Early Life and Labors of John Huss
This section comprises the first six chapters plus the Preface. 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 – Conditions in Bohemia
- Chapter 2 – Youth of Huss~Wycliffe
- Chapter 3 – Progress of the New Doctrines at Prague
- Chapter 4 – The Council of Pisa
- Chapter 5 – Huss and the Archbishop
- Chapter 6 – Huss Excommunicated
The task of gathering up and combining in a connected narrative the memorials which yet remain of the life and labors of John Huss, together with the results, nearer or more remote, which followed his efforts, has long challenged the attention of the historical student. The movement which he originated in Bohemia, though engrossing for the time the observation of Europe, and fraught with far-reaching consequences, has been overshadowed by the more imposing Reformation of the succeeding century, and Huss, although in many respects the peer of Luther or Calvin, has, through neglect alone, been denied the place to which he is justly entitled by their side.
This neglect has been due, in part, to the fact that the period in which he lived has been less explored by historians; in part, to the premature and violent suppression of the Bohemian Reformation, so that its earliest records were mostly left to hostile pens; and in part, also, to the fact that the various materials necessary to elucidate the subject are so difficult of access.
The task, so long deferred, I have ventured to undertake. When I commenced it, I was not aware of a single work, in the English language, which could afford me any material aid. But, since that period, the last volume of “Neander’s Church History” has been translated and published in this country, and the work of Bonnechose—”Reformers before the Reformation”—has been brought to my notice. But neither of these presents such a view of the subject as the great body of intelligent readers demand. The former is fragmentary and disconnected in its arrangement; while the American edition of the latter is impaired in value by chronological errors, and the whole account of the life of Huss previous to the Council of Constance is dispatched in a few pages. On some important points the work is quite meager, while on others the author has fallen into errors, through a failure to consult some of the most important authorities.
I have felt that the Bohemian Reformation was justly entitled to a larger share of attention than it has yet received; and such leisure as professional duties would allow, during a course of several years, and rare opportunities of access to the necessary documents, have been employed in elucidating a period in modern history but little known, yet scarcely inferior, in interest and importance, to any that preceded or that have followed it, with the exception of the Great Reformation of the sixteenth century. The character, ability, and powerful influence of Huss, his earnestness of purpose, his lofty aims, the vigor of his pen, his heroic faith and martyr’s death, as well as the magnitude and significance of the conflict in which he was the acknowledged leader, all combined to render him the central figure, around which the great events of his time may be appropriately grouped; while his tragic end, and the consequences which followed it in Bohemia and elsewhere, open to our view those memorable scenes of conflict, where Hussite and Catholic, Bohemian and imperialist, Taborite and Calixtine, reformer and conservative, met in long, bitter, and deadly strife.
The incidents of the period thus presented to view, are many of them possessed of high dramatic interest. The conflicts of Huss at Prague, as the bold and fearless reprover of ecclesiastical corruption and papal indulgences; the champion of Wickliffe and the antagonist of the archbishop; his harsh treatment by the council, which first deposed the pope by whom he had been excommunicated; his heroic fidelity to his convictions; his manly defense, cruel imprisonment, and unjust execution, all conspire to excite our interest in the issue of a struggle where the death of the leader is the signal for thousands to rise up to avenge his fall. As the drama proceeds, nearly all the leading minds and powers of Europe are brought forward upon the stage. The expiring brands of crusading zeal are kindled anew for the auto de fé of a kingdom, and invading armies, like waves dashed to foam upon the rocks, are shattered and dispersed by the fierce fanatic valor of those Taborites, who are the lineal predecessors of the peaceful Moravians.
In the progress of the drama, our attention is arrested by the bearing and efforts of individual actors. We have before us the abominable profligacy and sacrilegious impiety of John XXIII, the impetuous spirit of the Cardinal of Cambray; the learning and ability of the great Chancellor of Paris University, John Gerson; the glowing invective and searching rebukes of Clemengis; the apostolic zeal of Vincent Ferrara; the iron will and pertinacity of Benedict XIII; the self-reliance of Zabarella; the almost fabulous eloquence of Jerome of Prague; the capricious humors of the drunken Wenzel; the unscrupulous or dissembling policy of Sigismund; the heroic fidelity of John de Chlum; the fearless investigation and utterance of Jacobel; the Cromwellian energy and strategic skill of the blind Zisca; and the prudent sagacity and unyielding firmness of the Great Procopius.
We see at last attained by arts and diplomacy, what the power of arms could not accomplish, the Taborites weakened by dissension, and the Calixtines won back by compromise to the “Catholic” church. But the current which seemed lost over the broad marsh of a century, was to feed new fountains, the streams of which were at length to be gathered up to form the church of the United Brethren—an important tributary to that great tide of our common Protestantism, which rolls on today with the force and volume of an Amazon.
The sources from which the materials of the present work have been drawn are many and various. First in importance and value is the compilation of Van der Hardt, designed to illustrate the history of the Council of Constance, and which comprises three large folio volumes of from 1,200 to 1,600 pages each. Here are to be found, also, treatises of Gerson, D’Ailly, Clemengis, Ullerston, Jacobel, and others, the histories of Niem and De Vrie, various sermons and other documents of historical importance, beside a minute record of the proceedings of the council. Second only in importance to this, is the work, in two large folios, entitled “Johannis Hus, et Hieronomi Pragensis, Confessorum Christi, Historia et Monumenta.”
In this we have the sermons, letters, commentaries, controversial and other treatises of Huss, beside narratives of his controversy at Prague and his trial at Constance. Quite full accounts of the arrest and trial of Jerome, and several works of Matthias of Janow, are also included in these volumes. The “History of the Hussites,” by Cochleius, an inveterate and prejudiced opponent; the “History of Bohemia,” by Æneas Sylvius, afterward raised to the popedom; and the “Diarium Belli Hussitici,” by Laurence Bezezyna, a Calixtine, and Chancellor of New Prague, furnish some invaluable materials. Mansi’s “History of the Councils” is a work of the highest authority, and has enabled me to verify many important points. Schmidt’s “History of the Dutch,” though by a Roman Catholic, is a work written in an impartial and liberal spirit, and its third and fourth volumes have been of material aid in throwing light on the condition and mutual relations of Bohemia and the German empire. The general church histories of Fleury, Godeau (Germ. Edit.), Schrockh, Gieseler, Neander, Natalis Alexander, and others, have been carefully consulted, and have been of service. Spittler’s “History of the Cup,” Monstrelet’s “Chronicles,” the works of Gerson in five folio volumes, the letters and treatises of Clemengis, Crevier’s ” History of the University of Paris,” and L’Enfant’s histories of the councils of Pisa, Constance, and Basle, have all yielded valuable materials in the composition of the work. Something has been gathered from the histories of the popes, by Cormenin and Bower, while Kohler’s ” Huss and Seine Zeit,” Helfert’s “Life of Huss,” Becker’s “Life of Huss,” Richerius’ “History of the Councils,” Oudin’s “Dictionary of English Writers,” and Moreri’s large work have been carefully consulted.
I have endeavored to write with historical impartiality, yet I have not wished to suppress my judgment of the facts presented, or of the career and proceedings of the principal characters that are passed in review. Nearly all the statements contained in the work rest upon the authority of Roman Catholic authors, and where the same facts are given by writers of opposite sympathies, the marginal references are to those who would be least suspected of partiality to the cause or doctrines of Huss.
The reader will find, in the fifteenth chapter of the second volume, some repetition of statements occurring elsewhere in the work. But as that chapter was designed to present a complete view of the Taborites and Calixtines, and necessarily took the form of a dissertation, I concluded not to strike out what seemed necessary to this end, even at the risk of repeating some statements that had preceded.
The task which I have endeavored to perform has been a labor of love. A field of investigation has been opened and explored, where it was a pleasure to linger. If, in the graveyard of History, the lettering on the tombstones of men whom the world should hold in grateful remembrance has been chiseled afresh, and shall be read with the veneration due to the memory of those whose career they record, I shall feel that my labors have not been in vain.
Harlem, New York City, April 8,1861
E. H. GILLETT
Bohemia at the Close of the Fourteenth Century Predecessors of Huss
During the latter half of the fourteenth century (1350-1400), Bohemia occupied a place among the nations of Europe somewhat correspondent to her local position in the heart of the continent. Her capital was the residence of the German emperor. Her university at Prague, though recently founded, was the oldest and most flourishing—indeed, almost the only one—in Eastern Europe. Her churches, cloisters, and palaces were remarked by the stranger with surprise and admiration, while through her connection with the German empire, her influence was widely felt. Petrarch could scarce resist the earnest and pressing invitation of Charles IV, who besought him to exchange his loved Vaucluse for a residence—in external beauty fully equal to any which his own Italy could afford—on the banks of the Moldau.
But if Prague lost the honor of sheltering the Italian poet and scholar, she was yet destined to be the center of a movement which should agitate the entire Christian world. The cry of Reform which was to be heard in almost every country of Europe, demanding the removal of the papal schism, and a remedy for the evils of the church, was to find a memorable echo in her own university. In her bosom she was fondly to cherish one of her own sons, whose influence should be more enduring and extensive than that of Petrarch, and the fundamental principle of whose doctrines—the sole and supreme authority of the word of God—was to strike the key-note of the Great Reformation in the succeeding century. She was yet to witness, gathered on her surrounding hills and along her valleys, the mustered hosts of Christendom, whose defeat was to signalize the final struggle of crusading enthusiasm with the growing light and energy of the world’s free thought.
As the capital of an enterprising nation, the residence of the German emperor, and the home of reviving art and literary culture, Prague was the foremost city of Eastern Europe. Her situation was one of the most beautiful and magnificent in the world. Around her on every side spread a broad region vitalized by her influence, and subsidiary to her prosperity and growth. Already upon that soil once possessed by barbarian hordes—the camping-ground of hosts which imperial Rome had regarded with trembling anxiety—a land of wild forests and streams and mountains, to which the ancient Boii had bequeathed their name—there had sprung up those institutions of law, government, and religion, which secured for Bohemia a fair reputation as a civilized and Christian state.
Her very position was one which seemed designed by nature to favor self-development. Situated in the heart of the European continent—bounded on her four sides by as many ranges of lofty mountains, while the angles of this gigantic diagram of rock were directed to the four points of the compass—with a fertile soil and a genial climate—with rivers bursting forth on every side from her mountain barriers, and meeting like rays about her central capital, thence to find their way by the Elbe to Hamburg and to the fourscore towns of the Hanseatic league rapidly rising in political and commercial importance—Bohemia seemed fitted by her location and general features to become one of the foremost states of Europe. She was at once sheltered and accessible, guarded from invasion, yet connected directly with the German towns by means of the Elbe, the great artery of European commerce. Her resources were sufficient to encourage enterprise and self-reliance. She was accessible enough to all that was good, useful, and improving, and yet so far secluded by nature as to encourage the patriotic purpose of maintaining and cherishing her own proper character, customs, and institutions.
But all this would have failed to give Bohemia that important influence which she was destined to exert for at least the lifetime of a generation upon the condition, policy, and prosperity of Europe, if it had not been for other causes that at this juncture began to operate. The time had come when the force of free religious thought was to be manifested on a broader scale, and in a more conspicuous manner than ever before. During centuries past, the world had been losing faith in all but material forces. The German empire was built up and maintained by physical energy. Soldiers of fortune—mercenary chieftains—had become again and again the arbiters of national destiny. Faith in the papacy—no longer what it was antecedent to the “Babylonian Captivity “—had been sadly shaken. The appeal to the sword and to the right of the strongest had superseded every other. Even the popes had shown more faith in the temporal sword which they invoked, than in their own interdicts. Amid the clash of arms—the echoes of battle-fields like Poictiers and Cressy—other voices were drowned.
But the empire of ideas was now to be notably enlarged, if not inaugurated anew. Superficial observers might look with contempt on the utterances or writings of obscure priests or preachers. They might hope to find the key of destiny in the leaders of armies, in the hands of king or emperor. But it was soon to be seen that, on the great chessboard of European history, monarchs might be merely pawns, like Wenzel of Bohemia, or Charles VI of France; while the real kings were the men of thought—pamphleteers, like Ullerston, Gerson, and Clemenges, or reformers, like Wickliffe, Janow, Jacobel, and Huss.
It is true, indeed, that the great reform movement, of which Huss was the leader, was, to human view, after a most desperate and prolonged struggle, crushed out—not, however, without leaving behind it most important results. But in its own day, it distinctly revealed the comparative impotence of mere material forces, employed to exterminate an idea that had become rooted in a nation’s heart. Army after army, numbering scores of thousands of fierce and reckless men, was dashed to fragments in the attempt to subdue Bohemia to the papal obedience. The attention of Europe—of emperors, kings, popes, and councils—was riveted, for almost an entire generation, upon the progress and prospects of the movement originated by Huss at Prague. The interest of European history for this period centers mainly in the efforts that were made; by the combined forces of Christendom, to restore the old basis of things shaken and overthrown by the Hussite reform.
It is interesting and instructive to trace the origin of the forces from which this sprang, or by the alliance of which it was furthered and sustained. Huss himself did not call them into being. Some of them he found ready to his hand; of others, his own sagacity enabled him to take advantage. The patriotic spirit of the Bohemian people, their jealousy of foreign innovations, and the peculiar advantages which they enjoyed for assuming an independent position in respect to the usages and doctrines of the church, must all be taken into account, as well as the paramount influence of the novel exhibition and enforcement of scripture truth.
We find, indeed, at an earlier period than the one which we are about to consider, the development of a strong feeling of nationality. This feeling, in reality, had gained a remarkable development during the closing years of the fourteenth century—the period immediately preceding the entrance of Huss upon his public career. For the two preceding centuries it had been kept alive, and had even acquired strength in opposition to foreign innovations. The introduction of the usages of the Romish church, and the extended jurisdiction of Roman law, had not been gained without a struggle. The popular literature, meager as it was, was warmly cherished, and gave place but slowly to Latin learning.
Still the policy of the rulers of the nation—especially of the last kings of the Premysl house—favored innovation and immigration. The old jurisprudence was modified by the forced introduction of canon law. Artisans and merchants from abroad were encouraged to take up their residence within the kingdom. Colonies of German settlers were welcomed in the cities and the towns. In some cases they acquired a predominant influence. The nobility gave their castles German names. In many municipalities the German element was in the ascendant. The city records of Prague were written in German. Judicial proceedings were in the German language. German preachers occupied the pulpits. German judges presided in the courts of justice, and the highest civil offices were filled by Germans. German manners and usages, German names and phrases, prevailed in social circles. The university was patronized by German students, who outnumbered the Bohemians in the proportion of five to one. The lucrative benefices of the church were filled by German priests and bishops; and for a time it seemed as if Bohemia was to become a German province.
Charles IV encouraged the introduction of the usages of the Romish church, as well as German immigration. But already the national spirit had begun to react upon the innovations by which it was threatened to be overwhelmed. The first concession made to it was the erection of the archbishopric of Prague—a measure which the emperor successfully commended to the pope, on the ground that the Slavic tongue, peculiar to the Bohemians and Moravians, was strange to their diocesan, the arch-bishop of Mayence, and his clergy. The second victory won by the national feeling was the enactment of a law that none should fill the office of a civil judge who could not understand and speak the Bohemian language.
Meanwhile, Bohemian literature had begun to revive. The scriptures were translated into Bohemian. The venerable Stitny—a patriot and scholar, to whom we shall again have occasion to refer—wrote numerous works in his native language, and labored in various ways to make the treasures of the Latin language accessible to his countrymen. “Before God,” said he, “the Bohemian is just as good as the Latin.” With much opposition, especially from the friends of “school-learning,” he maintained his patriotic position, and endeared his name to every true Bohemian.
The struggle was at length transferred to the university. The Bohemian nation, outvoted by the other three, had seen the most honorable positions and offices held by strangers. Their first resistance to this usurpation of numbers, which denied them what they regarded as their rights, took place in 1384–5, under the rectorate of Konrad Soltow By the favor of the king and court, the archbishop and the native clergy, they gained their point. The foreign party appealed to the pope. The university was filled with confusion and discord. But the Bohemians won the victory, and at length (1399–1403) the “College of the Bohemian nation” was established, expressly for native Bohemians.
As we have already remarked, Huss commenced his university course at the very time when the struggle of patriotic feeling with foreign domination had been transferred to the scenes upon which he now entered. Bohemian by birth, and with a soul alive to the most generous impulses, he showed himself from the first a zealous champion of the nation’s rights. From feeling and from principle, he put himself at the head of the popular movement, and his influence as a reformer was strengthened by his position as a patriot. In the latter character his countrymen have never ceased to cherish his memory. In their eyes, the faults of the heretic are lost in the virtues of the patriot. Many a locality is even yet almost sacred, in popular esteem, from association with his name and memory. In the royal library of the great college-building at Prague, a Hussite hymnbook, written and illustrated with singular splendor, is still carefully preserved. This book, which must have cost many thousand florins, was the joint production of a large proportion of the citizens. Each guild and corporation had a few hymns written, and pictures painted to accompany them, and in this work they were joined by several noble families, each family or guild placing its own pictured arms or crest before its own portion of the book. Most of the pictures represent events in Biblical history, or incidents in the life of Huss. Among the latter are scenes of his disputes with the priests, and of his martyrdom, while the ecclesiastics in their robes are looking coldly on, and angels hover over the victim to comfort him in his agony. Despite his heresy the name of Huss is now spoken with veneration and affection even by those who would still feel constrained to pronounce him a heretic.
The same influences which nurtured a national and patriotic spirit, tended to counteract the aggrandizing and grasping policy of the court of Rome. It was foreign, anti-national, and odious. The Bohemian noble was, moreover, proud-spirited and independent. His country itself lay sheltered in that deep basin which once held the waters of a primeval sea. On every side rose the mountain walls of its defense. It was indeed itself a fortress, and mythologic fancy might be excused if it ascribed the stupendous barriers and abutments that surrounded it to the hands of primeval Titans. The tide of foreign invasion broke as it dashed against the mountain fastness, and he who never had been conquered might cherish the pride that defied attack. A freedom of thought, less congenial to other lands, might find here a secure abode. By those rivers which spread like veins and arteries all over the land, and under the shadows of those forests and giant mountains which bounded the horizon, men felt but little awe, or respect for ecclesiastical censure or persecuting edicts. The jests of the rough knights—often too much tainted, doubtless, with the vices of their kings—showed little regard for the assumed authority or sanctity of the Papal See. In the general assessment by which the avarice of the Roman court spread its huge dragnet over Europe, Bohemia, like England, was sheltered by her isolated situation. And besides all this, her attachment to her old usages, long cherished by the patriotic feeling of her citizens, had made her exceedingly reluctant to conform to the Romish ritual. Former sympathies and associations had connected her with the East. By the Greek church she had first been Christianized, and, until near the middle of the fourteenth century, a strong attachment to the rites and usages derived from this source had very generally prevailed. The process by which the nation was brought to recognize the authority of the See of Rome was slow and difficult. The celibacy of the clergy, and the withholding of the cup in the eucharist, were regarded as innovations. They excited a strong, bitter, and prolonged resistance. The attempt which was at length made, in the reign of the emperor Charles IV, to enforce them by laws and penalties, secured indeed an outward conformity, but among the masses of the nation, the work of reducing the church to Roman usages and ceremonial, could, as a general thing, only excite indignation.
Some of the Waldenses, moreover, driven out from their Piedmontese valleys, had found a refuge within the fortress-like walls of the Bohemian mountains, and there, in quiet and security, spread their doctrines and influence. It was here that Peter Waldo, according to Maimbourg, the founder of that sect, was finally sheltered from the persecution which drove him first into Picardy, and then to Bohemia. Here, in a land where no papal police was as yet tolerated, he found, in all probability, a peaceful grave. Many of his disciples must have followed him. The inquisition drove them from their homes, and their only safety was in obscurity. Thirty-five of them perished in one fire at Bingen. At Strasbourg eighty were burned. The consequence was, that they were driven toward Bohemia. Reiner, in A.D. 1254, reckons the schools of the Leonists in the diocese of Passau at forty-one. Their influence in Bohemia must have been perceptibly felt, and their views were far enough from coinciding with the orthodoxy of Rome. They derided the clerical tonsure. They ridiculed those prevalent ecclesiastical promotions which filled the highest official stations of the church with successors to Simon Magus rather than the apostles. The vulgar tongue was as fitting for prayer, in their view, as the Latin, which they did not understand. Long before Laurentius Valla had exposed the spuriousness of the “false decretals,” they had rejected them. They laughed at the legends of the saints. They reverenced “the traditions” of the church no more than Christ did the traditions of the Pharisees. They denied purgatory. They considered lights in churches needless. To them holy water was no better than any other, and the cross was but a piece of wood. But it was their veneration for, and their acquaintance with, the word of God, abundantly attested by their persecutors, that led them to dissent so emphatically from the Roman church. Of the purity of their lives, and the simple devotion which characterized their worship, their foes themselves leave us no room to doubt.
Nearly one hundred and forty years later, in 1391, we find, according to the testimony of a Roman inquisitor, that among their teachers were Hungarians and Bavarians, showing that on both sides of Bohemia the Waldensian doctrines had found a foothold. We cannot doubt that they were more generally held in the sheltered region that lay between Bavaria and Hungary. We shall see hereafter the immediate connection between the Waldenses and the doctrines which brought the wrath of the Council of Constance upon the university of Prague, and the kingdom of Bohemia.
The views which had thus found their way into Bohemia were never altogether rooted out. From time to time they were revived by men whose advocacy gave them an important influence upon the condition of the kingdom. There is no necessity, however, of attributing to a foreign source the origin of the reform movement in Bohemia. Whatever increment it may have received from foreign sources, it was undoubtedly in great part indigenous. The hereditary kingdom of the German emperor was really, at the close of the fourteenth century (1370–1400), in advance of the surrounding nations, in literary and industrial activity. The proof of this will be spread before us as we proceed. It was from the midst of this intellectual agitation and enterprise, that the religious movement sprang. It received an undesigned impulse from the enlarged views and even the aggrandizing policy of Charles IV. No one can trace his career of manifold activity—using every art to extend and consolidate the empire, discarding the sword and the warlike aims of his predecessors but regaining by treaty and stratagem more than they had lost, studiously avoiding all collision with the papacy yet adroitly grasping every advantage which its necessities afforded him—and not perceive that under his liberal patronage the cause of learning and of letters would necessarily enter upon a career of brighter prospects. This was in fact the case. With the exception of the universities of Paris and Oxford, the university of Prague held the highest rank in Europe. It was natural that the attention of its teachers and students should be drawn to the scandalous state of the church, and that the facts which excited the indignation of Wickliffe at Oxford, should not be unnoted at Prague.
It was almost contemporaneously with the founding of the university, that the first notable criticism on the degeneracy of Christendom, and the first indignant protest against its corruptions, were put forth in Bohemia. The character, influence, and labors of those who gave utterance to these views and feelings, have been overshadowed by the more distinguished efforts of their successors, while their continued and professed adherence to the authority and usages of the church has saved them from the notoriety which their condemnation or rejection as heretics would have conferred.
But among the precursors of Huss, who anticipated him in the utterance of views of scriptural reform, there are three men worthy of special notice. These were, the Austrian, Conrad Waldhauser, or Conrad Steikna, as he has been improperly called; John Milicz, of Kremsier in Moravia; and Matthias of Janow.
The first of these, whose death was almost contemporaneous with the birth of Huss, belonged to the order of St. Augustine, and exerted a powerful influence in Vienna, where he preached for a space of fifteen years (1345–1360). During this period occurred the jubilee proclaimed by Clement VI (1350). Among the pilgrims to Rome on this occasion was Conrad himself. He had full opportunity to witness the effect of the papal bull of indulgence, and the mischievous results which followed its publication. The crowd that was assembled at Rome was immense. “One would have thought,” says Petrarch, who was present, “that the plague (1347) which had almost unpeopled the world had not so much as thinned it.” The concourse of pilgrims was prodigious. It was estimated by the Romans themselves at over a million, and the number present at the end was equal to that at the beginning of the year.
It was impossible for an impartial observer to remain blind to the mischiefs attendant upon the scenes of the jubilee. A plenary absolution of all sins for a pilgrimage to Rome, or the pious donation of the amount of expense which such a pilgrimage would incur, could not be proclaimed, as it was by the papal bull, without producing results which would invite the reprehension of serious and thoughtful minds. The eyes of Conrad were opened by his visit to the capital of Christendom. He returned to Austria a preacher of repentance. The influence of his sermons may be gathered from the charge which his enemies, at a later period, brought against him, of disturbing everywhere the public peace. He defended himself by referring to similar accusations brought against Christ himself.
But from the time of his visit to Rome he seems to have labored less at Vienna, and to have been engaged rather as an itinerant preacher. He taught “through all Austria,” even to the city of Prague. Charles IV appreciated the labors and the eloquence of the man. He endeavored to secure him for Bohemia, and in 1360 he was called as parish priest to the city of Leitmeritz. But the field was too narrow for his zeal. It was circumscribed, moreover, by opposition, and a controversy into which he was led with the Dominicans and Franciscans. The result was that he determined to seek at Prague a broader and more inviting field.
For a year he preached in the church of St. Galli, but the edifice could not hold the throngs which pressed to hear him. Unwilling to have the word of God withheld from any who desired to hear it, and anxious to labor for the salvation of many, he went forth into the open market-place, and preached to immense audiences which there assembled. The spirit of his sermons may be gathered from his own words: “Not willing that the blood of souls should be required at my hands, I traced, as I was able, in the Holy Scripture, the future dangers impending over the souls of men.” Upon the innovations that had been introduced into the church, and upon the monks, whom he regarded as the authors of them, he was especially severe. He exposed their vices, as well as their hypocrisy. He called them wolves in sheep’s clothing. He showed from scripture that their peculiar dress and mode of life were unwarranted by the authority of the word of God, and could only have originated in monstrous fables; that their bodily mortifications were “vain and damnable”—without promise for the present life, or the hope of future recompense. Their notorious indolence and everlasting psalm-singing were frequent topics with him. The machinery of religion, which killed all true devotion, and measured its value, not by the feelings of the heart, but by bells and hourglasses, was denounced. He protested against the perpetual vows to a monastic life which were imposed by parents upon their children. They only who were led by the Spirit of God, were the sons of God. Monasticism—against which he had nothing to say, when in itself considered—had become by its degeneracy a source of great mischief. One might as wisely embark in a leaky craft to cross the Danube, as repose in it for security. The monks themselves had become like the Pharisees of old; they had bound to men’s shoulders burdens too heavy to be borne, which they would not touch themselves with one of their fingers; they had insolently set themselves up as teachers of the people; they had usurped to themselves the rights and privileges of the pastors, yet, in fact, shut men out of the kingdom of heaven by refusing them the Bible in their own language; they had encouraged superstition, and aggravated the prevalent corruption by their vain questions and controversies, their useless school-quarrels and nonsense. To carry out their designs, they made godliness a matter of traffic, introducing themselves into houses, and leading simple women astray. In this unsparing style he upbraided the monks.
It was natural that they should turn just as hotly upon their opponent. They exhausted their resources and exerted all their influence to secure his overthrow. But their efforts were unsuccessful. The king, Charles IV, is said to have favored him. He was perhaps unwilling to see a man, whose learning and sincerity won his respect, prostrated by such foes, and the rather that Conrad gave no occasion for reprehension in his faith or life.
But he poured the torrent of his rebukes not only upon the monks, but upon the general corruption of his times. His influence upon the minds of some of the richest women was such that they gave away the proceeds of their most costly ornaments in charity to the poor.
Matthias of Janow characterizes both his predecessors, Conrad and Milicz, as men full of the spirit of Elijah. But Conrad was rather a John the Baptist. He was a powerful preacher of repentance. He spoke forth sharp warnings to flee from the wrath to come. No prevalent vice escaped his rebuke. Pride of dress, usury, lightness, and youthful vanities were rebuked, and a powerful impression was made. The usurer gave up his ill-gotten gains. The thoughtless and giddy became serious. Quite a number of Jews were drawn to listen to his sermons. A radical change was effected in the hearts of a large number of his hearers, while the purity of his own life exhibited an example of what he commended to them. In 1364 the hostility toward him came to a head. Twenty-nine articles were drawn up against him by the Dominicans and Franciscans, in concert; but when the day of trial came, no one dared to present them.
Conrad died while parish priest of the Teyn church, in the year 1369. The Jesuit Balbinus objects to his being considered a precursor of Huss. He confesses, however, that his writings against the monks betrayed a freedom of expression which might lead his readers to contemn their teachers and disobey their prelates. One of his treatises is entitled “Indictment of the Mendicants,” and contains some severe charges against the bishops and the clergy. The Jesuit should have remembered that the unpardonable sin of Wickliffe was not venial in Conrad, unless Rome had two tribunals, one for England and another for Bohemia.
John Milicz was a native of Kremsier, in Moravia, and a contemporary of Conrad. He had studied theology and law at the university of Prague. By perusing the history of his native land, he had early perceived the superiority of the former and ancient constitution of the Greek church in Bohemia and Moravia. Although a foreigner, he was, by the archbishop of Prague, appointed archdeacon and preacher of the cathedral church. Other offices of distinction were conferred upon him. But the bestowal of these dignities did not lull him into indolence. It only roused his energies anew to the inculcation of wholesome though unacceptable truths. He preached often against the introduction of the practice of administering the sacrament only under one form, the use of an unknown tongue in the public worship, the celibacy and wealth of the clergy, the vows of the religious order, the false miracles and legends of the monks, and their self-invented sanctity. But his course was a disappointment to the hopes of the archbishop and the ecclesiastics. He saw that he was unacceptable to them, and resigned his office of archdeacon. This lucrative prebend he exchanged for the humble office of sacristan in the same church. It was in vain that several prelates urged him to accept, at their hands, the same dignity which he had previously held. He had always taught that a priest and monk should be poor. He was now completely so himself, and his whole worldly dependence was on the alms of his pious fellow-citizens.
To this condition he had not been brought without a severe inward struggle. He had to make a stern choice between popularity and promotion on one side, and poverty and reproach on the other. His acceptance as a preacher was such that he might almost command any position to which he might aspire. It had not indeed been so at the first. His natural and plain style of address had not been pleasing, especially to those who had been accustomed to that artistic inflation and bombast of the monk, which Milicz in his writings has criticized with caustic severity. But good sense at last carried the day. The tide turned in favor of the man whose sincerity of purpose and simplicity of speech stood in striking contrast with the conduct and manner of his opponents, for such the monks proved themselves to be. The people cherished toward him a strong affection. They would not suffer him to be silent, and sometimes he was constrained to preach three or four times the same day. Merchants and strangers from Germany visited Prague in large numbers, and to benefit them he learned the German language. Withdrawing for a while to Bishopteintz, in the circle of Pilsen, and engaging in a humble service as curate, he was not long content in retirement, and in a place where he seemed to himself to enjoy too much luxury, and soon returned to Prague.
Here his labors were abundant, and his self-denial was extreme. He preached twice every Sunday and holiday, and sometimes four or five times daily in different churches. His sermons were not unfrequently two or three hours long, and his only preparation—in many cases the only preparation possible—was prayer. His abstemiousness in eating and drinking was carried probably to an excess. He wore a rough hair shirt next to his skin; and, in his voluntary poverty, as well as in his writings, administered a severe rebuke to the mendicants who violated vows which he never had assumed.
His enthusiastic admirer and pupil, Matthias of Janow, said of him, “Having been a simple priest and secretary at the prince’s court, before his experience of the visitation of the Spirit of Christ, he grew so rich in wisdom and all utterance of doctrine, that it was a light matter to him to preach five times a day—once in Latin, once in German, and then again in the Bohemian tongue—and this publicly, with a mighty force and a powerful voice; and he constantly brought forth from his treasure things old and new.”
His preaching bore fruit in a striking reformation. Prague was noted for its depravity of manners. It abounded in brothels. Milicz directed his energies, among other things, to the reform of licentious women. At first twenty were converted, and a dwelling was procured for them. By enlisting the aid of devout women, the work was extended. Several hundreds were recovered from the paths of vice. “Little Venice,” as it was called, the “Five Points” of Prague, was so transformed that it was thereafter known as “Little Jerusalem.” A Magdalene hospital was founded, and in the chapel annexed to it there was preaching every day. According to Janow, the very face of the city was transformed. “I confess,” he says, “that I cannot enumerate even the tenth part of what my own eyes saw, my own ears heard, and my own hands handled, though I lived with him but a short time.”
For six years Milicz continued to preach, unwearied in his efforts. But he was not satisfied with himself. His humility made him feel that he was unfit to preach. Only by the urgent persuasion of his friends, who represented to him the bad effects which would result from abandoning his field, was he restrained from adopting a more rigid and secluded life as a monk. But even their persuasions could not long restrain the impulse which he felt, urging him to solitary meditation. To this impulse he yielded. In seclusion from the world, and in the silence of his own thoughts, he reflected upon the condition of the church throughout the world. He seemed to see Antichrist embodied before him, in the variety of errors and abuses which stalked abroad under a Christian name.
Suddenly he felt called upon to visit the pope, narrate to him his visions, and utter his admonitions. He went at the command, as he supposed, of the Holy Spirit. He would have the pope originate a spiritual crusade for the overthrow of Antichrist. A general council should be called. The bishops should devise means for restoring discipline, and monks and secular priests should be exhorted to go forth as preachers.
Milicz went to Rome, when Urban, designing to return from Avignon (1367), was expected daily. For a month he gave himself up to fasting, prayer, and the reading of the scriptures. Still the pope did not arrive. Milicz could no longer restrain himself. He posted on the doors of St. Peter’s that on a certain day he would appear and address the multitude. It is said, moreover, that he added, “The Antichrist is come; he has his seat in the church.” But the notification of the sermon alone was enough to excite suspicion. At the instigation of the mendicant monks, he was arrested by the inquisition, loaded with chains, given over to the Franciscans, and closely confined. But he endured all with uncomplaining meekness. Not a bitter word escaped his lips, and his persecutors were confounded by his patient submission.
After a prolonged imprisonment, he was asked what he had intended to preach. He replied by asking his examiners to give him back his Bible, pen, ink, and paper, and they should have his discourse in writing. The request was granted, and Milicz’s imprisonment was alleviated. Before a large assembly of prelates and learned men he delivered his discourse, and it made a profound impression. Still he was kept in prison, and there composed his celebrated work on Antichrist. “The author writes this,” he says, “a prisoner, and in chains, troubled in spirit, longing for the freedom of Christ’s church, protesting that he has not kept back that which was in his heart, but has spoken it out to the church,” &c.
On the arrival of Urban at Rome, Milicz was released, to the disappointment of the monks who had prophesied the fate of their old antagonist, but to the great joy of his friends at Prague, whom he hastened to rejoin.
With fresh zeal he now recommenced his labors. Not content with preaching himself, he wished to train others for the work. Often was he heard to say, “Would that all were prophets.” He established, in fact, what might be regarded as a Theological Seminary—a school of the prophets. Two or three hundred young men were gathered around him, under the same roof, who submitted themselves to his instruction and training. He copied books for them to study, and engaged them also in the work of transcription. His aim was to multiply and extend the circulation of devotional and instructive books. No external badge, no common discipline, rule, or vow, nor uniformity of dress, distinguished his pupils. They formed a unique brotherhood, bound together by common sympathies and common aims. No effort was spared by Milicz to promote their usefulness. When trained, he sought to find them spheres of labor, with rare humility and fond affection, commending them as those who would surpass himself. Their exemplary, or perhaps we should say, puritanic conduct made them objects of reproach. They were nick-named “Miliczans,” “Beghards,” &c.
On the death of Conrad, Milicz succeeded to his office. Besides preaching daily, he drew up forms of prayer for public worship in the native language, which were extensively adopted. But his extraordinary course of activity, and reproof of sin, drew down upon him envy and persecution. The priests, whose disgraceful connections he rebuked, united against him. The archbishop, with great reluctance, was forced to call him to account for his street preaching. Twelve heads of accusation were drawn up against him, and sent to the pope (1314). Gregory XI, who then occupied the papal chair, wrote back to the archbishop, and the bishops of Breslau, Olmutz, and Leitomischel, expressing surprise at their negligence and that of the inquisitors, whereby this dangerous heretic had been permitted to spread his errors through Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and Poland, and urged them promptly to arrest the evil, provided, however, that the charges made should be found true. A similar admonition was likewise sent to the emperor Charles IV.
In these circumstances, Milicz, doubtless taught by past experience, preferred to submit his case to the pope himself, and, having made his appeal, set out for Avignon. Of the manner in which he was received, we are not informed; and while his cause was yet depending, he died in that city.
The influence exerted by Milicz directly, and through his pupils, must have been powerful and extensive. The archbishop, for many years at least, reposed great confidence in him, and treated him with much kindness. In many important commissions he was employed both by the archbishop and the emperor. Indeed, for a time he was imperial secretary and chancellor.
The writings of Milicz were numerous, and all were written in the Latin language. Some of them still survive. Among them are his Fast sermons, Postilles, and especially his treatise on Antichrist, to which reference has been already made, and which is embodied in Janow’s larger treatise on the same subject. To Milicz unquestionably belongs the credit of having first boldly put forth those views on the subject of Antichrist, which are so largely extended and elucidated by Matthias of Janow, and which were substantially adopted by Huss himself.
In the footsteps of Conrad and Milicz, although eventually taking a position in advance of theirs, followed Matthias of Janow. He was born at Prague, but was generally called the Parisian, from having spent six years at the university of Paris, and having there received his Doctor’s degree. He was also called the Cracovian, from a temporary residence at Cracow. He was for a short time a pupil of Milicz, and perhaps through him became parish priest at Prague, and father confessor of the emperor Charles IV. For this post he was well fitted, both by talent and education. He had traveled much, and been a careful observer as well as close student. He had a large acquaintance with the relations and customs of different countries. No one in his day had a clearer conception of the moral and religious condition of Christendom, and no one labored more diligently or zealously for its reform.
The most decisive and important influence that shaped his career was exerted by the life and writings of Milicz. This penetrated him, as he expresses it, with that holy fire which left him no rest. It was through “the light of God’s word” that the corruptions of the church were made manifest to him. “Once,” says he, “my mind was encompassed by a thick wall; I thought of nothing but what delighted the eye and the ear, till it pleased the Lord Jesus to deliver me as a brand from the burning. And while I, worst slave to my passions, was resisting him in every way, he delivered me from the flames of Sodom, and brought me into the place of sorrow, of great adversities, and of much contempt. Then first I became poor and contrite, and searched with trembling the word of God.”
In some respects Janow must be regarded as decidedly in advance of Conrad and Milicz. His familiarity with scripture is remarkable. His views of the necessity of reform are clear and comprehensive. He understands fully the difficulties with which it has to contend, and proposes to overcome them by sound and scriptural methods.
No one can peruse his writings without feeling that he has come in contact with a mind penetrated with the love of truth, and possessed of a clear insight into the spirit of the gospel. In an age when the worldly spirit was triumphant; when, with thousands of the priesthood, gain was godliness and promotion was success, he withstood the bribes which were extended to his selfishness and ambition. It was not without a bitter inward struggle that he finally was brought to the point of self-renunciation and self-denial. The record which he has left us of his experience is exceedingly vivid. It portrays the spiritual conflicts through which he was called to pass, in words which reveal the process by which he was prepared for his work.
” My feet,” he says, “had almost gone; my steps had well-nigh slipped; and, unless a crucified Jesus had come to my rescue, my soul had sunk to hell. But he, my most faithful and loving Saviour, in whom is no guile, shoved to me their counsels; and I knew the face of the harlot, by which she allures all that stand at the corners of the streets and the entrances of the paths. Nevertheless, I prayed to God and the Father of Jesus Christ my Lord, holding up the Bible in my hands; and I cried out, with heart and voice, ‘O Lord and Father, who ordainest my life, leave me not to their thoughts and counsels, and let me not be taken in their net, lest I fall under that reproachful sin which shall sting my conscience, and drive out wisdom from my soul!’… I confess, before God and his Christ, that so alluring was this harlot, Antichrist, that she so well feigned herself the true spouse of Jesus Christ, or rather, Satan by his arts so tricked her out, that from my early years I was long in doubt what I should choose, or what keep: whether I should seek out and chase after benefices, and thirstily grasp for honors, which to some extent I did, or rather, go forth without the camp, bearing the poverty and reproach of Christ: whether, with the many, I should live in quest of an easy and quiet life for the moment, or rather, cling to the faithful and holy truth of the gospel: whether to commend what almost all commend; lay my plans as many do; dispense with and gloss over the scriptures, as many of the great and learned and famous of this day do; or rather, manfully inculpate and accuse their unfruitful works of darkness, and so hold to the simple truth of the divine words, which plainly contravene the lives and morals of men of this age, and prove them false brethren: whether I should follow the spirit of wisdom with its suggestions, which I believe the divine Spirit of Jesus, or follow the sentiment of the great multitude, which, in their self-indulgence, without show of mercy or charity, while lovers of this world and full of carnal vanities, they claim to be safe. I confess that between these two courses I hung wavering in doubt; and unless our Lord Jesus be our keeper, none will escape the honeyed face and smile of this harlot—the tricks of Satan and the snares of Antichrist.”
The man who had passed unscathed through such temptations, had been disciplined for future trials. He was one upon whom all the influences of gain and terror would be alike powerless.
His principal work is entitled, De regulis veteris et Novi Testamenti. Most of it still remains buried in manuscripts, the contents of which have been, in large extracts, set forth by P. Jordan, in his “Predecessors of Hussism in Bohemia.” It seems to be composed of a collection of independent treatises, written on different occasions, and hence, as might be expected, abounds in repetitions. Its title indicates its scope. It rejects the authority of human traditions and popish decretals, and substitutes in their place the supreme authority of the divine word. It tries everything by this test. The conduct of the bishops and the priests is severely arraigned. The Antichrist has already come. He is neither Jew, pagan, Saracen, nor worldly tyrant, but the “man who opposes Christian truth and the Christian life by way of deception; he is, and will be, the most wicked Christian, falsely styling himself by that name, assuming the highest station in the church, and possessing the highest consideration, arrogating dominion over all ecclesiastics and laymen”; one who, by the working of Satan, assumes to himself power and wealth and honor, and makes the church, with its goods and sacraments, subservient to his own carnal ends.
The kingdoms of Christ and Antichrist are to be slowly and gradually evolved, side by side. But the spiritual annihilation of the latter (1340) had already commenced. It was to be accomplished by God, “by the breath of his mouth,” the utterance of his elect priests and preachers, who were to go forth in the spirit of Elias and Enoch. In his predecessor, Milicz, Janow recognizes one in whom Elias had reappeared. The work begun was to go forward, like the operation of the leaven, or the growth of the mustard-seed.
To expose Antichrist is with Janow an important object. He points out the arrogance and the worldly sympathies and connections of the bishops, their greed of wealth, their vain attempt to serve two masters. But worse than this, because more directly fatal to the spiritual improvement of the people, was the neglect of the parochial clergy. A secularized hierarchy was Antichrist embodied.
The causes of this apostasy are laid open. One of these is the transfer of reverence from the Holy Scriptures to the decretals and Clementines. Human ordinances are placed above the commandments of God. Another is, that men choose to seek salvation in sensible and corporeal things, rather than in the Crucified alone. Those who confess Christ are censured and persecuted. The false prophets extol their own stately ceremonies, and anathematize for their nonobservance. Hereby the consciences of men are ensnared, and the devil acquires great power to involve men in guilt. But no multiplicity of human laws and ordinances can meet every contingency and relation. The Spirit of God alone can do this. Hence the multiplied laws of men are superfluous and inadequate. They should be called, not traditions, but superstitions. In view of this, Janow, with a Christian sagacity, assumes the tone of the prophet: “So have I gathered,” he says, “from the Holy Scriptures; and I believe that all the above-named works of men, ordinances and ceremonies, will be utterly extirpated, cut up by the roots, and cease—and God alone will be exalted, and his word will abide forever; and the time is close at hand when these ordinances shall be abolished.”
The substitute for all these is God’s word, “the common rule for all.” But positive law has been ineffectual to recover fallen men, and Christ has left to them the law of the Spirit. To its sound and simple beginnings the Christian church should be brought back. Monastic orders are not needed for the governing of the church. The unity of this is found in its union with Christ. The priest and the layman alike are one in him. The first has peculiar duties, but the same great privileges are accessible to both.
In connection with this point, we should also consider Janow’s views in regard to the sacrament. He had laid down the principles from which the doctrine of the communion of the cup for the laity was a plain and direct inference. Yet for this he was not called in question. His views in regard to frequent communion are those which seem to have been most obnoxious. On this point he spoke with great earnestness and warmth; and it deserves to be noticed that he uniformly expresses himself as if he thought the laity were also entitled, not only to frequent communion, but communion in both kinds; and it scarcely admits of question that his treatises or letters on this subject were the germ of Calixtine doctrine as developed subsequently by Jacobel.
A large portion of Janow’s writings was for a period ascribed to Huss. Of the separate treatises from his pen, of which his larger work was composed, we have those on “Antichrist,” on “The Kingdom, People, Life, and Manners of Antichrist,” the “Abomination of Carnal Priests and Monks,” “Abolishing Sects,” “The Unity of the Church,” and a few others less important.
The first, on Antichrist, is an “Anatomy of the Beast.” It is indeed a literary curiosity, the product of a mind ingenious and somewhat fanciful, but penetrating, sagacious, scripturally enlightened, and glowing with a fire of holy indignation against the monstrous corruptions of the church. The names of Antichrist are presented in alphabetical order “Abomination of Desolation” “Babylon,” “Bear of the Wood,” &c. The various members of his mystical body are then described—the head, hair, brow, eyes, nose, neck, breast, loins, &c. Most important are the three false principles which are formed from the tail of Antichrist. The first is, that as soon as one is elected pope of Rome, he becomes head of the whole militant church, and supreme vicar of Christ on earth. This is pronounced a bare lie. The second is that what the pope determines in matters of faith is to be received as of equal authority with the gospel. This is likewise pronounced false, for we must believe him, who has so often erred in matters of faith, only when he is supported by the scriptures. The third—that the laws of the pope are to be obeyed before the gospel—is declared blasphemous, for it is blasphemy to believe the pope or any one else, or to accept his laws, in preference to Christ.
The treatise on “The Abomination of Carnal Priests and Monks” is in the same vein with that on Antichrist. It is peculiarly severe upon the mendicants. Wickliffe at Oxford, or Gerson at Paris, could not have been more unsparing in their reprehensions. The lukewarmness of the prelates; their avarice, wealth, and simony; the negligence of the priesthood in the execution of their duties; the unseemly strifes between the. monks and the regular clergy; the sacrilegious sale of sacred things; the barter of masses, indulgences, &c.; the false worship offered to the bones of dead saints, while God’s poor but devoted children are contemned and despised, are unsparingly exposed. The reign of hypocrisy had become universal. There were, indeed, not a few faithful still left; like the seven thousand in Israel, that had never bent the knee to Baal. But by the iniquity of the times they were proscribed or driven into solitude. No path was open for their promotion. Ambitious and worldly men, by disgraceful methods, attained places of power and influence in the church. Wickedness, if powerful and gilded with pomp, was flattered, while any mention or exhibition of the crucified Jesus in synodical assemblies was impatiently borne.
The various passages of scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, in which the great apostasy of the church is foretold, or in which the iniquity of Antichrist is exhibited, are successively considered. Ezekiel’s vision; Gog and Magog; he that sitteth in the temple of God; the locusts of Revelation; the beast with the seven heads and the ten horns; the woman seated upon the beast, with her cup of abomination in her hand, and her forehead branded “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots,” are brought to view and shown to be exact descriptions of the prevailing apostasy. Even now, Janow declares that the pious are persecuted. They are reproached as Beghards and Turpins, Picards and wretches. Schisms, fraternities, and orders abound. The “religious” eat and drink, and are drunken on the sins of the people. Blasphemous indulgences are published, which one can scarce credit. Donations are extorted by threats of hell, and the poor are robbed by the avarice of the monks.
But Antichrist is to be destroyed. Christ will destroy him by the breath of his mouth and the brightness of his coming. He will raise up those who shall proclaim his word, and thus consume the lies and errors of the great deceiver.
Janow protests that he does not write, directing his words against any individual, but at the general apostasy. Nothing is said in bitterness or pride; and if read as written, none will be injured. He declares that he would not have dared to write, but for the resistless impulse of truth.
The other treatises are in a similar strain. They are bold and fearless in utterance, but abound in gospel simplicity and charity. Every point is enforced by scripture citations. At times, the treatise itself seems attenuated to a thread, upon which the admonitions, warnings, and truths of scripture are strung. Many passages soar to that height of moral rebuke, which reminds us of Christ scourging the money-changers from the sacred temple.
But Janow, although not prosecuted as a heretic, was regarded as an innovator. It was not long before his position began to attract attention. In 1381 he became a prebendary at Prague, and in 1389 he was arraigned before the synod of Prague, by whom his views were condemned. He is said to have been forced to a recantation, but his writings of a subsequent date clearly show that there had been no change in his views. For a time he was banished from the city, but through the favor of the emperor was soon permitted to return. He died in 1394, and in 1410 his writings were honored, with those of Wickliffe, in being committed to the flames.
A mere glance at the lives and doctrines of these three men will suffice to show that already at Prague a work had commenced which could not pause, even when they should be called away. Seed had been sown: truth had been scattered abroad. The new ideas which they had thrown out, and which they had so earnestly vindicated, were to prove in the sequel a powerful leaven. The eyes of men are naturally attracted to the array of physical forces, to fleets and armies, and the extending bounds of empire. But at that day, it is beyond question that the more important results were staked on the teachings of these three men, than on all the territorial aggrandizements of the German empire. It is a shallow philosophy that overlooks the position of the public teacher of new doctrines. Ideas are mightier than swords or bayonets.
In connection with the names of Conrad, Milicz, and Janow, there are others that are worthy of at least a passing notice. Some of them, less known by their writings, were scarcely less conspicuous in their own day in the cause of scriptural knowledge and reform. In one of his sermons, Huss mentions, to their honor, “Nicholas Biceps, the most acute logician; Adalbert, the flowing orator; Nicholas Litomischel, the most sagacious counselor; Stephen of Colin, the most devoted patriot; John Steikna, the noble preacher, whose voice was like the blast of a trumpet; and Peter Stupna, the sweetest singer and most glowing preacher.” These belonged to the age then past, and he speaks of his audience as treading over their graves.
But besides these, the names of two laymen, who exerted an important influence upon the age, should not be passed unnoticed. Peter of Dresden was almost, if not quite, a Waldensian in sentiment, and to his influence over Jacobel is to be attributed, in large measure, the origin of that discussion in respect to the communion of the cup, which almost revolutionized Bohemia, and brought down upon it the energies of crusading Christendom. Peter had resided for a time at Prague. He went to Dresden and was there employed as a teacher. But his religious views rendered him obnoxious to persecution, and about the rear 1400 he returned to Prague. He was evidently a man of superior ability, and one who possessed great power over the minds of others. At Prague, among the thousands congregated at its university, he would have large opportunities for insinuating his peculiar doctrines. The very fact that he was instrumental in shaping the enlarged views of Jacobel, suffices to rescue his name and memory from oblivion.
Along with Conrad, Milicz, Janow, and Peter of Dresden, must be ranked a celebrated layman, Thomas Von Stitny, a Bohemian knight and a man of strong religious as well as patriotic feeling. “He was,” says Helfert, “a Christian philosopher, in the full meaning of the word.” His early years had been spent at Prague. At the university he proved himself a diligent student. The stores of knowledge which he here acquired he bore back with him to the retirement of his father’s castle. Here, exchanging the sword for the pen, he devoted himself to the education of his family and of his countrymen. Many was the book or treatise issued from his retreat, which found its way into the hands of the people, and was rapidly transcribed and widely circulated. In the agitating questions of the day, Stitny took a deep interest. He was probably on intimate terms with Milicz, and his writings reflect the views of that reformer. Like Milicz, he reproves the prevalent vices and errors, reprimands the monks for their neglect and contempt of the rules of their several orders, and urges the claims of Christian purity and devotion. Devoted to the study of the scripture, he had yet no thought of departing from the communion of the church, or of going further than the reform of its abuses. He loved his native land with all the affection of a patriot, and his writings, which indicate his zeal for reform, were written in the Bohemian tongue, and exerted an important influence.
If we consider, then, the connection of Bohemia with the Greek church—the seed sown by the Waldensian exiles—the sagacity, eloquence, and daring zeal of the men whom we have named as the predecessors of Huss; the influence which they, and others like them, exerted upon the mind and heart of the nation; the younger preachers and students of the university, who enjoyed their training, or aspired to tread in their steps; and if, in this same connection, we regard the condition of the papal government, already by protracted schism an object of scandal and contempt to all Christendom, and the reckless indifference to all religion shown by Wenzel, the Bohemian monarch—as devoted to the wine-cask as his father, Charles IV, had been to the pope—we shall see that the way was already prepared for the advent of a reformer such as Huss proved to be.
Other events, moreover, contributed to encourage whatever aspirations or desires might find place in Bohemia, looking toward a purer state of the church. The founding of the university of Prague, in 1360, had given an intellectual impulse to the nation, and thousands of her young men were eager to improve the privileges now brought, as it were, to their own doors. The kingdom enjoyed, moreover, an unexampled prosperity. Charles IV, with all his arts of craft, and sometimes of meanness, was an able and sagacious sovereign. Under his wise policy the industry of the country was encouraged, and its resources were developed. Great privileges were granted to the cities as well as to the aristocracy. A new code of laws was drawn up and published. The Moldau was rendered navigable as far as the Elbe. Mining and agriculture were encouraged. German artificers were introduced into the country. New Prague sprang up by the side of Old Prague. Breslau was in like manner improved. The noble bridge that spans the Moldau was constructed. The king’s passion for architecture was freely indulged, and his nobility aspired to imitate him. Magnificent churches and palaces were rising on every side, to attest the enterprise, wealth, and taste of the nation.
On June 7th, 1394, Anne of Luxembourg, wife of Richard II of England, and daughter of Charles IV, died. Her attendants returned to Bohemia; many of them, like their mistress, had imbibed the views of Wickliffe. They brought back with them from England to Prague, copies of his books. Oxford students, following the practice of the age, had visited the universities of the continent, and, among others, that of Prague. The new opinions found adherents. On all sides there were anxious curiosity, inquiry, discussion. University life had its privileges and freedoms. Upon these Rome had not yet ventured to lay her despotic hand. What was wanted was a man who should use these privileges to investigate and publish the truth of the new opinions—a man who was able to think, able to speak, and not too timid to stand by his convictions; and such a man was found in John Huss.
Youth of Huss~University Life Wickliffe
John Huss, or John of Hussinitz, was born July 6th, 1373. He derived his name from his native village, in the southern part of Bohemia, in the circle of Prachin. This was in accordance with the custom of the age. There is no ground for the slander of an obscure writer, that Huss took the name of his village because he had no knowledge of his father. Among the most distinguished compeers of Huss, in his own and other lands, the greater number whom we shall be called to notice were men like himself, known by the name of the place where they were born or educated. This was the case with that remarkable triumvirate of the university of Paris, John de Gerson, Nicholaus de Clemengis, and Peter de Ailly. Among his own countrymen were James of Misa, or Jacobel, as he was called from his diminutive stature, John of Rokyzan, and numerous others, who, although like Huss of obscure birth, rose to eminence by their talent and diligence, and rescued the places of their birth from obscurity by the distinction which they themselves won.
According to Æneas Sylvius, who was afterwards raised to the papal chair, Huss might boast of an honest and worthy, although obscure parentage. His lot was one favored neither by fortune nor rank. His parents were poor peasants, kind and simple-hearted, who spared no pains to give their son a good education. There are few memorials left us of his childhood. But if we may judge of his training from the fruits it bore, it must have been characterized by affectionate anxiety and a severe purity of morals. We search in vain in any record, whether from friend or foe, for any trace of youthful vice or juvenile excess. Never was any character subjected to more severe or bitter scrutiny; but in the entire catalogue of accusations brought against him, not one is to be found affecting his character. We may reasonably suppose that in his own noble simplicity and unimpeached purity of life, were reflected the simple manners and the quiet virtues of his childhood’s home. That home must have been the abode of peace, gentleness, and love.
His parents, we are told, bestowed great care on his education. He was at first sent to a school in his native place. This was kept at a monastery, not far from the residence of his parents. His quiet manners and quick intelligence made him soon a favorite with the monks. They were pleased with the company of the boy, and, to the disquiet of his parents, often took him with them when they went abroad. Upon his father’s death, which occurred in his boyhood, he was left by his mother entirely to their charge. But such was her poverty that she could not provide him needful clothing. In this emergency, as also at a later period, the nobleman of the place, Nicholas of Hussinitz, came forward to his aid.
When placed in the monastery, Huss devoted himself zealously to study. With boyish curiosity he gazed upon the huge piles of manuscript stored in the monastery, and in vain assayed to read them. They were in the Latin language, and this he had not mastered. The monks, from their own ignorance, could render him but feeble aid, but such instruction as they could afford was freely given. His many questions sorely puzzled them. “If the boy wants to know more,” they said, “let him go to the Prachatitz collegium.”
To this, a school of higher grade in the neighboring village of Prachatitz, he was accordingly sent. Here he made rapid advances, and won the praise of his teachers. His remarkable progress gave high promise of future distinction.
His course here was at length completed, and he returned home to his widowed mother. “What shall we now do, my son ?” she asked. “I am going to Prague,” was his reply. “Let us not be troubled on account of our poverty; God will care for us. The monks have promised that I shall certainly go.”
Thus, at his own instance probably, it was determined that he should be sent to the university. His mother, impelled by maternal anxiety, accompanied him to the city. If the story of her journey is true, it affords a characteristic illustration of the simple manners of the age and country. She took with her, from her humble store, a goose (buss in Bohemian) and a cake as a present to the rector. Unfortunately the goose flew away while she was on her journey, and she could not recover it. The poor woman, associating perhaps the lost fowl with the fortunes of her son, received the accident as an ill omen. But if disturbed by superstitious fears, she had yet that simple piety which taught her to trust in God. She fell at once upon her knees, and recommended her son to the care and protection of divine providence. She then continued her journey, much troubled to think that she had only the cake left to present to the rector.
Of the means by which Huss was supported at the university we have no reliable information. To his own early history he rarely refers in his writings. It is said that on his arrival in Prague he secured a place in the house of one of the professors, where he was employed in service, and received in return food and clothing, and at the same time enjoyed access to a large and select library. The story is not improbable. John of Rokyzan, a few years younger than Huss, and afterwards archbishop of Prague, was, like him, of obscure parentage, and of extreme poverty. Yet as a charity student he received aid in the prosecution of his course, and by persevering exertion and obvious merit won admission to the “College of the Poor,” of which Jacobel was professor. It would not be strange if the course of Huss was, in its early period, parallel to that of Rokyzan.
But if a charity student, and largely dependent on alms for support, the fortune of Huss was full as favored as that of thousands and tens of thousands gathered at the universities of Oxford, Paris, and Prague. Sometimes the pressure of want and hunger was so severe that talent was forced into the market, and genius sold its service for a piece of bread. The powerful Duke of Burgundy could descend to purchase the tribute of the venal learning and ability of Parisian scholars, to procure in them apologists for his crimes. But Huss, with abilities equal to any in the market, was never suspected of the guilt of any mercenary alliance. He bad no powerful or wealthy friend whose patronage could warp his independence, or interfere with the freedom of his moral or intellectual development. If aided—as is not altogether improbable—by Nicholas of Hussinitz, it was with that generosity which studies to confer a favor without imposing an obligation.
The testimony borne to the character of Huss is uniformly favorable. His enemies themselves, who were ready to curse him as a heretic, speak of his manners and his morals almost in terms of eulogy. Æneas Sylvius describes him as “a powerful speaker, and distinguished for the reputation of a life of remarkable purity.” The Jesuit Balbinus says of him, that he was accounted even “more acute than eloquent; but his affability of manner, his life of austerity and self-denial, against which none could bring a charge, his features pale and melancholy, his body enfeebled, and his gentleness toward all, even of the humblest class, were more effective than any power of words.” “Meanly born, but of no mean spirit,” is the testimony of one of his opponents, and no doubt all would have responded to its truth.
With such abilities and tastes, the diligence of Huss soon secured for him eminence in literary attainment. His opportunities were diligently improved. An unprecedented spirit of enterprise and of intellectual activity characterized the period during which he was engaged in his academic pursuits. The university of Prague was now in its most flourishing state. It was founded in 1360 by the emperor Charles IV, a zealous friend of learning and of learned men. He was the son of John of Luxembourg, and grandson of the emperor Henry VII, and had ascended the throne in 1347. Had it not been for his blind, or perhaps we should rather say, politic submission to the popes, the events of the following reign might have illustrated his own. His energy and enterprise were directed into peaceful channels, and he preferred the arts of diplomacy and intrigue to martial prowess. To his exertions Prague was greatly indebted. The prosperity and improvement of the kingdom were studiously promoted. Private citizens, moved by imperial example, devoted their wealth to public uses; and noble architectural structures for public worship, and other objects, sprang up to attest their zeal. Some of these were endowed with imperial munificence. Æneas Sylvius declares that no other kingdom of Europe could boast as numerous and splendid temples as Bohemia. The rites and usages of the church were invested with new pomp, and no expense was spared to add to their attractions.
Even after the desolations of the Hussite war, enough remained to testify to the taste, the munificent liberality, and devotion of the emperor. But Prague was the special object of his favor. He surrounded a portion of it, the k1eine seite, with imposing walls, crowned here and there with towers which, by their names, perpetuated the builder’s fame. He reared castles and temples of exceeding beauty. His course provoked the admiration and imitation of the citizens; and wealthy inhabitants of Prague expended their treasures in a like manner. The Bethlehem church, afterward famous as the one within whose spacious walls Huss addressed large assemblages of his fellow-citizens, was built at the expense of private individuals. Among the other labors of the emperor may be mentioned the stone bridge which he threw over the Moldau, uniting the two portions of the city. For that day it was a noble and imperial work. It was eighteen hundred feet in length, broad enough for three carriages to drive abreast, supported by sixteen arches, and adorned with twenty-eight statues of the saints. It still exists to attest the public spirit of the emperor to whom it owes its origin.
But the great work of Charles IV, and the one for which he deserves the highest praise, was his founding of the university of Prague. In undertaking it, he sought and received the sanction of the Roman pontiff, Innocent VI. The university of Paris furnished him a model. That institution, after the popes, had given law to Europe. In her schools the men had been trained who controlled the public opinion of the world, and became the teachers of kingdoms. She was, in fact, an imperium in imperio. Her word was respected and reverenced throughout Christendom. Even then, the hoar of centuries combined with her reputation for learning and piety to render her venerable. The emperor Charles IV might well aspire to rival the reputation attributed, whether justly or not, to his great predecessor and namesake, Charlemagne, by becoming, like him, the founder of a university. The times were ripe for the enterprise. The ravages of the crusades, and the impending terror of the Turkish arms, had conspired to scatter the treasures of the Eastern empire over the kingdoms of the West. Those treasures were the learning and the learned men which had hitherto been resident within the walls of the city of Constantine. The intercourse between the East and West was once more renewed.
Frequent embassies sought to promote the long-deferred union of the Greek and Roman churches. Prelates of the first were received into the latter with distinguished honor. A new spirit of inquiry and a new thirst for knowledge had been diffused abroad. Popular movements had taken place in almost every kingdom in Europe, which showed that society, even to its lower strata, was restless, and ready for a change.
The labors of the emperor were attended with remarkable success. Scarcely had the university been completed before it was thronged with students. It seemed to reach maturity at a single stride. The zealous patronage of the emperor was, no doubt, one of the most important elements of its success. The most learned and skilful men, moreover, were sought out for instructors, and they were selected, without regard to land or language, for their fitness and ability.
Four nations were represented there—Bavaria, Saxony, Poland, and Bohemia—each of which had a vote in the affairs of the university. At an early period, over two thousand students belonged to it from the German nation alone. It was the practice of the emperor often to be present at the examinations and disputations. He came in his imperial robes, attended by his officers and nobles, sometimes remaining for three or four hours at a time. It is said that he would become frequently so absorbed in listening to the disputations, that, when reminded by his courtiers that it was meal-time, he would reply, “Go, get your supper—my food is here.” Circumstances like these could not fail to invest the university with great splendor and importance in the eyes of the nation, and kindle the ambition of the students to excel, and thus merit the notice and favor of the emperor.
Although Charles IV died in November, 1378, the impulse of his influence still survived. The university continued to flourish. It must have been about the year 1389, and when Huss was sixteen years of age, that he was matriculated and became a member of that body. He pursued his studies with such application and success as to receive, in order, all the degrees of honor which the university could bestow, with the single exception of Doctor of Theology, of which we have no proof that it ever was conferred upon him. He received the degree of Bachelor in 1393, of Master of Arts in 1396; became priest and preacher of the Bethlehem church in 1400, dean of the Theological Faculty in 1401, and rector of the university in the following year. It was during his residence at the university as a student that his attention was first drawn to the subjects which afterwards so earnestly claimed his attention and his profound interest, for his convictions, moreover, in regard to which he was to lay down his life. He reached Prague in the same year in which Matthias of Janow died. It was in the year 1393 that he became intimate with a memorable man, James of Misa, or Jacobel (little James) as he was called, from his diminutive bodily stature. This man was a native of the Circle of Pilsen in Bohemia, and was at this time a teacher in the university. Though destitute of anything imposing in his personal appearance, his writings, and the influence he exerted upon the community and the nation, show him to have been a man of ability and energy. Like others of his countrymen before him, be had a strong leaning to the usages of the ancient Greek church. We shall see, in the course of this history, that he was a kindred spirit of Huss, and that their acquaintance of more than twenty years ripened into a friendship which led to the charge upon Huss of holding the peculiar views of his friend, though in this particular case the charge was false.
It was some years later (1398) that he became acquainted with Jerome of Prague, who, along with Jacobel, was accused of spreading the writings and opinions of Wickliffe in the university. Here was another friendship which reflects honor upon both the men whom it united while living, and associated in their deaths. Besides these, there must have been at Prague not a few others—disciples of Milicz and of Janow—whose influence was exerted in the direction of scriptural reform, and in whom Huss found those whose spirit sympathized with his own.
But we need not seek in external sources the impulse which shaped his career. From his earliest years, Huss had manifested a deep interest in the lives of distinguished and holy men deservedly eminent in the history of the Christian church. Upright in his whole conduct, and blameless in his morals and his devotion to religious duties, even by the confession of his bitterest enemies, his zeal for acquaintance with the career and pursuits of those to whom he might look as models, amounted almost to a passion. His manner of life had always been plain, simple, and unostentatious. His tastes were pure and innocent. One might have read, in his pale and somewhat attenuated features, the earnestness of a meditative spirit. There was an air of gravity and reserve manifest in his countenance, which gave evidence of calm purpose and sedateness of thought. His demeanor toward all was friendly and unassuming. His ambition, if he had anything deserving an appellation of such equivocal meaning, was directed toward distinction in the paths of devotion and of Christian effort. He was poor, and yet scorned wealth. He loved truth, and cared little for the honors of men. But to write his name by the side of those who had adorned the history of the church by their exhibition of Christian virtues, was the high and lofty aim that possessed his soul. While a student, it was his delight to pore over the history of the martyrs, to trace the progress of their devotion, to contemplate their self-denials and their sufferings. Once, while reading the history of St. Laurentius, who was put to death by being roasted on a gridiron, he thrust his hand into the fire to test his own constancy and power of endurance, and see whether he would be able himself to endure the torture of a like martyrdom. A friend who was present interfered to prevent the full execution of his purpose.
In this incident we may perhaps discern, on the part of Huss, a morbid religious sensibility, a tendency to an ascetic fanaticism. But beyond question, his severe conscientiousness, his ardent feeling, and his quick susceptibilities especially fitted him to be impressed by the searching and powerful words of Milicz and of Janow. It is evident, from the record of their labors, that they had drawn to their side not a few who, amid the general apostasy of the church, were earnestly devoted to the purpose of a higher Christian life. At Prague, and especially in the university, Huss would come in contact with these. A common sympathy would bind him to them. Yet it was not without a severe inward struggle—as we learn from the record of his own experience—that he was brought to relinquish worldly ambitions, and commit himself to that course which was to bring upon him the reproach in which Milicz and Janow had shared.
But at a very early period his decision was taken, and he never faltered in his purpose. The circumstances in which he was placed, and the objects toward which his attention was necessarily directed, combined to add strength to his convictions and firmness to his resolve. He had of course, by his residence at the imperial capital and his connection at the university, large opportunities for information and observation. He was at one of the foci where the great interests of European Christendom converged. There especially he was brought to understand the real condition and the sad degeneracy of the church. There he heard, from teachers and students, not only from Bohemia and Germany, but in some instances from foreign countries, free expressions in regard to the evils of the times, and he could not fail to take a deep interest in the great questions that were agitating and dividing the Christian world. The great schism which had already endured for many years was the scandal of Christendom. The papacy had become an Augean stable, demanding for its cleansing a more than fabled Hercules. But the mischief was not merely one that was far remote. The church was enfeebled and diseased in all its members. In Bohemia, and within the walls of Prague, there was enough, and more than enough, to excite thoughtful minds to grave reflection. Huss saw on all sides an abounding and prevalent iniquity. He noted a degree of corruption in church and state that could not fail to excite at once grief and indignation. In the contrast between what he saw around him and a primitive Christianity, he seemed to behold the gospel travestied by the lives of those whose duty it was to expound it, but whose whole course was a libel upon Christianity itself. The money-changers had established themselves in the sacred temple. Bold bad men, intriguing aspirants, the profligate and the vicious, had usurped the province of pastors and the Sees of bishops. The scriptures gave place to the decretals, and secular passions were dominant in the most sacred spheres.
Huss was profoundly affected and afflicted by what he saw around him. In common with many others, he recognized the necessity of a thorough and radical reform. In the writings of Milicz and Janow, and in the fruits of their labors, he could not but have discerned signs of hope. There were, moreover, others conscientiously adhering to the old hierarchy, but demanding its renovation, whose voices must have reached him at Prague. But the words which seemed to his listening ear most earnest, hearty, and effective, came to him from beyond the British channel. In the Oxford professor, driven from his public post, but in his humble parish of Lutterworth scarcely escaping by a peaceful death the vengeance he had provoked, Huss recognized a man whose bold and daring views, extraordinary ability, and scriptural method of reform were powerfully to confirm the bent of his own mind. The influence of Wickliffe on the religious movement at Prague, and on the career of Huss, was most important. The death of the English queen in 1394, leaving her Bohemian attendants free to return to their own land, occurred before Huss had completed his university career; and through them, doubtless, the writings of Wickliffe were extensively published.
It is at this point that we are called to survey the connection of the Oxford professor with the student of Prague.
England had long maintained a jealous watchfulness against the usurpation of the See of Rome. From the time when the first Norman seized her scepter, she seemed more deeply conscious of her individuality and independence. No king was ever more unpopular than John Lackland, who mortgaged the kingdom to the pope. The rude barons, extorting Magna Charta from their monarch, were little inclined to surrender rights, if possible still more precious, to a foreign potentate. English patriotism prepared the way for Wickliffe. Men regarded him as the champion of the nation’s rights. For once religious reform was supported by the spirit of the nobles, and for some years, Wickliffe’s protector, the Duke of Lancaster, virtually swayed the scepter, and enabled him effectually to defy the priests and the monks, who were his most bitter opponents.
Wickliffe was born in 1324, in the small village of Wickliffe, in Yorkshire, of respectable and probably somewhat wealthy parents. He was educated at Merton college, Oxford. The title which he here won, in a college which produced Thomas Bradwardine, the Profound Doctor, Walter Burley, the Perspicuous Doctor, William Occam, the Singular Doctor, and others of eminence and merit, indicates his ability and success. Although a perfect master of the scholastic philosophy to which he applied himself, Wickliffe was honored with the appellation ofthe Evangelical or Gospel Doctor. His attention was early directed to the study and investigation of the Bible. In this respect his example had few precedents in the university. Fifty years before, Roger Bacon had said that scholastic studies were in higher repute than the knowledge of the scriptures. At first no exception seems to have been taken to Wickliffe’s course. The language of his enemies attests his high standing. He is spoken of as a most eminent theological doctor, “accounted second to none in philosophy, and in scholastic attainments incomparable.”
The first of his works which he made public, indicates his acquaintance, through the pages of the New Testament, with a Christianity compared with which what bore its name was a distorted and grotesque caricature. It is entitled “The Last Age of the Church,” and seems to have been suggested by the general apprehension excited throughout Europe on account of the plague, and the strange phenomena by which it was accompanied. Fearful natural visitations and signs filled Christendom with alarm. When Wickliffe was in his fourteenth year, the great comet appeared. For several succeeding years the ravages of the locusts were fearfully destructive. An earthquake of unusual violence devastated Cyprus, Greece, Italy, and the valleys of the Alps as far as Basle. Mountains were swallowed up. In some places whole villages were overthrown. The air was thick, pestilential, stifling. Wine fermented in the casks. Fiery meteors appeared in the heavens. A gigantic pillar of flame was seen exactly over the papal palace of Avignon. A second earthquake nearly destroyed Basle. At Avignon (1334) persons of every age and sex were said, in the heat and drought which prevailed, to have changed their skins like serpents. Scales fell from the face, the neck, the hands. The populace, seized with madness, scourged and lacerated their half-naked bodies as they ran howling through the streets.
But these self-inflictions were not to be compared with the excesses that the Flagellants were guilty of thirteen years later. The plague that now ravaged Europe threatened to exterminate its inhabitants. It touched a sound and healthy body as fire touches tinder, and from the first moment all hope was abandoned. The victim was suddenly covered with black spots like burns, and not unfrequently dropped down dead almost before he was aware of the attack. At Basle, fourteen thousand people were destroyed by it; at Strasbourg and Erfurt, sixteen thousand; while in Italy its progress and desolations have been immortalized by the pen of Boccacio. The consternation was universal. Men that never prayed before, prayed now. Some few gave themselves up to voluptuous and luxurious indulgence; but the great mass trembled, and thousands went so far as to join the ranks of the Flagellants. Never had there been such seriousness, such alarm. Vice shrunk back abashed into the shade. Crime seemed paralyzed in its stronghold.
All these things were familiar to Wickliffe. Some of them took place while he was yet a student at Oxford, and at Oxford he met students from the continent to whom the scenes themselves had been present, witnessed realities. He had not yet taken his second degree when the plague visited Europe. His own mind undoubtedly was deeply impressed; and while he wrote of “The Last Age of the Church,” the impression had not passed from the minds of others. Indeed, it was not until August, 1348, that the destructive malady made its appearance at Dorchester in England. Its havoc was dreadful. It was regarded as the work of the destroying angel, premonitory to the final doom of the world. The gross and revolting corruptions of the church were, by men far less severe in their convictions than Wickliffe, accounted its procuring cause. Wickliffe seized the occasion to speak out words of solemn admonition and threatening. Worthless in its prophetic character, the treatise is valuable chiefly for the bold tone of utterance in which it denounces the prevalent sins of the age. It would be eagerly listened to, at least by many of his countrymen; as in the plague of 1666 even the Non-conformists were welcome to the pulpits of London, and thousands hung upon their words.
Never was a rebuke more plainly called for. The pictures left us of ecclesiastical vice and abuse are worthy of an original in Pandemonium. Petrarch, whose devotion sent him to Rome in the Jubilee of 1350, and carried him scrupulously through all the prescribed ritual of the pilgrims that he might attain the blessing, was shocked to observe the doings in the court of the pope. Avignon was to him “that Western Babylon, that he hated like Tartarus.” He describes it as “a terrestrial hell, a residence of fiends and devils, a receptacle of all that is wicked and abominable.” “Why,” he asks, “should I speak of truth, where not only the houses, palaces, courts, churches, and the thrones of popes and cardinals, but the very earth and air appear to teem with lies? A future state, heaven, hell and judgment, are openly turned into ridicule as childish fables. … Whatever perfidy and treachery; whatever barbarity and pride; whatever immodesty and unbridled lust you have ever heard or read of; in a word, whatever impiety and immorality either now is or ever was scattered over all the world, you may find here amassed in one heap.” Rome was no better than Avignon, and the poison of the heart spread to the extremities of the ecclesiastical body.
What the state of England was can easily be gathered from the complaint of “Piers Plowman,” and the pictures left us in Chaucer’s rhymes. Wickliffe saw Antichrist around him on all sides, and his words, however stinging, were too palpably true to be gainsayed. His career was largely shaped by the influences already noted, and he pursued it unfaltering to the end. The mendicant monks, at first acceptable for their zeal and poverty, had now become the curse of Christendom. They were the militia of the pope—ecclesiastical robbers and banditti. At Paris and Prague, as well as Oxford, they had become a nuisance. But long before Gerson exposed them, they were arraigned by Wickliffe. His blows fell fast and heavy, and excited against him the envenomed rage of his foes. He succeeded, however, in greatly limiting their rapacity and turbulence. In the midst of this conflict, the pope revived his claim on England for tribute and homage. Edward III laid the claim before parliament. It was resolved that it should be resisted; and the pen of Wickliffe was summoned to the task of its refutation.
But Wickliffe’s great work was the translation of the Old and New Testaments—the first complete English version of the Bible. He employed his “poor priests” to multiply copies of it. These were widely circulated. The effect was wonderful. The germ of Protestantism was planted in English soil—two centuries later to spring up to a vigorous growth. No episcopal scrutiny, espionage, or authority could root it out. “The Evangelical Doctor” vindicated the justice of his title. It was in vain that the attempt was made to silence or condemn him. To the English councils, and to the summons of the pope at Avignon, he paid little regard. From the first he was shielded by persons high in power; to the last he replied without the least trepidation, in plainer language than papal courts were wont to hear. Notwithstanding all the measures of persecution taken against him, driving him first from the headship of Canterbury Hall, and afterwards from Oxford, he died quietly in his own parish of Lutterworth, at the age of sixty-one years (1384).
The writings of Wickliffe were numerous; and though some of them were obscured with scholastic subtleties, yet others, in which he sets forth his religious doctrines based on the sole authority of scripture, are sufficiently perspicuous. Of his numerous treatises, many are of a practical character, adapted to the comprehension of the common people. Scattered among them are passages of exceeding beauty, and some in which we recognize the deep and fervent devotion of the author. It is his Trialogos, however, that has acquired most notoriety. It is in this work that he impugns the doctrine of transubstantiation, and presents what may be regarded as his theological system. This was the work which traversed Europe, and attracted most attention at Prague. It is a compendious review of the religious questions of the age, and embraces the sum and substance of Wickliffe’s religious opinions.
These opinions are nearly related to those held two centuries later, by the Puritans of the Elizabethan age. On the subject of justification by faith, his views are indistinct and ill-defined when compared with those of Luther. But the same is true of nearly all the reformers of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. His predestinarian notions fall little, if at all, short of those of Calvin. The prevalence of pilgrimages and image worship led him to denounce these abuses of devotion with unsparing severity. Of excommunication and papal interdict he stood in no fear. He treated them only with deserved contempt. Whatever an ideal pope might be, the actual pope was Antichrist. It was enough that the church had one Supreme Head in heaven. To give it another on earth was to make it a monster. The order of the hierarchy was odious and unscriptural. Presbyters and bishops, on New Testament authority, he accounted equal in rank. The church invisible was the simple, and the church visible the mixed, body of Christ. The seven sacraments of the church were all admitted, though in a qualified sense, by Wickliffe. It is evident that his exposition of their significance would strip them of all that peculiar importance which was attributed to them by the prevalent superstitions of the age. The fasts of the church, which substituted fish for flesh, were food fastings. The cumbrous ceremonies which disfigured its services, he would have reduced to a simpler ritual. Church music had no charms for him, when it charmed the thoughts of men from the words sung to the manner of performance. Judicial astrology, which was strangely prevalent in his age, found in him an unsparing assailant. Some strange sentiments have been ascribed to him which are not to be found in his writings, but which, probably, were extorted from his scholastic propositions. One of his chief heresies, as charged upon him by his enemies, was the doctrine that “Dominion is founded in grace.” Here, however, he seems to have merely followed the lead of the apostle Paul, when he said, “All things are yours”; for civil authority and jurisdiction found nowhere a more strenuous defender than Wickliffe. The fanaticism of the later Anabaptists had no place in his views or character. He did, indeed, maintain the supremacy of civil tribunals over the persons of ecclesiastics, as well as over the accumulated possessions of the church; but these views and theories were justified by the reformation, which, less than two centuries later, adopted them in England. Church endowments Wickliffe regarded as inconsistent with the purity and proper constitution of a spiritual body. He opposed the civil jurisdiction of ecclesiastics, and accounted tithes as the alms of the people, and not to be extorted against their free choice.
It is evident that most of Wickliffe’s views were drawn from scripture. They were enforced by his own peculiar and impressive energy of language. In the university of Oxford, as well as in various parts of England, they took deep root. The minds of men were in a state to yield them a careful attention. The singular visitations of providence by earthquakes and the plague, the incredible and enormous corruptions of the church, the overgrown pretensions and claims of the popes, the sympathy of the Duke of Lancaster and of others high in power with the new opinions, and their admiration of Wickliffe, conspired to secure for his words a favorable reception, and to give them a powerful effect. His writings had acquired a notoriety that would secure them, after his death, a candid and careful perusal on the distant banks of the Moldau. It was all in vain that the bishops, in the council of London, condemned them. The seed was sown—it was taking root, and no ecclesiastical police could root it out.
Progress of the New Doctrines at Prague
The spread of Wickliffe’s doctrines could not be confined to England. There were various channels by which they would be sure, ere long, to reach Bohemia. One of these has been already noted. The attendants of Anne of Luxembourg, queen of England, returning upon her death (1394) to their native land, would naturally spread abroad a knowledge of the new opinions. Huss himself says (reply to John Stokes, 1411) that for twenty years they had been known in Bohemia. Of course they must have been brought to Prague before the death of Wickliffe. Nor was this all. It was a common practice with the scholars of that age to visit the different universities of Europe, disseminating their own philosophical and theological views, and at the same time imbibing those of others. By their means every novelty in the moral or religious world was soon ventilated and spread abroad.
But among these knights-errant of literature, no one in that age exhibited a more adventurous and enterprising spirit than Jerome Faulfisch, or Jerome of Prague, as he is more commonly called. He was by several years the senior of Huss, full his equal in zeal for knowledge, far more impulsive in feeling, and remarkably enthusiastic in his devotion to whatever enterprise he undertook.
He had traveled through different lands, but made the longest stay in England. At Oxford he became acquainted with the writings of Wickliffe. The fame of the Evangelical Doctor was yet fresh within its halls, and his views were embraced or favored by a large number of the students. Jerome was struck with the ability with which they were presented, and was especially gratified by the manly tone in which they rebuked the errors and vices of the age. He transcribed several of his books, or caused to be transcribed, and bore them back with him on his return to Bohemia (1397–8).
Jerome was not a man to conceal his sentiments or disguise his aims. He gave free expression to his opinions on the subjects discussed by the English reformer, and to his estimate of the man. He found himself at Prague surrounded by many inquiring minds, and the new views which he advanced could not fail to draw attention. But among the members of the university opinions were divided. Some were bitterly opposed to the positions taken by the “Evangelical Doctor,” and few if any voices were raised decidedly in their favor.
At first—so we are assured by one historian—Huss himself shared deeply in the popular prejudice. Shortly after his return from Oxford, in 1398, Jerome is said to have shown Huss one of the books of Wickliffe which he had brought back with him. Huss regarded it as heretical, and spoke severely against it. He advised Jerome either to burn it or throw it into the Moldau, lest it should fall into the hands of persons eager for innovation. The story at least is not improbable. To the last, there were some of Wickliffe’s views which Huss never accepted, and at this early period he was probably acquainted with but a small portion of his writings.
But in the following years (previous to 1403) the books of Wickliffe seem to have been more extensively read and circulated at Prague. They begin at least to attract in a special manner the attention of the university. A large number of his articles had been already condemned by the London synod, and it did not become the masters of Prague to be less orthodox than the English clergy. A still larger number was selected from the books of the English reformer by John Hubner, who proposed their condemnation by the university.
To propose was to secure their sentence, especially after they had been interpolated, as is asserted, by Master Hubner. A blind prejudice existed against whatever bore the name of Wickliffe. It was enough that his views had been pronounced heretical by the English synod, and that his course had enraged the English clergy. To add a new impulse to the zeal of the German party in the university, Wickliffe’s philosophy—for he was a Realist—greatly contributed. The Germans were Nominalists, while the Bohemians inclined to side with Wickliffe.
A convocation of the university was summoned (May 28, 1403) to examine and pronounce upon the controverted doctrines. The theological faculty met also. A third and full assembly of the doctors, masters, bachelors, and all the students of the Bohemian portion of the university, was held at the church called Nigra Rosa. Huss himself is said to have been present. But few voices were lifted in favor of the obnoxious doctrines. Huss was not himself prepared to defend them, for, by his own account, there were certain portions of them which he could not accept. He sought, however, to prevent any decisive action. But in spite of the opposition of himself and his friends, sentence against them was pronounced in the following words: “Know all men, that all the doctors and masters here assembled, with one consent, and with scarcely the show of objection, have rejected, refuted, and condemned the forty-five articles of Wickliffe, as in their sense heretical, erroneous, or scandalous.” And they “charge all and each, subjects of this nation, that no one shall rashly presume to defend or teach, whether openly or secretly, any articles of such nature, and this under penalty of expulsion from the said nation.”
Anyone, moreover, who had not attained to the degree of master, was forbidden to read the books of Wickliffe, especially those on the Eucharist, his Dialogue and Trialogue, in which the aforesaid doctrines were more prominently and plainly brought forward.
Whatever the views of Huss may have been—and undoubtedly he accepted some of the condemned articles—at this time he made no strenuous show of opposition to the sentence. He was probably aware that it would have been utterly ineffectual. But the decision may have been, and probably was, the means of drawing his attention to a closer examination of the whole subject. He, at least, as a master of the university, was not prohibited from the perusal of Wickliffe’s books. He might be willing to wait and improve future opportunities for pursuing the course that he should deem wisest after more mature deliberation.
Meanwhile the career of Huss was opening with bright promise. His position was one of high influence, and was becoming stronger and more important every day. He was popular not only in the university, but in the pulpit. In 1401 he had been selected, for his zeal and eloquence as well as his purity of life and religions devotion, to occupy one of the most important posts in the whole kingdom. He was made Confessor of Queen Sophia of Bavaria, second wife of King Wenzel. She was a woman of strong mind and high character. Through her influence Huss was received with favor at court, and acquired powerful friends.
Through one of these, the founder of Bethlehem chapel, then resident at Prague and present at court, he was soon called to occupy a position of still more commanding influence. It was in the pulpit of that chapel that the great work of Huss’s life was to
be achieved. We must trace the erection and endowment of this edifice to two causes—one, the enterprise excited by the example of the emperor in his architectural improvements, and the other to that zeal for more popular religious instruction which
had been enkindled by the labors of Conrad, Milicz, and Janow. To add to the architectural beauty of Prague by the erection of an elegant structure for public worship, and to afford facilities for the preaching of the word of God independent of the encumbrance of rites and ceremonies, were objects which combined to draw out the large liberality of the two men most concerned in the founding of the chapel.
It was built in the closing years of the fourteenth century. A rich merchant of Prague—Kreutz by name—gave the ground, and John of Mulheim founded the chapel. The intention of the latter is expressed in the deed of foundation. Anxious for the salvation of his own soul, and the spiritual refreshment of believers; and considering that, while in Prague there were many places suitable for purposes of divine worship, there was none specially provided simply for the preaching of the word of God, and that preachers in the Bohemian tongue especially were thus forced to go from place to place in private houses and secret conventicles, he determines to erect, on the ground granted by the merchant Kreutz, a chapel in honor of the Holy Innocents, to be known by the name of Bethlehem, with the simple intent that common people and Christian believers might there “be refreshed by the bread of holy preaching.”
The erection of the building was commenced in the year 1391, but it was not completed till 1400. The first occupants of the pulpit were John Protiva, of Neudorf, and afterwards Stephen of Colin, both of them learned theologians and glowing patriots. But at the court of the king the founder of the chapel became acquainted with Huns, and a warm friendship sprang up between the nobleman and the youthful preacher. The result was, that the founder himself selected Huss to fill the pulpit of Bethlehem chapel (1402). Doubtless he discerned in him those characteristics and qualifications which fitted him to carry out the original design of the endowment. A wiser choice could not have been made. It justified the sagacity of the nobleman, whose friendship was warmly reciprocated by Huss. The latter speaks of him frequently in his letters, and makes mention of him in terms of kindness and respect.
Thus the chapel becomes identified with the life and career of Huss. There for full twelve years he occupied an independent position. The benefice, if such it must be called, was not the gift of prelatic favor, but left its possessor free from ecclesiastical restraint.
The recorded design of the founder of the chapel throws light upon the successful efforts of Milicz and Janow in bringing over others to their views. John of Mulheim was evidently one of a class at Prague who were zealous for the dissemination of scripture truth. Nor, unless he had been cognizant of a state of things which would warrant the measure, would he have made provision for the endowment of the chapel. He was confident that a preacher there would not lack for an audience, and he intended that the endowment should be a perpetual foundation. So long as the yearly income of the endowment did not exceed a certain amount, it was to be given to the support of the preacher. In case of an excess, provision was to be made for the care of the chapel and the purchasing of such books as the preacher might need. When it had increased so as to suffice for the support of two preachers, another was to be chosen as a colleague of the first. In case there was still an excess, the balance should be devoted to the support of charity students at the university.
The preacher was, moreover, obligated to personal residence in the city. He was not to imitate those who sought their own and not the things of Christ, receiving the pay but not performing the labors; and he was to withdraw from his post of duty only in case of necessity, and with the permission of the archbishop or his vicar.
The election of the preacher, after the founder’s death, was to be vested in the three senior masters of the Caroline college, belonging to the Bohemian nation, who were to sit and advise with the mayor of the old city. The last was to select one of three whom the first should nominate as most capable of discharging the duties of the office. The three masters, together with the preacher, should direct in regard to the disposition of the fund for charity students, and the conduct of those by whom it should be received.
The king sanctioned the endowment; Archbishop John of Jenstein laid the corner-stone of the edifice; and the pope, some years later, confirmed the foundation. The mayor and city council released the ground without requiring the payment of the customary tag paid on the transfer of property from municipal to ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and declared it free from all future city taxes and assessments.
Although the edifice was not completed till some years later, the first preacher, Protiva of Neudorf, commenced his labors as early as 1395. The merchant Kreutz, in the following year, appointed as altarist Matthias of Tucap, who probably remained at his post till 1403. But previous to this time Huss had commenced his labors as the preacher of the chapel. He was inducted by the vicar of the archbishop, March 14, 1402.
His appointment seems to have been received with general favor. The archbishop was his warm and steadfast friend. He cooperated with him in several measures of reform, and manifested such confidence as to invite information from him in regard to the abuses and corruptions of the church.
From the first Huss was popular among the citizens, and his personal qualities combined with his eloquence to secure their love and attachment. Bethlehem chapel, notwithstanding its spaciousness, was crowded by throngs eager to hear the youthful preacher expound the word of God. With honest zeal he set forth the divine commands, reprehending with just severity every departure from them. The excesses and vices of every class were faithfully, perhaps often sternly, rebuked. The blameless life of the preacher gave double force to his words. Men were forced to respect him in his conscientious discharge of official duty. They saw in him, not the actor nor the mere orator, but the devoted minister of Christ, who practiced himself what he preached to others.
For several years he continued to fill the pulpit under no suspicion of heresy. Many, it is true, must have felt the severity of his admonitions—the indirect condemnation of their lives by the doctrines which he taught—and have been forced to regard him with secret hate. But, strong at court and in popular favor, it was only in whispers that dissatisfaction with him could be expressed.
Meanwhile he was himself taking enlarged views of the great question of reform. To this result he was brought in part, undoubtedly, by the perusal of Wickliffe’s writings. The more he perused them, the more accordant they appeared to be with his own views. Speaking on this point at a later period, he says, himself, “I am drawn to him (Wickliffe) by the reputation he enjoys with the good, not the bad priests at the university of Oxford, and generally with the people, although not with bad, covetous, pomp-loving, dissipated prelates and priests. I am attracted by his writings, in which he expends every effort to conduct all men back to the law of Christ, and especially the clergy, inviting them to let go pomp and dominion of the world, and live, with the apostles, according to the law of Christ. I am attracted by the love he has for the law of Christ, maintaining the truth, and holding that not one jot or tittle of it could fail.”
We discern here the grounds upon which Huss sympathized with Wickliffe. His philosophical views were not matter that should afford charge for heresy, and throughout all his theological writings he conceded to scripture, and to scripture alone, the supreme authority. Huss felt, therefore, that he could not reject Wickliffe as a heretic, or condemn his fundamental position as heretical, without depriving himself of the very grounds upon which he rested his own views.
Wickliffe’s writings had been condemned in 1403. In the following year two learned Englishmen, James and Conrad of Canterbury, came to Prague, and became members of the university. From policy, it may be, or under fear produced by the sentence of condemnation, they spoke but little of Wickliffe, while they maintained some of his most objectionable doctrines in public theses before the university. Among the questions they discussed were these: whether the pope is possessed of more power than any ordinary priest; whether the bread which he blesses in the mass, has any more efficacy than when blessed by any other priest? They professed it as their purpose in these discussions only to settle more firmly their attachment to the faith. Yet silence was imposed upon them, and they were compelled to spread their views in secret. Even thus, many of the teachers of the university were found ranged upon their side. The method which they were driven to adopt to maintain their views was one certainly more effective with the populace than public disputation. The name of their host was Luke Welensky. They gained his consent to their spreading a painting on the walls of a room in his house in the outskirts of Prague. That picture was, in fact, the contrast of a pure with a corrupt Christianity, and spoke its lessons to every eye. It could be comprehended at a glance. Men crowded to see it, and heard a sermon while they gazed in silence and made their own comments. On one side of the picture was Christ, in his humble entrance into Jerusalem, seated upon an ass, while the people and children surrounded him, casting olive leaves and branches in his way; and his disciples, with their feet bare, followed after. On the other side was pictured the procession of the pope; mounted on a large charger which was covered with ornaments of gold, silver, and precious stones, while soldiers with drums and trumpets, spears and halberds, were in attendance; and behind followed the cardinals, mounted on horses in golden trappings. It was a pictured sermon. Huss spoke of it approvingly from the pulpit as the true antithetical representation of Christ and Antichrist. However he might as yet be disposed publicly to treat the name of Wickliffe, he admired at least some portions of his doctrines, when unveiled and brought out to popular comprehension. With his mind in such a state, several years passed on. He was highly respected, and almost idolized by the patriot feeling of the nation. He felt that his position justly pointed him out as the champion of its rights, the reformer of its abuses.
An occasion for his activity, in both these respects, was not wanting. The German party of the university, by mere numbers, possessed an overpowering strength and influence, and, united as they were with the more strenuous of the Bohemian clergy in their opposition to Wickliffe, carried all before them. Huss felt indignant at what, with a patriot’s feelings, he could not but deem an usurpation. Each of the three foreign nations in the university possessed the same power with the Bohemian nation. He preferred that the university of Prague should be modeled more perfectly after the mother university at Paris, and that all the foreign nations, as in the latter institution, should have but one vote instead of three. He must have found a strong feeling in favor of the project, to warrant him in attempting to carry it out. But he did attempt it, and he finally succeeded. In this he was, no doubt, aided by his influence at court, the favor of the queen, and the anxiety of the Bohemian party to secure a larger share of the offices and honors of the university. To the progress of this struggle we shall again have occasion to refer.
During this period the views of Wickliffe continued steadily to gain new adherents. The public attention which had been drawn to them by their condemnation abroad as well as by the university, created a more extended curiosity and eagerness to peruse them, and many copies of his books were transcribed, and circulated from hand to hand. The labors of Milicz and Janow; the leavening influence of those in Prague, who, in large numbers, still cherished their memory; the repeated occasions upon which a true was held up in contrast with a false Christianity, as in the sermons of Huss; and the picture of the two Englishmen, all contributed to the notoriety and spread of the obnoxious doctrines.
Huss himself lost all his horror at their heresy. A favorable change in his views of them was wrought by fuller acquaintance with them. His desire was simply to know the truth. No matter from what source it came, it was always acceptable. At a later period, in his treatise on the church, he says, “Often have I allowed myself to be set right, even by one of my own scholars, when I saw that the reasons were good; and I felt bound to thank him for the correction.” This is not obstinacy, but the candor of a truth-loving spirit.
There is, it seems probable, a striking parallel between the manner in which the prejudices of Huss were overcome in favor of Wickliffe, and the manner in which those of Luther were overcome in favor of Huss. It was Luther who said of the works of Huss, “When I was studying at Erfurt, I found in a library of the convent a book entitled ‘Sermons of John Huss.’ I was seized with a curiosity to know what doctrines this heresiarch had taught. This reading filled me with incredible surprise. I could not comprehend why they should have burned so great a man, and one who explained scripture with so much discernment and wisdom. But inasmuch as the very name of Huss was such an abomination that I imagined that at the mention of it the heavens would fall and the sun be darkened, I shut the book with a sad heart. I consoled myself, however, by the thought that perhaps he wrote it before he fell into heresy; for, as yet, I knew nothing of the doings of the council of Constance.” Similar to this may have been, and doubtless was, the experience of Huss with regard to Wickliffe.
But the growing corruption of the Romish hierarchy, the identification of the foreign party to which he was opposed with the opposition to Wickliffe, and his own clearer convictions on the subjects of which the English reformer had treated, prepared Huss for an unprejudiced judgment of his writings. He was well aware that those writings must stand or fall on their own merits. He knew that few of those who pronounced sentence on them had ever read or examined them, that far less than himself were they qualified to condemn or approve, and that such a sentence as that which the university had pronounced could have but little weight with men of sound sense and sober judgment.
Meanwhile daily events were, to the eye of Huss, a running commentary on the truths he found so boldly stated and so ably maintained in the books of Wickliffe. Christendom was scandalized at the audacious impiety of the popes. Men could hardly believe their own eyes when they saw the length and breadth, the height and depth, to which corruption had attained, in the very heart of the church. All the prominent historians of the age, of every clan and party, are unanimous in their condemnation of the prevalent and abounding iniquity. The very men by whose influence and decision Huss at last perished, were those who exposed the evil with most unsparing severity. At this time they were speaking at once the language of his convictions and of their own. Anyone who listened merely to their words and regarded their common anxieties, would have imagined that they would have rushed as brothers into one another’s arms. Huss never used language more severely scathing and vindictive in regard to the corruptions of the Romish church than what remains to us from the pens of some of his most virulent opposers. The power of human expression is tasked to its utmost capacity to depict what Theodore Vrie calls the “arrogance and pomp, the tyranny and sacrilege, the pride and simony, of popes, cardinals, prelates, and bishops.” Their iniquity is only paralleled by their ignorance and effrontery. The English Ullerston, the Italian Zabarella, and that remarkable triumvirate of the university of Paris—Gerson, D’Ailly, and Clemengis—men to whom attached no taint of heresy, seem to vie with each other in the effort to exhibit the wickedness of the times, and hold it up to indignant rebuke. There is in existence a small pamphlet from the pen of Clemengis, in which he lashes, with blows that must have stung like scorpions, the vices of the whole ecclesiastical order. He spares no class of the clergy, to use his own words, from “the golden head of the image to the toes of clay.” In a torrent of burning and indignant eloquence, he appeals to the facts of a corruption too notorious for denial, bids “the church look to the vision of the Apocalypse, there read the damnation of the great harlot that sitteth upon many waters, and then contemplate her own marked doings and the dire calamity that shall come upon her.” We shall see, as we progress, that this language in all its severity was well merited. Men spoke thus because they were forced to it, more in sorrow than in anger. They loved the church; and because they loved her, they could not bear to see her fondle in her bosom the viperous brood of iniquity.
Huss followed up the study of Wickliffe’s writings, and he could not but recognize in the Englishman a brother reformer. His earlier prejudices gave way to the convictions produced by a more careful examination. The more he read, the more fully he was led to approve and commend. Some of his fellow collegians detected him in the perusal of the works of the arch-heretic. In a reproachful way they remarked, that by a decree of the council his soul had been sent to hell. Huss replied, “I only wish that my soul, when it leaves this body, may reach the place where that of this excellent Briton now dwells.”
The minds of others were favorably impressed, as well as his own, by a perusal of the writings of Wickliffe. Stanislaus of Znoyma, a former teacher of Huss, spoke out boldly in their favor, in disregard of the sentence of the university. He did this publicly, and offered to maintain his position against any who were disposed to impugn it. From his chair in the university he praised Wickliffe; spoke of him as an “abused man,” a profound theologian and philosopher; deprecated the detraction of those who would count him a heretic, declaring that from his writings “the most beautiful flowers might be gathered.”
Nor was he alone in this. Paletz—whom we shall meet again as the accuser of Huss, but now his companion and bosom friend—was equally outspoken. On a public occasion he had praised Wickliffe before the university, declaring that his argument was unanswerable, and throwing his book in full congregation, in the midst of the masters, exclaiming, “Let who will impugn a single word, I will defend it.”
These men, along with Huss, embraced many of the views of Wickliffe and spoke in their defense. But persecution tried them and found them wanting. At the critical moment they abandoned their ground. But Huss uniformly and without wavering maintained his. He adopted the new views, not because they were Wickliffe’s, or because they were plausibly set forth, but because he found them accordant with the word of God: by this he had already learned to put all human opinions and teachings to the test. In reply to Paletz, he afterwards said—and his whole career is a fitting comment on the truth of his words—”Though Wickliffe, or an angel from heaven taught otherwise than the scripture teaches, I could not follow him. I disobey the perverse mandates of my superiors, because scripture teaches me to obey God rather than man.”
Yet he had attained to this position not without a severe struggle. His age was just the one for a supple, adroit, and able man to achieve success. It was an age of temporizers—an age when the necessary capital for business, whether in secular or ecclesiastical spheres, was, in the judgment of most, first of all an easy conscience. The man of real ability, whose convictions were in the market, might aspire to almost any eminence he chose.
Huss was not blind to this fact. He had before him inviting avenues of ambition. He saw the most tempting prizes almost within his grasp, and luring him to betray his own convictions. To forego them, to scorn them, and, moreover, to incur reproach or hatred or persecution for the cause of truth, to stand independent of the corrupt influences around him, and abide fast by his convictions, was no easy task. Yet this task he achieved, in a strength which he ascribed to a higher than any human source.
Up to this time no suspicion of heresy had attached to Huss. He had indeed more than once already offended against the slavish and superstitious notions of a corrupt hierarchy. In 1403, Sigismund, king of Hungary, who took during Wenzel’s imprisonment the title of Governor of Bohemia, and who afterwards became emperor, was at variance with the pope, Boniface II. The latter had sustained and encouraged Ladislaus, king of Naples, as a rival claimant of the throne. In revenge, Sigismund forbade the levying of money for Rome within the precincts of the kingdom. Huss, on this occasion, preached boldly against the indulgences granted by the pope. But then it was neither crime nor heresy. Sigismund approved it. His brother Wenzel had his grievances with the pope also. Boniface had consented to his deposition, and both the royal brothers could not have disliked the severity of Huss, so fully warranted by the scandals of the popedom.
It must have been not long after this that he exposed to popular reprehension and derision a pretended miracle invented by clerical avarice. He went so far as to write a tract against it, and his course was approved by the archbishop. A priest at Wilsnack had declared that, in a conflagration which had taken place, he had found the host in the fire, unconsumed, and sprinkled with drops of blood, which he declared to be the blood of Jesus Christ. This was soon noised abroad. The story was spread that at a sight of the host miracles had been wrought. Throngs crowded to behold the wonderful object. The sick and maimed hoped to derive a benefit from their journey to Wilsnack. They came from every direction, even from as far as Prague Huss burned with indignation at the sacrilegious trick. He argued before the citizens that the whole thing was an imposture. The blood of Christ had been glorified with his body in the resurrection, and was quite inseparable from it. Hence none could adore it on the earth while it was not here. The wickedly avaricious priests would not hesitate to sprinkle their own blood on the host, to make fools believe it to be the blood of Christ. As to the objection that other relics of Christ—his crown of thorns, his robe, his cross—were preserved and seem to be stained with blood, he answers in a manner to show his incredulity: and as to the asserted preservation of the circumcised flesh of the Savior, he says, “Let us have the proof of it; but sooner will the last trumpet sound for judgment than that proof will appear.” “As to such deceptions, I see nothing more strange in them than what is practiced here in Prague, of exhibiting the blood of Jesus Christ mingled with the milk of the Virgin Mary.” As to the objection that the miracle might be wrought by God’s omnipotence, he replies by drawing a distinction between what God can and what God will do. As to the miracles claimed to have been wrought, he denies them altogether, and asserts that a false priest would not hesitate to sustain his lying imposture with new lies. He then gives a list of false miracles, wrought by the pretended blood of Christ, which had been detected and exposed in Hungary, Germany, and elsewhere.
It may have been in consequence of Huss’s decided action and prompt exposure of the imposture that a certain citizen of Prague, Peter Zicko, determined to visit Wilsnack. He had a shrunken hand; and taking with him a hand formed of silver, he communicated to the priests his intention of bestowing the latter on them, in case the former was restored to soundness. For three days he waited patiently to hear the result. At length it was thus announced by a priest to the assembled multitude: “Listen, my children, to a new miracle. A citizen of Prague has been healed, in virtue of Christ’s blood, of a shrunken hand. In testimony of it he has presented this,” holding up to them the hand of silver. Zicko, who, till that moment, had probably remained concealed, at once arose, and lifting up his hand, said in a loud tone of voice, “O you priest! why do you lie? Here is my withered hand just as it was before.”
He returned to Prague and told his story. It confirmed the words of Huss. The archbishop Sbynco, afterwards the open enemy of the reformer, commanded and ordered, under penalty of excommunication, directing that proclamation should be made by every priest in Prague, that no one should visit Wilsnack. Several works beside that of Huss appeared on the subject. The doctors of Erfurt also refuted this idolatry.
The cry against Huss for heresy was of nearly the same date with the struggle between the Bohemian and other nations in the university, and was no doubt very closely connected with it. But for the time it was disregarded. Other matters of more importance absorbed the attention of the Christian world. The state of the papacy was such, that two popes possessed each a divided allegiance; while some nations, as France for a short period, were for withholding obedience from both. Huss held these views, and so accorded with many of the wisest and best men of Europe. He wished to have Bohemia withdraw herself from each party, and join with that portion of the cardinals who rejected both popes in the election of one whom all should recognize as the head of the church. But to understand his position, we must take a brief retrospect of the condition of the papacy for the previous century.
At the commencement of the fourteenth century the papal chair was occupied by a man who revived the spirit and pretensions of Gregory VII and Innocent III. Boniface VIII was a man whose unscrupulous character and great abilities were united with craft and arrogance, and “an ambition as boundless as his avarice.” Interposing as mediator between the kings of France and England, he soon assumed the authority of a judge, and imposed conditions which aroused indignation. Philip the Fair soon had an opportunity to resent the wrong, although his course was dictated, probably, as much by the interests of his kingdom as by the spirit of revenge. Large sums of money were constantly levied in France, and under various pretences transmitted to Rome. The king, whose treasury stood in great need of funds, published an ordinance prohibiting the exportation of gold and silver, coined or uncoined, from the kingdom without his permission. Boniface retaliated by his famous constitution, in which he forbade secular princes, save by his approval, to enact any sum or sums of money from ecclesiastical revenues. A war of manifestoes followed, which was temporarily closed by a hollow truce. New causes of complaint arose. The pope threatened to absolve Philip’s subjects from their allegiance. The king, supported by the three estates of the kingdom and the advice of his barons, defied the threat. His excommunication followed. France was put under interdict, and the universities were deprived of their privileges. Philip retaliated by arresting the pope, who with his court was then at Anagni. One of those who seized him struck him with his gauntlet and drew blood. He was soon, however, rescued from the hands of the conspirator, but, overwhelmed with grief and shame at the violence offered him, he soon died delirious.
Benedict XI, who succeeded Boniface in 1303, was a man of milder temper, but his reign was short; and in the following year Clement V, a Frenchman, was chosen pope. He was crowned at Lyons, and as the creature of Philip took up his residence at Avignon. Thus commenced what the Italians called “the Babylonian captivity.” For nearly seventy years the popes were the liegemen of the kings of France. One or two of them are deserving of honorable mention; but the names of John XXII, Clement VI, and Gregory XI are covered with deserved infamy. The first was for many years at open feud with the German emperor, and in common with the others endeavored to satiate his avarice by a simony too notorious to allow of concealment. They all amassed prodigious wealth by the abuse of Annates, and the reservation and disposal of benefices. These were the men who converted Avignon into that “western Babylon” which Petrarch hated “like Tartarus.” In 1376 Gregory XI determined to return to Rome. The insurrections and disorders of that city, as well as of many parts of Italy, demanded his presence. But a short period sufficed to make him repent of his purpose. He resolved to return to France, but before he could execute his resolution he died (1378).
The cardinals assembled at Rome to elect a successor. Alarmed by the tumultuous cries of the mob, who were determined to have no Frenchman elected, their choice fell upon the archbishop of Bari, a Neapolitan, who assumed the title of Urban VI. The harshness and arrogance of Urban soon alienated from him the minds of his cardinals. Several of them, protesting that the former election had not been free, withdrew, and elected to the pontificate a Frenchman, who took the name of Clement VII, and established his court at Avignon.
Thus commenced the great schism of the Western church. Christendom was divided into two obediences, one acknowledging a pope at Rome, the other a pope at Avignon. For nearly forty years the church was thus presented as “a monster with two heads.” The avarice, arrogance, and ambition of the pontificate were exposed to the scorn, and became the scandal of Europe. Boniface IX succeeded Urban VI at Rome in 1389, and Peter de Luna, known as Benedict XIII, was elected in 1394, in place of Clement VII at Avignon. Successive efforts were made to induce one or both to resign, and thus restore peace and unity to the church; but all proved futile. On the death of Boniface IX at Rome, Innocent VII was chosen his successor; and in 1406 he in his turn gave place to Gregory XII, whose pontificate continued to the assembling of the council at Constance. The great question that agitated Europe was, what measures should be adopted for giving peace and restoring unity to the church. At Oxford, at Paris, at Prague, men discussed the subject, and the majority seemed everywhere to incline to what was called “the way of cession.” They would have both claimants to the tiara resign their pretensions, and a general council, summoned for the purpose, elect a new pontiff, in whose authority all might acquiesce. Each of the contending popes however had still his partisans, and wherever these were found the church was divided and convulsed. Archbishop Sbynco followed the obedience of Gregory. Huss rejected both popes, and, with the theologians of the university of Paris, preferred the way of cession. This fact must be taken into account, in order fully to understand the relations of Huss and the archbishop. Until about the time of the council of Pisa (1408) they seem to have been on the most friendly terms, and to have cooperated to some extent in promoting measures of reform. A few years later we find them antagonists. Sbynco was a man who paid some slight regard to the external proprieties and purity of the church. Huss looked to the reviving of a new and better spirit within it. Sbynco adhered to Gregory. Huss favored the action of the council. Even the controversy of the different nations in the university was insufficient to throw the greater question of the peace and unity of Christendom into the shade.
The Council of Pisa
The best minds of Europe were fully convinced that the time had at length arrived when more vigorous efforts should be made to put an end to that scandal of Christendom, the papal schism. It had already endured for thirty years, yet with no prospect that either of the rival pontiffs or conclaves would yield his claims.
Meanwhile violence and anarchy prevailed largely throughout Europe. Wenzel, the oldest son of the emperor Charles IV, though still the king of Bohemia, had been deposed from the imperial throne and deprived of his hereditary rights, and Robert had been elevated by the electors to the vacant dignity. Sigismund, the second son of the emperor, who, in the partition of the imperial domain, had secured Hungary for his portion, was pressed by the terror of Moslem invasion, while Ladislaus, king of Naples, contested as a rival his right to the Hungarian throne. Poland and the Teutonic knights stood in hostile attitude to one another, and a fierce and protracted conflict had spread desolation on all sides. The German princes were often at feud, involving the whole land in intestine commotions. France, under the authority of a weak and feeble monarch sometimes so deranged as to leave the throne virtually vacant, was torn by contending factions. The rival dukes of Burgundy and Orleans grasped at and alternately secured the preponderating influence, till the unscrupulous violence of the former (1407) removed his competitor by the stroke of the assassin.
Everywhere there were turbulence, crime, lawlessness, and impunity. Nor was this all. Profligacy and corruption pervaded the hierarchy. The sacred offices of the church were bartered and sold. Priestly avarice and arrogance had assumed an unblushing front. Deeds of darkness, that disgraced the highest dignitaries of the church, were performed in the light of day, and shamelessly avowed; and the demand was almost universal that some limit should be set to these abuses.
Nearly all these mischiefs, political and ecclesiastical, were attributed to the schism of the church. Pontifical authority might have exercised a restraining and controlling influence, but the rival pontiffs fulminated against each other, and the corruption which made their courts the Augean stables of Christendom, destroyed all respect for the tiara.
Successive efforts were made to remedy the evil; but the kingdoms were divided in their allegiance. Some held with the French, and some with the Italian pope. At first there was hope that on the death of one, his cardinals would refuse to elect a successor, and join themselves to the conclave of the other. Yet this hope was disappointed. Benedict XIII continued the French succession.
But his own ambition overshot its mark. He was too arrogant in his claims, and France began to waver in her allegiance. The university discussed the problem of peace and union. By its advice deputations were sent to Benedict, urging him to cede. He temporized—played his part as hypocrite with adroit skill, but finally, forced to show his hand, broke out in bold defiance, and declared that he would never betray the sacred trust of the flock of Christ by resigning his pretensions. This provoked indignation. France was exasperated, and withdrew her allegiance. Benedict was not terrified even by this. He issued his bull of excommunication against all who had been concerned in the act. The bull was introduced into the French parliament, and torn and cut with knives as the soldiers passed it from hand to hand, while the messengers who brought it were arrested, clad in ignominious robes, and marched through the streets amid the hootings of the rabble. Nor was this all. Marshal Boncicaut was ordered to arrest the pope. With his armed bands he proceeded to Avignon; but the wily pontiff had received timely warning, and managed to escape his hands.
But Gregory, as well as Benedict, had been elected under the solemn pledge to use his influence to give peace to the church. If necessary, he was to cede his office. It was urged that the two contendents should meet together and effect some compromise by which a union of the church should be secured. Both professed extreme readiness to do this. Each proclaimed himself eager to meet the other. Indeed, when professions were so cheap, and pontifical veracity had not altogether lost credit, it could scarcely be otherwise. Probably Gregory was, if not more sincere, at least less perfidious. Previous to his election he had sworn, and at his suggestion all the cardinals had sworn, with a solemn oath, to do whatever was practicable to effect peace and union in the church. In his sermon after his election, he had, to the great joy of his hearers, exhorted the cardinals to labor with him for this object. “To whatever place,” said he, “it is possible that a union can be secured in, I am resolved to go. If destitute of galleys, I will embark in a skiff; and if the journey must be by land, and horses cannot be procured, I would sooner go staff in hand on foot, than fail to keep my word.”
But the possession of power had begotten the love of it. The fingers that had grasped the scepter as flesh, had been turned to iron, and would not relax their rigid hold. Nor was Benedict behind Gregory either in protestations or lack of performance. But in maneuvering against his antagonist he gained the weather-gage. A place was appointed for the proposed conference, and Benedict was present at the time specified. Gregory was too late, and his cunning rival threw upon him the odium of the failure of a project which it was impossible should succeed. After this, neither would accede to the propositions of the other. One would not leave the sea-coast, and the other would not approach it. Gregory complained that he had no gallies; and Benedict would not venture into the heart of Italy, where he would be powerless and his person insecure. It was facetiously said of them, that one was a land-animal afraid of the sea, and the other a sea-animal afraid of the land.
Gregory’s adherents began to mistrust him. His cardinals, and numerous ambassadors from different kingdoms and provinces, pressed him to active measures. But the old man was inflexible to all remonstrance. His oath was forgotten, or a construction, the reverse of the obvious one, was put upon it. Just at the critical moment, when it seemed that he must yield, he heard that his ally, Ladislaus of Naples, had made his triumphal entry into Rome. This was glad intelligence to the exiled pontiff, who, though an Italian pope, had been driven from its walls. He was inspired with fresh hopes. With Rome in his possession he felt that he might defy his rival. To increase the number of his partisans he created several new cardinals. The old ones vainly opposed his project. A Carmelite, who had withstood it in presence of the ambassadors, was thrown into prison, and would have perished but for the intercession of powerful friends. Gregory would allow no sermon to be preached before him that had not first been examined and approved. But such proceedings were suicidal. His old cardinals forsook him, some on one pretext, some on another. Some fled to Lucca, others to Naples. Only seven were left, and a majority of these of the new creation. The others vainly strove to bring him back to reason. Disappointed in the effort, they drew up an appeal from Gregory to a general council, and notified Christendom of the withdrawal of their allegiance.
The statement of the grounds of their appeal is instructive. They describe Gregory as an unscrupulous tyrant, in whose power they were always in fear of prison or of massacre. Some of them had been selected for assassination, and soldiers had been stationed in the papal palace to execute the deed. They were not allowed to meet except by the pope’s express order. For these and other reasons they appealed “from the pope ill-informed to the pope better informed; from the pope to Jesus Christ, of whom he is vicar; from the pope to a general council, to whom it belongs to judge the sovereign pontiff; from the present pope to a future pope, who shall be authorized to redress what his predecessor has unwarrantably ordained.”
Gregory answered the appeal, but he could not bring back his cardinals. He excommunicated them. He deprived them of their dignities and benefices. But his spiritual thunders had lost their terror. The cardinals responded with specific accusations, posted up on the church doors of Lucca. In these they exhausted the vocabulary of opprobrious epithets to describe “the monster.” They summon him, as unworthy of his title, to appear before them at Lucca and hear his sentence of deposition.
Meanwhile it fared but little better with Benedict. He had been forced to leave Avignon. At Paris his adherents were in personal danger. D’Ailly hid himself. Clemengis fled to his obscure retreat at Langres. The edict of neutrality was published. No hall or square could contain the crowd. The violence of the people could scarce exceed that of the university. The regent of theology used language on one occasion against the pope so vulgar and outrageous as to be unfit to be repeated. Some were disgusted by it and left the assembly, but there was no mistaking the current of the national feeling. It was in deadly opposition to Benedict.
Notification of the withdrawal of obedience was sent under the king’s seal to different courts. The princes were exhorted to renounce allegiance both to Benedict and Gregory. Urged by the university, the king wrote to the cardinals of both popes exhorting them to unite and summon a general council. They did in fact unite. Four of Benedict’s cardinals, who had followed him from Porto Venere to Perpignan, whither he had fled for security, left him and withdrew to Livorno. Here they were joined by the cardinals of Gregory, and both parties united to form one college.
They responded in approval to the letter of the king of France, and informed him that they were about to convoke a council. In this reply the popes are not spared, and the authors of the schism are represented as worse than the Jews and the pagan soldiers, who, though they crucified Christ, spared his seamless robe. The united college appointed the convocation of the council at Pisa for March 25, 1409. To this they invited the prelates and ambassadors of Christendom. The cardinals of each obedience summoned their chief to meet them there. Those of Gregory, however, refused to treat him any longer as pope. Their letter to him is full of bitter recriminations. They remind him of his oaths and perjuries, his violence and oppression. He had required them to violate their oaths, “as if in taking the keys of the kingdom of heaven he had acquired the authority to perjure himself and to give license to others to do the same.” In justice to themselves and the church they withdraw from his society and his tabernacles, and close with warning him, under severe penalties, to be present for trial at the council.
Intelligence of the proposed council was received with very extensive and general approval. England and France were strongly in its favor. Germany inclined, though with less unanimity, in the same direction, for the emperor Robert was the partisan of Gregory, and was suspicious of a council convoked, in part, by his recusant and rebellious cardinals. Through the influence of that adroit and unscrupulous tactician, Balthasar Cossa, afterwards John XXIII, who had broken with Gregory, and as tyrant of Bologna defied his threats and interdict, Florence was led to decide in favor of the council. The university of Bologna took the same ground. The Venetians, though declining to declare against Gregory, sided with the council. Genoa and Milan were both subject to French influence, and could not be counted as doubtful. Even at Rome, though the cry still was vive Ladislaus, no one ventured to call Gregory, pope. His legate was driven from the city, and in spite of the residence of Gregory in Italy, the greater portion of the states was found ranged on the side of the council.
In Bohemia the proposed council excited a lively interest. Wenzel, deposed from the imperial throne, had never entirely abandoned the purpose to recover the lost dignity. He was, at this very time—when the message of the cardinals reached him, announcing the council, and inviting him to recognize it—engaged in forming an arrangement with Gregory by which the latter was no longer to sustain the cause of the emperor Robert, Wenzel’s rival. But the pope hesitated, and Wenzel readily exchanged allies. He forbade the archbishop of Prague and his clergy any longer to obey Gregory, and devoted his energies to secure his own recognition by the approaching council. On the 24th of November, 1408, he replied to the cardinals, approving of their measure, engaging to send a deputation which should be received and treated as that of a German emperor. The university of Prague was summoned to a decision, accordant with the royal policy.
Henning Von Baltenhagen, the then rector, called a general assembly of the four nations. The Bohemians manifested a ready and almost unanimous disposition to accede to the wishes of the king. The three other nations, however, were reluctant to withdraw allegiance from Gregory, and the archbishop Sbynco was on their side. The decision of the majority was adverse to the royal project.
The Bohemians in the university had long complained of the usurpations of the other nations. They objected that each of these, instead of all united, had the same vote with themselves, and that in this respect the university of Prague had departed from the Parisian model. The present occasion, therefore, seemed to them a favorable one for presenting to the king their request that the Bohemians might possess in the university at Prague the same powers and privileges which the French nation possessed in the university of Paris. The earnestness of their desire was not a little increased by the fact that the opposition to reform and to the doctrines of Wickliffe proceeded for the most part from the foreign nations. The Bohemians, with Huss, Stanislaus of Znoyma, and Paletz at their head, inclined to welcome many of the views, and to defend some, at least, of the treatises of the English reformer. It was becoming more evident, every day, that the national feeling and the cause of church reform—or innovation as some called it—were becoming more closely allied.
The king was at Kuttenberg when the deputation from the university reached him. To the surprise of all, he received the representatives of the three nations with great favor, and assured them that he would not infringe upon their rights or privileges. The Bohemians, on the other hand, were harshly repulsed, and Huss especially was sharply reproached for the rumored heresy in which he, with his friend Jerome, had involved the orthodox reputation of Bohemia. The king bitterly complained of the trouble which the matter gave him, and declared that in case others to whom the duty more properly belonged did not attend to it, he would see if fire could not settle the matter.
The deputation returned to Prague. Huss, overwhelmed by the strange issue of a project of which he had entertained great hopes, was struck down by a severe sickness. Meanwhile, however, the king, ever fickle in purpose, had changed his views. One of his favorites, a man high in office and of large experience, took the side of the Bohemians, and won the king over to his opinions. The consequence was, that soon after (January 18, 1409) Wenzel issued a royal decree, granting the request which had vainly been presented to him at Kuttenberg. The consequences that followed this measure, and its effect upon the conditions and prospects of the university, will be noted hereafter.
On the 22nd of January, 1409, little more than a month after the decree respecting the rights of the Bohemians, the royal order was proclaimed throughout the kingdom that henceforth Gregory XII should be no longer recognized as pope, and that obedience to him was to be withdrawn. Bohemia thus saw itself ranged on the side of the cardinals, and of the friends of the approaching council. This policy was advocated by Huss, both on religious and national grounds. By Wenzel it was adopted from the merest self-interest. Although the archbishop opposed the measure, it met with general acceptance. The nobility and magistrates were empowered and directed to see that no subject of the kingdom received or acknowledged any document from Gregory, whether charitative or judicial. The prohibition extended to all classes—prelates, monks, abbots, and priests, as well as the nobility and common people.
The general sentiment of the nation favored this measure. Although the university had condemned it, the national assembly, composed of the most distinguished princes and nobility of the kingdom, and at which the bishops and prelates were present, endorsed it with great unanimity. The king wrote to this effect to the cardinal, and in the closing paragraph of his letter, after expressing his purpose to assist honestly at the council, informed the cardinal that his ambassadors must be received as those of the lawful emperor, that thus his just title might receive recognition.
It was easy to perceive that the condition thus insisted on would not be unacceptable. The cardinals desired for their project the imperial sanction. This, Robert, as the ally of Gregory, would of course refuse to grant. Nor had the council anything to fear from his resentment, through the favor now extended to the rival claimant to the imperial crown. Robert’s recent unfortunate expedition into Italy had already exposed his authority to contempt, while any opposition which he might make to the council would be neutralized by divisions which existed within the bounds of the empire, and over which he had but feeble control. Bohemia acceded to the project of the council, and Wenzel, as emperor de jure, extended to it the imperial sanction.
Still, there were powerful opposing influences which the convocation of the council had to encounter. In the various kingdoms, each of the popes had influential adherents. Though opposed to each other, they really cooperated as against the council. Benedict, especially, was far from idle. Indeed, he played his part with masterly skill. He had the art to secure and retain the confidence of men whose motives were above impeachment. Clemengis, who declined to serve him longer as secretary when he learned of the bull to be fulminated against France, still sided with him. Vincent of Ferrara—”the apostle of the West,” and the Whitefield of his age—vindicated him as lawful pope. This alone was worth a kingdom to Benedict. Vincent preached publicly against the proposed mode of cession, and Benedict made him—venerated by all Western Europe almost as another St. Paul—his confessor, and master of the sacred palace. Vincent’s brother, Boniface, second in influence only to himself in the region south of the Pyrenees, was of the same mind with him. With such allegiance as Benedict still retained, he therefore determined on his part to hold a general council of his own. It was summoned to meet at Perpignan, November 1st, 1408.
Gregory, though less shrewd and sagacious, saw plainly enough that he too must labor to keep up appearances. He summoned his council also. At first, he was at a loss for a place. Rome was closed against him. Venice was more than half-persuaded to yield allegiance to the council of Pisa. Florence and its allies, leagued with Louis of Anjou in his rivalship with Ladislaus for the Neapolitan crown, were swayed by French influence. Genoa, moreover, had adopted a neutral position. Ladislaus, ostensibly opposed to Gregory, but really playing into his hands, dared not offer him an Italian city, from fear lest the council at Pisa should fulminate against him. Gregory at last settled on Friuli, in the Venetian territory, and, after tedious delays, his council met there, July 22nd, 1409.
As preparation was now made for the assembling of three councils, it became an object with each party to secure for itself as large and powerful a representation as possible. The field which most invited attention was Germany. But the contest here lay not between Gregory and Benedict, but between Gregory and the council of Pisa. The emperor Robert favored Gregory; but the diet which was called to hear the statements of the ambassadors of the cardinals, leaned toward neutrality and adhesion to the council.
There was good reason for this. Germany had bitterly felt the evils of the schism. When each diocese had, as well as the popedom, its rival claimants, the mischief was no longer limited to Rome or Avignon. It reached to distant cities and humble homes. To the city of Liege it was especially disastrous. Two bishops claimed the See, each sanctioned by the pope of his allegiance. John of Bavaria, grandson of the emperor Lewis, had been confirmed by Urban VI, whom the Liegeois had recognized as pope as early as 1389. But Louis refused to take the order of the priesthood, and the aggrieved citizens rose against him and drove him to Mæstricht. On this occasion they were led on by Henry de Pervies, but on the condition that his son should be elected bishop in place of John. But distrusting Gregory, to whom Lewis adhered, they applied to Benedict to confirm the new incumbent. A legate was sent accordingly, and Liege was thus brought under the allegiance of Benedict.
A war ensued between the city and the expelled bishop. But the last had a powerful ally in the Duke of Burgundy, his brother-in-law. Somewhat tardily his army arrived at Mæstricht, where the bishop still held out, though the siege was pressed by an army of 50,000 men. A battle ensued, and the carnage was terrible. The duke led his own forces, largely composed of the finest portion of the nobility of his estates. The rout of the Liegeois was perfect. Their leader and bishop—father and son—were found among the dead, the hand of one clasped in the hand of the other. It is even said that none escaped to carry back the news of the disaster to the unfortunate city, or warn it of its fate. Sixty persons were executed. The legate of Benedict and the officers of the bishop were thrown into the Meuse. John was restored to his bishopric, and the people could appreciate the value of his benedictions.
But Germany took the alarm. Each city felt that the evil might soon be brought to its own doors. If the popes were tyrants, it was better, perhaps, after all, to have but one. This feeling was manifest at the diet held near the close of 1408, at Frankfort-on-the-Main. It was numerously attended. Gregory and the cardinals, England, France, Poland, Bohemia, and other states were represented by their ambassadors. The emperor was almost alone in his adhesion to Gregory.
Thus the general sentiment of Christendom was settling down in favor of the council of Pisa. The popular conviction was confirmed by the futile hostility of Benedict. His council, summoned for November 1, 1408, was first to meet. There was but a meager attendance. French soldiers guarded the roads and the passes of the Pyrenees, and a large proportion of the members could reach Perpignan only under strange disguise. But of these, not a few were anxious for the union of the church, and when they discovered the obstinacy and real designs of Benedict, forsook him in disgust. Those who still lingered with him were not agreed. But the opinion in favor of a delegation to Pisa preponderated. The delegation was sent, but with limited powers of negotiation. It was arrested on its way, and with some difficulty reached its destination. But even here it was exposed to danger. So strong was the public odium against it, the cardinals dared not speak with their old associates. The latter were exposed to violence and insult, and in the assembly at which they presented themselves, the marshal told them that it would be impossible to protect them unless they remained in their seats till the crowd dispersed. Threats of burning them were freely thrown out. The Podesta, with some of the chief men of the city, had to accompany them to their lodgings to prevent their being stoned. They could accomplish nothing, and were forced clandestinely to leave the city. Such was the issue of Benedict’s attempt.
Meanwhile the council of Pisa had commenced its sessions. It was favored by the locality where it had been convoked. Pisa could be approached from every direction, by sea as well as by land. It was thus easy of access, and could be abundantly supplied with provisions with little difficulty. It stood in the midst of a large and fertile plain, watered by the Arno, on the banks of which it was built. A more eligible spot for the council could not have been selected. Pisa, moreover, was subject to Florence, by which it had been conquered during the previous year, and was thus secured alike against internal strifes and foreign foes. Ladislaus, the secret ally of Gregory, had been forced to retreat before the arms of Florence.
The number of members in attendance was large. France was well represented, and among her deputation stood prominent in position and ability the chancellor of the university, John Gerson. The English deputation had been addressed by him as they passed through Paris, and had imbibed the spirit kindled by the fiery logic of the great chancellor. Most historians reckon as present at the council, either in person or by deputies, twenty-two cardinals, four patriarchs, nearly two hundred bishops, nearly three hundred abbots, besides priors, generals of orders, deputies of universities, and chapters of metropolitan churches and cathedrals, more than three hundred doctors in theology and canon law, and the ambassadors of six kings and numerous princes.
On the appointed day (March 25, 1409) the council assembled in the body of the fine and spacious cathedral of Pisa—the most splendid structure of the kind in Italy, with the exception of the cathedral at Milan. The scene was one of imposing pomp and grandeur. The prelates marched on toward the cathedral in procession, clothed in their official robes. They moved along the aisles, under the shadow of the massive pillars of oriental granite, to seats prepared for them before the altar. The sides of the nave were fitted up for the bishops and abbots, and the remaining space was occupied by the less distinguished members of the council.
The session was opened in the most solemn and imposing manner. Mass was celebrated by one of the cardinals after the pontifical form. The archbishop of Milan preached the sermon. He vividly depicted the evils under which Christendom mourned—the confusion and disorder of the church, the corruption of morals, the sufferings and oppressions endured by the good, and the power and triumph of the basest and vilest men. He urged upon the council the importance of their work, and the hopes inspired by their convocation. They were expected to give to the church “one sole, true, unquestioned pastor, so that no longer should men see with abhorrence two monstrous heads affixed to the mystic body of Christ.” Both the contendents were considered heretical. It was significant of the action of the council.
It would be tedious to recite the ceremonies and proceedings of the successive sessions. The two contendents were cited, but did not appear. The citation was repeated, but with the same result; and the council proceeded to measures for the deposition of Benedict and Gregory.
These, however, had their secret adherents in the council, who obstructed its proceedings. They raised questions of order and privilege. They disputed the legitimacy of a council that had not been convoked by a pope. They scrupled the right of a pope to abdicate. They held that the relative merits of the two contendents were matters to be discussed.
But Gerson came forward in behalf of the council: with remorseless logic he drove his opponents from their strongest positions. He repeated the arguments of his favorite treatise, published before he left Paris, De Auferibilitate Papæ. He held that the unity of the church resides in Jesus Christ its spouse and head; that the church, by its assembled representatives in general council, may make all necessary provisions; that the mystic body of Christ, as well as any civil body, may provide itself a head; that, without inquiring into the origin of the schism, it may yet proceed to free the church from it; that, though some evils might follow decisive measures, yet that a part may be sacrificed to save the whole; that, disregarding the formalities of positive statute, the council may temper its rigor with equity, or even dispense with the law itself; and that, while all proper security should be assured to the contendents, yet, upon their non-appearance, the council might, notwithstanding, proceed to set them aside and elect a new pope.
These arguments prevailed with the council. The emperor Robert vainly strove to stay its proceedings. On the very day when action was to have been taken, his ambassadors appeared. They threw out questions and doubts respecting the authority and the legitimacy of the council. It had been convoked, they said, neither by pope nor emperor.
The old flame of controversy was enkindled anew. The people present were scandalized at the course taken by the ambassadors. Even the hostlers before the doors of the cathedral took part in the dispute. The council discussed their propositions, and prepared a reply; but before it was given in they had secretly left the city. They fully appreciated their own and their masters’ unpopularity. The sermon preached at the first congregation held after they had left, was from the text, “The hireling fleeth.” Robert’s envoys, however, before leaving, nailed to the doors of the church his appeal to a general council, and his protest against the issuing of any decree against Gregory, whom he recognized as lawful pope.
Ladislaus in his turn was disposed to interrupt the council’s proceedings. He attacked Sienna, subject, like Pisa, to Florentine authority. But his defeat, which soon followed at Arezzo, relieved them of their fears.
The council proceeded with its work. Testimony was taken and recited, and the definitive sentence against the popes was pronounced on the fifth of June. The doors of the cathedral were thrown open, and the large edifice was crowded to its full capacity. The decision of the council was read; and Benedict and Gregory, for their persistence in schism, their notorious heresy, their perjured violation of solemn oaths, and their wickedness and enormous excesses, were deposed from the pontificate. The Roman See was declared vacant. All persons, of what Station soever, were absolved from allegiance to either of the contendents, and were forbidden to recognize their authority. All acts, bulls, excommunications, and processes of Benedict or Gregory, subsequent to the convocation of the council, were declared null and void. No member of the council was to leave the church till he had signed the sentence. It was a few days after this that the ambassadors of Benedict reached Pisa.
On the fifteenth of June the council proceeded to take measures for the election of a new pope. Towards evening twenty-three cardinals entered the conclave provided for their reception in the episcopal palace. Their session continued till the twenty-sixth of the month. According to the Monk of St. Denis, the conclave breathed nothing but disinterestedness, piety, and zeal for the church of God. But the. more plain-spoken De Niem forces us to question somewhat the sincerity of their devotion. Each of the electors had promised, in case he should be elected, to remember the cardinals’ friends, and grant their demands. Another witness speaks of the incredible efforts and promises of the French to the Italian cardinals, to secure the election of one of their own nation.
A pope was at length elected. It was Peter Philargi, cardinal of Milan, who assumed the title of Alexander V. His elevation is ascribed to Balthasar Cossa, his successor, by whom he was governed and controlled.
The new pope was as unexceptionable a man probably as the conclave could have selected. He was reputed to be a man of rare knowledge and eloquence, of correct habits, and business talent. He was sixty-six years of age at the time of his election—a capital qualification in the eyes of Cossa.
His life had been one of active industry and successful effort. He had studied at Oxford and Paris. At the latter place he had received a doctor’s degree, and had taught theology and sacred literature. He became bishop of Vicenza, and afterwards of Milan. Innocent VII raised him to the cardinalate. His testimony of himself is not to his disparagement. “I was,” said he “a rich bishop, a poor cardinal, a mendicant pope.”
On the seventh of July the ceremony of coronation took place. Alexander received the pontifical crown, standing on the steps of the cathedral, from the hands of Cardinal Saluces. The ordinary ceremonial was observed, and Alexander notified his election to all Europe. Just one month after the coronation came the closing session of the council. A few unimportant regulations were made, but the great subject of reform was referred to a more convenient season—a future council. The claim of Louis of Anjou, the rival of Ladislaus to the kingdom of Naples, was endorsed by the pope, and he was appointed grand-gonfalonier of the Romish church against the common enemy of both.
The council of Pisa was already drawing to its close, when that of Gregory assembled at Friuli (July 22, 1409). It simply denounced the action of that of Pisa, and decided, as might have been expected, in favor of the claims of Gregory. But the sentence of Gregory was already pronounced, and measures had been taken at Venice for his arrest. Aware of his danger, he resolved on flight, first, however, appointing legates in different kingdoms to strengthen his party. Among these was his faithful archbishop, Sbynco of Prague.
But the Boor old man, who, before he set out for Friuli, looked more like the dead than the living, found that he was not safe even in the midst of his council. He had made the patriarch of Aquileia his bitter enemy by attempting to deprive him of his benefice. The time for vengeance had now come. The prelate gathered soldiers to cut off his retreat. Venice was only too ready to seize him on her own territories. Under the show of remaining some time longer at Friuli, in order to lull suspicion, he hurriedly prepared the means of escape. At his request Ladislaus sent two gallies and fifty horsemen to his relief. But the question was, how to reach the port where the gallies lay. Gregory assumed the disguise of a merchant, and, traveling on horseback, followed by two attendants on foot, passed safely and unsuspected through the guard of soldiers stationed by the patriarch to intercept him. In a little while his chamberlain followed, clothed in pontifical habits, with a considerable escort. The soldiers, naturally supposing that this must be the pope, seized him, his company, and baggage. Plundering the poor chamberlain, they drew him along with them several miles, bare-headed, and in most wretched plight. To their deep mortification, they learned, on reaching their place of rendezvous, from a domestic of the patriarch, that they had mistaken their man. They at once endeavored to correct their error, and started in full pursuit of Gregory. But they were too late. When they reached the port he had already found a skiff, and was on his way to the gallies. Enraged and disappointed, the soldiers vented their spite on the poor chamberlain. They stripped him of his rich dress, and left him only a poor doublet. Not yet content, they beat him with clubs. The blows revealed a secret. There was a ringing of metal. They stripped him and found concealed about his person five hundred florins of gold. This they seized, and divided among themselves. The next day one of them, in derision of Gregory, clothed himself in the pontifical robes of which they had despoiled the chamberlain, and walked through the streets dispensing his benedictions.
Gregory’s adherents, members of the council, lingered yet at Friuli. At length, in October, under the escort of five hundred German knights hired for the purpose, they effected their escape. Gregory had already got safe to Gaeta.
Thus the issue of both the other councils exposed them to contempt, while that of Pisa had succeeded in elevating to the pontificate a respectable man. Had he lived, all Christendom might, in the course of a few years, have been united in his allegiance. The intelligence of his election was favorably received in various countries, and, in spite of the partisans of the anti-popes, who were everywhere to be found as legates or beneficiaries, his authority was generally acknowledged. The intelligence of his election caused great joy at Paris. The university looked upon him almost as her son. The people cried Vive Alexander, our Pope! His legate was received with great honors. The princes of the blood went to meet him, and escorted him into Paris. Florence and Sienna sent deputies to express their recognition of his authority. Germany for the most part, though Robert still adhered to Gregory, favored the council. Bohemia, by a strongly preponderating sentiment, ranged itself on the side of Alexander, and the influence of Sbynco was seriously affected by his adherence to Gregory, and his position as legate.
Huss, although not an active participant, was a careful observer of what was taking place before the eyes of Christendom. He favored the council of Pisa, and shared with the French theologians their indignation at the craft, duplicity, and ambition of the anti-popes. The age was itself a school to teach contempt of papal authority, and yet Huss transferred his honest allegiance to Alexander V. This simple act shows that he was not moved by faction, and that he had as yet no thought of coming into conflict with Christendom.
Still, the result fell short of what had been expected. A new pope had been elected, but this was all. The two anti-popes had been set aside, but the mischief of the schism in great part still remained. Huss had an illustration of this at Prague in the position and character of the archbishop, manifesting a hostile attitude towards the council, the Bohemian nation generally, and the expressed will and authority of the king. Nor was this all. The ardent hopes of the friends of peace and reform, which had been excited by the convocation of the council, had been doomed to disappointment. If a new pope had been elected, it added another claimant to the papacy. The emperor still recognized Gregory, and Spain continued, to some extent, her allegiance to Benedict. The corruptions of the church had received little if any check. The language of some of the most faithful and able men of the age, in speaking of it, is characterized by great severity. Clemengis, a patriot, a scholar, and a Christian, once rector of the university of Paris, and afterwards Benedict’s private secretary, had now withdrawn into a retirement more congenial to his tastes, and in the quiet vale of Langres pursued his sacred studies. The Holy Scriptures were his daily companion. In these he found “the gold of wisdom, the silver of eloquence, the gems of virtue, lavishly poured forth from the fountain of supernal grace.” Here he learned, as he assures us, more in a few days than he had before in as many years from the heathen poets and orators which he had now thrown aside.
The views of such a man, at such a crisis, are worthy of our notice. He saw with a clearer eye than most, the deep-seated malady of Christendom, and had sense enough to perceive that no remedy could avail, short of a thorough and entire reform.
“The assembly of Pisa,” said he, “only deceived the church of God. It cried Peace, peace, when there was no peace. These carnal and avaricious men are so eager after their benefices, that, blinded by their passions, they have obstructed the reformation of the church, for which many are so anxious. Thus they first of all proceeded to a new election. When this was done, and they had obtained the promotions they asked, they cried Peace and Union! and so, after having dissolved the council, they returned with the peace they sought, that is to say, their own advancement.” Could Huss have uttered more unpalatable truth?
Boniface of Ferrara, brother of Vincent, “not his inferior in piety,” speaks of the council as “a profane, heretical, cursed, seditious, absurd, scandalous, diabolical assembly.” He charges its being summoned to violence and intrigue as well as the selfishness of the cardinals. He maintains, which is not improbable from the known character of Balthasar Cossa, that he had gained the doctors of Bologna by bribes, or overawed them by his authority, to approve the council.
The intelligence of the election was not everywhere received as it was in France. One of the cardinals was reported to have said to one of the ambassadors of the king of Arragon, the next day after the election, “Be assured, as long as the pope is elected from the Italians, we shall have one of their fancy.” Several other cardinals, after the election, withdrew dissatisfied to their benefices, determined never to see Alexander V again, or be members of his council. At Genoa there was no sign of satisfaction given at the receipt of the news; not a bell was struck.
Many learned men in Italy, France, Germany, and elsewhere, refused to give in their adherence to the council. Some maintained, and with much show of reason, that it had increased the schism rather than removed it. There were now three claimants to the popedom instead of two. All were not of the mind of Cardinal Chalant, who deserted Benedict and joined the council in hope of his own election. When Boniface of Ferrara remonstrated with him on his course, his reply was that of the reckless and ambitious partisan. ” What will come of this,” asked Boniface, “but the election of a third pope who will be only an anti-pope?” “What difference if we only make one?” answered the cardinal. “Be he anti-pope, or even devil, he will then become pure.”
Clemengis disputed the authority of the council. Bad men, he admits and assert, were there, but the Holy Spirit did not preside over it.
Theodore Vrie, a German monk, gives the history of the evils and corruptions of the age, in the form of a dialogue between Christ and his church. He makes the latter say: “Behold, I pray you, what union, or rather division! Yet it is an execrable schism. They have wished to elect only one supreme pastor, and have made three. I had two husbands; and they have given me a third.”
The council had in fact opened an unlimited field for controversy. A large portion of Christendom regarded the pontificate as supreme jure divino, and above all subjection to any earthly tribunal. Gerson, and the French theologians generally, repudiated this view. With them the church itself was supreme, and its decisions, by its representatives in a general council, the law from which there could be no appeal. The very title of the treatise of the chancellor of the university, De Auferibalitate Papæ, was startling to all the partisans of papal infallibility. But Clemengis went further. Agreeing with Gerson in many points, he yet disputes the infallibility of councils, and especially that of Pisa. His argument on the subject is a masterpiece of skill and shrewdness, and evidently suggests, though in the form of dialogue, his real sentiments. We may fairly declare it unanswerable. One after another he hunts out every subterfuge of his opponent, and, under the show of the greatest docility, leaves the objector who presumes to teach him, a humble learner.
Peter D’Ailly, afterwards cardinal of Cambray, held positions not much discordant from those of Gerson, as was manifest at the council of Constance. Such disputes struck at the very root of papal authority. Yet they had spread over Christendom. Huss at Prague was but carrying out to their legitimate issue the principles of Gerson and Clemengis.
One of the first acts of the newly elected pope was a bull in favor of the mendicants. To say no worse of it, it was, in a political point of view, a gross blunder, which his successor found it necessary to correct. This order of monks had been established in the beginning of the thirteenth century. They had been favored by the popes, who bestowed upon them peculiar privileges and immunities. Freed from all secular and episcopal jurisdiction, privileged to demand alms wherever they roamed, these brethren of St. Dominic assumed the name of “preaching friars.” They were authorized to preach everywhere, irrespective of the will or authority of the parish priest. They were privileged to hear confessions, read masses, and sell papal indulgences. Their influence soon became most extensive and efficient. They were justly called “the standing army of the pope.” But their privileges and success awoke soon a jealousy against them on the part of the regular clergy. Spreading themselves all over Christendom, their early zeal and vows of poverty acquired for them a power that was considered dangerous in such irresponsible hands. Yet, in spite of a rising opposition, this hardy and devoted militia of the church did its work to perfection. Its numbers and efficiency increased. Fresh lifeblood seemed to be infused into a decaying system. Youthful activity succeeded to visible decrepitude. The mendicant was free to act wherever occasion offered. He intruded into the region of parochial duty. He seated himself in the chair of the confessional. He seized the honors of the university, or the crosier of the bishop. His influence was felt in each secular department. None understood better the secrets of diplomatic intrigue. None could avail himself more skillfully of every occasion, to serve at once himself and his master.
In the course of sixty years these holy beggars had increased to “extravagant swarms.” Their early vows of poverty were forgotten. The barefooted brethren had become possessed of stately edifices and large domains. Their success was their corruption and disaster. Supported by the popes, they insulted the curates and bishops. Multitudes forsook their parish guests to follow the mendicants and confess to them.
The struggle continued. Sometimes their audacity forced the popes to revoke their privileges, soon however to be restored. Councils and synods differed, some approving and some condemning the order. The question of the mendicants agitated all Christendom. Even papal infallibility split upon this rock. The popes wavered in regard to the policy to be adopted. They dared not sustain them throughout, and would not dismiss them altogether. In England the contest was sharp and protracted. We have seen the course of Wickliffe, and the bitter hostility with which he was regarded by the mendicants. In this contest, the better portion of the English nation sympathized with the reformer. To such an extent had the evil grown at one time, that the law records were “filled with warrants for the arrest of the sanctimonious vagrants.”
A similar disturbance had been created by them in other parts of Christendom. While Janow and Huss opposed them at Prague, they were not suffered to enjoy at Paris an undisputed triumph. In 1408, one of their number, John Gozel, boldly maintained, in the college of Navarre, their impudent and assuming claims. Among other positions, he held that the curates, as such, were inferior to the mendicants, and were unauthorized to preach, to confess, to grant extreme unction or burial, or even to receive tithes. Such was the presumption inspired by their powerful influence and wonderful success. But such bold avowals were too offensive to be passed over in silence. The theological faculty of the university were incensed. They summoned the offender before them, and forced him to retract his proposition and publicly disavow it.
Things were in this state when Alexander’s bull in favor of the mendicants arrived. It was addressed to all the prelates of Christendom, and contained a recapitulation of the bulls of previous popes in favor of the offending order. Either unwilling to credit the bull, or the more formally to express their dissent from its provisions, the university sent a deputation to Pisa to learn the facts in the case. They satisfied themselves that the bull was genuine, and examined it in the original. Observing that it professed to have been expedited “with the content and by the advice of the cardinals,” they visited them all individually to learn the facts. They all, without exception, denied any participation in the matter, and were perfectly agreed in condemning it as prejudicial to the rights of the regular clergy. The report of the deputation kindled in France a flame of indignation and remonstrance. The act of the pope was evidently one of partiality and favoritism toward the mendicants, of which order he had been himself a member. The rector of the university of Paris assembled the doctors and regents to deliberate on the course to be adopted. It was resolved that all the mendicant monks should be expelled. They were forbidden to preach till they had renounced the bull. Some complied with the requisition; others, emboldened by the authority of the pope, resolved to brave the indignation and sentence of the university. They ran raving through the streets, with copies of the bull authorizing their privileges in their hands, insulting the regular clergy, and maintaining that to them properly belonged the right to preach, hear confessions, and receive tithes from parishes. The king, at the urgency of the university, and to repress this license, published a prohibition against them.
Gerson, chancellor of the university, was directed to preach a sermon on the subject. He maintained that if any one proposed to break up the established order of the hierarchy, he was to be resisted as Lucifer and the wicked angels. Coming to the question in hand, he asserted that the bull had been extorted from the pope by surprise, or been obtained through his inadvertence. The university had judged it to be intolerable, incompatible with the welfare of the church, and that it must be rescinded before the preaching friars could be restored to their privileges.”
The priests were required in their sermons to justify the course of the university. In every city small treatises were drawn up and circulated, containing in the French language an explanation of the matter, in order to instruct the common people on the subject.
The effect of all these measures was to render the pope unpopular. The joy that had been excited by the news of his election quickly subsided. He had lost the strength of allegiance on the part of France, which could enable him to defy his competitors. There were now three popes in the field. The council had rather aggravated than healed the schism of the church.
At Prague, Alexander V, elected at Pisa, was, if not fully acknowledged, at least preferred. Wenzel, from spite at Gregory, would at least give precedence to the claims of one whom he regarded as Gregory’s antagonist. The result that had thus been reached left Sbynco, the archbishop, in a false position. His adherence to Gregory, while Bohemia ranged itself, though by no means with enthusiasm, on the side of Alexander, was of no little service in strengthening the position of Huss.
Huss and the Archbishop
It is now time for us to return and note the progress of affairs at Prague. We have already seen the national feeling allying itself with the cause of reform. The condemnation of Wickliffe’s articles by the university in 1403 was regarded as specially obnoxious, from the fact that it had been brought about by a majority composed of the vote of the foreign nations. It was looked upon by the Bohemians as a victory over themselves, and increased that dissatisfaction which issued in the petition addressed by the Bohemians to Wenzel. The tendencies of the two parties became continually more manifest. The patriotic feeling of the nation rejected the decision against Wickliffe’s books, while the foreign influence was almost unanimously in its favor. Huss was the acknowledged leader of the former, and among his most powerful supporters were some who were afterwards his most virulent opponents. Undoubtedly the party which adhered to him was composed largely of members to whom theological questions were of minor importance.
At this time the archbishop troubled himself but little with the affairs of the university, and was on good terms with Huss. His attention was directed more to his worldly than his spiritual possessions. His diocese was neglected, while he engaged, in the summer of 1404, in the siege of the fortress where the knight Nicholas Zul of Ostrodek had gathered his robber band. Zul was taken captive, given over to the civil authorities, and in his prison visited by Huss, whose words made such an impression upon his mind that he at least assumed the aspect of an humble penitent.
But no sooner had Sbynco subdued the fortress than his attention was directed to other martial operations. For the two succeeding years he was engaged, along with the provost of Choteschau, Sulek of Hradek, in an invasion of Moravia, and had no time or opportunity to note the progress of religious affairs at Prague.
At length, aroused by the express admonitions of the pope, he summoned in 1406 a synod of his diocese clergy, and in conjunction with them issued his decree that henceforth no one, under severe penalty, should hold, teach, or, for purposes of academic debate, argue in favor of Wickliffe’s doctrines. It was proposed to institute an investigation for the purpose of detecting any who might be the secret or open adherents of the English reformer.
But the measure proved futile. Either Sbynco was not prepared to break with Huss, who as queen’s confessor and preacher in Bethlehem chapel was an opponent to be feared, or he felt, as is more probable, little interest in the questions at issue, which he failed fully to comprehend. Huss distinctly rejected the views of Wickliffe on the subject of transubstantiation, and was less obnoxious in this respect probably than some of his associates.
The two years which followed were years of comparative quiet. But in the spring of 1408, Matthias of Knin, surnamed Pater, a master of arts in the university, was arraigned before the archiepiscopal court on the charge of John Elia, one of the Bohemian friends of Huss. He was accused of holding that the substance of the bread remains after the sacramental words have been pronounced. Pater was thrown into prison, and only secured his release by a solemn recantation. Scarcely, however, was he again at liberty, when, in presence of witnesses, he made affidavit that his recantation had been extorted by fear of prison and torture.
The matter excited a deep interest, especially among the Bohemians, who were now seen to be divided among themselves. A meeting was speedily called to consult in regard to the doctrines of Wickliffe. Clemens of Mnichowic, pastor at Wran and the then rector, presided. Among those present were Huss, Jacobel, John Elia, Stanislaus, Andrew Broda, and Stephen Paletz. The assembly consisted of sixty-four masters and doctors, one hundred and fifty graduates, and one thousand students. The decision was, that under penalty of expulsion no member of the Bohemian nation should teach or defend any of Wickliffe’s articles. But the provision was added, that the prohibition referred to was only to the articles as understood in an heretical, erroneous, or scandalous sense. The issue of the matter was thus a compromise between the two wings of the national party. It enabled them yet a while longer to cooperate on patriotic grounds, and in opposition to the foreign influence.
It was not long after this before the explorations of John of Kbel, the vicar-general of the archbishop, detected another case of heresy. The criminal in this case was priest Abraham, pastor of the church of the Holy Ghost. One of the charges against him—probably not the only one—is quite significant. He asserted that laymen, as well as priests, might be allowed to preach the gospel. Huss took a deep interest in the case, and was present at the trial. He had a somewhat warm discussion with the vicar, but with no good result. Priest Abraham was given over to the inquisitor Jaroslow, bishop of Sarepta, by whom he was imprisoned and afterwards banished. Huss remonstrated on the matter with the archbishop. He pointed him to the indolent and worthless priests in the diocese whom he left unmolested, while he had banished as a heretic one who was exemplary in the discharge of every priestly duty.
But Sbynco felt that he had done enough. He wearied of the troublous business of dealing with heretics, and readily—at the request of Wenzel—certified that after diligent investigation no further heresy or error was to be found in the land.
Such was the state of things when the king, in the autumn of 1408, laid the subject of the withdrawal of obedience from Gregory before the university. The unanimity of the three foreign nations in opposing it, and of the national party in its favor, only added to the mutual alienation of feeling which had long existed; and when the king, under the influence of his favorite, granted the request of the Bohemians, and issued his decree giving the Bohemians an equal vote and control in the university with the three other nations, the long smoldering flames burst forth. Huss was still prostrate on his sickbed, when John Elia and Andrew Broda entered his chamber and announced the realization of his long-cherished hopes. He gave them his warmest thanks for the cheering intelligence, and charged them, in case he should not recover, to remain faithful to the popular cause.
The foreign party were taken by surprise. They had not imagined that the king would have ventured on so bold a step. In the security of their confidence they had made rash threats of what they would do in case of such an emergency. They had pledged one another, if the request of the Bohemians was granted and the decree was executed, to leave Prague in a body. Even when the decision of the king had been made public, they could scarce believe that it would be carried out. They employed all the means in their power to divert Wenzel from his purpose, but in vain.
At length the critical hour arrived. The annual elections were to take place. A new rector and dean of the faculty of arts were to be chosen. The three nations were proceeding after the old order, when the Bohemians interposed. The confusion and discord were such that the old officers made it an apology for putting off the election. Henning Von Baltenhagen, the rector, and Albert Warrentrappe, the dean, refused to yield up the insignia of their office.
This state of things could not continue. The indolent monarch might have disregarded his own decrees, but the favorite, Nicholas Von Lobkowic, at whose instance it had been issued, had still the ear of the king, and urged him to decisive measures. On the 9th of May, 1409, while the council of Pisa was yet in its early sessions, Nicholas appeared before the university, and in the name of the king required the dean and rector to give up the insignia of their office, and by royal authority appointed Zdenek Von Labaun as rector, and Simon Von Tisnow as dean.
The defeated party were exasperated beyond measure, and prepared at once to execute their threatened purpose. Some of them burned down the theological college, and in a few days five thousand German students, with their doctors, masters, and bachelors, true to their vows, but with sad hearts, had left the city. Most of these belonged to the Saxon nation. The Bavarians, during the long alienation of emperor Robert and Wenzel, had experienced a marked decrease of numbers, while of the Polish nation only a portion were of German sympathies, and the Slavic masters and students were for the most part inclined to retard the Bohemians as brethren. The voluntary exiles, who went forth from the university at Prague, found a home at Leipsic, and laid there the foundations of a new university.
It was not difficult to determine, now that the foreign nations had left, upon whom the choice of rector would fall. Preeminent among his countrymen, facile princeps, by the concession of all, unless of some disappointed rival—once his warmest friends, but soon to be his bitter enemies—John Huss was again called to fill the post of rector.
Such was the triumph of the reformer, at the critical moment when he was about to come in direct conflict with the archiepiscopal influence at Prague. Sbynco, opposed as legate of Gregory to the measures of the council of Pisa, found himself in an unenviable position. Although as yet he had not come to an open rupture with Huns, he had been made to feel the weight of his influence, and had grown restive under his censure and the reports of his sermons in Bethlehem chapel. The decisive conflict could not long be deferred.
But Sbynco still persisted—in spite of the council and its decisions—in adhering to the cause of Gregory XII. In this he was encouraged by hopes based on the uncertainty of the future and the fickleness of Wenzel. The character of the king—a curious compound of indolence and passion, willful caprice, and mischievous humor—went far to deprive him of all respect. No man had possessed better opportunities to know what he was than the archbishop, and this acquaintance with his general imbecility, and his indifference toward all but the gratification of his appetites, undoubtedly encouraged him for a while to persist in his course as the legate of Gregory in the kingdom of Bohemia.
Wenzel’s life had been marked by the most singular freaks of caprice, and the strangest vicissitudes of fortune. The oldest son of Charles IV, he had ascended the imperial throne (1378) at the early age of fifteen. At this period, though his character was but partially developed, he was regarded with respect and confidence. He gave promise of the highest virtues for the ornament and glory of his throne. But it was not long before the hopes of his early years were obscured by debaucheries and excess. He became strangely reckless of his authority, studious only of his ease or amusement, and utterly void of all self-respect. He had no trace of the ambition or enterprise of a great sovereign, and only disgraced the imperial title which he bore. In 1395 he sold the dukedom of Milan to the Visconti fur 100,000 florins. Twenty-six cities, embracing nearly the whole of Lombardy, and extending to the Lagune, of Venice, were alienated from the empire by a stroke of the pen. It was but shortly after this that in a freak of fancy he resolved to visit the king of France, to consult with him on the union of the church. All attempts to dissuade him from his mad project were of no avail. In fact he proceeded to execute his purpose, and at Rheims followed up his course of imperial profligacy by the cession of Genoa to France. Not content with this, he excited the discontent and alarm of his subjects by recognizing Benedict at Avignon as lawful pope, and withdrawing his allegiance from Boniface IX, who then wore the tiara at Rome.
An act like this, worthy of the drunken frolic in which it originated, made the prelates of Germany tremble for the results that might follow the recklessness and incapacity of the emperor. The archbishop of Mayence was a zealous adherent of Boniface IX, and had no disposition to run the risk of losing his miter. At his instigation, the princes of the empire cited Wenzel to appear before their tribunal. On his refusal to comply, he was formally deposed. When counseled to bring about a reconciliation with Boniface IX, he treated the matter with supreme indifference. He shut himself up in complete inactivity at Prague, and appeared to feel the loss of his empire less than he would have felt the loss of his wine. The citizens of Nuremberg could not be satisfied with the absolution from allegiance extended by the electoral college to the whole empire, and besought a release from Wenzel himself. He freely granted it, accepting, instead of the 20,000 crowns offered him, a certain number of cartloads of his favorite wine. Even his own brother, Sigismund, pronounced him unfit to rule, shut him up in prison (the Spinka), and at length incautiously entrusted him to the care of the Hapsburgs. By these he was set at liberty; and the Bohemians, preferring him with all his freaks and debaucheries to his brother Sigismund, acknowledged him as their sovereign, and restored him to his throne as king of Bohemia.
Still he felt, at least occasionally, a sense of his degradation, and was willing to attempt to regain the imperial crown when it did not cost too great effort. Boniface IX had consented to his deposition, and had covered it with his pontifical sanction. As the successor of Boniface, Gregory was by no means acceptable to Wenzel; and it was at least something to be still recognized as emperor by a general council which had deposed, along with Benedict, the successor of his old antagonist.
It was evident, therefore, that Huss had little to hope, and Sbynco little to fear, from the king. On the whole, however, he sided with Huss. The writhings of the aggrieved ecclesiastics rather amused him. It has been said of him that “he united in his character all the extravagance of Anthony, the infamous cowardice of Heliogabalus, and the bloody passions of Tiberius.” This is a severe judgment, and should be qualified by the addition of another vice, which, in such connection, assumes the phase almost of a virtue—his constitutional indolence.
Huss could place but little reliance upon the support of Wenzel, yet it was something to be left unmolested. From his pulpit in Bethlehem chapel he wielded an influence which was more powerfully felt throughout Bohemia than that either of the archbishop or the king. Sbynco, indeed, was not a man of any remarkable ability. He was almost unlettered, utterly destitute of all claim to be ranked as a theologian, and, with no little natural shrewdness, a most contemptible opponent in argument when pitted against Huss. His strength was simply in the exalted position which he occupied, and the facility with which the party he represented could make him its instrument.
The action of the council must have been felt by him as a sore grievance. The opposition between him and Huss had already become quite fully developed, and on other questions than that of the papacy they were at issue. Two years before the council, the archbishop had directed the clergy to preach the doctrine of transubstantiation, impugned in Wickliffe’s writings, and threatened to punish as a heretic anyone who should refuse obedience. The doctrine itself was one to which Huss did not object, nay, it was one which he devoutly held; but the order which required it was in reality directed against the writings both of Wickliffe and his defenders. Huss was regarded as the foremost of these, and could not but feel that he was aimed at in the mandate of the archbishop, especially as at the same time the clergy united in complaints against him. By the action of the council, however, his position in regard to the papacy was approved, and that of Sbynco was condemned. There was no reason, in any respect which he entertained for the archbishop, why he should longer be silent. Indeed, a necessity seemed laid upon him to speak out, and controvert the position taken by Sbynco as Gregory’s legate.
He did speak out, freely, boldly, and without respect of persons. He vindicated the course which the council had pursued. Opposition was overborne. The enemies of Huss had dexterously excited prejudice against him for the part which he had taken in vindicating the rights of Bohemians in the university, and which had led to the withdrawal of the Germans. The city had been deprived of their presence, and the merchants had lost their patronage. It was easy, in these circumstances, to spread abroad misrepresentations and calumnies against Huss. But he rose above them all, and still maintained his influence unimpaired in the pulpit of Bethlehem chapel.
This, indeed, was his throne. For seven years he had here wielded the scepter of his powerful eloquence. The whole city was moved by his words. For the greater part of this period no one had attempted to interfere with him. Only the Germans and a few of his own countrymen had cried out against his heresy in favoring Wickliffe. The schism of the papacy had utterly paralyzed pontifical influence in Bohemia, and while many of the clergy favored the cause of Gregory, the king rather inclined to the support of Benedict. Thus Huss was allowed the exercise of an almost unrestricted freedom, and now that the council of Pisa had virtually condemned Sbynco, his position was stronger than ever before.
At no period in these last centuries has the power of the pulpit been more strikingly exhibited than in the case of Huss and his Bethlehem chapel at Prague. Luther, a little more than a century later, found a most powerful ally in the press, which then for the first time began to be employed for popular effect. But Huss was dependent, for the most part, upon the pulpit alone. And here it was that he stood forth without a peer or a rival in the kingdom.
He occupied his post under a solemn sense of responsibility, not to popes and prelates, but to God alone. He was not burdened by the duty of saying masses, or by ceremonial observances of any kind. His attention was directed to the simple preaching of the word of God, and its application to the evils of the times. The extended commentaries on scripture which are found in his works, as well as his sermons which are still preserved, show what composed the staple of his pulpit utterances. He did not cease to testify publicly his respect for the memory of Wickliffe, though he disavowed him as authority, and declined to accept his opinions save so far as they were sustained by the word of God.
Huss was at least passively supported by the king. He had powerful friends both at the court and in the university, of which he was again rector. Among the nobility he numbered some staunch supporters. Jerome seems to have been a favorite of the dissolute monarch, whom he sometimes accompanied on his forays and hunting parties. His influence was effectually exerted upon the side of the reformer, and he treated the plans and projects of the archbishop with undisguised contempt.
But the latter was not disposed quietly to acquiesce in the policy of the court. As the legate of Gregory, he had the presumption to impose silence upon all who questioned his claims as lawful pontiff, or who professed adherence to the council of Pisa. Spurning the royal mandate, he set himself, in the attitude of open and avowed opposition. He issued an ordinance forbidding all teachers of the university who had joined the party of the cardinals against the schismatic popes, and had thus abandoned the cause of Gregory, the discharge of all priestly duties within his diocese.
This ordinance was especially aimed at Huss. Its force would have been but slight and contemptible, but for the members of the clergy who hated him for his scathing rebukes of their vices and immoralities. These joined themselves to the archbishop, and made his opposition more serious.
But, strong in his convictions and the consciousness of his own integrity, Huss refused to obey the episcopal mandate. He was sincere in his advocacy of the council of Pisa, exhorting the nobility and common people to abandon the cause of Gregory. He referred to the subject from the pulpit, and the clergy who sustained the archbishop did not escape reprehension.
Sbynco carried his complaints to the king. But it was to no purpose. Wenzel had little sympathy with the archbishop. He was rather amused than otherwise to have Huss rebuke men whom he himself had no cause to love. “So long,” he replied, “as Master Huss preached against us of the laity, you were very much pleased with it; your turn has come now, and you had better be content.” An old Bohemian chronicler observes, to the same effect, that “While Huss rebuked the vices of the laity he was only praised. Men said the Spirit of God spoke through him. But just as soon as he attacked the pope and the higher and lower clergy, rebuking their pride, avarice, simony, and other vices, and claiming that they should not accumulate property, the entire priesthood rose up against him saying, He is an incarnate devil—a heretic.”
The archbishop found himself powerless. He could accomplish nothing. Gregory, moreover, was not in circumstances to enforce the ordinances of his legate. His secret ally, Ladislaus of Naples, had just lost his grasp upon Rome. The general in command, Paolo Orsini, to whom with two thousand cuirassiers he had entrusted the city, was seduced by Florentine gold, and, passing into the pay of the republic, admitted the allies into the castle of St. Angelo.
This was a sore blow to Gregory. It admitted the Pisan pope, Alexander V, to the gates of the eternal city. This was enough to decide the policy of Sbynco, who had no disposition to adhere to the fortunes of a sinking cause. He now withdrew his allegiance from Gregory, or at least initiated measures for reconciliation with Alexander V.
But before these measures could ripen to their results, and while they were yet inchoate, the power and authority of the archbishop had become almost annihilated at Prague. This did not tend to soothe his ruffled spirit. He was spurred on by those who wished to make him their instrument of revenge on Huss, and he was only too willing to render them his aid.
His bitterness against Huss was doubtless sharpened by events that soon followed. The latter did not disguise or conceal his high esteem of Wickliffe’s writings. He manifested it by his actions as well as words. Not content with expressing his views from the pulpit, he determined that others should read this proscribed heretic for themselves. He translated several of his treatises into the Bohemian tongue. These he sent to some of the most distinguished nobles, by whom they were read and widely circulated. But not only did he provide for their diffusion in his native land. He sent some of them into Moravia and gave to the margrave of that land, who was Wenzel’s uncle, a copy of Wickliffe’s Trialogue, which he had translated—a work which was accounted, above all his others, most poisonous and heretical.
Huss himself, in the midst of his sermons, is said to have commended them to his bearers as containing most important truth, and fitted to produce a deep and lasting impression—adding, it is said, repeatedly, that he only wished for himself, after death, that he might go where that good and holy man had gone.
The report of all this produced in various quarters great alarm. Some of the teachers of the university remonstrated with Huss, and warned him to desist from what they considered his heretical course. The archbishop was at this time absent from Prague. He was residing at his archiepiscopal palace at Raudnitz. Andrew of Broda, master of arts and bachelor of theology, a former friend of Huss, and a zealous Bohemian, was among the first to separate from the reformer. He wrote to the archbishop of what was occurring at Prague, and besought him to provide against the growing evil. His letter shows that he had cause for apprehension from the spread of Wickliffe’s views. “I think,” so he proceeds, “that you should regard that terrible truth of God by Ezekiel, where he says, ‘I will call my pastors to account for the flock that has been committed to their hand.’ Let your fatherly reverence consider that your unsuspicious lambs are in danger of being seized. The shepherd rushes to meet the tiger when one of his flock is assaulted, and rescues him again. But consider that one soul is worth more than a thousand such flocks. Let us watch the more vigilantly against the poisonous arts and the snares of our great foe. This is our duty as pastors. We are to correct the erring, and bring them back, even by compulsion, into the way of truth. But to come to the matter in hand, I wish to inform your fatherly reverence that various books of that pestilent Englishman, Wickliffe, are multiplied in your diocese; books full of damnable errors, and errors that have been already condemned. Of these works are his ‘Dialogue and Trialogue,’ his ‘Treatise on the Body of Christ,’ and many others, as I hear, by which, and their poisonous doctrines, the flock is greatly endangered. I beseech you, therefore, by the blood of Christ, by your salvation, for which I hope and pray, by the protection of Christ’s faithful ones, all of whom I would to God may be saved; yea, on my bended knee most earnestly do I beseech you to be on your guard, lest by the multiplication of these pestilent books your flock shall drink in that infidel poison which will destroy their souls. For neither pestilence, famine, or sword can inflict such evils as will spring from this perfidious depravity of heretical men.”
The archbishop became alarmed. Scarce a year before, after a careful examination as he said, he had found Bohemia free from heresy. But Broda’s letter aroused him. He determined to meet the evil promptly. Scarcely had the reply reached Prague, when the summons went forth that all heretical writings should be brought to the archbishop. But now the definition of heresy had grown suddenly more broad. It included not only the writings of Wickliffe, but of Huss and Jerome, as well as their predecessors, Milicz and Janow. The books were brought. Huss himself came to the archbishop, bearing with him Wickliffe’s writings, in which he wished the errors pointed out. “Let him know the heresy and he would reject it.” At a previous interview with the archbishop he had offered to disavow everything he had done which could be shown to be in opposition to Christian truth. He wished to be satisfied from reason and scripture. He could not yield till convinced by argument. But argument was not the archbishop’s forte. Nor were his learned assessors, who subsequently by the pope’s direction were to act conjointly with him, any more ready to discuss. Though four of them were teachers of theology, and two doctors of the canon law, they considered fire the most effective logic. It shows how widely the views of Wickliffe had spread, that more than two hundred carefully written and splendidly bound volumes were gathered to be committed to the flames.
But the work of the archbishop could not be executed without a remonstrance. His decree requiring the possessors of Wickliffe’s books to give them into his hands, had extended to include the members of the university. This was very generally regarded by the masters and students as an usurpation of their privileges. The university claimed to be independent of the archbishop, and to hold its rights immediately of the pope. The requirement which denied them the privilege of retaining Wickliffe’s writings was in fact an infringement upon the rights of the university.
Most of the masters and students, however, complied with the decree of the archbishop. Only five refused utterly to obey it. They laid their complaint before the pope, representing the decree as unwise, and an unwarranted usurpation of power. They sent their procurator, Marcus of Koniggratz, to Bologna, and through his efforts the matter gave promise of a favorable issue. The university of Bologna pronounced in favor of the rights of the university of Prague, and the pope decided that Sbynco must appear before him to justify himself for the course which he had pursued. Till he had done this, his proceedings against Huss and his party were to be null and void.
Sbynco, on the other hand, was not idle. As legate of Gregory, he had enjoined silence on Huss and others who had refused to acknowledge Gregory as pope. But the condition of things was such that unless he could have the support of the pope elected by the council of Pisa, his case was desperate. Abandoning Gregory without a scruple, he now sent a deputation to Bologna to counteract the influence of the appeal of the students, and the representation of the friends of Huss. His deputation consisted of Jaroslaw the inquisitor and a canon of Prague. They set forth in glowing colors the dangerous spread of Wickliffe’s doctrines in Bohemia, and secured a revocation of the decision in favor of the students’ appeal. A papal bull was issued, condemning the articles of Wickliffe, forbidding preaching in private chapels, and authorizing the archbishop to appoint a commission of four masters in theology and two doctors of law, to prevent the spread of errors and enforce the measures adopted by the archbishop. The students and their procurator, under pain of excommunication, were to make solemn declaration of their subjecting themselves to the papal order, and of their accepting the judgment of the archbishop.
By the advice of the commission Sbynco summoned a synod of the clergy, before whom the results of their investigation were laid. It was numerously attended. Many doctors, masters, students, and others were present. Wickliffe’s books were condemned, and it was declared the safest course to burn them. The five recusant students were required to deliver up their books; no one was to venture to hold, teach, or defend an article of Wickliffe, under severe penalty, including the loss of his benefice and imprisonment by the civil power, and no more preaching was to be allowed, except in cathedral, cloister, and parish churches.
The archbishop, reconciled now to Pope Alexander and fortified by his authority, resolved to execute his purpose. The books were collected, and preparation was made to burn them. The archbishop might now act not only with the support of the synod of his own clergy, but under cover of the bull of the pope. His former demand for the books was renewed.
Meanwhile Alexander V, the author of the obnoxious bull, had died, and the friends of Wickliffe seized upon this as an argument for a stay of proceedings. It was argued that the authority of the bull expired with its author. Nor was this all. The university objected to the wholesale condemnation of Wickliffe’s books, some of which were purely philosophical. The prohibition to preach in Bethlehem chapel, which had been established by archiepiscopal, papal, and royal brief, was opposed to scripture, which taught that Christ preached in the temple, on the mountain, on the sea, in the fields and streets, and bade his disciples go everywhere preaching the gospel.
These views were urged by Huss, Zdislaw of Wartenberg, and three of the five recusant students, who embodied them in a protest, and thus incurred the sentence of archiepiscopal excommunication.
The king was now appealed to, to prevent the burning of the books. The university, with a good degree of unanimity, declared itself opposed to the archbishop’s project (June 15, 1410). Wenzel promised that he would not allow it to be executed. He secured from the archbishop a pledge to defer any action in the matter until the arrival in Prague of Jost, margrave of Moravia.
In these circumstances, with the ban of the church impending over him, what course was Huss to take? The papal bull, proclaimed by the archbishop, and endorsing his own previous decree, absolutely forbade his preaching in Bethlehem chapel.
But Huss did not hesitate for a moment what course to take. He did not ask what is prudence, but what is duty. He opposed the prohibition on two grounds. First: it was in conflict with the original deed of endowment sanctioned by archiepiscopal, papal, and royal briefs, by which Bethlehem chapel had been expressly devoted to the preaching of the word of God. Secondly: it was in conflict with scripture, which taught that Jesus preached in the temple, in the streets and fields, on the sea and on the mountain, and had bidden his disciples to go everywhere preaching the gospel. Thus the effect of the prohibition would tend only to the injury of the church, and was not to be obeyed.
In arguing the case more fully, he says, “Where is there any authority of Holy Writ, or where are there any rational grounds for forbidding preaching in so public a place, fitted up for that very purpose, in the midst of the great city of Prague? Nothing else can be at the bottom of this but the jealousy of Antichrist.” The pope himself had travestied the history of the apostles by his incongruous course. When he “heard at his court that Bohemia received the word of God, he did not send Peter and John to pray for the Bohemians, and to lay their hands on them, that in hearing the word of God they might receive the Holy Ghost; but he sent back some indisposed persons belonging to Bohemia, and commanded, in his bull, that the word of God should not be preached in private chapels.”
But Huss felt that he had been called of God to preach, and he could not be silent. He maintained that one whose life is conformed to Christ’s law—who seeks the glory of God and the salvation of men, preaching not lies, not ribaldry, not fables, but the law of Christ and the doctrines of the holy fathers of the church, opposing heretics and false teachers—such a person never arrogates to himself the call to preach without authority. Huss felt the full force of the words of Paul: “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” Subsequently he declared his purpose to continue to preach, in the following memorable and well-weighed words: “In order that I may not make myself guilty by my silence, forsaking the truth for a piece of bread, or through fear of man, I avow it to be my purpose to defend the truth which God has enabled me to know, and especially the truth of the Holy Scriptures, even to death; since I know that the truth stands, and is forever mighty, and abides eternally; and with her there is no respect of persons. And if the fear of death should terrify me, still I hope in my God, and in the assistance of the Holy Spirit, that the Lord himself will give me firmness. And if I have found favor in his sight, he will crown me with martyrdom. But what more glorious triumph is there than this? Inciting his faithful ones to this victory, our Lord says, ‘Fear not them that kill the body.’”
These were not words of vainglorious boasting, as the sequel shows. Huss had weighed carefully the question of duty. He had come to his decision in full view of the consequences which it might involve. Enthusiastic, indeed, in devotion to what he regarded as the cause of truth, he was yet calm and self-possessed, clear in his views, and firm in his purpose. The zeal of his earlier years has been chastened by fuller knowledge and larger experience; but the martyr-spirit still glowed within him. He could not submit to the prohibition that would exclude him from the pulpit of Bethlehem chapel. He resolved on an appeal, and did in fact appeal, previous to the burning of the books, from the pope ill-informed to the pope well-informed.
This appeal of Huss so thoroughly reviews the ground upon which he justified his course, that it deserves to be presented at length. It was made on the 25th of June, 1410, and represented the position of himself and his friends who joined with him in it. The act took place, in a formal and public manner, in Bethlehem chapel, before a notary public, and in the presence of seven witnesses, who represented all those members of the university and nobility who wished to be regarded as adhering to him in the matter. The grounds of the appeal were as follows: First: that the sentence of the archbishop, authorized by the pope, is opposed to the privileges of the university, sanctioning an act which tramples on them, inasmuch as the said university is exempt from all other jurisdiction save that of the pope alone, even from that of legates, deputies, and sub-deputies of the Roman See. Secondly: that the burning of the books was an act of disobedience to the order that the archbishop had received from Alexander V, not to attempt anything, either by himself or others, against these books and against the university, before the matter had been judged of at Rome, and to revoke whatever had been done to the prejudice of the privileges of the university, as far as possible. Thirdly: that instead of obeying this order, he had intrigued at the court of Rome against the university and against John Huss; he had published abroad that Huss was spreading errors at Prague in the kingdom of Bohemia, in the marquisate of Moravia, and in other provinces; and he had, moreover, surreptitiously obtained a bull for the condemnation of these pretended errors. Fourthly: that we are not required to obey commands that are scandalous, contrary to common law, to the public welfare, and especially to the gospel; such as are the pretended commands of the pope, and the sentence of Sbynco passed in consequence of these supposed command, since it is well-known that in the whole kingdom of Bohemia and in Moravia there is neither heresy nor error, and it is a capital sin to interdict the preaching of the gospel. Fifthly: that there is no heresy in Bohemia is proved by the document published by the archbishop himself (July 17, 1408) in the assembled synod of that year. This document states that the archbishop, at the king’s order, had made, by his prelates and officials, a careful inquisition, and had found no heretic in his diocese. Sixthly: that though all this were otherwise, the sentences and proceedings of Sbynco were utterly null and void, because they took place after the death of Alexander V; and because, according to the common law, when he is dead who has commanded anything, his authority expires with him, except so far as it has been carried into effect during his life. Seventhly: that none can be so ignorant in Holy Scripture and canon law, as not to know that books of logic, philosophy, morality, mathematics, &c., such as most of Wickliffe’s are, are incapable of heresy, nor, consequently, can they be subject to ecclesiastical condemnation. Moses and Daniel were learned in the knowledge of the Egyptians and Chaldeans. The church ordained, when the necessity arose and the circumstances of the time required, that heretical books should be read, not to sustain their errors, but to refute them, and to draw out of them whatever good they contained. St. Paul had read, and quoted passages from heathen authors; moreover, it was necessary that students of the university should read the books of Aristotle, Averroes, and other unbelieving philosophers; and for the same reason that would justify the condemnation of Wickliffe’s works, the book of the “master of sentences” (Peter Lombard) and those of Origen, which contained many errors, must be burned. Yet Huss protests that he has no wish to maintain any error, wheresoever he may find it. Eighthly: that this condemnation of Wickliffe’s books, in short, is opposed to the honor of the kingdom of Bohemia, of Moravia, and other provinces, and especially of the university of Prague; since, on the fourteenth of June of the present year, it had decided solemnly, in full assembly of masters, doctors, licentiates, bachelors, and students, that it was opposed to the sentence of Sbynco in regard to the books of Wickliffe. Ninthly: that it belongs to the Apostolic See, and to no other, to explain and interpret its own orders; and that Sbynco was not authorized to interpret, as he had done, the pretended bull of the pope. Tenthly: that between the arrival of the bull, and the sentence pronounced by Sbynco, sufficient time had not elapsed to examine such a large number of books and writings on matters so important. Eleventhly: that the Bethlehem chapel was founded expressly for preaching the word of God in the vulgar tongue, for though there were churches enough in Prague for the worship of God, there was none but this for preaching. Twelfthly: that its establishment had been confirmed by the Apostolic See, by the king of Bohemia, and by a former archbishop of Prague.
Such was the appeal of Huss. It indicated that he had calmly and deliberately surveyed the ground upon which he stood, and was prepared to maintain it.
The appeal of Huss was made June 25th, 1410. Less than three weeks after (July 15), the archbishop, who grew impatient over the delay of the margrave of Moravia, and who wished to anticipate any opposition from the new pope, proceeded to execute sentence upon Wickliffe’s books. Bands of armed soldiers were stationed around the court of his palace to prevent any disturbance, and in his presence and that of several prelates and a large number of the clergy the fire was kindled, and about two hundred volumes, some of them in elegant and costly binding, were devoted to the flames. The bells tolled from all the towers of the city, as for a solemn funeral. An old chronicler remarks that it was meant to indicate the end of trouble, while by God’s providence it proved the beginning of sorrows. Three days later, Huss, Zdislaw of Wartenberg, and those of the recusant students and others who had signed the protest against the archbishop’s order and the papal bull, were solemnly excommunicated.
The deed was done. The books were burned. The ban of the church rested on those who had dared to object. Doubtless the archbishop felt that he had secured a triumph. He had executed the papal sentence, and proved himself an able instrument of the church party who had instigated him to the bold deed.
But it provoked more than it overawed. The king, the court, and a large proportion of the citizens of Prague were enraged and embittered by it. A cry of indignation ran throughout Bohemia. Some of the priests, but the nobility especially, protested against this vandal act. The queen wept, and Wenzel cursed aloud. Some acts of violence were committed by the enraged populace. The archbishop trembled in his fortified palace. His name was covered with disgrace by his insulting and bigoted course. Songs in derision of him were sung in the streets. So far was this carried, that the king found it necessary to prohibit it under severe penalties.
But his work was only half executed. Not all of Wickliffe’s books were burned. Some refused to give them up. They scorned the archbishop’s mandate, and required a more convincing logic than that of fagots and bonfires. Though the art of printing was not yet invented, so great, says Cochleius, was the zeal of the people against the clergy, and their anxiety for the writings of Wickliffe, inflamed as they were by the frequent harangues of the new dogmatists, that in a short time a large number of the forbidden books had been transcribed. This was a work of secrecy, for the act, if discovered, would have been treated as a crime.
Meanwhile the suppression of derisive songs by the king, forced the people to invent some new expression of their disgust with the proceedings of the archbishop and his clergy. Many of the people had acquired such a knowledge of the scriptures, which had been translated for them into the Bohemian language, as to be able to refute and silence the priests in argument. We may perhaps trace some elements of the rapid success of the principles of reform to the fact that the Bible had already been given to the Bohemian nation in their own tongue. There still exists, in the imperial library of Vienna, an index of a translation of the Bible bearing date A.D. 1382. The author of it, Zadislaus Bathori, was a monk of the order of St. Paul. He withdrew to a cavern in the mountains, and, excluding every human being, labored for twenty years at his solitary task. Cochleius, an inveterate enemy of the Hussites, testifies to the thorough acquaintance of many of the common people with the doctrines of the Bible. “Furriers, shoemakers, tailors, and that class of mechanics, by their frequent attendance on sermons, and their zealous reading of the scriptures that had been translated for them into the vernacular tongue, were led to open discussion with the priests before the people. And not men only, but women also, reached such a measure of audacity and impudence as to venture to dispute in regard to the doctrines of the scripture, and maintain themselves against the priests. Some of them moreover composed books, one of which is thus characterized by a countryman. “Its Jezebel author, mad with rage in her threatenings against the servant of God, and from the Holy Scriptures extolling not the church of God but her own sect, thus deals out her lies: She says, that ‘in every class, especially among the ecclesiastics, not an individual can be found, with the exception of the Hussites, whose life is truly pure and spiritual, and who can preach the word of God by the Holy Spirit.’ And yet, this work was received and treated with the highest regard by the sect, of both sexes; and its author was looked upon as a woman of wonderful subtlety in the Holy Scriptures, and an able defender of Master Huss and his sectaries.”
It was impossible that convictions which had taken so strong a hold upon their minds, and which the study of the Bible had confirmed, should easily be eradicated. It is no wonder that the argument of fire should exasperate them. They could see through the smoke of Wickliffe’s books nothing clearer than before, except the ignorance and malice of their persecutors. In such a state of mind they might easily be excited to deeds of violence or imprudence, which in their cooler moments they would condemn. The whole history of Huss shows that with such excesses he had no sympathy, however much some of his followers might think to find a warrant for their action in his words. We are rather surprised that in such a state of the community, and while the authority was in Wenzel’s feeble hands, such order should have been observed. It certainly shows that the influence of Huss’s doctrines restrained as well as impelled.
On the Sunday following the burning of the books, Huss referred in his sermon to the events of the preceding week. He condemned, unhesitatingly, the conduct of the archbishop—maintained that by his burning he had rooted no sin out of the hearts of men, but rather had destroyed many treatises and arguments that contained important truths and excellent morals; had given occasion for disorder, altercations, and hatreds among the people, as well as acts of violence and crime; and had dishonored the king in the eyes of foreign nations by this foolish, senseless act. The course of the king in this emergency seems to have been characterized by a more than usual share of discretion. While he prohibited the derisive and insulting songs of the people against the archbishop, he yet complained of his conduct to the pope, John XXIII, and asked him to impose some check upon his license.
The rash haste of the archbishop brought with it another evil. The former possessors of the burnt books were dissatisfied at their loss, as well as the insulting course of the prelate. Their books were very costly, laboriously transcribed, and beautifully bound. They asked and obtained permission of the king to demand back of the archbishop an equivalent of their value. He rejected the demand. The king, willing to see justice done, authorized two of his nobles, with the old city council, to bring the claim before the abbots, deans, and other ecclesiastics, who had advised the prelate to burn the books. They also refused to entertain it, and violence followed. The people were indignant at the wrong insultingly done them, and would have redress. Three Carmelite monks, who had preached against Wickliffe, were seized and harshly treated. One of them was thrown into the river, and would have been drowned if a knight had not come to his help. In this act of violence Jerome was implicated. But Huss continued to preach. Indeed, he dared not be silent. And the power of his sermons over the throngs which pressed to hear him in Bethlehem chapel was incalculable. His words thrilled the hearts of his hearers, as he exclaimed, “Fire does not consume truth. It is always a mark of a little mind to vent anger on inanimate and uninjurious objects. The books which are burnt are a loss to the whole nation.” Huss sent his appeal to Rome; and shortly after, Sbynco dispatched a deputation who were to instruct the Roman court as to the real state of affairs at Prague, vindicate the proceedings of the archbishop, and present charges against Huss.
The matter came, as was inevitable, before the university. The cause of Huss, as excommunicate, was identified with that of Wickliffe. The real question was, whether the works of the latter should have been burned as heretical. If not, Huss was unjustly excommunicate. But the university, by an immense majority, condemned the measure of the archbishop. Philosophical works, at least, were not to be accounted heretical. Every student was at liberty to read the works of the heathen Aristotle, much more of learned Christian men, who, like Origen, had erred on some points. Why, then, should the perusal of Wickliffe’s writings be prohibited, especially when the greater portion of them had not as yet been shown to be heretical?
For five successive days (July 27 – August 2, 1410) the disputation was continued before the assembled university. Several masters took up, each, one of the treatises of Wickliffe, and defended it. Huss took that on the Trinity; Jacobel that on the Decalogue; Simon of Tisnow that on the Proofs of Propositions (De Probationibus Propositionum), Zdislaw of Wartenberg that on Universals (De Universalibus), and Procop of Pilsen that on Ideas (De Ideis).
At the same time, probably, and more fully at a later period, Huss defended those articles of Wickliffe in which he was himself personally interested. The first one selected for vindication was, “They who for excommunication by men only refuse to preach, are thereby excommunicate of God, and in the judgment will be found among the foes of Christ.” Another was, “Any deacon or priest may preach the word of God without being dependent on bishop or pope.”
While both parties were looking anxiously for the decision which was to be pronounced at Rome, the mutual exasperation at Prague was steadily increasing. The authority and the learning of the archbishop were alike contemned. The people in the streets called him the “A B C D” bishop. Meanwhile Huss from the pulpit gave his version of the matter. As he exposed the misrepresentations of the opposite party, who complained to the pope that the whole land was infected with heresy, and charged it to his account, the people cried out, as with one voice, “They lie, they lie.”
With the sentence of excommunication hanging over him, Huss was more earnest and eloquent than ever before. He had no longer any disposition to curb the spirit which impelled him to expose the vices of the ecclesiastical orders. They had complained of him to the archbishop, and still pursued him with calumny and malice. He heeded not their slanders or opposition. “Mark,” said he to his vast audience, “what is written in scripture of the Pharisees, ‘All that they bid you do, that observe and do, but do ye not after their works.’ The same language might apply to our ecclesiastics now, whose conduct exhibits little conformity to the law.” “What these men find in the gospel of Christ to their taste, they willingly receive; but when they meet with anything requiring labor and self-denial, they pass it by. What Jesus said to Peter—‘I will give to them the keys of the kingdom of heaven’—that they grasp at for the aggrandizement of their authority, but that other sentence addressed by Christ to Peter—‘Follow me, and feed my sheep’—they eschew like poison. So, too, what Christ said to the disciples—‘Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven’—they accept gladly and comfort themselves with it; but when he says, ‘I Possess neither gold nor silver,’ they decline it as offensive. If Christ says, ‘Whoso heareth you, heareth me’—they use it as an argument for obedience to them, but they wrestle hard against what he again says—‘Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them; but it shall not be so among you,’” etc.
The evils which Huss rebuked were too glaring to be denied. He held up to view the purity and holiness required by Christ, and in this mirror exposed the avarice, ambition, luxury, sensuality, and violence of the profligate ecclesiastics. He could not compromise with his convictions; and with a high consciousness of his solemn responsibility to God rather than men, he aimed to discharge his whole duty. The lines that defined the two opposing parties were rapidly becoming more distinct.
Huss Excommunicated~The Compromise
The appeal of Huss to John XXIII was referred by the latter to a commission of four cardinals, of whom Otho de Colonna was one. The commission were authorized to invite to conference with them the doctors and masters of the theological faculties of Bologna, Paris, and Oxford, who might be present in Rome, and to advise with them what course was to be pursued with respect to Wickliffe’s writings.
The majority of the conference were opposed to the project of the archbishop in burning the books, but before they had reached any definite conclusion the deputation from the archbishop arrived in the city. They represented the case to John XXIII in such a manner that he was induced to dissolve the commission, and give a the whole matter over to the sole charge of the cardinal, Otho de Colonna.
The cardinal gave a ready ear to Sbynco’s representations. He sanctioned what he had done, urged him to the further prosecution of his measures, and directed him, if necessary, to call to his aid the secular arm. Huss was required within a certain specified time to appear and justify himself before the tribunal of the pope.
The intelligence of this decision reached Prague and produced much dissatisfaction. All classes, from the king to the peasant, including the nobility and the university, exclaimed against the injustice that required the personal appearance of Huss at Rome. It was only at the risk of his life that he could undertake the journey. Bands of Germans infested the roads, and, sympathizing with their exiled countrymen, they would have exulted in seizing Huss and putting him to death. Besides, the question was asked, Why cannot the matter be settled here in Prague?
Apprehension of the danger to be incurred induced the king, his queen, of whom Huss was confessor, the university of Prague, and a large number of the lords and barons of Bohemia and Moravia, to send an embassy to the pope to pray him to dispense with the personal appearance of Huss, to suffer him to preach in the privileged chapels, to prevent Bohemia from being defamed by false accusations of heresy, and to send legates, at the expense of the kingdom, to examine the whole matter at Prague. Huss on his side sent three procurators to Bologna to defend his cause and urge the reasons that prevented his personal appearance.
These procurators—at the head of whom was John of Jesenitz, an able man and a warm friend of Huss—proceeded on their journey. They appeared before Cardinal Colonna at Rome, but he refused to listen to their exculpation of Huss. When the term fixed for his personal appearance had expired, the cardinal issued the decree of excommunication against him. It was based, not on an examination of the merits of the case, but on the imputed disobedience of Huss in refusing to appear. The request of the king, queen, nobles, and university that a legate might be sent to Prague, was treated with contempt.
The sentence of excommunication was published (March 15, 1411) in all the parish churches of Prague with the exception of two, that of St. Michael in the old city, of which Christiann of Prachatic was pastor, and that of St. Benedict. But the procurators of Huss were still prosecuting his cause at Rome, and he refused to desert his pulpit in Bethlehem chapel. Dissatisfied at the futility of the measures hitherto adopted, Sbynco laid the city of Prague under interdict, and closed the churches to all public worship.
Huss regarded this proceeding as the fruit of personal malice. He saw in it a maneuver of the archiepiscopal party—the monks and curates—to drive him from his pulpit and render him powerless. The success of Sbynco’s deputation at Rome he ascribed to the influence of the gifts with which he bribed the commission. We shall see, hereafter, that there was only too much ground for this charge.
Before the people, Huss justified himself boldly. Was it objected to him that he had been forbidden to preach? He replied, that it was better to obey God than men. Was he under the ban of the church? Then the pope was its head and the cardinals its members, but where were the bishops and priests and all the rest of Christendom? Was he charged with favoring Wickliffe? He did not believe him to have been a heretic, and of every man, as far as possible, we are to think good rather than evil. He held himself still as a dutiful son of the church, and felt no awe of an unrighteous excommunication.
In declining to obey the papal citation to appear personally at Rome, he felt that he was justified by sufficient reasons. These were afterwards presented more at length in his treatise on the church. Here he explains the origin of the troubles. “The priests of Christ,” he says, “preached against the vices of a corrupt clergy. Hence arose the schism, and hence that clergy sought to suppress such preaching.” “After the manner of the Pharisees, they trouble and excommunicate those who acknowledge Christ. It was because I preached Christ and the gospel, and exposed Antichrist, anxious that the clergy should live according to the law of Christ, that the prelates first, with the archbishop, contrived to get a bull from Alexander V to prohibit preaching in the chapels before the people, from which bull I appealed; but I never was able to get a hearing. On good and reasonable grounds, I did not appear when I was cited.” As to his apparent contempt of the citation, he asks, “What reason had I for obedience—a man summoned from a distance of 1200 miles! What reason that I, a man unknown to the pope, informed against by my enemies, should be so very solicitous, and put myself to extraordinary pains to pass through the midst of my enemies, arid place myself before judges and witnesses who are my enemies; that I should use up the property of the poor to defray the enormous expenses, or if I could not meet the expenses, miserably perish from hunger and thirst? And what was to be gained by my appearance? One consequence certainly would be, neglect of the work which God gave me to do, for my own salvation and that of others. There I should be learning, not what to believe, but how to conduct a process, a thing not permitted to a servant of God. There I should be robbed by the consistory of cardinals; made lukewarm in holy living; be betrayed into impatience by oppression; and, if I had nothing to give, must be condemned, let my cause be ever so good; and what is still worse, I should be compelled to worship the pope on my bended knees.” Moreover, the journey would not only be a long one, but it would necessarily place him on the road in circumstances in which he would be surrounded by his enemies, the Germans. Hence he declined to appear, and continued to preach.
This of course necessitated the imposition of the interdict upon the city. But matters were thus brought to a crisis. Either Huss must obey the citation, or the churches must be closed. The people would not endure the latter. They complained, and the king was forced to interfere. The archbishop himself had grown weary in what threatened to be a hopeless and interminable struggle. He manifested a disposition to compromise. The king appointed a commissioner, to whom the controversy on both sides should be referred, and to whose decision both parties should submit. It was composed on one side of the elector of Saxony, Prince Stibor of Stiboric, and Lacek of Krawar, as laymen; and of ecclesiastics, the patriarch of Antioch, Conrad, bishop of Olmutz, provost Sulek of Chotestchau, and others. On the other side, of adherents to the anti-episcopal party, were Simon of Tisnow, rector of the university, John Huss, Stephen Paletz, Marcus of Koniggratz, and others. After careful deliberation, the conclusions of the commission were reached on the 6th of June, 1411. It was decided that both parties should desist from all legal prosecutions or measures, and should recall their procurators from Rome, while the archbishop should withdraw the sentence of excommunication and remove the interdict. The university was to remain in the possession and exercise of all its rights and privileges, unprejudiced by the precedent of the burning of the books.
Another condition of the compromise which was thus effected was that Sbynco should write to John XXIII that the difficulty between him and Huss was composed, that no more errors prevailed in Bohemia, and that it were wisdom to revoke the sentence issued against Huss, and dispense with his personal appearance at Rome. The letter was actually written, and no doubt forwarded. That it was virtually extorted from the archbishop, and that it did not express his real sentiments, must at least have been suspected by those to whom it was addressed.
The letter, whether willingly or unwillingly written, is worthy of notice. “Most holy father, Alexander V, of blessed memory, gave forth a bull which imported that in the kingdom of Bohemia at Prague, and in the marquisate of Moravia, heretical and schismatic doctrines were spread abroad, especially that damnable error in regard to the sacrament of the eucharist, with which many were infected; and that it was necessary to arrest the course of these novelties before they had infected the whole flock. To this end he ordained in the same bull that there should be an inquisition in regard to these errors, in order to their extirpation. But having executed this order conjointly with the professors of theology, the doctors of canon law, and my other vicars, I have found no heretical errors, either in the kingdom of Bohemia, or at Prague, or in the marquisate of Moravia. No person could be found whom we could convict of opinions deserving ecclesiastical punishment. Likewise, at the instance of Wenzel, king of the Romans and Bohemia, as well as of his council, we have been fully reconciled to John Huss and the other doctors and masters of the university; so that the troubles that we had together are thoroughly settled. Therefore desiring, most holy father, according to the duty of my pastoral office, to maintain the kingdom of Bohemia in its good reputation, I have recourse to the clemency of your holiness, praying you to take compassion on this kingdom, and remove from it and annul the excommunication and consequent censures that leave been laid upon it, and to dispense with the appearance before you in person of the honorable master, John Huss, Bachelor of Theology.”
This letter of the archbishop, we are told, was never received. It may have been intercepted on the way by banditti, or by the enemies of Huss, with the archbishop’s connivance. If it reached its destination, the circumstances in which it was written would deprive it of much of its weight. It would stand in opposition to Sbynco’s previous representations. Certainly it did not avail to stay the proceedings against Huss. The pope, out of complaisance perhaps to the royal intercession, appointed a new commission, to whom the case of Huss was referred. Among the members of it was Cardinal Zabarella, one of the most liberal of the whole college, and most favorably disposed to the cause of reform. But through some unknown influence, the cause was again transferred to Cardinal Brancas alone, who, in spite of all the remonstrances of the procurators of Huss, who sought a prompt decision, kept the whole affair in suspense for a period of a year and a half.
The archbishop had, in reality, capitulated to the friends of the reformer and the authority of the king. He had exhausted his resources of resistance as well as of offense. His spirit seemed fairly subdued by the unsuccessful issue of the conflict, and he never again came into open collision with Huss. To the complaints of his clergy he was compelled to listen; but the most which he attempted for their relief was to administer to Huss a gentle reprimand. On one occasion he cited him to his palace to answer for certain obnoxious views which he had presented from the pulpit. Huss promptly responded to the summons. But he must have felt rather amused than otherwise at the result of the interview. The scholar, the powerful logician, and orator stood before the ignorant “A B C D” bishop. Huss was informed that he was charged with preaching false and dangerous doctrines from the pulpit. He had taught, so it was reported, that there was no necessity of burying the dead in consecrated grounds, and that they might just as well be interred in the fields or woods. “You are aware, my son,” said the archbishop, “that St. Adelbert had great difficulty in dissuading the Bohemians from these profane burials; that often he was obliged to fulminate against them on the subject; and that, in answer to his prayer, God often chastised them with severity, till, in 1039, Bozelislaus, duke of Bohemia, engaged by oath that he and his posterity would hold the Christian faith inviolate, and have the dead interred in places consecrated to this purpose.” Huss humbly replied, that if anything had escaped him, either through forgetfulness or error, opposed to the Christian faith, he would correct it of his own accord. The archbishop seemed satisfied. “God give you grace; go, and sin no more,” was the answer with which he dismissed him.
Huss probably felt that the principal matter of remonstrance was in itself comparatively unimportant. Greater truths filled his mind. It was only as this was connected with other things that it demanded specific notice. He had no desire to offend the archbishop, and yet he could not belie his convictions. The next Sabbath he preached openly on the subject, indirectly at least referring to the mandate of the archbishop. “It is a strange thing, my dear Bohemians,” said he, “that we are to be forbidden to teach manifest truth, and especially those that shine forth so brightly in England and elsewhere in many places. These burials especially, and these great bells, serve merely to fill the purses of miserly priests. What they call order, is nothing else but confusion. Believe me, they wish to enslave you by this disorderly order. But if you will have courage, you may easily break your chains, and give yourselves a freedom, the value of which cannot be told. Is it not a shameful thing and an enormous sin against God, opposed to all law and sense, to have burned books that are the depositaries of truth, and that were written only for your good?”
A report of the sermon reached the archbishop. He complained of it to the king; but no notice was taken of his complaint. A stronger and abler man than Sbynco might have felt the burden which he had to bear too heavy for prolonged endurance. His reconciliation to Huss did not conciliate favor to himself. He could not fail to perceive that instead of an object of fear he had become an object of contempt. He and the priests who adhered to him were hooted at by the populace, and found no sympathy in Prague. His name was coupled with whatever was ridiculous in the fancies of the people. The derisive songs which were heard in the streets and the thoroughfares, which were aimed at the archbishop and his party, and which the king was forced by an express decree to suppress, showed the degree of contempt to which the party had fallen. The people assumed a defiant tone. They said, “Let the archbishop again bid us deliver up the books, and see whether we will obey him.”
Sbynco appealed to the king for a hearing, but his request was declined. His patience was exhausted by this unexpected refusal. He could no longer make his residence in Prague tolerable. Despairing of help from Wenzel, he determined to apply to his royal brother, Sigismund of Hungary. With a troubled heart he left the city, and from Leitomischel wrote back to Wenzel his bitter complaint: “Five weeks long,” he says, “I lingered with my attendants in the city, and exhausted all means to obtain a hearing of your grace, but to no purpose, even while my enemies had access as often as they desired. I would have spoken and explained my difficulties to your grace, as to my gracious Lord; but not only was this prevented, but in every way, and in more respects than one, was I publicly wronged. On this account I am forced to turn to Hungary, to beseech the brother of your grace that he will intercede with you on my behalf, and no longer allow my enemies to cast contempt upon my office.”
In a pitiful tone the archbishop recounts his grievances. Erroneous teachers were left unmolested. Some without authority heard confessions, claiming for themselves the same power as the pope. A wicked priest, whom he had commanded to arrest, had been taken out of his hands. Persons summoned before his tribunal had refused to appear, and been sustained in their contumacy by favorites of the king. Shameful and calumnious letters against himself had been written and circulated, of which he had complained to no purpose. The priest of St. Nicholas had been shamefully imprisoned and robbed of his goods, although innocent of wrong. Many of the clergy were still deprived of their goods and salaries. The king had charged him to write to the pope, exculpating those who had disregarded the interdict—a thing which his conscience forbade. He had been hindered in the prosecution of ecclesiastical discipline. He had been defamed by gross falsehoods, and charged with the whole responsibility for the interdict. In vain had he sought to exculpate himself. The king had threatened to bring the clergy into subjection, and had rejected every application for relief. Such were the grievances of the archbishop.
The heart of Sbynco was broken. He had overrated his strength in attempting to deal with the reform movement at Prague. He had overtasked his powers; and we need not, as some have done, impute his death to poison. He died at Presburg, on his journey to the court of Sigismund, September 28, 1411. His body was brought back to Prague for burial.
Evidently Sbynco was not the man for the difficult post which he was called to fill. He had neither the learning of a theologian, nor the strong will and energy of an inquisitor. Of the strength of principle he had none. He adhered to Gregory till his struggle with Huss forced him, in self-defense, to abandon a sinking cause; and when he had taken the position of a judge, and imposed the interdict on Prague, he still regarded it in the light of a politic maneuver by which a foe was to be defeated, rather than as a punishment for wrong. A man of expedients, he was fitted by nature only to be a martyr to his own vacillation.
END OF SECTION I