John Hus (1977)




Director:     Michael Economou.

Starring:     Rod Colbin (John Hus),  Regis Cordic (Cardinal Anthony),   Marvin Miller (Emperor Sigismund),  Sándor Naszódy (Prosecutor at Council),  Gordon Devol (Lord John of Chlum),  Jack Lukes (Lord Wenceslas),  Carmen Zapata (Mother of John Hus),  Allen Joseph,  Brian Wood,  John Hart (Theologian),  Stephen Manley (John Hus - as a child),  Chris Beaumont (Jailer),  Wade Crosby,  Ron Hajak (John Hus - as a young man).

Czech burned at the stake in 1415; had influence on Martin Luther



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 


"The 15th century marked the turning point in a deadly struggle between the powerful medieval church and those few brave men who dar3e to question the authority of her claims  --  men like Wycliff, Jerome, Luther, Swingli and others.  But nearly a hundred years before Luther's famous 95 theses were nailed to the door at Wittenburg, signaling the start of the Christian Reformation, another man, a Bohemian priest, chose to raise his voice against what he felt were abuses of the church and prepared the way for the dramatic events which would follow.  His name was John Hus and this is his story."

John Hus is in prison.  A fellow tells him that he will get used to the stink of the place.  The previous inmate was here for eight years.  The fellows asks John why did they arrest him?  John answers:  "From fear of what I might say."  The jailer says the Council can relax because the only ones down here to hear John Hus are the rats. 

Writing.  December 6, 1414.  "My dear friends, I, John Hus, in hope, a priest of Jesus Christ, address you from the dungeon at the monastery in Constance, Germany.  I have sought to defend the truth as it is in Holy Scripture and to denounce corruption.  I have taught nothing in secret, but in public have I presented my views." 

Flashback.  To a group of people John says:  "My friends, when we study the scriptures, we hear God speaking directly to us.  The word of God, the truth of God, is more important than the words or opinions of men.  All human thought must be subservient to God's word.   As long as His word is with us, He is with us.  He is our continual protection, so seek His word, seek His wisdom, seek His truth, and never be afraid to defend it, for the truth shall set you free."

Back to prison.  John stands in his cell. 

Flashback.  John's mother tells him that she is so proud of him.  He has gotten a scholarship to study to be a priest.  She says:  "You'll be the best priest in Prague." 

John attends the university and the becomes a priest.  Then it's off to the palace.  His Majesty tells John that it is good to have him here in the palace.  He adds that he will go far as long as it acts wisely.  In other word, His Majesty wants the status quo maintained.  The problem for John, however, is that he doesn't want to disregard the writings of theological thinkers such as John Wycliff.  Nor does he want to play along with the politics of the day. 

John becomes a professor and a rector at the university.  His friend, however, warns him that if he continues to attack the corruption in the church, great danger lies ahead for him.   John says he loves the church but it's not right that a man can buy his entrance into heaven.  And more people should be able to understand God's Gospels through hearing the Gospels in their own languages.  Jesus, after all, told his disciples to send the word out of "all" the people and that is what John is trying to do. 

John preaches that "salvation can never be found by works."  It is a matter of faith.   A priest in the audience has heard enough and leaves the sermon.  He goes to speak to the cardinal about this John Hus.

Back in prison.  John thinks:  "The events which followed both amazed and hurt me.  My enemies moved against me like a ravenous beast, demanding that I go to Rome to answer charges.

Flashback.  A man puts a sign on a church door:  "All Prague is under interdict.  All churches are to be closed and all religious services suspended."  This is the result of Hus defying the church.  Unless Hus surrenders to the authorities, all the people of Prague will face the closing of their churches.  Under interdiction there would be no burial rites, no marriage and no worship in the churches.  John tries to reason with them saying that nothing can stop them from being close go God.  But most of the people thought being cut off from their church was the same as being cut off from God. 

So John decides to leave Prague and work in the towns and villages of his youth.  Then King Sigismund summons him to the city of Constance.  His followers warn him not to go because he could be killed for his beliefs.  He says it's a risk he will take to try to clarify his beliefs to others.  And, besides, the King has given him his promise of a safe conduct.  John will be accompanied by two friends of his, Lord John of Chlum and Lord Wenceslas of Duba.

Along the way with the knights, John receives great adoration from the villagers.  John then explains that he will talk with Cardinal Anthony.   He says he is sure that the cardinal with all his great knowledge will see that John has not deviated from the word of God. 

John gets his audience with the cardinal, but the high ranking church official says that John has been going down a dangerous road.  His teachings are actually weakening the church.  Of course, John doesn't believe that at all.  He asks the cardinal for a hearing before the Council to explain his beliefs to the eminent men of the church.  The cardinal tells him:  "I will not subject the Holy Fathers as to your arrogant preachings."  The cardinal says that John has distorted the word of God for his own purposes.  He goes on to say that John should pray to God for the grace with which to repent his heretical teachings.

Back in prison.  In prison John writes that he never got a hearing before the Council.  Instead, he was arrested and thrown in prison. He was accused of, among other things, preaching  the beliefs of the arch-heretic Wycliff. 

Flashback.  John protests that the church authorities are taking his words out of context and giving them a meaning he never intended the words to have.  The Council is recessed until tomorrow. 

Cardinal Anthony comes to speak with King Sigismund..  The king is obviously a big believe in the work and ideas of John Hus.  He even goes far as to say that he wants to be known as the king who gave John Hus his greatest opportunity to serve the king's people.   The cardinal asks for a private meeting between him and the king only.  Everyone leaves the room except the king and cardinal. 

The cardinal reminds the king that the case of John Hus is an ecclesiastical matter.  Now the cardinal has to tell why John Hus is not a saint, but a heretic.  There are a total of 23 articles reported and recorded by witnesses on which John Hus is wrong.  In short the man's teachings are offensive, deceitful, heretical, insolent and disrespectful.  The king is sticking to his loyalty to John Hus, but now the big guns are brought in by the cardinal.  "A king's support of one, who is accused of heresy, can have dangerous reverberations throughout Europe.  . . .  If you sanction Hus, and he is found to be an antichrist, do you realize you will have supported the devil?  Are you prepared for the consequences?"  The cardinal says that an emperor can be ex-communicated.  The last threat really shakes the king's confidence. 

The two knights who are friends of John come into his cell to tell him that they have already convinced the king it could be disastrous for him if he supported a man guilty of heresy.  John cannot depends on the king's promise of protection.  The two knights want to help John escape from prison.  John says if he escaped he would be betraying God's trust in him to spread His message.  He still thinks he has a chance to defend his beliefs before the world.  He thanks the men for their devotion, but he is staying.  The knights kiss his hand and leave. 

The cardinal tells John Hus that he has to recant his beliefs and preachings.  This is not agreeable to John. 

John receives visitors.  The two knights have returned to talk with him.  They tell John that they came to talk to him on behalf of the king.  He wants to know where John Hus stands?  John says he does not see himself as a heretic, because if he did, he would recant.  John keeps saying that his critics can't show him in the Scriptures where he has deviated from the word of God.  (The problem here is that the priests are more interested in the word of the church than the word of God.  John doesn't seem to understand where the Catholics are coming from.  They are primarily interested in the church and they says the word of the church is automatically the word of God.)

The knights try to impress on John that this may be his last chance for the Council is going to announce its verdict tomorrow.  "It may be a short walk to the stake."  John promises the knights that he will think over what they told him. 

A fellow brings water into Hus.  He tells Hus that if he were in Hus's position, he would renounce everything necessary to save his neck.  John tells him:  "You have no fear of death when you have faith in our Lord and Savior."

The next morning the church bells ring.  John sits in a chair with his hand and leg irons on.  John pleads with the church people to let him refute each accusation as it comes.  They tell him he can answer all the accusations at the end of the proceedings.  John says it's much better to take one issue at a time.  The cardinal tells him basically to shut up and be quiet.  John appeals to God for strength and the clergyman says appealing directly to God is a grievous error. 

John asks the audience:  "If I were a heretic, why would I risk coming here?"  [The answer to that is that John seriously underestimated the clergy's commitment to the church.  He literally threw himself to the wolves  -- the wolves of the church.]

The cardinal reads out part of the court decision.  All his writings will be destroyed in a public burning.  Hus asks the cardinal if he has every read any of his writings?  The cardinal says he is not the one on trial here.  Hus keeps talking and the cardinal keeps telling him to shut up.  He threatens to have the guards make sure that Hus remains quiet. 

They finally say that the church turns John Hus now over to the secular courts and they will burn him at the stake as a heretic. 

Now John goes through a ceremony where he is stripped of all his ecclesiastical titles and trappings..    The cardinal says:  "John Hus, we commit your soul to hell."

John walks the last bit of the way to the stake.  The executioner helps him up and over the wood and then chains him to the stake.  The clergy gives him one last change to recant.  John says:  "I call God to witness that all I have written and preached, has been to rescue souls from sin.  There can be no turning back.  My Lord walked the path of truth and duty, even though it took Him to Calvary.  Can I, one of his humble followers, turn back now?  To witness to God's truth is more important than life.  Joyfully then, will I confirm with my blood all the writings and preachings of truths that I've held.  Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commit my spirit."

The executioner lights the fire.  John starts singing a hymn. 

John Hus was martyred July 6, 1415.  He died singing. 


I agree with John's positions as to the word of God being more important than the word of any church.  The church is subject to corruption, bribery, prejudice, hatred, discrimination, etc., etc., etc.  To say that the words of any church are equal to the words of God is sacrilege in my eyes. 

Now, technically, John was certainly a heretic.   According to the Catholic church and the clergy, anyone contradicting anything the church held as true was heresy.  John kind of missed the point.  In his own defense, he should have gone directly against the church as a heresy to God, rather than saying that no one can show him where he committed heresy.  The church didn't want to get into a grand debate with John Hus over theological beliefs and actions.  Yes, according to the Catholics, the clergy was right in condemning John Hus to the stake.  But that doesn't mean that the church was actually right in its interpretations of the word of God.  So seen after hundreds of Protestant churches have come into existence, the Catholic church had no ultimate right to sentence John Hus to death. 

John Hus should have gotten himself a good lawyer or a spokesperson.  He just kept repeating the same statement that the clergy can't prove that he went against the word of God.  The corruption of the Catholic Church and its interpretation of Scripture in ways to suit their own church could have been discussed.  But no, it was all just repetitive talking. 

The Catholic clergy were like little robots all just saying the same things over and over again.  Let's put it another way.  It wasn't much of a debate at all.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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