- Patron Saint and Prophet: Jan Hus in the Bohemian and German Reformations by Phillip N. Haberkern
This fine and comprehensive study of the development of the cult of Jan Hus is a tale of two stories. According to Haberkern, after King Sigismund burned Hus at the stake on July 6, 1415, Roman Catholic scholars engaged in a fierce and epic intellectual battle over Hus’s religious legacy first with Bohemian and later with Lutheran Reformers. Catholic authors understood Hus’s life and teachings as heretical, while the two “religious revolutions” (2) offered a subversive reinterpretation of Hus as a martyred saint and prophet in order to promote religious reforms in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Haberkern’s work is for scholars; readers not versed in both Bohemian and Lutheran Reformation history will find it challenging. For example, those not familiar with scholarship on Bohemian reforms will find it a bit difficult to keep up with some names and writings; in this way the early chapters are a bit like reading a Russian novel. However, Haberkern’s thorough footnotes make this task much easier. When commenting, for example, upon the terms “Hussite” or “Utraquist” with regard to the Bohemian Church, Haberkern takes a middle road among current scholarly debates. He suggests that “Hussite” refers to the “movement and body of religious thought that developed in Czech lands up until the time of the Council of Basel,” or 1415–30s. Utraquist comes from “sub utraque specie” or “communion under both kinds” and describes the institutional church that developed in Bohemia after the Council of Basel to the Protestant Reformation (2ff.). Haberkern thankfully [End Page 459] offers equal time to Roman Catholic writers, who surprisingly were not always of like mind about Hus’s orthodoxy.
Haberkern openly admits that his work is “not really about Jan Hus at all. Rather it is about the different people and movements who looked to him as a symbol and adapted that symbol to suit their specific, shifting needs” (6). The first three chapters deal with the development of Hus’s cult in the 1400s at a time when a national revolution and schismatic nationalistic church in Czech lands were taking root. Chapter one (called, The Saint) assesses the immediate aftermath of Hus’s death in the late 1410s. Chapter two (The Founder) looks at the 1420s and 30s and the militant Hussite movement and wars. Chapter three (The Patron) examines religious practices in the Utraquist church in the 1430s to the sixteenth century.
The second half of the book shows how Lutherans embraced Hus as a forerunner of Martin Luther and the Reformation. The early Luther was a bit uncertain about Hus’s legacy, but eventually came to accept the Hussites wholeheartedly (Chapter four: The Apocalyptic Witness). Chapter five (The Prophet) covers the Lutheran Johannes Agricola’s laudatory writings concerning Hus and briefly touches on the mythic story of how Hus supposedly claimed that a swan (later interpreted as Luther) would take up his song a hundred years after the Bohemian’s death. Chapter six (The Catholic) goes into the interesting debates between Agricola, who hailed Hus in treatises as well as in a play, and Johannes Cochleaus, who fiercely rebuts his Lutheran foes with forceful invectives. Chapter seven (The Exemplar) continues with Cochleaus, but analyses his confrontations with the Lutheran Matthias Flacius Illyricus. It also touches upon the so-called pamphlet wars.
In the end, Hus’s legacy involved nearly two hundred years of vigorous debate over whether he should be considered a heretic to be forgotten or a martyred saint and visionary prophet to be honored. Either way, Haberkern’s insightful and impressive retelling of these stories demonstrates that Hus’s life and death helped shape history in an epic way. [End Page 460]