The parents of Zbynek Zajic bought him the job of the Archbishop of Bohemia. You read that right. They paid big money so their son could have a coveted church job. Zbynek had no qualifications for the position. He was an ex-soldier with zero theological training (his lack of education earned him the moniker “Bishop Alphabet”). The practice of selling papal offices, called simony, originated with Simon Magus in the Bible who thought God’s gift could be purchased with money (Acts 8.9-24). Not surprisingly, the men who bought their way into the priesthood rarely took their jobs seriously. One priest under Zajic’s charge, Jan Hus (1372-1415 pronounced Yon Hoos), was a professor at the University of Prague and priest at Bethlehem Chapel. Hus condemned the practice of simony and the sale of forgiveness called indulgences. Zajic banished him from preaching, but Hus ignored the edict. Zajic then arranged with his buddies to have Hus excommunicated in 1412. While in exile, Hus wrote a treatise On Simony. He labelled such practices as heretical to Jesus’ teachings, who alone is head of the church. Without naming names, he had Zajic clearly in his sights. Hus made his appeal directly to the Czech people, urging them to condemn simony and restore proper order to the church. The Council of Constance was convened to deal with the issue. Hus was promised safe passage but upon arrival, was arrested and thrown into prison. He was brought before the council and ordered to recant his writings. Hus stood his ground, “I appeal to Jesus Christ, the only judge who is Almighty God and completely just. Into his hands I plead my cause; not on the basis of false witnesses and erring councils, but on truth and justice.” Hus was condemned and burned at the stake. When Luther took up the cause a century later, he was accused of being a “Hussite.” Hus’s prayer was spoken at his execution:
Lord Jesus Christ,
I wish to bear most patiently and humbly for your Gospel’s sake
and the preaching of your Word, this dire, ignominious, and cruel death.
Have mercy on me, O God, and in you, O Lord, do I put my trust–
O Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me–
Lord, into your hands I commend my spirit.
Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.