Saturday, September 14, 2013

...He believed 1) the supremacy of the Bible's authority over the Church--Hus by Jan Robitscher, a Homily

“Listen to what the Spirit is saying to

the churches”

(Rev. 3:6)

Jan Hus  (Transferred)                                                                          Jan Robitscher
            Job 22:21-30                                                                                         St. Mark’s Chapel
            Psalm 119:113-120                                                                               Berkeley, CA
            Revelation 3:1-6                                                                                    July 5, 2013
            Matthew 23:34-39

In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

If I were to ask you when the Reformation began, you might answer, “when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Wittenburg door”--and that is one good answer. But a hundred years earlier there were two figures  whose work comprised the dawn of the Reformation: John Wycliffe and John (or Jan or Jan) Hus, today’s commemoration. 

Born of poor parents in Bohemia, Hus was educated at the University of Prague where, after attaining his Master’s degree, he became a professor. While there, he read the
Jan Hus
philosophical works of John Wycliffe. This may seem surprising, though there was much contact between England and Bohemia due to the marriage of the two royal families.

But in 1401 Wycliffe’s theological works arrived in Bohemia, which were his critique of the power and dominion of the church in secular matters. These were a great influence on Hus, though he did not ever agree with Wycliffe’s most radical views, especially his denial of transubstantiation. In 1402 Hus took over the preaching at the Bethlehem Chapel (which still exists) and began preaching in Czech and became enormously popular.

But Wycliffe was best known for being the first to translate the Bible into English, which you heard in the second reading) and it was this access to the Word of God by ordinary people that was Hus’ passion.

At the same time, Church authorities were becoming more conservative and more afraid of reform, setting the stage for conflict. Add to this the Great Western Schism, which ended up dividing the Church between three rival popes. Hus supported the third of these, but railed against his sale of indulgences, for which he was promptly forbidden to preach and, eventually, excommunicated.

Although he tried to withdraw, he was pursued and finally arrested, tried before the Council of Constance and held in prison for the rest of his life. He was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.  It is said that he wrote hymns and died singing. That same council also had Wycliffe’s bones dug up, burned and thrown into the river Swift.

Hus’ views were remarkably ahead of his time. Much like Martin Luther and other reformers who would come after him, he believed 1) the supremacy of the Bible's authority over the Church; 2) the separate spheres of civil and churchly power; 3) the doctrine of predestination; 4) Christ is head of the church, not the pope; 5) that Communion should be served "in both kinds," that is, both the bread and the cup. (By this time the cup was commonly withheld from the people during the Mass.).

Bethlehem Chapel, Prague
Why are these early reformers, Wycliffe and Hus, important to us? I was surprised to find Jan Hus among the unofficial commemorations in the Roman Catholic devotional, Give Us This Day, a remarkable rehabilitation! All of the reformers tried to express the truth as they saw it to a church much in need of reform. None sought to separate, especially to found sects in their own name. The Church in every age must always be “recalled to the image of Christ”, as our collect states.  Sometimes this involves speaking truth to power, as both Wycliffe and Hus did. But even Pope Francis, in a position of great power,  has reframed the papacy away from the trappings of power and toward a more pastoral, bishop-centered role.

Hus Burned at Stake
We must, as the letters of our reading from Revelation say, “Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches”. “Remember what you have heard” the angel said, “obey it and repent.” And we must never take for granted our ability to hear Scripture, preaching and the Eucharist in our own language.  Thanks be to God for those who paved the way by their work and suffering and death, especially Jan Hus who we remember today.

Revelation 3
Wycliffe Bible (WYC)
And to the angel of the church of Sardis write thou, These things saith he, that hath the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars. I know thy works, for thou hast a name, that thou livest, and thou art dead.
Be thou waking, and confirm thou other things, that were to dying [and confirm other things, that were to die]; for I find not thy works full before my God.
Therefore have thou in mind, how thou receivedest, and heardest; and keep, and do penance. Therefore if thou wake not, I shall come as a night thief to thee [Therefore if thou shalt not wake, I shall come to thee as a night thief], and thou shalt not know in what hour I shall come to thee.
But thou hast a few names in Sardis, which have not defouled their clothes; and they shall walk with me in white clothes, for they be worthy.
He that overcometh, shall be clothed thus with white clothes; and I shall not do away his name from the book of life [and I shall not do away his name of the book of life], and I shall acknowledge his name before my Father, and before his angels.
He that hath ears, hear he, what the Spirit saith to the churches.


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