Hussites


Hussites
   Followers of the Bohemian (Czech) religious reformer John Huss. After his betrayal and execution as a heretic by the Council of Constance in 1415, his followers rose up against the church. Angry crowds attacked churches and convents; priests and monks were massacred; and officials of King Wenceslaus who tried to arrest Hussite leaders for heresy were killed by mobs. When the new king, the Emperor Sigismund, tried to take possession of Prague with the aid of a German army in 1420, an army of radical peasants defeated his army and forced him to flee.
   Under the pressure of external attack, the Hussite movement split into two factions. The more moderate group, the Utraquists, constituted chiefly by the middle and upper classes, set limited goals, reflecting their understanding of the actual teachings of Huss. They demanded little more than the repression of blatant corruption in the church and the administration of communion to the laity in both kinds (sub utraque specie). The latter demand came to be the symbolic marker of their movement. The more radical faction was known as the Taborites, recruited mainly from the poorer classes and named from the town of Tabor in southern Bohemia. They demanded a drastic restructuring of the Bohemian church that would subject the clergy to secular law and authorize the confiscation of church property. They rejected any belief or practice not literally commanded in the New Testament; they recognized only two sacraments, baptism and communion; they elected their own bishops and priests and permitted laymen as well as clergy to preach. They rejected belief in purgatory, opposed indulgences and prayers for the dead, repudiated veneration of saints, and destroyed pictures and statues in churches. They also provided the most fervent soldiers for the national army commanded by an experienced Czech soldier, Jan Zizka.
   Thus Bohemia became bitterly divided into three groups, those who wanted to restore medieval Catholicism, those who wanted some limited reforms and the granting of communion in both kinds to the laity (the Utraquists), and the Taborites. In effect, the Taborites demanded a social revolution as well as sweeping ecclesiastical reforms. Civil war among these factions became endemic for almost 20 years, complicated by repeated efforts by imperial officials and papal legates to invade the country and restore Catholic orthodoxy by force. The Taborite-dominated armies repeatedly defeated these mainly German invaders. The last crusade, led in 1431 by Cardinal Giuliano Cesarini, ended in humiliating defeat. Eventually, in 1433 and 1434, the Utraquists, who were more numerous, overwhelmed the Taborite army and entered into negotiations with King Sigismund which in 1436 produced the Compáctala (Compacts of Prague) that guaranteed religious tolerance to both Utraquists and Catholics. The papacy never regarded the emperor's concessions as lawful, but in effect the treaty made Bohemia the first European nation in which the religious unity of medieval Christendom came to an end. The Utraquists remained a large and legally recognized religious group into the age of the Reformation, and the defeated Taborites survived as small sectarian groups that re-emerged as radical Protestants in the 16th century.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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