Christians Who Changed Their World
Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231)

Marianne_Stokes_St_Elizabeth_of_Hungary_Spinning_for_the_PoorPolitics in the Middle Ages in Europe was a very complicated affair. One of the central conflicts was between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor over who was to be the supreme leader of the Christian world. Two major political parties emerged from this conflict, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. Although initially these parties supported the Pope and the Emperor respectively, over time things became far more complex, with immediate political and dynastic considerations outweighing the historical positions of the parties.

In the early 1200s, the Guelph Otto IV and the Ghibelline Philip of Swabia were rivals for the Imperial throne. Landgrave Hermann I of Thuringia and King Andrew II of Hungary both supported Philip (or more precisely, opposed Otto IV), and so, to strengthen their alliance, the two arranged a dynastic marriage between Hermann I’s oldest son, also called Hermann, and the four-year-old Elizabeth, Andrew’s daughter. Elizabeth was sent to Thuringia to learn the language and customs of the region. She lived in Wartburg, the landgrave’s palace where 300 years later Martin Luther would translate the New Testament into German.

The Hussites and the Moravians

1024px-Haidt_ZizendorfThe Hussite Wars

When the Council of Constance executed Jan Hus in 1415, his followers in Bohemia were outraged. They protested to the Council. Sigismund of Hungary, the head of the Holy Roman Empire and brother to King Wenceslaus of Bohemia, had been convinced by the Council that Hus was a heretic, and he was determined to stamp out Hus’s ideas. He threatened to cross the border with his army and drown all followers of Hus or Wycliffe that he could find. This further angered the Bohemians.

The situation deteriorated until on July 30, 1419, a Hussite procession broke into New Town Hall in Prague and threw a number of government officials out of an upper story window, killing several of them. This was the First Defenestration of Prague and signaled the beginning of the Hussite Wars.

Wenceslaus died shortly after the defenestration and was succeeded by his brother Sigismund of Hungary. Sigismund asked Martin V, the new pope elected by the Council of Constance, to declare a crusade against the Hussites. A vast army from all over Europe marched into Bohemia and besieged Prague, but the attacking force soon fell apart. The Hussites captured Sigismund’s fortresses, and the crusade ended as a failure.

Jan Hus (c. 1369-1415)

Jan_Hus_2October 31, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. In the year leading up to the anniversary, we will look at some important forerunners to and supporters of the Reformation.

The Beginnings of Reform in Bohemia

Bohemia, the western part of the modern Czech Republic, had been a duchy within the Holy Roman Empire until 1198, when it became a kingdom affiliated loosely with the Empire. The King of Bohemia participated in the Imperial Council and was one of the seven Electors who elected the Holy Roman Emperor, but otherwise the kingdom was independent of the Empire.

Jan Hus was born in Husinec (“Goose Town”) in the southern part of Bohemia. He was originally known as Jan of Husinec but later shortened his name to Hus (goose). He moved at a young age to Prague, where he supported himself by singing and working in churches and dedicated himself to study. He entered Charles University and earned his Bachelor of Arts in 1393 and Master of Arts in 1396. Four years later, he was ordained as a priest. In 1402, he was named rector (i.e., chief academic officer) of the University, as well as preacher at the newly built Bethlehem Chapel in Prague.

John Wycliffe (c. 1324-1384)

Wycliffe_by_KirbyOctober 31, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. In the year leading up to the anniversary, we will look at a number of people who were important as forerunners to or supporters of the Reformation.

Medieval Reform Movements

It is an unfortunate fact of history that the Church in every era has problems with corruption. Fortunately, every era also includes reformers, and the state of the Church depends on which group has the upper hand.

André and Magda Trocmé and the Village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon

51TFDR7WCNLLe Chambon-sur-Lignon is a small village in south-central France. Along with the surrounding villages, the total population of the area was about 5,000 in the 1940s. Yet these villages, under the leadership of their Huguenot (French Protestant) pastor André Trocmé and his wife Magda, was responsible for saving  up to 5,000 Jews from deportation to concentration camps during World War II.

André Trocmé was born in 1901. During WWI, he developed pacifist sentiments from meeting a young German pacifist who had come to Le Chambon looking for a place where he could live in peace without participating in the war. Trocmé was eventually ordained in the French Protestant Church. In 1938, he and fellow pastor Edouard Theis founded the Collège Lycée International Cévenol, a pacifist school that was intended to prepare country students for university studies.

Frederick Douglass (c.1818-1895)

800px-Frederick_Douglass_portraitFrederick Douglass was a monumentally important figure in American history, whose story is not as well known as it should be. Former slave, abolitionist, supporter of women’s suffrage, advocate for Irish Home Rule, orator, writer, adviser to presidents, diplomat—Douglass’s life is far to rich for a brief article like this to do justice to it. The most it can do is to provide a brief outline of his career and highlight one of the most misunderstood and distorted elements of his life story, the centrality of Christianity to his thinking and actions.

Life as a Slave

Douglass’s given name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. He was born in Talbot County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in about 1818; he did not know the date but chose February 14 as his birthday. His mother was a slave, and his father may have been her owner. He was raised primarily by his maternal grandmother.

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