Luther on Hus

Daily Reading for July 6 • Jan Hus, Prophetic Witness and Martyr, 1415

When I was a divinity student at Erfurt, my hand happened to alight, one day, in the library of the monastery, on a volume of John Huss’s sermons. Having read, on the cover of the work, the words, Sermons of John Huss, I was immediately inflamed with a desire to ascertain, by perusing this book, that had escaped from the flames, and was thus preserved in a public library, what heresies he had disseminated. I was struck with amazement as I read on, and was filled with an astonishment difficult to describe, as I sought out for what reason so great a man—a doctor, so worthy of veneration, and so powerful in expounding the Scriptures—had been burned to death. But the name of Huss was, at that period, such an object of execration, that I absolutely believed that if I spoke of him in terms of praise, the heavens would fall on me, and the sun veil his light. Having then closed the book, I withdrew sad at heart, and I remarked to myself, by way of consolation—“Perhaps he wrote those things before he fell into heresy.” At that time I was still ignorant of what had passed in the Council of Constance.

All that I could say would only add infinitely to the high character of John Huss. His adversaries render him a striking, though unintentional testimony; for if their clouded eyes could open to the light, they would blush at the remembrance of the things which they themselves narrate. The author of a collection of the acts of the council, written in German, and enriched with very many remarkable details, endeavours, with all his power, to cover with odium the cause of John Huss; and yet he declares, that when Huss beheld himself stripped of all the dignities of his order, he smiled with intrepid firmness. . . . The man who, in the agony of death, invoked, with so firm a heart, Jesus the Son of God—who, for such a cause, delivered up his body to the flames with so strong a faith, and so stedfast a constancy—if such a man, I repeat, deserves not to be considered a generous and intrepid martyr, and true follower of Christ, it will be difficult for any one to be saved. Jesus Christ himself has declared:—“He who confesses me before men, him will I also confess before my Father.” . . .

I have again specified these matters, in order that they may serve as a salutary warning to such of our theologians as may repair to the approaching council. . . .The doctors of Constance were convinced that no person would ever presume to accuse them, either by word or writing, and much less in the teeth of the cruelest menaces, to honour John Huss as a saint, and condemn them for their conduct. Events have, on the contrary, either by me or by others, verified the predictions of John Huss. Our theologians, strong in their authority, anticipate no peril. I admit their power to be equal to what they possessed in John Huss’s time; but it is not less certain, that he who then stood at their tribunal now sits in a place where his judges must give way before him.

From Martin Luther’s preface to Letters of John Huss, Written During His Exile and Imprisonment by Emile de Bonnechose (Edinburgh: William Whyte, 1846).

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