Luther’s Declaration of War

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At Leipzig, in debate with John Eck, Martin Luther said those fateful words, “Ja, Ich bin ein Hussite”—I am a Hussite. With this, the gallery exploded, and people lost their minds. But why? One hundred and two years before Martin Luther posted his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Jan Hus, the Rector of what is now Charles University and the preacher of Bethlehem Chapel in Prague was burned at the stake for his supposed heresies. What was it that Hus was teaching that got him into so much trouble?

To understand Hus’ errors, one must consider the politically turbulent times. There was at this time a Pope in Rome and a Pope in France. The question of who was the legitimate Pope was raging. So to fix the problem, a Pope in Pisa was elected. Instead of bringing the other two popes on board, there were now three popes. To complicate these matters King Sigismund and Emperor Wenceslaus were locked in a struggle for the position of Holy Roman Emperor. And that's not all—in Prague, at the University, even though the majority of the students were Bohemians and the majority of the funding from Bohemia, the Germans controlled the faculty. Hus led the charge to unseat the Germans and to install the Bohemians in the seats of academic leadership at the University of Prague (now Charles University). This, of course, earned Hus many enemies.

Hus, a slightly-more-than-tepid follower of Wycliffe was in many ways following the same path as Luther.

Hus believed that the Lord’s Supper should be distributed to the people as Christ gave it to His disciples. It had become Romanist practice to give communion to the masses in the bread only, the rationalization being that you cannot have a body without blood.

Hus held that The Bible alone is the authority for the doctrine of the church and not popes or councils. Thus he held to a form of Sola Scriptura—Scripture Alone.

Hus believed that the church had become entirely corrupt and that the Priestly class should be held to the same if not higher legal and moral standards than the people that they serve. Much like how Luther had become horrified seeing the excesses in Rome, Hus likewise was deeply troubled by the ruling class of priests.

Hus held that Christ alone grants salvation and that popes do not. He did recognize the authority of the Papacy, but it seems in a more administrative capacity. Hus had an early and lesser developed “Two Kingdom Principle” than Luther, but then again, we are not sure where Hus was going as He was only about forty-two years old when executed.

Among many other things, Hus believed that the sale of indulgences was abusive and immoral. He argued that if the Pope has access to this “Treasury of Merits” and he has the power over purgatory and hell, why would the Pope not simply give away that forgiveness for free, even as Jesus did? After all, if the Pope is the “Vicar of Christ,” or the one who acts vicariously for Christ, who is he to charge others for the forgiveness given freely? This last platform along with the enemies that Hus had amassed along the way, led to his eventual persecution and death. Hus had been granted safe conduct by King Sigismund, but under political pressure, Sigismund reneged and allowed Hus to be arrested and led to a kangaroo court that would not allow him to defend himself.

An eyewitness, Peter from Mladonovic wrote that as Hus was led to his death, he called out with a loud voice for God to have mercy on those who have wronged him. When he was tied to the stake and there the fires lit, he sang in a loud voice, “Christ, Thou Son of God, have mercy upon us, Christ... Thou Son of God, have mercy upon me... Thou who are born of the Virgin Mary” and as his voice failed, his lips was said to be mouthing the Lord’s Prayer as he died.

'The Last Supper' by Thomas Hawk/Flickr.com | License - CC BY-NC 2.0
'The Last Supper' by Thomas Hawk/Flickr.com | License - CC BY-NC 2.0

After this, the Bohemians were outraged and took over Bohemia, leading to fifteen years of bloody wars and five defeated crusades before resolving matters with the sixth. The Bohemians at this time developed terrible weapons of war including armored vehicles and hand cannons.

Fast forward one hundred and four years from Hus’ martyrdom and imagine the state of the Holy Roman Empire with the Muslim hordes pushing on the gates of Vienna and the Empire’s need for the Saxon Elector and German nobility and their armies to fight for the existence of Christendom. Here is Leipzig—in debate is Martin Luther with John Eck. Eck had accused Luther of being a Hussite. Luther went and read Hus in the interim and came back and makes this statement, “Ja, Ich bin ein Hussite.” I AM A HUSSITE!

How the blood of the Roman Catholics must have run cold in their veins! They could not afford to forgo the support of the German nobility in this war, and this monk’s writings were spreading like wildfire. There is a chance that not only might the Saxons turn on Rome, but large parts of Northern and Central Europe!

John Eck had made over 400 allegations of heresies against Luther and his followers. In 1530, Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V called together the Lutheran princes to learn why these leaders were allowing the teachings of Luther. Philip Melanchthon composed a defense of Lutheran teaching, showing how and why they are truly part of the church catholic.

In June of 1530, seven German princes and two Mayors stood firm in their confession of the Gospel in the “Augsburg Confession.” They offered their heads, rather than renounce the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Charles V could not forgo their armies much less could he afford to fight a war against these territories while he needed their armies to fight off the Turkish invasions. Charles was stalemated, and the princes and mayors had won the day, pledging their fidelity to the Empire and yet maintaining their freedom of the Gospel.

Was the shot fired over Eck’s bow intentional by Luther when he said, “I am a Hussite?” It is hard to tell, but it was indeed a shot heard around the world that has echoed for five hundred years.