Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Jan Zizka: Warrior, Hussite Reformer, Theonomist (Theonomy Applied)

Jan Žižka (c. 1360–1424) was a Hussite (i. e., a follower of the reformer John Hus) and Czech general who defended his land from Roman Catholic armies during the Hussite Wars. R. G. Grant writes the following about Žižka:
When Catholic forces set out to crush Czech Hussite religious reformers in the 1420s, the Hussite resistance was led by Jan Žižka, a veteran of many wars. With a mainly peasant army at his disposal, Žižka invented superbly effective tactics for countering mounted knights. He deployed cannon, and soldiers armed with crossbows and primitive handguns, on crudely armored wagons. These could be used offensively, charging the enemy like tanks, or chained together in an impregnable defensive circle, known as a Wagenburg. Inspired by their faith—the troops entered battle singing hymnsŽižka's army repeatedly won battles, most notably at Kutana Horá. Even after losing his other eye in 1421, Žižka fought on to further victories, dying of the plague after his final win at Malesov.[1]

Jan Žižka
In praise of Žižka, Protestant historian J. A. Wylie writes:
Our space does not permit us to narrate in detail the many battles, in all of which Ziska bore himself so gallantly. He was one of the most remarkable generals that ever led an army. Cochleus, who bore him no good-will, says, taking all things into account, his blindness, the peasants he had to transform into soldiers, and the odds he had to meet, Ziska was the greatest general that ever lived.[2] 
On Žižka's death, Wylie adds, 
Bohemia laid her great warrior in the tomb with a sorrow more universal and profound than that with which she had ever buried any of her kings. Ziska had made the little country great; he had filled Europe with the renown of its arms; he had combated for the faith which was now that of a majority of the Bohemian nation, and by his hand God had humbled the haughtiness of that power which had sought to trample their convictions and consciences into the dust.[3]
According to Wylie, the Hussite struggle for liberty (which Žižka played a major role in) helped to soften Rome's resolve during the eventual Protestant reformation:
The fulmination of the Pope, and the invasion of their country by the armies of the emperor, left [the Hussites] no alternative but arms. But, having reluctantly unsheathed the sword, the Hussites used it to such good purpose that their enemies long remembered the lesson that had been taught them. Their struggle paved the way for the quiet entrance of the Reformation upon the stage of the sixteenth century. Had not the Hussites fought and bled, the men of that era would have had a harder struggle before they could have launched their great movement. Charles V. long stood with his hand upon his sword before he found courage to draw it, remembering the terrible recoil of the Hussite war on those who had commenced it.[4] 
Jan Žižka had a high view of God's law, which he promoted in the civil realm and to his armies. He also had a high view of God's providence in battle, which no doubt gave him confidence when vastly outnumbered by Roman Catholic armies. Both of these strengths are the focus of this article.

It must be said in passing that we are not sure how far Žižka and the Hussites in general of his time took their reformation theologically. In some respects, they did see doctrinal improvements over Roman Catholicism. How orthodox the Hussites ultimately became, however, we do not know. It is true that the Hussites had doctrinal differences among themselves, with some being more orthodox than others on particular matters.[5] But, at the very least, Žižka was used by God as an instrument of justice and as a force to humble Rome.

"[H]aving reluctantly unsheathed the sword, the Hussites used it to such
good purpose that their enemies long remembered the lesson that had been
taught them. Their struggle paved the way for the quiet entrance of the
Reformation upon the stage of the sixteenth century." -- J. A. Wylie

The Fourth Article of Prague and Civil Punishments against God's Law

After becoming the head of the militia in Prague, Jan Žižka insisted that he would defend the city from the Roman Catholics only if the city wrote a common Hussite statement of faith. The result was the "The Four Articles of Prague" in 1420[6]. The articles, unfortunately, retained some Roman Catholic doctrine.

Not long after the promulgation of the Four Articles, Žižka was one of the driving forces behind altering the fourth article to emphasize civil punishments for offenses against the Law of God.[7] (The article, unfortunately, uses the Roman Catholic term "mortal sins.") It reads:
That all mortal sins and especially those that are committed publicly, as well as other disorders offending against the Law of God shall be properly and sensibly prohibited and punished in each estate by those who have the authority to do so; and that evil and slanderous rumours about this country be cleansed away, thus insuring the general welfare of the Bohemian Kingdom and Nation.[8]

The Statutes and Military Ordinances of Žižka's New Brotherhood

In 1423 Jan Žižka issued the "Statutes and Military Ordinance of Žižka’s New Brotherhood." This military code—which strengthened the organization of the Hussite armies—focused on both strict military discipline and religious matters.[9] Victor Verney refers to this as "the first formal code of military conduct and discipline," with laws that applied to those of all social classes—"until then an unheard-of concept."[10]

Here are some of the ordinances:

Ordinance number 9:
Violent acts to be punished according to God's law/applies to all men impartially 
9. If someone should strike, wound, maim, or slay someone else, retribution shall be wrought upon him according to God's law, as the Lord God permits, no one being excepted and without regard for his person.[11]
Ordinance number 11: 
Manifest sinners to be banished or punished according to God's law
11. Also we do not want to suffer among us faithless men, disobedient ones, liars, thieves, gamblers, robbers, plunderers, drunkards, blasphemers, lechers, adulterers, whores, adulteresses, or any other manifest sinners, men or women; all these will we banish and chase away, or punish them with the help of the Holy Trinity according to the Law of God.[12]
Ordinance number 12: 
Punishments to fit the crime according to God's law/
applies to all men impartially
12. Also Brother Žižka, and other lords, captains, knights, squires, townsmen, craftsmen, and peasants named above, and all their communities, with the help of God and of the Commonwealth, will punish all such crimes by flogging, banishment, clubbing, decapitation, hanging, drowning, burning, and by all other retributions which fit the crime according to God's Law, excepting no one from whichever rank and sex.[13]

Per Deuteronomy 20:14, Zizka's
consistent policy after defeating the
enemy  was to spare women
and children
Siege Warfare, Terms of Peace, and Quarter

In 1420, after the persecution of Hussites in the Bohemian town of Prachatice, Žižka led Hussite armies to Prachatice to conquer the town. When Žižka arrived and the defenders shut the town gates, he offered to spare everyone and their belongings if they let his armies in.[14]

After the town rejected his offer, he said, "I confess in the name of God that if I conquer you I will not spare anyone." After conquering the town, however, Žižka did spare the women and children,[15] which was his consistent policy.[16]

Theology of War - "Keep your Lord in thine hearts. Fight for him and with him"

The battle hymn "Warriors of God" was the most popular Hussite song and "became symbolic of the movement itself."[17] It was Žižka's and the Hussite soldiers' theology of war—a theology that emphasizes trust in God, obedience to God, and God's sovereignty in the outcome of battle. The song also struck terror in the heart of the enemy.
This hymn functioned as a march chant — a steady, compelling reminder of what was expected of each soldier. It also served as a very effective mechanism for what we today call “psychological operations”: the Imperial enemy, often hearing the somber cadences of this song before the Hussites came into view, were frequently so unnerved by it that they turned and ran before the two sides even engaged! This song has been used as a theme by latter-day classical Czech composers such as Bedrich Smetana.[18]

"Warriors of God" (translation)

"Keep your Lord in thine hearts. Fight for
him and with him." - "Warriors of God,"
 battle hymn of Jan Zizka (above)
and his armies
Ye who are the warriors of God
And of His Law, 
Pray for God's help
And believe in Him 
So ye will with him always remain victorious.

Christ will reward thee for what thou lose,

He promises ye a hundred times more. 
Whoever gives his life for Him
Will gain life eternal.
Blessed everyone who stands by the truth
[editor's note: if in the fact the wording here intends to promote salvation by works, we do not endorse this aspect of the song]

This our Lord bids us not to fear

The destroyers of the flesh
If ye want to win the life
For the love of thy nearest.

Therefore archers and lancers 

Of knightly rank,
Pikesmen and flailsmen
Of the common people,
Do all keep in mind the generous Lord.

Never fear the enemies
Do not mind their great numbers,
Keep your Lord in thine hearts. Fight for him and with him
And do not ever retreat before thine enemies!

Long the Czechs have said

And have had a proverb, 
That under a good lord
There is good riding.

Ye all must remember the password
As it was given to ye.
Always obey thy captains.
Each shall help and protect the other.
Each shall look for and stay with his own battalion.

Ye baggage boys and grooms,

Keep it in mind
That ye forfeit not thy lives
By theft or robbery,
And let thyselves never be tempted by spoil.

And thus joyously shout:

'At them, hurray, at them!' 
Feel the pride of the weapons in thy hands, 
Attack with the cry: God is our Lord![19]


[1] R. G. Grant, Commanders: History's Greatest Military Leaders (New York, NY: DK Publishing, 2010), 105.
[2] J. A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism: Volume I (NY: Cassell Petter & Galpin, n. d.), 189.
[3] Ibid., 190.
[4] Ibid., 189.
[5] Žižka himself proved to be on the wrong side of a very important doctrine when he recommended executing Hussites who refused to view the Lord's Supper as having a divine presence; as they told their persecutors, "Not we but you are in error, seduced by the erring clergy into kneeling before a created thing—the bread of the sacrament." They were eventually burned to death. Howard Kaminsky, A History of the Hussite Revolution (Berkeley, CA: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 431, 432.
[6] Craig D. Atwood, The Theology of the Czech Brethren from Hus to Comenius (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009), 92.
[7] Martin Pjecha, "From Protecting God's Law to Spreading Faith and Vengeance: Human Agency and the Shift towards Offensive Warfare in the Hussite Discourse" (Thesis, Central European University History Department, 2012), 30, 31
[8] "The Four Articles of Prague," Victor Verney - Freelance Writer. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://victorverney.wordpress.com/literature/the-four-articles-of-prague/
[9] Stephen Turnbull, The Hussite Wars 1419-36 (United Kingdom: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2004), 19.
[10] "Warrior of God," Victor Verney - Freelance Writer. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://victorverney.wordpress.com/literature/
[11] "The Statutes and Military Ordinances of Žižka's New Brotherhood," Victor Verney - Freelance Writer. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://victorverney.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/militaryordinances2.gif
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Historia Hussitica in Fontes rerum bohemicarum 5: 443-444. Cited in Thomas A. Fudge, The Crusade against Heretics in Bohemia, 1418-1437: Sources and documents for the Hussite Crusades (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2002), 94, 95.
[15] Historia Hussitica in Fontes rerum bohemicarum 5: 443-444. Cited in Fudge, The Crusade against Heretics in Bohemia, 1418-1437, 95.
[16] Fudge, The Crusade against Heretics in Bohemia, 1418-1437, 96n.
[17] Ibid., 66.
[18] "Warrior of God," Victor Verney - Freelance Writer. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://victorverney.wordpress.com/literature/
[19] "Hussite battle song: 'Warriors of God'," Victor Verney - Freelance Writer. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://victorverney.wordpress.com/literature/warriors-of-god/

Note about the Theonomy Applied Series: In quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily endorse every aspect of that law as biblical, whether it be the prohibition, sanction, court procedure, etc. Rather, we are merely showing the more or less attempt to apply biblical law in history, whether or not that application was fully biblical. Moreover, in quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily consider those who passed and/or enforced such a law as being fully orthodox in their Christian theology. Professing Christian rulers in history have ranged in their theology from being orthodox (that is, Reformed Protestants) to heretical (for example, Roman Catholics).    


Anonymous said...

This is much helpful and I find this, very interesting. History of an Awesome warrior of God!....

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Glad you found it helpful; nothing like learning about great warriors in Christian history.