Huss and Jerome Executed
This section comprises chapters 1 through 8 of Volume II. They are listed below. To go directly to any particular chapter click on the link to that chapter. Otherwise you can scroll down as you read chapter by chapter.
- Chapter 1 – Huss in Prison, His Refusal to Recant
- Chapter 2 – Final Audience and Execution of Huss
- Chapter 3 – Jacobel, Gerson, and Voladamir
- Chapter 4 – The Council & the Bohemians, Jerome Recants
- Chapter 5 – Violence of the Times, Zisca
- Chapter 6 – New Charges Against Jerome, Conference with Benedict
- Chapter 7 – Jerome Before the Council
- Chapter 8 – Sentence and Execution of Jerome
Huss in Prison His Refusal to Recant Farewell Letters
What must have been the feelings of Huss as the guard escorted him hack to his cell! For six months he had been kept a close prisoner. His health had given way under the hardships to which he had been subjected. Once his life had been in such danger that the council were like to lose their victim, and from policy rather than compassion he was removed to a more airy and comfortable cell, and the pope’s physician had been sent to attend him. With the interval of a slight recovery, he was again attacked with a new access of his severe distemper. “I have been,” so he writes, “a second time dreadfully tormented with an affection of my bladder, which I never had before, and with severe vomiting and fever; my keepers feared I should die, and they have led me out of my prison.” This was probably for a few moments to enjoy the fresh air. His keepers seem to have been moved to compassion by his sufferings, and some of them appear to have shown him no little kindness. After four months’ imprisonment at Constance, Huss was removed to Gottlieben. Here his situation was changed much for the worse. His prison was the tower. In the day-time he was chained, yet so as to be able to move about. At night, on his bed, he was chained by his hand to a post. His subsequent treatment was still more harsh. His keepers were changed after the flight of the pope—and not for the better. His friends were not allowed to see him. New attacks of his disease—violent head-aches, hemorrhage, colic—followed in consequence of this close and cruel confinement. For more than two months his sufferings were extreme. It was not till the beginning of the month of June that he was removed from his prison at Gottlieben, and conveyed to Constance. Without the uninterrupted quiet of even a single day, his trial proceeded. He found himself compelled to meet it in infirm health, and in a most weak and exhausted condition. He had demanded of the judicial committee an advocate to manage his cause for him, but this, which he was at first encouraged to expect, was finally refused him, on the ground that no such privilege could be granted to a heretic. He was thus presumed guilty even before he was tried. Gerson did not hesitate afterwards to ascribe the condemnation of Huss to the injustice of this proceeding. “Had he been allowed an advocate, the council would never have been able to convict him of heresy.” Huss was undoubtedly disappointed at the refusal of a request so just and reasonable. Yet he calmly submitted to the wrong. “Well, then,” said he, “let the Lord Jesus be my advocate, who also will soon be my judge.”
He was thus forced of necessity to depend upon himself alone for his defense. In chains, and in the endurance of the most severe sufferings, he was obliged to draw up his answers to the charges presented. And here he found, to his grief and indignation, that the most unfair advantages had been taken of him. Passages from intercepted letters, in part distorted, and conversations with theologians once his friends, but who had now deserted him, in which he had used familiar expressions in confidence, were recalled and employed to his prejudice. His letters to his friends at Prague, by a system of espionage as well as through their indiscretion, had fallen into the hands of his enemies, and been used against him. Paletz sometimes visited him in prison, and sought to overwhelm him by harsh language. “Sad greeting” Huss calls it, as well he might. He speaks of Paletz generally as his fiercest enemy, who did him the most injury. Still his Christian spirit, overcoming every revengeful thought, led him to pray, “May God Almighty forgive him.” “Yet,” says he, “never in my whole life did I receive from any man harsher words of comfort than from Paletz.” In such circumstances as these Huss had to look around him for the means of making his defense. But he found himself totally in want of books. At first he had not even a Bible, and was obliged to ask his friends to procure him one. He says, indeed, that he had brought with him the Sentences of Lombard and a Bible, but he could not have taken them with him into his prison. Could the cruelty of his enemies have deprived him even of these? It must have been so.
All these things were enough to have driven any ordinary man to despair. To be denied an advocate; to have his few books withheld from him; to have numerous and skilful enemies taking every possible advantage of his helplessness, in framing charges of which he was long kept in ignorance; to know that the learning, talent, and sympathies of the whole council, spurred on by the bitterest malice, were arrayed against him, was enough to discourage the efforts and palsy the energies of any man whose help was not in a more than mortal arm. Enfeebled by disease, worn out with suffering and want of sleep, he had been called to appear before the council and enter upon his defense. On every side he saw hostile faces and prejudiced judges. His conscientious scruples were met by derision, and his arguments were answered by ridicule. He was frequently interrupted or cut short in his replies. New articles were presented, which he had never seen or heard of until the moment when they were produced. His request for a further and fuller hearing was met by threats of the consequences should he persist in his demand of what had been promised. A form of retraction had been presented him, which he could not conscientiously adopt. His request to be instructed in what respects he had erred, that he might intelligently disavow his errors, was set aside. He saw before him, instead of an impartial jury, a band of men, through malice or prejudice, conspiring to effect his ruin. Well might he look around him as he left the council, disheartened and despondent. We can but follow him as he is led back to his prison, with the sympathies ever due to the innocent and the wronged. How slowly and sadly must the hours of a sleepless night have dragged along, bringing new burdens and anxieties, instead of repose to his exhausted frame! Now his mind reverts to the scenes of the previous day, and the tumultuous assembly, like a stormy sea of angry faces, is present before him. He recalls the years that are past, and stands again in his Bethlehem chapel, in the presence of those who had been awakened to a new life by his thrilling words. Forgetting the tragedy of which he is to be the victim, he is only anxious that the cause for which he has labored may still live on, nurtured to a more vigorous growth by the ashes of his funeral pile. The light of another day at last steals in upon the prisoner, restless on his bed, and brought back to self-consciousness by the clanking of his chain. He recalls, as his exhausted energies will permit him, the points on which he alternately hopes and despairs to be permitted to address the council. How fondly he lingers over the possibility that some at least in that assembly who shall hear his words, shall carry them away in memory, and thus in after days be enabled to repeat to others the lessons of his dying testimony. Fully convinced he is, that the truth he has preached shall still live. The God of truth will not suffer it finally to perish. A century or even centuries may pass over it, buried beneath martyr’s dust, but the time of its resurrection and triumph will come at last.
At his last appearance before the council, Huss had vainly been urged to accept the terms they had presented. But he could not conscientiously recant doctrines that he had never held, nor could be disavow those of the error of which he was not convinced. A milder farm of abjuration had been promised him by Zabarella, the Cardinal of Florence. This, it was intimated, he might safely subscribe. To this course he was advised and urged by some of his friends, more anxious for his life than he was himself. This form was brought to Huss in his prison by the Cardinal of Ostia, the president of the council. It had been drawn up by their order, and the tenor of it was as follows:
“I, John Huss, etc., in addition to the protestations made by me, which I hereby renew, do protest, moreover, that although many things are imputed to me which I never entertained the thought of, I submit myself with humility to the merciful orders and correction of the sacred council, touching all things that have been objected or imputed to me, or drawn from my books, or, in fine, proved by the deposition of witnesses—in order to abjure, revoke, and retract them, and to undergo the merciful penance imposed by the Council, and generally to do all that its goodness shall judge necessary for my salvation, recommending myself to its pity with entire submission.” In this formula of recantation there was manifest a greater leniency than was exhibited by the Bohemian enemies of Huss. Cardinal Zabarella, by whom it was probably drawn up, was evidently more inclined to moderation and mercy than many other members of the council. And although no one dared openly to advocate his cause, we have every reason to believe that among the few in the council who were kindly disposed to him, or at least sought to save his life, there were some of no little influence. The presiding cardinal, John de Viviers of Ostia, treated him with humanity and kindness. There were strong inducements, not only in the hope of saving his life, but in the entreaties and persuasions of his friends, to lead Huss to adopt the form of recantation that had been drawn up. But it was here, and in these very circumstances, that his character shone forth most brightly. He had no ambition to found a sect, or attain notoriety by putting forth new and strange dogmas. His constant appeal—and this was his real crime in the eyes of the council that had judged the pope, and allowed no other being, human or divine, to share its tribunal—was to the word of God. Nobly did he exhibit, and heroically did he adhere to that principle which was the stronghold, a century later, of the great German reformer.
Huss could not accept the form of recantation drawn up for him, grateful as he expressed himself for the kindness by which it had been modified, if not dictated. He felt that to adopt it would be a compromise of principle. Calmly and clearly he stated his reasons for rejecting it: “My father,” said he, in reply to the cardinal, “may the Almighty Father, most wise and holy, count you worthy the reward of eternal glory, through Jesus Christ. Most reverend father, I am truly grateful for your kind and fatherly favor. But I dare not submit, according to the tenor of this proposition made by me to the council. For in such a case I must needs condemn many truths, an act which (as I have heard from their own lips) they call scandalous. Besides, through such an abjuration I must perjure myself by the confession that I have held errors. By these things should I give scandal to the people of God, who heard from me in my preaching that with which this would be inconsistent. If therefore Eleazar, under the Old Testament, of whom we read in Maccabees, would not falsely confess that he had eaten meat by the law forbidden, lest he should sin against God, and leave an evil example to those that should come after him, how shall I, a priest of the New Testament, although unworthy, for fear of a punishment which will soon be passed, consent, by a grievous sin, to transgress the law of God—first, by departing from the truth, secondly, by committing perjury? In truth, it is better for me to die, than, by flying from a momentary pain, fall into the hands of God, and perhaps have fire and everlasting contempt for my portion. And, inasmuch as I have appealed to Jesus Christ, the most powerful and righteous Judge, committing his own cause into his hands, I do therefore abide by his most holy decree and sentence, knowing that he will judge each man, not according to false testimony, nor according to fallible councils, but according to truth and individual desert.”
Such an answer, from one whose words meant what they expressed, was worthy of, and could have proceeded only from a spirit lifted above the world, and made heroic by faith in God. Many, no doubt, of the friends of Huss regretted the decision which he had made. Under the pressure of the immediate danger of his life, they would at least have counseled him to temporize. One of these, a member of the council, whose kindness Huss had before experienced, sought to overcome by gentle persuasions the scruples which he felt in regard to recanting. “As to your first objection,” said he, “let not this, my most loving and beloved brother, have weight with you, that you thus condemn the truth. For it is not we, but they, who condemn it—they who now are your and my superiors. Consider the saying, ‘Lean not to thine own understanding.’ There are many learned and conscientious men in the council. ‘My son, hear the law of thy mother.’ This much to your first objection.
“As to the second, in regard to perjury: This perjury, if it be perjury, would recoil not upon you, but upon those who require it. Your views on these subjects are not heresies unless you persist obstinately in maintaining them. Augustine, Origen, the Master of Sentences, and others have fallen into error, but they cheerfully forsook it. I have many times believed myself to be acquainted with matters in which I was ill-informed. When set right, I joyfully returned to correct views.
“I write, moreover, briefly, for I write to a man of understanding. You will not recede from the truth, but will approximate to the truth. You will not perjure yourself, but will better yourself. You will not give scandal, but you will edify. Eleazar was a noble Jew. Judas, with his seven sons and the eight martyrs, was nobler. St. Paul was let down from the wall secretly in a basket, that he might work out better things. May Jesus Christ, the judge of your appeal, grant you apostles, and these are they. Conflicts yet await you for the faith of Christ.”
By others, also, Huss was urgently pressed to recant. Again and again, both in private and public, he was beset by the importunities of those who felt for him a strong attachment, or who, highly respecting his character and talents, wished to snatch him from the flames. The council, moreover, with all the eagerness of some of its members for the severest measures, could not be altogether blind to the wiser policy of forcing Huss to acknowledge publicly the supremacy and infallibility of their judgment. The question, in fact, was reduced to this: The council, or private judgment—which must yield? The council would allow no rival. They had deposed a pope, and the acknowledgment of their supremacy was with them a vital point. Huss could not blindly submit to place them in the seat of Christ—to enthrone them above the word of God. This was his crime. In the eyes of the council it was an aggravated one, and it ensured his doom.
The prisoner remained steadfast in his purpose. His conscience forbade him to sacrifice the truth. To all the solicitations of friendship, to all the authoritative advice of members of the council, to public and private persuasions, he remained equally unmoved. “I would sooner,” said he, “have a millstone bound about my neck, and be cast into the sea, than give occasion of scandal to my neighbor; and, having preached to others constancy and endurance, I will set them an example, looking for help to the grace of God.” There was never in the prisoner a moment’s wavering. Among others that visited him was Paletz, his former friend. He evidently had not counted on the constancy of Huss. Resolved to humble him as a rival, he could scarce have sought his life. All the persuasions of Paletz were employed to shake the prisoner’s firmness. “Put yourself,” said Huss, “in my place. What would you do if you were thoroughly assured that you had never held the errors which they wish you to retract?” “I confess,” said Paletz, “it is hard,” and for once the tears filled his eyes. The persecutor paid his victim the tribute of sympathy, wrung out by respect for truthful constancy, and perhaps the memory of former friendship. It is not impossible that remorse for his conduct, which was leading to a strangely fatal result, had something to do with his tears.
In one of his letters Huss gives the substance of the argument of one of the doctors who was urging him to a blind submission to the council. “Even though the council,” said he, “should tell you that you have but one eye, and you have two, you would be bound to assent to their statement.” “And I,” replied Huss, “while God spares my reason, would never allow such a thing, though the whole world were agreed upon it, because I could not say it without wounding my conscience.” No wonder the doctor was confused by the reply. The illustration he had selected was too ridiculous for ridicule. It only set the conscientiousness of Huss, as well as the absurdity of the demands made upon him, in a too obvious light.
Nothing now remained for Huss but to prepare himself and his friends for the fatal result which his own constancy rendered inevitable. Carefully and clearly does he lay down the principles upon which his conduct was based. He does not trifle with his fate. His words are calm and serious, as were befitting his circumstances. “Often,” says he, “have the demands of the council upon me been urged. But, inasmuch as they imply that I recant, abjure, and submit to penance, in matters of truth which I must give up—requiring me to abjure, and perjure myself by confessing errors falsely imputed to me; demanding that I should give offense to many of God’s people to whom I have preached, for which I should deserve that a mill-stone should be tied about my neck, and I be cast into the midst of the sea; and because, if I should submit, in order to escape a temporary trouble and penalty, I should plunge myself into far greater, unless I should repent—for these reasons I cannot yield. And for my consolation, I think of the seven martyrs of the Maccabees, who chose rather to he cut in pieces than disobey God by eating flesh. I think, moreover, of Eleazar, who would not even say that he had eaten flesh contrary to the law, lest he should set an evil example to those that should come after him, choosing rather to endure martyrdom. Wherefore, having these before my eyes, as well as many holy men and women of the New Testament who gave themselves up to martyrdom because they would not consent to sin; and, moreover, having preached so many years on the duty of constancy and endurance, I cannot but say of a course by which I must utter many falsehoods, and commit perjury, giving offense to many of God’s children—far be it, far be it from me! For my Master, Christ, shall be hereafter my reward, while even now he gives me the aid of his presence.”
Such were the reasons which Huss repeatedly and on different occasions urged in defense of his course. They were neither fanciful nor fanatical, but such as would be appreciated by his friends and followers at Prague. To these he wrote from time to time as occasion offered, and his letters were publicly read in the Bethlehem chapel, where his voice had once been so often heard. “My dear brethren,” so he writes hack to Bohemia, “I have thought that it might be well to admonish you how my books written in the Bohemian language have been condemned in the council of Constance—though itself full of pride, avarice, ambition, and almost every vice—as being heretical. They have hardly been seen or read, or, if read, not understood. … If ye had been present here at Constance, ye would have seen this council, called holy, and therefore claimed to be infallible, as though it could not err, to be shameful and scandalous; for the very citizens of this country say, as I have heard, that this city will not recover in thirty years from the sins and scandals of this council.” He bids his friends not to be frightened at the decision against his books. “They have attempted to frighten me from the truth of Christ, but the strength of God in me they have been unable to overcome. … They would not venture to discuss with me, though I professed my willingness to be instructed, on the authority of the Sacred Scriptures. … Not by these, but by terrors and threats have they tried to overcome me. But the God of mercy, to whose word I bow, is with me, and still will be, as I am confident, and in his grace will keep me even until death.”
In another letter Huss reminds his friends of the treatment of the books of Jeremiah—full as harsh as that which his own had experienced, and yet they were not suppressed. In later times the sacred writings were burned, as well as the works of several of the fathers, but they could not be suppressed. He bids them not to neglect his books, or give them to his enemies to be burned. As to themselves, they need not be terrified. The forces of Antichrist would perhaps leave them at peace. The council of Constance world scarcely come to Prague, and some of his followers, he believed, would sooner die than give up his books.
Even in the danger in which Huss found himself of his life, he did not fear to give free expression to the severe judgment he had formed of his judges. He speaks of their having condemned their head, while many of themselves were guilty of the same crimes. “Would to God,” says he, “that in this council it had been said by divine authority, ‘Let him that is without sin among you first pass sentence.’ Undoubtedly they would have gone forth, one after the other. Why, then, have they heretofore bowed to him, kissed his feet, called him Most Holy, when they have known and seen that he was a heretic, a murderer, a reprobate wretch, as they have publicly charged him with being? Yea, why did the cardinals speak of him as holy, when they knew that he murdered his predecessor? Why did they allow him, while he was yet pope, to drive such a traffic as he did in holy things? They are his counselors for the very purpose of giving him the best advice, and if they failed to do it, are they not equally guilty? … I think we may plainly see Antichrist revealed in the pope, and others present at the council.”
Such were the views which Huss had held at Prague—now confirmed by his experience at Constance—and in the conviction of the truth of which he was willing to die. In full anticipation of the final result, he wrote, on the tenth of June, a letter to his friends in Prague, in which he gives them for the last time—as he feared—his counsel and encouragement. In this parting address, that might be almost dated from the martyr’s stake, he speaks with an apostolic earnestness and unction. He forgets no class, neither rich nor poor, male nor female, but adapts his words to the circumstances of each.
“I, Master John Huss in the hope that I am God’s servant, wish, on behalf of all the faithful of Bohemia who love God, that they may live and die in the grace of God, and at last be saved. Amen. Ye princes, high and low, I pray for and admonish you, that ye obey God, reverence his word, and live according to it. I beseech you to abide in the truth of God, which I have preached and written to you from his word and from the holy prophets. I beseech you, if any one among you has heard from me, by public speech or otherwise, or has read in my books, anything contrary to the truths of God, that you reject it, although I am not conscious of having written or taught any such error.
“I beseech, moreover, if any one has observed any levity in my speech or conduct, that he copy not my example, but intercede with God in my behalf that such levity may be forgiven me. I beseech you to love and hold in high esteem those priests who discharge well the duties of their office, especially those who labor in the word of God. But beware of the wicked, especially those Godless pastors that go about, as the Master says, in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye nobles, I beseech you, deal fairly with your subjects, and maintain just government. Ye burghers, I beseech you that ye each live in his estate in such a manner as to keep a clear conscience. Ye artisans, labor faithfully, and earn your bread in the fear of God. Ye servants, serve your masters in truth. Ye schoolmasters, instruct the youth to purity of life, and teach them with diligence and fidelity. First of all, that they fear God, and keep him before their eyes. Then, that they study with all diligence, not for gain or the honor of the world, but for God’s glory, the good of men, and their own salvation. Students in the university, and all other pupils, I pray you be obedient to your masters in all that is honorable and praiseworthy, following their good example, and diligently studying, that by your means God’s glory may be promoted, and yourselves with others advance in all that is good.
“Finally, I pray you all gratefully to regard the excellent lords Wenzel de Duba, John de Chlum, Henry Plumlow, William Zagetz, and other nobles from Bohemia, Moravia, and Poland, and treat them with studious respect. For many a time have they set themselves against the whole council, and manfully defended the truth, exerting themselves to the utmost to save my life, especially Duba and Chlum, to whom you may give full credit in the entire account which they will render you of what has taken place. For they have been often by, when I have answered before the council, and they know who those Bohemians are who have treated me with severity and harshness, and how the whole council cried out against me when I merely answered the questions which they asked.
“I beseech you, moreover, to pray to God for the emperor, and for your king and queen, that the God of mercy may be with and among you forever.
“This letter have I written to you in prison and in chains, and this morning I have heard of the decision of the council that I must be burned. But I have full confidence in God that he will not forsake me, nor permit me to deny his truth, or with perjury confess as mine the errors falsely imputed to me by lying witnesses. But how gently God my Master deals with me, and supports me through surprising conflicts, ye shall learn when, amid the joys of the life to come, we shall, through the grace of Christ, behold one another again.
“Of my dear friend, Master Jerome, I hear nothing, except that he is kept close in prison, where, like me, he awaits death for the faith which he has manifested in Bohemia. But our bitterest enemies, the Bohemians who have ill-treated us, go from bad to worse. I beseech you, pray God in their behalf. But this one thing I do especially beseech of you, that ye cherish the Bethlehem church, and faithfully attend to it as long as God shall give you grace, that God’s word be preached therein; for of such a church is the devil the sworn enemy, and he raises up against it the priests and their tools, for he sees that by its means his kingdom is in danger of being broken up. But I hope in God that he will sustain the church in his good pleasure, and cause his word to be imparted there through others more largely than it has been by my poor efforts.
“I beseech you, love one another—swerve not from the truth. Meditate upon it—how the righteous may not be crushed. Given on Monday night before the day of St. Vitus, by a faithful messenger.”
Such was the calm and manly tone of this letter of Huss, written under the impression that it would be his last! It manifests throughout a noble and Christian spirit. There is no railing at his enemies. There is no wild fanatic enthusiasm. There is no despondency. In a more than human strength he prepared himself to meet his fate.
But events of which Huss was not aware led to a postponing of the time of his execution. While the council had resolved that if he should refuse to recant he should be burned, and this fact had been communicated to him to awe and frighten him into submission, they had also secretly resolved, in the confident expectation that he would consent to the form of recantation, that, after having given this consent, he should for the remainder of his life be doomed to close imprisonment. The tenor of this proposed decree, giving hope of the issue which the council most desired, shows that among its members there were those who entertained no doubt of being able to persuade Huss to recant, and save his life. This proposed decree is worthy of being given entire, as it shows what the tender mercies of the council would have been even in case Huss had submitted. It is as follows:
“But, inasmuch as from some manifest signs it is conjectured that the said John Huss experiences contrition for his former sins, and, influenced by sound advice, is desirous of returning to the truth of the church of God, with a pure heart, and with faith unfeigned, therefore this holy council cheerfully allows him to present himself voluntarily, for the purpose of abjuring and revoking all heretical pravity and error, specially the errors of John Wickliffe, receiving him, upon confessing of his own accord, with the prodigal son, the sins he has committed and manifesting penitence, and absolving him, humbly seeking absolution from the sentence of excommunication which rests upon him. But, inasmuch as from the doctrines of the said John Huss, unsound, inconsistent with the faith, and full of error, innumerable scandals and seditions have sprung up in the church of God, and among the people, and through him grievous sins have been committed against God and the holy church in the matter of perverse doctrine, and contempt for the keys and censures of the church, to the imminent danger of the Catholic faith, therefore this present most holy council decrees and declares that the said John Huss, as a man scandalous, seditious, pernicious to the holy church of God, shall be deposed and degraded from the sacerdotal rank, or whatever rank in the church he may hold, committing, nevertheless, to the most reverend fathers in Christ, the archbishop of Milan, the bishops of Feltri, Asti, Alexandria, Bakora, to execute in a becoming manner, as the order of the law requires, the degradation of John Huss in the presence of this most holy council; and the council pronounces and decrees that John Huss, as a man dangerous to the Christian faith, for the aforesaid reasons, shall be immured and imprisoned, and ought to be immured and imprisoned, and thus perpetually to remain, and shall be proceeded against in other respects according to canonical sanctions.”
This sentence was to have been read in case Huss should consent to abjure, when his degradation from the priesthood was immediately to follow. The impression, thus shared by the council, that Huss would yet be induced to recant, was due in part undoubtedly to the hopes of the prisoner’s friends, rather than to any words or actions of his own. From first to last, the idea of escaping by a feigned retraction seems never to have entered his mind. On the morning of the tenth of June, such an announcement of the action of the council was made to him—with the intention, no doubt, to induce him to recant—as led him to believe that he was to be executed the following day. Under this impression he wrote his farewell letter to the Bohemians. But the next day came, and the next, and the execution of the sentence was still deferred. It is not surprising that in the mind of the prisoner there should have sprung up a faint hope that he might yet be delivered from the power of his enemies. In his letters, which he still continued to write to his friends in Prague during this interval, we see traces enough of this latent and feeble hope to show us that Huss did not regard death with the indifference of a stoic, or prolonged life with the repugnance of a misanthrope. He felt, in the sense in which Paul did, that it was Christ for him to live, but if truth demanded a victim, he was ready to be offered up. In the doubtful hope that he might yet be by some means rescued, he writes: “Our Savior recalled Lazarus to life after he had lain in the grave four days, and had upon him the smell of corruption. He preserved Jonah three days in the belly of the fish, and sent him back to preach again; he called forth Daniel from the den of lion, to record the prophecies; kept the three young men in the furnace from the power of the flames, and liberated Susannah when already condemned to death. Therefore, easily might he deliver me too, poor mortal!—if it served to promote His own glory, the progress of believers, and my own best good—for this time, from prison and from death. For His hand is not shortened, who by his angel led Peter, while the chains of his hands fell off, from the dungeon, when already condemned to die at Jerusalem. But ever let the will of the Lord be done, which I desire may be fulfilled in me, to his glory and to my own purification from sin.”
Huss did not fail to write again to his friends at Prague as soon as the opportunity was afforded. “God be with you,” he says, “my most beloved in the Lord. I had strong reasons to believe that my previous letter to you would be my last, so near then was the prospect of the goal of death. But now, when I learn that I am spared, my joy is that I may write to you yet once again, and testify my gratitude. As it concern my death, God knows why I and my dear brother, Master Jerome, are not executed. He, as I hope, will die innocent and blameless, and he gives evidence that he will suffer and die more courageously than I, poor sinner! But God has kept us so long in prison, that we may think so much the more humbly on our past sins, and so much more deeply repent of them; and he has given us time and space for the severe conflict which blots out great sins, and that our conversation may be so much the more abundant. Yea! he has given us time enough, in order that we might so much the more fully reflect upon the shameful ignominy and cruel death of our loved King, the Lord Christ, and be so much the more patient to suffer. Thus may you learn that eternal joys are not to be reached through the joys of this world, but the saints, through much tribulation and anguish, have pressed into the kingdom. For some of them were hewn asunder; some were spit upon; some sodden; some flayed alive, or buried alive, stoned, crucified, crushed between mill-stones, and dragged hither and thither until they died. Some were drowned, burned, hung, torn in pieces, and, before they died, shamefully and cruelly treated in prison. But who could undertake to recount all the forms of pain and martyrdom which were endured under the Old Testament, and have been repeated since, to the shame and disgrace of those who inflicted them—the ecclesiastics! Why should anyone then be surprised that now, with all their base deeds and the injuries they inflict, they remain unpunished? Indeed, I rejoice that they have been forced to read my hooks, in which their baseness is plainly set forth, and I know that they have read them far more diligently than they read the holy gospel, only that they may discover something with which they may be able to find fault.”
The anxiety of the council, and especially of the emperor, to induce Huss to retract, led them to continue efforts of exhortation and persuasion. The emperor at least could not contemplate the prospect of the execution of Huss without apprehension as to the results that might follow. It would undoubtedly exasperate the whole Bohemian nation, and their execration would fall, not without reason, upon his own head. The cry of an indignant people, and perhaps the secret reproaches of his own conscience, arose before him and made him hesitate. He had gone too far with the council already to attempt to shield Huss from the sentence of death, unless some retraction on his part could be secured. The attempt to do it would only exasperate the council and lead it to counteract his schemes, or perhaps regard him as implicated in heresy. The abjuration of Huss alone could relieve the emperor from his perplexity; and to obtain it he spared neither prayers, persuasion, nor threats. From first to last, all these efforts were vain. “I have refused to abjure,” so Huss writes to the University of Prague, “at least till the articles I hold are proved to be erroneous on the authority of Sacred Scripture.” He disavowed any wish to cling to anything incorrect which could be found in his writings. “I exhort you,” he says, “to hold in detestation whatever you shall find to be false in my articles.”
The efforts of the emperor to induce Huss to abjure, only filled the prisoner with a sad and melancholy pity for his oppressor. He would not have exchanged places with him for the world. “Place not your confidence in princes of the earth,” wrote he to his Bohemian friends. Sorely had he been deceived in his estimate of the character of Sigismund. He now acknowledged the more correct apprehensions of his friends. “Truly did they say that Sigismund would himself deliver me up to my adversaries; he has done more—he has condemned me before them.”
Thus by his firmness Huss forced the emperor to incur the disgrace of his own conduct, and, had he sought revenge for the violation of the imperial faith, he had it in denying him the power to rescue him from the funeral pile.
The most sanguine friends of Huss must by this time have become fully convinced that his doom was sealed. The firmness of his purpose was proof against all persuasions. His mind was fully made up to meet the result which appeared inevitable. His main anxiety now was to secure such an audience before the council as had been promised him by the emperor.
It only remained for him to take a final leave of his earthly friends and interests. In letters of touching pathos he utters his farewell to those to whom he was bound by a mutual attachment. He wrote to Hawlik, his successor in Bethlehem chapel, urging him not to oppose the doctrine of the cup. He exhorted Christiann of Prachatitz to diligence in pastoral duty, and requested him to greet, in his name, Jacobel and the friends of truth. He admonished the members of the university to mutual love and sobriety of conduct, stating to them also the reasons which forbade him to recant, while he prayed for his enemies that God would forgive them. He begged them to stand by Bethlehem chapel, and to appoint Gallus as his successor. To their love and confidence he recommended his faithful friend, Peter the Notary. To his benefactors he returns his hearty thanks, admonishing them to stand fast in their fidelity, and expressing his confidence that God would repay them for what they had done in his behalf. He expresses his apprehension that a severe persecution of the true servants of God in Bohemia would follow his death, unless God should make use of the civil power to prevent it.
To his friends generally, whom he does not venture to name lest the unavoidable omission of some should give offense, he extends his salutations, declaring it his unshaken purpose not to recant, yet protesting his desire to be instructed that he might disavow any article which could be shown to be false. He expresses his sense of obligation to the king and queen, the barons and nobles of Bohemia and Moravia, and especially to the Bohemians in Constance, for their friendly offices, and their efforts to secure his liberation. From his own experience, he admonishes his friends not to put their trust in an arm of flesh. To Chlum (June 29) be addresses cheering words of the future glory with Christ, of those who suffer for him now. Of his different friends, including Martin, Peter the Notary, Duba, the family of Liderius, and others, be takes leave, in tender and affecting words. He urges that care should be taken of his letters, and that they should be carried back to Bohemia, lest his friends should be implicated or brought into danger by means of them. The lines which he received from time to time from his friends, he immediately destroyed.
In the letter in which he narrates his sad interview with Paletz, he expresses his joyful assurance of the heavenly glory that shall crown his martyrdom, and his confidence in the strength which Christ alone can impart, praying for “a fearless spirit, a true faith, a firm hope, and perfect charity.” He does not forget his nephews (sons of his brother), but directs that they should be placed in some secular calling, since he feared that if they were educated for the priesthood, they would not discharge its duties as they ought. He dissuades his friends generally from coming to him at Constance, for fear of the consequences; and the sight of Christiann, who had come in the vain hope of serving him, completely unmanned him, and melted him to tears. All the provision which he could make for the payment of his debts at Prague, was made, and in case it proved insufficient, he begged his creditors to forgive him for the sake of their common Master, Christ.
Disburdened of other care, Huss was now anxious only for a final hearing before the council. He begged that the emperor might be present, and that he might himself have a place assigned him near the imperial presence. He requested also that the noble knights, Chlum, Duba, and Latzembock, would take good care to be present, to witness to his words, and prevent any false reports in regard to his statements from going abroad.
In the prospect of the doom before him, Huss sought a confessor. Whom would he select? Scarcely could he wish for such a one as the council would appoint. He could value but lightly the absolution conferred by hands stained with simony and corruption. His conscience was void of offense, and at peace with God, and no superstitious reverence for the priesthood induced him to believe that his salvation was dependent on sacerdotal absolution. It was undoubtedly more with the desire of a full and free conference with his former friend, than from any other motive, that he sought the privilege of having a confessor granted him, and asked that Paletz might be appointed.
Nothing could more fully testify the humility and the forgiving spirit of Huss than this request. He felt that he had been wronged by those Bohemians who, before the council, had pursued him with unrelenting hostility. Among these Paletz had held the foremost rank, and he it was whom Huss, with a magnanimity unsurpassed, selected to hear his dying confession. Of him he had most to complain, and to him he had the most to forgive. “Alas!” said he, “the wounds which we receive from those persons in whom our soul has placed its hope, are the most cruel; for to the sufferings of the body are joined the pangs of betrayed friendship. In my case it is from Paletz that my most profound affliction proceeds.” Again he says, “Paletz is my greatest adversary; it is to him that I wish to confess myself.” This request of Huss was refused him, and in his place the bishops sent a monk, whom he speaks well of, and who, after having given him absolution, recommended to him to submit, but without absolutely commanding it.
Paletz, moreover, who had previously been applied to, had refused. He recoiled from the painful task which the humility and magnanimity of Huss had imposed. He was, however, vanquished by the nobleness and generosity of the prisoner’s conduct, and he determined to visit him in his cell.
When Huss saw him enter, he addressed him not in the language of reproach or passion, but in a mild and melancholy tone. “Paletz,” said he, “I uttered some expressions before the council that were calculated to offend you. Pardon me.” This was undoubtedly the confession which he most desired to make. And now he had made it, and Paletz was his confessor. His persecutor was deeply affected, and entreated Huss to abjure, undoubtedly with the deepest sincerity, for he never seems to have apprehended that his prosecution would cost him the life of one that was once his friend, and whom he could never have ceased really to respect. “I conjure you,” said he, “do not look to the shame of retracting, but only to the good that must result from it.” “Is not the opprobrium,” replied Huss, “of the condemnation and the punishment greater in the eyes of the world than that of the abjuration?” “How, then,” asked Huss, as if in gentle reproach for the imputation of such a motive, “How, then, can you suppose that it is a false shame which prevents me?” It was on this occasion, probably, that Huss asked the question before referred to, of Paletz, what he would do if the case were his own, and he were required to retract errors that he never held. With tears Paletz confessed that the case would be hard indeed. “Is it possible,” rejoined Huss, “that you, who are now in this state before me, could have said in full council, when pointing to me, ‘that man does not believe in God?’” Paletz denied having said it. “You said so, however,” repeated Huss, “and, in addition, you declared that since the birth of Jesus Christ there never was seen a more dangerous heretic. Ah! Paletz, Paletz, why have you wrought me so much evil?” Paletz replied by again exhorting him to submit, and then withdrew, weeping bitterly.
It is no wonder that, in the excited state of the prisoner’s mind, and in the solitude of his cell, his dreams should have partaken of the character of his waking thoughts, or that they should have assumed a prophetic aspect. He believed that in this manner he had received intimations of future events. “Know,” he writes to his friends, “that I have had great conflicts in my dreams. I dreamed beforehand of the flight of the pope, and after relating it, Chlum said to me in my dream, ‘The pope will also return.’ Then I dreamt of the imprisonment of Jerome, though not literally according to the fact. All the different prisons to which I have been conveyed have been represented to me beforehand in my dreams. There have also appeared to me serpents, with heads also on their tails, but they have never been able to bite me. I do not write this because I believe myself a prophet, or wish to exalt myself, but to let you know that I have had great temptations, both of body and soul, and the greatest fear lest I might transgress the commandment of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
What must have been the strength of the consolation by which Huss was sustained amid all the gloomy scenes and trials of his tedious and cruel imprisonment, and especially with no prospect of relief except by death! In the noble letter which he wrote on the eve before the festival of St. John the Baptist, he displays the grounds of his comfort, peace, and confidence. “Much consoles me,” he says, “that word of our Savior, ‘Blessed be ye when men shall hate you. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy, for, behold, great is your reward in heaven.’ A good consolation; nay, the best consolation; difficult, however, if not to understand, yet perfectly to fulfill, to rejoice amid those sufferings. This rule James observes, who says, ‘My beloved brethren, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith, if it is good, worketh patience.’ Assuredly it is a hard thing to rejoice without perturbation, and in all these manifold temptations to find nothing but pure joy. Easy it is to say this, and to expound it, but hard to fulfill it in very deed. For even the most steadfast and patient warrior, who knew that he should rise on the third day, who, by his death, conquered his enemies, and redeemed his chosen from perdition, was, after the last supper, troubled in spirit, and said, ‘My soul is troubled even unto death’; as also the gospel relates, ‘that he began to tremble, and was troubled’; nay, in his conflict he had to be supported by an angel, and he sweat, as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground; but he who was in such trouble said to his disciples, ‘Let not your heart be troubled, and fear not the cruelty of those that rage against you, because ye shall ever have me with you to enable you to overcome the cruelty of your tormentors.’ Hence his soldiers, looking to him as their king and leader, endured great conflicts, went through fire and water, and were delivered. And they received from the Lord the crown of which James speaks, 1:12. That crown will God bestow on me and you, as I confidently hope, ye zealous combatants for the truth, with all who truly and perseveringly love our Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered for us, leaving behind an example that we should follow in his steps. It was necessary that he should suffer, as he tells us himself; and we must suffer, that so the members may suffer with the head; for so he says, ‘Whoever would follow me, let him take up his cross and follow me.’ O most faithful Christ, draw us weak ones after thee, for we cannot follow thee if thou dost not draw us. Give us a strong mind, that it may be prepared and ready. And if the flesh is weak, succor us beforehand by thy grace, and accompany us, for without thee we can do nothing, and least of all, can we face a cruel death. Give us a ready and willing spirit, an undaunted heart, the right faith, a firm hope, and perfect love, that patiently and with joy we may for thy sake give up our life.” Such was the letter of Huss—worthy of the noblest of the martyrs. Only in its subscription does it show any trace of the errors or peculiarities of the Romish church. It closes thus: “Written in chains, on the vigils of St. John, who because he rebuked wickedness was beheaded in prison: may he pray for us to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Huss had written what he supposed was his farewell letter to his countrymen. During the season of his reprieve—if such it may be called—he writes to various friends. Some of these have already been referred to. But one of the last was addressed to Chlum, who seemed to him dearer than a brother. Many a time had his cheering words, or the warm grasp of his hand, or his genial sympathy, brought comfort to the lonely and neglected prisoner. Huss now expresses to this noble knight his joy at hearing that he meant to renounce the vanities and toilsome services of the world, and, retiring to his estates, devote himself wholly to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose service was perfect freedom. In like manner, he expresses his joy at learning that the knight Duba had resolved to retire from the world and marry. “It is even time for him,” he writes, “to take a new course, for he has already made journeys enough through this kingdom and that, jousting in tournaments, wearing out his body, squandering his money, and doing injury to his soul. It only remains for him therefore to renounce all these things, and, remaining quietly at home with his wife, serve God, with his own domestics around him. Far better will it be, thus to serve God, without cares, without participation in the sins of the world, in good peace, and with a tranquil heart, than to be distracted with cares in the service of others, and that, too, at the imminent risk of his own salvation.” To his friend Christiann, the rector of the university, he writes: “My friend and special benefactor, stand fast in the truth of Christ, and embrace the cause of the faithful. Fear not, because the Lord will shortly bestow his protection and increase the number of his faithful. Be gentle to the poor, as thou ever hast been. Chastity I hope thou hast preserved; covetousness thou hast avoided, and continue to avoid it; and for thy own sake, do not hold several benefices at once; ever retain thy own church, that the faithful may resort for help to thee as an affectionate father.” Jacobel, moreover, with “all the friends of the truth,” are saluted. The letter is subscribed, “written in prison, awaiting my execution at the stake.” Last of all, Huss wrote his second farewell letter to his friends at Prague. He besought them that for his sake who would be already dead as to the body, they would do all that lay in their power to prevent the knight of Chlum from coming into any danger. “I entreat you,” he writes, “that you will live by the word of God, that you obey God and his commandments, as I have taught you. Express to the king my thanks for all the kindnesses he has shown me. Greet in my name your families and your friends, each and all of whom I cannot enumerate. I pray to God for you: do you pray for me? To him shall we all come, since he gives us help.”
This letter of Huss, so full of Christian kindliness of feeling, was written probably on the fourth day of July, in the immediate expectation of his martyrdom. In the addition which he made to it on the following day, was a sort of postscript to inform them of his approaching execution: “Already I am confident I shall suffer for the sake of the word of God.” He begged his friends, for God’s sake, not to allow any cruelty whatever to be practiced against the servants and the saints of God. He makes the bequest of his fur cloak with a small sum of money, to the friendly notary, Peter; to others, small legacies, or some of his books; it was nearly, if not quite all, that he had to give. Instead of being rich, as was charged in prison, he had to request his friends to discharge for him a few small debts, that his creditors might not suffer.
One of the last requests that Huss had to make of his friends was addressed to the faithful Chlum. He wished this brave man whom he loved so tenderly, to remain with him to the last. “O thou, the kindest and most faithful friend,” said he, “may God grant thee a fitting recompense! I conjure thee to grant me still this—not to depart until thou hast seen everything consummated. Would to God that I could be at once led to the stake before thy face, rather than be torn away in prison, as I am by perfidious maneuvers! I still have hope—I still have confidence—that Almighty God will previously snatch me from their hands to himself, through the merits of his saint. Salute all our friends for me, and let them pray to the Lord that I may await my death with humility and without murmuring.”
It was in this spirit that Huss prepared himself for the final scene. Many were the letters written and messages sent, which spoke in the calm and touching eloquence of a martyr, to the persons to whom they were addressed. His first and last anxiety was, that they should be faithful to the truth—not of his own teachings, for they might be in some respects erroneous—but of the word of God. To some who might be called to follow him to the stake, he addressed such exhortations as were enforced by his own example. “Fear not to die,” said he to priest Martin, one of his disciples, “if thou desirest to live with Christ, for he has himself said, ‘Fear not them that kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.’” And yet Huss gave his friend this rare counsel, as remarkable for prudence as modesty: “Should they seek after thee on account of thy adhesion to my doctrines, make them this reply: I believe that my master was a good Christian; but, in regard to his writings and instructions, I have neither read all, nor comprehended all.”
In his adieus, Huss showed no respect of persons. He remembered the poor as well as the rich. He speaks of the cordwainers in the same breath with the doctors and the magistrates. Several of the families of his church in Prague are mentioned in one of his letters as specially to be saluted. His words to them “recommend them to be zealous for the love of Christ, to advance in humility with wisdom, and not to indulge in comments of their own making, but to recur to those of the saints.”
Among the enemies of Huss none had shown a more inveterate and unrelenting malice than Causis. Unlike Paletz, his heart was moved neither to sympathy and compassion, nor to remorse. Several times the hardened wretch had gone to the prison where Huss was confined, and exclaimed, exulting in the savage cruelty of his nature over his destined victim, “By the grace of God, we shall soon burn this heretic, whose condemnation has cost me much money.” But even this failed to excite in Huss any revengeful feelings. “I leave him to God, and pray for this man most affectionately,” was the language in which he spoke of the virulent persecutor.
A noble object does Huss thus present for our study and admiration. Sometimes depressed by the fears and weakness of the flesh, but never declining the crown of martyrdom; loving his own life in the hope of future usefulness, but far more anxious for the truth he had preached; surrounded by the extreme of human terrors, yet still exclaiming, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Kindly does he remember his friends while he forgives his enemies. His last hours and his last earthly counsels are given to the cause he loved, and to his friends—some perhaps soon to follow him in the thorny path of suffering for the cause of truth.
Final Audience and Execution of Huss
Up almost to the last moment, urgent persuasions were addressed to Huss to induce him to recant. In meeting his objections, a casuistry was adopted worthy the acuteness of the Jesuit doctors, Sanchez and Escobar. Many, whom Huss calls pedagogues, and a few of the fathers, almost overwhelmed him with their importunities. Among others, an Englishman attempted to influence him by the example of those who, in England, had abjured the opinions of Wickliffe. “By my conscience,” said he, “if I were in your case I would abjure.” Causis, however, pursued a different policy. He, in all probability, had no wish to have Huss escape the flames. By his means the prisoner’s situation had been rendered more harsh and grievous. None of his friends were permitted to see him; the wives of his jailers, who were disposed to show him kindness, were henceforth denied the privilege. Sigismund, to whom he might have applied, and probably with success, for relief, had left Constance. Under the pretence of recreation, he had withdrawn to a village some miles distant, attended by numbers of his court. We can readily believe, without the hints of the annalist, that other than his avowed reasons had their influence. Among these, his own conduct suggests that he might not have wished to be too near the victim he had himself betrayed. From the twenty-third to the twenty-eighth of June, he remained at Ueberlingen, returning in season to hear the public refusal of Huss to retract.
An assembly was held on the first of July in the Franciscan monastery, and Huss was brought before it and publicly urged to abjure. He now presented a paper, drawn up by his own hand, in which he once more stated the grounds of his refusal. “I, John Huss, in hope, a priest of Jesus Christ, fearing to sin against God and fearing to commit perjury, am not willing to abjure all and each of the articles which have been produced against me on false testimony. For, God being my witness, I have not preached, asserted, nor defended them as they have said that I have preached, defended, or asserted. Moreover, in regard to the extracted articles, if any of them implies anything false, I disavow and detest it. But through fear of sinning against the truth, and speaking against the views of holy men, I am unwilling to abjure any of them. And if it were possible for my voice now to reach the whole world—as every falsehood and every sin which I have committed will be brought to light in the day of judgment—I would most cheerfully recall everything false or erroneous which I ever spoke or thought of speaking, and I would do it before the world. These things I say and write freely, and of my own accord.”
In this language we recognize, not the obstinate and bigoted partisan, not the terrified and yielding supplicant, but the sincere lover of truth, and the conscientious confessor. But such a position as Huss had taken did not pay that homage to the infallibility of the council which was considered essential. He was sent back to his prison. For four days the council were engaged in discussing other subjects. Gerson brought up the propositions of John Petit. Business in regard to the abdication of Pope Gregory was discussed.
On the fifth of July came a deputation from the emperor, once more to inquire if Huss would not recant. The deputation consisted of the cardinals of Cambray and Florence, the patriarch of Anntioch, six bishops, and a doctor of laws. They were accompanied by the two brave knights, Chlum and Duba. They asked Huss whether he had determined to abjure the articles which he acknowledged as his, and which had been proved by witnesses; whether he was willing to asseverate that those which he did not acknowledge, but had been proved by witnesses, were not held by him, but that he chose rather to think with the church. He answered, that he still would abide by the decision which he had given in writing to the council, when he last appeared before them, on the first day of July. Upon this he was plied with new arguments and persuasions. It was represented to him that he ought not to cling to his own opinion, but rather yield to the opinion of the whole church, and bow to the authority of the many learned men who composed the council. But all their arguments were vain. The purpose of Huss still remained unshaken in the near prospect of death. It was a trying moment to his friends who had accompanied the deputation. What counsel should they give?
Knowing well the attachment to Huss of his noble friend, and the strong influence which his words would have upon his mind, the emperor had besought Chlum, along with his associate Duba, to accompany the deputation. He thought it probable that Huss might be induced to listen to their united representations, but for once he was mistaken. Had they attempted to persuade Huss to recant, they would probably have failed. But they did not. Chlum was the first to address him. “Dear master,” said he, “I am not a learned man, and I deem myself unable to aid you by my counsels; you must therefore yourself decide on the course which you are to adopt, and determine whether you are guilty or not of those crimes of which the council accuses you. If you are convinced of your error, have no hesitation—be not ashamed to yield. But if, in your conscience, you feel yourself to be innocent, beware, by calumniating yourself, of committing perjury in the sight of God, and of leaving the path of duty through any apprehension of death.”
Such language—so different from the unqualified exhortations to recant which were addressed to him by the council, and of the sincerity and affection of which he could not doubt—almost overpowered the prisoner, and he replied with a flood of tears. “Indeed,” said he, “as I have done before, so now I call the Almighty God to witness, that if I were aware of having taught or written anything contrary to the law or orthodox doctrine of the church, I would retract it with the utmost readiness; and even at the present time, I desire exceedingly to be better instructed in sacred learning. If therefore anyone will teach me a better doctrine than I have inculcated myself, let him do it. I am ready to hear him, and, abandoning my own, I will fervently embrace the other, and confess that I have erred.”
“Do you, then,” asked one of the bishops, “believe yourself to be wiser than the whole council?” “I conjure you,” replied Huss, “in the name of Almighty God, to give me as my instructor in the divine word the least person in the council, and I will subscribe to what he says, and in such a manner as that the council will be satisfied.”
“See,” said the bishops, “how obstinately he perseveres in his errors!” It was enough. The deputation plainly perceived that further attempts to persuade Huss blindly to abjure, and pay the homage of sacrificing his conscience and reason to their idol—the council’s infallibility—would be utterly futile. Huss, who had been led forth from his prison to meet the deputation—little disposed, even for a single hour, to share its comforts—was ordered back under the care of his jailers, and the deputation returned to report to the emperor.
Nothing now remained but the promised audience and the final sentence. It was on the following day, July 6, that Huss appeared for the last time before the council, now in its fifteenth general session. There was a full attendance. The Cardinal de Viviers presided. The emperor himself was present, seated upon his throne, surrounded by the princes and the insignia of the empire. An immense crowd had assembled from all quarters, interested to behold the scene, or to receive the earliest intelligence of what was to transpire. The celebration of mass had already commenced when Huss arrived, but he was kept outside the door till the religious services, including the litanies, were over, under the pretence that the holy mysteries would be profaned by the presence of so great a heretic.
At length Huss was brought in. A high platform had been erected in the midst of the assembly, and on it was placed a box containing the sacred vestments of the priesthood, with which Huss was to be robed previous to his degradation. He was required to take his stand in front of the platform, on a footstool, by which he was so raised as to be visible to the whole council. Here he fell upon his knees, and remained for some time engaged in prayer in a low tone.
Meanwhile the Bishop of Lodi ascended the pulpit from which the decrees of the council were usually announced. He had been selected to deliver the sermon which was to whet the appetite of the council for the blood of a heretic. His text was taken from Romans 6:6—”That the body of sin might be destroyed.” His object was to expose the evils of heresy and justify the measures necessary to its extirpation. He began his sermon by a quotation from Aristotle, following it up by a citation from Jerome, in order to enforce his persecuting and bigoted doctrine. After venting his indignation upon Arius and Sabellius, the speaker proceeds to discriminate the most dangerous kinds of sins. Among these he places schism in the first rank. To this he traces the aggravated iniquities and corruptions of the times—the discords and conflicts which desolated the nations—the vices and simony which deformed the church. “How many heresies,” he exclaims, “have made their appearance! How many heretics remain unpunished! How many churches have been broken in and plundered! How many cities oppressed! How many religious rites fallen into neglect! How many discords among the clergy! How many slaughters among Christian people! Look, I pray you, at the church of God, the spouse of Christ, the mother of the faithful, how she is daily given up to contempt! Who now venerates the keys of the church? Who fears her censures? Who defends her privileges? Nay, rather, who does not offend against them? Who does not invade them? Who is there that does not dare to lay violent hands upon the patrimony of Jesus Christ? The property of the clergy, bought by sacred blood, and of the poor, as well as the food of pilgrims, is plundered and wasted.” In the prevalent disorders the speaker seems to see the abomination of desolation brought into the sacred temple. Tyranny is destroying the bodies, and schism the souls of men. Those guilty of the first, may sin in ignorance; the last are without excuse. As the result, the speaker sees before him the church, like a boat upon the waves, endangered by pirates or thrown upon the rocks. Heresies have sprung up on all sides, and discord has entered among the flock of Peter and the fold of Christ. Many had toiled in vain to suppress these—kings, princes, and prelates: “Wherefore,” exclaims the bishop, turning to the emperor, “most Christian king, this glorious triumph has awaited thee, this unfading crown is due to thee, and a victory ever to be celebrated is thine, in order that by thee the wounded church may be bound up, the inveterate schism removed, simony restrained, and heretics rooted out. Do you not see how great will be this lasting fame, how celebrated this glory? What could be more just, what more holy, what more fitting, what, in fine, more acceptable to God, than to extirpate this nefarious schism, restore the church to its former liberty, put an end to simony, and destroy and condemn errors and heresies from among the flock of believers? Surely nothing could be better, holier, more desirable for the world, or acceptable to God.
“To execute this, so pious and holy a work, thou hast been elected by God, deputed in heaven, before chosen on earth. Heavenly principalities made thee emperor before the suffrage of the imperial electors was cast. And especially was this, in order that thou mightest destroy and condemn, by imperial ordinance, the heresies and errors which we have here before us, in our hands, already condemned. To the performance of so holy a work, God has conferred upon thee the wisdom of divine truth, the power of royal majesty, and the justice of right equity. As the Most High has said, Jeremiah 1, ‘Lo, I have put my words into thy mouth by imparting wisdom, and I have placed thee over the nations and kingdoms by conferring power, that thou mightest root up and destroy by executing justice.’ So mayest thou destroy heresy and error; and especially this obstinate heretic, by whose malign influence many regions have been infected with the pest of heresy, and by reason of whom many things have gone to ruin.
“This sacred labor, O glorious prince, is left to thee. On thee is it the more incumbent, to whom has been given the supremacy of justice. And as the result, from the mouth of babes and sucklings shall thy praises be long celebrated, as the destroyer of its enemies and the avenger of the Catholic faith. The which, that it may prosperously and happily become thy lot, may he who is blessed for ever more, Jesus Christ, grant. Amen.”
Such was the discourse, delivered in full council, and upon the Sabbath—the session was held on that day—by which the minds of men were to be brought into a frame devout enough to give over an innocent man to the flames. It seems as if the black deed would not have been perfect in its horror, without this dark feature of Sabbath profanation.
Immediately after the sermon, the decree was read, by which the council enjoined silence. Its language betrays the self-sufficient and arrogant tone of authority which the council had assumed. “The holy council of Constance, lawfully assembled by the influence of the Holy Spirit, decrees and orders everyone, with whatever dignity he may be invested, whether imperial, royal, or episcopal, to abstain, during the present session, from all language, murmur, and noise which may disturb this assembly, convoked with the inspiration of God, and this under pain of incurring excommunication, and imprisonment of two months, and of being declared an abettor of heresy.” The procurator of the council then demanded a vigorous prosecution of the process which they had in hand, insisting that there should be no pause or cessation in the proceedings till Huss was finally condemned and sentence pronounced.
The council now directed that sixty articles of Wickliffe, extracted from the two hundred and sixty which had been brought before them by the English deputation, should be read. After sentence against these was pronounced, the council proceeded to the works of Huss. Thirty articles were presented, some of which had not before been publicly read, but most of which were in substance those upon which he had been interrogated in the presence of the council. Some with which he had first been charged were found to be but duplicates of others, or implied in them, and were consequently left out, reducing them to the number mentioned above. A statement was then made of the character and scope of the several articles, together with the testimony by which they were severally supported. Instead, however, of giving the names of the witnesses, only their office or ecclesiastical rank was stated. This was the course that had been pursued on the trial of John XXIII. In that case there could have been little or no objection to it, for the pope, when summoned to confront the witnesses against him, had declined the privilege, and had confessed to the justice of his sentence by a voluntary submission. But in the case of Huss, this course was one of manifest injustice. He was not permitted to confront his witnesses. In few instances could he even know who they were. His enemies were permitted to testify, without scrutiny or question, whatever they pleased.
In these circumstances, it was but natural that Huss should seek to meet each article, as it was read, by a final statement. This he wished and attempted to do, but the privilege was denied. As the first article was read, “that there is one Catholic church, which is composed of the body of believers predestined to salvation.” Huss added in a distinct and clear voice, “Indeed, I have no doubt that there is one holy Catholic church, which is the congregation of all the elect, not only in this world, but in the world of spirits, embracing those who belong to the invisible body of Jesus Christ, of whom he is the head.” To the succeeding articles Huss also attempted to reply, but was interrupted by the Bishop of Cambray, who ordered him to be silent, and when he answered, to reply to all at once. “But,” said Huss, “you forbid me to answer to each, while it is out of my power to remember the whole list of accusations.” As another article was read, Huss again attempted to reply. Upon this, the Cardinal of Florence arose and exclaimed, “You deafen us,” a strange complaint after the previous scenes of uproar and confusion of which the council had had experience. The ushers of the council were ordered to seize him and force him to be silent. So gross a wrong Huss could have borne for himself, but he was unwilling that the immense crowd assembled upon the occasion should receive the articles of the council as a reliable statement of his real views. With a loud voice, and with his hands lifted to heaven, he exclaimed, “In the name of Almighty God, I beseech you, deign to afford me an equitable hearing, that I may clear myself at least before those who surround me, and remove from their minds the suspicion of errors. Grant me this favor, and then do with me what you will.”
Here he was again interrupted and required to be silent. Finding that he was not to be permitted the privilege of speaking and vindicating himself from such a multitude of accusations, he kneeled down, and raising his hands and eyes to heaven, commended his cause in prayer to God, the most righteous judge.
At length the old accusation which had before been abandoned, was brought forward. It was charged that Huss had written and taught, that in the consecration of the eucharist the material and substantial bread (the matter and substance of bread) remained. To this was added the article “that a priest in mortal sin cannot baptize,” etc., with other articles of a similar tenor, or that had before been fully answered. When Huss wished to reply to these, the Cardinal of Florence again enjoined silence. But again Huss urgently entreated that he might be heard kindly, at least on account of those around him, whom he would not have misled by the imagination that he defended such errors as were now adduced. “For,” said be, “I utterly deny that I ever believed or taught that after the consecration in the sacrament of the altar, the material bread remains. Moreover, I assert that baptism and consecration, and the administration of other sacred rites, performed by a priest guilty of mortal sin, is infamous and hateful in the sight of God. Whenever he is full of impurity, he is least of all a worthy minister of sacred and divine offices.” To other accusations upon the list he replied briefly in much the same manner as he had done before in writing, either briefly refuting some, or candidly confessing others.
Huss was now accused of giving out that he was the fourth person—now added—of the Holy Trinity. This was established by the testimony of a single doctor, whose name was not mentioned. “Give me the name,” said Huss, “of that doctor who testifies thus against me.” But the bishop who read the accusation refused this request. He merely replied, “There is no need of it.” Huss, mastering his indignation, solemnly declared, “God forbid that such an imagination as that I should call myself a fourth person of the Trinity should have been thought of by me, nor, by the love of Christ, has it ever entered my mind.” He then repeated the article from the Athanasian creed upon the Trinity, declaring in it his firm and abiding belief. At length the words of his appeal to God, as supreme Judge, were read, and this solemn appeal was pronounced an impious error. To the council Huss had no reply to make in his defense. Mastering his emotions, he looked up to heaven, and said, in a tone that should have thrilled the assembly, “Most blessed Jesus, behold how this council holds as error, and reprobates thine own deed and the law which thou didst prescribe, when thou thyself, overwhelmed by enemies, didst commend thy cause to thy Father, God, the most holy Judge, leaving us an example in our woe and weakness, that, with prayer for aid, we should suppliantly flee in our wrongs to the most righteous Judge.” Here he paused a moment, and then added, ” But I say confidently, that the surest and safest of all appeals is to the Master, Christ. For he it is whom no one can sway from the right by any bribes, nor deceive by false testimony, nor snare in any sophistry, since to each he gives back his own reward.”
He was next charged with having treated the papal excommunication with contempt, still unwarrantably continuing in the exercise of his office, even to the celebration of mass. “I did not,” said Huss, “despise the excommunication, but publicly in my sermons I appealed to him who is the Judge. And thus it was that I continued to discharge the sacred offices. Meanwhile, I thrice sent to the chief pontiff those who should act as my procurators, to give satisfaction in my behalf. For, for good and satisfactory reasons I could not appear in my own behalf, as has been stated. Yet I was never able to obtain a hearing. My representatives, moreover, were cruelly treated. Some were imprisoned, some were insultingly rejected, or subjected to torturing hardships. The records will readily certify you of this, in which my case, and the injustice done, are written out. For this reason I came hither freely to this council, relying upon the public faith of the emperor, who is here present, assuring me that I should be safe from all violence, so that I might attest my innocence, and give a reason of my faith to all who compose it.”
As Huss spoke of the public faith—the safe-conduct which he had received—he fixed his eyes steadily upon the emperor. A deep blush at once mounted to the imperial brow. Sigismund felt the shame and meanness of which he had been guilty, and his own previous declarations before the council deprived him of any chance to vindicate his integrity or honor. This circumstance was not soon forgotten in Germany. To it, perhaps, the safety of Luther and the success of the German reformation a century later were in part due. When Charles V, at the celebrated diet of Worms, was pressed to consent to the seizure of Luther in contempt of his safe-conduct, his Spanish honor revolted at the proposal. “No!” said he, “I should not like to blush like Sigismund.”
At length, when the several articles of accusation had been read, one of the judges of the court arose, and made a statement of the manner in which Huss had been repeatedly asked whether he would maintain or disavow them. In his prison at Gottlieben he had promised to submit himself to the decision of the council. He had afterward repeated this before the commission sent to him upon his removal to Constance. A third time he had made a similar declaration, and had given it in writing under his own hand. This, as already presented, was then read, and it was added, that on the day preceding (July 5), Huss had been once more asked by the prelates deputized to visit him by the council, whether he would abjure the articles which he acknowledged to be his, promising no longer to hold them, and no more to teach those which he did not acknowledge; but he chose still to abide by his previous declaration, unmoved from his purpose by all the means of persuasion which could be employed.
The Bishop of Concordia, Italian by birth, whose bald head and advanced years gave him a venerable aspect, had been selected to read the two sentences of the council, one condemning the books of Huss to be burned, and the other requiring his degradation from the priesthood, in order that he might be given over to the secular arm. Upon the requisition of Henry de Piro, the prosecutor of the council, these sentences were then read. The first, against the books of Huss, was as follows: “This most holy general council of Constance, representing the Catholic church, etc., etc.: Because, as the truth itself testifies, an evil tree brings forth evil fruit, hence it is that John Wickliffe, a man of damnable memory, by his destructive doctrine—not like those holy fathers of old, who in Jesus Christ, through the gospel, begot believing children, but against the saving faith of Christ, like a root of poison—has begotten sons of perdition, whom he has left behind him as successors in the inheritance of his perverse doctrine, against whom this holy council of Constance is compelled to rise up as against bastard and illegitimate sons, and cut off their errors as noxious tares from the garden of the Lord, by watchful care, and the knife of ecclesiastical authority, lest, like a canker, they spread abroad to others’ destruction; and since, moreover, in the sacred general council lately held at Rome, it was decreed that the doctrine of John Wickliffe, of damnable memory, ought to be condemned, and his books which contain this said doctrine should be burned as heretical, and this decree was carried into effect—therefore should this said decree be approved by the authority of this present sacred council. And yet, nevertheless, a certain John Huss, in this sacred council, here present in person, a disciple, not of Christ, but rather of the heresiarch John Wickliffe, after and against this condemnation and decree aforesaid, with venturous audacity, has dogmatized, asserted, and preached many of his errors and heresies, which have been long condemned by the most reverend fathers in Christ, their lordships the archbishops, the bishops of different kingdoms, and masters of theology in many universities, especially in his resisting, along with his confederates in the schools, and in his sermons in public, the scholastic condemnation of the articles themselves of Wickliffe several times pronounced in the University of Prague; and in favor of his doctrine he has declared, in the presence of a multitude of the clergy and the people, that John Wickliffe was a Catholic man, and an evangelical doctor. He has, moreover, published certain articles hereinafter written, and many others deserving of condemnation, asserting them to be Catholic, which articles are contained, as is notorious, in the books of this very John Huss. Wherefore, full and sufficient information being had in the premise., as well as careful deliberation on the part of the most reverend fathers, their lordships the cardinals of the holy Roman church, the patriarchs, the archbishops, the bishops, and other prelates, and doctors of scripture and of laws—composing a large assembly—this most holy council of Constance declares and decrees, that the articles hereinafter written, which have been found on collation, by many masters of the sacred page, to be contained in his books and treatises written by his own hand, and which, moreover, this same John Huss, in the presence of the fathers and prelates of this sacred council, has confessed to be contained in his books and treatises, are not Catholic, nor to be taught as such, but some of them are erroneous, some scandalous, others offensive to pious ears, many of them rash and seditious, and some notoriously heretical, and long since by the holy father and general councils reprobated and condemned, and to preach, teach, or in any way approve then, is prohibited. But since the hereinafter written articles are expressly contained in his books or treatises, viz., in the book which he has entitled “De Ecclesia,” and in his other works, therefore, the aforesaid book, and their doctrine, and each of his other treatises and work, edited by him in Latin, or in the vulgar Bohemian, or by him or others, one or more, translated into some foreign idiom, this most holy council reprobates and condemns, and doth decree and appoint that they shall be burned, solemnly and publicly, in the presence of the clergy and people, in the city of Constance, and elsewhere, adding, moreover, for the reason aforesaid, that his whole doctrine is and ought to be suspected as to faith, and should be avoided by all the faithful of Christ. And that this pernicious doctrine may be rooted out from the midst of the church, this holy synod orders, that, by the ordinaries of different localities, treatises and works of this nature, by means of ecclesiastical censure, and even, if need be, under penalty of favoring heresy, shall be carefully sought out, and, when found, shall be committed publicly to the flames. And if anyone be found to violate or despise this sentence and decree, this same holy synod ordains that such persons shall be proceeded against, as suspected of heresy, by the ordinaries of different localities, and the inquisitors of heretical pravity.”
As this sentence was read, Huss replied, “Who are ye, that ye can justly condemn my writings? For I always desired that they should be corrected by a better application and understanding of Christian truth, and this is still my wish. And yet, hitherto ye have not presented any solid arguments against them, nor have ye convicted of error a single word of my writings. Why, then, have ye been impelled to destroy my books, whether rendered in the Bohemian, or other language—those, moreover, which doubtless ye have never seen? And if ye were to see them, your ignorance of the Bohemian language would prevent your understanding them.” But after complaining of other injustice in the accusation, he knelt down, and with his eyes to heaven uttered fervent prayer.
The sentence against Huss himself was then read. “The things done and to be done in the cause of inquisition of, and concerning the heresy of, John Huss being considered, and a faithful and full report of the commission deputed to act in this case having been had, as well as of other masters in theology and doctors of law, in, of, and concerning the acts and words of witnesses worthy of credit, and in great number—which testimony has been openly and publicly read to John Huss himself before the fathers and prelates of this sacred council, by which testimony it is made most clearly manifest that this same John Huss has taught many things evil, scandalous, seditious, and dangerously heretical, and has preached the same through a long course of years, this most holy council of Constance—the name of Christ being invoked—having only God before their eyes, doth by this definitive sentence, in these writings, pronounce, decree, and declare, that the said John Huss was and is a true and manifest heretic, and that he has taught errors and heresies long time condemned by the church of God, and many things, moreover, scandalous, offensive to pious ears, rash, and seditious; and that he has publicly preached them, to the grievous offence of the divine majesty, the scandal of the Catholic church, and the prejudice of the Catholic faith; that he has, moreover, treated with contempt ecclesiastical censures and the keys of the church, persisting obstinately in this spirit for many years, scandalizing Christian believers by his extreme stubbornness, while neglecting ecclesiastical rules; that he has interposed his appeal to the Lord Jesus Christ as supreme Judge, in which appeal he has laid down many positions, false and unjust, scandalous in regard to the Apostolic See itself, contemning ecclesiastical censures and the keys; wherefore, for the aforesaid reasons as well as many others, this holy synod pronounces John Huss to have been heretical, and concludes that he ought to be judged and condemned as a heretic, and by these presents doth condemn him, reproving his appeal as unjust, scandalous, and derisive of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and himself as having seduced Christian people from the faith, especially in the kingdom of Bohemia, by his preaching and by his writings, and as having been not a true preacher of the gospel of Christ according to the exposition of the holy doctors, but rather a misleader of the people.
“But because, by those things which it has seen and heard, this holy synod knows this same John Huss to be pertinacious, incorrigible, and, moreover, of such a disposition as not to desire to return to the bosom of holy mother church, nor abjure the heresies and errors which he has publicly defended and preached, therefore this holy synod of Constance declares and decrees that the same John Huss be deposed and degraded from the order of the priesthood, or other dignity with which he is invested, giving in charge to the ever reverend fathers in Christ, the archbishop of Milan, the bishops of Feltri, Asti, Alexandria., Bangor, and Lavaur, the due execution, in the presence of this most holy synod, of the said degradation, as the canonical rule of order requires.”
As the charges of the sentence were read, Huss interposed brief comments. It was in vain that they forbade him to speak. His indignant sense of the wrong done him would not permit him to be silent. When the accusation of obstinacy was read, he promptly denied it. “This,” said he, “I do utterly deny. I have ever desired and I still desire to be better instructed from scripture, and I solemnly declare that such is my zeal for the truth, that if by a single word I might confound the errors of all heretics, there is no danger that I would not face in order to do it.” Who could doubt the sincerity and conscientiousness of the speaker?
When the reading of the sentence was concluded, Huss again fell upon his knees, and in earnest and distinct tones prayed for his enemies. “O Lord God, through thy mercy I pray thee deign to pardon all my enemies, for thou knowest that I have been unjustly accused by them, overcome by false witnesses, oppressed by fictitious accusations, and unrighteously condemned. For thy mercy’s sake, therefore, remit their sins.” The scene, in its circumstances, had a deep and solemn significance that. might have reminded the judges of the prayer once offered on the cross of Calvary. But the history of persecution was to carry out the parallel of the tragedy in a still more striking manner. Scorn and derision were traced in the features of the members of the council, and were uttered in their sneers. They saw in Huss a victim, of whom they felt they might safely make an example.
The ceremony of degradation—the first step in the execution of the sentence—was now commenced. By the direction of the bishops he was clothed in priestly robes, and, as if he had been about to celebrate mass, the chalice was placed in his hand. As they put the white robe upon him, Huss could not forbear to say, “My Master, Jesus Christ, when he was sent away by Herod to Pilate, was clothed in a white robe.”
At length, being clad, the prelates admonished him to retract while he yet might, and abjure the errors with which he stood charged. But he replied aloud, as he stood upon the platform to which he had been raised—turning as he spoke toward the people, with tears in his eyes and his voice trembling with emotion, “Behold, these bishops persuade and exhort me to retract. But I fear to do it, lest hereafter I be charged with falsehood before God, in case I should confess myself to be guilty of errors of which I was never conscious, which I have never taught, and thus sin against my conscience and divine truth at once. Never have I asserted those articles, but they are unjustly imputed to me on false testimony, while I have written and taught the exact opposite. Above all, I fear lest the minds of so great a multitude as that to which I have preached so long, as well as of others who are faithful ministers of the divine word, should, through the offense thus given, be torn away from truth.”
Such language, while it might. have moved some to pity and respect, only provoked the bishops. “See,” said they, and the murmur went round the assembly, “how perverse he is in his wickedness, and how tenacious of his heresy!”
The bishops now directed Huss to descend from the platform. They then began to strip him of the sacerdotal habit in which he had been clothed. They took from him first the chalice, accompanying the act with the words, “O thou accursed Judas, who, breaking away from the counsels of peace, hast consulted with the Jews! Behold! we take from thee this chalice, in which the blood of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world is offered.” Unmoved by the united curse and outrage, Huss exclaimed, in a clear, loud voice, to be heard by all, “But I have all hope and confidence fixed in my God and Savior, that he will never take from me the cup of salvation, and I abide firm in my belief that, aided by his grace, I shall this day drink thereof in his kingdom.”
The bishops proceeded to strip him of the remaining symbols of the priestly office, accompanying the removal of each with a correspondent curse. “All these insults,” said Huss, ” I can endure, undisturbed and calm, for the name and truth of Jesus Christ.”
When this work of removing the sacerdotal habits was accomplished, it still remained to efface the marks of the tonsure, and thus take away the last symbol of the priestly office. Here a singular and ludicrous controversy arose. In order to crop the hair, some were for using a razor, and some insisted that the shears were the proper instrument. Some would be satisfied if the tonsure were but disfigured; others would have the hair entirely removed.
The scene was one that Huss, even in his circumstances, felt to be ridiculous. “Ah!” said he, turning to the emperor where he sat upon his throne, edified doubtless by the pious heresy of some on the question under discussion, “Ah! these bishops cannot easily agree among themselves, even in regard to the method by which to insult me.”
At last the shears-party was triumphant. His hair was cut in four directions, so as to leave bare the form of a cross. This was then washed, as if to remove the oil of his anointing by which he was consecrated to the priesthood. It was then declared that “This holy council of Constance doth now remove John Huss from the order of the priesthood and the offices of honor which he has discharged, thus declaring that the church of God disowns this man, and gives him up, no longer shielded by her protection, to the secular arm.” As they were about to place upon his head the paper crown which he was to wear to the place of execution, and which in derision was covered with pictured fiends, they said, “We devote thy soul to the devils of hell.” “But I,” said Huss, lifting his eyes to heaven and reverently folding his hands, “I commend it to my most merciful Master, Jesus Christ.” The crown was now set upon his head. It was a sort of pyramidal miter, rising to a considerable height. On each of its three sides the frightful figure of a demon was painted, while on each was written, so as to be visible to all and from every direction, the crime for which be was condemned—Heresiarch. Huss looked at it and calmly said, “My Lord Jesus Christ, though innocent, deigned to bear to an infamous death, for wretched me, a far rougher and weightier crown of thorns.”
The ceremony of the degradation of Huss was now complete. He was disowned by the church, and no longer as a priest was subject to its exclusive jurisdiction. Given over to the secular arm, it belonged to the emperor—such was the orthodox theory of persecution, to do with the prisoner as Pilate with Jesus, what the priests could not—to execute capital sentence. Sigismund committed Huss to the charge of Louis, the Elector Palatine, directing him to go and see that he was delivered into the hands of the proper officers. Huss was given over by the elector to the mayor of Constance, and by the latter was placed in the hands of those to whom it belonged to see the sentence executed. They were commanded to burn him, with his clothes, and all indiscriminately that belonged to him, even to his knife and to his purse, from which they were not to take so much as a single penny.
He was led to the place of execution, walking between two officers of the Elector Palatine, and without being chained; two of the police of the city preceded and two followed him. The prince, with an escort of eight hundred armed men, and followed by an immense multitude, drawn by curiosity, interest, or anxiety, accompanied them to the place of execution.
The procession, instead of taking the direct route thither, moved first in a nearly opposite direction, in order to pass upon the way the episcopal palace, in front of which a pile of the prisoner’s writings had been heaped up for the flames. The fire was kindled and the books burned as the procession passed. They had been first condemned, and were first to be consumed. But to Huss the scene appeared simply ridiculous, as indeed it was. Nor did it need a prophet’s sagacity to discern that the course pursued was like to defeat its own object. It was altogether out of the power of the council to obtain and thus destroy all the writings of the reformer. They were too widely scattered and too deeply cherished, and this act of impotent vengeance would only make them the more prized—would attach to them a new importance, and excite a more eager curiosity for their perusal. The scene, even in the solemn circumstances in which Huss was placed, did not fail to draw from him a smile at the senile malice which it displayed.
As the procession passed on, they reached a bridge at which it was necessary to pause. It was not considered safe for the whole multitude to pass over it at once. The armed escort first proceeded, one by one, and then the crowd of citizens followed. Huss improved the occasion to say a few words to the throngs that pressed around to catch a sight of him. He told them, in the German language, that it was not for any heresy that he had been condemned, but through the injustice of his enemies; that they had not been able to convict him of any error, although he had challenged them to do it so often and so urgently. As he approached the place where he was to be burned, which was a meadow adjoining the garden on the north side of the city, outside the Gottlieben gate, the procession paused, that everything might be made ready for the execution. Here Huss kneeled down, and lifting his eyes toward heaven, prayed—using the language of some of the penitential psalms, especially the thirty-first and fiftieth. Repeatedly he used the petitions, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me,” and “O God, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” The crowd around him were surprised at such an exhibition of devotion in one whom they had been taught to regard as a heretic. “What this man may have done before,” said they, “we know not, but now, certainly, we hear him speak and pray in a godly and devout manner.”
Huss was then asked by some who stood by—probably in the hope that the fear of death might lead him to recant—if he would have a confessor. A priest nearby on horseback, clothed in a green gown drawn together with a sash of red silk, heard the question asked, and, more anxious for the execution than for a recantation which might even yet snatch the victim from the flames, declared that a confessor ought not to be allowed him because be was a heretic. Huss, however, replied that he would be glad to have one. Ulric Reichenthal—one of the historians of the council—as he himself relates, called for a priest then present to come and receive the prisoner’s confession. The name of this priest was Ulric Schorand, a man of repute for learning and integrity, and highly esteemed by the council. He asked Huss whether he was willing to renounce the errors for which he had been condemned to the punishment which he now saw awaiting him. If so, he was ready to confess him; but if not, he must be aware that a heretic, according to the canon law, could neither administer or receive the sacraments. Huss having heard the conditions on which he might be confessed, declined to accept them. He replied, that he did not deem it necessary for him to confess, inasmuch as he did not feel himself to be guilty of any mortal sin. He desired, however, the privilege of improving the occasion to address the people in the German language. But the brutal elector, true to the instincts of his cruel nature and in perfect consistency with his previous course, instead of allowing permission, gave orders that he should immediately be committed to the flames. Huss at once lifted up his voice in prayer. “O Lord Jesus, I would endure with humility, for thy gospel, this cruel death, and I beseech thee, pardon all my enemies.” Such were some of the expressions of his prayer. While he was thus engaged in his devotions, with his eyes toward heaven, the paper miter, which had been placed upon his head in the council, fell off. As Huss turned to behold it, a smile played over his features. Perhaps he saw in the frail thing an emblem of that impotent malice which in vain attempted to affix calumny to his name. The soldiers, however, more inclined to sympathize with their harsh leader, replaced the miter upon his head, and, referring to the images painted upon it, declared he ought to be burned with the devils he had served.
Having asked and obtained permission to speak to his keepers, Huss thanked them for the kind treatment which he had received at their hands. “Ye have shown yourselves,” said he, “not merely my keepers, but brethren most beloved. And be assured that I rest with firm faith upon my Savior, in whose name I am content calmly to endure this sort of death, that I this day may go to reign with him.” These words were spoken in German. We have other testimony, also, to show that even among his jailers, Huss must already have seen the fruits of his fidelity. He now wished, with his dying breath, to seal the impression that had been made by his life.
He was now stripped of his garments and bound fast to a large stake, through which holes had been bored to secure the cords. Of these there were six or seven, which had been wet in order longer to resist the heat of the flames. One was bound about his ankles, one below and another above the knees, while others were distributed over the upper part of his body as far as the armpits. His hands had previously been bound behind his back; and he was now made fast in this position. The stake was driven downward and made to stand erect in the earth, so as to support the victim while the flames consumed him. By some accident it had happened that Huss, as bound to the stake, stood facing the east. This was observed by some of the bystanders, and the order was given that he should be turned so as to face the west. As a heretic, he might not die with his eyes directed toward the Holy Land. The order was immediately obeyed. The neck of the prisoner was now bound to the stake by a black and sooty iron chain, which had been used by a poor man, its former owner, for suspending his kettle over the fire. Huss bent his head somewhat so as to obtain a sight of it, but instead of turning pale with affright, he beheld it with a cheerful smile. “The Lord Jesus Christ,” said he, “my beloved Redeemer and Savior, was, for my sake, bound with a harsher and more cruel chain. Why, therefore, should wretched I blush, for his most holy name, to be bound with this sooty one?”
Two piles of fagots were placed about the feet of Huss, which had been stripped of their covering. Bundles of straw were placed erect around the stake, reaching as far upward as the neck of the victim. Everything was now ready for the kindling of the flames. Before the torch was applied, however, one more effort was made to induce Huss to recant. It was the wish of the emperor even yet, undoubtedly, to save if possible his honor with the prisoner’s life; and it was probably by his direction given beforehand, for he did not choose to witness the scene—that the marshal of the empire with the elector approached the funeral pile, and exhorted Huss yet to save his life by retracting and abjuring his doctrines. It was the last opportunity. Would Huss now hesitate? In a loud, clear voice, he replied, with a firmness which the immediate prospect of death could not shake, “I call God to witness, that I have never taught nor written those things which on false testimony they impute to me, but my declarations, teachings, writings, in fine, all my works, have been intended and shaped toward the object of rescuing dying men from the tyranny of sin. Wherefore I will this day gladly seal that truth which I have taught, written, and proclaimed—established by the divine law, and by holy teachers—by the pledge of my death.”
On hearing this final decision of Huss—unshaken in his purpose to the last—the marshal and the elector left him. The executioners kindled the flames. Amid the smoke and blaze, Huss could be heard engaged in prayer. “O Christ, thou Son of the living God, have mercy on me.” The prayer was repeated, and again he was heard uttering the words of the creed, when the wind, rising with the flames, kindled the pile to a fiercer heat, and he was suffocated by the smoke that prevented his saying more. Still was he observed for one or two minutes obviously engaged in devotion. He bowed his head, and his lips were seen to move as if in utterance of prayer. At last all was silent. The charred carcass was motionless, and the spirit had fled.
As the fagots burned away, they left the body visible, still hanging to the stake by the iron chain. The executioners with poles pushed the fragments of the burning brands back around the stake, and heaped up new fuel about the half-consumed skeleton. They struck at the bones and limbs, to break them in pieces, that they might the sooner be consumed. His head rolled down. It was beaten into pieces with a club and thrown back into the flames. His heart, found among his intestines, was pierced by a sharp stick of wood, and roasted at a fire apart until it was reduced to ashes. One of the executioners was seen still having in his possession some of the garments of Huss. The elector, on observing it, commanded that these and all that belonged to Huss should be cast together into the flames, promising the executioner compensation for the loss. “The Bohemians,” said he, “would keep and cherish such a thing as a sacred relic.” When everything had been consumed, the ashes, and every fragment or memorial of the scene of martyrdom, were shoveled up and carted away, to be emptied into the Rhine.
Thus perished, upon his forty-second birthday, in the full vigor of his powers, and in the strength and promise of manhood, one of those men whom the world has been constrained to acknowledge well worthy of the martyr’s crown. Even his enemies could not but eulogize his noble bearing, and respect his manly and heroic spirit. “They went,” said Æneas Sylvius, who afterward filled the papal chair, and who knew all the circumstances of the execution of Huss and Jerome, “They went to their punishment as to a feast. Not a word escaped them which gave indication of the least weakness. In the midst of the flames they sang hymns uninterruptedly to their last breath. No philosopher ever suffered death with such constancy as they endured the flames.”
The question here rises—What were the real causes which led to the condemnation of Huss? He himself would never allow, even to the last, that he had departed from the orthodox standards of the church, the scriptures, and the fathers. In fact, with the exception of his late approval of the views of Jacobel in regard to the communion of the cup, there was scarce a doctrine which he held, upon which he could not have found many members of the council to agree with him. When questioned upon transubstantiation and the Trinity, he replied by a full and frank confession of the Catholic formula. In regard to confession, he did not reject it, though like many of his contemporaries whose orthodoxy passed unsuspected, he did not attach to it that supreme and superstitious importance which belonged to it in the eyes of many. On other points of belief, as intercession of the saints, the adoration of images, works, purgatory, and tradition, his replies before the council show that his views differed but slightly from those of the French theologians, and the more intelligent and liberal members of the Roman Catholic church. As to the doctrine of the absence of the spiritual character in bad priests—a doctrine so long obscure in his mind, and which at first he seems to have adopted from Wickliffe—he finishes by giving it an orthodox explanation, declaring that in the ministry of an unworthy priest, God works worthily and effectually by unworthy hands. Even with regard to indulgences, he declares himself indisposed to withhold any prerogative which God may have given to the Roman pontiff, but merely denies that they were of any value when given for unworthy purposes. Many of the propositions attributed to him by the council he publicly disavowed, and others he explained in such a manner that they could not properly be regarded as heretical. Huss attacked, not so much the doctrines of the Romish church, as their abuse, and in this respect might have found sufficient precedent for his justification, had he sought it, among the writings of members of the council.
Nor can we ascribe the condemnation of Huss to the severe language which he used in regard to the corruption and degeneracy of the church. No language to be found in his writings can exceed, if even equal, in severity, that which was employed upon this subject by Gerson, Clemengis, and D’Ailly. Many a sermon was preached before the council, in which plain and terrible expositions of the prevalent depravity were presented, startling enough to fill the mind of every hearer with astonishment and horror. No one ever attempted to deny the truth of what Huss asserted on this subject. The Cardinal of Cambray merely complained that it was said inopportunely.
One prominent. feature of the criminality of Huss may perhaps be found in some lines written in an old manuscript copy of his works. “As long as John Huss merely declaimed against the vices of the seculars, everyone said that he was inspired by the Spirit of God; but as soon as he proceeded against ecclesiastics, he became an object of odium, for he then really laid his finger upon the sore.”
Huss traced, like Wickliffe, a large part of the excesses of the clergy to the riches which, by the violation of ecclesiastical order, they had been enabled to accumulate. He saw them becoming lords and princes, entangled in worldly business, and inspired by worldly ambitions. He believed that it was the right and duty of the secular power to secure the proper employment of the property of the church, and when it had been perverted from its uses, it might be taken away altogether. This doctrine was a heinous one in the eyes of the clergy. It gave a mortal blow to their worldly rank and temporal authority. Undoubtedly its avowal made Huss many enemies, and these of a most unrelenting and vindictive character.
Various parties in the council stood arrayed against Huss upon distinct grounds. The theologians of the University of Paris saw in him an adherent of the philosophy of the Realists, and the odium philosophicum, full as much as the odium theologicum, brought them as Nominalists into bitter conflict with him. The English deputation, indifferent, or perhaps hostile to the philosophical views of the Parisians, taking but little delight in the verbal quibbles with which the dialectic skill of the Cardinal of Cambray, sought to entrap Huss into self-contradiction, regarded him yet as a disciple of Wickliffe, and when they heard him defending his memory, resolved to give him up as another victim to their hatred of their own countryman.
The deputation of the German nation, moreover, had come to Constance, many of them bitterly envenomed by prejudice against Huss. They regarded him—some of them, at least—almost in the light of a personal enemy. They charged him with being the principal agent in the measures which led to the virtual expulsion of the German nation from the University of Prague. Among those who are mentioned as especially eager to secure his conviction and condemnation, we find many who in all probability had studied in that university, and carried back with them from Bohemia the inveterate hostility and prejudice which had there been excited. The most pertinacious antagonist of Huss—according to the historian, the only one who could vanquish him in argument—was John Zachariæ, professor of theology, who represented the University of Erfurth in the council of Constants, and who is spoken of as a man of extensive learning and consummate ability. To him the same historian ascribes the prevailing influence which secured the sentence of Huss. However this may be, there can be no doubt that the German nation in the council, to which Huss should have looked for defenders, was envenomed against him by the reports that had gone forth from the University of Prague.
To bring the various interests, antipathies, and prejudices of the several parties to bear against the prisoner, there were only needed the skill and malice of men like Paletz and Causis. Paletz, a former companion and associate, soon a rival in influence, at length in a moment of terror yielding up his better convictions to secure his own safety, and virtually sold over to the enemies of the man whom he now pursued, not so much for the purpose of taking his life, as for the privilege of triumph over a prostrate foe; Michael de Causis, a villain from the start, and schooled by all the practiced arts of fraud to do the meanest things which the tool of other men’s malice needs to do, while he gratifies his own, these were the leaders in a plot of which bribery was an acknowledged element, and which combined and wove into its web of intrigue the basest passions, and the most unhallowed and even conflicting interests.
And yet it is probable that all those arts by which they poisoned the minds of the council, and all the false testimony which they heaped together in order to convict Huss, would have proved vain, but for that which was in reality, after all, the chief crime that rested upon his head. He would not admit the infallibility of the council. He had too much good sense, not to say piety, to allow the word of any man, or any body of men, to silence or overthrow the clear authority of the word of God. He had appealed from the pope to Christ, the supreme Judge, in vain, if any council was to sit in judgment on Christ himself, wrest his words from their true meaning, or replace them by human decisions from any source. He demanded, and again and again did he repeat the demand, that he should be set right and instructed by the authority of the Sacred Scriptures. To these alone, and not to the dicta of any body of men, was he willing to submit. Here was the root of the difficulty. Huss was a Protestant before the name was known. He protested against superseding the plain word of Christ by any inventions or decisions of fallible men. This constituted his crime. To this position he remained steadfast to the last. Sigismund, like a second Nebuchadnezzar, required that Huss should bow down and worship the great image of synodical infallibility which he had set up in place of the pope. The council itself repeated the demand. Obedience and submission were the only terms on which his life would be spared. These conditions Huss rejected with disdain; and his doom was sealed. He went to the stake with a clear conscience, forcing the very flames which his enemies had kindled, to emblazon before the world in fiery letters his reverence for the word of God. Had his life been spared, we can readily believe that new light would have dawned upon him, and that Luther would have been preceded in his career by a man who combined some of the noblest qualities of the martyr spirit with a firmness and decision fully equal to his own.
The character of Huss is one that the most virulent calumny has scarce dared to touch. The purity of his life, the simplicity of his manners, his love of truth, his deep conscientiousness, his aversion to all assumption or display, his strong sympathy for the poor and ignorant, his chivalrous readiness to obey each prompting of duty, though it might carry him to the prison or the stake, are plainly legible in the whole story of his life. He has no false pride that forbids him to retract an error, or reject a truth. He only asks to be convinced, and he is willing to confess his mistake. We can see at times the impetuousness of his nature breaking out under the indignant sense of wrong or injustice. He utters his feelings in sharp and even burning words. Fearing not the face of man, he dares avow his doctrines before the world, and, if the occasion demands, can lash the vices of men in power with unsparing invective and reproof. And yet, so thoroughly is he master of himself, so perfectly has he schooled his passions to self-control, that rarely a word escapes his lips, or a step is taken, which he needs to recall. In all the prominent men of his age we look in vain for that combination of qualities by which he was eminently fitted for the task committed to his hand. He showed throughout his trial a presence of mind, and a power and quickness of apprehension, which are perfectly surprising, when we consider the hardships of his severe and protracted imprisonment—for the most part deprived of books—and the tumultuous scenes in the council, which at times made it more like a mob than a body of men assembled to deliberate and judge. In other reformers we can in almost every instance detect some weakness or excess that led them into blunders, and which we sadly regret. Luther might have been to defiant, Melanchthon too compliant. Jerome, the associate of Huss, was impetuous, perhaps to an extreme; but Huss himself pursued a course in which decision and moderation, his conscientiousness and docility, his loyalty to truth, and his respect for the rights and judgment of others, are happily blended. We could scarcely wish him to have been other than he was. Even without the crown of martyrdom, we should have been constrained to pronounce him brave and true, the possessor of a manly, noble nature.
I have not thought it necessary to sum up at length the character of Huss, for its leading features are quite distinctly brought out in the course of the narrative. Frank, genial, and confiding, he scorned all disguise of his views or feelings. His motives are transparent and avowed, and he is never ashamed to confess them. The man stands forth before us, delineated in his own words and deeds.
That he valued and desired the love of all good men is obvious, but he seems never to have been carried away by the mere love of applause. Severely, and perhaps at times morbidly conscientious, his moral character is above the reach of calumny. The malice of his enemies could not detect in it a flaw or stain. In his familiar letters, he censures himself for faults which most would have scarcely esteemed foibles. He reproaches himself for playing chess, and for an attention to dress which was unbecoming. But his gentleness and charity, his purity and integrity, are above question. They were eloquently attested, as we shall see hereafter, by the document in which the university vindicated his memory from the charges of the council.
In his controversies he never descends to personal abuse. He expresses, in strong language, his disapproval of the course of some of his party in the use of reproachful epithets. Yet it is evident that he lacked neither the occasion nor ability, had he been so disposed, to cover his opponents with ridicule, and convert his success into a personal triumph. But this his loyalty to truth as well as the kindliness of his nature forbade.
His social affections were warm and tender. His letters in exile and from prison unfold his heart to us. We have, indeed, in Huss a man whose faculties were admirably balanced—true and devoted as a friend, powerful yet courteous as an antagonist, eloquent in the pulpit, faithful as a witness to the truth before the council, a hero in the prison, and a martyr at the stake.
Jacobel, Gerson, and Voladimir
During the period which intervened between the first appearance of Huss before the council and his final sentence, there were other subjects of discussion, of grave importance, which claimed the attention of the members of that body. The Bishop of Litomischel, as we have already seen, entered his complaint against the innovation introduced by Jacobel at Prague. The matter had been given in charge to the theologians of the council, who were directed to examine and report. The result of their labors was a small treatise, in reproof of the innovation. This treatise was submitted to the council, and furnished the grounds upon which their subsequent decree (June 15th, 1415) was based. It pronounces the authority and long practice of the church a sufficient warrant for the withholding of the cup, and declares heretical any who should maintain the contrary opinion; and such persons, as heretical, are to be proceeded against, wherever they may be found, by the diocesans, their vicars, or the inquisitors of heretical pravity, even to the infliction upon them of severe penalties.
The conclusions of the doctors and the penal decree of the council were not calculated to set the question at rest. As to the first, by their admissions they stultified themselves. As to the latter, Jacobel was not a man to be intimidated by its terrors. The doctors had admitted—as they could not well deny—that as the sacrament was instituted by Christ, and observed by the early church, the communion of the cup had been allowed. Their argument for withholding it from the laity was based upon the practice and authority of the church. A custom long observed, had, they remarked, the force of law, and the church had the right to make or adopt such changes in the sacraments as she deemed fitting. On these grounds, which would allow age to sanctify error, and permit the institutions of Christ to be mutilated or abrogated by human caprice, they justified the practice of the church in the withholding of the cup.
But the plea in its favor, drawn from custom and precedent, was by no means a strong one. Scarce two centuries had passed since the cup had been first withheld. In England the practice seems first to have prevailed, and yet, from the writings of Anselm we infer that he knew nothing of it. The celebrated Thomas Aquinas is the first of any eminence who taught that the communion of both kinds was unnecessary, inasmuch as the body and blood of our Lord are found in each. Bonaventura goes further, and advises the withholding of the cup from the laity. These two men, whose names supplied the place of authority with the Dominicans and Franciscans respectively, first gave an impulse to the innovation. The mendicant monks, swarming all over Europe, carried the practice with them. By degrees the communion of the cup fell into disuse. In order that laymen might communicate in both kinds, a dispensation was at length required by the popes. This gainful prerogative, once secured, was not likely to be given up. It was a new jewel in the tiara of papal prerogative. The first ecclesiastical statute discoverable on the subject, dates from the year 1261. It was enacted at a general chapter of the Cistercian order, and is grounded on the pretence that evils arise from making the communion of the cup general. In the middle of the fourteenth century, yet less than fifty years before the birth of Huss, the denial of the cup to the laity had become common. But in Bohemia, on the confines of the Greek church, the innovation made slower progress. Matthias, who died at Prague in 1389, and who is said to have maintained the same doctrine on the subject with Jacobel, must have seen and conversed with those to whom the cup had been allowed. Many of the citizens of Prague, who had as yet scarce passed middle life, must have remembered how Charles IV, and Bianca his wife, at their coronation in 1347, had been allowed to partake of the communion in both kinds. In Bohemia, therefore, at least, the arguments of the council, futile and inane as they were in themselves, would lose all their force. So far as the inhabitants of that kingdom were concerned, the communion of the cup had in its favor the practice of twelve centuries. One, or even two hundred years of innovation was a poor offset—even on the grounds upon which the council argued—against a precedent of such long and continuous standing. But Jacobel did not rest the weight of his arguments even upon this ground. He had already learned, like Huss, to go back to the original records of Christianity itself; and to the authority of these—sustained as it was by the unanimous voice of the Christian fathers—he was willing to leave the question. His controversy with Broda, already referred to, shows that he had informed himself in regard to the whole subject with care and diligence. He could scarcely have been taken by surprise at the announcement of the conclusions and the decree of the council. These were published on the fifteenth of June, and must leave been known at Prague before the death of Huss.
But at nearly the same time the report of the views which Huss entertained upon the subject must have been received. His words would carry especial weight with them, as the dying testimony of one whom tens of thousands revered and loved. In his case, it was to be presumed, there was no blinding motive of self-interest to lead him to a wrong conclusion. In the circumstances of the case, his authority would, with the mass of the citizens of Prague, more than counterbalance that of the council. The latter had exposed itself to contempt, not only by its treatment of Huss, which excited the deepest indignation, but by its notorious intrigues and corruptions, unblushingly proclaimed by members of its own body. Huss, on the other hand, had been almost canonized in the affections of his countrymen, by the injustice which the council had inflicted upon him. Contrary to their design, they had crowned their victim with a dignity and power with which their own could not compete. The preacher was to be elevated into the confessor, the hero into the martyr. Powerful as the words of Huss might be from his pulpit in Bethlehem chapel, they were more eloquent as traced by his manacled hand in the cell of his Gottlieben prison. The decree of the council stood little chance of securing favor or recognition when the views of Huss were once known.
Jacobel was encouraged and strengthened by the approval of his countryman at Constance. His own conviction had been deliberately formed, and, confident of the rectitude of his course, he did not quail before the storm. But although the decree of the council doomed him as a heretic to inquisitorial vengeance, it failed to frighten him from the stand which he had made. He took it up, along with the conclusions on which it had been based, and hurled it back in the face of the council, riddled through and through by the arrows of scripture logic. He brought the array of the Christian fathers in unbroken phalanx against an innovation of less than three hundred years’ standing at the utmost. Nor did he fail to improve so fair an occasion of speaking some plain truths upon kindred topics.
The argument of Jacobel displays throughout an uncompromising love of truth, a thorough detestation of all hypocrisy and injustice, a devoted fidelity to the authority of scripture, as well as a most vigorous intellect and a glowing eloquence. As he takes up the conclusions of the doctors, adopting the first, and exposing the more fully thereby the fallacy and absurdity of the last, and then proceeds to attack the decree of the council, which, in its cruel severity, bore its condemnation on its face, all his powers and feelings are aroused, and his argument grows fierce and terrible as it clothes itself in the mantle of injured and insulted truth. His irony, contempt, sarcasm, and grave reproof, not unmingled with a sadder tone that breathes a dirge, like music over the bleeding wounds of persecuted truth, carry us along on the tide of argument, and we feel that resistance is vain. The man’s words come from the deepest fountains of feeling and conviction. His heart is a volcano, pouring forth a lava tide of fiery logic that scathes and burns all it touches. He does not fight as one that beateth the air. He feels that he is dealing with real antagonists.
Each paragraph is sharp and pointed as a dagger. Every sentence stings. “If we are Christ’s priests,” he says, “I know not whom we should follow rather than Christ himself.” “If Christ is the foundation—as we have heard from their own month in regard to this doctrine—not only the doctors of the council of Constance, but the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” “Whoever loves the truth, let him dismiss these doctors, even though there were a legion of them, and hear him who is the Truth—Christ, that great Prophet, the well-beloved of the Father.” “Into such senselessness do they fall, who, when anything obscure prevents them from discerning the truth, have recourse, not to the words of the prophets, the writings of the apostles, or the authority of the gospel—and so become masters of error because they never were disciples of the truth.”
Jacobel takes occasion to show how the disciples of Christ, who truly followed in his steps, have been persecuted and charged with heresy. Abel was killed, Joseph sold as a slave, Isaiah sawn in sunder, Christ, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, crucified. Paul, after the manner that men called heresy, worshipped the God of his fathers. “Such men the council takes on false testimony, convicts and condemns them of heresy, and then delivers them over to the secular arm to be punished. O Jesus Christ, the author of this truth! do they not, as far as in them is, make thee an heresiarch? They give up thee and thy holy primitive church to the secular arm, and still wish to be called guiltless of murder, and charitable! As of old the Pharisees and the priests, so holy that they would not enter the prætorium, or the house of a Gentile, gave up the Innocent One to be crucified, while they said ‘It is not lawful for us to put any one to death,’ so now is their example copied by those, who first defame, then cite to trial, excommunicate and hastily arrest, and degrade, cursing body and soul as far as in them lies, and handing their victims over to the secular court. And as the Jews then said, ‘If thou lettest this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend,’ so now these men say, ‘Powerful master, this man is under your jurisdiction; the church has no more to do with him, and so he must be restrained by the civil power.’ … O King of kings and Lord of lords, tribulations are on every side, thou Eternal Father! For if, according to thine own command, I am to hear thy well-beloved Son, and listen to the gospel, as that well-beloved Son himself gave commandment, and so live after the example of the primitive church, I shall be excommunicated, accounted a heretic, condemned, burned, or in some other way put to death by this Roman church, which savors not the nature or practice of the primitive one. But if I do not obey the gospel, eternal death and everlasting fire will be my portion when our Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven with his angels, to take vengeance upon those that know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. “What choice then shall I make? But I know that if I should please men, I should be no more the servant of Jesus Christ. … Fear not those, therefore, who can only kill the body. Not a hair of your head shall perish without our Father; in patience possess ye your souls.
“Since, then, all power is given to Christ, in heaven and on earth, who would dare to bring him into subjection to his own rules, shaping His gospel law according to his own caprice—who, but the son of perdition, who is exalted above all that is called God?”
Jacobel does not spare the persecuting doctrines of the council embodied in their decree. “Ye know not what spirit ye are of. Christ came, not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. Mahomet taught his followers to persecute and kill; Christ did not. … By their fruits ye shall know them, yea, those who invoke the secular arm against such as practice gospel truth. … Antichrist, as Thomas says, forces, by threats and torture, those whom he cannot otherwise subdue.” Jacobel seems to see fulfilled before his eyes the prophecies in regard to the last days. He quotes the language employed in previous centuries by those whom the church still honored, and shows how severely it bore against those who chose to obey, and force others to obey, men rather than God. Their final doom he holds up as a fearful warning.
The whole treatise is written in a bold, manly, and uncompromising spirit. It was the gauntlet of defiance thrown down at the feet of the council. From first to last, it breathes not a note of fear or submission. While perfectly decorous in language, it tears away the last thread of apology with which the council would veil its tyranny and iniquity. The occasion upon which it was written lent it a new force. The whole Bohemian nation were indignant at the outrage offered to their countryman. Jacobel’s words gave expression to the convictions of thousands. They sank deep into the hearts of the people, and animated them to a nobly resistance of ecclesiastical tyranny.
The council, meanwhile, did not neglect the subject of the schism of the church. By deposition they had disposed of John XXIII, but Gregory and Benedict still maintained their rival claims to the pontificate. The former, however, worn out with years and care, was unequal to the task of long defying the authority of tile council. At the opportune moment he had intimated his willingness, on certain conditions, to resign his office, and thus remove another obstacle to the union of the church. Negotiations upon the subject had been commenced, and the matter was so far matured that in the fourteenth session, two days before the death of Huss, the act of abdication was solemnly executed. Charles Malatesta, Lord of Rimini, was authorized by Gregory to act as plenipotentiary in his behalf. The two conditions of abdication which his master insisted upon were that the council should consent to be convoked anew by him so that he might regard it as legitimate, and that a cardinal of his obedience should preside over the council. The first of these conditions was admitted without much difficulty, the council readily perceiving that although its previous sessions would thus bear the imputation of being unauthorized, even Gregory himself would admit the justice of the process by which his rival, John XXIII, had been deposed. The other condition the council refused to grant, but compromised the matter by directing the emperor to preside while the abdication of Gregory took place.
The council forbade any steps to be taken for a new election without its permission. There might have been reason for apprehension lest the united cardinals, weary of the council’s delay, might assume their prerogative, and give the church a new head from among their own number. The usages, rights, and privileges, allowed in previous elections, were therefore suspended. The council reserved to itself the authority of regulating the time, place, and form of this election.
It was, moreover, decreed that the council should not be dissolved until such an election had taken place, and the emperor was invoked to maintain and defend its rights. To this request Sigismund acceded. He published an edict, threatening severe penalties against any who should conspire or attempt anything to the prejudice of the liberty of the assembly.
Upon his abdication Gregory was allowed by the grateful council to retain the dignity of cardinal, and to hold the highest rank in the college of which he was a member. His six cardinals were confirmed in their offices, and the two obediences were united.
The council terminated its fourteenth session by the reading of a decrees summoning Benedict XIII, the last recusant pope, to keep his promise, and abdicate the pontificate within ten days, under pain of being proceeded against as schismatic, incorrigible, devoid of faith, and perjured. In case of contumacy, the emperor was authorized to act in the matter according to his discretion.
Another subject, which in the minds of some of the members of the council was of scarcely less importance than the unity of the church, had already been brought to the notice of the council. This was the affair of John Petit. We have heretofore noticed the part which he took on the questions that arose out of the murder of the Duke of Orleans by the Duke of Burgundy. The last—bold, perfidious, and desperate in his daring—had awed the court of France by the terror and power of his name. He boldly avowed the wicked deed by which he removed an odious rival, and demanded and received from the weak king of France, the brother of the murdered man, the pardon of his crime. But no sooner did he return to his hereditary states than the scale turned against him. His deed ceased to be regarded in the light of a patriotic act, and his enemies represented it as being what it really was—a heinous, inexcusable, and deliberate murder. The Duke of Burgundy needed the aid of logical casuistry to justify what he had done in the eyes of those who did not fear the glitter of his sword. He found it in the person of John Petit, a member of the university, who, grateful for the patronage of the duke, by whom he had been educated and supported, offered his benefactor the aid of an unscrupulous conscience, a strong intellect, and the ability of a thorough master of scholastic arts.
This Franciscan friar was just the man for the occasion. A blind and violent logician, scrupling not to reason against reason, and justify murder by scripture and all the principles that should condemn it, he entered upon his task. Prompt where all others hesitated, taking by storm what others would patiently besiege, almost raving in his furious advocacy or invective, yet always master of himself, and calculating with cool reason the effect of his very paradox, he was the person to carry along with him, by the logical energy of his nature, the mass of minds whose weakness or timidity demanded a leader. He preached before the university a discourse as remarkable almost for its scholastic logic as for its daring doctrine. In this curious but masterly production he hews his way to his conclusion with a direct and straightforward energy, leaving each granite step by which he mounts, visible and defiant to every eye. His enemies must have admired the art and boldness of the man they denounced, and few there were who could safely venture to encounter such a disputant.
But the thing must be done, and upon Gerson, as the ablest man in France, the task was devolved. Nor did he shrink from it. Although, like Petit, he was a debtor to the charities of the house of Burgundy, his mind and heart were both arrayed on the aide of justice. He hated the logic that defended the crime, as he detected and boldly denounced the deed itself. With a chivalrous devotion to his cause, Gerson threw himself into the midst of the discussion. For a long time he struggled in vain. The Duke of Burgundy carried the university with him, and triumphed temporarily in the person of Petit. But his violence made him odious. The relations of parties were in a state of constant change. At last, in 1412, Gerson secured from the university the condemnation of seven articles from Petit’s writings, in which he had maintained that a subject may justly put a tyrant to death on his own responsibility, and even deserves to be recompensed therefore. The king of France, in consequence of these proceedings, directed the Bishop of Paris and the Inquisitor of the Faith to join to themselves such a number of the doctors of the university as they should see fit, and give judgment upon the disputed propositions. Thus originated the celebrated assembly called the Council of the Faith. By this body thirty-seven propositions, drawn from the writings of Petit, who had meanwhile deceased, were condemned to be publicly burned. The sentence was duly executed, and was inscribed, by the king’s order, in the register of each parliament of the kingdom.
The Duke of Burgundy felt that this blow was aimed at him. In stamping the argument of his apologist with infamy, the council had left him without an apology fur his crime, and he stood charged before the world with the murder of his relative. He appealed to the Apostolic See. John XXIII was not indisposed to listen favorably to the cause of a powerful ruler who hated his rival, Benedict XIII, with a venomous malice equal to his own. Three cardinals, appointed to examine into the affair, reported in favor of the Duke of Burgundy. They quashed the sentence of the Bishop of Paris. The question was thus brought to the notice of the world, and the issue joined in the face of Christendom. It remained for each party to present his cause at the council of Constance, and strive to secure its judgment in his favor.
The Duke of Burgundy had now, however, the manifest advantage. He merely needed to have the council reject the appeal of the opposite party. Silence—a passing over of the whole subject—was all that he demanded. Each party nerved itself for the struggle, and each was strongly supported in the council. Among the representatives of the Duke of Burgundy were Peter Cauchon, who afterward sat in judgment on the celebrated Joan of Arc, and Martin Porree, bishop of Arras, who had purchased his miter by the advocacy of the doctrines of Petit. Among the bishops and doctors of the other party, representing Charles VI, the king of France, stood forth illustrious above all others John Gerson, a host in himself. Scarcely had he reached Constance before he took measures to bring the question that had agitated France before the council. He wished to have it committed to those members who were known as the commission of the faith, and the reformatory college. It was the business of this body to examine into all causes concerning faith, doctrine, and reformation. They were, after investigation, to pronounce judgment, subject to the definitive sentence of the council. To this step Martin Porree, as well as the other representatives of the Duke of Burgundy, objected. They sought to keep the cause of their patron entirely disconnected with questions that concerned the faith. “It was nothing more,” they said, “than a simple question of morality, and religion had no connection with it.” But the council on this point did not at first agree with them.
Foiled here, the Bishop of Arras, who showed himself an adroit tactician and an able advocate, studied the composition of the commission to whom the question was to be submitted. He found upon it, perhaps in part secured the appointment to it, of the three cardinals of John XXIII, who had already reported in favor of the Duke of Burgundy. But along with these, also, was found D’Ailly, cardinal of Cambray, whose views upon the question of Petit’s doctrines varied little, if any, from those of Gerson himself. From such a man, bold, able, and influential, a leading mind among any with whom he might come in contact, the Bishop of Arras had everything to fear. He resolved, if possible, that he should not be suffered to sit and act as judge. He entered before the council a solemn protest against his serving on the commission, at least in the cause at issue between the Duke of Burgundy and the king of France.
By this time Gerson must have begun to grow somewhat anxious as to the result. He found himself circumvented by management and intrigue. Although he had secured one object—to have the doctrines of Petit regarded as matters pertaining to the jurisdiction of the commission on faith—yet the commission itself was so composed that his confidence must have been not a little shaken in the result at which they would arrive.
Other events occurred that might well have increased the despondency of Gerson. The weak and vacillating monarch of France withdrew from him the authority previously granted, to act in his name in bringing the affair of Petit before the council. Gerson could hence act in his own name only, as a private member of the body. The Duke of Burgundy had agreed to adopt the same policy with the French monarch, and direct the Bishop of Arras and his colleague to proceed no longer on the authority of his name. But he did not keep his promise. It was not to have been expected that he would do so against his own interest. Guilty already of perfidy and murder, this violation of his word was but another grain thrown into the scale of his enormous crimes. Gerson had therefore to act in his own name against the avowed representatives of one of the most powerful princes of his time. Nor was the duke himself idle. Deeply anxious to secure from the council the silence that would be for him virtually a verdict of acquittal, he had approached near the confines of the city where the council was assembled. This confidence of security made his power more terrible. His pretense was, he wished to hear by night the bulling of the stags. But with his tent pitched in the great forest of Argilly, we can see the proof of the eager and anxious feelings with which he watched the proceedings of the council. The earliest intelligence was conveyed to him. We seem to see the princely criminal walking amid the twilight glooms of the deep woods, visited by the specters of ancient crime, and hourly haunted by memories that drove him almost to desperation, in his efforts to circumvent the great chancellor. Nor did he labor in vain. The terror of his name was felt. The power of his intrigues and the skill of his agents were producing their impression. His lavished gold was an argument which Gerson could not refute.
Meanwhile new obstacles rose into view with more threatening front. England and France were on the brink of a war, in a few months to be made forever memorable, to the dishonor of France, by the terrible battle of Agincourt. On the sixteenth of April, 1415, Henry of England had announced to parliament his intention of making a descent upon France. On the twenty-ninth, he ordered all his barons to hold themselves in readiness. The English church shared in the feeling of the English nation, which demanded war. Henry’s claim to the crown of France found then to justify it who wore the robes of the ecclesiastical order. The Archbishop of Canterbury was directed to summon his vassals. In such circumstances it wasobvious that the two enemies of France, the English monarch and the Duke of Burgundy, would be inclined to yield each other a mutual support. The last derived a new accession of strength from the virtual alliance of the former.
Intelligence of these things would reach Constance while the commission on the faith was holding its sessions, and discussing this very question. Its influence could not fail to be felt, not only on the English members of the body, but upon others inclined to the prudent measure of not offending a powerful ruler. Still, with all these things against him, Gerson did not despair. Undoubtedly he had hoped to humble the powerful duke. He had meant that in his person the council should manifest its power to rebuke sin even in high places, and make the criminal tremble. But in this hope he was doomed to disappointment. The council refused to implicate, in the matter brought before them, the powerful Duke of Burgundy, or any of his partisans. It did not even venture to pronounce the name of his apologist, John Petit. In the most general terms it condemned the principal proposition of the apology as erroneous in faith and subversive of civil order. This proposition was expressed in such a way, that the condemnation could scarcely have found an opponent. It was as follows: “That any tyrant may lawfully and ought meritoriously to be put to death, by any subject or vassal, whether by ambush, lure, or treachery, notwithstanding any oath or treaty, and without waiting for the sentence or authority of any judge.” Such a principle one would scarce suppose admitted even of debate. In later years it became, however, a dangerous weapon in the very city where it was first forged by the bold scholastic skill of Petit. Its import has become forever memorable in connection with the dagger of Ravaillac, and the murder of the heroic Henry IV. Its condemnation was secured in the council in great measure by the urgency of the emperor, who denounced it in no measured terms. This condemnation, general as it was, cost Gerson the most strenuous efforts.
D’Ailly, who in this matter had been rejected as a judge, appeared by his side. These two men exhausted the stores of their eloquence in describing the necessary results of such a dangerous principle. They took up the several arguments urged by the advocates of the Duke of Burgundy, for leaving the matter at least in doubt, and not regarding it as a question of the faith, and demolished them one after another with a merciless logic. D’Ailly did not hesitate to declare that the doctrine of Petit merited condemnation infinitely more than the proposition of Wickliffe, which asserts that if princes fall into error, their subjects may reprehend and correct them.
The condemnation of Petit’s doctrine was pronounced while Huss was on his way to the scene of his martyrdom. To Gerson, the moment must have one of the deepest anxiety. The council had just sent Huss to the stake, and now, in a condemnation so general as to leave the real offenders unmolested, denounced a principle which would overthrow all the foundations of social and civil order. Something had been obtained, but far from what he had hoped. Was it all that he could expect? Gloomy thoughts must have filled his mind, as he reverted from the victim who had just been sentenced to the flames, to the character of those judges who had been tampered with by the agents and the bribes of the Duke of Burgundy. We may well believe that at such a moment bitter words may have escaped his lips; that in the soreness of disappointment, he gave utterance to statements which his convictions declared true, but which others might account rash. Did he begin to doubt whether after all it might not have been that in the case of Huss the council had committed a judicial murder? Did the image of the holy man, on bended knee before the assembled council, appealing to the sentence of the great Judge, haunt him with the presentiment that he too must answer at another bar to the charge of injured, of murdered innocence? We cannot tell. We only know that he boldly avowed that if Huss had been properly defended, he would never have been sentenced to the stake. We know that his deliberate opinion of the council, years afterward, was such that he could speak of it with a severity equal to that of Huss’ prison letters, and declare, “I would rather have Jews and pagans for judges in matters of faith, than the deputies of the council.”
It is but a little while after Huss has been burned as a heretic, that Gerson himself, one of his judges, is arraigned on charges, some of which were not altogether dissimilar. His enemies were resolved to bleak down his influence in the council, and no effort was spared to make him odious. It is true he triumphed in the conflict. His position, standing, and acknowledged abilities, carried him safe through the ordeal, but had his circumstances been only like those of Huss, who could have foreseen the result?
Another affair in which Gerson took a deep interest was that of the complaint of the king of Poland against the Teutonic knights. This order had arisen during the crusades, at the siege of Acre. Some German merchants from Bremen and Lubeck had witnessed the sufferings of the Christian army, and, under the promptings of humanity and charity, had formed themselves into an organization to afford relief. They applied to the pope for the charter of all order, whose rule was to be similar in many respects to that of the Templars. The original object of the association was to defend the Christian religion against infidels, and to take care of the sick in the Holy Land. Driven out from Palestine, the order was first removed to Venice, and afterward was called in by the Poles to aid them against their infidel neighbors, the Prussians. They accepted the invitation, and with the arguments of sword and battle, at last succeeded, in the space of fifty-three years, in accomplishing the task.
Meanwhile the order increased in strength and numbers, and enlarged its territories in such a manner as to become a formidable power. At the commencement of the fifteenth century they had reached the highest point of their prosperity. Grown insolent with success, and utterly regardless of the object of their institution, they were ready at the first opportunity to arm against the king of Poland. If we are to believe the statements of the latter, presented in a letter to the Emperor Robert, in which he implores his aid, they dealt out an indiscriminate and impartial vengeance alike to Christian and infidel. Mutual recriminations were followed by frequent and bloody battles. The knights extended their ravages beyond the regions to which they could fairly lay claim, attacking the allies of Poland, already Christianized, without sparing the territory of those whom they should have regarded as their benefactors, the Polish nation itself. The knights were defeated in numerous battles, but soon contrived to recover from the loss. They complained that the king of Poland was become indifferent to the conversion of infidels, as was indeed the case if his zeal was to he measured by their violence and ambition. His humanity is attested by the tears he shed when battle was successively forced upon him. At last he had recourse to the council of Constance. His ambassadors were charged to bring the matter to its notice. It was committed for investigation to Cardinal Zabarella, assisted by two deputies from each of the nations composing the council. It was on the eleventh of May that the commission was appointed.
The question brought before them was, “Is it right, under the pretext of propagating religion, to invade foreign territory and wage war upon it?” It was a question in regard to which humanity and justice demanded to be heard. The old doctrine of the church had been, not merely in theory, but in practice, that as all the kingdoms of the world belonged to Christ, an infidel king had no right to reign, and might justly be deposed. The bloody record of the Albigenses had attested the faithful application of this principle, when Simon de Montfort had signalized his infamy by the slaughter of thousands, and turned the fertile fields of Southern France into an uninhabited desert. The career of the Teutonic knights could be justified on the strength of this principle alone. Strictly considered, it was the principle of the religious bigot everywhere. It built up the inquisition, and invented its tortures. It triumphed in the crusades, and was vindicated in the execution of Huss. But men of that day did not see it in the whole extent of its application. Gerson could allow Huss to be sent to the flames, but was nobly inconsistent with himself when the same principle was to be applied on a more extended scale. His sympathies were strongly enlisted on the side of the Polish king, and his ambassador, Paul Voladimir. The latter, on the day previous to the burning of Huss (July 5), presented to the German nation, by them to be considered and communicated to the other nations, a treatise, entitled “A Demonstration,” in which he undertook to prove against the Teutonic knights, “that Christians are not permitted to employ violent means for the conversion of infidels, nor under this pretext to plunder them of their goods.” After stating the excesses and ferocious cruelties of the order which—invoked by Poland as a shield—had become a lash, and giving a brief history of the peaceful progress of Christianity among those who were now molested by them, he proceeds to show, in fifty-two consecutive propositions, that such conduct, and the doctrine by which it is sustained, are equally opposed to natural equity and the law of God. Some of his positions would scarcely be allowed at the present day, but others are characterized by sound sense and true humanity. Infidels, he maintains, if not of the fold of the church, are yet of the fold of Christ; as he said, “I have other sheep not of this fold.” From this he infers that Christ’s successor should protect them and defend them in their right, while they live as good citizens, instead of maltreating them, or suffering them to be maltreated. Even he, though he may send preachers among them whom he may sustain, must not constrain them by force to embrace the gospel. They must be left to the freedom of their own will, inasmuch as conversion is God’s work, and faith is not to be forced by blows. He condemns the cruelty which had been too common in Europe in the treatment of the Jews and other unbelievers, contending that Christian princes ought not to plunder them, or expel them from their lands. He enforces the teachings of natural reason in regard to the rights of individual, by the command of the proverb not to trespass on a neighbor’s landmarks. Infidels possess their authority as rulers from God, and by no guilt of their own. Voladimir, while he inconsistently excepts heretics from the privileges allowed to infidels, declares that they are not to be dealt harshly with, untried and uncondemned. He maintains that even letters of the Roman pontiff, conferring privileges upon any man or order, are to be interpreted in accordance with law and the rights of individuals—a doctrine that would have spared the world the sight of many a horror, now to be charged to the claims of papal infallibility. He condemns the principle of doing evil that good may come. We are not to injure our neighbor, and thus transgress the commandment in order to convert him. The decision of the council of Toledo is referred to, as condemning the use of violent and hard methods, and recommending only the arts of persuasion and gentle means. Voladimir goes even beyond the spirit, not of his own, but, we may even say, of the present age, in maintaining that the individual soldier must be convinced of the justice of the cause in which he is engaged. If a subject, and the matter is in doubt, it may be possible that his sovereign’s command may be paramount. But no fear of temporal losses should induce him to take part in a war which he knows to be unjustly waged. In these views, the Polish ambassador unconsciously passes the limit of that servile rule which proscribes the right of private judgment. He is unconsciously arguing against the infallible authority, whether of pope or council. It shows moreover, the liberal spirit by which he was animated, that he dares to throw off the bigoted scruples of the age, and assert that a Christian prince might, in case of danger, justly seek the alliance of an infidel. He closes his treatise by picturing the horrid results that would follow the adoption of the principle of his adversaries. If all unbelievers were ipso facto disqualified from ruling; if they might be assaulted with force of arms to bring them to the adoption of the Christian faith, the door is opened to all manner of violence. The command, “Thou shalt not kill,” stands in the way, and forbids all these forms of cruelty and injustice.
Erroneous as some of the positions of Voladimir were, the humane and sensible character of others shows the ability and Christian feeling of the man. As rector of the University of Cracow, and representative of the king of Poland, he honored the office and position which he occupied in the council. In many respects he and Gerson found themselves drawn together by strong sympathies. And as if the more to unite them in feeling, they had much the same experience of the character of the council. It was for a long time in vain that Voladimir sought to obtain from the council some judgment in favor of his proposition. But he too had his Duke of Burgundy. The Teutonic order was powerful, and not lightly to be offended. Sigismund, earnest as he was for peace, was unwilling to do anything which should tend to alienate their sympathies from the great cause he had at heart—the union of Christendom against the Turk. And might not some of the principles of Voladimir’s demonstration rise up to protest even against his cherished project? In vain did Gerson lend all the weight of his influence to enforce the representations of his Polish brother. Weightier motives than those of simple justice, he must once more have felt, in the bitterness of his soul, controlled the action of the council.
But Voladimir had not only his Duke of Burgundy in the Teutonic order, but the order itself had its John Petit in the person of a Dominican monk, John Von Falkenberg. The latter became, at the instance of the order, their apologist against the king and kingdom of Poland, and he showed himself not unworthy in some respects of his Parisian prototype. The apology itself, as a whole, has perished, but fragments of it have been preserved, enough to show the venomous spirit that pervades it. It is directed to all kings, princes, prelates, and to Christendom generally, and the author promises eternal life to all that will league together to exterminate the Poles and Jagellon their king. He was accused of maintaining that the king was an idol, and his subjects idolaters; that both should be hated, as they deserved to be; that they were heretics and shameless dogs, turning back to their vomit by falling into heathenism; that to kill the Poles and their king is more meritorious than to slay pagans; that secular princes who shall do it at the risk of earthly dignity will merit eternal glory, while those who tolerate them or aid them will be damned; and that all Poland, with Jagellon its king, is to he accounted criminal as committed to schism and heresy. This treatise, which the emperor met with in Paris a few months after the subject had been brought before the council, was subsequently condemned to be burned, as erroneous in faith and morals, seditious, cruel, scandalous, injurious, impious, offensive to pious ears, and heretical. But no sentence was passed upon it in public session. The order exerted their influence with Martin V, just then elected pope (1418), and he dared not offend so powerful a body. In vain did the French and Polish deputations, who felt that their cause was one and the same, urge the matter.
Neither Falkenberg’s book, nor Petit’s apology, odious as they both were, could be brought to share the fate to which the works of Huss had been doomed. Falkenberg himself was imprisoned, but to leave the matter there seemed to Gerson a mockery of all justice. His deliberate view of the matter, as he saw it in retrospect, is expressed in his works.
The course of the council, so he remarks, “gives the Bohemians just occasion to accuse it of a most criminal partiality, in treating with indifference a matter so vital to Christian morals and civil society, while other heresies less fatal are dealt with so harshly. It opens the gate to robbery, perjury, massacre, and assassination. It takes from bishops the power of repressing heretics, or correcting those who err within their diocese; for if they see that the council had no such authority, they will not dare to undertake its exercise. Secular princes will find themselves under the necessity of using temporal weapons against such as teach pestilent doctrine in their states. Thus the authority of the council is made cheap; its deeds are null and void; it becomes a laughingstock for infidels, schismatics, especially for Peter de Luna (Benedict XIII) and his adherents, who will not fail to exult at the result of a measure so exciting in expectations, so futile in its issue.”
It is more than possible that motives of a more personal and worldly nature than Gerson was aware of, found a place in his heart. His zeal was quickened, perhaps, by a sense of what he considered indignities offered to himself. He had boldly stemmed the tide of popular opinion, when the power of the Duke of Burgundy was at its height in Paris. His name had been mingled with the curses of the populace. His house had been sacked, and his life endangered by a lawless mob. He doubtless felt himself to have been a persecuted man. Nor had his treatment in the council been such as he might deem justly due to his position and his ability. He found, to his sorrow and disappointment, that human nature was much the same at Constance and at the French capital. The scenes of the council were such, that to take a part in them must at times have wounded his own self-respect. They were anything but models of decorum and order. Shouting, stamping, recrimination, and almost every form of confusion, were not infrequent. In Von Falkenberg, he found another John Petit, and the cause each defended was much the same. Nay, the former had even volunteered, incited, doubtless, by the bribes of the Duke of Burgundy, and to secure his alliance, to become the avowed champion of Petit. In this character he assaulted D’Ailly and Gerson in no measured terms. His pamphlets teem with insults, full of abuse and contemptuous insolence. He speaks of Gerson as so unversed in logic that he should be sent to school to learn its rules. Not the glory of the University of Paris, but the disgrace of its ignorance, is manifest in the stupidity of its chancellor. No wonder, he says, if such a man as he, unacquainted with the rudiments of logic, occupied that post, the Bishop of Paris, with the doctors of his council of faith, should have blundered into the error of condemning the propositions of Petit.
It is not strange that Gerson’s zeal was inflamed by some sense of the personal outrage to which he was subjected. The consciousness of his own integrity perhaps needed this new spur to rouse him to the most strenuous effort. And that effort was put forth. The great man, with his noble heart and gigantic intellect, toiled on, hoping against hope, and trusting with the fondness of affection to the action of a council that was forever humbling his idolatrous respect for it by showing itself but a prostrate Dagon. Efforts that would have crushed others in weeks, were by him continued without intermission for years. It was with feelings that none can envy, that he at last withdrew from a scene that, at once, had witnessed his glory and humiliation. The dreams of early years were dashed to the earth. His enemy, the Duke of Burgundy, was triumphant. The council, which he had at first idolized, dared not touch the powerful criminal. The University of Paris was no longer his home. The murderer of the Duke of Orleans ruled there still, and the broken-hearted exile found the only repose—the only real peace he was again to enjoy on earth—in the humble monastery of a distant city. There, at Lyons, we see that intellect, which found not its peer in the assembled representatives of the Christian world, engaged in the instruction of little children, and teaching them—in a humility which had been taught by adversity—as they should pass the spot where his ashes would soon rest, to “pray for poor John Gerson!”
The Council and the Bohemians Jerome Recants
The execution of Huss, as the intelligence of it went abroad, was variously received. To some it afforded occasion for exultation; in the minds of others it excited only grief and indignation. The enemies of the reformer gained nothing by it. The council had only aggravated its own infamy by the cruel deed. Sigismund had forever alienated from himself the sympathies of the Bohemians, by the complacency with which he had tolerated the violation of his safe-conduct. The instigators of the prosecution had covered their own memory with an odium which would follow them to their graves.
There were some, undoubtedly, who exulted in the fate of a man charged with heresy, one whose name had been so long coupled with that of Wickliffe, or who had been recognized by them only as a dangerous innovator. But there were not wanting those, even at Constance, who regarded the proceedings of the council, in the case of Huss, with indignation and abhorrence. The doctrines for which he was willing to die assumed a new importance. The persecuting bigotry of the council, in their method of dealing with him, the outrage committed, in his imprisonment, trial, and execution, upon all the forms of justice, combined, with the notorious corruption of the council itself, to tear from the eyes of men the veil of its false assumptions. Any public manifestations of the feelings which had thus been excited would have been hazardous in the extreme, and yet their expression could not be entirely suppressed. It would have been difficult to conceive anything more bitterly severe than the method which was taken to set forth the contempt which the council had invited upon itself. On the day after the execution of Huss, the following writing was found affixed to the doors of all the churches in the city. “The Holy Ghost, to the believers in Constance, greeting: Pay attention to your own business. As to us, being occupied elsewhere, we cannot remain any longer in the midst of you. Adieu.”
None would dare to avow the authorship, and few perhaps would approve the spirit of this pasquinade. Yet many were dissatisfied and disgusted with the proceedings of the council. It was not many months after the death of Huss, that an Augustinian monk, of Mayence, preached before it a sermon, the severe rebukes of which were terrible truths or atrocious libels. “It is related,” said he, “of Socrates, that he once laughed at seeing great robbers drag little ones to the gibbet; more reason would he have to laugh if he were here now at this council of Constance, where we see great rogues, that is, Simonists, suspend little ones.” In truth, one only needs to note the measures of the council in connection with the sermons preached before it, to be convinced that, so far as morality and religion were concerned, the whole business of the assembly was a pompous farce. But for the blood and crime accumulated upon the hands of the actors, the council would have seemed but a theatre, on which, before the eyes of Europe and to the scandal Christendom, was played out, in the name of religion, a grand “comedy of errors.” Scarce a sermon was preached, for months after the execution of Huss, which was not its virtual condemnation. The most frightful pictures of the prevalent immorality and corruption of the clergy were successively presented to view, and presented by men who were eye-witnesses of what they described, and looked the council in the face while they exhibited the memorials of its disgrace. A Carmelite doctor from Montpelier preached, a few weeks after the martyrdom of Huss, a discourse on the necessity of a reformation of the church. He demanded that most prompt and effectual measures should be adopted by the council to correct the prevalent abuses—”the insatiable avarice, the indomitable ambition, the gross ignorance, the shameful indolence, and execrable impurity”—of the ecclesiastics. Still, a few weeks later, another preacher before the council expatiates on the same theme. After depicting the wretched condition of the church, he traces it to its causes—”in the avarice and cupidity of the ecclesiastics, their haughtiness and pride.” “Who,” he asks, “are those that most oppose reform? Secular princes? No! far from it. They are the ecclesiastics, who tear the robe of Christ in pieces, and whom we may compare to famished wolves, who come into the fold in sheep’s clothing, and who, under the habits of religion, conceal hearts impious and heinous with enormity.”
Still later (October 25) the Bishop of Lodi, who had urged the council to severity against Huss at the session in which his sentence was pronounced, preached a funeral sermon on the death of Landolph Maramour, Cardinal de Bari. He says not a word of the dead, but takes for his subject of discourse the vices of the ecclesiastics, and the necessity of reform. The council might well blush at such reproof, if any sense of shame was left it. “Instead of being,” says the bishop, “an example to the people, it is they (the people) perhaps, that will need to teach us how to live. Do we not see in the laity more gravity, decorum, exemplariness in morals and conduct, more respect and devotion in church, than in the ecclesiastics themselves? Are we to be surprised that secular princes despoil, persecute, and scorn us, making of us a public mockery? This is a just judgment of God, who will not allow this persecution to cease until we remove its cause by a change in our lives.” He represents the clergy as so plunged into excess of luxury and brutal indulgence, that, in his opinion, Diogenes, seeking a man among them, would only find beasts and swine.
As if the subject was too large to be exhausted, we find an English preacher, the following week, proceeding in the same strain in a sermon before the council. With his English aversion to the mendicants, he empties out upon them the vials of his wrath, and then proceeds to administer his rebuke to the bishops and doctors, who neglect scripture, theology, and, morals, for the contentious and lucrative study of the canon law. He depicts the ignorant and sensual ecclesiastics, who leave their charges and churches, and go to the great cities to live in wantonness and splendor. He applies to them, on the part of the church, the language of scripture: “My husband is not at home; he has gone a long journey: he has taken with him a bag of silver, and will not return until the full moon.” “That is,” says the preacher, “until autumn, when he shall find the granaries and cellars full, and with his full purse may return to buy many rich benefices.”
It would lyre tedious even to sketch the successive discourses, which turned almost uniformly upon this theme. Nothing could have justified them, nothing could have secured them a hearing in the council, but the notorious and undeniable truth which they contained. The facts upon which they were based were too patent to be denied.
The deliberations of the council in its assemblies, moreover, were often characterized by a confusion approaching to mob violence. Repeatedly the attempt to read a statement or a protest would be clamored down. Crimination and recrimination were rife, and Gerson had reason for saying that he would sooner have Jews and pagans for his judge, than the deputies of the council. Thus all the language which Huss had used at Prague, in reference to the corruption of the church, was more than justified in the eyes of his countrymen. The council itself had exhibited the proof that the charges brought against it were true. It had refuted, beforehand, those who would have been its apologists. It had deposed the pontiff by whom Huss had been excommunicated. The mutual recriminations of its members had exceeded in severity the calmer and more moderate statements of Huss.
It was inevitable that, as the intelligence of the execution of their countryman reached the citizens of Prague, it should at once be coupled in their minds with the confessed character of a large portion of his judge. The known purity of Huss, the notorious corruption of the council, the constant appeal of one to the authority of scripture, the tyrannic demand of the other for a blind submission in which perjury was implied, presented contrasts too obvious to allow hesitation as to which party should receive their sympathies. The whole city was in commotion. Grief, indignation, and resentment pervaded the community. The exasperated multitude flocked, as by one common impulse, to the Bethlehem chapel. It was the place hallowed to them now by every memory of him whose words still seemed to echo along its walls. All classes alike felt the enthusiastic impulse to demand revenge. The dictates of prudence could scarce restrain them from an instantaneous rising. The torch of the executioner at Constance had set the nation on fire.
The ashes of Huss had been carefully gathered up and thrown into the Rhine. The council had rightly suspected that his disciples might seize upon them, if the occasion was offered, to bear them off as treasured relics. But the ingenuity of their malice went further. As a last insult to the memory of the martyr, a dead mule was buried on the spot where he was burned. ” It was,” says a Protestant author, “that the stench proceeding from the body might lead the people to imagine that it came from the heretic.”
But all this was of no avail. The earth itself, about the funeral pile—in place of the martyr’s ashes—was taken up, and carried into Bohemia. Huss was honored as the apostle and the martyr of the nation. The cruelty and faithlessness of the council were denounced in no measured term. Nor was it merely a blind and misjudging crowd that paid this homage. The barons and nobles of the kingdom met together, and, with hand on sword, swore to avenge what they regarded at once as an outrage upon innocence, and a national insult. The University of Prague sympathized strongly in the popular feeling. The presence at Constance of those members of it who were hostile to Huss, relieved it of the opposition which might, perhaps, have sought to silence its voice, or stay or modify its decision. Prague was no place for them now. Their participation in the measures that led to the fatal deed, would have concentrated upon them the national vengeance. The doctors of the university indignantly appealed, and with a unanimity that awed all dissent—even if there was any—to the whole of Europe, against the sentence of the council, and the reproaches that had been directed against themselves. “In the midst of our innumerable and poignant subjects of grief,” said they, “we consider it au imperious necessity to defend the insulted reputation of our university, hitherto always esteemed so pure, against the attacks of blasphemers. To all the other motives which induce us to adopt this course, is added the remembrance of the honor and the virtue of that man who is now lost to us forever. … We desire to do this, that the great renown of one of our own children, John of Hussinitz, surnamed Huss, should not fade away, but shine forth more and mere in the eyes of the universe. … We desire the more ardently that our words may be heard by all believers, because the of so great a man among us has produced so much good, before God and before man. … For his life glided on before our eyes, from his very infancy, and was so holy and pure, that no man could show him to be guilty of a single fault. O man, truly pious, truly humble! Thou who wast conspicuous with the luster of such great virtue; who wast accustomed to despise riches, and to succor the poor, even to experiencing want thyself; whose place was by the bedside of the unfortunate; who invitedst, by thy tears, the most hardened hearts to repentance, and soothedst rebellious spirits by the inexhaustible mildness of the word! Thine it was to root out from every heart, and particularly from that of a clergy, rich, covetous, and haughty, their manifold vices, by applying to them the ancient remedy of the scriptures, which appeared as new doctrines in thy mouth; thou, in fine, following in the footsteps of the apostles, restoredst the morals of the primitive church, in the clergy and the people! … Ah! beyond a doubt, nature had loaded this man with all her gifts, and the divine grace was so abundantly shed around him, that not only was he virtuous, but it may even be permitted to assert, that he was virtue itself! But why employ words when acts speak? A frightful death, inflicted by his enemies, and supported with such wonderful patience, proves that he placed his trust on a heavenly foundation. … It is, in fact, a divine thing—it is the effect of a courage inspired by God alone, to endure so many outrages, so many tortures, and so much infamy for the divine truth, to receive all these insults, with a visage calm and serene, to shine forth by the greatest piety, in the face of tyrants, and thus to terminate an irreproachable lie by the must bitter death.”
Language like this from the university of which Huss had once been rector, and whose members could claim with him an intimate acquaintanceship of years, is significant. Its testimony to his ability, purity, and worth is above impeachment.
The council seem to have imagined that, with the terrible example of Huss before him, his friend and associate, Jerome, could be more easily brought to retract. It was on the nineteenth of July, nearly two weeks after the execution of Huss, and two months after his own examination at the time of his capture, that he was again—after having been visited in his prison by the commission—brought before the council. These two months had been to him a period of suffering and hardship. The severity of his imprisonment had affected his health, and he fell dangerously ill. To his bodily sufferings was added, also, a more oppressive mental anxiety. The fate of Huss must have been felt as a terrible blow. We have scant record of the prison examination, or of his appearance before the council. A manuscript history states, that among the questions put him were those on the real presence, and on the Realist doctrine of universals. On these points his views agreed with those of Huss. After this public examination, Jerome was left to the sadness of his prison meditations. The council hoped that the execution of Huss would have a salutary and mollifying influence upon the mind of his disciple. They had, moreover, other matters of importance upon their hands, and could well afford their prisoner leisure for reflection. One victim at least sufficed for the present, and the issue of their policy in the case of Huss—it was soon to be found—was not such as to invite them to repeat the experiment. The argument of fire had inflamed rather than terrified those to whom it had been addressed. Jacobel persisted in his reform, which the council had pronounced an heretical innovation. The minds of the Bohemians were in no mood to relish further the logic of the stake, and the emperor also was now about to set out upon his expedition to Spain to confer with Peter de Luna (Benedict XIII) and the king of Aragon, by whom he was supported, so that the council might well feel it necessary to proceed with extreme caution.
With all the weight and authority of his influence, Sigismund had urged the condemnation of the propositions of John Petit, and had even gone so far as to say that he would not set out upon his journey until that condemnation was pronounced. Perhaps he felt that his own life was in danger from the Duke of Austria. One of the ostensible reasons of his leaving Constance during the few days preceding the final hearing of Huss, was his dissatisfaction with the council in the slackness with which they prosecuted the subject. He was reported to have said that he would not return to the city until steps had been taken toward the result which he desired. The council therefore saw fit to condemn a proposition represented as that of Petit, and in doing so—by this temporary and unwilling compromise of hostile parties—made the emperor its dupe. Sigismund seems to have regarded the measure, as Gerson wished to have it considered, the necessary initiative to further process against the defenders and promoters of Petit’s views, and, contenting himself as well as he could with the progress already made, commenced preparations for his journey.
The proposed conference was to have taken place before the emperor actually set out, but he wrote for, and obtained, the privilege of a month’s delay. Great anxiety was felt by the council in regard to the result of his enterprise. Another pope could not well be elected while Benedict XIII, with the adherence of Spain and Scotland, stood in the way. It was especially important that the king of Aragon should be withdrawn from his allegiance, and the presence and influence of the emperor, it was hoped, would most effectually promote this desired result. The greater portion of Spain—Aragon, Castile, and Navarre—the counties of Foix and Armagnac, and the kingdom of Scotland, still acknowledged the jurisdiction of Benedict. Everything that could possibly be done to withdraw these from his allegiance must be attempted. It was—so it seemed—the only course to be adopted. And yet by some it was fondly hoped that Benedict would consent to a voluntary abdication. They little understood the spirit of the man. In his feeble and attenuated frame glowed a spirit that aspired to rival a Gregory VII or an Innocent III. It was no Gregory XII with whom the council had now to deal. Benedict saw himself the sole claimant of the tiara. He evidently hoped, to the last, that such he might be suffered to remain. His old secretary, Clemengis, had written—of his own accord, according his statement, yet perhaps not without some urgency of Benedict—to the council, remonstrating with them against their decision that neither of the contestants for the tiara should be a candidate for their election. What might his influence be with his old friends, Gerson and D’Ailly? To what terms might not the council be brought by the untiring perseverance of Benedict? The last was at least resolved that his dignity should not be lost without a struggle. We shall see with what result he defied the council and the emperor.
In the sixteenth session, Sigismund announced, in a formal manner, his intended departure. The council named to accompany him, and to assist him with their counsels, fourteen deputies, of whom four were bishops, and ten doctors, selected from the several nations. The cardinals bore it ill that none of their number were appointed. But the council was too suspicious and distrustful of them to accept their nominations. The deputies were authorized to act as plenipotentiaries with the emperor for the transaction of everything that should be found necessary to secure the abdication of Benedict.
The seventeenth session (July 15) was devoted to measures preparatory to the emperor’s journey. After mass and sermon, Sigismund, laying off his imperial robes and crown, knelt with bared head before the altar, to receive the benediction of the council. With a cardinal upon either side of him, he awaited the close of prayers adapted to the occasion, when the presiding officer gave him the benediction, while the words were chanted, “Lord, preserve the king.”
Among the decrees then read was one which the Jesuit, Maimbourg, does not regard as infallible. He considers it an arrogant assumption over the temporal power of kings and princes. But the council did not deem it unnecessary, and rumors of previous attempts on the emperor’s life, and his own sensitiveness to Petit’s doctrine, effectually preserved him from any remonstrance. The decree was to the effect that “The sacred council threatens with excommunication, and with the deprivation ipso facto of their dignities, whether secular or ecclesiastical, whomsoever—whether king or prince, bishop or cardinal—who shall in any manner impede the journey of the emperor or his suite.” These certainly, on the part of the council, were lofty pretensions. Had their object been other than the emperor’s security, they would scarcely have passed unquestioned. Sigismund’s anxiety for his own life led him to pawn the prerogative of exclusive secular dominion for the hope of security found in the council’s decree.
To add new importance to the emperor’s mission, a solemn mass and procession was decreed, every Sabbath during his absence, for the fortunate issue of his journey. A hundred days’ indulgence was granted to all who should assist at these devotions, as well as to the officiating priests. A forty days’ indulgence was extended to such as should substitute an Ave Maria, or Pater Noster, instead.
This had been changed from Nice, the city first designated, to Narbonne, as nearer to Perpignan, the residence of Benedict. But neither the king of Aragon nor Benedict was there. The first was dangerously ill, the last hesitated and delayed to come. At last he appeared, as if for armed conference, with soldiers and armed cavalry. But his real strength was in his own resolute and unbending will. The fire of ambition glowed like a volcano in the old man’s heart, and he met the emperor in no cringing or fawning manner. He was resolved to fall—if fall he must—a pope to the last. He had kept the first appointment of the conference for June, and when the emperor did not appear, had the insolent assurance to accuse him of contumacy, and issued a proclamation publishing the fact that he had not kept his appointment. When Sigismund reached Perpignan, Benedict was absent at Valentia. To the emperor’s notification and request to meet him, he replied by demanding a safe-conduct which should be granted to him as supreme pontiff. The emperor escaped the dilemma which would force him to a fatal acknowledgment, by replying that on the territory of a foreign ruler it was not for him to grant a safe-conduct. Nor did he hesitate to say that he altogether ignored the claims of Benedict. He might come as cardinal, but could not be received or recognized as pope. Benedict scorned the offer as an insult. He replied by demanding, as the conditions of his renunciation of the papacy, the assembling of a council in the immediate neighborhood of his jurisdiction, in which his claims should be confirmed, after which he should remain perpetual legate a latere, with full temporal and spiritual power throughout his whole obedience—saving only the name of pope, which should be given up. The emperor refused the conditions, and summoned Benedict to appear at Perpignan. He came at last, but not to surrender his claims. The emperor was soon to find that he dealt with a wily foe.
The council made but slow progress during Sigismund’s absence. Some of its members were well content that this should be the case. Many showed a strong disposition to leave the city, either willing that the council should be broken up, or dissatisfied with the little progress made, and disgusted with its proceeding. Surely they might imagine that the Holy Ghost had taken his departure, if indeed he had ever been present. Never did any city present a more vivid picture of Vanity Fair than Constance had presented, up to the time of the emperor’s departure. It was Europe in miniature. It was the compendium of its splendor and its vice. It was the focus of ecclesiastical and princely intrigue. Each nation, each ruler, had diplomatists there to look after their interests. A very small fraction of the council had any concern to secure more than an individual and personal advantage. The knights and nobles had their sports and tourneys. Cardinals, bishops, and doctors tilted with the weapons of logic and sophistry, and, if more deeply in earnest, played a more hazardous game.
Acts of violence in the streets and neighborhoods of the city were not infrequent. It was difficult to control the immense multitude, made up of all classes and characters, and impelled by so many diverse and conflicting interests, with which the city was filled. Pillage and assassination were of frequent occurrence, not only without, but even within the walls. The princes did not hesitate to use their authority to the prejudice of the liberty of the council. Many were forced, by fear, to vote against their conscientious convictions. The council was under the necessity of passing a decree for the protection of its members, in coming to and going from it, in which they threatened with severest penalties all persons—emperor, pope, kings, princes, ecclesiastics, seculars—who should make any attempt on the life, person, or property of any connected with the body. The disposition to leave the city lead become so manifest, and threatened such dangerous consequences, that, in the session held previous to the emperor’s departure for Spain, the council appointed a commission to look after the absentees, and, under threat of the severest penalties, bring them back or keep them at their posts. Some, doubtless, were led to believe that the emperor’s departure would be the signal for a general dispersion. In fact, but little was expected of, and little accomplished by, the council in his absence. The time was mostly spent in fruitless and angry discussions.
Gerson preached a sermon before the council, at or about the time of the emperor’s departure, in which he endeavored to bring the action already taken by the council to bear upon the case of John Petit. Assuming “that a general council holds its authority immediately from Jesus Christ, and that every man, even the pope, is bound to obey such a council in all matters of faith, extirpation of schism, and reformation of the church, in head and members,” he proceeds to lay down the rules of procedure by which it should be guided. He maintains that, the authority of the council being supreme, it should shrink from the examination of no error, by whomsoever held or defended. “The general council may, and should judge, in cases of heresy, all classes of person, however high in position, without fear, favor, or acceptance of person.” “It must condemn all erroneous or heretical propositions, even though it finds itself thereby necessitated to proceed against such as assert them.” Gerson then lays down other rules, certainly not above criticism, as that many propositions with their authors may be condemned, although, by the rules of grammar or logic, or by some gloss, they admit of being understood in a good sense; that propositions may and ought to be condemned, which cannot be disproved by scripture, without calling in the exposition of the doctors and the usage of the church. These positions were indeed implied in the action of the council, with respect to Wickliffe, Huss, and Jacobel, and it would have been difficult for anyone to deny it. Gerson adroitly makes use of this fact, to take away every excuse for not proceeding further, even to the condemnation of Petit’s propositions, and to proceed against the Duke of Burgundy himself. But the emperor had left the council. The weakness of the king of France was despised, and, notwithstanding the frequent letters of the emperor enjoining action in the condemnation of Petit’s propositions, little progress could be made. The Duke of Burgundy and his partisans were too powerful to be summarily dealt with.
It was a few days after Gerson’s sermon, when the council at last found leisure to give the Bohemians a tardy notice of what they had done with Huss. Twenty days had already elapsed since his execution. The popular feeling in Prague was in a state of intense excitement, and the letter of the council was only calculated to increase it. It was but attempting to quench the flame by covering it with new fuel, and it blazed the more fiercely. The letter is addressed to the bishop, the chapter, the suffragans, and the whole of the clergy of Prague. It begins with a protestation, on the part of the council, of the evils that had sprung up from schism and heresy, to the grievous affliction of the church, and of the profound grief and anxiety with which the council were constrained to regard them. It sets forth their estimate of the perverse doctrines of Wickliffe, to whom it concedes the first rank among pestiferous heretics, and states the sentence which had been passed in the condemnation of his doctrines, the burning of his books, and the exhumation of his bones. It then proceeds to show how his heresy had spread, infecting the mind of Huss, Jerome, and others, to the manifest injury of the church, and the destruction of the Catholic faith. Impelled by the earnest desire of restoring peace and delivering Bohemia from the desperate men who filled it with their pestilent doctrines, the council had yielded to the urgency of persons of the Bohemian nation, and carefully deliberated on the course to be pursued. The matter was not one of small moment. The evil was like to spread, not only among the ignorant, but the learned. The council, therefore, had proceeded to the examination of Huss and his writings, and employed all the means in their power to induce him to recant his false doctrines. The letter then states briefly the measures that had been taken, his examination, his public audience, the testimony against him, and the charity with which he had been treated. But all efforts had proved vain. The benevolence of the council, which sought not the death of the sinner, but rather that he should turn and live, was utterly defeated. Huss was convicted of the most manifest and intolerable heresy, and, after being condemned and degraded, had been given over to the secular arm.
The letter then urges upon the Bohemian clergy the most strenuous efforts to perfect the work thus begun. It gives Wenzel, the king, credit for a deep anxiety to witness and aid such a desirable work. It praises the Bishop of Leitomischel for his diligence in defense of the honor of the king and kingdom, and the defense of the Catholic faith. It then beseeches them, “By the bowels of Jesus Christ, to silence all those pestiferous men who teach or preach the doctrine of Wickliffe and his zealot Huss, so that this most dangerous corruption may be extirpated from the very extremities of the kingdom.” If any should offer opposition to this good work, they were hereby denounced beforehand, and threatened with process, according to canonical sanctions, so that their correction should serve as an example to others. The admonitions and directions of the letter were enforced by the terrors of the greater excommunication, the deprivation of benefices, and degradation from the priesthood.
But all these threats were of no avail. An indignant and outraged people treated them with contempt. Jacobel still preached without molestation. The offended nobles and princes of Bohemia were strengthened in their regard for the memory of Huss, and in their confidence of the soundness of his doctrines, by the measures of the council, rendering itself continually more and more odious. Even the king, steeped as he was in the brutality of a sensual nature, showed some signs of resentment at the affront which had been offered him in the violation of the liberty, and in the execution, without his assent, of one of his own subjects. Daring thoughts and bold designs grew up in the minds of many during the few weeks that followed the death of Huss. He was gone from among them—and was no more present to repress and restrain the popular tumult by his saintly presence and calm counsels. The multitude were impelled by motives of a more worldly and personal character than he would have allowed.
The importance attached to the communion in both kinds—an outward visible symbol calculated to appeal to fanatic feeling—swelled the tide of indignation and vengeance. This, undoubtedly, Huss would have sought to restrain. He would never have allowed a mere rite to engross to itself the place of a fundamental truth, however much he might admit or even urge its propriety. The princes, knights, and nobles of the kingdom were many of them rude, bold men, who little appreciated orthodoxy of doctrine, but who did not lack the sensibility to wrong and outrage which urged them to resentment. They met at once, and drew up a letter of protest and remonstrance addressed to the council. We shall have occasion to notice it more fully hereafter.
The attention of the council was now directed, in a somewhat different spirit than heretofore, to the case of Jerome. No efforts or persuasions were spared to induce him to recant. He had already been twice examined, first at the time of his arrest, (May 24th, 1415), and again briefly on the nineteenth of July, when he had been brought before the council assembled in the church of St. Paul. For nearly two months more, he was left in prison. His third examination took place on the eleventh of September. Meanwhile, however, the most strenuous exertions had been put forth to induce him so far to submit that the council might be spared the necessity of inflicting capital sentence. We can well believe that in his circumstances they would not be without effect. He had for four months been pining in chains. The greatest harshness and severity had been shown in his treatment. He had been prostrated by sickness in his noisome dungeon, and his legs were already afflicted with incurable ulcers. Sufferings so protracted may have well depressed his spirit and exhausted his energy. In these circumstances, he was taken out of prison and brought before the council. Under terror of being burned, he was called upon to abjure his errors and subscribe to the justice of the execution of Huss.
Had one been asked beforehand in regard to the two men, Huss and Jerome, which was most like to meet the ordeal unmoved, his answer probably would have been Jerome. Nature seems to have endowed him with an eminently fearless spirit, a resolute energy, a noble generosity of soul, and a chivalrous oblivion of self, which his religious views had nurtured rather than repressed. He seemed born to be a hero. Had it been his destiny to have led armies to the field, he would have been found sharing every danger, nor shrinking from the hardships of the meanest soldier. In days like those of English ship-money, he would have been seen breasting the storm, the foremost man of all to expose himself for others, a Hampden or a Cromwell, to bid tyranny concentrate its bolts upon his head. But there was wanting in Jerome what was found in Huss—that truly Christian self-distrust, which would lead him in prayerful humility to throw himself into the arms of Omnipotence. Jerome was self-reliant. Under the impulse of conscious strength, he rushed too recklessly to the hazardous encounter. By sore trial he had to learn the lesson that taught him to be a better man, and a nobler because a Christian hero. The hardships of his imprisonment had unnerved him—had made the bold man fear and quail. The terrors of a cruel death awed him to a base submission. Human weakness prevailed. The promises and threatenings of the council shook his purpose. He signed a paper by which he declared his submission to the council, and approved the condemnation of the errors of Wickliffe and of Huss.
Yet it was at no slight sacrifice of feeling that this compliance was wrung from him. He gave as an excuse for his course, that he was not aware that the errors imputed to Huss had been truly held by him. We can scarcely admit the sincerity of such a defense. If anyone should have known what Huss taught, Jerome was the man. He must have heard him and read his books. As his intimate friend and associate, he must have frequently conferred with him, and may almost have been said to have read his heart. But a prison was an irksome place, and death at the stake was no pleasing prospect, and in a weak hour the strong man fell. And yet there lingered so much of conscience and self-respect, that Jerome was forced to add conditions or explanations of his submission that could have been in nowise acceptable to the council. While he subscribed to the condemnation of the articles of Wickliffe and Huss, he added that he was not to be considered as thereby doing any prejudice to the holy truths which these men had taught and preached. Explaining himself afterward upon the subject, he said, of Huss particularly, that he still repeated that he did not mean to do anything tending to the prejudice of his person, and his excellent morals, any more than to the many truths which he had heard from his mouth. He confessed that he had been his intimate friend, and that he was disposed to defend him toward and against all, for the gentleness of his conversation and the holy truths which he had heard him explain to the people, but that now, on being better informed by reading his works themselves, he was unwilling to befriend his errors, though he had loved his person. Esto quod sint amici et Plato et Socrates, sed magis amica veritas mihi est et esse debet. Let Plato and Socrates be my friends, yet I love and ought to love truth more. Such was his attempt at justification, by which he essayed—and perhaps for the time successfully—to deceive himself. He added still other remarks. He declared, that in condemning the errors of Huss he did not thereby intend to make a recantation, because, although he had often heard and read the condemned articles, he never had held them to be articles of faith, and had never preferred his own judgment to the authority of the church.
The terms of this submission were too vague and ambiguous to satisfy the council. It was not the unequivocal condemnation of Huss which they demanded. They saw the necessity of using further influence to secure a more unqualified submission. The time between this present and the following session was employed to secure this object.
The nineteenth general session was to have been held on the twentieth of September, but was deferred until the twenty-third of the month—doubtless in order to bring Jerome to better terms. The greater part of it was taken up with the effort to induce him to retract unconditionally. The articles of Wickliffe and of Huss were again read, that he might publicly anathematize them. The Cardinal of Cambray announced the form of retraction drawn up by Jerome in his own hand-writing, conceived in the following terms.
“I, Jerome of Prague, master of arts, acknowledging the true Catholic church and Apostolic faith, do anathematize every heresy, especially that in regard to which I have hitherto been defamed, and which in past times was taught and held by John Wickliffe and John Huss, in their works, books, or sermons to the clergy and the people, on which account they were condemned with their dogmas and errors, as heretical, by this the said council of Constance, and their doctrine aforesaid was especially condemned in sentence passed by this sacred council, upon certain express articles. I assent, moreover, to the holy Roman church, to the Apostolic See, and to this sacred council, and with heart and mouth profess, in and in respect to all matters, specially the keys, sacraments, orders, offices, and censures of the church; indulgences, relics of the saints, ecclesiastical liberty, rites, and whatever pertains to the Christian religion, as the Roman church itself, the Apostolic See, and this sacred council profess; and specially that of the aforesaid articles many are notoriously heretical, and long since reprobated by the holy fathers; some are blasphemous, others erroneous, others scandalous, some offensive to pious ears, and some of them rash and seditious. As such, the aforesaid articles were by this sacred council recently condemned, and Catholics were forbidden, each and all, under threat of anathema, venturing to preach, teach, or hold the said articles, or any of them.
“Moreover, I, the aforesaid Jerome, inasmuch as in some scholastic exercises—in order to enforce my views on the tenet of Universalia a parte rei, and to show that many qualities of the same species might be specified by one essence—described, in order to present an illustration obvious to the senses, a triangular figure which I called the shield of faith, therefore, to prevent any erroneous or scandalous understanding, which some might perhaps receive therefrom, I say, assert, and declare, that I did not draw the said figure, or name it the shield of faith, with any such intention of exalting the doctrine De Universalibus over its opposite, as if it was in such a sense the shield of faith, that, without it, faith or catholic truth could not be protected or defended, since I would by no means stubbornly adhere to it. But the reason of my calling that figure by such a name was, because, in the figure of the triangle describing the three different Persons (supposita) of the divine essence, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I regarded this article of the Trinity as the principal shield of faith, and the foundation of Catholic truth.
“Besides, that it may be plain to all what were the reasons for which I was reputed an adherent and an approver of the said John Huss, I make it known by these presents, that when on many occasions I heard him in his sermons and scholastic lectures, I believed him to be a good man, and not in any way proceeding contrary to the traditions of holy mother church, and the holy doctors. Yea, even when of late certain articles laid down by him, and condemned by this sacred council, were shown to me, I did not believe them to be his, at least in that form. And when, from certain eminent doctors and masters in the sacred page, I had heard it affirmed that they were his, I asked fuller information, and that the books might be shown me in which the said articles were reported to be contained. These being presented to me in his own hand-writing, which I know as well as I do my own, I found that the said articles were written, each and all, in that very form in which they had been condemned. Whence I have apprehended, and do now apprehend, that he and his doctrine, with those that follow it, were not undeservedly condemned by this sacred council as heretical and insane. And all these things aforesaid, I say sincerely and absolutely, as now having been fully and sufficiently informed of the aforesaid sentences pronounced by this holy council against the doctrines of the said Wickliffe and Huss, and against their persons, to which sentences, I, as a devoted Catholic, in all and regarding all, consent and adhere.
“Also, I, the same aforesaid Jerome, who on another occasion voluntarily, freely, and of his own accord explaining and declaring my views before the most reverend fathers, etc., in this same place, made a threefold distinction, which as I afterward perceived by some was understood as if I meant to say that there was faith in the church triumphant, while nevertheless I believe that with them, there is beatific vision excluding doubtful knowledge, I do now say, assert, and declare, that it was never my intent to say that there was faith there as faith, but a knowledge which, implying all that faith could apprehend, exceeds it. And in general, whatever I there or before said, I refer and submit with all humility to the decision of this holy council of Constance.
“I moreover swear, both by the holy Trinity and by these most holy Gospels, that I will abide undoubtingly in the truth of the Catholic church; and I do pronounce all those that shall contravene this faith, with their dogmas, worthy of eternal anathema. And if I myself shall ever presume (far be it from me) to think or preach anything to the contrary, I will subject myself to the severity of the canons, and shall be found exposed to eternal punishment. This copy of my confession and profession, before this holy general council, I freely and voluntarily present, and the same and each of these have I subscribed with my own hand.”
Such was the form of recantation which Jerome had been induced to subscribe. When his purpose to present it had been announced by the Cardinal of Cambray, Jerome came forward to read it before the council, prefacing it with a few remarks. Addressing himself to each and all the members of the council, whom he embraced in one “glorious assembly,” he proceeded: “Since from the history of the Holy Bible it is evident, indeed and truly, that in the temple of God all may not present offerings of equal value, but each according to his ability, as some gold, some silver, some precious stones, etc., if I, with the meanest of the people, shall present in this temple of God, acceptably to God and to you, but skins of goat’s lair, I shall account that I have done enough; since the poor woman in the temple, giving from her poverty, according to the words of our Saviour, is said to have bestowed more than kings, who furnished cedar, onyx-stones, gold, and silver for the structure of the temple. Nor is this to be wondered at, since it is not things presented, but the spirit of the one that bestows them, that is to be taken into account. But by the temple of the Lord, I mean this present most holy general council. Nor as I imagine without reason, since the apostle Paul, writing to a particular church, says, The temple of the Lord is holy, which temple ye are. As to you, therefore, most eminent men, and those who resemble you, like the men of the days of Solomon, here present in this sacred temple of God, long time have you presented and offered the gold of shining wisdom; and you that are less eminent, the silver of divine eloquence; and others still of a lower order, by your various virtues and efforts, the scarlet, purple, and hyacinth, for the larger vessels of the temple, for restoring the curtains and roof of the militant hierarchy. I, after you, so many, so great, so distinguished men, who in comparison with you am but nothing, having my head bowed down by almost every kind of faultiness—what shall I offer? Lest, however, placed in this holy temple in the presence of God and of you, I may appear entirely destitute, I may offer at least the skins of my beast-like deeds, and the goat’s hair of my unworthy conduct, with a free heart, beseeching you each and all with deep earnestness that I may not be wholly despised or condemned in this, nor be driven forth and ejected with obloquy from this temple of God, which ye are. For even these offerings of mine may be of service, in their own way and time, in the temple of God. Thus to show, with your approbation, that not only clusters of grapes, but leaves also, may contribute to render the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts not only spacious, but specious, I have prefaced this much like one who goes through steep and hidden ways, forewarning of their nature. After this entrance upon them follows this my offering, which I present voluntarily for the honor of God and of the holy faith.”
Jerome then read the paper which he had drawn up, and which seemed to meet the demands of the council. They had forced him by the terror of the flames to an act of hypocrisy and of treason to his own convictions. How far at the time the sophistry of his own fears led him to believe his course to be justifiable, it is difficult to say. None could condemn it more heartily than he afterward did himself. For the present his declaration satisfied the council. He was led back to prison and treated less harshly.
Violence of the Times Letters of the Bohemians Zisca
In the same session in which Jerome abjured, a decree was read, which intimated the purpose of the council to follow up the task which it had begun, of extirpating heresy. The Patriarch of Constantinople and the Bishop of Senlis were appointed a commission to examine such as adhered to Huss, and inquire into their doctrines, as spread throughout Bohemia and Moravia. Other heresies, that might call for notice, were also to be referred to them. They were to hear, decide, and judge them, with all things thereto appertaining. No state, grade, rank, order, or condition was allowed exemption from their jurisdiction. They were empowered to cite before them, in person, all who were subject to suspicion, and to proceed in their case to a definitive sentence. This commission was appointed over another to which the general subject of heresies had been committed. It was doubtless the intention of the council, by its appointment, not only to expedite business, but to place the matter in safe hands.
Many matters of local as well as general interest occupied, from time to time, the attention of the council. The subject of the papal abuse of annates had been strongly urged, especially by the German and some of the French nation, but the question what means should be provided for the support of the Roman court, if annates were dispensed with, furnished a problem for which a satisfactory solution was difficult. After long, tedious, and often angry discussions, the subject was for the time deferred.
The absence of Sigismund in Spain had furnished an occasion for the Turks to renew their inroads upon the provinces bordering on his kingdom of Hungary. Relieved of all apprehension by his distance from the scene, they extended their invasions so far that the council itself was not altogether free from anxiety upon its own account. Startling reports reached Constance of the terrible ravages by fire and sword which had been already committed. Sigismund’s territories were singled out for vengeance. His purpose to unite Christendom in a grand crusade against the Turk was no secret. The council felt that in his absence it became them to repay the generosity of his service by exerting themselves in his behalf. They wrote to the king of Poland, urging him to interfere to restore peace. They sent one of the bishops present at the council to engage the nobles of Hungary to remain faithful to their master. The influence of the king of Poland was at once exerted, and the negotiations for peace were like to be successful, when the violence of the Hungarians, in arresting the Polish ambassador as a spy, excited the resentment of the Turks, and hostilities were resumed. The Hungarian army was defeated, and many of its nobility were slain.
Meanwhile the council, anxious that the negotiations with Benedict XIII should be brought to a favorable conclusion, dispatched the Archbishop Wallenrod of Riga to aid the emperor with his counsel. His influence with Sigismund was well known. His energy and decision were not checked by any conscientious scruples, or enfeebled by any feelings of sympathy or humanity. The treatment of Huss, who had been committed to his charge, could attest the harsh, unscrupulous spirit of the man. The council feared lest the attention of the emperor, whose plans looked toward the securing of such a peace among the nations as to favor his project of a crusade, might be somewhat withdrawn from the matter of the union of the church, or be misled by the artifice of Benedict. But they had no good reason to distrust his perseverance or fidelity in the task in which he was engaged. He had already gained over the king of Aragon, who resolved to withdraw obedience from Benedict if he would not abdicate his office. The latter too gave such signs of readiness to consider the proposals of the emperor, in his first conference with him, that some were deceived with the hope that he would accept the terms offered. He received the emperor with all respect, in a castle which bore his own name. In a conference of two or three hours, he seemed to give such evidence of good intentions, that the report of it at the council was welcomed with joy. He wept freely during the interview, but his tears had the virtue of the crocodile’s. The hypocrisy that belonged to the part he played called for tears, and they were shed as a matter of business. It was not long before their true value was discerned.
It was at about this time that the subject of the canonization of new saints by the church was brought, in a special manner, before the council. The king of Sweden had written to John XXIII soon after his arrival at Constance, urging him to grant the canonization of three of his subjects who had sustained a high reputation for sanctity. But John XXIII, however facile he might have shown himself in complying with the request, was too much absorbed in the conduct of his own affairs to pay much attention to others, and St. Bridget alone secured his favorable regard. He was soon placed in such circumstances that any further action on his part would have been strongly opposed, or at least sharply controverted. The ambassadors of the Swedish king, therefore, laid their letter before the council. A commission was appointed, to which the subject was referred. They were to examine into the claims of the pretended saints, the life they had led, and the miracles they had performed, and to consider generally whether it were not better to diminish the number of saints than to increase it. The members of the commission were selected from the cardinals, bishops, and doctors. Beside the cardinals of Cambray and Cologne, and the bishop of Lodi, Gerson was placed upon it. The subject which they were now to consider was one that for a long time had claimed the serious consideration of thoughtful minds. Wickliffe had denounced in the most severe terms that worship of the saints, which was derogatory to the honor of Christ as the one and only mediator. There are those, he says, that deem it right that all other intercessors should be discarded. The frequency of canonization he imputes to cupidity and ignorance of the true faith. It was obvious that the possession of a saint’s bones often ensured, to the body that held it, a large income. It was but a just inference that the frequent appeals to the court of Rome for canonization were connected with the profits that were to be the result. But, said Wickliffe, some would choose a king’s fool to intercede for them with his master, and these saints are but the buffoons—fools of the court of heaven. Moreover, in the multiplication of saints through the cupidity of men, there was great danger that mistakes would be made, and it might even come to pass that men would adore and serve the devil canonized as a saint.
But such views as these were not shared by Wickliffe alone. Henry de Hassia, or Langstein, as he was also called, a member of the University of Paris, and afterward a teacher at Vienna, had written on the subject in a manner that secured the approbation of Gerson who had for a time known him—and perhaps been his pupil. Clemengis too, the Cicero of the university, and friend of Gerson, while exhausting the store of his wonderful eloquence in depicting the vices of the church, did not suffer the evils of frequent canonizations to escape his notice. He pronounces the advent of a new saint in the calendar a tremendous curse.
Gerson entered upon the subject with an earnestness which showed that he had not been an inattentive observer of the evils connected with it. In regard to the pretended saint and vision, he lays down the rule of investigation grounded on the principle, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” The formula was: “Ask who, what, why, to whom, how, and whence.” Under these several heads, he enters into a close and searching investigation of the claims put forth in behalf of pretended saints and their visions. These last might present a thousand truths, but if they contained a single falsehood, that would be fatal to them. If they came from the Spirit of God, and were intended for men, they would be intelligible, instead of obscure, as they often were. They would declare some truth which was constant with scripture, but not rendered unnecessary previously by Bible revelation. They would be concise, lest their prolixity should at length make them more burdensome than the law of the Old Testament. Gerson, moreover, represents visions as sometimes springing from injury or weakness of the brain. A person’s temperament might superinduce a tendency to visions, with which nothing but a mere human spirit had any concern.
Gerson expresses, in connection with the examples he cites, his conviction that the claims of pretended saints were to be closely scrutinized, and that prima facie there was strong reason for rejecting them. “The demon once presented himself,” so Gerson relates, “transfigured as Christ, to one of the holy fathers. ‘I am Christ,’ said he, ‘personally visiting thee, because thou art worthy.’ But the holy father at once shut his eyes, covering them with both hands, and cried out, ‘I have no wish to see Christ here, it is enough to see him in glory.’ Upon this the demon immediately vanished.” Another of the fathers had a similar vision, but he kept his humility, and was kept by it. “But see,” said the holy man, “to whom you have been sent, for surely I am not such a one as is worthy to behold Christ here.” Another person was unwilling to enter the church, saying that it was enough for him that with his bodily eyes he had seen Christ; but by harsh discipline of chains, and fasting from flesh and wine, his swollen fanaticism was reduced, and he was cured.
Gerson declares that it was impossible to say what deception had grown out of this prevalent curiosity to know future and hidden things, or see and perform miracles. It had turned many away from the true religion. Superstition had spread abroad in Christendom, like the demand for signs and wonders of old in Judea, till men put more faith in the uncanonized, and in writings that were not even authentic, than they did in holy men and in the gospel. Few were able to judge the claims put forth by those whom the people would regard as saints. Many were, consequently, deceived.
Gerson’s sound sense placed him on this question by the side of Wickliffe and of Clemengis; more mild in tone, he was, in reality, scarcely less severe than they. Clemengis undoubtedly would have said, if the question in its present shape had been brought before him, that it might be worthwhile to make the council itself holy, before multiplying saints of a character almost as questionable as their own. In his deference for general councils and their decisions, he stands on the same ground with Huss himself. “It seems to me,” he says, “rash to say that a general council cannot err or be deceived.” In this case, however, partly through Gerson’s influence, they took the right course. They declined to increase the number of the saints.
Among matters of less importance which now claimed attention, were those that respected the liberty of ecclesiastics, the privilege of prelates of the council to receive the fruit of their benefices, while absent at Constance, and rules for the better observance of the constitutions of the mendicant orders. These last had been for a long time the light infantry of the papal army . They had gone all over Christendom, at first welcomed for their poverty, their moral superiority to the ordinary clergy, and the earnestness of their preaching. But with their reputation they increased in wealth and power, till at last, in their corruption, they were very generally regarded as the nuisance of the church. The University of Paris had complained of their rapacity, vice, and violence, and Gerson was their bitter opponent. He had attacked them in his writings, almost with Wickliffe’s severity. But they could not be suppressed, and it only remained for the council to make a feeble and ineffectual attempt to reform the order.
The attention of the council was moreover directed to acts of violence which had been committed against its members. Europe generally, as well as France, was torn by feuds and dissentions. The bishops and counts were at continual strife. Bernard Witt, a Benedictine monk, gives us, in his history of Westphalia, a picture of the anarchy which prevailed a few years previous, and which even still defied the power of the emperor to restrain it. “Here,” he says, “you might hear the clashing of battle, there, the shrieks of fugitives and the complaints of the oppressed. Now, dwellings are torn down or burned, and again, villages ravaged, and the crops trampled to the earth. These things and others of a like character—the acts of insolent power, abusing the defenseless, are frequent.” Nor could the church, or rather the papacy, be regarded as guiltless in the premises. Many of these evils sprang directly from the extortion or the perfidy of the pontiffs. Sometimes rival claimants for a benefice deluged in blood the diocese for which they contended. The history of the archbishops of Cologne for successive centuries might furnish a parallel to the enormities that rendered the history of the last days of the empire, founded by Constantine, illustrious in crime and carnage. Sometimes dissentions arose between the clergy and the people. This was the case at Worms in 1406. For three years the clergy were expelled from the city. Although the Emperor Robert was on their side, they succeeded at last only by force of spiritual arms, against which the steel of their enemies was no sufficient defense. Henry of Lunenberg, only two years previous, had been taken captive by Count Bernard, who released him on his oath to pay as his ransom 100,000 florins. But he had only to go to Rome to receive absolution from his oath by the abuse of papal authority.
We have already seen the turbulent character of the Duke of Burgundy. France without an energetic king was torn by factions. The nobility were themselves sovereign in their own territories, and were continually at variance. There was no common authority to command respect. Nor within the bounds of the German empire was the state of things much better. On every side there were turbulence and lawless license. Frederic, Duke of Austria, though reconciled formally with the emperor, was still busy with his plots and schemes. With restless impatience he endured the restraint of a forced submission. At last he proceeded to the overt act of arresting the Bishop of Trent, and seizing upon the city as his own domain. The matter was brought by complaint before the council. They issued their monitory against the duke, commanding him to restore, within twenty days, what he had taken away, with damages for the evil done. They authorized the bishop to invoke against him, in case of refusal, the secular arm. The penalty of disobedience was most severe. The council, assuming a right which they had exercised in the decree concerning the emperor’s absence—authority over secular princes, threatened his disobedience with a deprivation of all the feoffs and privileges which he held from the church or the empire, stripping him of all authority, power, and title to reign, and his posterity after him to the second generation. The subjects of Frederic were to be released from their oaths of allegiance. He, with his accomplices who were to share his fate, was to be summoned before the council, and the ecclesiastics who should favor him were to be excommunicated.
The council probably would have scarcely dared to assume such an attitude toward any other prince than Frederic of Austria. The emperor hated him still, notwithstanding their formal reconciliation, anal gave some credit to the report of attempts made by the duke to take his life. The council were confident of being sustained by Sigismund in their course. Frederic was not the powerful Duke of Burgundy—a criminal whom they dared not touch. Despoiled of a large part of his possessions, and deprived of the favor of the emperor, he was just the object over which they might safely presume to domineer. Violent and reckless as he may have been, his conduct in this instance demanded more judicial formality, more investigation in regard to its justice or injustice, than was allowed by this summary sentence.
The facts of the case were these. George of Lichtenstein had been appointed Bishop of Trent, to the great dissatisfaction of its inhabitants. They had, as their leader, a nobleman by the name of Rodolph, who aspired to occupy the post of the unacceptable official. This could only be secured by acts that bordered at least on violence, and tended to the expulsion of the bishop. But the latter found a friend and ally in Henry of Rottenberg, who marched upon Trent with his army and took summary vengeance upon the inhabitants. He seized and kept possession of the city, having first ravaged it with fire and sword, and put Rodolph to death. Frederic of Austria observed with anger and indignation this harsh and violent proceeding. It is not to be presumed that he was much moved by such a method of installing a bishop in his diocese, for on another occasion, if his own interests had demanded it, he would probably have been willing to have adopted it himself without a scruple.
But Trent was a friendly city bordering on his own domain. Undoubtedly, as he looked around upon his lost jewels—the territories that had been. taken from him for his adherence to John XXIII—he felt an anxious desire for their recovery. But whatever motives may have influenced him, he marched to Trent, drove out the obnoxious bishop, and took the citizens under his protection. All this seems to have taken place after the emperor had set out for Spain. In the twentieth session of the council (November 6), the decree against the duke, already referred to, was read. His advocate, John Eling, protested against the decree as a nullity. For months after this, the matter made little if any progress. Frederic appeared at Constance. But he found little hope of justice in the action of the council. He seized the occasion that offered to escape secretly from the city back to his own dominions, which had been plundered in his absence. He left behind him a public placard, in which he complained of the injustice of the council, “who,” he said, “had shut the mouth of his advocate.” This was the thirtieth of March, 1416, after the matter had been depending for more than six months. The council, however, were indignant, not only at Frederic’s escape, but at his placard, which they considered libelous. They wrote to the emperor against him, and found Sigismund only too ready to put the turbulent duke under the ban of the empire. Frederic, moreover, found a dangerous rival in his brother Ernest, who had in his absence seized upon large portions of his estates. Yet notwithstanding all the influences and terrors that were arrayed against him, the duke maintained his ground. He defied alike the emperor and the council. He still kept the Bishop of Trent in durance, and deprived of his diocese. The effort to induce his subjects to renounce his allegiance was but partially successful, and the threatening decree of the council fell at his feet as a mere brutum fulmen.
The duke was, however, in the course he pursued, but a fair specimen of the petty princes and nobles of Europe. To restrain their violence, the council revived the memorableCarolina Constitutio, by Charles IV, on the subject of the liberty of ecclesiastics. It affixed the several penalties to the crime of trespassing on the right, person, or privileges of the clergy. They who transgressed it were to be accounted infamous, deprived of their honors, and no more to be admitted to the privileges or councils of their order. All this was aggravated by the terrors of the imperial ban, and the canonical as well as divine judgments which were denounced upon the offender. Undoubtedly severe restraints and penalties were necessary to repress the prevalent violence, but when the clergy and prelates were often the chief offenders, their immunity only the more provoked indignant reprisals. The justice of the council should have taught them not to launch the terrors of the Caroline Constitution and their own anathema, till their project of reform had become so far effectual that the clergy could be regarded as deserving of such protection.
The work of reform, however, made but slow progress. At a congregation held on the nineteenth of December, John Nason, president at that time of the German nation in the council, gave utterance to his complaints on this subject. “The council,” said he, “has been assembled for three principal objects, to put an end to the schism, to condemn heresies, and to reform the church in its head and members. John Huss has been already most justly condemned, and John XXIII has been deposed. But those same crimes are still every day committed which were the ground of his deposition, and especially the crime of simony. The German nation has hitherto redoubled its urgency for the condemnation of this and every other abuse, as well as for the exemplary punishment of those that are guilty. But, to the shame of the council, the most criminal indulgence and dissimulation have been practiced.”
After this complaint and protestation, he besought the members to proceed without delay in the matter. Nor did he fail to call attention to a subject in which his own personal feelings were enlisted—the case of Jerome. He seemed dissatisfied with what had already been done, and put no faith in the recantation which Jerome had made. In this respect he was probably a fair representative of the feeling of the German nation. They were earnestly bent upon a reform of the church. They had complained repeatedly of the abuses which they wished to have corrected. In the discussion of the papal claim of annates they had been especially interested, but their defeat in regard to these matters was only a premonition of what they were still to expect. In regard to Jerome, their complaint was more successful. If there were those in the council who preferred to save him, and avoid again provoking the Bohemians, many of them were still more cautious of offending the German nation. It was less hazardous to give up an unfriended and powerless individual, whose cause, without a Duke of Burgundy or a Teutonic order to represent it, might be trampled upon, perhaps with impunity.
And yet they might well have hesitated, on mere principles of worldly prudence, to deal harshly with Jerome, for this same day another letter from Bohemia was laid before them. The bearer of it was a friend of Jerome, and yet he boldly ventured to present it to the council, although its contents could not but have been exceedingly offensive. It bore the seals of four hundred and fifty-two persons of the Bohemian nation. Some of these were barons and nobles, and most of them persons of distinction. The language was plain, direct, and earnest. They blamed the council for the condemnation and punishment of Huss. They declared Huss to have been a holy and just man, whose equal for integrity and sanctity could not be found. The council had sinned and wrought evil in what they had done, and on this account the Bohemians declare that they will neither adhere to it, nor yield it obedience. This was indeed a bold step to take, but the council had provoked it. The popular feeling in Bohemia resented the injustice offered to their countryman, and it was felt that it would be treason to his memory to honor his murderers.
The state of feeling in Bohemia is still more clearly seen in another letter which at about the same time must have been laid before the council. The barons and magnates of the kingdom met to reply to the letter which the council had written them, informing them of the execution of Huss, and vindicating their own proceedings. The letter had been dispatched to Bohemia by the hands of the Bishop of Leitomischel. He was charged, moreover, with the task of endeavoring to extirpate the heresy of Huss from the kingdom. But he found that the work exceeded his powers. Although noble by birth and rank, and a man of great ability and iron will, rank, ability, eloquence, and energy were of no avail. He found few disposed even to listen to him. On all sides he was met with coldness or hostility. Scarcely did he dare to show himself in public. He professed fear of person as well as of property. Certainly his presence, as a member of the council, and charged to extirpate the heresy of Huss, was peculiarly obnoxious to the nation at large.
The first meeting of the magnates to reply to the letter of which he was the bearer, was held at Sternberg. A second meeting was held at Prague on the second of September, when the assembly united in a detailed statement of their grievances and complaints. Their letter was addressed “to the most reverend, the fathers, lords, lord cardinals, patriarchs, primates, archbishops, bishops, ambassadors, doctors and masters, and the whole council of Constance,” and was signed by nearly sixty of the Bohemian and Moravian magnates, embracing the most important officers and nobility of the land. “Inasmuch,” say they, “as each one, by natural and divine law, is commanded to do to others as he would have them do to himself, and is forbidden to do to another what he would not have done to himself, according to the words of our Savior, ‘All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets,’ yea, he who was a chosen vessel, cries out, ‘Love is the fulfilling of the law, and the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself,”’ we, therefore, walking as near as we may to the aforesaid divine rule and direction, as God is our witness, express our affection as neighbors to him who was our dearest neighbor, the reverend master, John Huss, of blessed memory, bachelor of sacred theology, and preacher of the gospel, whom lately you—we know not by what spirit led—have condemned—neither confessing his crime, nor lawfully convicted, as was becoming, and no manifest errors or heresies being brought against him, but at the accusation, instigation, and information, unfair, false, and urgent, of those who were his capital enemies and traitors, as well as those of our kingdom and of the march of Moravia—as an obstinate heretic, and have put him, thus condemned, to a cruel and most shameful death, to the perpetual infamy and disgrace of our most Christian kingdom of Bohemia, and the most renowned march of Moravia, as well as of us all. As we before transmitted in writing to Constance, to the most serene prince and lord, Sigismund, king of the Romans and of Hungary, heir of our king and master, which writing was read and published in your congregations, and—which we would be glad to disbelieve—thrown, to our contempt and dishonor, to the flames; so also now we have thought that our letters patent, by these presents, should be addressed to you in behalf of the said Master John Huss, publicly, by heart and mouth, professing and protesting that Master John Huss was certainly a man excellent, just, and Catholic, for many years spoken of as praiseworthy, in life, conduct, and reputation, in our kingdom. The gospel law, and the books of the prophets, both of the Old and New Testaments, according to the exposition of the holy doctors, and those approved by the church, did he teach and preach in a Catholic manner to us and our subjects; and many of the same things has he left to us in writing, uniformly detesting all errors and heresies, and faithfully admonishing all believers of Christ to detest the same, exhorting to peace and charity, as far as possible by words, writings, and works, so that we never heard, or could learn by diligent inquiry, that the aforesaid Master John Huss taught any heresy or error in his sermons, or preached or asserted the same; neither in any way, by word or deed, did he scandalize us or our subjects, but ever in Christ, living in piety and gentleness, did he exhort all to keep the gospel law, and the institutions of the holy fathers, for the edification of holy mother church, and the salvation of our neighbors; and this he did in word and deed with the utmost diligence. Yet all these premised—perpetrated to our confusion and that of our kingdom of Moravia—did not suffice for you, but that honorable master, Jerome of Prague, a man indisputably a flowing fountain of eloquence, master of the seven liberal arts, as well as an illustrious philosopher, him, not seen, heard, confessed, or convicted, but at the malicious information of those that were traitors to him and us, you have mercilessly arrested and thrown in prison, and perhaps even now you have put him, as you did Master John Huss, to a most cruel death.
“Besides, it has come, we regret to say, to our hearing, and from your letters we plainly gather, that certain slanderers, odious to God and men, and enemies and traitors of our kingdom and Moravia, before you and the council, have calumniated us most gravely and basely, asserting, though falsely and treacherously, that in the aforesaid regions diverse errors have sprung up, grievously and extensively affecting our hearts, and the hearts of many faithful inhabitants, so that unless the rule of correction is soon applied, the aforesaid regions, with their Christian believers, will be subjected to irrevocable loss and ruin of souls. Such atrocious and prejudicial wrongs as these, which, notwithstanding our many demerits bring them upon us and our kingdom, etc., are yet falsely and lyingly imputed, how can we endure them? Since, by the grace of God, while almost all other kingdoms of the world are often vacillating, cherishing schism and antipopes, our most Christian realm of Bohemia, and the most reputable march of Moravia, have, from the very time when they received the Catholic faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, adhered most firmly and unceasingly, without rebuke, to the holy Roman church. At what exceeding charge and effort, and with how sacred regard and reverence, holy mother church and her pastors have been regarded by the princes and their followers, is manifest, beyond dispute, to the whole world. And you yourselves, if you are willing to confess the truth, can testify to all these things. But in order that, according to the apostolic doctrine, we may provide that which is good, not only in the sight of God, but of men; and lest, through a negligence of the most untarnished reputation of the aforesaid kingdom, etc., we be found guilty of cruelty toward those who are our neighbors; therefore, having in Christ Jesus our Lord a firm hope, a sincere conscience and purpose, and a sure orthodox faith, we, by the tenor of these presents, to you and to all the faithful in Christ, make known, and maintain, professing it publicly with heart and mouth, that whatsoever man, of whatever state, eminence, dignity, condition, grade, or religion he be, shall say or assert, that in the aforesaid kingdom of Bohemia, etc., errors and heresies have sprung up, and infected us and other Christian subjects of the aforesaid realm, every and each such individual, the person only of our most serene prince, our Lord Sigismund, king of the Romans and of Hungary excepted, whom we believe and hope to he guiltless in the premises, each such individual directly lies in his teeth, as a most wicked wretch aril traitor toward the aforesaid kingdoms, and is our most perfidious and our only most injurious heretic, the child of all malice and iniquity, as well as of the devil, who is a liar, and the father of the same. Nevertheless, leaving these aforesaid wrongs to the Lord and his vengeance, which will abundantly mete retribution to the proud, we shall prosecute them further before the apostle to be elected, whom God will place as only and unquestioned pastor of his holy church, to whom, God willing, we, as faithful children, in all things lawful and honest, and consonant to reason and the divine law, exhibiting due reverence and obedience, shall seek and demand in regard to each and all the matters aforesaid, according to the law of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the institutions of the holy fathers, that fitting remedy be devised for the satisfaction of us and the aforesaid kingdom, etc. These things aforesaid notwithstanding, we will defend and protect the law of our Lord Jesus Christ, and his devoted, humble, and constant preachers, even to the shedding of blood, all fear, and human statutes enacted to the contrary, being cast beneath our feet. Given at Prague, September 2, A.D. 1415, in full council of magnates, barons, lords, and nobles of the realm of Bohemia and the march of Moravia, with the affix of our seals.”
The council could not mistake the tone of this letter. It was bold, manly, and even defiant. It breathed a deep and indignant sense of wrong. It expressed the only too unanimous convictions of the nation. The violation of the imperial safe-conduct was an act, the infamy and outrage of which were palpable to the most rude and unlettered. The common people and barons alike were already arraigning, and condemning it in no measured terms. And now the letter of the Bohemians, with the report of what was taking place at Prague, forced the council so far to pay homage to the sentiments of public morality as to make at least an attempt to vindicate the breach of public faith with which they themselves and the emperor stood charged. The council first discuses the validity of safe-conducts, given to heretics by secular princes. “The present synod declares that every safe-conduct granted by the emperor, by the kings and other secular princes, to heretics, or persons accused of heresy in the hope of bringing them back from their errors, must in no way serve to the prejudice of the Catholic faith or ecclesiastical jurisdiction, nor prevent these persons from being examined, judged, and punished according as justice shall require, in case these heretics shall refuse to revoke their errors; and this to be, although they shall have come to the place of judgment merely and only on the faith of the safe-conduct. And he who shall have promised them safety shall not in this case be under obligation to keep his promise, by whatever pledge he may he engaged, since he has done all that depended on him.” This general principle, that faith is not to be kept with heretics, and which outraged the public sentiment even of that age, finds its specific application in the case which it was designed to cover—that of Huss. The decree stands recorded on the same page with the letter of the Bohemians, and was evidently intended to meet objections from that source. “The most holy council, etc. Inasmuch as some persons, ill-disposed or ill-informed, or perhaps assuming to be wiser than they should be, slander not only his royal majesty, but even the sacred council, as is reported, by their cursed tongues, in public and in private, saying or suggesting that the safe-conduct given by our most invincible prince and Lord Sigismund, king of the Romans and of Hungary, to the late John Huss, heresiarch of damnable memory, was unduly violated against justice and honor, while nevertheless the said John Huss, perversely assaulting the orthodox faith, has forfeited all safe-conduct and privilege, so that no faith or promise is, by natural, divine, or human law, to be kept with him, to the prejudice of the Catholic faith; therefore this said holy council declares, by the tenor of these presents, that the said most invincible prince, in respect to the late John Huss aforesaid, had done, according to the obligations of justice, what was permitted, and what became his royal majesty, commanding and requiring all and each of the faithful of Christ, of whatsoever dignity, grade, eminence, condition, state, or sex they may be, that none shall hereafter detract from, or speak against, the holy council, or his royal majesty, in regard to what was done in the case of the late John Huss aforesaid. And he who shall violate this command, is to be punished as a favorer of heretical pravity, and guilty, beyond pardon, of the crime Læsæ Majestatis.”
It was indeed fitting, that deeds which would not bear the light, should be cloaked with apologies. Few criminals like to have their conduct canvassed, unless they furnish the commentary by the light of which it is to be judged. The council at least found that their policy did not bear discussion well, and therefore employed all their art and skill to draw up a plausible defense. But their apology was only an endorsement of their crime. No slander of their enemies could be so damaging as their libel upon themselves, when, to excuse the infamy of a single act, they adopted the broad principle that faith was not to be kept with heretics. And yet this was the only resource left them. It was the only semblance of a moral rule which could be invented, on which to base and defend their extraordinary course. But the Bohemians were not duped by its sophistry. It required some deeper casuistry to satisfy them, or suppress their instincts and convictions of what was right and just. They never forgot the outrage on public faith of which their enemies had been guilty.
And yet up to this point they had no intention of breaking with the Romish church. With their letter to the council, they sent deputies who were to speak publicly in defense of their course. Anxious for the spread and success of the gospel as they had heard it from the lips of Huss, they resolved that all the churches throughout the kingdom should be provided with faithful pastors, who should preach the word of God without molestation; that if a priest was accused of any error, he should be cited before his bishop, in order, if he should be convinced of having taught any doctrine contrary to the word of God, that he might be punished and expelled; that if a bishop should chance to condemn and punish secretly, of his own individual impulse and through hatred of the gospel, any priest not convicted of error, no such bishop should be anymore allowed to cite a priest before him, but the matter should be referred to the judgment of the university, to be examined according to holy scripture; that priests of their dependence should be required to allow the excommunications of their bishops, and obey them when they were legitimate, but, on the contrary, resist them, when they were unjust or precipitate, and launched through hatred of the word of God, or any other cause which could not be lawfully known. And they declare that they are fully purposed to obey from the heart the lawful citations and excommunications of their bishops. The assembly then expresses its earnest prayer that it will please God speedily to bestow upon the church a good pope, in order that they may bring before him their lawful complaints, and they declare that they will obey him in all which he shall command conformable to the word of God.
Nothing more strikingly manifests the influence of the doctrines of Huss, or their prevalence throughout Bohemia, than the respect which is here, and throughout all their proceedings, testified by the assembly for the authority of the scriptures. They did not as yet perceive the fatal inconsistency between the claims of the council or the church, and the position which they had themselves assumed. They were simple enough to believe that if they were faithful to the spirit and precepts of the gospel, they were faithful subjects of the Romish church. The council, however, was more fully aware of the bearing and tendency of the principles avowed by the Bohemians. They saw that if scripture was allowed to be the test of truth and doctrine, the council itself was but of secondary authority. Its claims were invalid. Its sentence was of but small account. Nor were they stupid enough to disregard the significance of the popular commotion at Prague. There was no one there on whose fidelity they could rely. The archbishop himself was powerless, and it is possible that he already leaned to the doctrines of Jacobel, which he subsequently embraced. The king was unreliable and inefficient at the best, while all the fragments of manliness left in him were but so much tinder for kindling his resentment against the council.
Among the nobles of his court, moreover, the one who had perhaps the strongest influence over him was John de Trocznow, his chamberlain. This was the man who afterward became so famous under the name Ziska, or one-eyed, for the bold hero had lost an eye in battle. Ziska proved to be one of the greatest and most successful generals of his age. He was born of a poor but noble family in the village whose name he bore. The memory of a sister, so it is narrated, who had been seduced and violated by an ecclesiastic, had kindled and fed his resentment against the whole monkish and priestly order. The treatment of Huns and Jerome had reawakened all his past indignation, and excited within him the deep but temporarily smothered purpose to avenge the outrage. He brooded gloomily over the national insult.. His features bore the marks of his abstraction, engrossed in the one thought of avenging the wrong which he, as an individual, suffered in common with the nation. The king observed him, on one occasion, walking in the court of the royal palace, lost in revery. He called him, and asked what was the matter that occupied his thoughts so intensely. “The grievous affront,” said he, “which the punishment of John Huss has offered to the Bohemian nation.” “Neither you nor I,” said Wenzel, “are in circumstances to avenge this affront, but if you can devise the means to do it, take courage, and avenge your compatriots.” These words confirmed Ziska in his bold purpose. He at once began to devise measures to execute it. The permission of the king, who was but a cipher, gave him yet an immense advantage, by the mere authority it conferred. It relieved him from all apprehension, for the present at least, of any obstruction to his designs from the fickle and dissolute monarch. The magnates and nobles of the land would now venture to speak out, in the fearless tone they had used in their letter to the council. The doctors at Constance could judge by that tone, of the strength and unanimity of the national feeling.
New Charges against Jerome Conference with Benedict Vincent Ferrara
In the council there were those who were decidedly in favor of treating Jerome with leniency. They doubtless, and wisely, imagined that it was the most prudent course to be satisfied with his retraction. More would thus be gained for the authority of the council than by sending him to the flames. There might, moreover, be danger in offering a new provocation to the Bohemians. But the enemies of Jerome were bent on burning him. They professed to have no faith in the retraction he had offered, and probably they were sincere. They knew that he had been “convinced against his will,” if convinced at all, and they did not intend that he should thus escape. They therefore busied themselves in raking together new accusations. Causis and Paletz distinguished themselves by their zeal in the matter. They urged his enemies at Prague to draw up new accusations. Charges that before had not been thought of were now devised. His enemies insisted that he should be called to undergo a new trial. His judges, the cardinals of Cambray, Ursinis, Aquilea, and Florence, opposed the application. They represented—with prudence, if not some lingering of conscientious feeling—that such a course would be unjust, and that Jerome, having shown obedience to the council, must be set at liberty.
But this show of clemency only irritated the enemies of Jerome. Nason, the president of the German nation, whom we have seen urging the condemnation of the prisoner, is said to have replied to these representations with much asperity. “We are much surprised, most reverend fathers,” said he, “that you are willing to intercede for this wicked heretic, who has done us so much mischief in Bohemia, and who might yet do you the same. I am quite apprehensive that you have received presents from these heretics, or from the king of Bohemia.” Such language was extremely irritating. The cardinals regarded it as an insult. Unwilling to be driven by such invidious accusations or suspicions to further process against Jerome, they chose to throw up their office, and ask as a commission to be discharged. Their request was granted. The enemies of Jerome triumphed in securing the appointment of a new commission. At the head of it stood the Patriarch of Constantinople, who had shown the spirit of an unrelenting persecutor, in urging forward the sentence and execution of Huss. Gerson, moreover, joined the assailants of Jerome. On the twenty-ninth of October he had produced a treatise on the subject “Of Recanting and Protesting in Matters of Faith.” Jerome’s name is not mentioned in it, but it is evident that it was aimed at him. Its whole scope is to show, that though a man may recant, he may do it in such a way, or it may be accompanied with such evidences, as to leave him still under suspicion of heresy. Gerson thus volunteered to become the casuist of the enemies of Jerome. He maintains that there are men with whom ignorance is crime, and among these he classes those whom he describes in drawing the picture of Jerome himself—men possessed of natural vivacity of mind, a shrewd judgment, the faculty of discernment, remarkable learning, extensive acquaintance with scripture, or with canon and civil law. Moreover, the question is asked, May not a man sin against his conscience by recanting? “The answer,” says Gerson, “is plain. He must lay aside his conscience in the case supposed, of his obstinacy.” The treatise of Gerson is a fine piece of casuistry. He evidently disliked to boldly arraign the case of Jerome, but he weaves his web skillfully around it, and overlays it with suspicions. The tendency of his argument would be to encourage Jerome’s assailants. Gerson’s dislike of the man seems to have been even greater than that which he felt toward Huss. Undoubtedly he was conscientious in considering him a dangerous heretic. He was, perhaps, the only man in Europe who could fairly be considered Gerson’s rival in those very arts in which he excelled. As a disputant, he would have hesitated on no occasion to challenge the great chancellor himself. The two men were, moreover, opposed in their philosophical views, and Jerome had shown himself an able champion of the Realists. Could Gerson’s mind have been warped by these considerations? It is more than possible. The fervency of his feelings sometimes blinded his judgment. The noble bearing and matchless eloquence of Jerome won him friends in the council, but Gerson was not among them. The generosity of his heart was seared by prejudice, and in cherishing that prejudice he thought to do God service. But the most diligent efforts were made, by persons even less disinterested than Gerson, for Jerome’s condemnation. Intelligence of his retraction had reached Prague, and his enemies there became apprehensive lest, after all, he might escape. The monks especially, who had been stung by his insults and contempt, were resolved to spare no effort to secure the doom of their destined victim. New charges were drawn up against him and forwarded to the council, where the sincerity of his abjuration was already strongly suspected. The bearers of the new list of accusations were Carmelite friars from Prague. They demanded that Jerome should again be put upon his trial, and required to answer to the charges which they should present. In spite of the protest of Jerome against this new injustice, and the objections of the commission who had hitherto conducted his case, the monks, aided by Paletz and Causis, and especially by Gerson, finally succeeded in carrying their point. In this they were materially aided by the sympathies of the new commission, composed of members more of their own stamp.
On the twenty-ninth of January, 1416, the ambassadors who had accompanied the emperor to Spain returned to make their report to the council. The king of Aragon had died, but Ferdinand, his successor, had manifested a disposition to comply with the views and sustain the policy of the emperor. He resolved to withdraw obedience from Benedict, unless he would abdicate the pontificate. But the old man was not to be moved by any such terrors. He still refused to recede from his terms. He demanded the rejection of the council of Pisa, the dissolution of that of Constance, the convocation of another near his own obedience, his own confirmation as pope, and provision for his honorable maintenance on his resigning his dignity. He maintained, throughout all the conferences, that he was the true pope, and that though this might reasonably have been doubted before, it could be doubted no longer, since one of his rivals had resigned, and the other had been deposed. He maintained that it was not he who was guilty of keeping up the schism, but the council of Constance, since, in order to end it, it was only necessary to recognize his claims; that to proceed to a new election would be only to renew the schism, since there would then be two popes; that he was resolved to maintain his right to his last breath, because he could not in conscience abandon the vessel which God had committed to his care; that as his age increased, he was the more bound to discharge his duty, and resist with all his might the storm raised against him; moreover, if for peace’s sake another pope was needed, he alone could be elected, for he was the only one of the cardinals that had been promoted to that office before the schism by Gregory XI, and that consequently he, as the only one whose promotion was indisputable, was eligible to the office, even on the principles of his enemies themselves. It is said that for seven long hours the old man continued his harangue, without showing any fatigue either in his countenance or the tones of his voice, although he had almost reached his threescore years and ten.
The emperor saw that any attempt to conquer the resolution of Benedict was vain, while his conditions were utterly inadmissible. His show of compliance had been but part of the game which he was resolved to play out, and thus amuse the world with hopes never to be realized. The emperor, with the ambassadors of the council, withdrew in disgust. He was about to return to Germany. But the king of Aragon, with the ambassadors of Castile, Navarre, and Scotland, as well as others of Benedict’s obedience, who had now come to a better knowledge of his character, sent to the emperor at Narrbonne, begging hint not to hasten his departure. They assured him that Benedict should yet cede, or be abandoned by his whole obedience.
Negotiations were consequently resumed. The ambassadors of the emperor returned to Perpignan. The kings and princes exerted themselves to the utmost to overcome the old man’s obstinacy. They were met at every point, however, by the artifice and subtlety of Benedict. All their persuasions and arguments were lost upon him. Their threat of withdrawing their obedience produced no effect. At last matters reached such a crisis of exasperation and excitement, that there was danger of violence. Benedict seized his moment, and withdrew secretly from the city. He did this, says Niem, in concert with Ferdinand, with whom he had a secret understanding. This, however, was but a public rumor. Benedict withdrew to Callioure on the seacoast. But even here he was followed by deputies, who urged him to cede and acknowledge the council of Constance, which he might do by sending his attorneys to Perpignan, or by coming there in person. In case of his refusal, he was to be threatened with harsher measures. But even here, Benedict, who saw himself virtually a prisoner—for the deputies had taken pains to seize his galleys and prevent his escape—replied haughtily that he should still abide by the declarations which he had made at Perpignan, whence he had withdrawn only that he was restricted of his liberty, and that he should not give any more explicit answer till he had reached the place for which he had set out. Even this was not enough to show his defiant spirit. He ridiculed the pretended care of Ferdinand for the Catholic church. That was his own business, he said, as legitimate pontiff. He moreover hurled his fulminations against all—cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, kings, and emperors—threatening them with the spiritual and temporal power, if they dared on this point to usurp any of his rights. Benedict’s cardinals also were summoned to Perpignan. At first they replied in the spirit of their master. On the second summons—with the exception of the cardinals connected with his own family—they all forsook him for the conference at Perpignan.
Benedict’s affairs were in a desperate condition. But the heroic old man did not despond. A tame submission he despised. He found means to escape from Callioure, and fled to Peniscola, some two hundred miles from his enemies, upon the seacoast. The place was a strong one, and it was said to have belonged to the house of Luna. Here Benedict could at least more safely defy his enemies. But they followed him even to Peniscola. A third and last deputation was sent him, requiring him to cede. But like those that preceded it, it proved futile. Benedict replied, that he could not recognize the council of Constance, inasmuch as it was held in a city subject to the emperor, who managed everything there just he chose, as was exemplified in the case of John XXIII, whose safe-conduct had been violated. He maintained that the emperor persisted in continuing the council in that city, only in order to elect a rope devoted to his own interests, that he might do as he pleased in Italy, and seize upon the possessions of the church. He declared, moreover, that he could not accept a council composed of the cardinals of John XXIII and Gregory XII, because this would be joining schismatics to his own Catholic subjects ; and beside all, he did not deem that the place where the council was to be held should be left to the option of the emperor; that for these reasons he could not cede the pontificate without sinning against God and scandalizing the church, at least since his enemies were unwilling to accept the conditions on which he offered to cede. He added, also, that it did not belong to the council to choose a pope, but to the college of cardinals; that his reasons for withdrawal were not false, as had been pretended, and that the attempts that were made upon him every day were his sufficient justification. Moreover, he protested against all that should be done in regard to himself, on the ground of his being schismatic, as null and void. As to the reports that were circulated, that the king of Aragon was on the point of withdrawing from his obedience, and engaging others to unite themselves with him in aiding the emperor and council in proceeding against him, and deposing him from the pontificate, he besought them by the bowels of divine mercy not to afford occasion for such a scandal, which, so far from putting an end to the schism, would only cherish and extend it. He represented that the king of Aragon, especially, could not listen to such counsels without rebellion against himself, since of him he held his states, was his feudatory, and had given him the oath of fidelity. He added that even though these protestations should not reach the ears of those for whom they were intended, he should not fail to proceed against them in all requisite ways, as he was authorized and even bound by the interests of the church to do, and he referred them, for a commentary upon his word, to one of his bulls, given at Marseilles in 1407. Yet, to show that he had ever at heart the union of the church, he declared that with this object he had already convoked a council for the month of February next ensuing, and he urgently besought the king of Aragon not to employ menace, as he was said to have done, to prevent the prelates from assembling. He said, finally, that, having learned that his enemies had published that he had advanced in his discourses or writings propositions contrary to the Catholic faith, he declared that if such were the case—though he did not believe it—he disavowed them, as having been always inviolably attached to the faith of the church, to whose judgment he referred himself for all that might be alleged against him.
Such obstinacy on the part of Benedict disgusted many of those who, up to this time, had still adhered to him, and they now determined to withdraw from him their obedience. By them propositions were sent to Narbonne, to the emperor and his council. These were, in substance: 1. That the three obediences assemble and compose a council without the permission of Benedict, and without being under the necessity of making any further requisition of him. 2. That they proceed against the said Benedict, and do all that they shall judge to be fitting for the union of the church. 3. That whatever process or anathema be designed against Benedict, it shall be sustained by all, or a greater part of, those who in the council were of the obedience of Benedict.
Upon this ensued a war of protests and manifestoes. The Archbishop of Tours took up the defense of the emperor and the council, in a document addressed to the Catholic church. He gave a brief history of the schism, the means employed to put an end to it, and the obstacles thrown in the way by the obstinacy and inconsistencies of Benedict. The archbishop closed by exhorting all Christendom to regard him as a common enemy. The ambassadors of the princes now entered into consultation with the emperor, and, in view of the obstinacy of Benedict, agreed, on the thirteenth of December, 1415, to twelve articles known as “The Capitulation of Narbonne.” These articles were skillfully framed. They allowed the council of Constance to be called merely an assembly, and not a council, until those of the obedience of Benedict were united with it. Both parties were to write letters of summons to form a council at Constance, while those already there were to speak of themselves as “the cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, etc., assembled at Constance.” In general nothing was to be done or allowed to the prejudice of those who had hitherto been of the obedience of Benedict. The proceedings of the council of Pisa were to be regarded as null since in case of their validity the Spaniards would be convicted of having obeyed a deposed pope. All the decrees of Gregory against the obedience of Benedict were to be quashed. The cardinals of Benedict were to be received ad eundem in the council. The members of his court were to be provided for. Those who had hitherto adhered to him should see to it that in case of his death no successor was elected in his place. Safe-conducts were to be procured by the emperor for Benedict or his officials, if they wished to attend the council to prosecute the business of his cession.
With these articles, the archbishop presented to the council two other documents. One of these was an edict of the king of Aragon, by which he renounced the obedience of Benedict, and enjoined his subjects to follow his example. The other was a letter, stating that the kings of Castile and Navarre, with the counts De Foix and Armagnac, had resolved to pursue the same course. The result was hailed with the greatest joy. Public thanksgivings were ordered for the favorable issue of the negotiations, so soon as they were known at the council. They were published by the sound of trumpet through the whole city of Constance. A public procession was announced, which took place the next day (January 30, 1416) with imposing pomp.
One of the greatest blows to the cause of Benedict was the defection of Vincent of Ferrara, by universal consent the most eloquent preacher of his age. He belonged to the Dominican order, and was at this time its most distinguished ornament. He had been Benedict’s confessor, and master of the sacred palace. He was born at Valencia, A.D. 1350, and early distinguished himself for his extraordinary attainments. His days and nights were devoted with tireless assiduity to study. He read and re-read the fathers, but the Bible was his favorite book. In this we recognize the fountain from which he imbibed that zealous, humble, and devoted spirit, which he manifested in the midst of all the corruptions of his age. His eloquence and sanctity soon won for him the title of the Apostle of the West. His labors were wonderful. He traveled over Europe, mastering the language of each people, and addressing them with unwonted earnestness in their own vernacular. The discernment of Benedict led him to attach to himself and his court the most able and talented men. He induced Clemengis to become his secretary, and Vincent his confessor. One was the most. eloquent writer and the other the most eloquent preacher of the age. Both long cherished an affectionate regard for Benedict, even after the vices of his court had driven them from Avignon for purer air. In fact, the most valuable testimony to the merit of Benedict is found in the continued adherence of two such men—both able, both incorruptible, both indignant protestants against the corruption of the church, and diligent students of the Sacred Scriptures. To Vincent, the common people ascribed the power of working miracles—a claim in his behalf which in them was natural, in view of his amazing gifts, his wondrous eloquence, and the multiplied conversions of which he was the instrument, but a claim which we have no evidence that he sanctioned himself.
The stories of his ability and success as a preacher border indeed on the miraculous, but are well attested. He was the itinerant apostle of Western Europe. Wherever he went his fame preceded him, and thronging thousands hung entranced upon his lips. “Men of every grade, order, and dignity,” says Clemengis, “welcomed him as if he had been an angel of God.” His knowledge of scripture, his lucid exposition and apposite adaptation of it, excited the admiration of this learned ex-rector of the University of Paris. The word of God, from his mouth, had such a burning, blazing power, that the coldest and most frozen hearts were melted into penitence. The most obdurate were forced to cry out in the groans and anguish of conviction. His delivery, his gesture, the whole expression of his person, contributed to the effect. Sometimes he personated others, and made his sermons assume the form of dialogue. The farmer quitted his harvest field, the artisan forsook his workshop, to catch a sight or to hear the voice of the wonderful man. Nor did he speak only in the cities or villages. No church could have held the crowds that flocked to hear him. He took his stand in the broad plain, where thousands might be gathered to listen to his voice. They came from leagues around, and many of them came not in vain. They saw and heard, only to be convicted, converted, and reformed. They found in Vincent a John in the wilderness, a man severely simple and abstemious, whose life corresponded with his words, and who practiced what he preached. “He did not belong,” says Clemengis, “to the Pharisee class, who occupy Moses’ seat, who say and do not.” The gifts that were offered him he refused. True to his vow of poverty, his fare was simple and his raiment plain. He would not own a change of raiment, and only accepted the offer of a new garment when the old was worn out.. Thus he went from province to province, and from kingdom to kingdom, leaving behind him in the results of his labor, and the reform effected, the seals of his ministry. One of the noblest testimonies to his true worth and integrity is the fact, that all the public applause that trumpeted his name over Europe left him still the same humble, devoted, incorruptible witness to the truth that he was when he first tremblingly ventured, at repeated solicitations, to ascend the pulpit. His ability and integrity are attested by the fact of his appointment as an arbitrator in various matters, but especially in one that concerned the inheritance of the Castilian crown.
The defection of such a man from the cause of Benedict gave it a mortal blow in the popular esteem. The last evasions of the obstinate old man had satisfied him that he was fully determined to persist to the last in his schism, and Vincent was no longer his dupe. He did all in his power to persuade Benedict to yield, but the eloquence that had swayed nations was powerless to change the purpose of his former master. From a devoted adherent, Vincent became a zealous opponent. It was he who preached on the occasion of the publication of the edict for withdrawing obedience, which he himself read from the pulpit.
Vincent’s course seems to have been conscientious throughout. In no instance do we discover him influenced by motives of selfish interest or personal advantage. His renunciation of the pope bears, therefore, those marks of sincere conviction which entitle it to our respect. We find the effort afterward made by Gerson to induce Vincent to come to Constance. Undoubtedly he would have found in him a congenial spirit and a well-wisher, if not a co-laborer in his projects of reform. But there is reason to believe that Vincent felt that Constance was no place for him, and that his powers would be wasted upon an assembly of whose real character he must by this tinge have been fully aware. Like Clemengis, he chose to keep space enough between himself and the council. Was he suspicious lest they should be inclined to question his orthodoxy? They might have done so with almost as much reason as in the case of Huss. His sympathy with the Flagellants at least might have raised suspicion of heresy.
The Bohemian reformer and the apostle of the west were brothers in spirit, and we can scarce doubt that had they truly known each other, they would have bid and received a mutual good-speed in their noble work.
The emperor had accomplished all that was possible for him in Spain. The other princes, beside the king of Aragon, had given hopes of joining with him in renouncing Benedict’s allegiance. But there was opposition in their states, and some wavered. The emperor directed his course to Paris. The great battle of Agincourt bad been fought but a few weeks previous (October 25, 1415), and English valor had won the day. It was a terrible blow to France. The right hand of her power was cut off; her army and a large number of her nobles and knights were slain, or taken captive. The emperor sought to restore peace to the warring nations. The common foe of Christendom was thundering at the gates of the empire, and the story of Turkish invasion and cruelty was ever ringing in Sigismund’s ear. He wished to unite the nations in a crusading warfare against the infidel. By his mediation he succeeded in procuring between England and France a truce of ten years.
But already the blow struck at Agincourt was producing its effect. The humiliation of the weak king of France was relatively the exaltation of the powerful Duke of Burgundy. Henry V of England had only fought the duke’s battles. The fruits of victory did not cross the English channel. The most obvious result was that the murderer of the Duke of Orleans was delivered from all danger on the side of France. It was all in vain that at this moment the French king wrote to the council to urge the condemnation of Petit’s propositions. It was in vain that the university reiterated its complaints. It was in vain that the emperor himself wrote once and again expressing his indignant abhorrence of principles that exposed his own life to the stroke of the assassin. The advocates of the Duke of Burgundy became more bold and earnest in their opposition. A majority of more than two thirds of the eighty-four doctors, who were directed to give in their written opinions on the subject, were against Gerson and France. These last appealed to the council in full session. The discussions were violent and protracted. The difficulties in the way of proceeding were continually aggravated. Day after day the nations assembled to discuss the subject, but no advance was made. Nothing could be concluded. The council declared expressly that no condemnation of the propositions should prejudice the person or honor of individuals.
The intelligence of the articles of “The Capitulation of Narbonne,” meanwhile (February 4, 1415), reached Constance. The council assembled to hear them read, and to swear to their solemn observance. They did this, not as a council, but as an assembly of cardinals, bishops, etc. Instead of the Cardinal de Viviers, the president of the council, the Archbishop of Tours was the moderator of the assembly. Sixteen cardinals, more than fifty bishops, more than twenty abbots, and more than one hundred ambassadors and deputies took oath to observe the articles of “the capitulation.” Some, however, protested against portions of them, or against their being understood in a sense prejudicial to what they claimed as their right.
It was while these matters and those of John Petit were occupying the public attention of the council, that Theodoric of Munster (February 16, 1416) preached a sermon, in part with reference to Benedict XIII, but mainly bearing upon the vices of the clergy and the abuses of the church. It serves to show the feelings and opinions of at least a respectable minority of the council, and how strongly some of them must have sympathized in a portion of the views of the man whom they had sent to the stake. He took for his text the words, “Go ye also into my vineyard,” and improved the occasion, naturally, to condemn the indolence of the ecclesiastics, and the abuses and disorders in which it resulted. By the vineyard he understands, first, the Holy Scriptures, which the bishops and priests are to cultivate by study; and, in the second place, the church, which is confided to their care. The negligence, idleness, and vicious life of the clergy are severely rebuked, and their conduct in leaving their flocks to indulge in luxury is sharply arraigned. “Yet,” says the preacher, “it would be something tolerable if, in their dislike to labor in the vineyard, they would at least serve as scarecrows, to drive away the birds, but since they merely spread around them the stench of their vices, they can only be regarded as carrion, to attract ravenous beasts to trample and ravage the vineyard of the Lord. Such prelates deserve to be deposed, not only as useless servants, but as nuisances that make others breathe their pestilent corruption. … It is a great error to believe, as some do, that a pope should be deposed only for heresy, if by this we are not to understand sins public, scandalous, and maintained with shamelessness and obstinacy.” In these words he refers to the grounds on which Benedict might be proceeded against. He then goes on to condemn other faults of the ecclesiastics—their neglecting the study of Holy Scripture, to apply themselves to canon law and the decretals, for purposes of gain. Not that he would have the latter absolutely neglected, but the principal study of prelates and pastors should be the word of God, in order to preach, inasmuch as this is the original authority by which all positive law—which, moreover, is necessarily faulty and subject to change—must be tried. Enforcing his position by examples, he remarks, in language little respectful to the papacy, “That the convocation of the council and the deposition of one of the rival pontiffs would have been impossible, if it had been required to follow the new canon law which gives to the popes alone the right of assembling councils, and which lays down the principle that the pope cannot be judged except for heresy alone.” Again the preacher remarks, “Now we see positive laws, that is, the canon law, the decretals, and constitutions of the pope, exalted above the law of God and the commandments of Jesus Christ. This is the case even in this council, where the prelates fear more to disregard the authority of the Clementines, than that of the decalogue. They take more pains to see that court rules are observed, than to prevent propositions being advanced opposed to faith and to gospel morals.”
Such language was bold enough, and could scarcely have been acceptable to the majority of the council. But many of its positions had fully been illustrated in the proceedings that had taken place, especially in the case of Huss. The speaker’s reference to the scriptures as above all the authority of what he called positive law, fully coincided with the position taken by Huss upon his trial. It seems difficult to explain how such language could have been used, so much in the spirit of invective employed by the Bohemians, and so fully justifying what the council had branded as heresy. But it is evident that there were those at the council—and if united, forming a powerful minority—who were yet anxious and earnest on the subject of reform. It was impossible to silence them altogether, and it might have been a politic measure to allow them the satisfaction of having their views expressed. The statements which they presented were, moreover, so indisputably true, that the only answer they could receive was a silent acquiescence.
Jerome Before the Council
The condition of things in Bohemia had now become such as to excite the well-founded alarm of the council. Their proceedings were boldly arraigned and their authority contemned. The Bishop of Leitomischel, bearing their commission, found himself unable to execute it. His person, and even his life, were considered as endangered in the attempt. The whole nation was in a ferment. At length, on the twentieth of February, 1416, the matter was brought before the council. It was decreed that the followers of Huss, in Bohemia and Moravia, should be cited to appear and answer such accusations as had been, or should be, brought against them.
The main ground of citation was the charge against the council, implied in the statement that Huss “had been unjustly executed, and in violation of all truth,” in the assertion that “he was a good and holy man, of excellent and innocent life and pure in faith,” and in ascribing his execution to “the envy of a luxurious and wanton clergy.” The citation therefore extended to all those who had signed or affixed their seals to the letters addressed to the council. It comprehended the ablest and most learned men of Bohemia, as well as officers of the royal court.
“We are confident that all Christendom is fully aware, as well by previous councils as by the present one, that Satan has, in these last times especially, excited heretics or ministers of damnation against the whole ecclesiastical edifice; that these attempts have been to overthrow the Catholic faith, and the laws and usages given by the holy fathers, and till the present time inviolably observed by Catholics; and among these men are John Wickliffe and John Huss, heresiarchs, as plainly appears from their works and writings. These persons unwarrantedly assume to be doctors, and wishing to pass among the people for new law-givers and rabbis, have plunged into extravagant and damnable errors, in contempt of the holy doctrine and the traditions of the fathers, in such sort that the greater part of them are sectaries of Satan, who, wishing to rise above all that is worshipped in heaven, have been plunged to the bottom of hell, and cease not to draw men after them into the pit of their damnation. These men, wishing to raise themselves and their traditions above the hierarchy of the church militant, have associated many with them, even of the priestly order, who, after the manner of Theudas the Galilean, boasting to be new law-givers, have seduced multitudes. And what is more surprising is that the number of the followers of these heresiarchs goes on increasing continually, as we know, alas! too well, by the report of many, and by public rumor, especially in Bohemia and Moravia. There are among them even persons of rank, who are leagued together to maintain John Huss and his errors, and who, adding sin to sin, nor content with their malicious speeches and feigned devotion, write out slanderous documents, confirmed by their seals, in which they undertake the defense and eulogy of John Huss, though he has been burned by the just judgment of God and by our holy sentence. They venture also to declare that they are resolved to defend, even to the shedding of blood, these execrable heresies, and to maintain those who favor them. And, as if to make themselves a spectacle to the world by this monstrous error, they have been bold enough to write us letters full of their venom and poisoned lies. Touched, therefore, as a tender mother by the ruin of so many unfortunate ones, whose eyes have been fascinated by the devil, we have spared no pains to recover them from this diabolical obstinacy, and heal them of their frenzy, by writing to instruct them, sending them legates, and practicing in regard to them a simulation, flattery, and patience that has, perhaps, been pushed too far. But, alas! all these remedies have only served to their injury. They refuse all obedience, they will not listen to the salutary instructions of the church, and instead of profiting by the counsels of peace and truth that have been given them, they rise up against the Orthodox church, and strengthen themselves in iniquity. For these reasons we have resolved, by the aid of the Trinity, to oppose strenuously this damnable doctrine, and to proceed against these sectaries and followers of John Huss, through fear of incurring the indignation of the Most High by dissembling in regard to such great evils, after the example of the chief priest Eli, who, though in other respects a good man, drew down upon himself the divine vengeance for not having corrected the sins of his children, and sadly perished along with them. Therefore it is, that, wishing to proceed against them according to the royal way, after summary information; and having learned, on the testimony of people worthy of faith, that Czenko de Wesele, aliasWartemberg, supreme burgrave of Prague, Lasckow de Crauvartz, captain of the marquisate, and others who signed the letter of which we have spoken, are publicly charged and suspected in regard to the faith; and inasmuch as they may not safely be sought at their own dwellings, we cite them peremptorily, by the present edict, which shall be publicly affixed to the doors of all the churches of Constance.”
Leaving this citation to find its way to Bohemia, let us return once more to the affairs of Jerome of Prague. More than six months had passed away since his recantation, and nearly a year since his first arrest. The first term of his imprisonment had been one of severe hardship. His treatment afterward was more mild. There were those in the council who were ready to set him free, or at least unwilling to subject him to a new trial. But over these, the more moderate portion, embracing nearly if not quite all those who had served on the commission in his case, the opposing party prevailed. His enemies, led or spurred on by personal hostility, welcomed the announcement that new charges were to be presented against him. Many of them, from the first, had been suspicious of his sincerity in recanting. Doubtless the conduct of Jerome must have tended to confirm those suspicions. His was not a nature adroitly to play the hypocrite. It was too frank, too impulsive, too sensitive to self-disgrace, not sometimes to revolt at the thought of his belying his own convictions. During the last six months of his prison probation, he had time to reflect. Memory could not but be busy. Conscience must have sometimes reasserted her sway, and, from his own confession, we know that the prisoner must have experienced an intense wretchedness in reflecting upon his guilty weakness. To the misery of a life prolonged on such conditions, death was preferable. Jerome felt this. Remorse for the past was restoring him to himself, and when the hour of trial came again, as it now did, he was ready to meet it.
On the twenty-seventh day of April (1416), the council met, and the principal business before them was the case of Jerome. The processes for his trial had been issued more than two months previous (February 24). The Patriarch of Constantinople, and Nicholas Dinckelspuel, a theological doctor from Vienna, were directed, as a commission, to receive and examine testimony that should be adduced against him. These men visited Jerome, submitted to him the charges made, both the old and the new, and heard his answer. Their report was drawn up, and was now made to the council. It was read by John de Rocha, a theological doctor, a former friend and present defender of Petit, and in that matter one of Gerson’s antagonists. An old author of the “Life of Jerome” says that he was reluctant to recognize this new commission that had been appointed for his second trial. He certainly had the right to protest against its appointment over a previous commission, which had discharged its duty under the eyes and with the approval of the council. He refused at first to recognize the new commission, or reply to their questions. He demanded, as his right, a public audience. Probably upon the assurance of this, he finally consented to defend himself in prison from the charges now presented.
The first head of accusation turned upon the connection of Jerome with Wickliffe. The answers of the former to the several points, as they were read were also given. They were brief and direct. He admitted that he had read the works of Wickliffe, that he was aware of their having been condemned, but to the charge of having taught the errors and heresies contained in his books, he replied, “For myself, this much I have to say in answer, that it is false that I taught errors and heresies out of his books. But this I confess, that when I was a youth, ardent in the cause of learning, I came to England, and hearing of the reputation of Wickliffe, that he was a shrewd and talented man, I transcribed, as I could obtain copies, his Dialogue and Trialogue, and carried them with me over to Prague.”
The articles charged went over the most prominent acts of Jerome’s life, bringing up as far as possible every instance in which he had shown a leaning toward, or a disposition to defend, the views of Wickliffe. They maintained that he had been banished from Bohemia for his violation of the edict in regard to Wickliffe’s books. He replied that he had not been banished, but that when, through the letters of the Archbishop of Prague, containing false statements, the king had been induced to deliver him up to the archbishop, he had by the latter been gently dealt with for some time, till the king sent one of his barons, and ordered him to lie released. Jerome was charged, at the discussion in regard to Wickliffe carried on in the university, with having maintained that Wickliffe was a Catholic, and that what was contained in his books was most true. “I answer,” said Jerome, “that I said that John Wickliffe had composed and written many good things in his books, but I did not say that all things contained in the said books were and are most true, for I had not seen them all. But this I do say, what good things Wickliffe wrote, let them be to his credit and not mine, and what he wrote ill, let him be blamed for, and not me.”
He was then charged with having gone to Vienna, and there, on being arrested on the suspicion of heresy, having taken an oath to abide his trial and submit to his sentence, but instead of doing this had fled away by stealth. “I was violently arrested,” replied Jerome, “but nothing was done judicially in regard to me, for I was of another diocese, and they had no jurisdiction; neither did I escape by stealth or through contumacy, but I did not choose to wait for their violent measures, as I was not obliged or bound to do.”
Reminded that on the term for his appearance to be tried having expired, he had incurred by their sentence presumptive guilt of heresy, be answered, that after his departure they could have written in regard to him according to their caprice. The said processes they continued, were published at Vienna, Cracow, Prague, and other places. “I am aware that they were published at Prague,” said Jerome, “whether they were elsewhere or not, I do not know.” He was then charged with contemning the keys of the church, in disregarding his sentence of excommunication for five years or more. He denied that he had contemned the authority of the church, adding that if he had ever been excommunicated, he had sought absolution. The Archbishop of Prague had prosecuted against him the process of Vienna, but without summoning him before him. As to his being incorrigible, he denied it. If he had been excommunicated, he even to this day was not aware of it, but whether lawfully excommunicate or not, he does not treat it with contempt, but asks to be absolved. Jerome was next accused of having slandered the pope, prelates, and lords; of having published these slanders abroad; of having, in the Bethlehem chapel while Huss was speaking, thrust his head out of the window and slandered the Archbishop Sbynco before the people; of having violently thrown the sacred relics, kept by a friar in the Carmelite monastery, to the ground; of having assailed the monastery with an armed crowd, and borne off a preacher who was speaking against Wickliffe, and kept him in durance for several days. Some of these charges Jerome denied. Other he explained. As to the last, he said, “I confess that in the case referred to, when I entered the monastery I found the monks contending with two citizens, whose servant they had thrown into prison. And when I spoke with them in a peaceable way, many of them, armed with swords, made a rush upon me. And although I had no means of defense at hand, I forcibly seized a sword from a certain layman who stood by, and protected myself as well as I was able. I then gave up two of the monks for trial, but one I kept with myself.”
Other charges were added, some of them trivial, and many of them referring to facts evidently distorted to his prejudice. He was then accused of being a chief adherent of John Huss, approving of him, in his doctrine and in his heresies, justifying him, and seeking out defenders for him from Bohemia and Moravia. To this he replied that he loved John Huss as a good man, and one who had diligently performed his duties, not drawn off by unchastity, and of whom he had heard nothing heretical. Many things, moreover, had been imputed to him, for which he deserved no blame. As to his having been cited to the court of Rome to abjure the heresy of adhering to Huss, Jerome denies that any citation had reached him. As to his having excited seditions at Prague by appearing in the streets at different times with one and sometimes two hundred armed men in company, he denied it, except as he had joined, with a smaller number, the royal escort. Other articles of accusation betrayed their origin in feelings of personal spite or malice. He was charged, moreover, with having maintained, at different places, especially at Paris, Cologne, and Heidelberg, certain propositions, more of a philosophical than theological nature. Among them were the following: “In God, or the divine Essence, there is not only a trinity of person, but a quaternity and quinternity of things (rerum), such that each of these is not another and yet each is God; in created things there may be a trinity in a single essence, as memory, understanding, will, in the essence of the human soul; the soul of man is a perfect image of the trinity, with the single exception that it is created, and has but a finite perfection; the memory, the intelligence, or will of an angel is his essence, and yet not a person; God the Father could not beget the Son by the absolute power of deity; all things to come will take place by a conditionated necessity: the substance of the bread is not, by virtue of consecration, changed into the body of Christ; John Wickliffe was not a heretic, but a holy man; God cannot annihilate any thing.” These propositions Jerome was charged with having maintained. Even as they stand, they fall far short of that speculative wantonness of disputation which only a few years before had prevailed at the University of Paris. Jerome’s reply to them was that these propositions, understood in the proper sense, were true, though they were not presented in his style, yet, in regard to some of them, what sounded as his language had been employed in order to express them.
“These charges and their answers having been read, the council, by the instigation of his enemies, and at the demand of its prosecuting officer, determined that more should be added to the already extended catalogue. After some other business had been transacted, these also were read. They were much more extended than the first, and in fact substantially repeated them, though in a more ample manner, with many additions. They go back in their specifications so as to cover a space of more than twelve years. The mere recital of them, aggravated as they were by the ingenious malice that drew them up, was well calculated to prejudice the cause of the prisoner in the minds of his judge. Yet they are valuable—even from the hostile source from which we derive them—as giving something of a picture, however distorted, of Jerome’s life.
The first and main point charged in the new indictment, was the dissemination and defense of Wickliffe’s doctrines. It stated the methods which Jerome had employed for this purpose—copying Wickliffe’s books; recommending them to others; circulating them as he had opportunity, at Prague and elsewhere, declaring that those students who had not read them had but attained the mere bark of learning instead of discovering its roots; persuading them to reject their ordinary and approved textbooks, to peruse those of Wickliffe; defending the reputation of the man, and showing himself so zealous a favorer and champion of him and his errors, that many persons, of both sexes, formerly Catholics, had been drawn away from the faith, and fallen into heretical pravity, becoming so blind and obstinate in their error, as to assert that their false opinions were gospel truths, and to boast that in all respects they followed the gospel and the doctrines of Christ. The indictment asserted, that after the various condemnations pronounced upon the writings of Wickliffe at Oxford, Rome, and Prague, Jerome, who could not be ignorant of the facts, had still persisted in maintaining Wickliffe’s opinions, had defended them publicly, had disputed and offered to dispute in their favor, and had dared, in the lecture-room of Prague, and in the Bethlehem chapel, to speak of Wickliffe as a most holy man, a preacher of the gospel, and a teacher of the true faith. He had, moreover, proceeded to use violent means to silence opposition. Here the indictment recapitulated charges already mentioned. The opinions of Wickliffe on the eucharist, indulgences, etc., were then cited as endorsed by him. For the space of ten years, at different times, Jerome had maintained that in the sacrament of the altar the material bread remained after consecration, and that in this sacrament the bread is not transubstantiated into the body of Christ, and this he had induced many to believe, who still persevere in their error. He had maintained, that in the sacrament of the altar Christ is not truly present, and the argument used was this: Christ suffered on the cross, but the host never suffered, nor does suffer, therefore, Christ is not in the host, in the sacrament of the altar. Again: Mice cannot eat Christ, but mice can eat the consecrated host; therefore, the host in the sacrament of the altar is not Christ. Again: The host in the sacrament of the altar is not God, for a priest cannot consecrate his Creator, that is, God; but the priest consecrates the host, therefore, in the host of the altar, the Creator, God, is not.
Jerome was accused of maintaining, that no one could receive the heavenly crown who did not confess with heart and mouth the doctrines of Wickliffe; of promising, after this life, the triumphs of glory to those of all classes who should defend Wickliffe’s doctrines, and impugn the contrary; of writings, and procuring to be written, songs and doggerel verses, ridiculing the mass, which were learned and sung by the artisans, who said, that by these they also could make the body of Christ, so that the priests were subjected to seditions, wrongs, and insults. He moreover took the language of scripture, and versified it, so that it might be sung, as it was in the streets, leaving the impression, to the confusion of the ecclesiastics, that they (the singers) alone, and not the church of Rome or any of the clergy, understood the scriptures. After he had taught men these, he had said and preached that the laity who had learned them, and that too of both sexes, that is, men and women of the Wickliffite sect, and holding Wickliffe’s doctrine firmly and devotedly, might make the body of Christ, baptize, hear confessions, or bestow other sacraments of the church, provided they use fit words, and adapted to the consecrating or sacramental act, and that the sacraments performed by these are as efficacious and valid as if they were performed or bestowed by priests, according to the church form. He had taught, moreover, in various parts of Bohemia, but specially in the Bethlehem chapel, the heresy held by John Huss—we may add, by Clemengis, Gerson’s intimate friend, also—that the excommunication of the pope, or of any other bishop or minister of the church, is not to be feared or regarded, unless it is evident that it has been preceded by the divine excommunication; and he had taught, moreover, that the excommunication of the defenders of Wickliffe’s doctrine at Prague was to be accounted null, and to be disregarded, four God had never bestowed on the pope, nor any other servant of the church, any of his own attributes; and therefore, in spite of the interdict, the priests had been compelled, in many places and cities of the diocese of Prague, to celebrate and administer the divine offices. Jerome, moreover, was accused of maintaining that no authority for granting indulgences resides in the pope or the bishops, and that no faith is to be extended to letters, apostolic or episcopal, which contain indulgences. Such indulgences were of no avail. Those that preached them had been obstructed by him in doing it, and been forced to desist. The indictment recounted the circumstances of the violent opposition with which he had met them. On one occasion, John of Altamuta, and Benesius of Optawich, had entered a manse belonging to a parish church in a village of the diocese of Prague, intending to publish in the said church indulgences granted by John XXIII. Jerome heard of it, and gathering a company of armed men around him, rushed into the house in a state of excited passion, and with fury in his looks. He addressed the priests in harsh and threatening language. “Out with you, you deceivers, with your lies! Your lord the pope is a false heretic and a usurer. He has no authority to grant indulgences.” Jerome then threatened the priests, drove them first into the church and then forth from it, and followed them till he saw them outside the walls of the village. It was with difficulty, it was said, that they escaped. The indictment, set forth, moreover, that Jerome had said and asserted, in contempt of the keys and of the Apostolic See, that the papal bulls were not to be credited, nor any faith put inthem, neither were the indulgences of the pope to be believed in, inasmuch as they were null and void; besides, it was out of the pope’s power to give and grant indulgences. When present himself at the preaching of them, he had hindered it; when absent, be had incited others to do it, and these men ran about through the city of Prague during sermon-time, entering the churches, disturbing those who preached indulgences, asserting that they were the deceivers and seducers of those among the people to whom they asserted that indulgences were of any avail. He had, moreover, taken the papal bull, the letters apostolic containing the indulgences, and, putting them into a chariot with prostitutes, to whose breasts he bound them, had them drawn through the city. As the chariot moved on, it was surrounded with men crying aloud and shouting, “These are the letters of a heretic and a Russian, which we are taking to be burned.” And in the street, near the center of the city, he caused these bulls to be publicly burned.
Jerome, moreover, was accused of having held and taught, at Prague and elsewhere, that any educated or intelligent layman might, in any place, in a church or outside of it, without being licensed by pope, bishop, curate, or anyone else, preach the word of God. He had, moreover, himself, though a layman and unshorn, preached, and thus practiced what he preached, in different localities in Bohemia, as well as Moravia, on the ground that they who are called and sent of God seem to be sufficiently licensed. He had, moreover, said, asserted, and publicly preached that pictures of Christ, of his crucifixion, the Virgin and of canonized saints, are not to be painted and that it is heretical to worship them. An image of the crucifix he had insulted, and pelted with dung, and procured others to treat it in the same way, though many thronged to it in devotion. The relics of the saints he had declared were by no means to be worshipped or adored. He had said that the veil and robe of the Virgin, in the cathedral church at Prague, though reverently venerated by the faithful, were of no more account, and to be held in no greater reverence, than the skin of the ass on which Christ rode. Sacred relics he had torn from the altar, cast to the earth, and trampled under foot. He had maintained that those who died in defense of the doctrine of Huss, which be claimed to be true and Catholic, were true and glorious martyrs of Christ. He had caused them to be borne in procession to the grave, while the attendants chanted, “These are they who gave up their bodies to punishment, according to the will of God.” He had procured mass to be said for them as martyrs, in the Bethlehem chapel, and excited the multitude of that sect in such a way that for several days scores of them went again and again to the council-house of the city, saying that those who had been beheaded were true martyrs, and had died for the true faith of Christ, and that they themselves were ready to undergo a like death for the same faith.
The indictment then proceeds to specify other articles classed by themselves, and evidently of less weight or certainty, as that Jerome in Russia had, on one occasion, openly forsaken the communion of the Latin for that of the Greek church, publicly offering insult to the former; that he had attempted to seduce the Duke Withold, brother of the king of Poland, as well as others, to imitate his example; that when arraigned for his conduct before the Duke of Wilna, he had expressly declared that the aforesaid schismatics and Russians were good Christians. This he had done and repeated, in spite of the bishop’s admonition to the contrary. At Pleskov again, Jerome had pursued the same course, giving his public approval to the infidelity, schism, and heresy of the said Russians.
The indictment then set forth that Jerome was not to be believed on oath, whether now or in time to come he should be sworn. His promises and abjurations were feigned, one way expressed by his mouth, but otherwise conceived in his heart. They had been made through hypocrisy, not with the purpose of abandoning his errors, but to afford him a chance to escape and scatter them abroad anew. A similar evasive course Jerome had pursued at Paris, where Gerson and others had endeavored to force him to recant, at Heidelberg, at Cracow, and again at Vienna, whence, notwithstanding his oath to submit to trial, he had secretly fled. It was stated, that after his flight from the latter place he wrote to the official of the church of Passau the following letter: “Venerable father, master, and lord! know that I am now at Wyetow, sound and well, in the company of many friends, and ready to serve ever you and yours. Hold me excused, if you please, from the promise extorted from me in respect to you, as you will do if you duly consider the nature of it. Not that we would prejudice justice, to which with due precaution we are ever ready to submit. But to stand among so many hundred enemies, alone, is what, if you love me, you would never advise. For my enemies have ploughed upon my back, and made long the furrows of their iniquity. But my soul has escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler. The net has been broken, and we are at large. But I thank you, and ever shall thank you. Refer all my adversaries with their witnesses to me at Prague, and I will there take issue with them. Or, if it seem more fitting to them, let us each plead without witnesses in open court. But you must know that I was in your church in Laa, and there visited the master of the school and the notary of the city in memory of your kindness, and if I am ever able, I will serve you and yours. Farewell. Written at Wyetow. Yours ever, Jerome of Prague.”
The same perfidy also, it was said, had been shown by Jerome in his coming to Constance, ostensibly to vindicate the purity of his orthodox faith, yet only with the intent to show himself off, and procure testimonials to strengthen his sect at Prague, in the belief that he had come off triumphant, and that the doctrine of Wickliffe was holy, just, and Catholic, and in no way to be reprobated. And yet he had secretly fled from Constance, and after having been brought back, and having, in his abjuration of the errors of Huss and Wickliffe, also promised that he would write to the king and the queen of Bohemia, the University of Prague, and others, that the condemnation of Wickliffe and Huss with their doctrines was canonical and just, he had yet, though often admonished, refused to fulfil his promise aforesaid. Saying one thing while purposing another, he had hitherto deferred writing; and even more than. this, he had openly declared that he would not write.
In the hope, moreover, that he had already satisfied the council, and had taken measures to escape their hands and custody, he had given himself up to an elated, rebellious, and reprobate mind, refusing to answer under oath to the articles charged against him, and still refusing, in violation of his promise. Instead of showing contrition, he maintains also that he has ever been a good Christian, and free from all stain of error or heresy. Neither will he submit to be in any manner reproved. If this is attempted, or he is charged with any guilt, he at once becomes angry. He even asserts that injustice has been done him in the imprisonment in which he is now held, and demands damages therefore. He says expressly, “I am an innocent man. Who will refund me damages?” In his perverse obstinacy he still continues, notwithstanding all his feigning in regard to his patient endurance of his imprisonment and his professions of apparent compunction, always intending to defend the doctrine of Wickliffe, as argued by Huss. This is plain, from his written statements, read in this place of public session, where he said expressly, among other thing, “I call God to witness, that I never have seen in his (Huss) conduct, or heard in lectures and sermons by him, anything exceptional. Nay, I confess, that for his gentle and correct life, and the sacred truths which he explained to the people from the word of God, I was his intimate friend—for his person, and for truth’s sake, a defender of his honor in whatever place I might find myself.” From this, it is plain that he refused to write to the king and queen of Bohemia and the University of Prague. The same also may be inferred from many other things which evidence his extraordinary presumption, which was sufficient ground for his condemnation. Nor did the adversaries of Jerome forget to bring against him in the indictment the charge brought against Christ of old, that he did not practice fasting. They represented him as fond of good living, and more luxurious in his diet in prison than when at large.
They then ask that, as Jerome is a layman, and has ever borne himself as such, wearing a lay dress and a long beard, and notoriously bearing himself as a layman in public session, he may be forced, under pain of torture, to answer to each of the articles credit or non credit, to the end that he might no more, through hypocrisy, contrive to escape or secure relaxation from the severity of his imprisonment, so that, like hardened Pharaoh, he might afford comfort to his followers in their errors. If, however, after the matters aforesaid shall have been credibly proved against him, and he shall persevere in his contumacy, then, as an obstinate and incorrigible heretic, let him be given over to the secular court, according to the rules of the sacred canons.
Such was in substance the long and tedious indictment against Jerome, which lead been drawn up by the ingenious and unrelenting malice of his enemies. It occupies more than twenty folio pages of Van der Hardt’s compilation. The reading of it must have been enough for a single session. It was in some respects most artfully framed. It went over a large part of Jerome’s life—followed him from Oxford to Paris, to Heidelberg, to Cracow, to Vienna, to Prague, and to Constance—gathering up whatever could be found which could be so distorted or misrepresented as to excite prejudice against him. Many of the charges of the indictment were unquestionably true. Others, the prosecution would not he held responsible to prove. Undoubtedly they had been exaggerated, and in some instances must have been based merely on rumor. The statements in regard to his communing with the Creek church in Russia, Jerome pronounced false. Other charges he could undoubtedly have explained, in a manner to suffice fur his perfect justification.
These charges were read on the twenty-seventh of April. On the ninth of May the judges of the commission made a report, by the mouth of the Patriarch of Constantinople, their president, in regard to the merits of the case and the forms of process to be adopted. This report was unanimously concurred in by the seven judges of the commission who were present. As Jerome was unchanged in his purpose of demanding a public audience, and refused to answer on oath before the commission which had been last appointed, a general congregation was assembled on the twenty-third of May, in order that he might be heard. He still refused to answer on oath in this assembly, unless they would first assure him full liberty of speech. This the council refused. The last portion of the indictment, containing the articles to which he had not answered, was now read, and Jerome replied to each, briefly, as the council required. This part of the indictment was drawn up in one hundred and one items, as the first part, already referred to, was in forty-five. As each article was read, the number of the witnesses by whom its truth was attested was also given. No names were mentioned, neither do we find the quality or office of the persons recorded, as in the case of the trial of John XXIII. There was the same or even greater mockery of the claims of justice than in the case of Huss.
To some of the articles read Jerome made no reply. Either he admitted their truth, or felt that the brief answer which he would be allowed to make would fail to set forth the facts in their true light. As a general thing, the articles charging Jerome with violence were met by him with a prompt denial of their truth. As to the matter of the songs which he was said to have taught and procured to be sung at Prague, in derision of the priesthood, as also with regard to the burning of the pope’s bulls, he maintained that these charges were false. He admitted that he had studied the writings of Wickliffe, yet not without discriminating the good from the evil; that he had eulogized him as a philosopher and a learned man, not as a heretic; that he had placed his picture in his study just as he had the portraits of other eminent men, but had not placed a crown upon it as was charged. He claimed that he had not disputed in the Bohemian tongue on the sacrament of the altar; but admitted that he had spoken of John XXIII as a usurer; that he had said that an unjust excommunication was of no validity; that there might be such a thing as indulgences, lawfully granted, maintaining, however, that those which were bought and sold by the fiscal agents of the pope were mere extortion—they were not indulgences, but abuses of them; that, in regard to the privilege of every layman to preach the word of God, he had taken for his theme, on one occasion, the words, “As I do, so do ye also,” and in this address he had introduced the remark that laymen and unordained clergy might preach.
Jerome had answered to scarcely more than half the articles, when the time of the sitting was consumed, and the assembly adjourned over two days, to the twenty-sixth of May. On this occasion, he was still pressed to clear himself by oath in regard to the articles charged. But he refused to do it. Such a demand, he said, seemed to him to be strange and unwarranted, but he would continue his answers as he had begun. Many of the articles first read turned upon the subject of relics, and the violence which he had shown them. These he declared generally to be either false or distortions of the truth. On many points we have no record of his answers. And yet, all the objectionable positions which he was said to have maintained at different universities were read to him. To many of them, doubtless, no reply was made; on others, his answers, if we had them, would in all probability throw light enough to show that they had been misunderstood or misrepresented by his enemies. At the same time it must be observed that the scholastic arts of the universities claimed, even in this age, large liberty of discussion, abused, sometimes with impunity, to the defense of monstrous propositions, by the side of which the most extravagant of Jerome’s appear tame and moderate.
The Patriarch of Constantinople, with the approval of his colleagues, then summed up the several charges against Jerome, taking notice also of his replies. He concluded that a fourfold conviction of heresy was proved against him. But, he said, that since Jerome had repeatedly besought a public audience to be allowed him, his request had been generally acceded to, so that he might now be heard in public audience and expose whatever vain obloquy rested upon him.
He then turned to Jerome, and told him that if he had anything to say, he was at liberty to say it, since the present congregation had been called for his sake, and no other. If he wished to say, allege, or propose anything in defense of his innocence, he might do it; and, moreover, if he chose to revoke his error, the council, proceeding with gentleness and mercy, would receive him back to the bosom of holy mother church, since there had been in the church many heretics, who had recanted their error, reformed their lives, and received penance for the sins which they had committed. But in case he should decline to pursue this course, the council would then be under the necessity of proceeding against him according to the forms of law.
Jerome was prompt to improve the privilege he had so long and so anxiously desired. The hours of his tedious imprisonment had restored him to himself. Pale and worn as he was, he arose and boldly faced the assembly. All could see at a glance that he was master of himself, and, notwithstanding his long imprisonment and suffering, of all his wonderful powers. The memory of his shameful and cowardly recantation had filled him with remorse, but a remorse that stung him to the purpose of a noble disavowal of what he now accounted his disgrace. His whole appearance must have commanded respect. His bearing throughout betrayed neither timidity nor weakness. In the portrait of him, which has preserved his features for us, we read the restless energy and the daring promptitude of the man. Nature had stamped upon his face the chivalry of a heroic nature. No common soul spoke out in those large piercing eyes, and that bold high forehead, and those lips that seemed instinct with the eloquence they uttered. Men gazed upon him with admiration. He felt himself that he stood before the world, and was resolved, with death before him, to bear a noble testimony to the justice of his cause.
Jerome prefaced his defense with a prayer that God would deign to aid him, and inspire him to speak only such words as should be fitting and consistent with the well-being and safety of his soul. He then besought all those present, that they would pray God, the Blessed Virgin, and the whole heavenly host in his behalf, that they would so illuminate his mind and his understanding that he might speak nothing that could tend to the prejudice of his eternal welfare.
“I am aware,” said he, “most learned men, that many excellent men have suffered things unworthy of their virtues, borne down by false witnesses, condemned by unjust judges.” He proceeded to the statement of his own case, in which he wished to show that his own innocence had been subjected to a like hardship. Although certain judges had been deputed by the council, to whose examination he had submitted, and who had found in him nothing on which to ground the charge of heresy, yet now, at the instance of his jealous enemies, new judges had been deputed in his case—those who now occupied the bench—an act which he had ever considered most abhorrent and repugnant to justice and his own rights. To the further examination of these judges he never had submitted himself, nor would he ever recognize them as his judges. He then passed in review many eminent and heroic men, who had been put to death, driven into banishment, or unjustly thrown into prison. “If I, myself,” said Jerome, “should in like manner be condemned, I shall not be the first, nor do I believe that I shall be the last, to suffer. Still I have a firm hope in God my maker, that yet, when this life is past, they who condemn Jerome unjustly, shall see him take precedence of them, and summon them to judgment. And then shall they be bound to answer to God and to him, and give an account for the injustice with which he was treated at their hand.” He then spoke of Socrates, unjustly condemned yet refusing the opportunity offered for his escape, unmoved alike by the fear of prison and death, although so terrible to mortal flesh. He then spoke of the captivity of Plato, the banishment of Anaxagoras, and the tortures of Zeno, as well as the unjust condemnation, the exile and shameful death of many distinguished heathen, referring to Boethius, Rutilius, Virgil, Seneca, and others. He then passed in review eminent men of the Hebrew nation—Moses, a deliverer and lawgiver of his people, yet by them wronged and slandered; Joseph, sold into bondage through the envy of his brethren; Isaiah, Daniel, and many of the prophets, reviled as impious or seditious, and wrongfully condemned. He referred to Susanna, sentenced on the false witness of two priests, though delivered by the wisdom of the prophet, and to the fate of many who, though most holy men, had perished by unrighteous judgment. He then came down to the New Testament record, spoke of John the Baptist; of Christ himself, condemned by false witnesses and false judges; of Stephen the protomartyr, who, in like manner, through false witnesses, was arraigned, imprisoned, and stoned. The apostles themselves were all condemned to death, not as good men, but as seditious, contemners of the gods, and doers of evil deeds. It. was no wonder, therefore, if he, by his jealous and lying enemies, should be condemned to the fire. “Yet,” said he, ” it is an odious thing that a priest should be condemned by a priest and yet this has been done. It is more odious to be condemned by a college of priests, yet this too has taken place. But the crowning point of iniquity is, when this is done by a council of priests, and yet we have seen even this come to pass.” As Jerome uttered these words every eye was fixed upon him. His indignant eloquence thrilled and awed the assembly. Yet they did not venture to interrupt him. Jerome bearded the lion in his den. The wild beast quailed before the steady, searching gaze of conscious integrity and power.
After this eloquent and impressive introduction, Jerome proceeded to particulars. He said that no one had ever condemned him but his former friends, now alienated by hostility, and the Germans, who had gone forth from Prague. He gave a brief and concise statement of the origin of the university, its endowment by Charles IV for the especial benefit of the Bohemian people, compelled to go abroad from a land rich in nature’s wealth, to reap in a foreign land the harvests of learning. In this university, the old jealousy between the Germans and the Greeks, who were represented by the Bohemians, their descendants, was revived. “The Germans formed the majority, and engrossed to themselves the offices of honor and profit, to the prejudice of the Bohemians, who were stripped of all. If a Bohemian graduate had not other resource, he must, in order to live, leave the university and go out into the towns and villages and support himself by teaching school. The whole government of the university, moreover, was in the hands of the Germans. They disposed of its benefices. They kept its seal. They had charge of its keys. They had three voices out of four in its suffrages, instead of being counted as a single nation. They could do as they pleased. The Bohemians were of no account. The same was the case in the city government of Prague. Of the eighteen members of the council, sixteen were Germans and two Bohemians. The whole kingdom was governed by Germans who held all the offices. The Bohemian laity were of no account. I perceived this, as did Master John Huss, whom I always held as a valiant, just, and holy man. We, therefore, in our anxiety to put a stop to these things, went to the present king of Bohemia to explain to him, in the presence of some of the nobility, how things were, and what ill effects might follow to the destruction of the Bohemian language.”
Jerome then stated the measures he had employed persuading Huss to add his influence with the people. At the mention of that name, all the tender memories of their former friendship were revived, and Jerome proceeded to speak of his former associate as a just, holy, upright, devout man, and one who had been found abiding inflexibly by the truth. With such aid as could be obtained, through Huss and the Bohemian noble, Jerome stated that he secured a complete revolution in the relation of the two nations, so that the Bohemians occupied the place previously filled by the Germans. Such, he represented, were some of the grounds of hostility that had incited his persecution.
Subsequently to this, Huss had inveighed against the clergy and the ecclesiastical orders. He had pointed out how the priests indulged in pomp and show and luxurious living, spending in feasts and ostentation the money which belonged to the poor. He had spoken of the benefices as designed by God, that the poor might be fed, churches built up and maintained, and that they should not be perverted to vile and unworthy ends. Upon this Jerome, proceeded to say, the clergy rose up against Huss and himself. They persecuted Huss through envy, and sent Michael de Deutschbrod (Causis), not a Bohemian, but a German, to the court. of Rome, to secure the citation of Huss before it.
The result of all this was that John Huss was at last excommunicated by the judges deputed by that court. Yet Huss himself appealed from that excommunication, and still, by virtue of it, he was forbidden to preach. Things being in this state, Jerome stated that he had persuaded Huss that he ought to go to the council at Constance, where he might fully set forth the real state of things, vindicate his innocence, and defend himself in reference to the penalties and pains unfairly imposed.
Jerome then stated the facts of Huss’ going to Constance, his imprisonment, and the charges of heresy brought against him. He said that on learning these things he himself fulfilled his promise made to Huss, and followed him to Constance. Thence, by the advice of men of power and influence, and from apprehension of imprisonment, he had fled the distance of a few miles to a village, where he remained for the space of five days, writing meanwhile to the emperor that great injustice was like to be done to Huss since he had come provided with a safe-conduct, and even a Jew or a Saracen ought to be free and unmolested in coming, staying, stating and pleading his case, and in departing, at his own pleasure, and according to the tenor of the safe-conduct granted to Huss. Many similar documents also he had sent to Constance, which were affixed to the doors of the churches and to the gates of the dwellings of the cardinals. Receiving no reply to these, he had departed from the place where he had tarried, and set out on his return toward Bohemia. On his way he was arrested, and sent, by the council’s direction, bound in chains to Constance. Here, on his arrival, he had been cast into prison.
All these circumstances Jerome dwelt upon, and then described the treatment which he had received at the hands of the council. He had been charged with heresy. A commission was appointed to direct the process against him. He had been over-persuaded, by certain great men, to refer himself to the council, and submit to the conditions it should impose. It was their hope and expectation that he would be kindly treated. In these circumstances, afraid in his human weakness of the fire, the heat of which was most cruel, and death by which was most fearful, he had yielded to these persuasions, and abjured, and had moreover written his abjuration to Bohemia. He had also given his assent to the condemnation of the books of John Huss and their doctrine. But in this, said he, “I did not express my true belief.” This much he confessed he had done in violation of his conscience, since the doctrine of John Huss, like his life, was holy and just, and in this conviction he would abide, and to it he would firmly adhere. And to confirm this impression, he had recalled the letter written to Prague, in which he had recanted the doctrine and the opinion which he had of Huss.
He said, moreover, of the books of Wickliffe and of his doctrine, “that he never had met with the man whose writings were so excellent and profound.” This opinion he would adhere to, and he had done wrong in speaking otherwise. For as to what he had done in his recantation of his views of Huss and of his doctrine, he had not done it with the intention of desisting from them, but, through cowardice and fear, he had suffered the dread of the fire to extort it.
But whatever Huss or Wickliffe may have said erroneous in regard to the sacrament of the altar, and against the doctors of the church, he rejects, and, in this respect, does not follow or hold their opinion. His own views are those held by Gregory, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and others, whose authority is admitted throughout the church. He also declared that he considered the conduct and practice of the popes and cardinals, their disposal of benefices, their luxurious indulgence and style of dress, to be unwarranted, and indefensible on the grounds of truth and reason, as well as opposed to scripture and the order of the church. And on this point he holds as Wickliffe and Huss hold, and he believes that he is correct in so believing.
These scattered fragments of a speech, the impression of which must have been extraordinary, and the spirit and ability of which filled even his enemies with admiration, furnish us with a mere outline of the plan and course of Jerome’s argument. He seems to have caught an inspiration in those prison hours, when the thought of what others had endured before him consoled his solitude, that lifted him as it were above himself. On some points be is careful to state his conformity to Catholic formularies, but on others he avows his obnoxious opinions with a firm and uncompromising boldness. His doctrine on the subject of the eucharist was not the one invented in the middle ages, for Berengar to tilt at, but the one held by the early fathers. There was no real ground of proceeding, however, against Jerome, except his endorsement of Huss and Wickliffe. The fact of his approval of these men he did not attempt to conceal. He frankly avowed it, and, as an act of simple justice to the injured men, vindicated their memory. But for this he might perhaps have yet been saved. He had strong friends. His ability had found admirers; men listened in astonishment and awe to his wonderful and impressive speech. But his enemies were unrelenting, and his friends were disappointed. Instead of submitting to the council, he had impeached its wisdom in the sentence of Huss. Instead of condemning the latter as a heretic, he had eulogized him as a martyr. Thus his fate was sealed. None could safely venture to be any longer his apologist. The council appointed the following Sabbath, May 30th, as the time for pronouncing definitive sentence against Jerome.
Thus passed from a transitory present into the permanent records of history, a scene that will be forever memorable while truth is revered, or the martyr-spirit honored. Jerome was an orator. Nature had made him such. All the various learning of the age had helped to furnish his mind and discipline his powers. Gerson was perhaps the only man in Europe who could have been considered fairly his intellectual rival. But he was more than an orator—more than a learned man. It was the love of truth that made him eloquent, and it made him a martyr also. His false recantation had humbled him, but only to restore him to himself. He rose from his fall a wiser, a stronger, and a better man. He came from his prison, as if from the mount of transfiguration. There he had held communion with the mighty spirits of the past. There he had girded himself, in a more than human strength, for the mortal conflict. He remembered the example of Socrates, but he remembered also the example of Stephen, and his words and bearing remind us of both. Yet the philosopher is lost in the Christian martyr, and the man who does not gaze upon him with admiration, has lost, if he ever had, the power and sensibility to appreciate the noble and sublime in human action.
If anyone was fitted to form a just estimate of the man and the occasion, it was one who witnessed it, and who has left us the record of the impression which it made upon his own mind. This man was Poggio Bracciolini, who went to Constance as the secretary of John XXIII. He was a scholar. His taste had been formed on classic models. John of Ravenna taught him in the Latin tongue. A knowledge of the Greek language, as well as of its orators, poets, and philosophers, he had gained through the celebrated Emanuel Chrysoloras, himself a native Greek. Above most of his Italian countrymen, Poggio was an enthusiast in the cause of classical learning. To him we are indebted for the discovery and preservation of the writings of Quintilian, Lucretius, and others. He traveled over Europe, and even extended his journey to England, in search of the lost treasures. His merits continued him in office as papal secretary under seven popes. He was a close observer, careful and severe in his critical judgment, and must be regarded a witness free from all suspicion of prejudice in Jerome’s favor.
Yet his account of the scene of Jerome’s trial reminds us of Burke’s eulogy of Sheridan’s eloquence. In spite of every bias against the prisoner, the papal secretary was forced into an enthusiastic panegyric of him. Some portions of his letter to Leonard Aretin, which have not already been incorporated into the account of Jerome’s speech, are of special interest. His descriptions are those of an eyewitness, and are truthful and vivid. “After having spent some time at the bath, I wrote thence a letter to our friend Nicholaus, which I think you must have read. A few days subsequent, and shortly after my return to Constance, the case of Jerome, charged with heresy, was brought before the council. I determined to pass the matter in review before you, as well for its own importance, as especially for the eloquence and learning of the man. I confess that I never saw one who approached so near, in pleading his own cause—and that a capital one—to the eloquence of those ancient models which we regard with such admiration. It was wonderful to see with what language, what eloquence, what arguments, what countenance, what oratory, and with what confidence he answered his prosecutors, and summed up in his own defense. It is sad that so noble, so superior an intellect should have been led off to heretical pursuits—if indeed the reports in regard to him are true. But it is no business of mine to determine this, for I but acquiesce in the sentence of those who are accounted more wise. Do not expect from me a documentary history of the case. That would be tedious, and would require the labor of days. I will only touch on some of the more prominent points, by which you may understand the doctrine of the man.
“After having produced many articles against him to convict him of heresy, and corroborated them by witnesses, they allowed him to answer to each point urged against him. He was led into the midst of the assembly, and required to reply to each charge by itself. For a long time he refused to do so, declaring that he would plead his own cause before he replied to the malice of his enemies. After he had spoken and been heard in his own behalf, then he said he would speak to the accusations and invidious charges of his enemies. This condition the council refused to grant. Jerome replied in an indignant strain: ‘What injustice! You have kept me shut up for three hundred and forty days, chained, in different prisons, in the midst of filth and stench, and in want of everything. You have given ear to my enemies and slanderers, but will not listen to me for a single hour. I do not wonder that when your ears have been so long open to their persuasions, they should have led you to believe that I was a heretic, an enemy of the faith, and a persecutor of the clergy, and that no chance of defending myself should be allowed. You have by prejudice been led to account me a criminal, before you could know that I was one. But you are men—not gods, not immortal, but mortal men. You may err, be deceived, be misled. The lights of the world, the wisest of the earth, are said to be assembled here. It becomes you to see to it that nothing be done rashly, unadvisedly, or contrary to justice. I am a man, and my life is at stake. For myself I do not speak. Sooner or later I must die. But it seems an unworthy thing, that the wisdom of so many men should proceed against me in violation of equity, a course not so injurious for present results as for future precedent.
Much more did Jerome utter in the same noble strain. But the noise and murmurs of the assembly interrupted him in his speech. At length it was decided that he should answer first to the charges against him, when full liberty of speech, as he demanded, should be allowed. The articles of accusation were read to him, one by one, with the testimony by which they were sustained, and he was then asked what objections he had to offer to them. It was wonderful with what ability he replied, and what arguments he urged in his own defense. He adduced nothing that was not worthy of a good man, and if his real belief was what he professed, not only could no cause of death be found in him, but not even the lightest ground of accusation. He declared that all that was urged against him was false, made up by the envy of his enemies. Among other things, when the article was read charging him with being a slanderer of the Apostolic See, an opponent of the Roman pontiff, an enemy of the cardinals, a persecutor of the prelates and the clergy, and an enemy of the Christian religion, he rose, and in tones of pathos, with lifted hands, exclaimed, ‘Whither shall I now turn? Fathers, whose aid shall I implore? Whom shall I deprecate? Whom beseech? You? But these my persecutors have alienated your minds from me, in declaring that I am the enemy of all that are to judge me. For they imagined that, if the accusations which they have framed against me should seem light, you would condemn by your sentence one who is the common enemy and assailant of all, as they have falsely represented me to be. So that if you give ear to their words, I have no more hope of safety left.’ Often his sarcasm was stinging. Often, even in his sad and perilous situation, he forced the council to laughter as he exposed the absurdity of the charges against him, or met them with ridicule and sarcasm.
“When asked what he thought of the sacrament, he replied, ‘First, bread in the consecration, and afterward the true body.’ ‘But,’ said one, ‘they say that you said, after consecration there remains bread.’ ‘Yes,’ replied he, ‘at the baker’s.’ A Franciscan monk inveighed against him; ‘Silence, you hypocrite,’ said Jerome. Another swore by his conscience. ‘It is the safest way,’ said Jerome, ‘to carry out your deception.’ One of his chief opponents he treated with derisive contempt. He spoke of him never except as ‘dog’ and ‘ass.’” Such was Jerome’s defense on his second day of audience (May 23). Poggio characterizes it as able and pathetic. As he appeared at the next audience (May 26), the remaining accusations, with the testimony, were read, at somewhat tedious length. When the reading was ended, Jerome arose. “Since,” said he, “you have listened so attentively to my enemies, it is befitting that you should give ear to me with equal readiness.” Many clamored against it, but the opportunity at last was given him to proceed.
Commencing with prayer to God for that spirit and that power of utterance which should tend to the advantage and salvation of his soul, he addressed the council in the language which we have already noted. His exposition of his own life and pursuits, says Poggio, was admirable. It showed him great and virtuous. The hearts of all were moved to pity. As he discussed the differences of men in matters of speculative opinion, he manifested a largeness of mind and apprehension which was worthy to be admired. “Of old, learned and holy men in matters of faith had differed in opinion, yet not to the prejudice of faith itself, but to the discovery of truth. Augustine and Jerome disagreed, nay opposed each other on some points, yet neither was on this account suspected of heresy.”
Poggio pronounces Jerome to have been a man of most remarkable ability. “When interrupted, as he often was in his speech, by clamors, or persons carping at his language in a manner most. provoking, he left not one of them unscathed. All felt his vengeance, and were put either to shame or silence. If murmurs arose, he paused and protested against the disturbance. He would then resume his speech, again and again interrupted, yet begging and beseeching them still to allow him liberty of speech, whom they would never hear again. All the confusion did not break him down. He retained throughout his firmness and self-possession. How wonderful was his memory, that never failed him, though for three hundred and forty days thrust in the dungeon of a dark and filthy prison! Yet of this grievance, which he indignantly complained, he said ‘that, as a brave man it did not become him to moan about it that he was treated with such indignity, but he was surprised at the inhumanity which others had shown him. In this dark prison he had no chance to read, nor could he even see to do it.’ I say nothing of his anxiety of mind by which he was harassed day after day, and which might well have destroyed his memory. Yet he adduced in his favor the authority of so many men of the highest wisdom and learning, so many doctors of the church whose words testified in his behalf, that you could not have expected more if the whole space of his imprisonment had hen devoted in undisturbed leisure to the studies of wisdom. His voice was sweet, full, sonorous, impressive in its tones. His gesture was that of the orator, adapted, as occasion required, either to express indignation or to excite pity, which nevertheless he neither asked for, nor showed an anxiety to obtain. He stood before the assembly, so fearless and intrepid, not only scorning to live, but welcoming death, that you would have called him a second Cato. O man! worthy art thou to be forever remembered among men! I do not praise him in any respect in which he was opposed to the institution of the church. I admire his learning, his extensive knowledge, his eloquence, and his skill in argument. I only fear that all nature’s gifts have been bestowed to work his ruin.”
Sentence and Execution of Jerome
Jerome was borne back from the council to his dungeon, there to await his final sentence. The severity of his imprisonment, which had been somewhat relaxed, was now increased. He was more strictly fettered than before. His hands, his arms, and his feet were loaded with irons.
The members of the council were variously disposed toward him. Some were gratified, undoubtedly, that a stop was now to be put to his bold and agitating career. Others exulted over him as a fallen fee, and triumphed in his doom as the victim of their personal malice. Nearly all despaired of rescuing him. Those who had listened to his speech, and heard its candid and manly avowals, said to each other, “He has pronounced his sentence.” Still there were many that could not thus abandon him. Numerous members of the council, embracing the most learned of the body, interested themselves in his behalf. Poggio is said to have employed his influence to the same purpose. The Cardinal of Florence conversed with him, and endeavored to dissuade him from the resolution he had adopted. But all was in vain. Jerome saw no honorable way of escape from the fate to which he was doomed through his refusal to abjure. He was now at last resolved, living or dying, to remain true to his convictions. He scorned any more to dissemble, as he had done, and betrayed no longer any sign of weakness or hesitation. Death by fire was not so terrible as the disgrace and guilt of a feigned recantation—the only one which it was possible for him to make.
If, in the earlier period of his imprisonment, Jerome showed himself tremulous and timid, as compared with Huss, these closing hours of his trial display his character in a nobler light. His prison experience was aggravated by some hardships from which Huss was spared. The latter had his friends warm and true, who refused to desert him, and remained faithful to the end. In the enthusiasm of his gratitude, he writes of the generous countenance and sympathy afforded him by the Knight John de Chlum, and speaks of the consolation and strength which were thus ministered to him in his hours of weakness and despondency. The presence and counsel of those in whom he could confide lightened the load of his anxiety and anguish. They stood by him, and stood by him to the last. But when the deed was done, when Huss was executed, Constance was no longer the place for them. They departed, and Jerome was left alone. We hear no more of Chlum, Duba, or Peter the Notary. Jerome was kept a close prisoner; and, even had they remained, they would, probably, have been denied access to him in his prison-cell.
Who can enter into the anxieties and agony of the prisoner, wearing out his solitary hours in a close, foul, and gloomy cell, cheered by no friendly face or kindly word? And yet how noble, in such circumstances as these, was the self-recovery of Jerome! Uncounseled but by his conscience and his God, he rose from his fall, in the intrepidity and courage of a genuine martyr, blotting out, by an honest and hearty avowal of his error, the stain of what he thenceforth accounted his weakness and his disgrace.
The council met in its twenty-first session on Sunday, May 30th, 1416, to pronounce sentence upon the prisoner. There was no longer any doubt of the result—no chance, so far as any change in him was concerned, for averting his doom. A French writer, quoting from Theobald’s history of the Hussite war, gives a detailed account of the efforts employed to induce him to recant, same of which have a been already referred to. “I will abjure,” replied Jerome to their urgent entreaties, “if you demonstrate to me from the Holy Scriptures that my doctrine is false.”
“Can you be to such an extent your own enemy?” inquired the bishops.
“What!” replied he, “do you suppose that life is so precious to me, that I fear to yield it for the truth, or for Him who gave His for me? Are you not cardinals? are you not bishops? and can you be ignorant of what Christ has said: ‘He that does not give up all that he hath for my sake, is not worthy of me?’ … Behind me, tempters!”
The Cardinal of Forence presented himself. He sent for Jerome, and said to him, “Jerome, you are a learned man, whom God has loaded with the choicest of gifts; do not employ them to your own ruin, but for the advantage of the church. The council has compassion on you, and, on account of your rare talents, would regret to behold you on your way to execution. You may aspire to high honors, and be a powerful succor to the church of Jesus Christ, if you consent to be converted, like St. Peter or St. Paul. The church is not to such a point cruel, as to refuse a pardon if you become worthy of it. And I promise you every kind of favor, when it shall he found that neither obstinacy nor falsehood remains in you. Reflect whilst it is yet time; spare your own life, and open your heart to me.”
Jerome replied, “The only favor that I demanded which I have always demanded is to he convinced by the Holy Scripture. This body, which has suffered such frightful torments in my chains, will also know how to support death, by fire, for Jesus Christ.”
“Jerome,” asked the cardinal, “do you suppose yourself to be wiser than all the council?”
“I am anxious to be instructed,” rejoined Jerome, “and he who desires to be instructed, cannot be infatuated by ideas of his own wisdom.”
“And in what manner do you desire to be instructed?”
“By the Holy Scriptures, which are our illuminating torch.”
“What! is every thing to be judged by the Holy Scriptures? Who can perfectly comprehend them? And must not the fathers be at last appealed to, to interpret them?”
“What do I hear!” cried Jerome. “Shall the word of God be declared fallacious? And shall it not be listened to? Are the traditions of men more worthy of faith than the holy gospel of our Savior? Paul did not exhort the priests to listen to old men and traditions, but said ‘The Holy Scriptures will instruct you.’ O Sacred Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Ghost! already men esteem you less than what they themselves forge every day! I have lived long enough. Great God! receive my life; thou canst restore it to me.”
“Heretic!” said the cardinal, regarding him with anger, “I repent having so long pleaded with you. I see that you are urged on by the devil.”
As the twenty-first session opened, the report of Jerome’s firmness, as well as of his previous hearing in the prison conference, which had been noised abroad, drew multitudes together. His condemnation and execution made it to them, in anticipation, as it did to others afterward in retrospect, a memorable day. The emperor was still absent, but the Elector Palatine occupied his place as protector of the council. By his orders the troops were called out and placed under arms. The Bishop of Riga then had Jerome led into the cathedral, once more to be cited to retract, and, in case of refusal, to hear his sentence.
When he was formally called upon to retract, according to some historians, previous to other proceedings of the council in his case, he exclaimed, “Almighty God! and you who hear me, be witnesses! I swear that I believe all the articles of the Catholic faith, as the church believes and observes them, but I refuse to subscribe to the condemnation of those just and holy men whom you have unjustly condemned, because they have denounced the scandals of your life, and it is for this that I am about to perish.”
Jerome then repeated aloud the Nicene creed, and the confession of Athanasius, and spoke for a considerable time with as much ability as eloquence. All were lost in admiration at his knowledge and his admirable language. Several drew near him, and presented him with a new form of retraction, exhorting him to allow himself to be prevailed upon, but he refused to listen to any exhortation on that point.
The Bishop of Lodi then ascended the pulpit; and chose for his text Mark 16:14. “Afterward he appeared unto the eleven, as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart.” The sermon is curious in many respects. It betrays with a kiss—it stabs under the mask of charity. The logic of persecution whines and weeps, and recounts the evidence of its tenderness, as it strikes the victim. The introduction of the discourse is an attempt to show, that where milder measures fail more severe ones must be applied. “A hard knot cannot be split but by a heavy blow.” “A virulent disease requires a more active remedy; a dangerous wound a more skillfully bound ligament. To bend the hard iron into shape, it must be subject to a hotter fire, and beat with a heavier hammer.”
He then applied these principles to Jerome’s case, and turning to the prisoner addressed himself directly to him: “I knew that thou wert stubborn, that thy neck was iron, and thy brow brass. But be assured that a hard heart shall have evil at last, and he that loves danger shall perish in it.
“Consider, also, that though my reproof sounds harshly to the outward ear, yet a charitable delight in mercy dwells within it. And, as by word and speech I ought not to spare you, so do I purpose, with good will and with gentle charity, to rebuke your faults. … Wherefore, think not that I wish to add afflictions to one already afflicted, or stir up the fire to a new heat by the sword. But that you may assuredly know with what charity you are to be reproved, with what love you are to be shielded, with what long-suffering and considerate kindness exhorted to relinquish your folly, I have selected for my proposed theme the words of the text.”
The speaker then proceeded to state what had been the guilt of Wickliffe and Huss. Jerome likewise had come under the same condemnation. His unbelief, which had led to heresy and perfidy, was bad, but the hardness of his heart was worse by far. “Those who defend their error without stubbornness or obstinacy, and are still ready to be set right, are by no means to be reckoned heretics. But they who, despising the decisions of the fathers, endeavor, with all their might, to defend their perfidy, are more fit to die than to be corrected. … Error and unbelief are alike to be reproved, but stubbornness of heart is to be condemned. … Evils that might grow with time are at once to be met. Due correction should instruct ignorance, and severe discipline control obstinacy and hardness of heart. It is better, says Isidore, that one guilty one be punished for the good of many, than that many be endangered by the impunity of one. Wherefore, heretics are to be publicly extirpated, lest they ruin others by their evil example, false doctrine, and contagious influence. Unbelief, when it submits to correction, merits pardon, but stubbornness and obstinacy are only to be dealt with by exterminating them. Let no one then be presumptuously stubborn and contumacious in heart; let no one be confident in his own vain fancy. He is too hasty who resolves to enter where he has seen others fall, and be too reckless who is not struck with fear when others perish. When a fault is defended, it is repeated, and he adds sin to sin who shamelessly and obstinately defends his evil deeds. Hardness of heart is therefore to be detested, especially that which is not healed by contrition, controlled by devotion, or moved by prayers, which does not yield to threatenings, and is confirmed by blows. Hence he is inexcusably criminal who refuses to repent, and retains his pride.
“There are two things among human errors too hard to be tolerated—presumption before truth is discovered, and a presumptuous defense of what is false, afterward. No presumptuous man will confess his fault, because be does not believe himself guilty. If he sees it, he will not suffer himself to be convinced, or be regarded as delinquent. Most damnable, therefore, is a presumptuous pride, and a proud presumption, which, in the absence of truth, would arrogate to itself a fictitious justice, and ceases not to be proud of its own knowledge.” Applying these principles in the case of Jerome, the bishop expresses his fear lest presumption should prove his ruin. Here was the hidden precipice; here, in this, the labyrinth of his errors. “This obstinacy of yours has procured your doom. Though you are a learned man, and have been a teacher, you have been deceived, as I think, by your excessive presumption. Error has led, step by step, to further error.
“I have purposed to smite you, Jerome, upon both cheeks, though ever with that fitting charity which heals while it wounds, and soothes while it pierces. Wherefore, turn not your face upon me like a flinty rock. But rather, according to the gospel, when you are smitten on one cheek, turn the other also. I will smite you, therefore, and would that I might heal. You ought to be softened in spirit by the memory of the crimes you have committed, and in view of the excessive benignity of your judges.”
Premising that he does not throw another’s filth in Jerome’s face, but his own, that he may see and repent his crimes, the speaker proceeds to set forth the mischiefs done in Bohemia by Jerome and Huss. “Happy kingdom,” he exclaims, “if this man had not been born! … Of how great evils was the presumption of these two men the root! What violence, exiles, robberies, desolations, have sprung from it!”
Such, according to the bishop, was the blow on the one cheek. The other is, to say the least, hypocritically odious, though the tender mercies of the Bishop of Lodi were, beyond doubt, conscientiously cruel.
He proceeds to contrast the way in which a heretic deserved to be treated, with the gentleness used in Jerome’s case. “Heretics ought to be carefully sought after, arrested, and committed to close prison. Articles of accusation should be received against them, and in their case, all sorts of persons, the infamous, usurers, the ribalds, or even public prostitutes, should be allowed to testify. Heretics, moreover, should be adjured and required under oath to declare the truth. On their refusal to do this, they are to be put to the torture, which should be severe and varied. None should be allowed admittance to them, except in extraordinary cases. They ought not to be allowed a public hearing. If they renounce their folly, they are to be mercifully pardoned; if they persist in it, they are to be condemned, and given over to the secular arm.” Such was the theory, and such should be the practice, in dealing with heretics, according to the Bishop of Lodi, and no voice in the council was ever heard to contradict or even question this public announcement. The background of his picture, thus prepared, was certainly black enough to make even the dark forms he was to place upon it, seem light in comparison.
Addressing Jerome, he said, “You certainly have not been treated with such rigor as this, although in the worst repute for your heresies. In this respect you surpass Arius, Sabellius, Faustus, Nestorius, and all others, at least during their lifetime. The story of your heresy has spread through England, Bohemia, France, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Italy, and all Germany. You were arrested, as all like you should be, and brought to the council, and, through urgent necessity alone, shut up in prison. And in regard to this imprisonment, the most reverend my lord cardinals, De Ursinis, Aquileia, Cambray, and Florence, personally interested themselves to see if you could not be removed to some more commodious place. And if they had not been apprehensive of your flight—a thing you had often practiced—each of them would have been willing to receive you kindly to his house, and even to his table and his chamber.
“Against you none but respectable witnesses were admitted to testify—such as masters of theology, doctors, bachelors, curates, and other venerable men, in whom you could find no fault. The articles adduced against you were mostly proved to be true.
“You were not subjected to torture. Would that you had been! In this case, you might have been humbled and led to give up your errors. Pain would have opened your eyes, which your guilt had closed. Those, moreover, who chose to visit you, were allowed. Remember how kindly, how gently the most reverend lord cardinals, as well as many others, exhorted you, while they heartily pitied you also. A public audience has several times been granted to you, as you wished. Would that you had not been allowed it! I fear lest it have increased your daring presumption.”
The bishop then enumerated six evils or mischiefs that had befallen, through the public audience allowed. “In the first place, you put it out of the power of those who kindly wished to apologize for you, to do so. It was their affection for you that made them speak of you as delirious, demented, foolish, or insane. Who, I ask, would say you were mad and delirious, unless he were delirious himself! What! of a man who could speak with such elegance, and plead with such precision! Those that excused you must now be silent. They can say no more. Your speech has closed their lips.”
The bishop enumerated other things of an unfortunate nature, to be attributed to the same cause. In his speech Jerome had overlooked some of the numerous charges, directing his attention mainly to those which designated the real offenses. His silence in regard to others was interpreted as a confession of guilt. His attempt, moreover, to show that the witnesses against him had testified falsely, was interpreted to his prejudice. Again, he had insisted that the testimony against him was not necessarily conclusive, and had employed the worddemonstrative. The bishop reproves him for imagining that the rules of mathematics could apply to evidence, or that there was no distinction between logic and rhetoric. “Who,” asked the bishop, “could demonstrate more against you than you have yourself demonstrated? You alone are your own enemy. You alone are your own adversary. You alone are most inconsistent with, and opposed to yourself. All of us sympathize with you; you alone deal cruelly with yourself. All these regard you with kindly feeling, but you alone cherish malice against yourself.”
A fifth evil of Jerome’s public audience was the praise of Huss, whom he had previously anathematized on oath. The bishop did not pretend to deny the virtuous life of Huss, but he made his heresy an offset for the lack of other sins. Though chaste in life, his heresy was fornication. Though never intoxicated with wine, yet he was intoxicated with pride and contention.
But the crowning mischief of all to Jerome was that in his public audience he had condemned himself by his own testimony. “Would that you had been silent! What could have been so forcibly urged against you, as your own confession that you had spoken falsely, perjured yourself, and in your perjury relapsed into heresy? you recalled what you had solemnly sworn, and fell back in ail error worse than the first. Wherefore, this sacred council, upon which all authority upon earth has been conferred, will judge you according to your ways. … In judgment or rebuke, the law has three objects which the judge should regard—the reformation of the one punished, the effect of the punishment on others, and their security from the evil removed. Having regard to these, this holy council purposes to proceed to give judgment. And would that you would renounce your folly, and break down the stubbornness of your heart! But you will be judged according to the rules of equity, and the sanctions of the sacred canons. And although you will not be converted, yet the council must judge in such a way as to convert the unbelieving to wisdom, that is, to prepare, through the holy knowledge of faith, a people perfect for God. Which may He grant who is the just Judge of living and dead, Jesus Christ, blessed forever.”
With this prayer the bishop closed his discourse, and Jerome was permitted to speak previous to passing sentence. He took his stand in the midst of the assembly, upon a bench, by which he was so elevated as to be seen and heard by all. Addressing himself to the council, and specifying as he did so the several classes that composed it, he preceded the statement of his case by a reference to the sermon that had been so directly addressed to himself. In what spirit the bishop had sermonized, Jerome confessed he could not tell. For he had throughout perverted all that could possibly be perverted into a wrong sense, and one that he himself had never intended. He besought the council, by the blood of Christ by which all were redeemed, to allow him to repel the charge implied in the words of the sermon, that he scorned and spurned the clergy. He was confident, moreover, that in his discussions in the schools, and elsewhere, and in his various speeches and disputations, as a loyal citizen he had sought the good and prosperity of the Bohemian realm. Yet his enemies had perversely interpreted his course and conduct. The sermon he condemned as false, and, under the eye of God, a fiction.”
He then entered directly upon his own case. He attributed his first recantation to the persuasions of the Cardinal of Florence, by whom he had been induced to write to that effect back to Bohemia. Judges had been appointed in his cause, with whom he was satisfied, but they had been changed for others, after which he would no longer answer under oath, when questioned as to his opinions, although he had no wish to conceal them. He said that all the charges last presented had not been read by the commission deputed for the purpose. He protested, however, that he did not say this through any stubbornness or obstinacy. He quoted the example of Paul, persecuted by the Jews, and said that for himself it was not strange if he too must suffer for Christian faith and doctrine. He professed his belief in one holy Catholic church. This he defined as composed of the whole multitude of those that should be saved. He recognized also the church triumphant, as well as the church militant upon earth. There was, moreover, the Catholic church, embracing all that professed the Christian faith. He recognized the authority, moreover, of prelates and rectors, enjoining the law of God upon men. He said that he held to the articles of faith. He spoke approvingly of the mass, of the sacred offices, and of fasts, when all these were kept free from the rites and ceremonies with which they were sometimes connected. He said, moreover, that the extravagance of the clergy, their pomp and pride, should be put off. They were not to convert the patrimony of Christ, which was meant for the poor, into excessive parade, as houses, horses, rich garments, or into means to feed their lust.
He recalled also the letter which he had written to Prague, containing his recantation which he had made in public session. He said that he was unwilling to occasion the mischief he must, by consenting to the condemnation of John Huss. If he had ever said anything wickedly, it was when he recanted and spoke against his conscience. He had done it, he said, through fear of the fire and its torturing and cruel heat. This had induced him to write as he had done to Prague. Here, by the direction of the council, Jerome’s abjuration of the views was read, and his own subscription to it exhibited. Jerome confessed that it was his signature, but, the fear of the fire had extorted it. He had acted a false and foolish part in writing out his recantation, and for this act he was overwhelmed with bitter grief. Especially did he condemn himself for recanting the doctrine of Huss and Wickliffe, and consenting to the condemnation of the former, whom he believed to have been a just and holy man. In all this, he had done most wickedly.
Jerome repeated that he should die a Catholic, as he had lived. He defied the council to cite any point of his doctrine which was erroneous or heretical. His offense was his fidelity to the memory of his friend. “You wish to see me die,” said he, “because I honor upright men who have stigmatized the pride and avarice of priests. Yet is that a sufficient cause to warrant my death? Why! before you found in me any evil whatever, you had resolved that I should die. Courage, therefore, and proceed! But believe me, that in dying I will leave you a sting in your hearts, and a gnawing worm in your consciences. I appeal to the sacred tribunal of Jesus Christ, and within a hundred years you shall answer there for your conduct to me.”
The providence of God turned these words of Jerome almost into a prophecy. Their remarkable utterance is attested by their stamp upon a coin of the age. Jerome, however, in all probability, had no idea at the time of any reformer that was to succeed him in his task. He merely meant, as he had said on a previous speech of his trial, that Heaven’s unerring judgments would reverse the decisions of the council. Less than a hundred years would bring all his accusers and judges together at the bar of God.
The Patriarch of Constantinople now read Jerome’s sentence. It began by making a strange application of the words of Christ in regard to the unfruitful branch to be cast out and left to wither. It was based on the violation of his abjuration by Jerome, and his approval of Wickliffe and Huss. “He has turned like a dog to his vomit,” said the sentence, “and therefore the sacred council orders that he shall be torn from the vine as a barren and rotten branch.” It declared him heretical, backsliding, and excommunicated. It condemned him as such, and cursed him. It finally abandoned him to the secular arm, in order to receive the just punishment due to so great a crime; and, although this punishment was capital, the council expressed its confident assurance that it was not too great.
Then it was, if some accounts are to be received, that the emperor’s chancellor, Caspar Schlick, advanced into the midst of the assembly, and protested in his master’s name against the condemnation of Jerome, threatening all the persons engaged in it with the anger of Sigismund. This tardy interposition was not attended to, and “the chancellor retired without gaining anything.”
Jerome was now given over into the hands of the civil magistrates. It was still an early hour of the morning, and on this Sabbath, while the crowds should have been gathering to the churches, the outraged victim of the council’s bigotry was on his way to pass through the gates of flame, as he believed, to the communion of the church triumphant in heaven. Before he left the council, a high paper crown, like the one which Huss in similar circumstances had worn, was brought in; upon it were pictures of demons surrounded by the flames. Jerome saw it, and throwing down his own hat on the floor, in the midst of the prelates, placed this on his head with his own hands, repeating the words which Huss had need before him on the like occasion, “Jesus Christ, who died for me, a sinner, wore a crown of thorns. I will cheerfully wear this for Him.” The soldiers then took charge of him, and led him away to execution.
As he turned to leave the cathedral, he chanted the creed in a firm voice, with eyes uplifted to heaven, and a face radiant with joy. On his way to the stake he chanted, first, the Litany, and then, as he passed outside the Gottlieben gate of the city, a hymn in honor of the Virgin. The last commenced with the words, “Blessed art thou among women.” As he reached the place of execution—the same where Huss had been burned—he knelt down, with his face to the stake, and spent some time in prayer. The executioners raised him up while still engaged in his devotions, and stripped him of his garments. They then bound him to the stake, first about the loins with a linen bandage, after which other parts of the body were made fast with cords and chains. As they piled the wood around the stake, mingling bundles of straw to kindle the conflagration, Jerome sang the hymn, “Hail, Festal Day”—”Salve, feste dies.” He then, in a loud voice that all might hear him, chanted the Nicene creed. When this was done, he turned and addressed the crowd in the German language: “Beloved youth, as I have now chanted, so, and not otherwise, do I believe. This is the symbol of my faith. Yet for this I die, because I would not assent to and approve the decision of the council, and hold and assert with them that John Huss was holily and justly condemned by the council. For I knew him well, and I knew him as a true preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
He saw among his executioners a poor man, bringing a fagot to heap upon the pile. It did not excite him to anger. He smiled and said, “O holy simplicity! a thousand times more guilty is he who abuses thee.”
When the fagots had been piled to a level with his head, his garments were thrown upon them, and fire was applied by a lighted torch. But the executioner who bore the torch approached from behind, unwilling to be seen. “Come forward boldly,” said Jerome, “apply the fire before my face. Had I been afraid, I should not have been here.” As the flames began to spread, be exclaimed aloud, “Into thy hand, O Lord, I commit my spirit.” When the fire began to penetrate to his flesh, he prayed again, “O Lord God, Almighty Father, have compassion on me, and forgive my sins. Thou knowest that I have ever delighted in thy truth.” His voice was now lost, for the smoke and flame had become suffocating, but though no words were heard, all could see by the motion of the lips that he was still engaged in prayer. The agony of his martyrdom was protracted; it was unusually long before life was extinct. Blisters of water of the size of an egg might be seen over his whole body. One might have gone,” says a spectator, “from the St. Clement Church at Prague to the bridge over the Moldau, before he ceased to breathe.”
At last, all that belonged to him—his bed, cap, clothing, shoes, and whatever he had had with him in prison—was brought and thrown upon the blazing pile, to be consumed with him. His ashes, like those of Huss, were carefully gathered up, borne away, and cast into the Rhine. The council were apprehensive lest some fragment or relic of their victim should find its way back to Prague, and be cherished as the memorial of a condemned heretic. The least particle that could be associated with the names of either of the sufferers was sought out and carefully burned, lest it should become an object of veneration. But all their precautions were vain. The soil which their dying feet had pressed—in lack of other objects—became the prized memorial, and was borne to Prague to be guarded with religious care. But more than the portraits even of the departed, was the image of themselves which these men had enstamped upon the minds and hearts of their countrymen. When the last surviving member of the council that sentenced them to execution should have been laid in his grave, the memory of these two Bohemian martyrs would still bloom fresh and green upon their natal soil.