Hussites

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Hussites

Hussites (hŭs´īts), followers of John Huss. After the burning of Huss (1415) and Jerome of Prague (1416), the Hussites continued as a powerful group in Bohemia and Moravia. They drew up (1420) the Four Articles of Prague, demanding freedom of preaching, communion in both kinds (i.e., both wine and bread) for the laity as well as priests, the limitation of property holding by the church, and civil punishment of mortal sin, including simony.

Although it ultimately failed, the Hussite movement is of permanent historical significance. It was the first substantial attack upon the two bulwarks of medieval society, feudalism and the Roman Catholic Church. As such it helped pave the way for both the Protestant Reformation and the rise of modern nationalism.

The Utraquists and the Taborites

In 1419 the Hussite Wars began, and in their course the Hussite movement splintered into several groups. The moderate group, called Utraquists [Lat. sub utraque specie=in both kinds] or Calixtines [Lat.,=chalice], consisted chiefly of the lesser nobility and the bourgeoisie. The Univ. of Prague was their center and Master Jan Rokycana their principal leader. Except for the demands made in the Four Articles, they agreed substantially with the Roman Catholic Church.

The more radical Hussites, the Taborites, named after their religious center and stronghold at Tabor, went further than the Utraquists in accepting the doctrines of John Wyclif. Consisting largely of peasants, this group expressed the messianic hopes of the oppressed. They regarded the Four Articles as minimal concessions. Their real goal was the total abolition of the feudal system and the establishment of a classless society without private property. From among their number came such leaders as John Zizka and Procopius the Great. Puritanical and iconoclastic, the Taborites reduced the sacraments to communion and baptism, denied the Real Presence, and abolished the veneration of saints and holy images.

The Hussite Wars necessitated a temporary alliance between the two groups. However, when the Utraquists were reconciled (1436) with the church through the agreement known as the Compactata, the Taborites refused to acquiesce. Of the demands of the original Four Articles, the Catholic Church conceded only on communion in both kinds. The obstinacy of the Taborites led to the alliance between the Utraquists and the Catholics and to the military defeat of the Taborites at Lipany (1534). After this, Taborite influence vanished from Bohemia. The Bohemian and Moravian Brethren are, however, probably descended from this group (see Moravian Church).

Further Division and Suppression

The Utraquists obtained (1436) royal recognition of the Compactata, which remained the fundamental religious law of Bohemia until 1567. By that time Protestantism had made great progress in Bohemia, and the Utraquists themselves were divided. The Old Utraquists remained Catholic; the New Utraquists joined with the Lutherans and drew up (1575) the Confessio Bohemia, which achieved official status (1609) in the Letter of Majesty of Emperor Rudolph II (see Bohemia). The violation of this letter was the prelude to the Thirty Years War. Bohemia, which was overwhelmingly Protestant in the mid-16th cent., was returned to Catholicism by both force and persuasion. Nevertheless, the Evangelicals, as the Lutheran Utraquists were called, did not entirely disappear, and neither did the other major communion, the Moravian Church.

Bibliography

See H. Kaminsky, A History of the Hussite Revolution (1967); F. M. Bartos, The Hussite Revolution, 1424–1437 (1986).

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