Quote of the Week – Hus a Goose, Luther a Swan

I had read in more than one place about the reformer Jan Hus’s supposed prophecy that a hundred years after his death, a swan would arise who would (fill in the blank with reformatory activity). This of course was always applied to Martin Luther. Consider Johannes Mathesius’ usage of the story:

But the worthy martyr from Bohemia, Master Johann Huss, also prophesied about this doctor a hundred years before the fact, and hit upon the exact year he would arise and finally sing a nice little song to the Roman Church. “Today you all roast a goose,” said Master Goose in 1415, when the Council of Constance was about to burn him, “but more than a hundred years from now,” namely, once the year 1516 was counted off, “a purer swan will come, who will finally sing you a different little song,” which then happened – God be praised! For in 1516 Doctor Luther began to dispute against indulgences.

Similar to Elector Frederick the Wise’s alleged dream about Luther’s 95 Theses the night before he reportedly posted them, I have always wondered about the veracity of this prophecy.

I think I have found the answer, thanks to an article by Dr. Gottfried Herrmann of the ELFK in the Fall 2017 issue (vol. 114, no. 4) of the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly. There Dr. Hermmann refers to Luther’s 1531 Commentary on the Alleged Imperial Edict. Luther composed this work in response to Emperor Charles V’s publication on November 19, 1530, of the final resolution of the Diet of Augsburg. In it the emperor “essentially reviv[ed] the Edict of Worms and [gave] the evangelicals a period of grace until April 15, 1531. In order effectively to root out abuses in the church, the emperor intended to persuade the pope and rulers to hold a council within six months. In the meantime the Protestant princedoms and cities should publish nothing further, should cease to proselytize, and should restore monastic and ecclesiastical properties.”

Toward the end of Luther’s Commentary, he himself cites the alleged prophecy (cited in the aforementioned article by Dr. Hermann):

St. John Hus prophesied about me when he wrote from his prison in Bohemia, “They will roast a goose now (for Hus means a goose [in Czech]), but in a hundred years they will hear a swan singing that they will have to put up with.” And that is the way it will be, if God wills.

In the Weimar Edition, this quote is footnoted by the editors as follows:

At the beginning of his imprisonment in Constance, at the end of 1414, thus a half-year before his death at the stake, Huss wrote to his friends in Prague the words that sound like a prophecy: “And this same truth has sent to Prague many falcons and eagles, which surpass the other birds in sharpness of vision, in replacement of the one weak and easily eliminated Goose. High above they are flying back and forth in this grace of God and snatching many birds for Christ Jesus, who will make them strong and will establish all his faithful” (Documenta Magistri Iohannis Hus ed. F. Palacky, Prag 1869, Epistolae Nr. 17, p. 40).

Johannes Mathesius, Historien / Von des Ehrwirdigen in Gott Seligen thewren Manns Gottes / Doctoris Martini Luthers / anfang / lehr / leben und sterben [Nuremberg, 1566], fol. 4

Lewis W. Spitz and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds., Luther’s Works, trans. Robert R. Heitner (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960), 34:63ff, esp. pp. 65,104

Weimarer Ausgabe 30/3:387