John Huss vs. Mary Magdalene

February 28, 2012
Tim Schenck

Today we have an early Reformer of the Church versus one of Jesus' first disciples. It is precisely such odd juxtapositions that make Lent Madness so much fun. Will John Huss be re-martyred in the next 24 hours? Or will Mary Magdalene have her name further besmirched? Only time, and your one vote, will tell.

In recent action, Thomas Cranmer soundly defeated Ephrem of Edessa (58% to 42% with 1,825 votes cast) although the vote was a lot closer than the Vegas bookies anticipated. If you didn't catch the latest Monday Madness video featuring Tim and Scott, go watch it right away.

John Huss (1371? - 1415) or Jan Hus, was a Bohemian (born in what is now the Czech Republic) priest, theologian, and professor. Against the backdrop of the papal crisis in the Church known as the Babylonian Captivity during which there were two popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon (France), Hus wrote many treatises urging reform of the Church in the face of papal and clergy abuses and corruption a century before Martin Luther posted his famous 95 Theses in Wittenburg. In addition to his objection to the sale of indulgences and the practice of simony (the buying/selling of spiritual things, from sacraments to relics to Holy Orders), Hus was, following John Wycliff, a champion of of broad participation of the laity in the life of the church. He believed that people should be able to own and read their own Bibles in their own tongue and that worship should be conducted in the local language. He denounced the practice of withholding the chalice from everyone except the priests at Holy Communion and argued from his pulpit in Prague (the Bethlehem Chapel) that Christ, not the Pope (neither the French nor the Italian one) was the true head of the Church. For this he was excommunicated for insubordination by his archbishop in 1412.

The excommunication did not put a stop to Hus’ preaching, however, and he continued to minister in Bethlehem Chapel until he went into voluntary exile after his whole town was put under interdict because of him. Hus was summoned to the Council of Constance in Switzerland to defend himself, but his appeals to Scripture in matters of church governance did not win the day, and he was condemned as a heretic along with Wycliff (who was by then 44 years dead and buried) on July 6, 1415.

Hus was chained to a stake and wood and straw were piled up to his neck and set ablaze, and afterwards his ashes were thrown into the Rhine. The new Pope proclaimed a Crusade against his followers, the Hussites, and five Crusades later, a settlement was reached which, among other things, restored communion in both kinds to the laity in Bohemia and Moravia. Today’s Moravian Church traces its roots to Hus and his persecuted followers.

Collect for John Huss: Almighty God, who gave to your servant Jan Hus boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- Penny Nash

Mary of Magdala (1st century), one of the faithful women who traveled with Jesus throughout his ministry, is arguably his most devoted disciple. But whatever we know about her is filtered through the lens of Gospel stories and myth-making. Author James Carroll notes how she has “served as a scrim onto which a succession of fantasies have been projected.”

Mary Magdalene is often confused with “the sinner” mentioned in Luke’s Gospel, Mary of Bethany (sister of Lazarus), and unnamed others including the woman possessed by demons. That she was the first witness to the Resurrection of  Jesus as Christ is one of the few points of agreement among theologians and Biblical scholars. Despite ongoing disputes about who and what she was, her feast day is celebrated by the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, the Church of England, the Episcopal Church USA, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as well as the Roman Catholic Church.

Collect for Mary Magdalene: Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and resigns, one God, now and forever. Amen.

-- Meredith Gould


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109 comments on “John Huss vs. Mary Magdalene”

  1. Poor John Huss, against so many other people you'd have had my vote. Did you have to be matched with Mary Mags?

    1. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, she is hailed as a traveling evangelist equal to Paul. I'm going with that. John Hus rocks, but Mary's a strong, bold, faithful woman who just tangled with the wrong Western Church spin doctors. I have her back, and she has my vote.

  2. Huss spoke truth to power, but Mary was the first witness...tough one. Had to go with Huss, though.

  3. Of all the things that could be said about Mary Magdalene and we get a "a scrim upon which fantasies are projected"? Really? I hope you are saving the good stuff for her match up against Jerome. I want to see him go to down in flames against her.

    I refer everyone interested in Mary Magdalene to this thought provoking, insightful book by Cynthia Bourgealt, an Episcopal priest, "The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity".

    1. Laura, even though I voted for Huss I agree with you about the lack on info on Mary M - I would have like to hear more, she still came off as kind of a shadowy 1 dimensional figure to me in this...

  4. Poor John, burned at the stake to gain immortality. Then again, Mary's rep has been burned for almost two thousand years. Gotta go with Mary.

  5. Wicked tough! JH was an awesome witness to the love & power of Christ, but I'm going with The Witness to Christ. Go Mary!

  6. I suspect that the next round with Mary Magdalene will be worth the price of admission to Lent Madness. Let's take her to the top!!!

    Go Mary, GO!

  7. Jon Huss gets the nod due to his martyrdom and overall awesomeness. This guy was the Clint Eastwood of the 1400s. Tough, gritty, willing to stand up to anyone. I kind of imagine a Gran Torino moment, and "Get off my lawn!" remarks in the pulpit when he uttered those now famous "insubordinate" statements to the church hierarchy. Hussites unite!

      1. oh yeah! i like that too. voting for Hus even though it's hard to go against a Mary. but he had so much faith in a Jesus he had never seen, and tough as it was for Mary, she experienced Jesus in person.

  8. Yes, I'm voting for the easy favorite. However, I am going to steer one of my gifted students to the site to look at the information about John Huss. His National History Day project is about Martin Luther, and this would be some interesting background support.

  9. Poor Jan. I like my pre-Reformation martyrs and I study part-time in Prague, so I vote for him, even if it looks like MM will win it in a landslide.

  10. Come on people, just because you are a women in the Bible does not mean you should move on! Look at the impact of Huss, his community single handily raised the Liberal theological movement!

  11. I began this reading fully expecting to vote for Mary, but after reading about John Huss it is a tough one. I see Mary is way ahead in the vote so I'm going for John and expect to cast a vote for Mary down the road. Full participating of laity in the church, what a concept in the 1400's.

    1. I had the same thought...expected to vote for Mary but Jon Huss' bio was impressive. I never knew that about him -- threw my vote to him for his courage and integrity knowing full well that Mary might well take the day.

  12. From a great website called The Jesus Police.. Some scholars (e.g., Spong, 1992; Starbird, 2005) have speculated that Mary was such an important disciple of Jesus that she was referred to as “The Tower”, using the same kind of affectionate but pertinent nicknames that Jesus was famous for (e.g., Simon “The Rock”, John and James “the Sons of Thunder”, etc.)  Baigent (2006) even says that her nickname was actually “Mary the Great”, reasoning that calling her “The Tower” was the same as saying she was “Great”.

  13. Apparently St. Mary Magdalene "lives and resigns" with the Trinity, making for an interesting theological turn in heaven. Must be all that scrim.
    Spell-check much?

    1. Mark, I figured the word "resigns" resulted from jump-y fingers (or bad keyboard; go to your room.). Perhaps the word was meant to be reigns, but MM wasn't God, so maybe not reigns. Perhaps the word was meant to be resides, but don't we all hope to reside with the Trinity? Confused, I await clarification. Meanwhile, back at the saint face-off...

  14. We wouldn't have known about the resurrection without Mary Magdalene! She was a true visionary and disciple and her faith never waivered. The book by Cynthia Bourgeault is wonderful.
    I agree John Huss was an incredible and brave man, but tough luck for him that he was up against Mary of Magdala. We may not have had a church without her!

    1. C'mon now... If it weren't for Mary we wouldn't have known about the resurrection?! I doubt Jesus would have said "Whoops" and moved on! Something tells me someone else would have had that role. It was good that she was there to anoint the body... but does this circumstance really mean that she was responsible for the church being here? Methinks not! GO JON HUSS! HUSSSSSSS!!!! ALL THE WAY!!!!!

  15. I, too, after long and careful consideration, have to go for John Huss, fully anticipating voting for Mary Magdalen later on. Although she was arguably the first Apostle (one who saw the risen Christ and was told to go and spread the good news) the mysogeny of the early Church put Mary out of the running. She became conflated with whores (thus giving lots of Medieval and Rennaisance artists excuses to paint bare naked ladies) and madwomen. I am ordering the book through Interlibrary Loan.
    John Huss, on the other hand, was a real "Power to the People" kind of guy. I am sure that he would be occupying Wall Street right now, if he were around. (Maybe he is!)
    When are we going to see the desgn for the tatoo?

  16. I voted for Huss, having a sentimental connection with the site of his martyrdom, Konstanz (I lived there for a year) but also fully anticipate voting for Magdalene against Jerome.

    I'm confused by Barbara's statement, though - wouldn't one WANT to reclaim Mary's reputation from the misogyny of the early church?! That's not a reason to vote AGAINST her!

  17. My heart aches for John, but I have always dearly loved Mary Magdalene and will vote for her

  18. I must say I am a MM fan all the way. But after reading about John Huss and then reading all the comments, I am voting for JH - and will then probably get a chance to vote for MM later on. It's a tough match up.

  19. Well after reading about Huss I had to go with him. Mary M was awesome, but she got to see Jesus in the flesh, first hand witness! Huss was looking back over time and church tradition and still had the cojones to stand up to those no-goodniks and take the torch. I can't even the end is it saint because of being chosen by God or saint because of choosing God? the world may never truly know...

  20. Wow! Tough one is right. By profession and temperament, I am drawn to those who speak truth to power as Hus did, but . . . well, . . . . Mary is such a complex character, and, given the status (or lack thereof) of women in the first century, "He is Risen!," spoken to a pretty rough bunch of guys fits that mold! So, Mary it is.

  21. Is it me, or have I seen the "Misogyny Card" played for the 5th time... In the first round!?! Come on guys (gals), it's getting old... Give me a theological/historical basis for Mary.

  22. Having acted as locum Anglican chaplain in Prague two years running and therefore havinghad lots of opportunity to learn about John Hus, I simply had to vote for him, even though I revere Mary Magdalene. I'm guessing I'll get plenty of chance to vote for her later. 🙂

  23. Well, for the "context" oriented people on this site, Mary M. survived Jerome's translations of the bible and is one of the few women in the entire huge bible with a specific name and a specific role. She has her own gospel, even if it doesn't count as part of the bible! Mary should be the patron saint for the 21st Century since she has been able to survive 1500 years of slander to emerge as a strong and true disciple of Christ. And, just as she provided testimony to Jesus' resurrection to the original disciples, she is now providing testimony to Jesus' acceptance of women in the ministry and as full participants of faith despite the "context" of his times which left women unclean and unworthy most of the time. She remains a witness to the fact that Jesus' words don't need a "context" of time and that men and women were meant to share in the teaching and profession of Jesus' word to the world. Legend at least has it that she was so powerful and regarded that she was the aspostle speaking to the Roman Emperor about Christ and proving his resurrection by turning an egg red. Possibly "a scrim" and "a fantasy," but a powerful one nevertheless.

    (I really wanted to save the debate to crush Jerome, but we can start now.)

    1. James Carroll used the scrim metaphor to bust folks for projecting all their crap (read: fears, prejudices) onto Mary Magdalene. He did not use it to diminish her.

    1. Mary of Magdala was the first woman apostle and when the other apostles were arguing among themselves about whether or not Jesus really expected them to go out and preach....Mary was the one to say yes. Peter balked at that and began the character assignation of possibly the only one who understood what Jesus was teaching. The other apostles didn't even get it that Jesus was about to die. They were arguing about who was going to be first among them.