Great Controversy Investigated: The Interdicts of 1411 and 1412

By Dieter Heimke, translated from German to English by J. Krahne

When the Reformer John Huss worked in Bohemia, the following things happened:

"King Wenzel (Wenceslas) was extremely angry at the curia that all his efforts in behalf of Huss had been so cavalierly ignored. He deeply resented the aspersion of heresy thus cast on his country by the cardinal and his own archbishop. . . . The king now . . . issued an order commanding the stoppage of payments to . . . the priests of the cathedral, as well as to the pastors of the churches in Prague. He gave as his reason that they had spread lies about the realm.

"By this time Zybenek (the archbishop) was so determined to exercise all his ecclesiastical powers that, being instigated to it by his advisors, he pronounced (on June 20) an Interdict over Prague and its environs for two miles around. The terrible weapon normally stopping all church services and ministrations such as baptisms, weddings, funerals, and granting of all sacraments, failed of effect. The king simply forbade its observance. Those priests and prelates who defied his order were deprived of their positions, which were then filled by such as were obedient to his will. The canons of St. Vitus fled and their places were taken by others. This obviously hopeless struggle continued to be waged by the archbishop for only two weeks. On July 3, he, along with the remaining prelates and priests who remained faithful to him. accepted the arbitration proffered him by the king."1

The next year, 1412, the Pope issued an Interdict against Prague which was obeyed and caused such a turmoil that Huss had to leave the city. In December of 1412, he wrote in a letter:

"If I have withdrawn from the midst of you, it is to follow the precept and example of Jesus Christ, in order not to give room to the ill-minded to draw on themselves eternal condemnation, and in order not to be to the pious a cause of affliction and persecution. . ."

This quote from Huss is found in Ellen G. White's Great Controversy on page 101 with the above description of the terrible effect of an Interdict, but it is described by her to be in the year 1411. That Huss wrote the letter in December, is clear from the sentence: "My beloved, the day is at hand, that we will remember the birth of our Lord."3

But in December 1411, there was no reason for Huss to write such a letter for his absence, because the Interdict from June 1411 was ineffective - a fact which no one disputes. The sequence of Ellen White's historical account is simply not correct. Ron Graybill then attempts to explain two points which are brought up in Adventist circles in attempting to save face for Ellen G. White:

  1. She meant the Interdict from 1412 - which is impossible, because she unmistakably spoke of two Interdicts.
  2. She had given only a general description of the Interdicts - which is irrelevant, because the opposite happened in 1411.

Graybill simply drops both explanations as insufficient, and after painstaking research of the historical facts he admits:

"Thus we know, that Mrs. White's citations of this letter in his context is a historical error known as an anachronism."4

How does this line up with Ellen G. White's claim that she had seen those historic events of the Great Controversy in vision? Well, Ron Graybill quotes her son William C. White who said his mother was shown in vision panoramic views of great events, but because of missing historical facts she failed to put the events in the proper perspective.

Graybill continues:

"Maybe Mrs. White saw an Interdict, yes, even an effective interdict. Perhaps she also saw Huss flee Prague. As she thought in extravisionary sources to locate this interdict and Huss' departure as to time and place, she used Wylie or Bonnechose. Unfortunately, these two historians had confused the consequences of the ineffective 1411 interdict with those of the effective interdict of 1412. She followed them in their account and was accordingly confused on the specific facts in this portion of her narrative."

Then comes his follow-up in 4 segments:

" Following W.C. White's suggestions and the evidence before us then, we would conclude that The Great Controversy is not a book which is usable as an independent source of authority on matters relating to time, place, or the details of historical events. It may be that in some instances Mrs. White did indeed have visionary information on these matters, but she has not presented us with a book in which it is possible for us to distinguish the items drawn solely from historical sources and the material presented on the authority of vision.

"In what sense is The Great Controversy authoritative then? It gives us authoritative answers to the questions the author says in her introduction that she set out to answer. What was her objective in writing the book?

"To unfold the scenes of the great controversy between truth and error; to reveal the wiles of Satan, and the means by which he may be successfully resisted; to present a satisfactory solution of the great problem of evil, shedding such a light upon the origin and the final disposition of sin as to make fully manifest the justice and benevolence of God in all His dealings with His creatures; and to show the holy, unchanging nature of His law, is the object of this book. GC, p. xii.

"In dealing with these themes - themes far more significant than the question of where Huss was in the summer of 1411 - the Great Controversy is a crucial and authoritative source."5

By the way, Ron Graybill was not alone in his judgment on Ellen G. White. Already in 1975, Robert Olson, Director of the Ellen White Estate, had admitted:

"I accept Spinka's history of Huss as being more accurate than that of Wylie. This necessitates the conclusion that Mrs. White made several erroneous historical statements about Huss in the Great Controversy.

"I accept the fact that Mrs. White followed Wylie closely - very closely - from Great Controversy page 97 all the way to page 110.

"It is difficult for me to believe that the Lord gave Mrs. White a vision or a series of visions which, for fourteen pages, coincided in so many details, errors and all, with Wylie."6


1. Matthew Spinka, "John Huss: A Biography", (Princeton, 1968) pp. 124-125. Ronald Graybill, former associate director of the Ellen White Estate, quotes from that source in the publication "Historical Difficulties in the Great Controversy."2 It is therefore to be considered an authoritative publication by the Seventh-day Adventist Church

2. Ronald Graybill, Ph.D., "Historical Difficulties in the Great Controversy", published by the Ellen G. White Estate on January 30, 1978, and revised in June 1982, pages 3-4.

3. Graybill, p. 6 (not known by Ellen White).

4. Graybill, p. 6. Anachronism is defined by the Heritage Dictionary as follows: "The representation of someone as existing or something as happening in other than chronological, proper, or historical order."

5. Graybill, pp. 6,7.

6. Robert W. Olson, "Questions and Problems Pertaining to Mrs. White's Writings on John Huss", White Estate (1975), p. 4.

Category: Bible vs. Mrs. White Great Controversy
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