The Fruits of Intolerance

Trip Start May 20, 2005
Trip End Jun 07, 2007

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Flag of Czech Republic  ,
Saturday, May 28, 2005

Bohemia and Moravia, the ancient Czech lands, were part of the Holy Roman Empire until that loose collection of states gradually evaporated in the early modern period under the increasing importance of nation states.

Religion was deeply ingrained into life in this part of the world. The vast majority of the populace by 1400 were Roman Catholics. At that time, however, the first signs of reform were beginning to be seen. John Wyclif(or Wycliffe) of Oxford and Jan Hus of Prague, both University teachers, began to question the power and teachings of the church. Both Hus and Wyclif were highly critical of the wealth and corruption of the Church and both believed in more lay participation in the church's leadership and in confiscation of church lands. From the Church's viewpoint, their most dangerous teachings were to question indulgences and the pope's power to determine the course of a believer's path to salvation and eternal life and to question the doctrine of Transubstantion. This was the idea that in the Eucharist (Communion), the bread and wine are transformed into the substance of Christ body and blood. This was a direct assault on the heart of the Church's power. Hus was tried, convicted, and burned at the stake. Wyclif died in his bed, condemned but unharmed.

Hus and Wyclif laid the foundation for Martin Luther's far more substantial critique of the Church and, ultimately, the destruction of Christian unity in Europe.

The writings and death of Jan Hus pointed toward a new day coming to central Europe. For two centuries the followers of Hus in Bohemia and Moravia, during that time a majority in the region, resisted attempts by the Catholic rulers of the region and the Church to force them to abandon their proto- and then full blown Protestantism.

After 1600 the forces of the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation made the region that is now the Czech Republic the cockpit of their efforts to return the unfaithful to the fold. Because it was in the border between the more Lutheran northern and more Catholic southern parts of Europe, this region saw much of the fighting, particularly in the early years of the so-called Thirty Years War (1620-1648). Brutal persecution and slaughter of Protestants and Jews, forced conversions, forced baptisms of Protestant children, destruction of synagogues and Protestant chapels led many non-Catholics to flee to more hospitable parts of Europe (Huguenot France, Holland, northern Germany or England) or to worship underground.

In the Czech lands, the campaign largely worked, but the spirit of freedom and liberty remained a suppressed, but powerful part of the Czech psyche. Hus continues to be considered a champion of Bohemian freedom admired by Christians, atheists, and nationalists alike. His words, carved on the Hus monument opposite the Old Town Hall in Prague, roughly translated, 'Truth will prevail,' have been used as a rallying cry by those who opposed the Nazis, by the Communists, by the advocates of Prague Spring in 1968 and those who brought down the Communists in the Velvet Revolution of 1989.
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