1902 Encyclopedia > Hussites


HUSSITES. The arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of Huss at Constance in November 1415 created a very painful impression among all classes in Moravia and Bohemia, and called forth angry remonstrances as soon as it was known. While the nobles resorted to diplomacy, the masses rioted and in many instances attacked the clergy. The excitement was immensely intensified by the tidings of his death, which was freely characterized as a judicial murder; several priests were put to death by the infuriated populace, who cherished the memory of Huss as that of a patriot and a saint; and the archbishop himself, after having been beset in his own palace, with difficulty saved his life by flight. Public feeling found its first organized expression in a diet which was hastily summoned to meet at Prague early in September; there a solemn protest, ultimately signed by 452 magnates and barons, was drawn up, in which the personal character of Huss as man, teacher, preacher, and author was warmly upheld, and the freedom of Bohemia and Moravia from error and heresy was as energetically asserted. Three days later the nobles who had signed this document formed themselves into a league, headed by two Bohemian barons and one from Moravia, by which they bound themselves to protect liberty of preaching on their estates, and to yield obedience to bishop or pope only in so far as might be in accordance with Scripture and the will of God. Matters of dispute were to be subjected to the arbitration of the rector and doctors in theology of the university of Prague. Soon afterwards a counter league was formed for the support of the council and curia; and civil war appeared to be imminent. The tension was further increased by the arrival of the bishop of Leitomischl, long the enemy of Huss, as legate from the council for the extirpation of heresy; and by the pressure of the interdict under which the city of Prague continued to lie. In February 1416 the 452 nobles who had signed the protest in favour of Huss were summoned to appear before the council, while the anti-Hussite league was encouraged to prepare for a crusade; and the burning of Jerome of Prague in the following May still further revealed the prevailing disposi-tion of Catholic Christendom. Owing to the slowness, however, with which matters moved at Constance, it was not until February 1418 that the new pope, Martin V. (Otto di Colonna), was able to issue various bulls and briefs, in which he laid all obstinate Hussites under the ban, and called upon all the ecclesiastical and civil authorities to proceed against them. The council also, shortly before its dissolution, drew up twenty-four articles for withdrawing the Bohemians from the prevailing heresy, bidding King Wenceslaus protect the rights of the Romish Church in his dominion, restore the banished clergy to their benefices, repress the Hussite preaching and hymn singing, dissolve the Hussite associations, and take the ringleaders into custody. To this policy the king after much vacillation began to give effect early in 1419, and forthwith the more prominent Hussites withdrew from court; among these were Nieolaus of Pistna, an able statesman, and the famous John Zizka, a practised soldier, who placed themselves at the head of the malcontents. By the end of the year the war, though it is usually reckoned from 1420, may be said to have begun. It divides itself into two periods—the defensive, which lasted from 1420 to 1425, and the offensive, which began with Procopius's invasion of Germany in 1427, and lasted until the com-mencement of negotiations with the council of Basel in 1431. The struggle had not proceeded very far, however, before it became manifest that the Hussite party was itself sharply divided in views and aims. All were agreed in warm and tender reverence for the memory of Huss, the evangelical preacher and the faithful servant of Christ; equally unanimous were they in holding the distinctive doctrine of the supreme authority of Holy Scripture, and in urging the reformation of the church. But all were not prepared to go equally far in the amount of reform they proposed. While the more radical section rejected such doctrines as those of purgatory and of the mediation of saints, held that priests in mortal sin could validly administer no sacrament, disapproved of penances, images, relics, mass in a foreign tongue, maintained the right of the pious laity, even of women, to preach, and regarded every building as in itself at least suitable for acts of divine worship, the more moderate or conservative section formu-lated their much simpler programme in the famous four articles of Prague (July 1420). These were—(1) free preaching of the word of God throughout the kingdom of Bohemia; (2) the administration of the eucharist to all believers not in mortal sin, under both species according to the institution of Christ; (3) deprivation of the clergy of the secular lordship they had assumed and of the secular property they had acquired to their own injury and to the prejudice of the civil power; (4) prohibition and repression of all mortal sins and public scandals. The supporters of these articles, who were led by Baron Czenko of Wartenberg, and had in their number such men as Jakob von Mies, were strong in the town and university of Prague, and occasionally received the name of the Praguers, but ultimately came to be more generally known as Calixtines (from " calix ") or Utraquists (from their claim to receive the communion " sub utraque specie "). The more radical party, from having taken up their headquarters at a strong-hold which had been fortified by Zizka and called Mount Tabor, some 65 miles southwards of Prague, received the name of Taborites. Whatever differences, however, may have separated the Hussites, all were united in offering resistance to the efforts made by Sigismund to crush them ; and at Deutschbrod in 1422, at Aussigin 1426, and finally at Taus (August 14, 1431), they inflicted signal defeats on his troops. Negotiations begun in 1431 with the council of Basel reached a termination only in November 1433, when the so-called " Compactata " or articles of agreement were signed by which the Calixtines were satisfied, com-munion under both species being granted to all who desired it, although the other concessions in the direction of the four articles of Prague were made in a somewhat illusory manner. The Taborites, or " Orphans " (as the followers of Zizka were sometimes called after his death in 1424), failed, however, to find in the Compactata all that they required, and they speedily took the field again in a campaign which terminated disastrously for them at Hrib near Bohmischbrod on May 30,1434. In this battle both Procopius and his brother perished; and soon afterwards the Taborites were compelled to surrender all the fortresses to which they had betaken themselves. Thenceforward they rapidly disappeared as a political party, although as a religious body they can be traced to about the middle of the century, when they gradually became merged in the so-called Moravians, or United Brethren of Bohemia. The Calixtines obtained from Sigismund in 1436 the formal re-cognition of the Compactata, which from that time had the force of law. Satisfied with this somewhat empty achieve-ment (which, however, was jealously guarded against the hostile attack of Pius II. in 1462), they gradually subsided into an inert conformity, so as to be but little distinguished from the Catholics around them, At the time of the Reformation some returned to the Roman Church, while the rest attached themselves either to the Lutheran or to the Reformed creed, and Hussitism as a distinct form of Christian profession became extinct.

See Cochlaeus, Hist. Hussilarum (1549); Palaeky, Urkundliche Beitriige zur Gesch. d. Husitenkrieges (1872-74). (J. S. BL.)

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