My Five Favourite Czechs
Recently I made a remark about Komenský, saying “he might even be one of my five favourite Czechs in history. I then listed the others on the list and realized that I really do have five favourite Czechs. I arrange them here chronologically to satisfy your curiosity.
Jan Hus or John Huss (1372-1415) is often called an early reformer, though a
recent conversation with a fellow Fulbrighter argues that this isn’t the best
title for him. Hus was a priest and rector
of Charles University. He heard of and
became influenced by the teachings of Wycliffe in England. Similarly, he had critiques of the Catholic
Church. He thought communion should be
shared by all believers, believed services should be in the native language of
the people, and opposed the personal wealth of the clergy. In addition to his responsibilities to
Charles University and active life as a spiritual leader, he introduced the háček (the hook above the “c” in that word)
into the Czech language. Hus’ bold
challenge to the Catholic church eventually led to his martyrdom. His writings were condemned by the Catholic
church and he was detained and then imprisoned.
He agreed to recant if there could be found Biblical evidence against
his teachings. Among his last words
before being burned at the stake were, "God is my witness that the things charged against me I never
preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and
preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am
ready to die today." He died 597 years ago today. My Fulbright contact told me that he was
martyred actually more for Wycliffe’s beliefs and not for the ones he
personally taught. Hus’ legacy is seen
in the mass conversion of Czechs to his teachings, his influence on Martin
Luther, and the following Hussite Wars. He makes my list due to his intellectual vigor, his steadfastness in
clinging to Biblical truth in the midst of adversity, and his humbleness.
|Statue of Hus in Old Town Square. The text below is part of a|
sentence that reads "Love each other and wish truth to everyone.
Below is Bethlehem Chapel, where he preached.
|Komenský is featured on the 200 kě bank note.|
2. Jan Komenský or Comenius (1592-1670). This famous Czech educator, writer, and bishop is the “father of modern education.“ He was sympathetic to some ideas associated with the Reformation and experienced whiplash from the Habsburg Counter-Reformation, eventually causing him to move to Poland. From there he travelled around various parts of Europe, often to introduce educational reform. Among some of his contributions to education were his writing of textbooks, his belief in universal education, and his belief that students should be taught from their vernacular. Moreover, he wrote various books, advocated encyclopedic efforts, and designed an organization of education similar to the system used currently in the USA (i.e. kindergarten, elementary school, secondary school, college, university). His religious views (especially his support of Protestantism) caused him various kinds of persecution, including the burning of his home and works, thus pushing him out of Catholic Poland. His contributions to education and to the religious community are unquestionable (he was even asked to become the president of Harvard University). He makes my list due to a life lived fully, with a seamless blending of spiritual and academic pursuit and contribution. Moreover, I admire his intercultural work and his perseverance in the midst of opposition.
|Me and my buddy Masaryk|
3. Tomáš Garriggue Masaryk (1850-1937) was an advocate of Czechoslovak independence and the first Czechoslovak president (1918-1935). Before that, however, he was an “ordinary” man, introverted and interested in learning as much as possible. He spoke German, Czech, Slovak, Russian, French, English, and more. His ideas on education and many other topics were way beyond his time. His writings about education from the early 20th century could easily have been written yesterday. In regards to spirituality, he came from a Catholic background but became more liberal in his beliefs in adulthood. His overall brilliance, his intercultural capacity, and strong moral vigor contribute to his place on my list of favourite Czechs.
4. Karel Čapek (1890-1938) was a Czech journalist, playwright, and author. Czechs are quick to tell English speakers that he invented the word “robot” in his work R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which was written with his brother. I have read part of the book he did together with Masaryk about the latter’s life (Talks with T.G. Masaryk). In 1938, he stayed in Czechoslovakia despite the known coming doom as well as his being named “public enemy number 2” by Gestapo. He had spinal problems his whole life, and he died in 1938 of double pneumonia. His brother, with whom he wrote many fiction works, died in a concentration camp. I admire Čapek for his undeterred search for hope in the midst of despair and his acute literary contributions.
5. Václav Havel (1936-2011) was the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic. However, his integral role in his nation was solidified while it was still Czechoslovakia. Before he was a president, he was a poet, a playwright, a dissident, and a political prisoner. Yet, in spite of it all, he was “merely” going after what seemed right, responding to his sense of duty. Even as president he didn’t lose his humility. He is among my favourite Czechs for his commitment to the good, for his powerful moral voice in a victimized country, and for his unshakable humility.