Sunday, July 06, 2008

Two Notable Executions

July 6 is the anniversary of the execution of two defenders of religious freedom.

John Huss was burned at the stake on this day in 1415.

John Wycliffe (1323?-1384), the English Reformer, opposed the Church's sequestering of the Bible from the masses. “This Bible is for the government of the people, by the people and for the people,” Wycliffe said. Huss took Wycliffe's message to Bohemia and what is today the Czech Republic. Huss, a great scholar, also introduced the use of diacritics (especially the háček) into Czech spelling. Jan Hus Day (Den upálení mistra Jana Husa) is one of the public holidays in the Czech Republic.

This humble blogger emulates Huss in being an extremist and a plagiarist. In a famous dispute in 1412 over indulgences (fully 100 years before Martin Luther), Huss set before the university at Prague an address which was drawn almost entirely from the writings of Wycliffe. Huss stated that no pope or bishop had the right to take up the sword in the name of the Church; he should pray for his enemies and bless those that curse him; man obtains forgiveness of sins by real repentance, not through money.

What an extremist!

Naturally, he was burned at the stake.


Sir Thomas More was executed on July 6 in 1535.

More coined the term "utopia." As a radical libertarian, your humble blogger has often been accused of being "utopian."

In 1935, four hundred years after More's death, Pope Pius XI canonized St Thomas More in the Roman Catholic Church; More was declared Patron Saint of politicians and statesmen by Pope John Paul II in 1980.

In some ways More was out to undo what Wycliffe and Hus did. He imprisoned and tortured Lutherans in horrible ways -- if he didn't burn them. It's sometimes a challenge to extract his admirable qualities from the reigning errors of his day. More defended the Church of Rome against Henry VIII, who formed his own "protestant" church when Rome wouldn't grant him a divorce. (Henry's church was really just Rome II, but in England.) More's book Utopia was actually a defense of hierarchy.

More denied that the State had power over the Church: "no temporal man may be the head of the spirituality." He would not take an oath falsely, even though pressured to do so by the king. More put his conscience ahead of the government. He was willing to die for what he believed. For this he is rightly admired.

No comments: