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Forerunners of the Reformation

The Death of John Huss (1369-1415)

“But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them” (Luke 21:12-13, NIV84).

EDITOR’S NOTE: In our Reformation issue last month we took a look at three of the people who preceded the Reformer, Dr. Martin Luther (1483-1546). This month we share three more vignettes of those who might be called “forerunners” of the Reformation, for through them the stage was set for the gospel of Jesus Christ to break free from a cold and corrupt church, once again taking its rightful place at the center of Christian teaching. These vignettes are adapted from the CLC webpage with daily devotions available at

Like Christ, His apostles would also be abused, arrested, and falsely accused before civil authorities. But in the end, even the shameful treatment of Christ’s men would serve to bring the gospel to more people.

After being excommunicated for opposing the Roman Catholic Church’s selling of salvation by way of indulgences, John Huss went into hiding. But Huss genuinely wanted the conflict to be healed and the truth of God’s Word to be taught.

Therefore, when Emperor Sigismund asked Huss to appear at the Council of Constance, Huss said he would be there. The emperor had convinced Pope John XXIII to call this council to end the papal schism which had resulted in three popes, each claiming supreme authority in the church.

Huss traveled to Constance trusting the emperor’s promise of safe conduct to and from the city and hoping to speak to reasonable men. He would be disappointed in both points.

After arriving in Constance, Huss was detained by representatives of the church and held in the dungeon of a Dominican monastery. Though the emperor was furious at how the church had ignored his promise of safe conduct, he chose not to act on Huss’ behalf, fearing that the council would break up and leave other issues unresolved.

After a mock trial, Huss was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake.

Remarkably, Huss told his judges that he was willing to change if corrected by the Bible. Like the Apostles, Huss was blessed with the honor of proclaiming God’s truth before men of high authority.

Even while dying, Huss continued to proclaim the name of his Savior. Before the wind shifted and the flames enveloped him completely, Huss was heard repeating this prayer:

“O Christ, Thou Son of God, have mercy on me.”

Jerome of Prague (1379-1416)

“Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother….first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus” (John 1:40-42).

Andrew seems a quiet fellow. With a brother like Peter, we don’t wonder why. Yet Andrew was given a job to do in God’s Kingdom work, as are all followers of Christ.

Peter would play a huge role in the establishment of the New Testament church. But it was quiet Andrew who brought Peter to Jesus in the beginning. I would imagine that most of the great figures of church history had their “Andrews” too. Huss certainly did.

Years after the corrupt church burned John Huss as a heretic, Martin Luther would read his work “On the Church.” Upon completion Luther exclaimed, “Without being aware of it, I have hitherto proclaimed and contended for all the doctrines of Huss…we are all Hussites without knowing it; in the end Paul and Augustine, too, are Hussites to the letter.”

So what about Jerome of Prague? He introduced John Huss to the writings of an earlier student of the Bible, John Wycliffe. Though he would never know the man, Huss would be greatly influenced by the teachings of Wycliffe. But it was Jerome of Prague who introduced Huss to Wycliffe’s teachings in the beginning.

Jerome would eventually face the same death as Huss. Imprisoned, abused, and condemned by the church, Jerome of Prague was burned to death on the same spot of ground where Huss had left this world.

Jerome was little remembered outside of his time. He is still little appreciated by the children of the Reformation. But this “Andrew” was greatly loved by Christ and given a role to play in preparing the world for the Reformation.

Are you a Peter or an Andrew? A Huss or a Jerome? Either way, dear Christian, your Savior has a role for you to play too. What is your role?

Peter Waldo (d. 1218)

“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people” (Revelation 14:6).

Lutheranism has traditionally seen Martin Luther as a fulfillment of this angel. Of course, Martin is not the only fulfillment of this image. The vision of God’s messenger hovering out of harm’s way and continually proclaiming the Good News is fulfilled whenever the gospel is spoken by God’s people.

Peter Waldo and his followers remind us that the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ will prevail, being preached and proclaimed in every age until we see our Savior’s face on the day of judgment and salvation.

Peter Waldo was a merchant who worked in Lyon (France). He learned of the gospel and cherished its message greatly. He had the New Testament translated into the language of the people and began to distribute copies of the New Testament. He also began preaching the pure gospel of Christ to his fellowmen. He organized a society to further the gospel and broaden the distribution of God’s Word.

Waldo’s mistake came when he asked the Pope to confirm the Bible society that he had established. In 1179, Pope Alexander III confirmed Waldo’s vow of poverty but forbade him to preach. Needless to say, Waldo continued to proclaim the eternal gospel of Christ.

Eventually Waldo and his followers were excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church for their “heresy” and persecuted greatly. The blood of the Waldensians fell heavily on the ground as many thousands were burned or slaughtered for preaching salvation through Christ. But this only caused more “angels” of God to be scattered throughout Europe, bearing the eternal light of the gospel.

My fellow “angels,” by the grace of God, we bear that same light of salvation through Christ. Let us cherish it as Waldo did, and gift its light to our neighbors also.