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I hope everyone had a good Christmas, despite the circumstances in various countries this year.

May I wish those who observe it in the UK and the Commonwealth a happy Boxing Day.

In Ireland, December 26 is observed as St Stephen’s Day.

You can read a history of both Boxing Day and St Stephen’s Day below:

Boxing Day – a history

St Stephen was the Church’s first martyr. His trial and death comprise Acts 7. Some might be surprised to find in the first few verses of Acts 8 that Saul of Tarsus — later St Paul the Apostle — was instrumental in Stephen’s death.

This post has two interesting videos about Stephen’s life and the example he has set for all Christians:

St Stephen, the first martyr

The next post has expositions from Acts 7 and Acts 8:1-3 about Stephen’s final hours. The post also explains the charity that made Boxing Day a long standing tradition. It ends with an exploration of the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas about the Bohemian monarch’s dispensing charity ‘on the feast of Stephen’ in severe winter weather as well as the his alarming martyrdom:

December 26 — St Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day and more

I plan to post again on Christmas on Sunday. Monday is a public holiday here in the UK and Ireland because Boxing/St Stephen’s Day falls on a Saturday. The last time this happened was in 2015. Being able to extend Christmas is always a bonus.


Apologies to my readers who might find the words ‘Moravian’, ‘history’ and ‘Jan Hus’ offputting.

However, to understand where Jan (‘John’) Hus and the Moravians derived their influence, it helps to find out more about the history of Moravia and its influences from geography as well as kingdoms and other strands of Christianity. As most Protestants know, Hus was part of the run-up to Luther’s Reformation.


Moravia comprises more or less the eastern part of today’s Czech Republic. It derives its name from the Morava River, the principal waterway of the region.  One of the Morava’s lowland regions is known as the Marchland, march meaning ‘border’ in German and not ‘marsh’, as we might think. Wikipedia explains a fact pertinent to parts of this post (highlights mine):

The lower part of the river, downstream of the confluence with the Thaya at Hohenau an der March, marks the Austro-Slovakian border. This is one of the oldest national boundaries still extant in continental Europe; it was the eastern boundary of the March of Austria from the 11th century, and also marked the boundary of the Carolingian Empire with the Avar Khaganate during the 9th century (the March was within Habsburg territory during 1526–1918 due to the imperial expansion of Austria).

Bohemia is the territory to the west of Moravia.

Both Moravia and Bohemia are surrounded by mountains. Moravia’s northern and westernmost range is the Sudete(n) Mountains. The Carpathians lie to the east. The Beskids form its southern border.

Bohemia, which translates loosely to ‘home of the Boi people’, has the Bohemian Forest on its borders between what are now Germany and Austria, with the Ore Mountains to the north and the Sudeten mountains to the east. Its principal river is the Moldau.

Celts and, later, a Germanic tribe, invaded Moravia. As for Bohemia, the Boii were originally in what is now today’s Italy, when they fled from Roman invasion in the late 2nd century BC.

An independent people

Both groups, although later invaded and conquered by different tribes and kingdoms and were at times unified, maintained an independent streak which would play its part in the century leading up to Martin Luther’s Reformation.

When I was growing up, unconventional ‘artsy’ people — or ‘beatniks’, as they were called in the 1950s and early 1960s, were called Bohemians. They frequented coffee houses, dressed unconventionally and had little regard for social mores. They were not Bohemians from what was then Czechoslovakia; they were just unconventional.  In the late 1960s, author Tom (Bonfire of the Vanities) Wolfe shortened this to ‘boho’. Today, in the 21st century, we have another word, ‘bobo’, which originated in France and is short for ‘bourgeois Bohemian’. It refers to well-brought up people of means who have defected from the middle-class norm in terms of behaviour, politics and social attitudes.  ‘Bobo’ is now increasingly used in English and American parlance.  In recent years, Americans have been using the word ‘hipster’, which means the same thing.

Although I won’t go into the historical nuances of Moravia and Bohemia, it is worth noting from Ezra Hall Gillett’s forensic work, The Life and Times of John Huss, that

During the latter half of the fourteenth century (1350-1400), Bohemia occupied a place among the nations of Europe somewhat correspondent to her local position in the heart of the continent. Her capital was the residence of the German emperor. Her university at Prague, though recently founded, was the oldest and most flourishing – indeed, almost the only one – in Eastern Europe. Her churches, cloisters, and palaces were remarked by the stranger with surprise and admiration, while through her connection with the German empire, her influence was widely felt.

This was because:

in 1310 John of Luxembourg became king of Bohemia. Moravia and Bohemia remained within the Luxembourg dynasty of Holy Roman kings and emperors (except during the Hussite wars), until inherited by Albert II of Habsburg in 1437.

Even so:

The cry of Reform which was to be heard in almost every country of Europe, demanding the removal of the papal schism, and a remedy for the evils of the church, was to find a memorable echo in her own university. In her bosom she was fondly to cherish one of her own sons, whose influence should be more enduring and extensive than that of Petrarch, and the fundamental principle of whose doctrines – the sole and supreme authority of the word of God – was to strike the key-note of the Great Reformation in the succeeding century.

This was because the Bohemians resented the Germans, who seemed to overrun the area not only in governance but also in cities and universities in their own land. As Gillett explains:

For the two preceding centuries it had been kept alive, and had even acquired strength in opposition to foreign innovations. The introduction of the usages of the Romish church, and the extended jurisdiction of Roman law, had not been gained without a struggle. The popular literature, meager as it was, was warmly cherished, and gave place but slowly to Latin learning.

Before then:

Bohemia, like England, was sheltered by her isolated situation. And besides all this, her attachment to her old usages, long cherished by the patriotic feeling of her citizens, had made her exceedingly reluctant to conform to the Romish ritual. Former sympathies and associations had connected her with the East. By the Greek church she had first been Christianized, and, until near the middle of the fourteenth century, a strong attachment to the rites and usages derived from this source had very generally prevailed. The process by which the nation was brought to recognize the authority of the See of Rome was slow and difficult.

The Bohemians and Moravians resented the Germanic introduction of the Church of Rome’s practices of the Eucharist in one specie only (bread) and the celibacy of the clergy. Emperor Charles IV set forth a series of penalties for rebellion against Rome and the sentiment among local people was bitter.

As such, they began to revive their own local and regional traditions. This was true in every social class, even the nobility. Bohemian literature was made available — this was pre-printing press — to the people as much as possible. Works in Latin were translated into Bohemian to further their classical awareness.

Charles IV was forced to install an Archbishop of Prague over the presiding (German) Archbishop of Mayence (Mainz). The Bohemians also gained the right to civil judges who could speak and understand the local language. At the turn of the 15th century, the University of Prague instituted the ‘College of the Bohemian nation’, specifically for Bohemians.

It was against this backdrop that Jan Hus began his university education.

Waldensian influence in Bohemia

If you read my post on Peter Waldo and his Waldenses from southern France and the Italian Alps, you’ll recall that a version of Waldo’s life story takes him into ‘Germany’ for safe haven, where he is thought to have died. Gillett subscribed to that theory, saying that after the burning at the stake of a number of Waldenses in Strasbourg many others fled to Bohemia and settled there — Waldo, he believed, among their number.

Interestingly, Gillett posits that Waldo first fled to Picardy — the region in Northern France where John Calvin was born in the early 16th century. Incidentally, the Bogomilist map shows that their beliefs spread to the same region. Indeed, ex-Catholic Calvin codified Christianity along Bogomilist lines, which Martin Luther, himself a former Augustinian monk, did not do, although it appears that Bogomilism had also spread to Germany.

Am I saying that Calvin is a heretic? Not necessarily, however, he was firmly opposed to anything which was even vaguely Roman Catholic, whereas Luther showed a greater flexibility towards adiaphora, which the Bogomilists despised, as do present-day Calvinists.

In any event, back to the Waldenses — also influenced by Bogomilism — seeking refuge in Bohemia, a region of mountains and valleys, both to which they were already accustomed. ‘Waldenses’ comes from ‘Vaudois’, the French word for ‘people from mountain valleys’, as I explained in my post, citing the Swiss canton of Vaud, located in the Alps.

According to Gillett, the Waldenses continued to preach and teach in Bohemia:

The vulgar tongue was as fitting for prayer, in their view, as the Latin, which they did not understand … They laughed at the legends of the saints. They reverenced “the traditions” of the church no more than Christ did the traditions of the Pharisees. They denied purgatory. They considered lights in churches needless. To them holy water was no better than any other, and the cross was but a piece of wood. But it was their veneration for, and their acquaintance with, the word of God, abundantly attested by their persecutors, that led them to dissent so emphatically from the Roman church. Of the purity of their lives, and the simple devotion which characterized their worship, their foes themselves leave us no room to doubt.

Prosperity and independent thought

That said, the region was advancing, thanks to the German presence.  And, on another level, the more people became aware of their social and mercantile advances, the more they began examining their own Eastern Orthodox traditions, the teachings of the Waldenses and the Roman Catholic Church. The University of Prague ranked the third most notable institution of higher education in Europe, only behind those of Oxford and Paris, respectively.

Many Bohemians — Moravians included — had already heard of three men of recent memory who had opposed the Catholic Church. They were Conrad Waldhauser (Steikna), John Milicz, of Kremsier in Moravia; and Matthias of Janow.

Conrad Walshauer died around the time that Jan Hus was born. Walshauer had lived through the Black Death and made the journey to Rome for Pope Clement VI’s jubilee in 1350. The numbers of people there and the immoderate sales of various indulgences floored him. He returned to Austria a changed man and devoted his life to repentance.  He was later charged with breach of the peace for his inflammatory preaching, much of it in Prague.  Despite that, Charles IV appreciated his sermons and invited him to become the parish priest in Leitmeritz. However, a number of the locals as well as Franciscans and Dominicans opposed the appointment. He was able to preach at a church in Prague, but the numbers who gathered in and outside the church were too numerous, and, as a result, Walshauer went outdoors to preach — a notable characteristic of pietism.  He especially criticised the monks for their licentiousness and hypocrisy. However, he also preached that the laity repent of their sins and give the proceeds of their wealth to the poor — the latter being another mark of pietism. He appears to have meant much more than charity.  He died, a parish priest, in 1369.

John Milicz was a native of Moravia, appointed archdeacon and preacher at the cathedral. He was a contemporary of Walshauer’s and had — as John Calvin would — read theology and law at university.  He studied at the University of Prague. He preached against Communion as bread only, saying that the people should partake of the wine as well, as Christ instituted at the Last Supper.  He was also disconcerted that people could not worship in their own language. Furthermore, he objected to the taking of holy orders as being synonymous with personal sanctity. Eventually, he resigned his position at the cathedral for a much lesser-paid post as sacristan there (preparing the elements for Communion, maintaining the vestments and parts of the building). He volunteered himself to poverty — another mark of pietism. Although Milicz had been strident, he practiced what he preached and maintained the affection of those attending cathedral services. Even as a sacristan, they demanded that he preach to them three or four times a day.

In time, word spread to German visitors to Prague.  In order to widen his audience, he learned German and preached in that language.  Although he spent a short time as a curate in a town in Pilsen (western Bohemia, where the beer originated, not the neighbourhood in Chicago!), he returned to Prague, where he became more self-sacrificing in his poverty and preaching than before, going from church to church to spread his message. Eventually, he focused his ministry on helping to reform women of ill repute. He became convinced that the Pope was the Antichrist and journeyed to Rome to seek an audience with Pope Urban. Milicz was imprisoned for intimating his thoughts publicly and was freed only once Urban returned to Rome from Avignon (Provence, in France, where a concurrent opposing papacy with Rome was in place for some years).  Back in Prague, he organised a group of like-minded pietistic ascetics, whom the public opposed vigorously. Perhaps Milicz had gone one step too far.  Yet, Charles IV appointed him to the post Walshauer held when he died.  Regional bishops complained. Milicz travelled to Avignon to complain to the Pope, but died whilst there.

Matthias of Janow was similar in that he taught that the laity must live a holy life by works — a ticklist of behaviours which they must adopt, another hallmark of pietism. ‘If you do this, then you will be saved’ — a form of semi-Pelagianism.  He seems to have been the John Wesley of his time in that his innate holiness inspired others to adopt it. However, innate holiness in one person on the road to sanctification does not necessarily mean that everyone else will experience that same Providential grace at the same time along that same road. All of us are different.

Matthias, like Wesley was well-versed in Scripture and well-travelled. He wrote a treatise on the truth of Scripture, contrasting it with the practices of the Catholic Church. Although he cross-referenced not only his volume but his sermons with Scripture, he, too, had a pietistic bent in railing against people who did not accept his version of personal holiness. Sometimes he was right in lashing out against hypocrisy amongst the clergy and laity. He was also right to argue for a return to Holy Communion in both forms — bread and wine. However, he seemed to have been bound up in condemnation for people who did not do exactly as he did by means of sanctification. Although he became a prebendary at Prague, in 1389, he appeared before the Synod there and was told to recant what he had written.  As was the case with Milicz, Charles IV won out in the end. Matthias continued in the same vein as before. He died in 1394, and in 1410, his writings were burnt along with those of John Wycliffe.

Jan Hus’s ministry

By 1396, Jan Hus held a Master’s degree from the University of Prague. Four years later, he was ordained a Catholic priest.  Between 1402 and 1403, he became the rector of the University of Prague as well as the priest of the new Bethlehem chapel. His main influence was John Wycliffe, whose writings had been condemned during the same time period.  Nonetheless, Hus translated Wycliffe’s Trialogus into the vernacular, so that the local people could read it.

As had his fellow countrymen — Walshauer, Milicz and Matthias of Janow — Hus railed against the same ills of the Catholic Church. In 1405, upon instruction of Pope Innocent VII, the Archbishop of Prague forbade any preaching or teaching of Wycliffe.

In 1406, two Bohemian students brought a document bearing the seal of the University of Oxford.  It was a tribute to Wycliffe which Hus read from the pulpit. Two years later, Pope Gregory XII wrote the Archbishop of Prague that anyone espousing Wycliffe’s teachings — including King Wenceslaus — must stop doing so.

Wenceslaus (pictured on the right) also needed to act, as he wished to become a future Holy Roman Emperor.  He decreed a neutrality towards both Popes — of Rome and Avignon.  He expected the University of Prague to follow. The Archbishop pledged to remain loyal to Gregory XII. Meanwhile, at the university, only Hus’s voting bloc — one of four — voted for neutrality.

Wenceslaus declared that the Bohemians would become the major voting blocs in university affairs. You wouldn’t think that this would be such a major event, but between 5,000 and 20,000 foreign scholars left the university in 1409.  A number of them founded the University of Leipzig and denounced the Bohemians for spreading heresies.

One would have thought this could have spelled disaster for Hus, but instead he remained rector of the University of Prague and went on to greater renown. Meanwhile, the Archbishop was sidelined.

Next: Hus — fame or notoriety?

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