The Hussites comprised an early Protestant Christian movement, followers of Jan Hus. This was also national Czech movement that was directed by the overprivileged for mostly German speaking immigrants.
1. Effect in Bohemia of the Death of Hus
The arrest of Hus had excited considerable resentment in Bohemia and Moravia.
In both countries the estates appealed repeatedly and urgently to Sigismund to deliver Hus.
On the arrival of the news of his death at the Council of Constance, disturbances broke out which were directed at first against the clergy, especially against the monks. Even the archbishop saved himself with difficulty from the rage of the populace. In the country conditions were not much better.
Everywhere the treatment of Hus was felt as a disgrace inflicted upon the whole country, and his death was looked upon as a criminal act. King Wenceslaus, prompted by his grudge against Sigismund, at first gave free vent to his indignation at the course of events in Constance; and his wife openly favored the friends of Hus. Pronounced Hussites stood at the head of the government. A league was formed by certain lords who pledged themselves to protect the free preaching of the Gospel upon all their possessions and estates, and to obey the power of the bishops only in case their orders accorded with the injunctions of the Bible.
In disputed points the decision of the university should be resorted to. The entire Hussite nobility joined the league, and if the king had entered it, its resolutions would have received the sanction of the law; but he refused, and approached the Roman Catholic League of lords, which was now formed, the members pledging themselves to cling to the king, the Roman Church, and the Council. Signs of the outbreak of a civil war began to show themselves. Pope Martin V, who, while still Cardinal Otto of Colonna, had attacked Hus with relentless severity, energetically resumed the battle against Hus's teaching after the enactments of the Council of Constance. He intended to eradicate completely the doctrine of Hus. For this purpose the co-operation of King Wenceslaus had to be obtained. In 1418 Sigismund succeeded in winning his brother over to the standpoint of the council by pointing out the inevitability of a religious war if the heretics in Bohemia found further protection. Hussite statesmen and army leaders had to leave the country, and Roman priests were reinstituted. These measures caused a general commotion which hastened the death of Wenceslaus by a paralytic stroke in 1419. His heir was Sigismund.
2. Two Parties in Bohemia.
Hussism had organized itself during the years
1415-1419. From the beginning two parties were
found: the closer adherents of Hus
clung to his standpoint, leaving the
whole hierarchical and liturgical order
of the Church untouched; the radical
party identified itself more boldly with
the doctrines of John Wyclif, shared his passionate hatred
of the monastic clergy, and, like him, attempted to
lead the Church back to its supposed condition during the
time of the apostles, which necessitated the removal
of the existing hierarchy and the secularization of
ecclesiastical possessions. The radicals among the
Hussites sought to translate their theories into
reality; they preached the sufcientia legis Christi--
only the divine law (i.e., the Bible) is the rule and
canon for man, and that not only in ecclesiastical
matters, but also in political and civil matters.
They rejected therefore, as early as 1416, everything
that had no basis in the Bible, such as the adoration of
saints and images, fasts, superfluous holidays, the
oath, intercession for the dead, auricular confession,
indulgences, the sacraments of confirmation and
extreme unction, admitted laymen and women to
the preacher's office, chose their own priests. But
before everything they clung to Wyclif's doctrine
of the Lord's Supper, denying transubstantiation,
and this is the principal point by which they are
distinguished from the moderate party.
3. The Four Articles of Prague.
The program of the more conservative Hussites
is contained in the four articles of Prague, which
were agreed upon in July, 1420, and
promulgated in the Latin, Czech, and
4. Calixtines or Ultraquists, and Taborites
The views of the moderate Hussites were
represented at the university and among the citizens of
Prague; therefore they were called
the Prague party; they were also
called Calixtines or Utraquists, because
they emphasized the second article,
and the chalice became their emblem.
The radicals had their gathering-place
in the small town of Austie, on the Luschnitz,
south of Prague. But as the place was not
defensible, they founded a city upon a neighboring hill,
which they called Tabor; hence they were called
Taborites. They comprised the essential force of
Hussism. Their aim was to destroy the enemies
of the law of God, and to extend his kingdom by
the sword. For the former purpose they waged
bloody wars, for the second purpose they established
a strict jurisdiction, inflicting the severest
punishment not only upon heinous crimes like murder and
adultery, but also upon faults like perjury and
usury, and tried to apply the conditions required
in the law of God to the social relations of the world.
5. The Hussite Wars.
The news of the death of King Wenceslaus
produced the greatest commotion among the people of
Prague. A revolution swept over the
country; churches and monasteries
were destroyed, and the ecclesiastical
possessions were seized by the Hussite
nobility. Sigismund could get
possession of his kingdom only by force of arms.
Martin V called upon all Christians of the Occident
to take up arms against the Hussites, and there
followed twelve years of warfare. The Hussites initially campaigned defensively, but after 1427
they assumed the offensive. Apart from their
religious aims, they fought for the national interests
of the Czechs. The moderate and radical parties
were united and they not only repelled the attacks
of the army of crusaders, but entered the neighboring
6. The Council of Basel and Compacta of Prague.
Eventually the opponents of the hussites found themselves forced to think of an
amicable settlement. They invited a Bohemian embassy to appear at the Council of Basel. The
discussions began on January 10, 1432, centering chiefly
in the four articles of Prague. No agreement emerged. After repeated negotiations between the
Basel Council and Bohemia, a Bohemian-Moravian state
assembly in Prague accepted the
Compacta of Prague on November 30, 1433.
The agreement granted communion in both kinds to all who desired it, but with the understanding that Christ was
entirely present in each kind. Free
preaching was granted conditionally: the Church hierarchy had to approve and place priests, and the power of the bishop must be considered.
The article which prohibited the secular power of
the clergy was almost reversed.
The Taborites refused to conform, and the Calixtines united with the Roman Catholics and destroyed the Taborites in a battle near Lipany (May 30, 1434). From that time the Taborites lost their importance. The state assembly of Iglau in 1436 confirmed the Compactata and gave them the sanction of law. This accomplished the reconciliation of Bohemia with Rome and the Western Church, and now Sigismund first obtained possession of the Bohemian crown. His reactionary measures caused a ferment in the whole country, but he died in 1437. The state assembly in Prague rejected Wyclif's doctrine of the Lord's Supper, which was obnoxious to the Utraquists, as heresy in 1444. Most of the Taborites now went over to the party of the Utraquists; the rest joined the "Brothers of the Law of Christ" (see Unity of the Brethren; also Bohemian Brethren).
7. Final Disappearance of the Hussites
The Utraquists had retained hardly anything of
the doctrines of Hus except communion in both
kinds. In 1462 Pope Pius II declared the
Compactata null and void, prohibited
communion in both kinds, and
acknowledged George of Podebrady as
king under the condition that he would
promise an unconditional harmony
with the Roman Church. This he refused, but his
successor, King Vladislaus II, favored the Roman
Catholics and proceeded against some zealous
clergymen of the Calixtines. The troubles of the
Utraquists increased from year to year. In 1485, at the
diet of Kuttenberg, an agreement between the
Roman Catholics and Utraquists was obtained
which lasted for thirty-one years. But it was
considerably later, at the diet of 1512, that the equal
rights of both religions were permanently
established. Luther's appearance was hailed by the
Utraquist clergy, and Martin Luther himself was astonished to
find so many points of agreement between the
doctrines of Hus and his own. But not all Utraquists
approved of the German Reformation; a schism
arose among them, and many returned to the
Roman doctrine, while the better elements had long
before joined the Unitas Fratrum. Under
Maximilian II., the Bohemian state assembly established
the Confessio Bohemica, upon which Lutherans,
Reformed, and Bohemian Brethren agreed. From
that time Hussism began to die out; but it was
completely eradicated only after the
battle of the White Mountain (November 8, 1620) and the Roman
Catholic reaction which fundamentally changed the
ecclesiastical conditions of Bohemia and Moravia.