In the early 15th century John Wycliffe’s influence was still being felt in the Western church even outside of England. However, many church leaders were not fans of Wycliffe’s critique of the church nor did they favor major reformation of the church. In fact, in a papal decree Pope Gregory XI called Wycliffe “the master of errors.”
John Huss, a Bohemian reformer, followed in Wycliffe’s footsteps. In fact, when the church leaders in Prague burned many of Wycliffe’s books in 1410, Huss and others were excommunicated for not giving up their copies of Wycliffe’s books and for “opposing the Catholic faith.” There’s more to the story, of course, but one thing worth noting is that an English Lollard (someone who agreed with Wycliffe) named Richard Wyche heard about the incident and wrote a letter of encouragement to Huss – whom he had never met. I’ll post the letter from Wyche to Huss below. It is slightly longer than I usually like to post, but it is worth reading as an edifying piece of pre-Reformation literature:
I rejoiced above measure when our beloved brethren came and gave testimony to us of your truth, how also you walked in the truth. I have heard, brethren, how sharply Antichrist persecutes you in vexing the faithful servants of Christ with diverse and unheard-of afflictions. And surely no marvel if amongst you (as it is so almost all the world over) the law of Christ be grievously impugned, and that red dragon with his many heads, of whom it is spoken in the Apocalypse, have now vomited that great flood out of his mouth whereby he goeth about to swallow up the woman. But the most gracious God will deliver for ever his only and most faithful spouse. Let us therefore comfort ourselves in the Lord our God and in his innumerable goodness, hoping strongly in Him who will not suffer those that love Him to be unmercifully defrauded of any of their purpose, if we, according to our duty, shall love Him with all our heart. For adversity should by no means prevail over us if there were no iniquity reigning in us. Therefore let no tribulation or anguish for Christ’s cause discourage us; knowing this for a surety, that whomsoever the Lord vouchsafes to receive to be His children, these he scourgeth; for so the merciful Father wills that they be tried in this miserable life through and in persecutions that afterwards He may spare us. For the gold that this high Artificer hath chosen He purgeth and trieth in this fire, that He may afterwards lay it up in His pure treasury. For we see that the time we shall abide here is short and transitory; the life that we hope for hereafter is blessed and everlasting. Therefore, while we have time, let us strive earnestly that we may enter into that rest. What other things do we see in this frail life save sorrow, heaviness, and sadness, and that which is most grievous of all to the faithful, too much abusing and contempt of the law of the Lord?
Let us therefore endeavour ourselves, as much as we may, to lay hold of the things that are eternal and abiding, despising in our mind all transitory and frail things. Let us consider the holy fellowship of our fathers that have gone before us. Let us consider the saints of the Old and New Testaments. Did they not all pass through this sea of tribulation and persecution? Were not some of them cut in pieces, others stoned, and others slain with the sword? Some of them went about in sheepskins and goatskins, as the apostle to the Hebrews witnesses. Surely they all kept the straight and narrow road, following the steps of Christ, who said: ‘He that ministereth unto Me, let him follow Me, and where I am,’ etc. Therefore let us also, who have such noble examples given us of the saints that went before us, laying aside as much as in us lies every weight, and the sin which compasseth us about, run forward with patience to the battle that is set before us, fixing our eyes upon the Author of faith, and Jesus the Finisher of the same, who for the joy that was set before Him suffered the cross, despising the shame. Let us call upon Him who suffered much reproach of sinners against Himself, that we be not wearied, fainting in our minds, but that with all our hearts we may pray for help from the Lord, that we may fight against his adversary Antichrist, that we may love His law, that we be not deceitful labourers, but may deal faithfully in all things according as God vouchsafes to give us, and that we may labour diligently in the Lord’s cause under hope of an everlasting reward.
Behold therefore, Hus, most dearly beloved brother in Christ, although in face unknown to me, yet not in faith or love (for distance of place cannot separate those whom the love of Christ doth effectually knit together), be comforted in the grace which is given to thee; labour like a good soldier of Jesus Christ; preach; be instant in word and example, and recall as many as thou canst to the way of truth; for the truth of the gospel is not to be kept in silence because of the frivolous censures and thunderbolts of Antichrist. And therefore to the uttermost of thy power strengthen thou and confirm the members of Christ who are weakened by the devil; and if the Most High will vouchsafe it, Antichrist shall shortly come to an end. And there is one thing wherein I do greatly rejoice, that in your realm and in other places God hath stirred up the hearts of some men that they can gladly suffer for the word of Christ even unto imprisonment, banishment, and death.
The above quotes are taken from Herbert B. Workman and R. Martin Pope, The Letters of John Hus: With Introductions and Explanatory Notes (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 32–34.
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