Friday, July 06, 2018

John Huss' monster trial resembled MeToo witch hunts

On July 4th, the Americans celebrated the Independence Day – although a powerful algorithm at Facebook has pointed out that the Declaration of Independence is hate speech.

That holiday is followed by two Czech holidays. On July 5th, but 1155 years ago, Greek missionaries Cyril and Methodius brought writing (their artificial Glagolitic script) plus the Orthodox Christianity to Czechoslovakia (which was called Great Moravia).



The Czechoslovak and Czech presidential flag says "Truth Prevails" ("Veritas Vincit" in Latin, "Pravda vítězí" in Czech). The truth was favored by the first president Prof Thomas Garrigue Masaryk – but he probably celebrated the tradition of John Huss who is often associated with the struggle for the truth.

On July 6th, 1415, the Bohemian Church reformer and forefather of Protestantism Mr John Huss was burned at stake in Constance, as a heretic, during an intimidating council. Huss was (mostly) a fan of a critically thinking 14th century English scholastic theologian John Wycliffe (who wrote in Latin). This Czech Catholic priest gave lots of cool sermons, criticized [not yet carbon] indulgences and the corruption of the church officials, said that the church should be poor, all people should be equal in front of God regardless of their sex, nationality, wealth, they should look for the truth directly in the Bible and not ask priests, he always filled the Chapel of Bethlehem in Prague (by viewers including rabble, prostitutes, and Queen Sophia, among others), earned the hearts of most Czechs including the Czech aristocracy, and was inconvenient for the Catholic Church and the allied German political institutions – let us call them the CDU – which decided to murder him.

Huss was also the most likely originator of the Czech diacritical signs – the letters that we write as áéíóúůý žščřďťň these days (he started with dots above the letters, something that still exists in Polish).




Since Charlemagne, the church has operated as a totalitarian institution of a sort. Inconvenient people could have been labeled heretics. Huss' example wasn't an exception. How did it work?

Someone could have accused you of heresy. Anything that was inconvenient for the church hierarchy was enough. In fact, one defining sign of a heretic was that he was stubborn. If you were stubborn, you could have been in trouble. Well, I would have surely been in trouble quite often.




Huss made an awkward mistake in 1410 – he started some process to legalize Wycliffe. This bureaucratic procedure led to an escalating trial that ended with his execution. This mistake shows that the trial wasn't really "ordered by somebody" from the beginning. But the trial that started was good news for many men, indeed.

A tragedy of his final days was that he believed that he was invited to Constance (where the main goal of the council was to end the papal schism) as a theologian, a scholar, an honest thinker and intellectual big shot of the continental caliber with some interesting deep ideas that should be presented. In reality, he was invited by bigots who were already decided to murder him.

As an accused heretic, he couldn't have had an attorney – not even an ex offo attorney. Perhaps even more importantly, presumption of innocence was replaced by presumption of guilt for similar potential heretics. This is probably the most striking similarity between the medieval Catholic bigots and the contemporary feminist ones. If someone accuses you, the default assumption must be that you're guilty. Also, as a potential heretic, you're only allowed to answer Yes/No and you can't ever clarify these binary answers. At least, Huss was generously allowed to defend himself thrice – his supporters secured it.



Huss (picture above) had lots of friends and supporters, foreign ones and Czech ones (including the Czech aristocracy and the King Wenceslaus IV [well, he abandoned Huss at some point] who was later replaced by the German Sisigmund in 1419 – Sisigmund was already important in the Huss trial, too, e.g. Huss believed some document signed by Sisigmund that claimed to protect Huss), and he had lots of passionate haters, foreign ones and Czech ones (the Czech ones demanded the harshest punishment – that's quite typical for our nation, too). He was clearly an idealist who didn't understand what was going on and wasn't quite familiar with the list of accusations that were likely to be lethal for him.

His Catholic colleagues organized a monstrous party, brought Huss, ready to burn him to have some fun, and asked him to recant for the last time. "I SHALL NOT RECANT", you aßholes, Huss famously responded, and he was burned at stake.

The accusations against Huss were a mixture of technically valid points – Huss ignored his suspension and continued to give sermons, he declared to be subordinate to Jesus Christ and no one else, he did help to spread Wycliffe's texts that were already classified as heresy – but there were lots of semi-truths and downright lies, too.

For example, he was labeled the originator of the Calixtine idea (saying that all believers should take both the blood and body of Jesus during masses – I mean the Catholic bread and wine) although he took it from someone else. Some of the anti-Huss witnesses were lying jerks who distorted the quotes from Huss' texts. He was ludicrously accused of trying to escape from the proceedings on a vehicle with hay. He was also accused of being very rich – some 70,000 golden florin coins – which was nonsense and it shouldn't have been a crime, anyway. He was accused of pushing King Wenceslaus IV to do something about Wycliffe – the king wouldn't be interested in that topic at all. And so on.

Some Czech historians believe that he could have saved his life if he had an attorney, or if one of dozens of unlucky details were avoided in some way.

In recent centuries, the Western civilization respected the principles of fair trials – with the actual presumption of innocence for all suspects, regardless of the type of the accusation. All the defendants must be allowed to elaborate on their answers to the questions they're asked. They may bring their witnesses (Huss and other potential heretics couldn't).

But the MeToo witch hunts are examples suggesting that some Western nations are returning to the medieval system in which a certain kind of lethal crimes are treated as a heresy – and the defendants have almost no rights. If someone accuses you of these fatal crimes, you're basically destroyed.

Despite these threats, it's our moral duty to follow in the footsteps of John Huss and stress that WE WILL NOT RECANT (especially if and when we're not even at risk of being burned at stake like Huss!) because at the end, THE TRUTH PREVAILS.

And that's the memo.

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