Archive for the ‘Jan Hus’ Tag

Feast of Geert Groote (August 19)   Leave a comment

Above: Part of Europe in 1360

Image in the Public Domain


GEERT GROOTE (1340-AUGUST 20, 1384)

Founder of the Brethren of the Common Life


Always put more hope in eternal glory than in fear of hell.

–Geert Groote, quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (1997), 360


Geert Groote comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days (1997), via Ellsberg, All Saints (1997).

Before I write about Groote’s life, I ground this post in geography and history.  Know then, O reader, the following:

  1. During Groote’s lifetime, the city of Deventer was within the frontiers of the Bishopric of Utrecht (extant 1024-1528), within the Holy Roman Empire.  The leader of the Bishopric of Utrecht.
  2. Deventer is in The Netherlands in 2021.
  3. The Black Death (1347-1351), the most notorious and historically significant outbreak of the Bubonic Plague, occurred during Groote’s lifetime.  The rebuilding of civilization after the Black Death led to the beginning of the modern world, gave rise to many oppressed people rising up, and planted many seeds of the Protestant Reformation.  (As Norman Cantor, that great historian of the Middle Ages wrote, we live in the world the Black Death made.)  After at least half of the population of Europe had died within four years, societies were ready for revolutions.  There was no turning back the clock to the way Europe had been.

Groote, born in Deventer in October 1340, came from a secure and wealthy family .  He received a fine education, by the standards of the time, although portions of the curriculum would not have met the standards of 2021.  Our saint’s father worked in the municipal government of Deventer.  Groote, educated at the Sorbonne, Paris, emerged well-versed in topics ranging from theology and philosophy to astronomy and canon law.  He graduated in 1358.

Groote became a teacher.  He taught in Deventer (1362f) then in Cologne.  Via family connections, he received some ecclesiastical benefices.  The young and wealthy scholar led a selfish life.  Our saint, convicted of this sin at the age of 34 years, in 1374, gave up everything and became a guest at a Carthusian monastery near Arnhem.

The year 1374 took place during a revolutionary age in Western Europe.  The Black Death had not discriminated; it had killed many able churchmen.  Many of the replacements were of a lesser caliber.  In England, John Wycliffe (circa 1320-1384) had become a revolutionary in his later years.  He was well on the way to becoming the “Morning Star of the Reformation.”  Men who read his works in subsequent years and agreed with him included Jan Hus (1371-1415) and Martin Luther (1483-1546).

In 1374, when Groote became a guest at a Carthusian monastery, he converted his family home in Deventer into a shelter for impoverished women.  Our saint, who took his new, religious life seriously, became a Roman Catholic deacon.

Groote started preaching in the Diocese of Utrecht in 1379.  He traveled and preached for four years, until the Bishop of Utrecht revoked our saint’s preaching license by ordering that only priests could preach.  Groote made himself extremely inconvenient to many powerful, wealthy people.  He preached interior spiritual renewal.  Our saint encouraged meditation on the life of Jesus as the model of Christian virtue.  He also denounced ecclesiastical abuses.  These included greed, simony, and sexual misconduct.  Finally, in 1383, the Bishop of Utrecht halted Groote’s preaching.  The gag order remained effective until the final year of our saint’s life.

Communities of the “Devout,” or formally, the Brethren of the Common Life, practiced their faith “in the world,” not in a monastery or a convent.  They practiced the Devotia Moderna, which entailed being silent and alone, and meditating upon the Passion of Christ, on redemption, on one’s death, on the Last Judgment, and on Heaven and Hell.  The movement spread throughout the Low Countries and Germany.  One subsequent member of the Brethren of the Common Life was the great spiritual writer Thomas à Kempis (circa 1380-1471).  Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) also drank deeply of the legacy of our saint.  Erasmus, alive when the Protestant Reformation began, remained within the Roman Catholic Church, of which he was also sharply critical.

Groote resumed preaching in the final year of his life.  He also continued to minister to the sick.  By tending to a patient suffering from the Bubonic Plague, our saint contracted that disease, which caused his death.  Groote died in Deventer on August 20, 1384.

I harbor great respect and much affection for Holy Mother Church.  I, raised a Protestant, feel drawn to her.  Yet I remain on the banks of the Tiber River, so to speak; I have chosen not to cross that river.  I acknowledge that the Roman Catholic Church has been its own worst enemy, stifling reforms that would have staved off revolutions and schisms.  

  1. The Roman Catholic Church forbade Groote from preaching.
  2. The Roman Catholic Church executed Jan Hus as a heretic.  That execution was heretical.
  3. The Roman Catholic Church exhumed and burned the corpse of John Wycliffe.
  4. The Roman Catholic Church tried to have Martin Luther killed.  The Pope excommunicated Luther, whose Plan A did not include committing schism.  Then the Church blamed Luther for committing schism.

The Roman Catholic Church is not unique in being its own worst enemy, of course.  The other Christian communions have been their own worst enemies from their inception, too.  They also have blood on their institutional hands.  Do I need to write about the people John Calvin (1509-1564) and Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) had executed, for example?  And do I need to explain the witch hunts that members of various denominations committed in the Old and New Worlds?  Do I need to explain about Protestants martyring each other as well as Roman Catholics?  Do I need to list examples of Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox attacking and killing each other? I am not picking on the Roman Catholic Church and ignoring the sins of other Christian denominations and traditions.

Institutionalization, combined with a defensive attitude, has proven detrimental to the Church fulfilling its potential.  Geert Groote understood this truth.  His life testified to that fact.










Almighty God, we praise you for the men and women you have sent

to call the Church to its tasks and renew its life [such as your servant Geert Groote].

Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,

whose voices will give strength to your Church and proclaim the reality of your kingdom;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 46

1 Corinthians 3:11-23

Mark 10:35-45

–Adapted from the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 37


Feast of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus (July 6)   5 comments

Above:  Dawn with Mountain Landscape

Image in the Public Domain



English Theologian and Church Reformer

“Morning Star of the Reformation”

Also known as John Wiclif, John Wickliffe, and John Wyclif

Episcopal feast day = October 30

Church of England feast day = December 31


JAN HUS (1371-JULY 6, 1415)

Czech Theologian, Church Reformer, and Martyr

Also known as John Huss and John Hus

Moravian, Episcopal, and Lutheran feast day = July 6


It is better to die well than to live wickedly.  One should not sin in order to avoid the punishment of death.  Truth conquers all things.

–Jan Hus, 1415, quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), 292




One of my purposes in renovating my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days is to emphasize relationships and influences.  Therefore I, citing the latter, merge the Feasts of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus.

The Moravian Church, founded by Hussites, has long commemorated Hus, who has been a saint in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), and their predecessors since the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978).  The Episcopal Church added Hus and Wycliffe to its calendar in 2009.  Meanwhile, Wycliffe, with separate feast days in The Church of England and The Episcopal Church, has remained absent from all Lutheran calendars I have consulted.




Above:  John Wycliffe

Image in the Public Domain

The fourteenth century was a difficult time for much of Europe.  During five years in the late 1340s and early 1350s the Black Death killed no less than two-fifths (and probably more) of the population of Western Europe, upending civilization there and helping to give rise to the modern world.  The tumult of that time called authorities and institutions into question as, for example, many peasants revolted, many urban workers asserted their rights, and the Church restaffed with substandard personnel.  The devastating death toll called the legitimacy of the Church into doubt in the minds of many people, some of whom favored apocalyptic understandings of recent events.

Meanwhile, the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy (1309-1377) at Avignon, France, a great scandal, was a self-inflicted wound for Holy Mother Church.  Another great scandal and self-inflicted wound, the Great Schism of the Papacy (1378-1417), ensued promptly.

John Wycliffe lived during those times.  He, born near Richmond, Yorkshire, England, circa 1320, was a priest.  Wycliffe was also an academic at Oxford University.  He matriculated at Baillol College in 1344, became master of that college by 1360, and resigned in 1361.  He held overlapping portfolios:

  1. Rector of Fillingham (1361-1368);
  2. Prebend of Aust, Bristol (1362-1384);
  3. Warden of Canterbury Hall, Oxford (1365-1367); and
  4. Rector of Lutterworth (1374-1384).

Meanwhile, Wycliffe was also a lecturer at Oxford until his forced retirement in 1381.

Wycliffe, a popular lecturer and preacher, became a radical.  He, interested in science, theology, local history, canon law, and philosophy, earned various degrees, culminating in his Doctor of Theology degree in 1372.  His move away from affirming the status quo began in 1374, at the start of the last decade of his life.  (Not everyone grows more conservative with age.)  Wycliffe served as a royal envoy to a conference with papal representative at Bruges.  The topic was provisions, or papal appointments to posts not yet vacant.

By 1376 Wycliffe became a committed reformer of the Church.  He criticized papal taxation, fees, and appointments, perhaps more out of political considerations than theological ones.  Our saint, who affirmed the Divine Right of Kings, became convinced that in terms of both doctrine and life the Church had strayed from its apostolic roots.  He argued that the clergy should not hold secular power, so no Pope should exercise power over the English Church.  Furthermore, Wycliffe wrote, Christ is the sole Head of the Universal Church, the Bible is the Law of God, and the true Church consists solely of the predestined Elect.  Wycliffe also affirmed the priesthood of all believers, questioned the theology of purgatory and transubstantiation, opposed the veneration of relics and statues, inveighed against the invocation of saints, criticized the celibacy of the clergy, and insisted that the state (with the monarch as the head of the state church) had an obligation to seize church lands for the benefit of the poor.  Certainly the Great Schism of the Papacy (1378-1417), a time of competing Supreme Pontiffs, influenced and reinforced Wycliffe’s criticism of the Papacy.

Wycliffe alarmed Popes, bishops, and leaders of religious orders, but had protectors in the royal family and among the nobility.  Nevertheless, after he became a scapegoat for a peasant revolt and Oxford authorities declared him a heretic in 1381, forced retirement became his fate.

Wycliffe was fortunate; he got to live and to retain his church positions.  He died three days after a stroke at Lutterworth on December 31, 1384.  Wycliffe was about 64 years old.

Wycliffe’s legacy continued, however.  The translation of the Bible into English was a project in which he was deeply involved, with help from others.  Wycliffe’s theology influenced Jan Hus, Martin Luther, and John Calvin.  The man had died, but his ideas lived.

Nevertheless, the Council of Constance condemned Wycliffe as a heretic posthumously in 1415.  Thirteen years later Richard Fleming, the Bishop of Lincoln, ordered the exhumation and burning of the old priest’s remains.

Some of Wycliffe’s followers were more radical than he was.  The Lollard movement began in 1380 and continued into the 1500s, influencing the English Reformation.  “Lollard” came from the Middle Dutch word for “mumbler” or “mutterer.”  The term, already applied to Flemish heretics prior to Wycliffe’s time, stuck to his followers by 1382.  It was a persecuted minority movement, some of whose members dared to plot to overthrow the government and disendow the English Church in 1431.




Above:  Jan Hus

Image in the Public Domain

Lord Jesus Christ, it is for the sake of the gospel and the preaching of the word that I undergo, with patience and humility, this terrifying, ignominious, cruel death.

–Jan Hus, July 6, 1415; quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints (1997), 291

Jan Hus, born in Husinec, Bohemia, in 1371, was 17 years old when Wycliffe died.  Hus, influenced by Wycliffe’s writings, became a reformer in Bohemia and walked the road to martyrdom.

Hus, educated at the University of Prague (starting in 1390) was a Roman Catholic priest, as Wycliffe had been.  Hus, based in Prague, was, from 1392, chaplain of the Bethlehem Chapel, where he preached in the Czech language.  Our saint, the dean of the philosophical faculty of the University of Prague from 1401, served also as the Rector of the university in 1403 and 1409.  The following year, however, Archbishop Zbynek Zajic of Hasenberg excommunicated Hus.

Hus had been reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting writings of Wycliffe, as well as translating some of them into Czech.  Wycliffe’s ideas had already begun to influence politics in Bohemia, where the Church owned about half of the land, and many people, including a large number of priests, were poor.  Many peasants resented the Church, for obvious reasons.  Also, simony was rife.

Although Hus was radical in his setting, he was less radical than Wycliffe.  Hus, for example, affirmed transubstantiation consistently.  Yet, like Wycliffe, Hus condemned ecclesiastical abuses and defined the true Church as the assembly of the predestined Elect.

Hus managed to survive as long as he did because of protectors.  In 1410  King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia attained a bull from (Antipope) Alexander V (in office 1409-1410) ordering the burning of Wycliffe’s works, forbidding the preaching of their contents at Bethlehem Chapel, and allowing no appeal.  Archbishop Zajic burned those writings that year.  The following year (Antipope) John XXIII, one of three competing Popes, placed an interdict on Prague, but Wenceslaus IV ignored it and ordered others to do the same.  Meanwhile, (Antipope) John XXIII was waging a war against King Ladislaus of Naples and selling indulgences to finance that war.  After Hus, technically excommunicated yet living as though there were no excommunication order, condemned the sale of those indulgences and accused (Antipope) John XXIII of being the Antichrist.  Wenceslaus IV had been protecting Hus, but ceased to do that in 1412, after (Antipope) John XXIII threatened the Bohemian monarch with a crusade on the charge of protecting heretics and heresy.  So, from 1412 to 1414, Hus lived, wrote, and preached in southern Bohemia for two years.

Hus died as a heretic at Constance, Baden, on July 6, 1415.  He had traveled there under a promise of safe conduct, for the Council of Constance, in 1414, but found himself a prisoner instead.  Hus, after having refused to recant, burned at the stake as a heretic.  He was 43 or 44 years old.




Much of the history of ecclesiastical reactions (as opposed to responses) to heresies, alleged and actual, is an account of behavior contrary to the spirit of Christ.  What in the Gospels might give one the idea that Jesus would approve of burning accused heretics?

One might disagree with Wycliffe and Hus on certain political and/or theological points, but one should recognize and respect their courage in risking their lives by resisting authority nonviolently in the knowledge that the authorities they objected to had the power to torture and execute them.

The Church has silenced and killed prophets, unfortunately.






O God, your justice continually challenges your Church to live according to its calling:

Grant us who now remember the work of John Wyclif

contrition for the wounds which our sins inflict on your Church,

and such love for Christ that we may seek to heal the divisions which afflict his Body;

through the same Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 43:26-33

Psalm 33:4-11

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 4:13-20

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 659


Faithful God, you gave John Hus the courage to confess your truth

and recall your Church to the image of Christ.

Enable us, inspired by his example, to bear witness against corruption

and never cease to pray for our enemies,

that we may prove faithful followers of our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Job 22:21-30

Psalm 119:113-120

Revelation 3:1-6

Matthew 23:34-39

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 455


Feast of Peter of Chelcic and Gregory the Patriarch (September 13)   1 comment

Holy Roman Empire 1559

Above:  Bohemia, 1559

Image Source = Hammond’s World Atlas–Classics Edition (1967)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor



Bohemian Hussite Reformer



Founder of the Moravian Church

I have been writing about saints from the history of the Moravian Church for a while.  With this post I add two foundational figures from the history of that denomination to the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.

Peter of Chelcic (circa 1390-circa 1460), whose origins have remained mysterious, was the Moravian forerunner.  The opinions of the fiery preacher were not mysterious, however.  He condemned the union of church and state, the violence of the Hussite Wars, the profiteering of priests who charged fees for the administration of sacraments, the existence of religious sects, and royal authority.  He was a communalist, a pacifist, an anarchist, a radical egalitarian, an advocate of simple living, and a champion of the poor.  Peter, a leader of the Bohemian Reformation, had read and absorbed works of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus.  Peter taught the priesthood of the believer, communal living, and a life of voluntary goodness.  Good works, he said, are vital even though all people depend on divine grace.  He also affirmed only two sacraments–baptism and the Holy Eucharist–and offered Eucharistic theology which presaged Lutheran Consubstantiation.  Peter’s theology also influenced the Anabaptist movement, which came into existence in the 1520s.

There were Hussite factions after the execution of Jan Hus in 1417.  The two germane to this post were the Taborites and the Calixtines/Utraquists.  Peter of Chelcic was a Taborite.  The Taborites were similar to the Lollards, who formed in support of Wycliffe’s views and expanded on them.  The Calixtines/Utraquists, many of whom had returned to Holy Mother Church in 1434, were the Hussite establishment.  They administered the Holy Eucharist in both kinds–wafer and wine, hence the name “Utraquist.”  The leaders of the Utraquists were the Bohemian monarchs and the Archbishop-Elect of Prague.  From 1448 the latter was John Rockycana (circa 1396-1471).  He was the Archbishop-Elect, not the Archbishop, because Prague was a vacant see from 1421 to 1561, for political reasons.

I have chosen to be more generous to Rockycana than J. E. Hutton, author the now-public domain A History of the Moravian Church (1909), was.  He, in Chapter 5, wrote of Rockycana:

For all his fire in the pulpit, he was only a craven at heart.

Later in the same paragraph Hutton wrote that Rockycana sought not

the Kingdom of God, but his fame and glory.

That evaluation might be correct, but I do not know that for a fact.  I do know for a fact that Rockycana was in a difficult situation, flung between the Roman Catholic Church on one side and radical Hussite factions on the other side.  In an age when the union of church and state was normative, there was no separation between matters political and theological.  Thus the union of church and state created perilous ground to tread.  In that context Rockycana helped the nascent Moravian Church, or the Bohemian Brethren, until he stopped doing so, as he balanced political-theological considerations.  This reality made him imperfect, but not necessarily “a craven at heart.”

Rockycana’s nephew was Gregory the Patriarch (circa 1420-September 13, 1473), the founder of the Moravian Church.  Gregory, a son of a Bohemian knight, had been a monk.  The monastery, he learned, however, was corrupt, so he left.  Rockycana gave his nephew a copy of some of the writings of Peter of Chelcic.  Gregory found much worthy in them and befriended Peter.  Later, Gregory, with support from Rockycana, established a settlement in the valley of Kunwald in 1457 or 1458.  (J. E. Hutton wrote in A History of the Moravian Church that the traditional date, March 1, 1457, which the Moravian Church has taken as its founding, lacks documentary support.)  Thus the origins of the Moravian Church, or the Bohemian Brethren, entailed merging Taborite and Calixtine/Utraquist elements.  King George Podiebrad of Bohemia (reigned 1458-1471), who was initially supportive of the Kunwald settlement, changed his mind in 1461, when he learned that the Brethren of Kunwald were administering the Holy Eucharist in the forms of bread (not wafers) and wine.  This seemed like heresy to him, and he resolved not to condone heresy in his realm.  The first persecution of the Moravian Church followed.  It entailed incarcerating people, torturing them, and burning some of them at the stake as heretics.  Gregory endured torture until his uncle arranged for his release.

The scattered community of Kunwald reconstituted itself in time.  The synod of 1467 established the Moravian episcopate.  That succession of bishops has remained unbroken despite the century or so (1620-1722) the Moravian Church existed as an underground institution.  The first bishop was Matthias of Kunwald (died in 1500), who succeeded Gregory as the leader of the Brethren in 1473.

The Moravian Church, the original Protestant denomination, has blessed the human race with a generous theology (“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love”) and a magnificent musical legacy.  Peter of Chelcic and Gregory the Patriarch were present at creation, laying the foundations of a work which has grown to become a global church.  I, although an active member and communicant of a different communion, one to which I am suited by temperament, thank God for the Moravian Church.







Almighty God, we praise you for your servants

Peter of Chelcic and Gregory the Patriarch,

through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.

Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,

whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 46

1 Corinthians 3:11-23

Mark 10:35-43

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60