John Huss and the Hussites
BOHEMIA at the end of the fourteenth century presented perhaps a more favorable theatre for a reform movement than any other country of Europe. The gospel message had come to it in the first instance from the East. Traces of its Greek origin were long apparent in the Bohemian Church. Even down to the beginning of the fourteenth century such customs were prevalent as preaching in the vernacular, marriage of the clergy, and the extension of the eucharistic cup to the laity. Hagenbach, Kirchengeschichte, Vorlesung 30. In the course of the century, it is true, the bonds with Rome were strengthened, and there was a movement toward a more decided ascendancy of the Roman scheme. But the old order of things could not have been wholly forgotten, and whatever stimulus may have come from this source was reinforced by an intellectual awakening. The founding of the University of Prague by Charles IV. in 1348 gave to Bohemia the first great institution of learning which had yet appeared beyond the Rhine. A few years after the opening of its doors, it had gained an attendance and acquired a fame which made it well-nigh a rival of the universities at Paris and Oxford. Such a rapid unfoldment of educational facilities was naturally of itself a source of mental quickening to the Bohemians. At the same time, the extraordinary development attained by their language supplied a ready vehicle for an unusual diffusion of intelligence among the people. "The state of education and average general culture in Bohemia," says a recent biography of Huss, " was higher than that of any other country, and the Czesko-Slavonic language had reached a pitch of flexibility and cultivation which had not been attained by any of her European tongue save that of Italy, where it was rather poetry than prose that was in the ascendant." A. H. Wratislaw. Among those who labored zealously and effectually to adapt the Bohemian tongue to theological use was a representative of the nobility, Thomas Stitny. His enlightened zeal in this direction is very finely indicated by his own words. "A sermon of St. Augustine," he says, "has encouraged me to be bolder in writing Bohemian books which relate to the Holy Scriptures; for from it every one can see how good a thing it is to read the Holy Scriptures. And those who condemn books in the Bohemian language, even if good ones, wishing perhaps to be the only persons who appear wise, might well dread the vengeance of God, when they reflect how guilty those are who wish to stop the letters and necessary messages therein, and to prevent the Lord God, the Eternal Bridegroom from teaching His bride His will, and comforting her in her distress thereby. Yea, justly would he be in terror who should stop the letters of a king addressed to his queen, if he knew that the king was aware of it. And how much greater is the Lord God than any king! How much dearer to Him is His bride -- that is every soul that longeth for Him -- than was any queen dear to any king ! Wiser men understand this, and know that a Bohemian is as precious to Him as a Latinist."
Among the clergy in Bohemia three men in particular may be regarded as the precursors of Huss; namely, Conrad of Waldhausen, Milicz of Kremsier, and Matthias of Janow. Conrad was a native of Austria, and was known as an effective preacher at Vienna before his arrival in Bohemia, which occurred about the year 1360. His great aim was a reform in the lives of the people and the clergy. Accepting the current system of doctrine, he employed all his energy in assailing corruptions in practice. Much attention was awakened by his stirring addresses, insomuch that the church where he ministered at Prague became too narrow to contain the assembled crowd. As a moral censor, he naturally made enemies. The mendicant monks in particular were displeased with his severe criticisms, and it was probably owing to their accusations that he had occasion to defend himself before the Pope's legate. Conrad died in 1369. A contemporary has thus described the wholesome effect of his labors: "A man of great earning and greater eloquence, he saw, when he came to Bohemia, all men given up to excessive luxury, and exceeding all limits in many respects; and through his preaching he so reformed the morals of people in our country, that many put aside the vanities of this world and served God with zeal." Benesz Krabice, quoted by Wratislaw.
Milicz, though probably at the time in holy orders, was for a considerable interval in government employ, first at the court of the Margrave John of Moravia, and then at that of the Emperor Charles IV. In 1363, resigning his offices, he betook himself to the one task of preaching the gospel. At first his style of address was not attractive; but erelong his spiritual devotion and enthusiasm gained the car of the people, and their eagerness to hear was only surpassed by his willingness to instruct. It speaks in favor of the tact as well as of the philanthropy of the man, that he is said to have rescued two hundred of the fallen women of Prague, and provided them with the necessary aids to a virtuous life in a reformatory institution. Milicz, like Conrad, appears not to have been an innovator in doctrines. He held, to be sure, some rather eccentric views about the coming of Antichrist. But he did not mean to impugn any part of the established system of faith or polity. So the authorities seem to have concluded. For while his enemies caused him trouble, and he had occasion to clear himself at Rome, and again at Avignon, the Pope readily acquitted him in the former instance, and there are indications that he met with favorable consideration in the latter instance. His death occurred in 1374, at Avignon, whither he had repaired to defend his cause before the papal court.
Matthias of Janow was rather the scholar and writer than the popular orator. Educational advantages of the first order had been enjoyed by him. Besides studying for an interval in Prague, he spent six years in Paris, where he received the degree of Master of Arts. From 1381 to his death in 1393 he held a position among the clergy of Prague. The writings of Matthias, of which the five books entitled "De Regulis Veteris et Novi Testamenti" formed the principal part, indicate that his views were somewhat more radical than those of his predecessors, and came nearer to a veritable breach with the Romish system. He exalted the Scriptures far above human traditions, emphasized the immediate relation of the believer to Christ, complained of the legalism which had substituted a long list of commandments and restrictions for the simple rule of life in the gospel, opposed the tendency to separate too widely between the clergy and the laity, favored the practice of frequent communion on the part of all Christians, and condemned the abusive extreme to which the worship of images was commonly carried. The preference of Matthias for the Bible, and his desire to make it the foundation of his teaching, is vividly set forth in the preface to his chief work. " In these writings of mine," he says, "I have throughout made most use of the Bible, and but little of the sayings of the doctors; both because the Bible occurs to me promptly and abundantly for writing on every matter, and because out of it and through its most divine verities, which are clear and self-evident, all opinions are more solidly confirmed, are founded with greater acuteness, and are meditated on more usefully; and because it is that which I have loved from my youth up, and have named my beloved friend and spouse, yea, the mother of beauteous affection and knowledge and fear and holy hope." Quoted by Wratislaw. His words on the subject of human commandments are especially noteworthy. Haviag called attention to the fact that Christ and His apostles laid but few commands upon Christians, he adds: "Whence it appears that those later persons have acted and still act cruelly and barbarously, who have introduced and authoritatively confirmed their numerous inventions, various doctrines, and rigid commands in the family of God and the Lord Jesus, binding and burdening their subjects overmuch. ... Wherefore I have concluded in my own mind, that, for the purpose of renewing peace and union in the general body of Christians, it is expedient to root out all that plantation, and curtail again the word upon earth, and bring back the Church of Christ Jesus to its salutary and compendious beginnings, retaining proportionately few, and those apostolic, commandments." What is here mentioned as a matter of desire was also proclaimed by Matthias as a matter of expectation. With a confidence approaching to prophetic assurance he declared: "I believe that all the aforesaid works of men, prescriptions, and ceremonies shall be destroyed from the foundation, and God alone will be exalted, and His Word will abide eternally; and the time is near at hand when those prescriptions will be brought to naught."
But with all his enlightened sentiments Matthias was only a tentative reformer. He professed himself ready to receive correction from the Church, and seems not to have put in the proviso that the correction should be through arguments convincing to his reason and conscience. So we have the record, that, in answer to the demand of a synod in 1389, he formally recanted several of the opinions which he had advanced. Wratislaw.
Such developments as we have sketched prepared the ground for Huss. Not only this; they exercised undoubtedly a certain influence upon his own mind. Nevertheless, it is probably no erroneous judgment which assigns them the second rank in the tuition of the Bohemian reformer. From no other source did Huss draw so much as from that most able and daring innovator of the preceding generation, John Wycliffe. This is proved by the combined evidence of his own acknowledgments, the charges of his accusers, and the contents of his extant writings. No doubt his enemies went beyond warrant in proclaiming the identity of his teachings with those of Wycliffe. The Bohemian was less radical than the English agitator. The former, for example, retained the doctrine of transubstantiation, which was so sharply condemned by the latter. He occupied also a more tolerant attitude than Wycliffe toward the custom of venerating the Virgin and the saints. But Huss made no secret in his later years of his appreciation for Wycliffe. Once, in the presence of the Archbishop of Prague, he is said to have exclaimed that he hoped that his soul might be with that of the Oxford teacher. He admired him first as a philosopher, as an able advocate of realism. Later he admired him as a reformer in practice and doctrine, and borrowed largely from his writings. ''I am attracted" wrote Huss, "by his writings, in which he expends every effort to conduct all men back to the law of Christ, and especially the clergy, inviting them to let go pomp and dominion of the world, and to live, like the apostles, according to the law of Christ. I am attracted by the love he has for the law of Christ, maintaining its truth and holding that in no point can it prove to be false." 1 Neander, Kirchengeschichte, ix. As early as his student days Huss had an opportunity to look into the works of Wycliffe. The liberality of a Bohemian nobleman by the name of Ranconis had provided re fund by which youth of his country might be enabled to study at Paris and Oxford. The connection thus established between Bohemia and the English university was greatly strengthened by the marriage of Anne, sister of the Bohemian King Wenzel (or Wenceslas), to Richard II. The prominence of Wycliffe of course drew the attention of the foreign students, and they were eager to possess themselves of his writings, and to carry them back to their own country. J. Loserth, Wiclif and Hus. We learn from Jerome of Prague, who was one of those that made a sojourn at Oxford, that he himself took pains to copy and to carry home some of the principal of Wycliffe's writings.
Such was the preparation made for Huss. Viewed on its intellectual or dogmatic side, his work was to some extent a copy. He cannot claim the same distinction as his English predecessor in respect of originality or mental daring. He was more eminent as a confessor or witness than as a thinker. His noblest distinction was his moral worth, his humble, unswerving, courageous fidelity to his convictions. His greatest natural gift was the power of persuasive address.
John Huss was born in 1369 at the town of Husinetz in the southern part of Bohemia. His parents were poor, and in the earlier stages of his education he had to shift for himself, much after the manner of Luther at a later date, gaining his bread by singing in the churches and performing menial services. In 1396 he took the degree of Master of Arts at the University of Prague, and two years afterwards began to deliver lectures as a public teacher. In 1401 he was made Dean of the Faculty of arts for the ensuing half-year. In 1402 he was Rector for the like term. The same year marks also a very important call for Huss, his nomination to the office of preacher in the Bethlehem Chapel, a foundation which was due to the charity and enterprise of two laymen. According to the provisions of the foundation, preaching in this chapel was to be in the vernacular. This was welcome to the zeal of Huss for popular instruction, and gave him an opportunity to leaven the minds of the people with those reform principles which now were beginning to burn in his own heart. By no other means, perhaps, did he so effectually impress the Bohemian people as by his sermons in Bethlehem Chapel.
It was first in 1410 that Huss began to be seriously molested in his work. Several causes combined to render him an object of attack. In the first place, in his impartial denunciations of iniquity he was no more inclined to spare the clergy than the people. The vices and abuses which in this degenerate age were scandalously prevalent in the priesthood he assailed with scathing rebuke. Naturally his censures created ill will in those not inclined to reform. While they felt the smart of cutting reproofs, they feared also for their revenue, since an unscrupulous dealing with relics, and simoniacal charges for spiritual services, were among the things most emphatically reprobated by the reformer. In the second place, the attitude of Huss toward the writings of Wycliffe gave an occasion for attack. As early as 1403, these writings were brought under censorship. Forty-five articles purporting to be extracted therefrom were laid before an assembly of the university magisters. The German element, which was predominant, was forward to condemn the articles. Among the Bohemians, on the other hand, there were several prominent teachers who were ready to defend Wycliffe, either on the ground that the articles did not truly represent his sentiments, or were capable of being understood in an orthodox sense. Huss sympathized with this latter verdict. He had no disposition to defend Wycliffe at every point; but at the same time he was strongly averse to the wholesale condemnation of the articles which was carried through by the assembly. Attention was recalled to the subject at intervals. In 1408 there was an order for the delivering up of Wycliffe's writings. This order was in part obeyed; its execution was not vigorously pressed. Thus far the position of Huss was not definitely and openly compromised by his relation to Wycliffe. But even the qualified apology which he offered for the English reformer, who was now reputed in Romish circles to have been the great heresiarch of his time, gave his enemies amost effectual instrument for stirring up prejudice against him. A third cause for assailing Huss was the part which he took in overcoming the preponderance of the Germans in the management of the university. In three out of the four " nations" which were represented in the university, the German element was dominant. This gave them three votes to one of the Bohemians. The result was, that the Bohemians were compelled to see most of the offices and benefices which were at the disposal of the university in the hands of strangers. Huss relished this as little as others of his nation, and approved the effort to persuade the King to ordain a more just distribution of privileges. As the appeal came at a time when the King was angry with the Germans for opposing his policy in reference to the rival claimants of the papacy, it proved effective. A royal decree was issued in January, 1409,by which it was provided that the Bohemian nation should have three votes in the university. So great was the displeasure of the Germans at this action that a few months later they left Prague in large numbers. Æneas Sylvius says that five thousand joined in the exodus, and a contemporary Bohemian writer carried the estimate up to a total of twenty thousand. A large proportion of the emigrants settled at Leipzig, where a new university was started. As the depletion of their university was observed, it naturally occurred to some that too high a price had been paid for Bohemian ascendancy. The result accordingly was not altogether favorable to Huss, even as respects the opinion of his own countrymen. As regards the Germans, they were of course much embittered against him. Even before this they cherished toward him no friendly feeling. As nominalists they were ill affected from the start toward Wycliffe, as being a distinguished champion of realism. They were quite ready to believe him to be a theological heretic, who was known to them as a heretic in philosophy. The simple fact then that Huss embraced the philosophical realism of Wycliffe was a source of suspicion in their minds as to his orthodoxy in theology. They were alert to interpret any show of appreciation for Wycliffe as a token of heresy. Accordingly, as they went from Prague the sharpened feeling of personal hostility which they carried with them was a sure pledge that they would be industrious in sowing the seeds of ill will against the Bohemian reformer.
In 1410 Zbynek (or Zbinco), Archbishop of Prague, opened the positive attack on Huss. He had been angered by the utter failure of his attempt in the preceding year to champion the cause of Gregory XII., one of the schismatic Popes. The King had supported Alexander V., the nominee of the Council of Pisa, and in this measure had received the co-operation of Huss and of the greater part of the clergy. The archbishop, after witnessing the nullity of his censures, had made a virtue of necessity, and transferred his allegiance to Alexander. But he felt his humiliation, and eagerly sought a compensation. In pursuance of a papal bull, obtained through his representations some months before, the archbishop in July, 1410, ordered the burning of such copies of Wycliffe's writings as had been collected, the surrender of such as were still retained by their possessors, and desistance from further preaching in private places, on pain of excommunication. This last requisition was designed to put a stop to the preaching of Huss in the Bethlehem Chapel. Such a demand Huss could not conscientiously obey. He regarded it as putting unlawful bonds upon the Word of God. He therefore appealed to the Pope, and went on with his preaching, at the same time uttering a protest against the burning of Wycliffe's writings. The arch-bishop on his part burned the proscribed writings, ex-communicated Huss, and opposed his petition at the papal court. Huss was cited to answer before that court, and on his failure to appear incurred the papal excommunication. As Huss was supported by the King and a large part of the people and the clergy, all these censures, as well as the interdict which the arch-bishop imposed upon Prague, effected little. At length Zbynek yielded so far as to listen to a plan of arbitration and to remove the interdict. His death, occurring at this time, deprived him of the opportunity, either to consummate peace, or, what was more probably in his intention, to renew hostilities.
Huss by this time was well established in his principle of action. As he had refused, at the command of the archbishop, to cease from preaching, so he concluded to sacrifice the dictates of his conscience to no earthly authority. His maxim was steady adherence to a conviction of truth or duty so long as he was not proved to be in the wrong by considerations that appeared consonant with the divine oracles. No arbitrary authority, however august the pretensions with which it might clothe itself, was to be allowed to determine his course. Such a principle under the circumstances was a sure passport to martyrdom.
Before the close of the year 1411, Huss had occasion to declare his attitude toward papal authority. In answer to the bull of John XXIII., summoning the faithful to support a crusade against Ladislaus, King of Naples, who sustained the rival Pope, Gregory XII., the traffic in indulgences was opened in Bohemia. If being understood that Huss was determined to oppose the traffic, he was summoned before the archbishop (Albic) and the papal legates. Being asked by the latter if he would obey the apostolic commands, he replied very promptly in the affirmative. But as the legates expressed their satisfaction at his ready submission, he added: "Understand me, gentlemen ! I term the doctrine of Christ's apostles apostolic commands, and so far as the commands of the Pope of Rome agree with that doctrine and those commands I am willing to obey them gladly; but when I see the contrary, I shall not obey, even if ye place before me fire to consume my body." This declaration Huss followed up, with straightforward resolution. While some of his former allies, notably Stephen Palecz and Stanislas, voted for neutrality, Huss, both in public disputation and in his pulpit addresses, denounced the purchase of Pope John's indulgences as an unworthy patronizing of an unrighteous and a bloody enterprise. A significant token of his temper was given as he took leave of Palecz. Plainly perceiving that there was no longer any ground of fellowship with him, he said: "Palecz is a friend, truth is a friend; and since both are friends, the blameless course is to give the preference to truth." Not only did he oppose indulgences as a means of helping on the unrighteous crusade of the Pope, but, like Luther at a later date, he greatly qualified the value of indulgences in general, and emphasized the view that priestly absolution is to be regarded as conditional, it being impossible without special revelation to know whether the penitent has met the divine requirements for remission.
Among the people of Prague a large party responded warmly to the sentiments of Huss. Sometimes their zeal was not kept within the limits of discretion. Huss himself was far from countenancing wild-fire and violence. But the agitation was too great to be controlled fully by his word or example. The patrons of the Pope's indulgences were lampooned. A procession was gotten up, and documents bearing the semblance of papal bulls, after being borne through the streets, were committed to the flames. In several instances preachers who attempted to recommend the indulgences were interrupted with a cry of denunciation. Three young men, among those who testified in this lawless way against the iniquity, were arrested and hurried to execution by the magistrates, --an exhibition of cruelty which exasperated far more than it intimidated. In the popular view their death was a martyrdom, and Huss himself did not forbear to praise their honest zeal and devotion.
These developments were of course a sure guaranty against any favorable decision on the case of Huss, which had been pending at the papal court. Malignant representatives of his enemies in Prague, among whom the renegade Michael de Causis acted a conspicuous part, were on hand to give the worst account of the doings of the reformer. Accordingly, in July, 1412, sentence was given for the public proclamation in Prague of the excommunication of Huss, together with the requirement that no Christian should have any intercourse with him, and that the place of his abode, if he should remain obstinate for twenty days, should be under interdict. Soon after came the more violent injunctions that Huss should be delivered over to the archbishop, or other judge, to be condemned and burned; that the Bethlehem Chapel should be leveled with the ground; and that all implicated in the heresy of Huss should recant within thirty days on pain of summons to appear before the court of Rome. These measures caused intense excitement. Between the bitter enemies of Huss on the one hand, and his warm admirers on the other, violent and bloody altercations were imminent. Such a state of things was very unwelcome to Huss. It was also a grief to him that the people should on his account be deprived of the rites of religion, as they were in a measure through the partial observance of the interdict. While, therefore, so far as he himself was concerned, he was willing to hold his ground, he decided for the sake of the general interest to retire for a season from Prague. Refuge and entertainment were readily offered him by friendly nobles.
During his absence Huss was by no means inactive. He still kept his hand upon affairs in Prague, and indeed visited the city at intervals. He found occasion to preach at various points to multitudes who were eager to hear his voice. He was also much occupied with his pen. His most elaborate treatise, De Ecclesia, was produced at this time. In this work Huss brings out a conception which was fundamental to his departure from the Romish basis. Like Wycliffe before him, he emphasizes the idea that the Church is properly the whole company of the elect. Union with Christ is the essential condition of membership. From this point of view he naturally draws the conclusion that the papal headship cannot be admitted except in a very qualified sense. A pope may not be even a member of the Church, in which case it would be preposterous to regard him as the head. Christ alone is properly the head of the Church. That the Church can dispense with a pope is evident from the fact that in the earlier ages of its history there was no pope. Up to the time of Constantine the Roman bishop was simply the colleague of the other bishops. As it is not necessary to have a pope, so obedience may be refused to him when he does not rule as a true representative of Christ. Indeed, the Christian is bound to keep his gaze fixed upon the example and the precepts of Christ, and to give heed neither to pope nor prelate when their injunctions are counter thereto. See Neander, Kirchengeschichte, ix. From these and other teachings of Huss it is quite evident that he entertained the formal principle of the Lutheran reformation. A competent investigator of the subject remarks: "As regards Huss's doctrine concerning the sources of Christian belief and concerning its exposition, it may be taken as proved that Holy Scripture was looked upon by him as the alone source of religious truth, despite the fact that in several places he expresses himself in another sense." Loserth, Wiclif and Hus.
The opening of the Council of Constance in the latter part of the year 1414 summoned Huss to a new theatre of testimony. At the instance of the Emperor Sigismund, who had been largely instrumental in calling the council, and who was anxious to compose the disturbance in Bohemia, if was provided that Huss should be invited to appear at Constance to answer for himself. The safe-conduct of the Emperor was promised in case he should accept the proposal; and this, it would appear, was understood to imply a free departure from the council, as well as protection on the way thither. "King Sigismund's intention," says Wratislaw, "as signified to Huss by the noblemen commissioned to communicate with him, was not only to give him a safe-conduct on his way to Constance, but also to procure him a free and safe public hearing in the council, in such manner, indeed, that, if he were unwilling to submit to the judgment of the council, he was to have a free and safe journey back to his own country. Such is Huss's own statement in a letter written after June 5, 1415, and also in an earlier but undated letter, in which he expressed the wish that he could but once at any rate speak with the King, since he had come thither at his wish and under his promise that he should return safe to Bohemia." Chap. vii. Palacky, who concludes that the safe-conduct, while made out at Speier, October 18th, did not reach Huss till after his arrival in Constance, assigns equal scope to the document. (Geschichte von Böhmen, iii. 318.) The language of the safe-conduct itself speaks for the same conclusion: "Sigismund,by the grace of God King of the Romans, etc., To all princes, ecclesiastical and lay, and all our other subjects greeting. Of our full affection we recommend to all in general, and to each individually, the honorable man, Master John Huss, the bearer of these presents, going from Bohemia to the Council of Constance, whom we have taken under our protection and safeguard, and under that of the Empire, requesting when he arrives among you that you will receive him kindly and treat him favorably. ... Let him freely and securely pass, sojourn, stop, and return." Quoted from Von der Hardt by E. C. Gillett, Life and Times of John Huss, vol. i. chap. xiii. Notwithstanding the Emperor's guaranty, there were not wanting those who apprehended peril for Huss, and warned him that Constance would prove fatal ground to him. Huss understood himself that there was some occasion for the warning. From his farewell letter it is clear that he was by no means confident of escaping imprisonment and death. But he was resolved to brave the danger. The spirit of a confessor dwelt in his bosom, and no prospect was more welcome than the opportunity to justify his teachings before the supreme tribunal of Christendom. The feelings with which he looked forward to the council are on record in a letter which he addressed to the Emperor Sigismund, Sept. 1, 1414: " Sicut nihii in occulto docui, sic opto non in secreto, sed in publica audientia audiri, examinari, prædicare, et omnibus, quotquot arguere voluerint, juvante spiritu domini respondere. Nec spero verebor conflteri Christum dominum, et pro ejus lege verissima, si oportuerit, mortem pati." (Quoted by Palacky, iii. 312.)
Huss reached Constance on the 3d of November. His most virulent enemies from Prague, if not already on the ground, were forthwith at hand, and with unwearied industry were endeavoring to poison the minds of his judges. Their machinations were all too successful. Before the end of November Huss received a foretaste of the mercy that was to be awarded. The prison closed its doors upon him by the order of Pope and cardinals. In a foul and noisome dungeon he learned the worth of the safe-conduct which had bespoken for him kindly treatment in every place of his sojourn. His health was speedily broken, and his trial would have been anticipated by his death had he not been removed to more wholesome quarters.
How was this violation of the imperial pledge received by Sigismund ? At first he expressed, and no doubt felt, great indignation. But his heart was set upon making the council a success in the healing of the papal schism. He found that he could not defend Huss and maintain the terms of the safe-conduct without endangering a rupture with the council. He concluded, therefore, after some show of displeasure, to leave Huss to his fate. The assembled doctors on their part offered a salve to his conscience, setting forth the doctrine that no secular power can obligate itself to keep faith with a heretic, to the prejudice of the Church. The decree of the council on the subject of safe-conducts reads as follows: "Præsens sancta synodus ex quovis salve conductu per Imperatorem, Reges et alios seculi principes hæreticis, vet de hæresi diffamatis, putantes eosdem sic a suis erroribus revocare, quocumque vinculo se adstrinxerint, concesso, nullum fidei catholicæ vel jurisdictioni ecclesiasticæ præjudicium generari, vel impedimentum præstari posse seu debere, declarat, quo minus dicto salve conductu non obstante liceat judici competenti et ecclesiastico de hujusmodi personarum erroribus inquirere, et aliàs contra eos debite procedere, eosdemque punire, quantum justitia suadebit, si suos errores revocare pertinaciter recusaverint, etiamsi de salvo conductu confisi ad locum venerint judicii, aliàs non venturi." (Mansi, Sess. xix. p. 799, tom. xxvii.) A decree of the council, as reported by Von der Hardt (tom. iv. p. 522), specifically justifies the violation of the safe-conduct held by Huss: "Sancta synodus declarat, dictum invictissimum principem circa prædictum quondam Johannem Huss, non obstante memorato salve conductu, ex juris debito fecisse, quod licuit, et quod decuit Regiam Magistatem."
In this, whatever may be thought of the special application made, the council no doubt stood on historical ground. The plain import of the legislation of Innocent III. was that no secular ruler is authorized to prefect an heretical subject, or, to stand in the way of his being visited with the extreme penalty. It follows necessarily on this basis, that any pledge of security from a temporal ruler given to a subject accused of heresy must be conditional. Faith with a heretic can in no case be inviolable, at least in no case in which the faith is not pledged by the supreme spiritual authority itself. Of course the council might have respected the safe conduct, if it had been so disposed. While the theocratic system gave it the option to make public faith a nullity, it did not require it to do this. It could have shown some regard for plighted faith, and spared Sigismund the blush which is said to have mantled his cheek as Huss, before the assembled dignitaries, referred to the safe-conduct. (Palacky, iii. 364.)
From the first, it was manifest that the council was bent upon humbling Huss, if not upon accomplishing his destruction. If occupied toward him the position of magisterial authority, requiring him to acknowledge and to recant the errors alleged to have been taught by him. At his trial (on the 5th, 7th, and 8th of June, 1415) the testimony of the most bitter and prejudiced witnesses was received, but no opportunity was provided for friendly testimony. Of the various articles which were cited as being taught in his writings and proving his heresy, some had never received his sanction. Nevertheless he was called upon to abjure the whole list, and thereby to allow the inference that he had taught things which in fact he had never entertained or inculcated. No door of escape was left open except that at which conscience stood guard, and Huss was not the man to thrust conscience aside. He denied that he had taught some of the alleged errors; he maintained that others properly understood were true; he refused to make the indiscriminate recantation and submission that were required. Near the close of the trial, as several under the guise of friendly advice urged him to cast himself upon the mercy of the council, Huss responded: "Meet revered fathers, I came here freely, not to defend aught obstinately; but if in some points I have stated things incorrectly or defectively, I wish to submit to the instruction of the council. But I pray that a hearing may be granted me to explain my meaning as to the articles charged against me, and to cite the writings of holy doctors; and if my reasons and citations be not strong enough, I will humbly submit to the instruction of the council." Later, in answer to a private solicitation to satisfy the council by subscribing a formula of recantation, Huss replied: "I dare not submit myself to the council according to the tenor of the recantation exhibited to me, both because I must condemn many truths, which, as I heard from themselves, they designate scandalous, and because I must incur the guilt of perjury by abjuration, through admitting that I have held the errors; whereby I should greatly scandalize God's people, who have heard the contrary from me in my preaching. If then the holy Eleazar, a man of the old law, an account of whom is in the Book of the Maccabees, would not lyingly admit that he had eaten the flesh forbidden by the law, lest he should act against God and leave an evil example to posterity, how should I, a priest of the new law, though an unworthy one, for fear of a punishment which will soon be over, be willing to transgress the law of God more grievously by withdrawing from the truth, by committing perjury, by scandalizing my neighbors? Indeed, it is better for me to die, than, avoiding a momentary punishment, to fall into the hands of the Lord, and perhaps afterwards into fire and everlasting reproach. And because I have appealed to Christ Jesus, the most powerful and the most righteous of judges, committing myself and my cause to Him, I therefore await His decision and sentence, knowing that He will judge every man, not according to false or erroneous witness, but according to truth and deserving." Quoted by Wratislaw. Such was the position which Huss maintained with constant resolution. In the face of persuasion and menace alike, he revealed not the slightest token of a tendency to waver in his chosen course.
All that remained now was the final sentence and the ordeal of martyrdom. On the 6th of July, 1415, as the council was assembled in state, Huss was brought into its presence. After a sermon by the Bishop of Lodi, which dwelt on: the duty of extirpating heresy, articles from the writings of Wycliffe were read and condemned. Then accusations against Huss and articles from his writings were read. No opportunity was given him to reply except as he managed at intervals to interject a few sentences. Among the charges, it was stated that he had appealed to God, to the disparagement of ecclesiastical authority. To this Huss replied by renewing his appeal in words like these: "O Lord Jesus! Lo, this council now condemns Thine own action and law as an error! For, when Thou wast oppressed by Thine enemies, Thou didst commit Thy cause to Thy Father, the most righteous Judge, giving herein an example to us poor sinners, when aggrieved in any way, to have recourse to Thee, the most righteous Judge, humbly asking Thine aid." As sentence was pronounced against him, Huss fell upon his knees and prayed, saying: "Lord Jesus Christ! pardon all my enemies, I pray Thee, for the sake of thy great mercy. Thou knowest that they have falsely accused me, brought forward false witnesses, and concocted false articles against me. Pardon them for the sake of Thine infinite mercy."
Being vested with the priestly garments prior to the ceremony of degradation, he was exhorted by the bishops having the matter in charge to abjure. Huss replied, as he turned to the assembly, "See! these bishops would have me abjure. I fear to do so lest I should be a liar in the sight of God; lest I should offend my conscience and God's truth, never having held the articles which they falsely allege against me, but rather having taught, written, and preached the contrary; and also lest I should offend and scandalize the great multitude to whom I have preached, and likewise others who are faithfully preaching the Word of God."
The priestly vestments were then removed, and the eucharistic chalice was taken from his hand with the exclamation, "We take from thee, accursed Judas, the cup of salvation." But Huss replied, "I trust in God, my Almighty Father, that He will not take from me the cup of His salvation, and I have a steadfast hope that I shall yet to-day drink it in His kingdom." As the concluding mockery was taking place, and a paper crown disfigured with the pictures of fiends was put upon his head, the bishops said, "Now we give over thy soul to the devil."But I," said Huss, looking heavenward, "commend to Thee, O Jesus Christ, the soul which Thou hast redeemed."
Like words were repeated by Huss while he was being led to the stake. As the pile of mingled wood and straw which encompassed his body was kindled, be commenced to chant with a loud voice, "O Christ, Son of the living God ! have mercy upon me ! " The smoke and flame which the wind drove into his face soon quenched his voice, but it could be seen from the motion of his lips that as long as life remained he was continuing his sublime devotions. Thus died one of the world's heroes, a man than whom a more honest or devoted was probably never sent to heaven by the pathway of fire.
The voice of the accuser had triumphed. The council had vindicated its authority against the man who dared to appeal to Christ and to conscience, instead of humbly submitting to its arbitrary mandate. But neither accuser nor council, nor both combined, could annul the verdict which was written in the hearts of thousands of Bohemians. They knew the worth of their countryman. It is no marvel that the flame of his martyrdom became a torch which kindled all Bohemia into a conflagration.
The council which had no compassion upon Huss would not be likely to spare his disciple, Jerome of Prague; for Jerome was a man who gave more occasion of provocation than Huss. He was more impetuous and more venturesome, superior in genius but less in constancy. Of singularly restless and inquiring mind, he kept up a continual journeying. We find him at Oxford, at Paris, at Cologne, at Heidelberg, at Vienna, in Moravia, in Poland, and in Palestine. Wherever he went, he expressed himself with freedom and boldness. Judging from the stir which he made at different universities, he must have been a very keen disputant. That he was a man of extraordinary eloquence we know from other evidence.
Urged probably by a desire to assist Huss, Jerome came to Constance in the early part of April, 1415. He was apprised at once by his friends that his coming was of no avail, and that he must depart at once if he valued his safety. This advice he was soon constrained to follow. Having remained in a neighboring town for a few days, he began to pursue his journey toward Bohemia. But he failed to escape. When within a day's journey of the border, he was arrested and sent to Constance. There chains and imprisonment proved to be more effectual arguments with him than they had been with his inflexible master. After several months of suffering, he was prevailed upon to renounce the doctrines of Wycliffe and Huss, and to acknowledge the justice of the condemnation which befell the latter.
But recantation did not mean acquittal for Jerome. One party among the members of the council was indeed disposed to advocate his release from prison. The opposing party, however, carried the day, and Jerome was brought again to trial. At a public hearing which was granted him on the 23d and the 26th of May, 1416, he responded to the numerous articles that were produced against him. It was a long effort, and the tax was all the more severe as he was greatly worn by the hardships of his imprisonment. Nevertheless, at the conclusion, Jerome was ready to improve the opportunity which was given him to speak more at length. He was master of the situation, for he had become master of himself. With a spirit which rose above all consideration of temporal consequences, he gave the message of his convictions to his astonished listeners, ending by repairing the wrong which he had done to Huss, declaring that no sin beside lay so heavy upon his conscience as that which he had committed in assenting to the condemnation of that holy man.
The impression made by Jerome's eloquence may be judged from the report of the papal secretary, Poggio Bracciolini, a writer who had more than common opportunities to hear the most distinguished orators of his time. "I own," he says, "that I never saw any one who, in pleading a cause, especially one for life and death, approached more nearly to the eloquence of the ancients, whom we admire so much. It was marvelous to observe with what words, what eloquence, what arguments, what expression of countenance, what visage, what confidence, he answered his adversaries, and finally concluded the pleading of his cause. ... Many he smote with jests, many with invectives; many he frequently compelled to laugh in what was no laughing matter, by jeering at the reproaches made to him by his adversaries.... This, however, was a token of the greatest intellectual power, that, when his discourse was frequently interrupted, and he was assailed with various outcries by some who carped at his sentiments, not one of them did he leave unscathed, and, chastising them all alike, compelled them either to blush or to hold their peace. ... His voice was sweet, clear, and sonorous, accompanied with a certain dignified oratorical gesticulation, either to express indignation, or to move compassion, which however he neither asked for nor wished to obtain. He stood fearless and dauntless, not merely despising but even desiring death, so that you would have said he was another Cato."
In approving Huss, Jerome had unmistakably condemned the council. His own condemnation followed as a matter of course. On the 30th of May he was sent upon the fiery pathway which Huss had trod before him; and he pursued it with no less of triumph over the fear of death. On the way to the stake he chanted with a loud voice the Catholic creed and various hymns. As the wood and straw mere being placed about him, he sang through the Easter hymn, Salve, festa dies! Observing that the executioners were about to light the fire behind his back, he said to them, " Come here and light the fire in my sight; if I had feared it, I should never have come to this place." As the flames sprang up, he committed his soul to God, and sent out his last breath in fervent prayer.
The manner in which Huss and Jerome met their fate is certified by no partisan testimony. Poggio says: "Jerome suffered the tortures of fire with a calmness greater than that with which Socrates drank the hemlock." Æneas Sylvius says of both Huss and Jerome: "They braved a violent death with constant mind, and proceeded to the flames as though they had been invited to a banquet, uttering no word which might betoken sorrow. No philosopher is recorded to have met death with fortitude equal to that with which they endured burning." How happened it that a council which was designed to reform the Church had so little sympathy for men whose whole energy was given to the work of reformation? It may be replied, that a large proportion of those who had a place in the council were corrupt ecclesiastics, who desired nothing less than the abrogation of current abuses. This is no doubt true. But there were earnest men in the council, who bemoaned the condition of the Church, and were inwardly pledged to put forth every effort for its correction. And men of this very class, no less than others, urged on the prosecution against the Bohemian leaders. John Gerson, before the assembling of the council, was among the most emphatic in his denunciations of Huss. Peter d' Ailly took a conspicuous part in the trial of Huss. Gerson vigorously supported the proposition for renewing the process against Jerome after his recantation. How is this to be explained? The answer is twofold. In the first place, they approached the case of the Bohemian reformers through the thick air of prejudice. The distinguished theologians from Paris had their grudge, as advocates of the nominalistic philosophy. And this bias of theirs was reinforced by the representations of the Germans, who brooded over the wrongs which they thought had been done to them in their relations to the University of Prague, and also by the English theologians, who regarded Huss and Jerome as allies of the abhorred sect of Wycliffe. In the second place, they disliked the method of the reform which was undertaken in Bohemia. In their view, the aristocratic was the true method. Reform should be initiated by the highest authorities in the Church, and be carried forward in accordance with their prescriptions and under their leadership. The method of Huss, on the other hand, was popular and democratic. He discussed the needs of the Church in the presence of the people. He proceeded on the supposition that a strong pressure upon the corrupt ecclesiastics was necessary, both from people and princes, in order to dispose them to any real correction of the existing evils. This from the aristocratic and hierarchical standpoint seemed revolutionary, a method perilous to the fabric of the Church. Hence the intolerant feeling with which Huss and his associates were regarded. Compare Wratislaw, chap. ix.
The Bohemian people repaid those who had sacrificed their leaders as might have been expected. While there was a party which acknowledged the authority of the council, it was not strong enough to deal with the thoroughly aroused and indignant friends of the martyrs. The council found its authority despised and its measures treated as complete nullities. It cited before its judgment seat the nobles who had complained in bitter terms of the burning of Huss and the cruel treatment of Jerome. Not one of the nobles responded to the summons. It proscribed the practice of giving the cup to the laity. The Hussites maintained the practice with growing zeal and tenacity. This was a departure from Romish usage for which Huss was not primarily responsible. It seems to have been first advocated while he was in prison at Constance, its leading champion being Jacobus of Misa, commonly called Jacobellus. But Huss, as the matter was brought to his notice, confessed that the practice accorded with Scripture and early usage, and gave it his sanction.
In addressing a people thus inflamed with a sense of injury, prudence would seem to have dictated a tone of moderation, not to say conciliation. But in fact the very opposite was employed. The council issued a decree in 1418, the plain intent of which was an uncompromising war against the memory of Huss, and against all who were in any wise favorable to his cause. The newly elected Pope added a bull sanctioning and commanding every means and method of inquisitorial rigor and tyranny which might be effectual for the uprooting of heresy.
Such measures simply poured oil upon the fire. The Hussites began to combine a large company of the more zealous, that they might enjoy the Eucharist according to the prescriptions of the New Testament, left Prague and encamped upon a mountain which they called Tabor. This became thenceforth a gathering point, and served as a stronghold against enemies.
As the movement went on, it became apparent that there were divergent parties among the Hussites. The more radical wing mere not content to stop short of a thorough renunciation of Romanism. They wished for a simple style of worship, claimed that the Bible is the one supreme authority, and discountenanced prayers for the dead, invocation of saints, and veneration of relies. As this party was in the ascendant at the encampment on Mount Tabor, they came to be called Taborites. That there was a genuine evangelical basis underneath their creed may be judged from the fact that the Bohemian and Moravian Brethren of later times were largely their descendants. At the same time, it cannot be denied that in the first stage of their history their zeal was frequently heightened into fanaticism and iconoclastic fury. Fanciful views, especially on the interpretation of prophecy, had for a time much currency among them. This in the long run was of course an element of weakness. But at the first their highly wrought enthusiasm added to the warlike energy which made them a terror to their foes.
The more conservative wing of the Hussites, as laying the principal stress upon the cup in the eucharist, were called Calixtines or Utraquists. Their position is well expressed by the four articles which they early set forth as a basis of treating with Sigismund: (1) the full and unrestricted freedom of the preaching of the gospel throughout Bohemia; (2) the freedom of the communion of the cup; (3) the exclusion of the clergy from large temporal possessions or civil authority; (4) the strict repression and punishment of gross public sins, whether in clergy or laity.
In 1419, the death of the weak and worthless King Wenzel left the Emperor Sigismund heir to the Bohemian crown. Naturally, the Hussites were not favorably disposed toward the prince who had sacrificed their leader in the face of his plighted faith. The Taborites had no disposition to acknowledge him as their king, and the more conservative Calixtines, after a season of negotiation, concluded to repudiate his claim, since it became apparent that religious liberty could hope for nothing at his hands. Sigismund in fact was fully bent upon a policy of repression. Aided by the decrees of the Pope, who summoned the faithful to join in a crusade against the heretics of Bohemia, he marched into the country with a large army. But the Hussites were equal to the encounter. Under the lead of Ziska, the ablest general of the age, and of those who were trained under his tuition, they were completely victorious over the imperial forces. Invasion after invasion ended in defeat for the Emperor and his allies. At length, after the country had suffered fearfully from the ravages and atrocities of both parties, it was concluded that the Hussites were not to be overcome by force. Resort was therefore made to diplomacy. The Hussites were invited to negotiate with the Council of Basle near the beginning of its sessions. The result was a compact in which there was a partial concession to the demands of the Calixtines. This wing of the Hussites was accordingly reconciled to the Church, and inasmuch as they joined arms against the opposing Taborites, the strength of the latter was broken. Thereafter the military ardor by which they had been so remarkably distinguished subsided. The surviving remnant took on the character of a peaceful brotherhood. As for the Calixtines, they enjoyed very unequal advantages from their compact at different times. However, they maintained themselves until new and wider issues were brought to their attention in connection with the great Reformation of the sixteenth century.
Such is the astonishing record of the Bohemian movement. A part of a small nation withstood the assaults of Church and Empire, compelled the verdict that they could not be subdued by force, and in the public settlement which was effected obtained terms of compromise from a professedly ecumenical and infallible council.