- Antichrist in Bohemia: A Theme in the Genesis of Hussite Theology
The figure of Antichrist loomed over the late fourteenth century as the papal schism divided the church, and its peoples, into bitterly opposed factions. In Bohemia, this was keenly felt, and a widespread interest in church reform combined with an increasingly popular tendency to favor apocalyptic imagery in preaching to give rise to what would become the Hussite movement.1 In particular, the Paris-trained Matthias of Janov (d. 1393) would develop a theory of church reform centered on Antichrist that was to captivate Jakoubek of Střibro (d. 1429), who would become the chief theologian of the Hussite movement on Hus’s death.2 It has also been customary to identify the thought of John Wyclif (d. 1384) with the genesis of Hussite theology. Wyclif’s name had become firmly associated with the reform preaching of Jan Hus, Jerome of Prague, and others (like Jakoubek) during the first decade of the fifteenth century. When Sigismund, King of Bohemia, pledged to do everything possible to oppose “heresiesˮ in February 1428, he swore to oppose “the newly introduced ideas of Wyclif or Hus.”3 That connection has held for six centuries, with some scholars claiming that Hussitism is but a variation of Wycliffism, and others responding that such arguments elevate German (Anglo-Saxon) thinking over Czech thought. The issue became politicized as the Czech nations struggled to define themselves as distinct from the German nature of Austria-Hungary in the late nineteenth century. More recently, it has been recognized outside of the Czech literature that earlier Bohemian reform thought had a great deal to do with the content of Hussitism, but aside from very general summaries of figures such as Matthias and Jan Milíč, little has appeared in print.4
Wyclifʼs and Matthias of Janovʼs two different models of Antichrist reveal a much more important difference between the two thinkers. Each had a well-developed understanding of the church. Both described its membership as at best accidentally connected to the church of Rome, and for both thinkers, the clergy [End Page 21] betrayed the mystical body when they embraced secular power and wealth. For both, clerical abuses were evidence of Antichrist’s persecution of the church, to be countered by priests preaching the gospels and exemplifying Christ’s perfect life. The difference lay in whether or not these priests could identify the individual members of Antichrist or not. Wyclif was prepared to identify kinds of members, such as friars, corrupt clergy, and so on, but he restricted himself to generalities.5 Matthias and his intellectual heirs were prepared to identify specific members of Antichrist based on their hypocritical behavior.6 This is what led to the differences between Wyclif and the Hussites, as will be evident in our concluding discussion of one of the Four Articles of Prague. Not being able to identify specific members of Antichrist kept reform at an ideological level, but Matthias’s Regulae provided the wherewithal to identify them with its carefully delineated explanations of their characteristic hypocrisy.
More important than questions of influence of specific thinkers was the shift that was occurring as the Hussite movement germinated. Christian theology was expanding venues in the mid fourteenth century, from the province of the Latin schools to vernacular and popular Latin.7 However, descriptions of Antichrist had long been in a liminal zone, as much the subject of prophetic exegesis and mystic eschatology as well as the basis for scholastic arguments about ecclesiology and other formal disputes.8 In this case, Wyclif represented a more conventional, scholastic description of Antichrist, while the Bohemian model, I will argue, represented a powerful readiness within Hussite reform to depart from the discourse of the schools.9 The key will be to show how these two models of Antichrist revealed the contrasting models of the church and how reform could be realized.
We should begin with two models by which to understand the relation of Antichrist to the church, of which Wyclif made use of one, and Matthias, and subsequently Jakoubek, used the other. While it is interesting to consider the lineage of apocalyptic theology that led...