The End of Europe's Middle Ages

The Hussites

The Hussite movement was inspired by the gifted Bohemian preacher Jan Hus (1369-1415) whose own ideas were based on the teachings of John Wyckliffe. The writings of the latter were translated and brought to the University of Prague, where controversy over them began between Czech and German professors. The new religious ideas called for reforms within the Church and reinforced Czech nationalism. Jan Hus, and even more his radical disciples, spoke out against simony, the purchase of indulgences, the external rites of the Church, and the abuses of the clergy. They also thought all believers, not just the clergy, should receive communion in both kinds. These beliefs caused the excommunication of Jan Hus, first by the archbishop of Prague and later by Pope John XXIII. In 1415, he was found guilty of heresy by the Council of Constance and burned at the stake. Hus became a martyr and his death led to armed rebellion in Bohemia.

The Church launched five crusades (1420-34) against the Hussites, all of which were unsuccessful. During that time, Jan Zizka emerged as a great military leader. In 1420, the 'Four Articles of Prague', which later served as a basis for negotiation, were drawn up. They included freedom to preach, communion of bread and wine, punishment of mortal sins, and a return to poverty of the clergy. The Hussites split into two groups, the Utraquists (or Calixtines), a conservative group consisting largely of nobility and wealthy townsmen, and the Taborites, a radical group composed mainly of peasants. The Utraquists defeated the Taborites at Lipan in 1434 and entered into negotiations with the Church. In 1437, the representatives of the Council of Florence accepted and ratified a less radical form of the Four Articles of Prague. Radical Hussitism was continued by the Bohemian Brethren until the sixteenth century, when they merged with the Lutherans.

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