Church Reform in the Late Middle Ages -- By: Peder Stiansen
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Church Reform in the Late Middle Ages
(Concluded from the October-December Number, 1948)
The burning of John Huss and Jerome of Prague stirred the Bohemians tremendously, and practically the whole of Bohemia seemed to be united in its opposition to the papacy and in a desire for reform. Under such circumstances it would seem as if the external conditions for a real reformation were present, and the question may be asked why the Reformation did not come from Bohemia in the fifteenth century, instead of from Germany in the sixteenth century. The answer is fragmentation.
There was absolutely no reason why the reformatory fires should not have spread from Bohemia. The need for reform was just as great as it was a century later, and the many reformers had proclaimed so much of evangelical truth that it would seem likely that a reformation might succeed; and still it did not. The papacy was smart enough to play upon the differences existing among Bohemian reformers and to stir them up to a fight among themselves, and this work of fragmentation delayed the Reformation one hundred years. It has been difficult for the evangelicals to learn the lesson of the danger of fragmentation. When this has been said, it must not be thought for a moment that the Bohemian reformation was in vain. On the contrary, it produced some of the strongest groups of evangelical Christians the world had seen in the late Middle Ages, groups
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which became of the greatest importance for the 16th century Reformation—the Taborites, the followers of Peter Chelcicky, and the Bohemian Brethren.
1. The Taborites
The Historical Background. On September 2, 1415, the Bohemian diet met, and 452 nobles addressed a letter of protest to the Council of Constance because of the burning of their “most beloved brother,” John Huss. They declared themselves to be good Catholics but they also said that they were ready to defend, even to the effusion of blood, the law of Christ and His devoted preachers. The nobles formed a league which for six years would see to it that the gospel was preached, and that the Lord’s Supper was administered in both kinds. Because of this they were given the name of Calixtines, from calix the Latin for cup, and also Utraquists, from utraque specie, the Latin referring to both kinds or use of the two elements in the sacrament.
In March, 1417 the University of Prague declared that the cup should be given to the people, and even King Wenzel agreed to this. On February 22, 1418 Pope Martin V answered with a bull declaring that all Hussites should be punished as heretics, and king Wenzel ...
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