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Friday, August 18, 2017
Date Posted:

Wicliffe's Legacy in The Bohemian Reformation

NB. There are four more chapters of the Bohemian struggle. Wylie correctly follows events in detail down to the Reformation. This is part of Wicliffe‘s legacy. But for the BCN it seems appropriate to contract these events to this short outline.
Dr Clive Gillis

Under God Ziska became a mighty general He developed a whole new style of warfare which again and again confounded the papal crusaders.

In Tabor, south of Prague, where he is remembered by another fine statue in the town square, is a museum (at present closed for restoration) demonstrating his method. Nearby are catacombs used to confound the enemy in times of danger.

When Ziska died of the plague, the Lord raised up Procopius, less fierce but more understanding of the anti-Christian nature of Rome and none less brave. Sensing his chance, the pope raised a second wave of crusaders, with a new bull, claiming the Hussites were worse heretics than the Turks. He even extended the indulgence to the King of Poland. On 17th June 1426 an estimated 70,000 crusaders entered Bohemia. An even more remarkable victory of right over might was won and the spoils equipped the Hussite army to a new level of preparedness.


The supply of eager Crusaders dwindling, in 1427 the pope published a further bull in England. He promoted the Bishop Henry of Winchester to both cardinal legate and commander of the new force. Wicliffe‘s protestant heritage was evidenced by a complete lack of interest in England, yet when published in Belgium the bull attracted an even greater army of Crusaders. A breathtaking Hussite victory ensued to further humiliate the pope. Procopius "had combated for the Bohemian liberties and the Hussite faith on the battle-field. He was ready to die for them. But he hinged, if it were possible on anything like honourable and safe terms, to close these frightful wars. In this hope he assembled the Bohemian Diet at Prague, in 1429, and got its consent to go to Vienna and lay the terms of the Bohemian people before the emperor in person. These were ... the free preaching of the Gospel, Communion in both kinds, a satisfactory arrangement of the ecclesiastical property, and the execution of the laws against all crimes by whomsoever committed." These were only the same demands as at the beginning of the Hussite wars. Sigismund inevitably declined. At this point the Hussites became warlike and began to lose their spiritual way.

Nevertheless they later risked betrayal of safe conduct to attended the Council of Basel in 1434. The pope was at once offended when the arriving heretics declared what a poor General Council this was without the Greek and other churches invited. "The Hussites followed the instructions given them before leaving Prague. They were to insist on the four following points (which, as already mentioned, formed the pre-arranged basis on which alone the question of a satisfactory adjustment of affairs could be considered) as the indispensable conditions of peace: - I. The free preaching of the Word. II. The right of the laity to the Cup, and the use of the vernacular tongue in all parts of Divine worship. III. The ineligibility of the clergy to secular office and rule. IV. The execution of the laws in the case of all crimes, without respect of persons."

The implications

These were to form the constitution of Bohemia. "They struck at the foundation of the Roman hierarchy, and implied a large measure of reformation. The eventual consolidation of the nation's civil and religious liberties would have been their inevitable result. The supreme authority of the Scriptures, which the Hussites maintained, implied the emancipation of the conscience, the beginning of all liberty. The preaching of the Gospel and the celebration of public worship in the language of the people, implied the purification of the nation's morals and the enlightenment of the national intellect. Communion in both kinds was a practical repudiation of the doctrine of the mass; for to insist on the Cup as essential to the Sacrament is tacitly to maintain that the bread is simply bread, and not the literal flesh of Christ. And the articles which disqualified priests from civil rule, displaced them from the state offices which they filled, and subjected them to the laws in common with others. This article struck at the idea that the priesthood forms a distinct and theocratic kingdom.

The four articles as they stand, it will be observed, lie within the sphere of administration; they do not include any one principle fundamentally subversive of the whole scheme of Romanism. In this respect, they fall short of Wicliffe's programme, which preceded them, as well as of Luther's which came after. In Bohemia, the spiritual and intellectual forces are less powerfully developed; the patriotic and the military are in the ascendant. Still, it is to be borne in mind that the Bohemians had acknowledged the great principle that the Bible is the only infallible authority, and where this principle is maintained and practically carried out, there the fabric of Romanism is undermined.

Put the priest out of court as an infallible oracle, and the Bible comes in his room; and the moment the Word of God enters, the shackles of human authority and tradition fall off." Rome could not possibly agree so "After three months' fruitless debates, the Bohemian delegates left Basle and returned to their own country. The Council would come to no terms unless the Bohemians would engage to surrender the faith of Huss, and submit unconditionally."

Diet of Bohemia

The Diet of Bohemia opened in 1434 to reconsider the matter. "The negotiations ended in a compromise. It was agreed that the four articles of the Hussites should be accepted, but that the right of explaining them, that is of determining their precise import, should belong to the Council - in other words, to the Pope and the emperor. Such was the treaty now formed between the Roman Catholics and the Hussites; its basis was the four articles, explained by the Council - obviously an arrangement which promised a plentiful crop of misunderstandings and quarrels in the future.

The Compactata

To this agreement was given the name of the Compactata. As with the Bible so with the four Hussite articles - Rome accepted them, but reserved to herself the right of determining their true sense. It might have been foreseen that the Interpretation and not the Articles would henceforth be the rule. So was the matter understood by Aeneas Sylvius Picolomoni (at this stage an immoral, dilettante layman and secretary to the pope and only later becoming religious and rising to be Pius II) ... "This formula of the Council is short, but there is more in its meaning than in its words. It banishes all such opinions and ceremonies as are alien to the faith, and it takes the Bohemians bound to believe and to maintain all that the Church Catholic believes and maintains". This was said with special reference to the Council's explication of the Hussite article of Communion in both kinds. The administrator was to teach the recipient of the Eucharist, according to the decree of the Council in its thirtieth session, that a whole Christ was in the cup as well as in the bread. This was a covert reintroduction of transubstantiation. The Compactata, then, was but a feeble guarantee of the Bohemian faith and liberties; in fact, it was a surrender of both; and thus the Pope and the emperor, defeated on so many bloody fields, triumphed at last on that of diplomacy.

"There followed some chequered years. The first rent in Bohemian unity, the result of declension from the first rigor of the Bohemian faith, was never healed. The Calixtines soon began to discover that the Compactata was a delusion, and that it existed only on paper. Their monarchs refused to govern according to its provisions. To plead it as the charter of their rights was only to expose themselves to contempt. The Council of Basle no doubt had appended its seal to it, but the Pope refused to look at it, and ultimately annulled it. At length, during the minority of King Vladislav, George Podiebrad, a Bohemian nobleman, and head of the Calixtines, became regent of the kingdom, and by his great talents and upright administration gave a breathing-space to his distracted nation.

On the death of the young monarch, Podiebrad was elected king. He now strove to make the Compactata a reality, and revive the extinct rights and bring back the vanished prestige of Bohemia; but he found that the hour of opportunity had passed, and that the difficulties of the situation were greater than his strength could overcome. He fondly hoped that Aeneas Sylvius, who had now assumed the tiara under the title of Pius II., would be more compliant in the matter of the Compactata than his predecessor had been. As secretary to the Council of Basle, Aeneas Sylvius had drafted this document; and Podiebrad believed that, as a matter of course, he would ratify as Pope what he had composed as secretary.

He was doomed to disappointment. Pius II. repudiated his own handiwork, and launched excommunication against Podiebrad (1463) for attempting to govern on its principles. Aeneas' successor in the Papal chair, Paul II., walked in his steps. He denounced the Compactata anew; anathematized Podiebrad as an excommunicated heretic, whose reign could only be destructive to mankind, and published a crusade against him. In pursuance of the Papal bull a foreign army entered Bohemia, and it became again the theatre of battles, sieges, and great bloodshed".

Origin of the Moravians

Naturally this rent in unity meant gains for Rome, with many drifting back to her pale whilst true bible believers were driven into the countryside and mountains where they were terribly persecuted. However they did manage to organise at the Synod of Lhokta in 1467 obtaining non roman ordination of their bishop by a Waldensian elder (naturally a tradition now heavily challenged). They grew later into Unitas Fratrum or Moravian Brethren, fine simple Bible believing Christians out of whom sprang the great Christian educator Commenius. Most importantly of all the translation of the Scriptures into the vulgar tongue commenced by Huss at Kozi castle was not lost but carried down throughout the persecutions to become the protestant Czech Kralice Bible.

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