In 1415 attention in the city of Constance was turned toward John Huss and the church council that ultimately condemned him to death by being burned alive at the stake. The martyr's capital crimes centered on his firm belief in the supreme authority of Scripture and the right to private interpretation of God's Word by the believer.
In this work of historical fiction, Deborah Alcock focuses not so much on the flames that engulfed the body of Huss (although the trial and his resulting death is told with much accuracy), but on the spread of the gospel as the Holy Spirit enflamed the hearts of many Bohemians through the ministry and martyrdom of Huss.
Orphaned in their youth and subsequently separated, Armand and Hubert providentially meet again in Constance in 1415. Their renewed relationship brings to the surface their variant views of Christianity. Armand scorns hypocritical religion including Christianity. Hubert loves not so much Christ but the institution of the church. Their contact with John Huss and his simple yet profound testimony of true faith causes both to rethink their views.
The author allows the reader to follow Hubert in his subsequent travels and in his struggle, having been gripped by grace, to grow into a Biblical understanding of Christianity. He leaves the employment of Jean Gerson, the Chancellor of Paris, and submits himself to John of Chlum and travels to his estate in Bohemia, barely escaping arrest by the church council.
In Bohemia young Hubert increasingly realizes that fighting the good fight of faith means sorting out what must be cast out from traditional church practice and what beliefs and practices can be retained because they are grounded in Scripture itself. Additionally he must decide which stream of teaching to follow-the more apocalyptic teaching that can lead to avenging the death of Huss or the instruction to lead a quiet life and trust in God to avenge wrongdoing. To further complicate his struggles, he must face persecution and the ire of German mercenaries who are hired to root out Hussites from the land.
This volume is far more than an account of character growth. Hubert's odyssey in his youth and adult years involved him in societal struggles brought on as a result of the Reformation. For Hubert this meant a willingness to put himself on the front line of danger in order to protect fellow believers. It meant learning forgiveness and seeing the wise providence of God in ways that are beyond one's understanding. It meant learning how to respond to civil authorities in the face of decrees that he could not obey. It meant maintaining the importance of family and friendship even at great risk.
I came away from this volume with a better understanding of the fierce battle waged by so many in the Reformation era. Their struggles and ultimate successes by God's grace are the basis for the Christian freedom we are allowed to practice today. I was reminded how fragile such freedom is.
Alcock, with her enjoyable writing style, interweaves historical personages such as Jean Gerson, Peter Mladenowic, John Huss, and others into the lives of the credible but fictional characters that populate this volume. The readers will learn much about Bohemian family life and fashion but more importantly about their faith.
This volume can be read for profit and with pleasure by adult and youth.
- Byron Snapp
Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia. He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina. He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren.