Martin Luther King Jr once said: “true peace is not the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice”. The death of Huss laid bare the shocking lack of justice prevalent within the Holy Roman Empire and by extension the Roman Catholic Church itself. Sigismund’s act of blatantly disregarding an imperial safe conduct and executing Huss sent a shiver of indignation throughout Bohemia. He had become a national icon of civil and religious liberty and his death struck a huge blow to the heart of the nation. Bohemia and more particularly the Hussites rose up in a rage that was thinly veiled and what lay ahead for the country was a terrible outburst of the anger that was simmering violently beneath the surface. As the emperor, Sigismund could have brokered peace but his loyalties were not on the side of justice but with the Pope at Rome.
The most profound impact that Huss’s death had on Bohemia was that of drawing public attention to his writings and those of Wycliffe as well. In a sense, Romanism did the reformation a huge favor by burning Huss at the stake as they did, because it served to irrevocably turn the tide of popular opinion against them and within four years of Huss’s death the majority of the nation had become Hussites by embracing the ideas he espoused.
The Pope hurled papal excommunications against the country and the Bohemian people found themselves floundering. Their king, Wenceslaus IV, was a poor excuse for a regent and didn’t possess the wherewithal necessary to defend his country and the people were not able to marshal themselves without a commander at their head.
Jan Trocznowski, known somewhat affectionately, as Ziska, meaning the ‘one-eyed’, was the man raised up by God to provide Bohemia and the Hussites with the leadership it so desperately needed. A man of considerable military genius, he began his career by distinguishing himself in several military conflicts with Poland and later became a chamberlain of the king. Following the death of Huss, Ziska was determined to avenge the wrongs committed against the reformer by the Papacy and asked the king to give him written permission to do so. What followed was Ziska leading the armies of the Hussites against the invading armies of Sigismund and the Holy Roman Empire. Ziska is said to have fought in over 250 battles in his lifetime. Blinded in one eye in 1410 and later completely losing his sight in battle, he was, nevertheless, an able general of the Hussites and a champion for the cause of justice, never losing a battle against the forces of Sigismund.
Ziska died a victim of the bubonic plague and his dying wish was for his men to take a portion of his skin and stretch it over the frame of a drum which the Hussites would then take with them into battle, thus ensuring that he would go with the armies of the Hussites in battle even after death. His place was filled by Procopius, an equally able and skillful general and in some respects a better leader. The pope proclaimed a second crusade in 1427, in which his armies were defeated by Procopius and the Hussties’ armies. He would go on to proclaim 2 more crusades before his successor ascended the Papal throne and proclaimed a fifth crusade in 1431. The armies of the Holy Roman Empire were defeated in every encounter. Finally having exhausted all means of aggression, the Papacy resorted to cunning to achieve its ends. Raising the white flag, they convened the Council of Basel, presided over by the Papal Legate Cardinal Julian, an eloquent orator, who called for unity and peace. The response of the Hussites was to lay down four terms upon which they were willing to broker peace.
The four points were, the free preaching of the Bible, the right of the whole church to partake in communion and the use of the common vernacular in worship, the exclusion of the clergy from all civil office and authority and the jurisdiction of the civil courts to extend over clergy and laity alike.The church acquiesced to the terms on the condition that they could write up the agreement and stipulate the terms in the language of their own choosing. The document, known as the Compacta, was a thinly veiled declaration of papal supremacy over Bohemia.
A masterpiece of linguistic acrobatics, the Compacta gave back to Rome everything that she had fought for, thus handing her, by means of diplomacy what she had not been able to gain by means of open warfare.
When we engage in open warfare with the enemy, it’s easy to define the rules of engagement. But the most insidious advance of all is that which is made under the pretense of unity and peace, seeking to gain by compromise, that which could not be gained through open conflict. Unity and peace should never be a veil for compromise. It is better to die on the battlefield than to rest on the laurels of compromise. Stand fast for what you know is right, regardless of the cost.