The Original Bohemian image

The Original Bohemian

Six hundred years ago today, Jan Hus was burned at the stake. A popular preacher who opposed corruption and indulgences, much like John Wyclif before him and Martin Luther after him, Hus had been lured to the Council of Constance with the promise of safe passage, but he continued to preach and serve the Mass. Eventually the authorities lost patience with him, and in breach of their arrangement, Hus was imprisoned, chained, and finally led to the stake as a heretic on 6 July 1415. (This was two months after Wyclif himself was condemned as a heretic, and just two days after the bull of Gregory XII was read, finally resolving the whole three popes omnishambles.) Not the Roman Catholic church's finest hour.

Luther was later to admit, in debate with Johannes Eck at Leipzig, that “we are all Hussites without knowing it.” So it is fascinating that two sources report the same prophecy being made by Hus as he died. The Protestant martyrologist John Foxe, in his Acts and Monuments, is (perhaps unsurprisingly) one of them. But the other, Poggius Floretini, was a Roman Catholic priest. Here’s how he described Hus’s death in a letter to a friend, Leonhard Nikolai:

Then Hus sang in verse, with an elated voice, like the psalmist in the thirty-first psalm, reading from a paper in his hands: β€œIn thee, O Lord, I put my trust, bow down thine ear to me.” With such Christian prayers, Hus arrived at the stake, looking at it without fear. He climbed upon it, after two assistants of the hangman had torn his clothes from him and had clad him into a shirt drenched with pitch. At that moment, one of the electors, Prince Ludwig of the Palatinate, rode up and pleaded with Hus to recant, so that he might be spared a death in the flames. But Hus replied: β€œToday you will roast a lean goose, but hundred years from now you will hear a swan sing, whom you will leave unroasted and no trap or net will catch him for you.” Full of pity and filled with much admiration, the Prince turned away.

Which, if the story is true, is pretty remarkable. When you add to that the fact that “Hus” sounds like the Czech for “goose,” Luther’s family crest was that of a swan, and that Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg just 102 years later, you’d have to say it’s very remarkable.

So if you’re a Protestant, and if Czech pilsner is your thing, then raise a glass tonight to Jan Hus, the original Bohemian. In spite of himself, he was the goose that, a century later, laid the golden egg.

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