European Reformers: Jan Hus and Martin Luther

On a short visit to Prague, Czech Republic and Dresden, Germany, I had the privilege to visit the site of two monuments dedicated to protestant reformers, Jan Hus and Martin Luther.

Jan Hus (English John Huss)

After John Wycliffe, who first translated the bible into English and was the forerunner of the reformation, Hus is considered a pre-reformer, as he lived before Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. His teachings had a strong influence on the states of Western Europe, and, more than a century later, on Martin Luther himself. He was burned at the stake in 1415 for heresy against the doctrines of the Catholic Church, including, but not limited to, his belief that mass should be given in the local vernacular, or local language, rather than in Latin. This monument was dedicated in 1915, 500 years after his martyrdom.

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Martin Luther

Known as the father of the reformation, Martin Luther was a theologian, priest, bible translator, hymnodist, writer, and reformer. Like Hus, Luther stood in opposition to doctrines and teachings of the Catholic Church — including the practice of indulgences, papal authority from divine appointment, forbidding priests to marry and more, all of which he made clear in his 95 thesis which he posted on October 31, 1517 (500 years ago this year). He was excommunicated and put on trial multiple times due to his stances. His life was changed when he encountered the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which relieved years of feelings the weight of his own sin and inability to be holy. He later translated the bible into the common German tongue, declared the scriptures as the only source of divine revelation, and married. He held that his most important work was “The Bondage of the Will”, written in response to Erasmus.

“I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want “free-will” to be given me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavour after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground ; but because even were there no dangers. I should still be forced to labour with no guarantee of success.¦ But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. Furthermore, I have the comfortable certainty that I please God, not by reason of the merit of my works, but by reason of His merciful favour promised to me; so that, if I work too little, or badly, He does not impute it to me, but with fatherly compassion pardons me and makes me better. This is the glorying of all the saints in their God.” – Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1957), 313-314.

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“Take me, for example. I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip of Amsdorf the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing: the Word did it all. Had I wanted to start trouble…. I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor wouldn’t have been safe. But what would it have been? A mug’s game. I did nothing: I left it to the Word.” – Martin Luther  (Luther’s Works)

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