Monday, March 7, 2022

Apocalypse Then


A third of Christendom, it was estimated, had perished of the plague.

Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, by Tom Holland

We are now in the aftermath of this catastrophe.  It was not the only shock to Christendom, but it certainly also cannot be assumed to be separate from the other shocks.

The Byzantines, having finally freed themselves from the blow of the Crusaders in 1261, were facing the new threat of the Ottoman Turks.  Constantinople was in sight; even the defenses of Hungary were already probed.

And then there was the papal schism.  After a council of bishops declared both rival popes deposed in 1409 and then crowning a new candidate of their own, they ended up with not two popes, but three.  Scandal built upon scandal.  Instead of holding the keys to the kingdom, was the papacy, instead, an agent of hell?

John Wycliffe would denounce both factions in the schism as demonic, and stated that the papacy was lacking in divine foundation.  But it was in Prague where the most explosive reaction would be felt.  The resentment of wealth – especially the wealth of the monasteries; the reforms of Gregory VII, instead of redeeming the Church, sent it on a path of corruption; the papacy seduced by the power of earthly glory.

Only Antichrist could have wrought such a fateful, such a hellish abomination.  And so it was, in the streets of Prague, that is had become a common thing to paint the pope as the beast foretold by Saint John….

Jan Hus would serve as the lightning rod for this movement.  He attracted not only the peasants, but the Czech noblemen as well (being freed from the divided authority made possible by the Church was desired by many such nobles).  In 1414, in the imperial city of Constance, the heresy of Prague’s most celebrated preacher would be put on trial.

Hus would travel to Constance under safe conduct guaranteed by emperor-elect Sigismund.  Arriving on 3 November, he would be placed under arrest three weeks later then burned at the stake with his ashes dumped in the Rhine River.

These events did not calm the storm of the Hussite subversion.  In the wake of the execution, denunciations in Prague of the pope as Antichrist only increased, and were made openly.  Sigismund was not immune to denunciation – due to his treachery regarding the lack of safe conduct.

As an aside, I have read elsewhere the claim (excuse?) that the safe conduct was technically only offered for the journey to Constance – one-way.  Why Hus would have then taken the journey is difficult to fathom.

In 1419, conservatives attempted a crackdown in Prague.  It backfired.  Hussites stormed city hall, flinging their opponents out of its windows.  They seized control of churches throughout the city.  Through this, the Taborites, under the leadership of Jan Žižka, would launch a surprise attack on Sigismund, who was attempting to besiege Prague to submission.  Sigismund was forced to withdraw.  By 1424, all of Bohemia was brought under Žižka’s rule.

Not a paradise.  Having elected a bishop, they would charge the most extreme among them with heresy and banish them from their ranks. 

Žižka, displaying a brusque lack of concern for legal process that no inquisitor would ever have contemplated emulating, had rounded up fifty of them and burnt the lot.

By 1434, the Taborites would be defeated by a more moderate force of Hussites.  These would negotiate a concordat directly with the papacy.

Eventually, this would all lead to Martin Luther.  I have covered this story enough in several posts; here I will just offer one quote, from Luther: ‘For the pope is not above but under the word of God.’

Fair enough.  But where this would lead – to a personal and individual interpretation of the Bible – was not yet understood by Luther.  By the end of his life, he wondered at the number of divisions which sprang forth from this view.


Bartolomé de las Casas, in 1514 and while in the West Indies, would have a heart-stopping insight: he devoted his life to defending the Indians from tyranny.  He never doubted that his convictions derived from the mainstream of Christian teaching. 

Thomas Cajetan – the same one that would confront Luther – would do the same. In shock that a Christian ruler would justify such savagery in the name of Christ, he demanded of a visitor from Spain to Rome: “Do you doubt that your king is in hell?”


Tenochtitlan, wealthy and beautiful, was a monument to the formidable prowess of the conquerors who had built it: the Mexica.

Their priests would smash knives into the chest of prisoners, the sacrifice of ‘precious water’ from the still-beating heart could serve to feed the gods.  Franciscans were revolted by such demands of sacrifice to these gods.

To the Spaniards, the spectacle of dried gore on the steps of Tenochtitlan’s pyramids, of skulls grinning out from racks, was literally hellish.

Cortés would raze the temples to the ground.


  1. Wow Bionic!
    The history lessons are great!
    You have certainly done and do a lot of work.
    It seems to me That the "Good news" or the "Gospel".
    Was not so much about religion and ritual behaviors. But A Government. When Jesus spoke about his Kingdom being not of this world. Is it possible he was not talking about a Home on the clouds or some far away place in the eather? But he meant by not or this world, meaning He did not operate like the Kings of the earth. Top down central authority.
    Even way back when the Hebrews got pissed at Samuel cuz his sons were screwing the people and they called for a top down authority He said it was not a good idea.
    The Romans were not too concerned about a street preacher.
    But when He went into the temple and overturned the money changers, it was not like a flea market and he tipped over some tables. This was a place of business and commerce and welfare.
    He threw out the money changers and put his own guys in place.
    They started a new way of Kingdom a way not by top down force and fear, but Faith Hope and charity. Free will offerings.
    Then they said we gotta kill this guy.
    It seems the early "church was more than just a sunday meeting with songs and a message. But they were an actual republic.
    They were kicked out of the social welfare schemes of the Pharisees with their forced contributions.
    Then it seems they went away and the roman church took over then the constantine and others.
    Where is History from 70 Ad to 1100AD, Can you point me to some books about that.
    Have just read one By a guy, Bruce Benson called the Enterprise of law and the difference before 1066 when the Normans took over. !066 seems an important date.
    Oddly enough from 70 AD to 1066 is roughly 1000 years give or take. And looking at the Preterist view it kinda makes some sense. So from 1066 to 2066 is another 100 years makes things interesting. If you look at some propheciess about Christ reigning for a thousand years and then left over to his adversery for another thousand then shall the end (Or last New beginning) come? Again am not Scholar just a curious old cat asking questions.

    1. The church is built originally in a tribal pattern. Councils of elders ruling each church. The church decentralized across geography and in each through having a council versus a monarch.

      The King is Jesus who will sit on the throne of David in Jersusalem as promised to David in 2 Samuel.

      The point being the church is a tribe or nation which is brought together under the Kingship of Jesus. He has no earthly kingdom today. But some of us think He will in the future.

    2. Kevin

      As Jesus said: "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

      This could not have been speaking about the Second Coming.

      Worldly kingdoms are horizontal - on a geographic plane at a point in time. Jesus's kingdom I see as vertical - His saints in Heaven and on Earth, throughout time. It is the picture one sees when entering an Orthodox Church and seeing the icons of the saints and patriarchs, the current congregants, and Christ Pantocrator on the ceiling of the dome.

      As to books, I can only suggest that you go to the bibliography tab at the top of the page. Skim through it and see what strikes you.

    3. Yes agree that those standing there at that time did see.

  2. Jan Huss and John Wycliffe are two of my favorite church characters ever. Did the book say more of Wycliffe? I think he started translating the Bible into English, which is one of the reasons why the Roman Church killed him.

    "As an aside, I have read elsewhere the claim (excuse?) that the safe conduct was technically only offered for the journey to Constance – one-way. "

    This sounds like something you tell a person after they have arrived. But word things in a way beforehand to not give the fact away.

    About the divisions after the Protestant Reformation, one could look at it another way. Before the 16th century, many different groups existed within Christendom. Huguenots. Coptics. Celts. Bourbons, Waldensians, Dominicans, Franciscans, Cistercians, Jesuits, etc. The list is probably in the hundreds. They all believed things a little differently or emphasized certain things, but they lived within the umbrella of the Universal Church. At some point in history the Universal became understood as the Roman Catholic Church. The data says it didn't start that way. But still many different groups within an earthly organization. That organization just happen to map the imprint of the Roman Empire after it fell.

    Today, after the Reformation people lament the fact that there are so many denominations and divisions. They exist outside of the earthly Roman Catholic church. I would contend that they are all a part of the Universal Church though. So we still have something similar many groups under the overall organization. It's just that the administration of these different groups has changed since the 16th century. They don't all have to get the acceptance of one man or a small group of Cardinals. So in most ways, and in the most fundamental ways, nothing really changed. Just the earthly administration. From a global centralized (semi-global after 1054) state to a decentralized state. The leadership of the church is all truly under the same Person it has always been under though.

    1. Nothing more on Wycliffe, at least nothing meaningful that I recall.