Why Didn’t the Protestant Reformation Begin with John Hus?

Joseph Hutton’s History of the Moravian Church, Part 1

“For one man who will steadily follow a principle, there are hundreds who would rather follow a leader.”

This is how Joseph Hutton began to explain why the followers of John Hus fractured into several groups as soon as he died. Hutton made this observation in his History of the Moravian Church.

John (a.k.a. Jan) Hus was a man of conviction. He was willing to follow his principles wherever they led him.

When Hus read John Wycliffe’s writings, he began to preach the same ideas. He knew he would die for it, but he did it anyway. He did it for twelve years; then he was burned at the stake.

Given one last chance to renounce his teaching, he said, “I call God to witness that all that I have written and preached has been with the view of rescuing souls from sin and perdition, and therefore most joyfully will I confirm with my blood the truth I have written and preached.”

John Hus was a man of conviction, but he was a man of several different convictions. For each one, he had a following. The priests liked it when he criticized the government. The government liked it when he criticized the priests.

According to Joseph Hutton, Hus didn’t give people “one clear commanding note” to follow.

This wasn’t his fault. It’s just the way it was.

Here is Hutton on the aftermath of Hus’s martyrdom:

As long as Hus was alive in the flesh, he was able to command the loyalty of the people; but now that his tongue was silent for ever, his followers split into many contending factions. For all his eloquence he had never been able to strike one clear commanding note. In some of his views he was a Catholic, in others a Protestant. To some he was merely the fiery patriot, to others the champion of Church Reform, to others the high-souled moral teacher, to others the enemy of the Pope.

With “no clear notion of what they wanted” and “no definite scheme of church reform,” Hus’s followers split up into rival sects. Instead of the Protestant Reformation, the Hussite Wars began. This was one of those horrible religious conflicts that was also fought for political reasons.

Did John Hus sow the seeds of the violence that arose after his death, or did people distort his teaching and take advantage of his popularity?

Joseph Hutton didn’t say. He didn’t dwell on John Hus in his History of the Moravian Church. He didn’t consider Hus to be the true forefather of the Church of the Brethren (which later became the Moravian Church).

That honor belongs to a man who was so pacifist that Hutton said he “hated war like a Quaker, and soldiers like Tolstoy himself.”

That man has not been remembered as well as John Hus. His name was Peter of Chelcic. We’ll look at him in the next post.