In 2011 I sat next to John in the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, moved by the scene unfolding in front of me. It was Tyndale’s last night in prison before being burned at the stake; he was pleading with a young monk to take his final translation of the Bible into English. The scene ended with him placing his hand in the candle and withdrawing it quickly due to the sheer pain. It was 1536 and the next day he died for believing we should be able to read the Bible in our own language. I can now download the Bible on to my phone; how excited would Tyndale be at that!
The play Written on the Heart celebrates the 400th anniversary of the writing of the King James Bible. How does this play connect with Moravian traditions?
Over 100 years before Tyndale went to the stake, John Hus died the same horrendous death. Hus is regarded as the forerunner of the Protestant reformation. He challenged the Roman Catholic Church, defied authority and had a profound influence on the development of the Protestant Church. For years he worked to challenge the Church. His demands for change included: the right of people to read the Bible themselves in their own language; Holy Communion being offered to people.
He died for his beliefs, probably written on his heart. His followers continued his struggles; in Moravia his supprters became known as the Unitas Fratrum. Many years later their heirs were driven from Moravia and Count Zinzendorf invited them to settle in Herrnhut, thus founding the Moravian Church as we know it today.
John Hus was a man with strong beliefs, not afraid to challenge traditions.
“He was literally the morning star which led the way to the full daylight of evangelic doctrine, which through the influence of Luther has spread over the whole world”.
In his 1915 Princeton lecture entitled “The Life and Work of John Hus,” Dr. Remsen DuBois Bird states :
“Thus he perished, a man whose only offense even in the eyes of those who condemned him, was that he placed the Bible before the Church, the Lord before the Pope, and the individual conscience before the will of the hierarchy. Thus he perished, John Hus, a man who deserves to live on in the hearts of those who love the Lord, as a dauntless hero, a champion of the Holy Word, a martyr to the truth. Thus he perished, a man who was a great patriot and leader of his people, a heaven-inspired preacher of righteousness and as such one truly zealous for the reform of the church.”
Since becoming a Moravian I have learned that it is truly a ‘church that remembers’ and seeks to engage with its history. Hence the Sunday service nearest to 6 July each year will recall the martyrdom of John Hus, burned at the stake 6 July 1415.
Recently in the Moravian Watchword I found a hymn new to me. It seems very appropriate here as the first line is ‘Holy Words long preserved’. Take a listen, it really is beautiful …
I started this article in Stratford-upon-Avon, it’s now time to come back to Fulneck. It is a beautiful Moravian settlement where every stone tells a story and the place is steeped in a rich and vibrant history. This is displayed at the Fulneck Museum and regularly discussed at the History Society. In addition, there are two Bible Groups that meet regularly; thanks to John Hus and those people who took forward his beliefs, we are able to have our own Bible in English. Like so many things in life, this is a freedom we can too easily forget had to be won by brave people before us. Don’t forget, you can now even have the Bible on your phone – I still reckon Tyndale would love this.
As always, I hope you are well and that you have enjoyed this article. I am always pleased to hear from you.