This week Pope Francis received delegates of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church and the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, who came to Rome to celebrate a “Liturgy of Reconciliation” on the occasion of the six hundredth anniversary of the burning at the stake of the reformer Jan Hus.
The Pope said that the memory of the death of Hus could be an occasion for promoting “greater mutual understanding and active cooperation” between Protestants and Catholics.
Father Jan Hus, a Catholic priest, was rector of the University of Prague, a vehement critic of clerical and papal abuses, and an ardent defender of John Wycliffe, who denied the Catholic belief in transubstantiation and was considered a heretic. Hus himself was tried and found guilty of heresy at the Council of Constance, and was burned at the stake by the German Emperor in 1415.
“Many disputes of the past need to be revisited in light of the new context in which we live, and agreements and convergence will be achieved if we will face the perennial issues of conflict with a fresh look,” Pope Francis said in his meeting.
“Above all, we cannot forget that the shared profession of faith in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in which we were baptized, already unites us in bonds of genuine fraternity,” he said.
Francis also recalled that in 1999, St. John Paul II expressed his “deep regret over the cruel death” suffered by Hus, who is ranked among the reformers of the Church.
In light of this approach, “it is necessary to continue the study on the person and work of Jan Hus, who has long been a subject of contention among Christians, while today he has become an incentive for dialogue,” he said.
“This research, conducted without ideological conditioning,” the Pope continued, “will be an important service to historical truth, and to all Christians and to society, even beyond the borders of your nation.”
The Pope has named Czech Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, emeritus archbishop of Prague, as his personal representative for a commemorative celebration of the 600th anniversary of Hus’s death in Prague this July.
“May God, who is rich in mercy, grant us all the grace to recognize ourselves as sinners and to know how to forgive one another,” Francis said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome