The Hussites (Czech: Husité or Kališníci; "Chalice People") were a pre-Protestant Christian movement that followed the teachings of Czech reformer Jan Hus, who became the best known representative of the Bohemian Reformation.
The Hussite movement began in the Kingdom of Bohemia and quickly spread throughout the remaining Lands of the Bohemian Crown, including Moravia and Silesia. It also made inroads into the northern parts of the Kingdom of Hungary (now Slovakia), but was rejected and gained infamy for the plundering behavior of the Hussite soldiers. There were also very small temporary communities in Poland-Lithuania and Transylvania which moved to Bohemia after being confronted with religious intolerance. It was a regional movement that failed to expand anywhere farther. Hussites emerged as a majority Utraquist movement with a significant Taborite faction, and smaller regional ones that included Adamites, Orebites and Orphans. Major Hussite theologians included Petr Chelcicky, Jerome of Prague, and others. A number of Czech national heroes were Hussite, including Jan Žižka, who led a fierce resistance to five consecutive crusades proclaimed on Hussite Bohemia by the Papacy. Hussites were one of the most important forerunners of the Protestant Reformation. This predominantly religious movement was propelled by social issues and strengthened Czech national awareness.
After the Council of Constance lured Jan Hus in with a letter of indemnity, then tried him for heresy and put him to death at the stake on 6 July 1415, the Hussites fought the Hussite Wars (1420–1434) for their religious and political cause. After the Hussite Wars ended, the Catholic-supported Utraquist side came out victorious from conflict with the Taborites and became the most common representation of the Hussite faith in Bohemia. Catholics and Utraquists were emancipated in Bohemia after the religious peace of Kutná Hora in 1485.
Bohemia and Moravia, or what is now the territory of the Czech Republic, remained majority Hussite for two centuries until Roman Catholic Christianity was reimposed by the Holy Roman Emperor after the 1620 Battle of White Mountain during the Thirty Years' War. Due to this event and centuries of Habsburg persecution, Hussite traditions are merely represented in the Moravian Church, Unity of the Brethren, and the refounded Czechoslovak Hussite churches among present-day Christians.
Impact of Hus's death on Bohemia
When news of his death at the Council of Constance in 1415 arrived, disturbances broke out, directed primarily against the clergy and especially against the monks. Even the Archbishop narrowly escaped from the effects of this popular anger. The treatment of Hus was felt to be a disgrace inflicted upon the whole country and his death was seen as a criminal act. King Wenceslaus, prompted by his grudge against Sigismund, at first gave free vent to his indignation at the course of events in Constance. His wife openly favoured the friends of Hus. Avowed Hussites stood at the head of the government.
A league was formed by certain lords, who pledged themselves to protect the free preaching of the Gospel upon all their possessions and estates and to obey the power of the Bishops only where their orders accorded with the injunctions of the Bible. The university would arbitrate any disputed points. The entire Hussite nobility joined the league. Other than verbal protest of the council's treatment of Hus, there was little evidence of any actions taken by the nobility until 1417. At that point several of the lesser nobility and some barons, signatories of the 1415 protest letter, removed Romanist priests from their parishes, replacing them with priests willing to give communion in both wine and bread. The chalice of wine became the central identifying symbol of the Hussite movement. If the king had joined, its resolutions would have received the sanction of the law; but he refused, and approached the newly formed Roman Catholic League of lords, whose members pledged themselves to support the king, the Catholic Church, and the Council. The prospect of a civil war began to emerge.
Pope Martin V as Cardinal Otto of Colonna had attacked Hus with relentless severity. He energetically resumed the battle against Hus's teaching after the enactments of the Council of Constance. He wished to eradicate completely the doctrine of Hus, for which purpose the co-operation of King Wenceslaus had to be obtained. In 1418, Sigismund succeeded in winning his brother over to the standpoint of the council by pointing out the inevitability of a religious war if the heretics in Bohemia found further protection. Hussite statesmen and army leaders had to leave the country and Roman Catholic priests were reinstated. These measures caused a general commotion which hastened the death of King Wenceslaus by a paralytic stroke in 1419. His heir was Sigismund.
Factions of the Hussites
Hussitism organised itself during the years 1415–1419.
The moderate party, who followed Hus more closely, sought to conduct reform while leaving the whole hierarchical and liturgical order of the Church untouched.
The more radical party identified itself more boldly with the doctrines of John Wycliffe, sharing his passionate hatred of the monastic clergy, and his desire to return the Church to its supposed condition during the time of the apostles. This required the removal of the existing hierarchy and the secularisation of ecclesiastical possessions. The radicals preached the "sufficientia legis Christi"—the divine law (i.e. the Bible) is the sole rule and canon for human society, not only in the church, but also in political and civil matters. They rejected therefore, as early as 1416, everything that they believed had no basis in the Bible, such as the veneration of saints and images, fasts, superfluous holidays, the oath, intercession for the dead, auricular Confession, indulgences, the sacraments of Confirmation and the Anointing of the Sick; they admitted laymen and women to the preacher's office, and chose their own priests. But above all they clung to Wycliffe's doctrine of the Lord's Supper, denying transubstantiation, and this is the principal point by which they are distinguished from the moderate party.
The programme of the more conservative Hussites (the moderate party) is contained in the Four Articles of Prague, which were written by Jakoubek ze Stříbra and agreed upon in July 1420, promulgated in the Latin, Czech, and German languages. The full text is about two pages long, but they are often summarized as:
- Freedom to preach the word of God
- Celebration of the communion under both kinds (bread and wine to priests and laity alike)
- Poverty of the clergy and expropriation of church property;
- Punishment for mortal sins regardless of stature.
The views of the moderate Hussites were widely represented at the University and among the citizens of Prague; they were therefore called the Prague Party, but also Calixtines (Latin calix chalice) or Utraquists (Latin utraque both), because they emphasized the second article of Prague, and the chalice became their emblem.
The radicals (the radical party) had their gathering-places all around the country.
Hussites were not a unitary movement, but a diverse one with multiple factions that held different views and opposed each other in the Hussite Wars.
Hussites can be divided into:
- Moderate Hussites Prague Hussites Bohemian Hussite nobility Hussites of Žatec and Louny other Utraquists/Calixtines
- Radical Hussites Taborites Orebites Adamites Orphans Unity of the Brethren (founded in the middle 15th century) other Radical Hussites
The news of the death of King Wenceslaus in 1419 produced a great commotion among the people of Prague.
The Hussites initially campaigned defensively, but after 1427 they assumed the offensive.
Eventually, the opponents of the Hussites found themselves forced to consider an amicable settlement.
The Taborites refused to conform.
In 1462, Pope Pius II declared the "Compacta" null and void, prohibited communion in both kinds, and acknowledged King George of Podebrady as king on condition that he would promise an unconditional harmony with the Roman Church. This he refused, but his successor, King Vladislaus II, favored the Roman Catholics and proceeded against some zealous clergymen of the Calixtines. The troubles of the Utraquists increased from year to year. In 1485, at the Diet of Kutná Hora, an agreement was made between the Roman Catholics and Utraquists that lasted for thirty-one years. It was only later, at the Diet of 1512, that the equal rights of both religions were permanently established. The appearance of Martin Luther was hailed by the Utraquist clergy, and Luther himself was astonished to find so many points of agreement between the doctrines of Hus and his own. But not all Utraquists approved of the German Reformation; a schism arose among them, and many returned to the Roman doctrine, while other elements had organised the [[LINK|lang_"en|Unitas_Fratrum|Unitas Fratrum"]]
Under Emperor Maximilian II, the Bohemian state assembly established the "Confessio Bohemica", upon which Lutherans, Reformed, and Bohemian Brethren agreed. From that time forward Hussitism began to die out. After the Battle of White Mountain on 8 November 1620 the Roman Catholic Faith was re-established with vigour, which fundamentally changed the religious conditions of the Czech lands.
Leaders and members of Unitas Fratrum were forced to choose to either leave the many and varied southeastern principalities of what was the Holy Roman Empire (mainly Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia and parts of Germany and its many states), or to practice their beliefs secretly. As a result, members were forced underground and dispersed across northwestern Europe. The largest remaining communities of the Brethren were located in Lissa (Leszno) in Poland, which had historically strong ties with the Czechs, and in small, isolated groups in Moravia. Some, among them Jan Amos Comenius, fled to western Europe, mainly the Low Countries. A settlement of Hussites in Herrnhut, Saxony, now Germany, in 1722 caused the emergence of the Moravian Church.
In 1918, as a result of World War I, the Czech lands regained independence from Austria-Hungary controlled by the Habsburg monarchy as Czechoslovakia (due to Masaryk and Czechoslovak legions with Hussite tradition, in the name of the troops) .