The Influence of Jan Hus on Martin Luther
by Dr. Jerry L. Terrill Jan (John) Hus was a major influence through his writings on the life and work of Martin Luther. Jan Hus was a university rector, theologian, and pastor/preacher of Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. As a priest, Jan Hus was one of the first Reformation figures to stand firm again the sale of Indulgences. He was one of the first priests to allow the common people to receive both the bread and the wine when taking part in the Holy Eucharist. Hus recognized the need to translate the Holy Bible from the Latin into the local language, Czech. He was excommunicated in 1409 in part for preaching in his native tongue. Hus further alienated the Pope by writing and speaking against Pope as the functional head of the church. Hus believed that only Christ could be the head of the church. Thus, Hus believed that God through his scripture was the final authority in matters of doctrine and ecclesiology.
In October 1414, Sigismund, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, guaranteed Hus safe conduct to the Council of Constance to defend his theological and philosophical beliefs. Within weeks of his arrival, Hus was seized and placed on trial for heresy. Hus was imprisoned in chains in a Franciscan monastery’s dungeon. Poorly fed and clothed in winter, he became increasingly weak and ill. Throughout his trial, Hus steadfastly asked that his writings and teachings be tested against Scripture. On the fifth of July 1415, Hus was found guilty of heresy. He was asked to renounce, recant, and deny his errors. Hus refused to do so. On the sixth of July, Hus was led out to be burned at the stake. Given one last chance to recant, Hus refused. Burned alive, his bones were then broken, and, subsequently, his bones and ashes were scattered in the river Rhine.
Martin Luther is said to have found a copy of Jan Hus’s sermons and, after reading them, stated, “I was overwhelmed with astonishment.” Luther later wrote, “I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill.” Martin Luther would go on to translate Hus’s letters and theological writings from the Latin into German.
It has been 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenburg. In doing so, Martin Luther forever changed the way we view our religious experiences and express our faith. Martin Luther‘s thoughts and beliefs were influenced by Jan Hus. Hus and Luther will continue to provide insights, wisdom, and guidance as we set out to change the world to which we are called to minister as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Dr. Terrill, Director of the Counseling Program and Professor of Counseling at Houston Graduate School of Theology, also serves as pastor of the Unity of the (Texas) Brethren congregation in the north Houston area.