense of sadness in the city, one that seems to go far back into history and to have seeped into the stones of its streets and buildings. There's a sense of blood and injustice, surrounding religious struggles. It seems you can hardly walk a block without finding a monument to an execution of someone for religious reasons.

All of which helps me understand something you express so well--the general skepticism of Czech culture and Czech literature about grandiose ideologies that try to explain everything to us. I now see why nature and music count so much for the Czech soul, and why someone like Dvorak combines those two themes so beautifully in his work.

May Benedict learn from those among whom he walks in the Czech lands.

Jayden Cameron said...

that's probably the comment in which I mentioned I'd be wearing Arch. Burke's costume for our annual cabaret show in November. I know just the shop in Rome to get it, too, right down from the Pantheon.
A very moving experience today, but I'm too worn out from it to comment. Maybe tomorrow.

William D. Lindsey said...

Jayden, you're right, the comment was on my blog, and I had somehow failed to see it. Don't spend too much on those yards and yards of rouge silk. I have an inkling that such costumes could be rather expensive.

I am thoroughly enjoying your on-the-scene reports on Papa Ratzi in Prague. Good photos. They make me want to be there.