Holy Simplicity

The woodcut depicts the martyrdom of Jan Hus, the Bohemian philosopher and theologian who was the first of the early 15th century critics of the Catholic church. When asked to recant his heretical views on reform, he famously replied that he “would not exchange truth for a chapel of gold”. Legend has it that his executioners had difficulty fanning the flames, and that an old woman stepped forward and helpfully threw some brushwood onto the pyre. Hus exclaimed, “O Sancta Simplicitas!”, “What holy simplicity!” The modern Czech equivalent, “Svatá prostota!”, is still used today when commenting on a person’s foolish action coming from the belief that he or she is doing something righteous. This sarcasm is likely not what Hus intended, since his words seem more to recall Christ’s words on the Cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

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