John Huss, a Bohemian religious reformer, born about 1373, burned at Constance, July 6, 1415. His surname was derived from his place of birth, Hussinetz, near the border of Bavaria. He studied first in his own town, then in Prachatitz, and finally at the university of Prague, where he graduated in 1393. In 1398 he began to give lectures in philosophy and theology; in 1401 he became president of the university faculty of theology; and in 1402 he was installed preacher in the Bethlehem chapel, which had been established ten years earlier for the purpose of enabling the people to hear preaching and the Scriptures in the Bohemian tongue. He became the confessor of the queen, and the head of a party of priests and scholars who meditated reforms in discipline and in doctrine. His first polemical treatise, De Sanguine Christi Glorificato, was occasioned by the pilgrimages to Wilsnack to see and worship the miraculous blood of Christ there shown on the consecrated host. In successive sermons preached before the archbishop, Huss next arraigned the misconduct of the clergy even in high places; demanded the despoiling of the churches of useless ornaments, that the poor might be fed and clothed; and called upon the secular officers to hinder and punish the open vices of ecclesiastics.
This excited strong opposition, which was increased when the ordinance of Charles IV., giving special privileges to the native over the foreign students, was revived by Huss, and the Poles and Germans deserted the university, depriving the city of thousands of its population. Soon afterward he became rector of the university. Other circumstances, connected with the papal schism, aided to era-broil Huss with the archbishop and his friends. It became a warfare between the university and the cathedral. The pope interfered for the latter; and, fortified by his bull, at the close of the year 1409 the archbishop Sbinko burned 200 volumes of the works of Wycliffe, which had been deposited in his palace. Against this act Huss protested, in a spirited treatise addressed to the new pope, John XXIII, with arguments of such weight that a commission of doctors condemned the archbishop for irregular action. The cry of heresy was now raised against Huss, and he was summoned to Rome to answer this charge. The court, the university, and even the archbishop sent a defence of his orthodoxy and Huss sent advocates to plead hls cause before the cardinals, but they were not heard. He was condemned as a heretic, and ordered to quit Prague; and the city was placed under ban so long as he should remain there.
Finding it vain to resist, he left the city; but his retirement only inflamed the zeal of his partisans. The books which he wrote at this period, half apologetic, half polemic, tended more and more to widen the breach and to arouse acts of violence. An outbreak in the city followed; the partisans of Huss were victorious, the archbishop fled, and Huss came back to his chapel, emboldened to preach more and more vehemently against prevalent corruptions. He praised the king for upholding the cause of truth and purity against the mandates of ecclesiastical power; and in his treatise Contra Occultum Adversarium, written at this time, he maintains the doctrine that kings have the right to rule the clergy not less than the laity. Soon more serious trouble arose. The pope had issued bulls of excommunication against King Ladislas of Naples. Political reasons induced the court and university to side with the pope; but Huss immediately published two tracts against the papal bulls. A reaction followed. The partisans of the pope were insulted in the streets, and Huss had great difficulty in restraining the fury of his followers. This was followed by tracts which maintained that the clergy were only stewards of the wealth in their possession, which belonged to the people and not to the church.
Huss contended that not the priest's word, but the power of God, wrought the change of transubstantiation; claimed that any one moved by the Spirit had the right to preach; and asserted the right of conscience as against the edicts of popes and councils. He was accused of denouncing the veneration of saints and the worship of the Virgin, but defended himself against these charges. He was again summoned to Rome, but took no heed of the order. Repeated attempts were made by the king to compose the difficulties, but without success. A decree was procured from Rome, putting Huss again under ban as an incorrigible heretic; and at the earnest request of the king, he left Prague for a time, and found shelter in his native town. In a long treatise upon "The Church," he holds that the papacy began to exist at the time of Con-stantine, and that its usurpations threatened to secularize and so to destroy the gospel.. Frequent letters and occasional secret visits confirmed the zeal of his partisans. He continued to preach in the cities to immense crowds; and after a time, to be nearer Prague, he removed his residence to the castle of Cracowitz, which had been offered him as a refuge.
In 1414, at the instigation of the emperor Sigis-mund, Pope John XXIII. summoned a general council at Constance, and Huss was cited to appear. Trusting to the safe-conduct which the emperor granted him, he resolved to obey. On his arrival at Constance he was welcomed by the pope with a fraternal greeting, and was promised that the former interdict should be suspended. For some time Huss was free to come and go, to discuss and preach. Expecting a special trial, he had prepared his defence. But on Nov. 28 he was arrested and imprisoned in the cathedral, and several days later transferred to the Dominican convent, on an island ill the lake. An accusation against Huss had been drawn up, and three commissioners were appointed to visit him in prison, question him, take down his answers, and report to a council of doctors. Huss asked, but was not allowed, the assistance of counsel. His private letters were opened, his appeals to the emperor disregarded, and the kind treatment of his prison keepers could hardly compensate for the injustice of his enemies. The flight of the pope only aggravated his suffering. He was transferred to the strong castle of Gottleben, heavily chained.
A new commission was appointed to examine and decide in his affair, and at the beginning of June, 1415, he was removed to the Franciscan convent in Constance. On June 5 he had his first hearing before the council, which had already at a previous session condemned the heresy of Wyc-liffe. The attempt of Huss to answer the first article of accusation was met by such a storm of outcries that he was unable to proceed; and the hearing was adjourned until the 7th, when it was renewed in presence of the emperor. He was accused of denying transubstantiation; of treating St. Gregory as a buffoon; of teaching the doctrines of Wycliffe; of encouraging his friends to resist the mandates of the archbishop; of exciting a schism of the state from the church; of appealing from the pope to Christ; of counselling the people to violent and aggressive measures; and of boasting that he could not have been forced either by pope or emperor to come to Constance, unless he had chosen to come. Some of these charges he admitted; some he denied. A third hearing was allowed him on the next day, when 39 articles, extracted from three of his works, were read, touching various points of his teaching concerning the church, its officers and sacraments.
Huss was then summoned to retract these heresies, which he declined to do, affirming that he could not retract what he had never said, nor ought he to retract what he had said until its falsity was shown. On June 24 the books of Huss were condemned to be burned as heretical, and on July 6 he was brought before the council to receive sentence. After a discourse by the bishop of Lodi, from the text, " that the body of sin bo destroyed," the 39 articles were read, together with the sentence of condemnation of the books of Huss, and finally the sentence of himself, to be degraded from the priesthood as an incorrigible heretic, and given over to the secular arm. He was then conducted out of the city to an open field, in which a stake and a pile of wood had been erected. Here he was again summoned to abjure his heresies, but at the summons he only knelt and prayed, using the words of the psalms of David. As the fire was kindled, he began to sing with a loud voice the Christe eleison, and only ceased when he was suffocated by the rising flame.
The ashes of the pile were gathered and cast into the Rhine; all traces of the event were carefully obliterated, and to this day the exact spot remains uncertain. - The writings of Huss, not including the minor pieces lately published by Palacky, are of four kinds, dogmatic and controversial, exegetical, sermons, and epistles. Of the first class, there are 27 separate treatises, besides fragments. Of the class of exegetical writings, there are five treatises, on the acts of Christ, the passion of Christ, a commentary on seven chapters of the first epistle to the Corinthians, notes on other canonical epistles, and an explanation of ten of the Psalms. In the class of sermons there are 38, two of which were written at Constance, but never preached. There are two series of letters, the first of 14, written before, and the second of 56, written after his departure from Prague to Constance. The complete works of Huss were published in quarto at Strasburg in 1525. For his biography, see Neander's "Church History" (vol. v., Torrey's translation), Gil-lett's " Life and Times of Huss " (2 vols., Boston, 1863), and Palacky's Documenta Magistri Joannis Vitam, Doctrinam, etc., illustrantia (Prague, 1869). (See Hussites.)