Resistance to the Truth
This section comprises chapters 7 through 11. 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 7 – Huss and the Papal Policy
- Chapter 8 – The Bull for the Crusade at Prague
- Chapter 9 – The Second Excommunication of Huss
- Chapter 10 – Huss in Retirement
- Chapter 11 – The Sermons, Doctrines, and Letters of Huss
Huss and the Papal Policy
The death of Sbynco left the archbishopric of Prague vacant. The man who was selected as his successor was Albic of Unitzow, a Moravian by birth, who had been the king’s physician, and who, after attaining some reputation as a medical author, had but recently aspired after ecclesiastical promotion. He was already at an advanced period of life, and was a man by no means either fitted or disposed for controversy. Indeed, the character of a new dignitary was such as to reduce his influence to a mere cipher.
The king, without waiting for orders from Rome, had elevated him to the vacant post. He wanted one to fill it who would give him no trouble; one who would not venture to come into collision with the royal policy. But in the selection which he made he overshot the mark. Albic was too contemptible to stand even as a nominis umbra. All the writers who mention him speak of him in the same terms. His ignorance of theology was gross in the extreme, and yet his avarice was more gross than his ignorance. He seemed to embody in himself all that was mean and sordid. His miserly spirit made him mistrustful, and rather than leave the keys of his cellar in the hands of a butler, he carried them about with him. The cooks whom Sbynco had left in the episcopal palace were somewhat too profuse in their expenditures. Fearful of becoming impoverished, he discharged them. A toothless old woman, who ate only vegetables and drank no wine, was found to preside over his kitchen. His greedy avarice made the sight of a loaded table obnoxious. He grudged the expense of it. The music he loved best was that made by the picking and crushing of bones, for in this there could be no waste. He had rather hear a cry, than the noise of the cattle feeding the whole night long.
And yet his house was like a tavern or market. He sold wine, meat, provisions, game, in fact the best he had, for the large price it could bring him, hoarding the money in his coffers, and leaving the poorest and most meager portion of his produce for his table and the few servants who could be induced to live with him. His stable and equipage were reduced to conformity with the style of his table.
Albic is said to have purchased his office of the king. The known character of Wenzel renders the report not improbable. Galeazzo of Milan bargained with him for a dukedom, and the citizens of Nuremburg purchased release from allegiance to him by a few hogsheads of his favorite wine. Certainly he would not be troubled with conscientious scruples in a less secular traffic, in which popes and prelates furnished him authoritative precedents. It is only the avarice of Albic that tends to redeem the character of Wenzel from the charge. But Albic was too contemptible to both parties to be of any account in the estimation of either. Nobody respected him. His enemies had nothing to fear from him if they simply left him to himself. His friends, if he ever had any, would be shamed and burdened by his alliance. The office of archbishop of Prague, which ranked him as primate of the kingdom, prince of the empire, and legate of the See of Rome, was so inefficiently discharged, and so evidently and scandalously disgraced, that it became an absolute necessity to put it into more capable hands. The pope selected Conrad of Westphalia, dean of the Vissehrad, sub-chamberlain of the kingdom, and bishop of Olmutz in Moravia, to take the oversight of ecclesiastical affairs at Prague. It was not many months before Albic sold out his rights to Conrad, and relieved himself from the notoriety of a position that served merely as a pedestal for his infamy.
Meanwhile events had occurred which were to give a new aspect and a deeper interest to the struggle in which Huss was engaged. On September 9th, 1411, John XXIII published a bull of no little significance, which was to kindle anew the smoldering fires of controversy at Prague. The papal legate, who bore with him to the newly appointed primate the sacredpallium, was directed also to publish this bull upon his arrival. In this celebrated document, John XXIII poured out the vials of his bitterest wrath and vengeance upon his political and ecclesiastical foe, King Ladislaus of Naples, and ally of Gregory XII. The curse of the ban, in its most awful forms, was pronounced upon him. He was declared to be a heretic, a schismatic, a man guilty of high treason against the majesty of God. As such, a crusade is proclaimed for the destruction of his party, and full indulgence is granted to all who should take part in it. Those who bear arms personally are to be assured, on repentance and confession, of full forgiveness of their sins; and those who should contribute in money the amount which they, if actively engaged, would have expended themselves in the course of a month, are to share the same favor.
The papal legate was suspicious lest Huss should oppose the bull. He requested Albic to summon Huss before him, and, in the archbishop’s presence, demanded whether he would obey the apostolical mandates. Huss did not hesitate for a reply. He declared himself perfectly ready to obey them. “Do you see,” said the legate, turning to the archbishop, “the Master is quite ready to obey the apostolical mandates.” “My lord,” rejoined Huss, “understand me well; I said I am ready with all my heart to obey the apostolical mandates; but I call apostolical mandates the doctrines of the apostles of Christ; and so far as the papal mandates agree with these, so far will I obey them most willingly. But if I see anything in them at variance with these, I shall not obey, even though the stake were staring me in the face.”
Other questions, it was clearly evident, were now, for a time at least, to be overshadowed by the more engrossing one excited by the publication of the papal bull. It was plain that Huss was not disposed to pass it over in silence. From his pulpit in Bethlehem chapel he would take his full share in a discussion that was to agitate the kingdom.
We are now, therefore, to consider Huss as occupying a new position, and one more arduous than any which he had ever occupied before. He was to come in direct conflict with the papal authority, and the issue was to be the refutation of pontifical logic and morality, the exposure of pontifical baseness and iniquity. Up to this time, notwithstanding his excommunication and the bitter opposition of the clerical party, he had been sustained in part by powerful external aid. He was strong not only in the affections of the people, but his cause had received at least the silent support of the king. So long as there were but two rivals to contend for the popedom, and Gregory, whose party Wenzel had to thank for his deposition from the imperial throne, was one of them, it was easy to divine that the course of Huss, so far at least as the king was concerned, was sufficiently safe. But the aspect of the ecclesiastical world was now changed. The contest was no longer with Sbynco. It was no longer with Gregory. It was with the pope who represented the council of Pisa, and who had been acknowledged by the king, the nation, and Huss himself. It was a contest in which, not the vices of the laity, the avarice or luxury of the inferior clergy, or the follies of an archbishop were to be arraigned, but the very authority of the acknowledged head of the church was to be disputed. The feebleness and vacillation of Sbynco had given place to the sagacity and vigor of Conrad, and for politic reasons of his own—as we shall soon see—the king was not disposed to extend Huss any special favor.
The archbishop and the king therefore were now ranged together, and Huss himself stood committed to the policy that had advised the assembling of the council of Pisa, and that recognized Alexander V and John XXIII as legitimate popes. In these circumstances, so different from any in which he had been previously placed, his courage was to be put more severely to the test. Should he speak, or keep silence; should he silently approve, or openly rebuke the iniquity of the pontiff himself? Should he venture to raise his single voice of protest against pontifical vice and impiety, when all, or nearly all his former powerful supporters were, by their fears or the necessity of their position, arrayed in the ranks of his adversaries? In the emergency that arose, Huss did not hesitate—did not tremble to speak his convictions. No ordinary courage would suffice for an emergency like this. The boldness and consistency of many who had hitherto stood by him were to be put to the test and found wanting. Those toward whom he had looked with deference—some who had hitherto been his bosom friends—were now to desert him. They could not be relied upon in the present crisis. Perhaps the one on whom he had placed the greatest reliance was his teacher at the university, Stanislaus of Znaim. For years he had been foremost in expressing his sympathy with Wickliffe. He had commended his writings. He had volunteered to defend them in public disputation. Indeed, the estimation in which the writings of the English reformer were held by Huss, had been ascribed to the influence and teaching of Stanislaus. At a mock mass got up by the Germans in contempt of the Bohemian party, the genealogy of Christ was thus travestied: “Peter of Znaim begat Stanislaus of Znaim; Stanislaus begat Stephen Paletz; Paletz begat Huss,” thus intimating the spread of Wickliffism from one to another.
But the time had come when these, his most trusted associates, were first to waver, and then desert him. Most men would have felt it a matter of prudence to fall back in their company. But Huss could not do it. He would not even keep silence. Boldly did he speak out. A crusade! What was it? Huss asked himself the question. And he gave the answer to it in Bethlehem chapel. He dared to say what he thought of a measure which travestied the fundamental principles of the gospel, and scandalized all Christian minds.
But to understand fully the circumstances of the crusade, and the position of Huss, we must trace the progress of events at the papal court, and note some of the prominent characters that now appear upon the stage.
While the intelligence of the election of Alexander V was spreading over Europe, and was received according to the various views and feelings of parties in the church, Ladislaus of Naples, the ally of Gregory and the enemy of Alexander, was not idle. The new pope was disquieted by his movements and intrigues. Before leaving Pisa he fulminated a bull against the Neapolitan monarch. It bore date November 1, 1409. In this document he inveighs with severity against “Ladislaus, son of Charles of Durazzo, who dared to call himself king of Sicily.” “Nourished by the milk and fed by the substance of the Romish church, he was crowned by Boniface IX king of Naples and Sicily. Having abused his power to the prejudice of the church, he was excommunicated by Innocent VII, with whom, in the hope of his being converted from his evil ways, he was afterwards reconciled. But his usurpations still continued. In spite of his oath, and under pain of excommunication and deposition, he violated his promise not to lay hands on the patrimony of the church and the neighboring states. He had, moreover, rejected the council of Pisa, legitimately convoked: instead of returning to his duty, he had become the greatest enemy to the peace of the church, as well as a most dangerous favorer of heresy, by his adherence to Gregory; offering continued molestations to the papacy and the church, and traversing in every way the designs of the council.” The bull then recounts his still more grievous occupation of Rome, and regions belonging to the patrimony of St. Peter. Under severe penalties he had forbidden his subjects to recognize Alexander as lawful pope, or render him any aid whatever. He had taken Gregory from the Venetian territory to conduct him to Rome, there to have him recognized. In view, therefore, of the grievous crimes of Ladislaus, his violation of his oath, his invasion of the territory of the church, and his conspiracy and intrigues against the council of Pisa, he is summoned on a fixed day to hear his sentence; by which he is deprived of his kingdom and of all other goods and rights.
The plague raged now at Pisa, and Alexander left it for Pistoia. Here he received the welcome news of the victory won by Louis of Anjou—on whom he had bestowed the investiture of the kingdom—over his hated rival. The league which had been planned at the council to crush Ladislaus was taking effect. The armies of France were strengthened by the alliance of Florence and Sienna, as well as of Bologna, where Balthasar Cossa ruled with supreme authority. In Rome the allies had secret adherents. Paolo Orsini was at their head, and by his timely treachery Ladislaus was driven from Rome. Alexander received the grateful intelligence, and was exceedingly anxious to take immediate possession of the city. From this he was dissuaded by the cardinal, Balthasar Cossa, who urgently insisted that he should tarry with him at Bologna. Alexander reluctantly complied, for he owed his election at Pisa—so it was said—mainly to the artifice and intrigue of the subtle Cossa. At length, however, Alexander resolved to set out for Rome. This was not agreeable to the plans and policy of Balthasar Cossa, who had played the tyrant long enough at Bologna, and was ready to supersede Alexander by putting the tiara on his own head. Two things, at least, are evident: first, that Alexander did not visit Rome, but died at Bologna, at the politic moment for the election of Balthasar Cossa as his successor; and secondly, that the latter, at the council of Constance, was openly and publicly charged with having poisoned Alexander V to make way for his own election.
Balthasar Cossa, better known by his title of John XXIII, had been the ruling spirit of the conclave by which his predecessor had been elected. His own name had been mentioned for that high office, and it was undoubtedly, even then, the fixed object of his ambition. But with well-feigned humility he commended to the choice of the cardinals a man who, already advanced in years, was, in spite of his reputation for learning and piety, his pliant tool, and who would hold the popedom as his lieutenant—till he was ready to occupy it himself.
On the 14th day of May, 1410, the cardinal electors entered the conclave to choose a successor to Alexander V. The choice resulted, as might have been foreseen, in the elevation of Balthasar Cossa to the vacant office.
This man was the son of a Neapolitan noble, of high rank but of limited wealth. From his youth he was destined to the church, but his enterprising and adventurous spirit turned from it with disgust. The stirring scenes of a secular ambition were more to his taste. He thirsted for worldly power, pleasure, and distinction, and preferred the battlefield and the sword to the cloister and breviary. The occasion which he sought was not long in offering itself. In the wars that had arisen between Ladislaus of Naples and the rival claimant to that crown, Louis of Anjou, his active disposition found a sphere for its enterprise. With some of his brothers, who shared his tastes, he equipped a vessel of war, and became a rover of the sea. In these piratical excursions, in which friend and foe stood much the same chance, he indulged those tastes and habits which clung to him ever after, and made his name an object of awe and terror. He is said here to have acquired the habit of wakefulness by night and of sleeping by day, which was confirmed by his nocturnal debaucheries, and which clung to him even after his election to the pontificate. At length, weary of this mode of life, or driven from it by the close of the war, he was forced to choose some new object of ambition. His attention was directed to his original destination. Ecclesiastical eminence offered a school for his aspiring efforts, and, with characteristic recklessness, he determined to pursue it. It made little difference to him whether he was a prince of the world, or a prince of the church. In fact, stripping off the ecclesiastical badges by which the latter was distinguished, one might be mistaken for the other, and in either sphere might be found equal means to gratify the passions. At the age of twenty-five he repaired to Bologna, under pretense of pursuing his studies at the university, but in facts with the design of making an academic degree his stepping-stone to ecclesiastical dignities.
But the reputation of scholarship he soon found to be too laborious an acquisition. His passions led him to the study of men rather than books. He was more fond of intrigues than the writings of the Fathers. As might be supposed, his literary progress was slow. Pontifical favor, he soon discovered, would open an easier path to promotion. He studiously gained the favor of Boniface IX, who rewarded his assiduous flattery and politic obsequiousness with the archdeaconate of Bologna.
The station was important not only for its large revenues, but as the rectorship of the university was connected with it. Still Balthasar’s ambition was not satisfied. What he had tasted of pontifical favor gave him a keener relish for more. His appetite grew by what it fed on. The walls of Bologna furnished him too limited a sphere of effort, and he determined to visit Rome to see what his personal influence could effect with the pope. As he mounted his horse to go, some of his friends asked him whither he was going. “To the popedom,” was the reply. Boniface made him one of his cubicularii, or waiters at his chamber-door. This admitted him on terms of intimacy to the pope. It was the very post which he would have preferred, for it made him largely a dispenser of pontifical favor. His recommendations were sought and amply remunerated. He urged the sale of indulgences to bring money into the pontifical treasury. He drove a thriving trade in simony, and enriched himself by his gains. He soon became apostolical proto-notary, and in 1402 was made cardinal. His abilities were acknowledged, and the next year he was selected by the pope as the fittest and ablest man to recover Bologna from the usurpations of John Galeazzo of Milan. Other reasons, not improbable, are assigned for the selection. His mistress was the wife of a Neapolitan, and Boniface wished to improve the occasion to send her back to her husband. The mission of Balthasar justified the pope’s selection of him by its successful issue. Bologna was recovered to the popedom. But she found that she had only exchanged one tyrant for another, if possible, more severe. Balthasar was by no means inferior to Galeazzo in the greediness of his passions or the intolerance of his oppressions, and he was fully as able and politic a despot. The oppressed citizens complained to Innocent VII, who had, meanwhile, succeeded Boniface. Balthasar discovered the applicants who accused his tyranny, and confiscated their property to his own use.
To Innocent VII succeeded Gregory XII. Balthasar was not regarded by the new pope with a friendly eye. The legate had prevented the pope’s nephew from taking possession of a benefice which Gregory had conferred upon him in Bologna. Excommunication and interdict followed. But the disobedient legate maintained his ground. He reigned supreme in Bologna, and defied the pope. He scorned the excommunication, and resolved to brave the interdict. He commanded that all the sacred rites should be performed as usual. None dared to disobey.
Gregory and Balthasar were now sworn enemies. The latter had nothing further to hope from the former, and was ready to take the first opportunity to repay his hate. The council of Pisa furnished the opportunity. But as parties seemed so evenly balanced that a slight weight might turn the scale, Balthasar determined to see what he could do with Gregory. The pope met his advances and rejected his overtures with scorn. The die was now cast, and the tyrant of Bologna was to be reckoned among the reformers of Christendom. His influence contributed no small share to the favor with which the council was regarded. He induced Florence to permit the council to be held at Pisa—a most favorable position—which contributed much to the large attendance upon the council, and the respect with which its decisions were regarded. He not only secured the place of the Florentines, to whom it was subject, but gained their approval of the project, as well as that of the university of Bologna. At the council he contributed largely to the final result—the deposition of Gregory and Benedict, and the election of Alexander V. The last was his friend, and the man of his own choice. Already near the grave, death would spare him long enough, as Balthasar might imagine, for himself to perfect his plans of succession. The result justified his expectations, although suspicions were awakened against him of having by foul means contributed to their fulfillment. In the council of Constance he was accused of having been of a wicked disposition from his youth—lewd, dissolute, a liar, disobedient to his father and mother, and addicted to almost every vice. Among all the various enormities with which he was charged, that of poisoning his predecessor to make room for himself was almost overlooked. Alexander V died on the fourth of May, 1410, after having held the pontificate less than a year. On the seventeenth of the same month Balthasar Cossa was elected, and took the title of John XXIII.
The character and past course of the new pope were so notorious that many apprehended what would follow. As described by his secretaries, the character of John XXIII was a monstrous compound of all the vices that can make a man detestable and odious. While his great talents are admitted, they serve merely as a magnificent frame to a picture of correspondently enormous depravity. Neim speaks of him as “a monster of avarice, ambition, cruelty, violence, injustice, and the most horrid sensuality.” A pirate in his youth, he was fitter for the trade of a bandit than the office of a pope. He made himself, in fact, Pontifex Maximus of the banditti of Christendom. “Many were scandalized at his election,” says one who was present at his coronation.
This ceremony was observed in a style of ostentatious magnificence better befitting the lord of Bologna than the chief pastor of the church. Monstrelet describes it with all the enthusiasm that might be excited by the coronation of an emperor. The procession on the occasion was composed of twenty-four cardinals, two patriarchs, three archbishops, twenty-five abbots, beside an almost innumerable multitude of ecclesiastics. All were present in the chapel of Alexander V when his successor received the holy orders of priest. The miter of the pope was of vermilion, with a white border. The next day the pope celebrated mass, directed by one of the cardinals, who showed him the service—with which he was less acquainted than with the use of carnal weapons—while the marquis of Ferrara and the lord of Malatesta held the basin in which he washed his hands. The first of these had brought with him in his train fifty-four knights, clothed in vermilion and azure, and was accompanied by martial music. When the mass was celebrated, the pope was borne out of the church, and, on a platform that had been erected for the occasion, was crowned in presence of the immense assemblage. Seated in a chair covered with drapery of gold, the triple-crown was placed by the hands of the cardinals upon his head. When this ceremony was complete, he descended from the platform, was placed on a horse richly caparisoned, and, followed by all the dignitaries of the church, he marched in procession through the streets of the city. The Jews met him on the way as he approached their quarter, and presented him with a copy of the Old Testament. He took it, looked at it, and then threw it behind him, exclaiming, “Your law is good, but this of ours is better.” Wherever the pope went, he had money scattered in the streets for the people to gather up. The Jews pressed near, but the two hundred men-at-arms that followed, armed with clubs, beat them, says Monstrelet, ” in such a way as it was a pleasure to see.” Music accompanied them on their march. They then returned to the papal palace, where each, in his order, received the pontifical benediction and a dispensation for four months.
The election of the pope is said to have been nearly unanimous. It is easy to account for this. John XXIII had dissuaded Alexander from returning to Rome, and upon his death at Bologna, where Balthasar was all-powerful, the latter knew that the election could be swayed in great measure by his will. An author of that age reports that when a dissension arose in the conclave as to the person who should be elected, they turned to him and requested him to say whom he would choose to have elected. “Give me the robe of St. Peter,” was the reply, “and I will give it to him who ought to be pope.” It was given him, and, throwing it over his own shoulders, he exclaimed, “I am pope.” The cardinals found it wiser to dissemble their dissatisfaction than bring down upon themselves the power of a master.
Unquestionably the election was a forced one. Platina reports that soon after the death of Alexander, Balthasar gained over a large number of the cardinals by bribes, especially the poorer members of the college. He adds, that it was a current rumor that this election was the result of violent measures, and that Balthasar had stationed troops in the city and in the neighboring country, to ensure his election by force if it could be secured in no other way. His object was now attained—the object avowed by the archdeacon of Bologna when, mounting his horse to visit Boniface at Rome, he declared, “I am going to the popedom.”
John XXIII did not neglect matters proper to secure and extend his allegiance. He wrote a circular letter, and dispatched it throughout Christendom, to notify all of his election. He renewed the sentence of the council of Pisa against the two rival claimants to the popedom, as well as their adherents, giving the last, however, six months’ grace in which to return to his own allegiance. He sent an embassage to Benedict, to sound his views on the subject of cession. But that inflexible rival would listen to no terms. He claimed that the church universal resided in the fortress of Peniscola, where he had shut himself up and maintained his court.
One of the first measures of John XXIII was to revoke the obnoxious bull of his predecessor in favor of the mendicants. The bull by which this was done bears date June 27th, 1410—scarcely more than one month from his accession to the pontificate. He knew how important it was at the commencement of his reign to make a favorable impression, especially in France, where the bull of his predecessor had effectually cooled the enthusiasm with which his election had been at first received. But the plans of the pope did not succeed. The university was dissatisfied at the moderate censure passed on the bull of his predecessor, and both were alike rejected.
At Rome the news of the election was received by the people with demonstrations of joy. They banished the enemies of the newly-elected pope, and defeated the invading army of Ladislaus. John XXIII might now return and resume his dominion in the eternal city. The first year of his pontificate was eminently auspicious. Notwithstanding local dissatisfactions, as in the university of Paris, he was recognized by the greater part of Europe. The allegiance of Benedict and Gregory, respectively, was very limited. It seemed that at last the schism was in a fair way to be extinguished. The dissatisfaction which existed in Germany was limited, for the most part, to the emperor Robert and his personal adherents. We have already seen that Bohemia had regarded with favor the council of Pisa. To this result the influence of Huss had largely contributed. Of this he in fact afterward reminded the pope and cardinals, in his letter of remonstrance addressed to them from his retreat at Hussinitz, while the city of Prague was laid under interdict on his account.
At this opportune moment, death removed the emperor Robert from the scene. He was a prince not altogether destitute of merit. He was the son of Rodolph, elector of the Palatinate. By the death of his father, he became elector in 1398, and in 1400, on the deposition of Wenzel, was elected to the imperial crown. The adherents of Wenzel at Aix-la-Chapelle would not admit him to the city, where the Roman emperors were usually crowned, and the ceremony took place at Cologne. His reign was eminently peaceable, and he was regarded as a lover of peace. The ill success of his invasion of Italy, at the commencement of his reign, may have had some influence in contributing to the result. His death occurred within a few days after the election of John XXIII to the popedom.
It was at this time, also, that a victory was obtained over the king of Naples by the armies of Rome. The intelligence of the victory was most agreeable to the pontiff, and helped to swell the tide of his prosperity. But, though once defeated, Ladislaus was still a formidable foe. John XXIII was too shrewd and experienced in policy not to guard against the recurring danger. He sought to strengthen the Italian league against Ladislaus, and draw into the alliance Louis of Anjou and Sigismund of Hungary, both of them rivals of the king of Naples. The former of these was already gained. It remained to secure the latter.
It was while these things were pending that the case of Huss was committed, as we have seen, to the Cardinal Otho de Colonna, who had cited Huss to appear at Bologna. The pope had now too many things on his hands to pay it special attention. Italy was a scene of anarchy and conflict. The Venetians were dissatisfied with the course of Sigismund, and traversed his designs. John Maria Galeazzo, Duke of Milan, a monster of cruelty, and one of the most terrible scourges under which an oppressed people ever groaned, had been cut off by a conspiracy, the conflicting elements of which coalesced long enough to strike down by the hand of violence a common foe, whose severity was more horrible than their rival ambitions. The party of the Guelphs siding with the pope, and of the Ghibelines inclining to the emperor, enough at least to give the appearance of principle to a faction whose object was power and plunder, added to the general confusion. Bands of marauders and armed banditti, mostly soldiers of fortune, ravaged the impoverished country without restraint, while Ladislaus from Naples menaced the states of the church with the terror of his arms. Italy was a caldron of civil tumult. The seething elements invited the necromantic skill of the depraved wretches who sought to control them. The resource of John XXIII was in the terrors of excommunication, which he had himself braved while governor of Bologna. He proclaimed a crusade against Ladislaus, and put his kingdom under interdict. Is this, asked Huss, an act worthy of the common pastor of all Christendom? Bishops are required every Sabbath to read the bull of excommunication against Ladislaus. Christians are summoned, in this personal quarrel between the pope and king, to march against the latter and dethrone him. For this they are promised the forgiveness of their sins, and eternal salvation. Is the shedding of blood then to procure the remission of sins? Is it Christianity, is it gospel, to incite Christians to war upon Christians? Such was the language of Huss in Bethlehem chapel. Jerome powerfully supported him. For a time a large number of the teachers of the university urged the same views. But the interests of Wenzel allied him to the pope, and his hope to recover the imperial throne through pontifical influence would not allow him to resist the measures taken by John XXIII to promote the crusade. His decision silenced the opposition of the university. Few dared to speak what they thought, while king and pope were both against them. But Huss, if he felt the restraints of the magistrates in the discharge of his public duties, was busy with his pen. Indeed, the course of the pontiff himself would not allow him to rest. It was not enough that one crusade had been proclaimed. Another, more bitterly provoked, was soon to follow, as if to keep up the agitation.
In the commencement of hostilities between Ladislaus and the pope, the king of Naples had been simply excommunicated. In these circumstances the war had continued, with intervals of inaction, for many months. Ladislaus seemed to bear his sentence with great equanimity. With the lawlessness of a bandit and the faithlessness of a pagan, he was a fair match for the pontiff. But for the mischiefs of the war, it might not have been a bad spectacle to see the two men cope with one another. The excommunicated king, however, was a standing monument of the weakness and disgrace into which the papacy had fallen. He illustrated in his own person the degradation of its authority.
Two centuries earlier his case would have probably been a hopeless one. And, indeed, now the terrible scenes of the crusade against the Albigenses had hardly passed from the memory of men. At that time the word of a pope had changed the South of France from a garden to a desert. Raymond, Count of Toulouse, suffered the humiliation of a public flogging in the church of St. Giles. His whole province was given up to pillage. His subjects were murdered by the wholesale, in almost unresisting submission. The fanaticism and cruelty of such a crusade were terrible.
Ladislaus had not indeed the same grounds for fear as the prince of Toulouse. The papal schism had largely broken the spell of pontifical authority. But yet he much preferred a warfare in which army could be measured against army, steel against steel. The weapons of excommunication and crusade were of a kind he had no disposition to provoke, till he was able effectually to defy them. He was reduced to the necessity of a forced peace—a humiliating reconciliation which only covered the purpose of a bitter revenge, for the time deferred.
Watching his opportunity, he acquired a new ally. Genoa, impatient of the French yoke, revolted, expelled its garrison, restored the republic, and joined the Neapolitan party. The scale was now turned. The prince of Anjou, the ally of John XXIII, was defeated, and the pope was left exposed to a vengeance which he had bitterly provoked. Under pretense of subduing a rebellious subject, Ladislaus gathered a powerful army on the confines of his kingdom, and placed himself at its head. He began his march, but suddenly turned aside and presented himself before the gates of Rome. His galleys had already entered the Tiber, and the pope, struck with consternation at the sudden and well-concerted attack, had scarcely time to escape from his capitol, when it passed into the hands of his foe. The Neapolitan army entered, and a frightful scene ensued. Rome was sacked. For several days she experienced all the horrors which mercenary bands of soldiers could inflict.
As soon as the pope could get his spiritual battery in order, he opened anew a terrible broadside in the shape of another “crusade” against Ladislaus. He summoned Christendom to his aid to crush the king of Naples, and ravage his dominions with fire and sword. Plenary indulgence was extended to all who should engage in the holy warfare. Those who should contribute money to assist the pope were assured of a full recompense in spiritual privileges. Some of the indulgences promised would vie in absurdity and blasphemy with any which, a century later, were offered by Tetzel.
To many, there was nothing surprising in all this. It was accordant with the usages of the papacy. But in the eyes of Huss it was a sin to be rebuked.
Bull for the Crusade at Prague
It was in such circumstances, a crusade proclaimed by the supreme pontiff against Ladislaus—the imperial throne vacant by the death of Robert; Wenzel anxious to recover, in part through the influence of the pope, his lost scepter—that the courage and constancy of Huss were put to the test. The policy of Wenzel forbade opposition to the papal measure. To risk the imperial crown by allowing too free criticism of the proclamation of the crusade, was, in his view, an act of folly. Huss could no longer depend upon the royal favor.
His cause was still in the hands of the papal commission. Some of his procurators had been arrested and thrown into prison. One of them, Jessenitz, had managed to escape. Another, a former teacher, and subsequently an opponent of Huss, Stanislaus of Znaim, had been suspected of heresy for his former defense of Wickliffe, and a tract which he had written on the subject, and was compelled to justify himself before he was released. The other procurator was Stephen Paletz. Both of them appear to have been thoroughly frightened by their imprisonment, and they were set at liberty only after a period of eighteen months, during which they were kept in duress, and then even only through the urgent remonstrances of the king and of the university.
It was soon after this (September 1, 1411) that Huss made a solemn declaration of his views and intentions, or perhaps it might be called a confession of his faith, and, in a tone of becoming humility, petitioned the Holy See to be released from the summons of personal presence at Rome, as well as from the consequences of the process against him. This declaration was read before a full meeting of the university. In it Huss maintained that not one jot or iota of the law of Christ could pass away—that Christ’s holy church is founded on the rock; and he solemnly declared that it had never entered his mind to wish to do or teach any thing in opposition to the law of Christ or the holy Catholic church. He finally disculpated himself from various errors which be said had been falsely imputed to him, and which no one was further from approving than himself.
This declaration and petition was on its way to Rome, when it was met by the proclamation of the crusade issued by the pope a few days later (September 9, 1411). It might have been supposed that at such a juncture, and anxiously desiring a favorable response to his petition, Huss would have been more than usually cautious or reserved. So far from this, in less than two weeks after the meeting of the university, we find Huss in a spirited controversy with the Englishman, John Stokes, in regard to the writings of Wickliffe. Stokes was not particularly successful in his part of the discussion, if we may judge from his proposal that the scene of debate should be transferred from Prague to Paris, Rome, or Oxford. The friends of Huss, on the other hand, held that if Stokes had anything to say or produce against Huss, he should bring his evidence or arguments against him in the place where he resided.
Intelligence of the crusade must have reached Prague about the last of September (1411). Huss at once freely and boldly discussed the papal iniquity. Paletz as yet adhered to him. He admitted that there were “palpable errors” in the papal bull. The minds of men were shocked at the summons from Rome to Christian nations to take the field against their brethren. In the choice between John XXIII and Ladislaus, good men would have found it hard to decide. It was difficult to say which was the more selfish, unprincipled, and abandoned. It is probable, however, that John XXIII would have won the palm of audacious wickedness, on the simple ground that Ladislaus wore only a crown, while he disgraced the tiara.
Early in 1412 it was manifest that the spirit of Huss was fully aroused. At one of the regular disputations of the university, Huss maintained that the great Antichrist, which according to the word of God was to come at the end of the world, was even now in possession of the highest dignity of Christendom, and exercised transcendent authority over all Christian people, clerical and lay, and that he is in fact no other than the pope of Rome. Hence Christians are not to obey him, but, as the chief enemy and grand opponent of Christ, they are rather to resist him. Huss subsequently published his argument.
In the month of May, the dean of Passau, the papal legate, reached Prague. He brought with him the papal bulls of indulgences. Neither the worthless Albic, who had received the pallium from Rome, nor the king, placed any obstructions in the way of the legate. Albic merely stipulated—and his very sordidness on this occasion appears almost as a redeeming feature in his character—that it should not be prescribed at the confessional what portion of his property each should give, but the matter should be left to the free will of the individual. The bulls were read from the pulpits in the various churches of Prague; the crusade and indulgence preachers gathered the people at beat of drum, in public places in the city, and three boxes were placed—one at the cathedral, another at the Tein church, and another at the Vissehrad—to receive the money that might be contributed by the faithful.
The theological faculty of the university could not entirely ignore what was taking place around them. They met and deliberated, but came to the sage and safe conclusion to obey the orders of the king and the directions of the archbishop, receiving the papal bull without committing themselves to any decision in regard to it—a matter to which they were not called. This was the view of Paletz, who at this juncture separated from Huss.
This tame and cowardly conclusion dissatisfied Huss. He felt for the honor of the law of God, for the cause of his native land, and the souls of his countrymen. His spirit within him glowed with the resolute purpose to unmask the false pretensions and iniquitous principles, not only of the crusade, but the bull of indulgences.
He regarded with indignation this unscrupulous act of the pope. He saw in it the prostitution of sacred interests to the interests of a personal ambition. He pronounced it an act of malignant and antichristian usurpation, and he felt called upon to meet it with a public rebuke.
Nor could it be objected to him that, as a foreign matter, it was one in which he had no interest. It was brought home to his own city and his own doors. The pope’s bull, which he sent through Europe, required, as we have seen, every bishop on the same day to make proclamation of the excommunication against Ladislaus. It summoned, moreover, all Christians to march to his help, or assist him with levies and gold, in return for which he promised the plenary remission of sin, and eternal salvation. It was in consequence of this command that the boxes were placed at commodious places to receive contributions of money in behalf of the crusade. The preachers exhorted the people to liberality the more earnestly, that they did it under the eyes of the papal legate. Several of the university disapproved these measures till the king had extended them his sanction. This was not long wanting. The motives that led to it may easily be understood.
The acquiescence of the king gave a new strength to the papal party. Wavering minds were decided by it. But Huss and Jerome looked to the will of a higher monarch. The permission granted by the king, on their views and plans of action had no effect. In the lecture-room of the university, as well as in Bethlehem chapel, Huss denounced the papal measures. He maintained that it was an antichristian procedure to spur Christians on to war with Christians, and, with a view to shedding of blood, to sell indulgences for money. The course of Huss, as might have been expected, made him bitter enemies. The city was divided into opposite and hostile parties. The council of the king summoned before it the antagonist leaders—among them Huss and Stephen Paletz. Huss disputed before the council, and manfully maintained his views. His enemies could not deny the honesty of his convictions, or refute his arguments. But the council were not prepared for any decisive action. They dismissed the parties merely with the charge to treat one another kindly. The archbishop admonished Huss to obey the pope. He received for answer, that he would do this only so long as the commands of the pope were in accordance with the teachings of Christ and his apostles. Huss demanded to be met by other arguments than counsels to a blind obedience. With the feelings of a patriot and a Christian, he could not see his countrymen betrayed to death and the gospel trodden under foot without remonstrance. The blood of his friends and neighbors was required to be shed. The small revenue of an impoverished people was to be exhausted for the foreign interests of an individual.
In June, 1412, he affixed to the doors of several churches and cloisters the notice that on a certain day, June 7th, he would publicly dispute on the following question: “Whether it is according to the law of Christ, and a profitable thing, that Christian believers, with God’s glory, the salvation of soul, and the welfare of the kingdom in view, should give their support to the bull of the pope, proclaiming a crusade against Ladislaus, king of Naples.” He likewise challenged all the teachers of the university, priests and monks, to meet him with their objections. The concourse to the discussion was immense. The common people crowded in to listen, in spite of the effort of the authorities of the university to exclude them under the pretext that they could not understand the matter. Huss began by asseverating that he had commenced his investigations simply with a view to the glory of God and the good of the church, impelled by his conscientious convictions. For his authority he should abide strictly by the teachings of Christ and his apostles. He then adduces the grounds on which an affirmative answer might be given to the question. “It seems,” he says, “that we are to approve the bull of the pope because he is one of Christ’s vicars on earth, to whom he has said, ‘He that heareth you heareth me,’ because he has ‘the power of binding and loosing on earth’; because he has the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and is the supreme interpreter of the law of Christ; because such bulls have always been received, and the present is intended for the support of the church, to reduce whose authority is to hinder the salvation of souls,” etc.
He then turns to the negative side of the question, and finds still more weighty the arguments for rejecting the bull. First of all, the putting of men to death which it requires, and the exhaustion of nations which it occasions, cannot well be reconciled with the love of Christ. As to the remission of sins promised, he admits the priest has power to absolve the true penitent, but by no means in the manner prescribed by the pope. He that is wise holds not merely that whoever confesses is absolved, but that he is absolved on condition of repentance, sinning no more, relying on God’s mercy and the purpose of future obedience to God’s commands. Of such a conversion of the sinner the priest has no means to judge but by a revelation; for none can attain forgiveness of sin but he who has attained from God, who alone can bestow pardon, the necessary grace. Huss holds, moreover, that neither the pope nor any of the clergy may bear arms and fight for the sake of riches or worldly dominion, for Christ forbade his disciples to do this; and such, moreover, was the view of the apostles and of the fathers of the church. “Tears and prayer are the arms of a bishop.” The passage, Luke 22:38, commonly cited to show that the church has two swords, a spiritual and a temporal, can import no more than this, that these swords belong to the whole church, which is composed of laity as well as clergy, and the latter of whom are to use only the spiritual, or the word of God. It is ignorance to believe that we must obey the pope in all things, especially in regard to a bull expedited from such selfish views. One should rather, after the example of Christ and his apostles, endure wrong patiently, than spur on Christians to exterminate one another. Does anyone say that these commands belong only to those that are perfect? Then the pope should be the most perfect among the clergy. After commenting on many monstrous passages of the bull, Huss replies to the grounds adduced for an affirmative answer. When, for example, the keys of heaven are promised to Peter, this means only a limited authority, while the loosing and binding must be performed of God, before, as spoken by men, it can have any validity. How could ignorant, licentious, and covetous priests, who, for a specified sum, receive indulgences from the commissary, really impart the same to the poor and the rich in proportion to this tax? How can Christians doubt that these robbers are thieves of Antichrist; and if such an one is the doorkeeper, how can he open the door to those that would enter into Christ? We can find nowhere in scripture that any holy man said to another, I have forgiven you your sins; I have absolved you: nor are they holy men who have granted absolution from punishment and guilt for so many years and days that we cannot even learn the time when indulgences sprung up. Among other remarks, he adds, that we are no more to fear unrighteous papal excommunication than the apostles were terrified by the ban of the synagogue. Nor does he leave anyone in doubt that he altogether rejects the doctrine of papal infallibility.
As Huss proceeded with his argument, some of the older doctors, Wolf, Goebel, and Leo, sought to convince him, by citations out of ecclesiastical and imperial law, that he was in the wrong. They prophesied disorder and murders as the result of his course. They advised him rather to go to Rome to dispute with the pope in person, and objected to his ingratitude for setting himself in opposition to him whom he might thank for his office as priest. Dr. Leo inveighed against Huss as too young a man to handle such grave matters. At this the people began to murmur. Huss quieted them. But Jerome made a long speech in which he supported the reformer throughout, and closed with these words: “Whoever holds with us, let him follow us. Huss and myself will go to the council-house, and tell the council boldly to their face, that the papal bull and indulgence are iniquitous.”
The speech of Jerome was energetic, and made a deep impression. The attendant knights and citizens interrupted him with their applause. “This man speaks truth. Right is on his side,” was the cry from every quarter.
It would have needed but a word to procure an immediate attack by the multitude on the council-house, where the friends of indulgences were deliberating. But, through the influence of their leaders, the disposition which might so easily have resulted in violence was with some difficulty restrained.
A second meeting of the university was soon called, somewhat less numerously attended than the first. It was more peaceably conducted. Huss and Jerome were urged to consider the danger into which the city would be thrown by popular insurrection or commotion. Both promised to guard against giving any occasion for it, although Huss added, “Shall I then keep silence when I ought to speak? Will not the truth inculpate me—me who knew it, and out of fear abandoned it? Should my life be dearer to me than my duty?”
Such was the position taken by Huss. He could not violate conscience or abandon principle. Yet he was anxious to prevent any popular tumult. As the congregation dispersed, admiring crowds followed him to the door of his dwelling. As they left him there, they cried out, at parting, “Huss, abandon us not. Remain firm.”
Firmness was indeed necessary. The king could not be relied upon in the emergency. Even yet, he dared not break entirely with the pope. The enemies of Huss were many and powerful, and bitterly exasperated. Some occasion for this was given perhaps by the imprudence of Jerome, urged on by his own impulsive nature. A few days after the disputation in the university, one of the royal favorites, Wok Woksa of Waldstein, encouraged, as it seems, by Jerome and other masters, had got up a procession through the streets of the city designed to manifest the popular contempt for the papal bulls. Prostitutes, with certificates of indulgences hung around their necks, were made to bead the procession, which moved, amid the shouts and cheers of the citizens, till it reached a pile of faggots heaped up beneath the gallows. Here, in contempt of the boxes designed to receive the money paid for indulgences, an iron box was placed, into which, while the indulgences thrown upon the lighted faggots were consumed, were cast, as contribution, not gold or silver, but the most nauseous things, together with a satirical writing against indulgences.
The effect of this singular scene was scarcely such as Huss could have desired, but it perfectly suited the taste of Jerome, and doubtless of thousands of others. Still, it was not a little exasperating to the papal party. It tended to fan the flame which was already kindled to a fiercer heat.
Nor was this all. The very next day after the discussion had taken place, several of the young men most zealous in opposition to the papal bulls, determined that the ignorance and iniquity of the papal clergy should be exposed. There were multitudes among them who felt themselves capable of silencing the priests by arguments drawn from scripture. They resolved to visit the churches generally, and contradict every priest who should preach the indulgence.
On one of the following Sundays, the preachers in several of the churches were rudely interrupted by students and artisans. They were boldly called liars and deceivers. The pope was denominated Antichrist for having proclaimed a crusade against a Christian people. In the castle church, whilst the preacher assailed Huss with unmeasured abuse in the hope of restoring the doctrine of indulgences to its former reputation, a shoemaker from Poland, named Stasseck—or, as given by L’Enfant, Stanislaus Passec—came forward and gave the priest the lie. A great uproar at once ensued. The offended party prevailed on the warden of the castle to take the offender into custody, and deliver him over to the civil magistrates. Similar disturbances occurred the same clay at the Tein church, as well as at the convent of St. James. In the church, while the priest was commending the papal bull, he was interrupted by a student named Martin Krschidesco crying out, “Now it is plain that the pope is truly Antichrist, since he has proclaimed a crusade against Christians.” In the convent, the vender of indulgences was expelled by another student named John Hudek. Both offenders were arrested, and, with the shoemaker, committed to the city prison.
From the known opinions of most of the member of the council, the worst was to be feared. There was no doubt that the prisoners would be punished with extreme severity. They were in fact sentenced to death as disturbers of the peace. Intelligence of this was at once communicated to Huss. He hastened from the college to the council-house. Having obtained admittance, accompanied by a large number of the professors and students, he earnestly entreated the magistrates not to punish the three inconsiderate youths with death. Their crime, he asserted, might be excused in some measure by their zeal for the gospel, and the great offence occasioned by indulgences, for if they deserved to he punished for the sake of the indulgences, he deserved it far more himself. But the council had been wrought upon by the priests, and were deaf to his entreaties. They objected to him that this was no concern of his, and that he was mixing himself up in matters that did not belong to him. They suggested that it was his aim to set the city in an uproar, and that he had already injured it enough by the expulsion of the Germans. They said the question now was not in regard to indulgences, but concerning open violators of the public peace who had sought to produce bloodshed. Still they encouraged him to hope that favor would be shown them. They told him that as to the prisoners he and his friends might set their minds at ease. Their petitions would, either the following morning, or possibly the same day, be of some service to them.
The report of the danger that menaced the prisoners had already spread through the city. More than two thousand armed men were in a short time assembled around the council-house. They, were ready at a word to offer powerful and effectual aid for the release of the prisoners. But Huss was averse to violence. He only wished to save the lives of the three young men. Whether he understood the irony of the answer of the council or not, he suppressed the bitterness that he must have felt. He humbly thanked the senate for the promised favor, and, communicating it to the people, persuaded them to disperse. Scarcely was the danger passed, and Huss gone, than the scornful laugh was raised at his expense. The lords of the council declared him to be a deluded and credulous fool. Doubtless a bold bad man would have shown less scruple, and cut the knot by decisive measures. But Huss would not countenance violence, although he had been threatened with it himself.
He would by no means take the offenders out of the hands of justice. His own love of peace and order would not permit him to sanction their disturbance, and yet he could not willingly consent to a penalty so unjust as a capital infliction. He returned to his house in the cherished expectation that a just measure of penalty might satisfy all parties, and make a salutary impression.
But his hopes were doomed to disappointment. Scarcely had the crowd withdrawn and the streets been cleared, when the council, left unmolested, proceeded with its work. The executioner was admitted through a back door, and the prisoners were beheaded. But the foul deed could not long remain a secret. The blood of the murdered men flowed from the place where they were beheaded out into the open street, and told the story of their fate. In every part of the city old and young flew to arms. Grief and vengeance possessed all hearts. Nobility and students led on the people. The council-house fell into the hands of the assailants; but the principal object of their vengeance—the guilty judges—had fled.
The people’s thirst for vengeance now gave place to bitter expressions of their grief. They sought out the place where the young men were executed, broke open the vaults which concealed the bodies, and into which they had hurriedly been thrown, wrapped them in rich shrouds, and, placing them on a gilded bier, bore them in solemn procession to the Bethlehem church. An innumerable train of mourners followed them, with waving banners and funeral hymns. They could not but regard the victims of this summary injustice somewhat in the light of martyrs.
Huss was deeply grieved at this melancholy issue of the affair. He felt the blow as a personal injury. Two of the victims were his own students. For eight days he was completely unmanned, and gave himself up to retirement and sorrow. Reviving at length from his depression, he preached a funeral sermon on the fate of the three youths. In this he declared that such a death had more than compensated for all that was sinful and earthly in them, and had exalted them to the rank of immortal martyr, for the sake of gospel truth. “Henceforth,” said he, “no communion can exist between the adherents of Rome and the Bohemian Christians”; but he conjured the weeping people to beware of using violence toward the enemy, leaving God to deal with their wicked malice and remorseless cruelty.
Notwithstanding this touching and Christian appeal, the magistrates forbade the preacher, under pain of severe punishment, to make even any distant allusion in public to those who bad recently been beheaded. But if Huss was ready to comply, the seed he had sown in the cause of truth had been watered by the blood of its victims, and its harvest was sure. The cause of reform could not die. The very rashness of the enemy had given it its martyrs.
But there were causes at work which were soon destined to operate in favor of Huss. Popular indignation at the extortions of Rome made itself manifest, and came to the knowledge of the king, while abroad the changed aspect of affairs destroyed in Wenzel the hope of recovering the empire, and indisposed him any longer to temporize with the pope. In order to understand the change which now took place in the royal policy, our attention must be directed to another quarter, from which new actors appear upon the troubled scene. Sigismund, second son of the emperor Charles IV, had received, in right of his wife Mary, daughter of Louis, king of Hungary, the throne of that kingdom. The position of Hungary made it the Thermopylae of Christendom, and destined it to receive the first shock of Moslem invasion. In the terrible battle of Nicopolis (1396), where the proudest nobility of Europe, gathering to the standard of the Hungarian monarch, sustained so terrible a defeat, his hopes seemed to be blasted. But when, six years after, the arms of the invader yielded to the prowess of Tamerlane, and Bajazet was forced, in his iron cage, to grace the triumphant progress of the Asiatic conqueror, the good fortune of Sigismund seemed to be restored. Yet the course of events had caused him to take a deep interest in the affairs of Italy. The ambition of Ladislaus was insatiable. He is said, not improbably, to have aspired to the imperial crown. With some show of justice he claimed the crown of Hungary, where his childhood had been spent, and where he had been favorably regarded by Louis, the previous monarch. The debaucheries and cruelty of Sigismund, who at this time seems to have been no unworthy relative of his royal brother, had disgusted and alienated his subjects (1401). His person was seized, and a general revolt spread through the kingdom. At this opportune moment, Ladislaus, previously instructed no doubt by his partisans, appeared with a fleet off the shores of Dalmatia. Zara and several other maritime cities acknowledged his authority. He even received at the former place the Hungarian crown. But in the meantime Sigismund had recovered his liberty. His fickle palatines renewed their allegiance, and Ladislaus, defeated in his attempt, withdrew, and sold to the grasping ambition of Venice his recent conquests in maritime Dalmatia. Sigismund could not regard with favor either the spoiler or his jackals. The necessity of his position made him the friend of the enemies of the king of Naples.
Meanwhile John XXIII had been placed by Ladislaus in difficult circumstances, and Sigismund and John XXIII alike complained of his violence. The interests of the king and pope were the same. On the accession of the latter to the pontificate, Sigismund sent him ambassadors, the burden of whose complaint was the usurpations of Venice. The pope, anxious to secure the favor of the king, answered him by the promise of his influence in his behalf.
But the occasion had already come when that influence was to be exerted in another direction than the one proposed, and with a large measure of success. By the death of Robert the imperial throne was vacant. To the pope it was of immense importance that it should be occupied by one who would sympathize with him in his opposition to the king of Naples. He wrote to the electors, urging them to make choice of Sigismund for emperor. He represented to them his fitness for the place at the present crisis. The enmity of Sigismund to Ladislaus was, however, his chief merit in the eyes of the pope.
The persuasions of the pope were not without effect. They were powerfully seconded, however, by other motives. After the deposition of Wenzel, Sigismund, as the second son of Charles IV, seemed to have the clearest right to the imperial crown. Notwithstanding his dissolute habits, he had given proof of capacity and energy. When Wenzel, in 1393, was making himself at once the laughing-stock and curse of the empire, Sigismund, conspiring with several others, had seized and imprisoned him. In spite of a rival claimant, he had grasped and retained the dominion of Hungary. He had distinguished himself in his conflicts with the Turks, and had aspired to draw around him the strength of Christendom for their defeat. France had sent him her gallant knights, and those of them who survived returned to declare the shame of their own rashness and defeat in not listening to the wiser counsels of the Hungarian monarch.
The result of the election was the elevation of Sigismund to the imperial throne. It is said that, when the electors were assembled, and Sigismund was asked, first of all, in quality of king of Hungary, to make his nomination, he named himself. “I know myself,” said he, “others I do not; I do not know that they would be as capable as I am to govern the empire, especially in this period of the schism of the church.” The electors, admiring the frankness of the king, or possibly overawed by his audacious impudence, unanimously gave him their suffrages. This must however have been after the death of Jodicus, who for ten months was a rival claimant of the imperial crown.
The character of Sigismund seemed to be a singular compound of that of his father and that of his brother, Wenzel. He had the subtlety of the first, and the license of the last, except that his shrine was that of Venus rather than of Bacchus. Endowed with eloquence and energy, as well as possessed of a fine personal appearance, he lacked the more important qualities necessary to a perfect statesmanship. He was a man for the emergency, not for a settled and consistent policy. He sought to ride the wave, rather than provide for the voyage. He settled his disputes with Venice by the sale of Zara, thus imitating the policy of his foe. He compromised his disputes in other quarters in order to set himself at the task, toward which his ambition seems to have been more directed even than to the imperial crown, of giving peace to the church. We shall see in the sequel with what success.
The schism stood in fact in the way of the execution of the great design which he had long cherished. So long as the church was divided by the dissensions which prevailed, Christendom was endangered by the Turk. If the anti-popes could be removed, and one be elected in their place who should be universally recognized, the mighty torrent of Moslem invasion might be met and turned back. Such a result would crown the name of Sigismund with imperishable fame, and wipe out the shame of the defeat of Nicopolis. If we see the emperor therefore turning against the pope, to whom in part he owed his election, and who promised to be his firmest ally; if we see him using his influence to dethrone him, and afterward shutting him up for years in prison, we may be prepared to understand the policy to which such results were due. It was this which led him to attempt the reconciliation of the knights of the Teutonic Order, and the king of Poland, by whom the former in several battles had been almost entirely prostrated in the year 1410. It was with a similar purpose, as well as undoubtedly to win the glory of having restored peace to the church, that a few months later he extorted from the reluctant pope the summoning, in conjunction with himself, of the famous council of Constance.
But Sigismund’s election effectually excluded Wenzel from the imperial throne. He saw himself at once and effectually bereft of his last hope of recovering the Roman crown—the object for which he had intrigued with the council, and for which he had put forth all the energy which his feeble, irresolute, and self-indulgent nature allowed him to exert. It was no longer his interest to favor, in any special manner, the pontiff who had conspired with his brother to rob him of what he considered his hereditary right.
There were other causes, moreover, now contributing to a reaction in favor of Huss. The king, who was always the creature of circumstance, had at first accepted, or rather tolerated the papal bull. But he grew dissatisfied when he was told what streams of gold it was draining off to Rome—how the poor peasant who had no money sold his cow, till the popular genius of the country seized upon these facts and gave them expression in the street songs. He brought before him men who could testify to the truth of these things, and then dispatched them to Rome with a complaint against this traffic in indulgences. “Your dealers,” says he to the pope, “where they are offered a span, take an ell; they promise heaven to all that will yield up their gold, and preach much else little likely to promote the salvation of the faithful. But while they deceive simple minds, they heap up great stores of wealth.”
With all his faults, the king was not disposed to have his subjects abused by any but himself; and above all, he disliked to be troubled with petitions and complaints. The election of Sigismund removed the last chance for his recovery of the empire, and he had no longer any motive to treat the papal measures with any studied forbearance. In these circumstances, and with the influences of national feeling brought to bear strongly upon him, he abandoned the cause of the pope, or at least ceased to manifest any zeal in its behalf.
Second Excommunication of Huss He Withdraws from Prague
The time was at hand when Huss was specially to feel the need of the support of the king. There was no longer any hope of mercy at Rome for a man who had unscrupulously exposed the iniquity of the papacy and had sinned against its avarice. The issue of his case could not long remain doubtful. In July, 1412, John XXIII committed the matter into the hands of the cardinal, Peter de Angelis, who decided finally to confirm the excommunication of Huss. To this conclusion he had been brought in part by the representations of the priest of St. Adalbert, in New Prague, Michael of Deutschbrod, or, as he is better known, Michael de Causis. No fitter tool of malice and intrigue could be found. He had defrauded the king and fled his country, and his character was that of a knave and a profligate. We shall meet him again at the council of Constance.
The terrible bull of excommunication was launched against Huss in the summer of 1412. None might give him food or drink. None might buy of him, or sell to him. None might converse or hold intercourse with him. None might give him lodging, or allow him fire or water. Every city, village, or castle where he might reside was put under interdict. The sacraments could not be administered there. All religious worship was suspended there. If Huss persevered in his obduracy, his curse of excommunication was to be published in every parish church on every Sunday and feast day, with solemn tolling of the bells and the casting of lighted torches to the earth. If he died excommunicate, he was to be denied church burial; or, if buried in consecrated ground, his body was to be dug up again from its grave.
Nor was this all. John XXIII gave significant expression of his bitter purpose to crush the reformer, in a bull proceeding directly from himself, in virtue of which the person of Huss was to be seized and brought before the archbishop of Prague or the bishop of Leitomischel, while the Bethlehem chapel was to be torn down and leveled to the ground, that it might no longer continue a den of heretics. No wonder that Paletz now broke entirely with Huss, and turned pale before such an array of spiritual terrors; that his course was such that Huss could say, “He turned and walked backward like a crab.” A worldly prudence invited him to abandon what seemed a desperate cause.
The Germans of Prague, bitterly opposed to Huss, undertook the execution of that part of the bull which had respect to Bethlehem chapel. On one of the festivals of the church, they assembled, provided with arms, and under the lead of a certain Bohemian, Bernhart Chotek, marched toward the chapel, where they found Huss occupying the pulpit. But here their new-born zeal was suddenly cooled by the sight of the immense assembly, which, although unarmed, inspired a healthful respect.
In the city council, whither they turned back to report their failure, a bitter discussion ensued as to what should be done. The Germans, who were in the majority, held that there never would be peace till the chapel was pulled down; but they dared not take the initiative in the bold measure. The Bohemian members were too resolute in spirit, although in the minority, to allow their opponents the hope of a peaceful issue. The two parties were forced to content themselves with mutual reproaches. The church party called the chapel, in derision, “The Church of the Three Saints,” while the friends of Huss invented a new street-song to express their contempt.
The ecclesiastical authorities adhering to John XXIII endeavored to enforce the interdict. The bull of excommunication against Huss had been published, as far as possible, in all the parish churches; but he still refused to leave the city, or abandon his pulpit. Nothing remained but to attempt to drive him forth by the most extreme terrors that spiritual tyranny ever devised.
It is true that this final weapon of pontifical vengeance was not what it had been centuries before. But even now it was not rashly to be braved. It was still formidable. Kings had bowed submissive before its terrors; and although the schism of the church and the views which Huss disseminated at Prague had, in many minds, deprived it of much of its authority, it was still not lightly to be contemned. We regard it now as the outrageous stretch of papal tyranny, a monument of that intensely vindictive malice which, for the offense of an individual, doomed a whole city or kingdom to the bitterest infliction. Aided by the superstitions of men, it seemed to grasp at once the powers not only of the present life, but of the life to come. During an interdict, the churches were closed, the bells were silent, the dead were left unburied, and no rites but those of baptism and extreme unction could be performed. All the economy of social and civil life seemed struck with a palsy; the wheels of enterprise and labor stood still, waiting for the guilty to depart, or die. Some few of the clergy of Prague may have had boldness to imitate the conduct of him by whom it was imposed, when, seven years before, as tyrant of Bologna, he had defied the interdict of Gregory. The greater number, however, would be awed to obedience by the papal authority.
It was at this critical moment that Wenzel interposed. Huss, from a sense of duty, refused to abandon his post or yield to an unjust excommunication. In fact, it is doubtful whether his friends, in the circumstances, would have allowed him to depart. Heedless of the interdict themselves, they experienced but little inconvenience from it. It did not close Bethlehem chapel, or seal the lips of Huss. Indeed, the blow was more severely felt by the papal than the reform party. The priests of the former, it is true, were, for the most part, well content with a state of things that did not much molest their indolence, but the people complained.
Wenzel issued a decree enjoining upon the parish priests attendance upon their spiritual duties, in spite of the presence of Huss within the walls. Any neglect of this order should be visited by a forfeit of salary. The decree wrought wonders. It counter-worked the papal bull. The priests, many of them, returned to the discharge of their duties, although Huss still remained unmolested within the walls of the city.
Meanwhile, however, a division had sprung up in the university which threatened serious consequences. The students and masters were nearly unanimous in sustaining Huss, but the theological faculty had taken ground against him almost to a man. The faculty was composed of the doctors of theology, several of whom had been, but a year or two before, his most intimate friends or his firmest supporters. Among them were Stanislaus, Paletz, Andrew Broda, and John Elia. The time of danger had come. Stanislaus and Paletz had felt the claws of the lion. The others also had proved too timid to stand by their convictions in the hour of trial. Repeated conferences were held, but the division of sentiment was becoming more marked. Several discussions were held at Zebrak, at which Huss was present, but with no favorable issue. A controversy commenced, which is to be noted hereafter, and which continued for quite a period, between the eight doctors, or a portion of them, on one side, and Huss on the other. No Protestant reader at the present day will hesitate in his decision as to which side victory inclined.
Huss still kept his place in Bethlehem chapel, cheering the hearts and inspiring the zeal of his adherents. At this difficult and troubled moment (autumn of 1412), he received an encouraging letter from England. It was written by a Wickliffite named Richard, and spoke cheering words. Huss took it with him into the pulpit, and read it to his hearers. “See,” said he, “our dearly beloved brother Richard has written you a letter full of cheer and encouragement.” Huss replied to it “in the name of the church of Christ in Bohemia, and in the name of the church of Christ in England,” assuring its author that the king, queen, lords, knights, and common people in the cities and throughout the land, were holding fast by the true doctrine.
It was not without some scruples that Huss had continued to remain at Prague. He felt that it was perhaps wiser for him, for a time at least, to withdraw from its walls. To some extent, no doubt, the interdict was still enforced, and Huss bore it ill that any should suffer on his account. The king at length allowed, if he did not advise him to leave. There was no doubt that the cause he loved would still have able advocates. It would at least be manifest, if he withdrew, that it was not bound up in the person of one man, and was not dependent on his presence. At any moment when it seemed advisable, it was in his power to return, while the correspondence of his friends would keep him informed of whatever might occur in his absence. He therefore, toward the close of 1412, left the city, and Master Hawlik supplied his place in Bethlehem chapel.
He was not willing to depart, however, without clearly defining his position. He did not go from any regard for usurped papal authority, or unjust excommunication. On leaving the city, he drew up his third and final appeal from the sentence of the pope. His former appeals had proved vain: John XXIII had excommunicated him. But there was another court left to which he might look, and one to which popes and emperors were amenable. “Almighty God, one essence in three persons, is the first and final refuge of all who are oppressed. He is the Lord, who keepeth truth forever, doing justice for those who suffer wrong, near to those who call upon him in truth, and condemning to destruction incorrigible transgressors. Our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, surrounded by high priests, scribes, and Pharisees, his judges and their partisans, and willing to ransom by a bloody and shameful death from eternal condemnation, his children chosen from the foundation of the world, has given his disciples a noble example for committing their cause to the judgment of that God who has all power and knowledge, and who doeth whatsoever he will. Imitating his holy and great example, I appeal to God, who sees me oppressed by this unjust sentence and by the pretended excommunication of high priests, scribes, Pharisees, and judges occupying Moses’ seat. I follow likewise the example of Chrysostom, who appealed from two councils: of the blessed bishop, Andrew of Prague, and of Robert of Lincoln, who appealed with all humility and devotion to the sovereign and infinitely just Judge, who can neither be intimidated by any fear, nor corrupted by gifts, nor deceived by false testimony. I desire that all Christian believers, especially princes, barons, gentlemen, vassals, and all the inhabitants of our Bohemian kingdom, should be informed, and moved to sympathy for the pretended excommunication launched against me by Peter, Cardinal Deacon of St. Ange, commissioned to do it by Pope John XXIII, at the instigation of my enemy, Michael de Causis, and with the approval of the canons of Prague. This cardinal, for nearly two years, has utterly refused audience to my advocates and procurators, though he ought not to have refused it to a Jew, a pagan, or a heretic. This same cardinal has been unwilling to accept my reasonable excuses that I alleged for a dispensation from appearing personally before him, nor has he made any account of the authentic testimony of the university of Prague. Whence it is evident that I have not incurred the guilt of contumacy, since it is not through scorn, but for valid reasons, that I did not appear at Rome when I was cited, as, first, because my enemies would lie in ambush for me on the road; then, because the dangers of others serve me for an example; again, because my procurators are engaged to submit to the trial by fire, against whomsoever at the court of Rome; and finally, because they have imprisoned my procurators, without any reason for it, so far as I am aware. So also, as it is established by all ancient laws as well as by the sacred books of the Old and New Testaments, and by canon law, that the judges are to visit the places where the crime has been committed, and there take evidence of the facts bearing on the accusation, of persons who are acquainted with the accused, and are neither his ill-wishers nor his enemies, men who are not impelled by malice, but by zeal for the law of God; and finally, as it is ordained by the same laws, that he who is cited or accused may appear in a safe place where he may be free to defend himself, and that the judge be not one of his enemies any more than the witnesses—it is plain that, all these conditions having been wanting, I am absolved before God from the guilt of contumacy, and discharged from this pretended and frivolous excommunication. I, John Huss, present this appeal to Jesus Christ, my Master, who knows, protects, and judges the righteous cause of every individual whomsoever.”
This appeal of Huss speaks for itself. It shows us a man conscious of the wrong done him, calmly yet decidedly exposing it, and resting, in a faith which nothing could shake, on that final refuge of oppressed innocence—the justice of God. Some of his enemies objected to his appeal as unwarranted and impertinent. But no one can put himself in the circumstances of Huss, conscious of the honest integrity of his own heart, and not feel that it is the noble expression of a character and faith worthy of all honor.
Nor could it in that day be justly regarded as heresy to appeal from the pope. Urban VI was pronounced by the cardinals who elected him to be apostate, excommunicate, Antichrist, usurper, anathematized, the destroyer of Christianity. The cardinals of Gregory, but a few months before, had appealed from him to a general council. They called him a worthy co-laborer of his rival the anti-pope Benedict, his compeer in acts of violent outrage and iniquity against all Christendom. How different from the calm, unvindictive, but solemn appeal of Huss!
In the council of Constance, some years later, the declaration of the newly-elected pope, Martin V, that it was not permissible to appeal from the decision of a pope, was promptly met and sharply answered. John Gerson, ex-chancellor of the university of Paris, and a bitter enemy of Huss, could not suffer the declaration to pass in silence, or even seem to have the approval of the council. He asserts that others beside himself regarded the papal document in which it was inserted as tending to overthrow not only all the authority of the council of Pisa, but of that of Constance, and to render null all that they had done in deposing the intruding popes, or electing Martin V himself.
This declaration of the pope gave Gerson occasion for writing a treatise on the subject. He discusses the question, whether it is permissible to appeal from the judgment of the pope, and in what case. He opposes to the constitution of the pope the decree of the fifth session of the council, which makes the pope himself, as well as all others, in matters pertaining to faith, the extirpation of schism, and the reformation of the church in head and members, subject to the council. This decree Gerson supports on various grounds, some from scripture and some from reason. But the same reasons that exist for appealing from a pope to a general council equally fallible, might much better apply to an appeal from a pope or a general council to the unerring Judge, or at least to his revealed will. In the case of Huss there was no other resource. From the archbishop and the pope he appealed for the justice of his cause to the Judge of all.
But the expulsion of Huss from Prague only removed him to another sphere of action, where his influence was felt in the end as powerfully perhaps as in that city. He did not forget in his exile the principles he had avowed before the archbishop, and which had induced him to persist in preaching in Bethlehem chapel. They were equally powerful with him now. No place for him was too profane or sacred for holding forth the word of God. Throngs crowded to hear, and were curious to see, a man who had been excommunicated, yet who spoke with the earnestness and fervor of an apostle; who had been driven out of Prague by the interdict, yet whose holy and blameless life shamed his persecutors. His eloquence was as effective in the open fields as in Bethlehem chapel. Poor peasants and proud nobles gathered around him, in the forests and the highways, to hear his forcible expositions and applications of the word of God. The rector of the university of Prague left the lecture-room and the academic halls to talk to the ignorant multitudes scattered over the land. Some might think of him as of Paul, “Much learning hath made thee mad”; but it was a learning that the humblest could appreciate; a learning that consisted in a thorough acquaintance with the word of God and the duties which it enjoined. From city to city, and from village to village, Huss pursued his apostolic mission. His hearers came in crowds from their homes, fields, and workshops. The impression made was in many cases deep and abiding. Years did not efface it. When Huss afterward was enclosed by prison walls in the city of Constance, there were thousands of his Bohemian countrymen, far distant from Prague, on whose hearts his memory was deeply engraven by the experience wrought within them through the words that were uttered now.
In his treatise on the church he has presented us with the vindication of his present course. “The command that forbids me to preach is opposed to the words and example both of Christ and his apostles. Christ preached to the people on the sea, in the desert, in the open field, in houses, in synagogues, in villages, in the streets; and the apostles preached everywhere, the Lord helping them. The command, moreover, is opposed to the interests of the church, in forbidding the word to have free course. It was for these reasons,” says he, “that I appealed against the bull intended to silence me.”
Removed from the immediate neighborhood of his most virulent and violent foes, the life of Huss was one of comparative quiet. Yet thrown, as he necessarily was, among such vast and incongruous multitudes, some among them acting as the spies of his persecutors, his words were not always received with unanimous applause. On one occasion, he was speaking in severe terms of the pope and cardinals, in the castle of a certain lord, when an old man, supposed to have been a priestly spy, assuming the appearance of great simplicity, asked him what those words popes and cardinals meant in the Bohemian language, and if he had ever seen one of them. “I never have seen them, and I have no wish to see them,” said Huss. “But how comes it,” asked the old man, “that you speak such bad things of people you have never seen or examined? For myself,” said he, “I was a long time ago in Rome with my father; and I have seen the pope and some of the cardinals, and I found in them a remarkable piety.” “Very well,” replied Huss, “if they are so much to your taste, go back and spend the rest of your life with them.” The old man shaking his head, answered, “My Master, I am too old to undertake so long a journey, but do you, who are yet a young man, go and tell them to their face what you have said so comfortably of them in their absence, and you will see what answer they will give you.” The lord of the castle, who had Huss under his protection, took him away with him, and imposed silence on the intruder.
In the works of Huss are found several treatises and letters that were written during this period of his retreat. One of the latter is addressed to the cardinals. In this he sets forth to them, with much mildness and modesty, that the occasion of his misfortunes and reproach must be his apology for addressing them and John XXIII. “At the time,” says he, “when obedience was withdrawn from Gregory, and men joined themselves to the college of cardinals in order to give peace to the church, I urged this union in my preaching before the nobility, the clergy, and the people, with energy and success. But Sbynco, archbishop of Prague, then an enemy of the sacred college of cardinals, caused a prohibition to be affixed to the doors of the churches, forbidding all the doctors of the university, and me in particular, from performing any sacerdotal function, and alleging as the reason, that we had unadvisedly and wickedly abandoned Gregory. In consequence of this he was compelled, after the council of Pisa, to change his party and adhere to the decisions of the council.” After having thus set forth facts which were incontestable, he prays the cardinals to remember the promise they had made, of according protection and favor to those who should unite with them; and engages to give reasons for his faith, even at the peril of fire, before the university, all the prelates, and those who had been his hearers. He sends to them, moreover, the favorable testimony that the university of Prague had borne of him.
His letter was one well adapted to secure him favorable hearing. But there was scarcely time for its perusal before affairs took a new shape, and Huss had nothing left to hope for from the pope or cardinals.
In some of his letters he states the reasons that had led to his withdrawal from Prague, and his retreat to his native village. “I feared,” says he, “that my presence there would be the means of drawing down persecution on the faithful, and increasing the animosity and grievances of my persecutors.” “My enemies reproach me,” says he, “for having fled, but I have done so in imitation of Christ’s example, and in obedience to his precept not to abandon the truth, for which I am ready to suffer death, God helping me, but from fear of being the occasion of the eternal damnation of the wicked and the affliction of the good.” In his retreat he did not forget that example which taught him, not only when persecuted in one city to flee to another, but in all places to speak as he was able, “all the words of this life.”
It was during this retreat of Huss from Prague, that his pen was most busy. Released from the duties which occupied him in the university, and from the distractions which disturbed his mind at Prague, he had leisure for a more careful investigation and exposition of his views. This leisure he improved by the use of his pen, and in all probability he thus effected as much or more than he would have done by remaining at Prague. In the after days of his persecution, the friends that clustered around him, that remonstrated in his behalf, that were ready to take up arms and risk their lives to defend his memory, were the country lords and knights, some of whom had, doubtless, become attached to him as their teacher at the university, while others had learned to love and revere the man, as they read in their feudal castles circulating copies of treatises from his pen.
The first portion of the period during which Huss was absent from Prague was spent chiefly at the castle Kozi-Hrádek, which belonged to the lords of Astie. Here his work on the church, with the controversial treatises in its defense against Stanislaus and Paletz, was written. Much of his subsequent correspondence dates from Kozi. It was from this place that he wrote numerous letters to his fast friend, Christiann of Prachatitz, rector of the university. Subsequently the noble knight, Henry of Lazau, offered him his castle, the stronghold of Cracowec, as a place of refuge. From this, as a center, he went forth in various directions as an itinerant apostle, and tens of thousands improved the opportunity to hear the gospel from his lips.
Huss in Retirement
The popular movement at Prague in favor of reform had now begun to attract attention generally throughout Christendom. It was discussed at Paris and Oxford as well as Rome. Everywhere Huss was reputed a heretic. His enemies, and they were many, had industriously circulated the most exaggerated reports in regard to his proceedings. With most his cause was already prejudged. Undoubtedly it contributed greatly to this result that his views were everywhere identified with those of Wickliffe.
To this impression the decisions of the council of Rome, held in 1412, gave renewed strength. John XXIII was a shrewd tactician, and readily perceived the advantage which he might derive from convoking at Rome the general council which that of Pisa had declared should be held within three years. He might preside over it himself in the very capital of the Christian world, and gain the prestige over his rivals. Although its results disappointed his hopes, and a meager representation of the church attended its sessions, the popular odium attached to the doctrines of Wickliffe invited the sentence which condemned them and all who favored them as heretical. The sentence carried indeed the less weight with it, that so few of the higher dignitaries of the church gave their countenance to the council, while those who followed the allegiance of the rival pontiff found in its proceedings abundant matter fur ridicule. During its session, according to Clemengis, an owl had made its appearance in the place of convocation, and, alighting on one of the rafters, could not be dislodged by sticks and stones thrown at it by the grave fathers of the council. Great was the consternation produced by its appearance, and the assembly broke up in strange confusion. It was said by some, who relished an incident so ridiculous, that the Holy Ghost had come to attend the sessions, only he had taken the form of an owl instead of a dove. Still the decisions of the council in regard to the doctrines of Wickliffe had given them new notoriety, and the time and occasion of their condemnation aided to cast the odium of their heresy upon the proceedings of Huss. The commotions at Prague were ascribed to his teachings. The violence and insults offered to the clergy were exaggerated by report, and D’Ailly, who attended the council, testifies that he heard of them on his return from Rome, from the lips of some of the countrymen of Huss whom he fell in with on his journey. Foreign prejudice thus came to the aid of the party at Prague opposed to reform. John XXIII, moreover, wrote a letter to the king, in which, referring to the sentence of the council of Rome against Wickliffe, he urged the extermination from Bohemia of all who adhered to his doctrine.
But all these measures failed to secure their object. Huss had left Prague; but he seems, on several successive occasions, to have returned, whenever he judged that duty required or safety would permit His absence, however, only provoked and exasperated the popular feeling. His friends complained that the pope and the archbishop had forbidden the preaching of the word of God and the gospel of Christ, and, by the indulgences issued by the Roman court and sanctioned by the bishop’s consistory, sought their own selfish interests, and not those of Jesus Christ; that they took from Christ’s sheep the wool and the milk, but fed them neither with the word of God nor holy examples. They insisted, moreover, that the commands of the pope and his prelates were not to be obeyed unless they accorded with the doctrine and life of Christ and his apostles; that the laity ought to judge of the doings of the priesthood, for Peter was reprehended by Paul because he was to be blamed; and they laid down the rules by which, in any case, it might be determined whether the prelates were to be obeyed. As to papal jurisdiction, they treated it with scornful derision, pointing to the schismatic popes, each condemning the others, and condemned by them, yet unable to subject them to his obedience. In such circumstances, the processes of the papal court were powerless and nugatory. They could not be enforced at Prague. Nor did the absence of Huss help to restore quiet. It only provoked to a bolder reprehension of ecclesiastical corruption and injustice, and aggravated the popular hostility to the measures of Rome. Nor did the friends of Huss shrink from discussion with the ablest members of the opposite party. Cochleius complains that the latter were assaulted by shrewd and various questionings on the part of men who were prepared to judge of doctrine for themselves, and paid little heed to judicial (ecclesiastical) decisions.
Meanwhile Huss, in his retirement, was busy with his pen. His enemies had driven him from Prague, but they had only forced him into a new sphere of activity where his influence was to he, if possible, more widely, at least more permanently felt.
His treatise on the church is the moat elaborate and systematic of his works, and it was written at this period. The germs of it had long existed in his mind, and had been presented in his sermons in Bethlehem chapel. But he now proceeded to develop them in a more concise and connected method. It is from this work mainly that his enemies drew the materials upon which to base their charges against him; and it was of this that cardinal D’Ailly remarked, at the council of Constance, that, through an endless multitude of arguments, it attacked the papal authority, and the plenitude of the papal power, as much as the Koran did the Catholic faith.
Huss showed in this work the strong influence exerted over him by the writings of Augustine. He divides the human race into two classes, with reference to their final destiny, the elect and non-elect, or the saved and lost. The elect or predestinate, of all times, compose the one true Catholic church. Of this body Christ alone is the one and all-sufficient head. He is himself the rock, as he declared to Peter, on which he would build his church. The church is his mystic body, his bride, ransomed by his blood, that it might be blameless, without stain or wrinkle. The living who are predestinate, compose the church militant so long as they are here on earth. They strive against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Those in purgatory compose the sleeping church, and the saints in their eternal home in glory the church triumphant.
The visible church, or the church as to its eternal aspect, embraces two classes. There are those in it who are not of it, just as the human body may have its wens, excrescences, or parts superfluous. There are some who are truly predestinate, real believers, obedient to Christ. There are some who are thrust out of the visible church by the power of Antichrist, who are yet members of it. Others are nominally members, but yet are hypocrites; others still, neither in name nor reality, pertain to it.
The church, externally viewed, has in it good and bad, predestinate and reprobate, wheat and tares. Some are to be gathered to the heavenly country, others are to be burned with the fire unquenchable. The reprobate are symbolized by the foolish virgin, by the guests who refuse the invitation to the marriage, the barren tree, the worthless fishes.
Christ is the sole supreme head of the church, the true pontifix, high priest, and bishop of souls. The apostles did not call themselves the heads of the church, but servants of Christ and of the church. Even Gregory would not allow himself to be called universal bishop.
But after this came a change. Till the donation of Constantine, the bishop of Rome was but the peer of his brethren. Later emperors confirmed the donation, and the pope has since claimed to be the head of the church militant, and vicar of Christ on earth, so that, in a certain sense, the church on earth has three heads, Christ as God, Christ as incarnate, and his vicar for the time being.
But in truth the pope is no more a successor of Peter, than the cardinals are successors of the apostles. He is only to be considered Christ’s and Peter’s successor and vicar, when he resembles Peter in faith, humility, and love; and cardinals are successors of the apostles only when they emulate their virtues and devotion. But this same might be said of others who have never been popes or cardinals. St. Augustine was of more service to the church than many popes, and than all the cardinals from the beginning until now. Were not Jerome, Gregory, Ambrose, and men of that sort truer and better successors and vicars of the apostles, than the present pope with his cardinals, who, neither by a holy life, doctrine, or wisdom, enlighten the people. If, instead of fulfilling their calling, and having Christ’s example before them, they rather strive for worldly things, splendor and pomp, and excite avarice and envy in believers, then are they successors, not of Christ, of Peter, or of the apostles, but of Satan, Antichrist, Judas Iscariot.
It cannot therefore be said that the pope, as such, is the head of the church. The pope can know, in regard to himself, with absolute certainty, whether he can be saved, no more than any other man. In case he is not predestinate, he is not only not the head of the church, but not even a member of it. Peter, as Paul testifies, fell into error. Pope Leo was a heretic. All may see what pope Gregory XII is, condemned, together with his rival, at the council of Pisa.
The popedom is not essential to the well-being and edification of the church. If it is said, that for Christians spread over the whole earth there must be a pope, the must is only to be understood in the sense in which it is said in scripture, that “Offences must needs come; but woe to him by whom they come.” In the early church there were but two grades of office, deacon and presbyter; all beside are of later and of human invention. But God can bring back his church to the old pattern, just as the apostles and true priests took oversight of the church in all matters essential to its well-being, before the office of pope was introduced. So it may be again; and it were possible that there should be no more a pope till the last day. God be praised, who sent his only begotten Son to be the head of the church militant, fur he is able to preside over it, lead it, infuse into it energy and grace, even though there were no pope, or though a woman were seated in the papal chair.
As of the pope and cardinals, so of the prelates and clergy. Here, too, there is a clergy of Christ and a clergy of Antichrist. The former is built on Christ and his laws, labors constantly for the glory of God, and seeks simply to follow Christ. The latter, though wearing the robes of Christ’s clergy, rests upon privileges savoring of pride and avarice, finds itself obliged to defend human ordinances, strives after a proud, splendid equipage. Not the office makes the priest, but the priest the office. The place does not sanctify the man, but the man the place. Not every priest is a saint, but every saint is a priest. Faithful Christians keeping the commandments are the magnates of the church, but prelates who break them are least, and if reprobates, have no part in the kingdom of God. It is false to say that the laity are to depend on the prelates for what they believe. The divine mission of pope, bishop, priest, etc., is determined by the fact that he seeks not his own glory, but the glory of God; not his own advantage, but the edification and peace of the church. Hence, if an inferior does not discern in his superior a becoming conduct, he is not bound to hold him in a state of present justification, or even among the predestinate.
And as to obedience, it is the voluntary act of a reasonable creature, by which he subjects himself to the decision of those above him. Hence each subject must prove the command of his superior, whether it is permissible and to be respected. For in case it tends to the injury of the church and of souls, he must not comply with, but oppose it. Every true Christian must, hence, when a command issues to him from the pope, deliberate whence it originates—whether it is an apostolic ordinance and a law of Christ, or mediately such, and he is then to regard and honor it; but if the opposite is the case, he must not honor, but rather firmly oppose it, and not by subjection incur guilt. Opposition in such a case is true obedience.Devianti Papæ rebellare, est Christo domino obedire.
Nor is this all. “If thy brother sin against thee, rebuke him.” If spiritual superiors err in life and conduct, the laity may chide them; and if it is ill-endured, and the question is asked, How come you to judge us? the laity may reply, How does it happen that you seek alms and tithes of us?
The power of the keys, that is, the power to receive the worthy, and reject the unworthy, belongs to God alone, who ordains salvation, or foreknows perdition. The priest has no power to release from guilt and eternal punishment; the pope even has not this power; then would he be sinless and infallible, but this belongs to God only. The priest has only the churchly office of declaring (ministerium denuncitionis), not of binding or loosing, unless this is already done of God. And God is governed, not by the human sentence of loosing or binding, but the absolution must follow the grace of God and the sinner’s repentance. Intellectual knowledge is not essential to the soul’s salvation, but true contrition and confession of the heart.
Such in substance were the main positions taken by Huss, in this the most able and systematic of his writings. Cochleius confesses the remarkable ability displayed in its production. He saw, more clearly perhaps than Huss himself, the broad scope and the full bearing of the argument. It reduced the whole cumbrous mass of the dominant hierarchy to a heap of rubbish. It annihilated papal authority. It made the simple priest the peer of the pope. It dissipated at once the arrogant pretensions of the church of Rome. It made the faith that works by love, and not organic connection with the hierarchy, the condition of membership in the spiritual church of Christ. It stripped the priesthood of that superstitious terror with which they were invested, as the sole dispensers of salvation. It made the simple layman, if a true believer, a king and priest unto God. All human distinctions of rank and office were seen to shrink into insignificance before the ennobling relation which the humblest member of Christ might sustain to him as the great head of the church. Excommunication, and all the fulminations of papal authority, if unjust, or in conflict with the law of Christ, became, ipso facto, null and void.
Here was a basis for the most sweeping reforms. Huss had reached a point where he could not logically pause. He was evidently unaware of the radical divergence of his own views from those of the dominant hierarchy. He was in spirit a Protestant—a Puritan—before these terms were known. And yet he held fast to certain so-called Catholic dogmas—confession, purgatory, transubstantiation, etc.—and really believed himself, rightfully, a member still of the church that had cast him out.
But the church party, with men like Paletz and Stanislaus at its head, were not blind to the logical consequences that followed from the fundamental principle of the argument of Huss, and against this, the sole and supreme authority of scripture, they directed their attacks. The treatise of Huss opened the field for controversy. It gave precision to the views of the party he represented, and exasperated their opponents. The dividing lines were more closely drawn, and the mutual repulsion and antagonism were aggravated. The treatise of Huss was attacked by the doctors, and he was prompt to repel the attack. Each new collision brought the combatants back to this old battleground. The real question at issue was between the authority of the pope and the authority of the scripture.
The treatise of Huss bore, in a very obvious manner, upon the important question now agitated in his absence at Prague—the validity of his excommunication. The friends of the papacy were strenuous in defending it, while those who adhered to Huss were equally zealous in its refutation. The former maintained that Huss, as excommunicate, had no longer the right or authority to preach, and they insisted and urged that he should be silenced. They asserted that he was not at liberty to disregard or contemn the papal sentence. It was enough that that sentence had been pronounced.
But it so happened that the excommunication of Huss was subsequently extended to embrace persons who had adopted his views, and who never had been brought to trial or heard in their own defense. A new phase was thus given to the question of the validity of the papal sentence, which those who impugned it were not slow to perceive. If excommunication was unjust in one instance, it might be in another. The pope was no longer infallible. His decisions might be called in question, and it mattered little what the merits of the case of Huss might be, if the author of his excommunication was shown to have committed a gross blunder as well as gross injustice. Jessenitz, a preacher at Prague, and one of the procurators of Huss at Rome, took up the matter, and argued the nullity of the sentence on principles which were evidently in advance of the age, and which, however consonant to justice, were utterly repudiated by the papal party. And yet, the most enlightened and able members of the Catholic church—some most bitterly prejudiced against Huss—might be cited in defense of his view of excommunication. The royal court of France had but recently declared the excommunications of Benedict to be no longer binding, and, even at the ensuing council of Constance, the French ambassadors maintained that the fulminations, sentences, and censures pronounced against those who refused the payment of annates, were not to be feared, nor did those against whom they had been directed need to be absolved. Gerson himself had written but a few months previous, “We ought not to be compelled to obey those whose conduct is notoriously vile, and scandalizes the whole church. … If we should withdraw ourselves from every brother who walketh disorderly, how much more from a perverse and unjust superior, by whose example the commonwealth is corrupted and the church disgraced.” If Huss appealed moreover to a council, then from the treatise of D’Ailly “On the Difficulty of Reform,” he might have drawn abundant materials, equally pertinent in defense of his cause. That able writer had maintained, just after the close of the Pisan council, that in authority, dignity, and official superintendence, a pope is subject to a general council representing the universal church. Their decisions were like the gospel of Christ. The pope could not change or disperse with them, for over them he bad no jurisdiction. He held, moreover, that the pope as a man might sin, might err. And what else is he but human? “Man of men, clay of clay, a sinner, and peccable; two days before, the son of a poor rustic.” He is not above the gospel—then his authority would be greater than Christ’s, and could not be derived from him as its source. Of the church Catholic, moreover, the pope is not the head, but Christ only. Surely, with such authorities upon his side, Huss might well venture the lists with any of his antagonists, for the church of that age could not boast two abler champions than Gerson and D’Ailly.
But to such authority Huss did not appeal. W e find no trace in his writings to show that he was even acquainted with the writings of the Paris theologians. It was to the gospel—to scripture alone—that he looked for the warrant and sanction of his course. Here, indeed, was the strength of his cause. The plain common-sense of the citizens of Prague could not comprehend the force or conclusiveness of that logic which placed the decisions of men, or even the decretals of the popes, on a level with, much more above, the plain doctrine of the word of God. At every step in their arguments, the papal party were met by some troublesome citation from scripture, some plain and direct declaration, which could be met by no visionary theory or scholastic subtlety. So far had the simplicity of scriptural doctrine and worship prevailed, that ecclesiastical decisions and sacerdotal authority were utterly powerless, unless they could allege in their favor some indisputable evidence from the sacred writings.
It was indeed to be expected that in such a state of things occasional acts of violence should occur. The cupidity and impudence of those who favored the cause of indulgences, especially of those who trafficked in them, afforded a standing provocation to a populace not all of whom were capable of the same self-restraint. Stephen of Dola, in his controversial writings, complains of those whom he describes as missionaries of Huss, and, curiously enough, recounts the results of their labors in the same language which Christ employed when he foretold the divisions that should arise from his teachings. The scriptural knowledge of the people and their increased intelligence, as well as jealousy of the clergy, led them to look with deep indignation upon those ecclesiastical impositions, the manifest and perhaps sole object of which was to rob them of their money. When Gerson could speak as he did on the subject of indulgences, and expose the futility of so many Ave Marias before an image, it is not surprising that men, who had studied the subject only in the light of the gospel, should resent the claims of the papal agents as an insult to reason itself. And with all this intelligent resistance to the usurpation of human cupidity, there was often joined much of that party zeal which must necessarily spring up where a community is arrayed in opposing sections. Huss expressly disowns and condemns the conduct of some of his followers, who resorted to the low and disgraceful measure of applying to their antagonists abusive epithets. Three years before, the conduct of Sbynco had been such that it was impossible to restrain that popular contempt for him and his course, which had found expression in derisive songs and ballads sung along the streets; and, notwithstanding the decree of the king and the influence of Huss to the contrary, ballads of a similar character, directed against the priests of the papal party, were still in common use. The monks, as they passed along the streets, were sometimes insulted and hooted at by the promiscuous crowds of men and boys, who regarded them with any other feelings than those of reverence or respect. That popular odium against them which in England had made the words of Wickliffe so effective, was equally strong at Prague, where they were scorned for their vices and hated for their impudence. “Go, lay off your cowls; thresh in the barns; get you wives; go to work farming”; such were the greetings which they received from the populace as they passed by.
On one occasion a friar was sitting with his relics in the church of the Carmelites, exhibiting his treasures and begging for money for the building of a church, when one of the disciples of Huss came up. In somewhat rude phrase he demanded of the mendicant, “What are you about here, friar?” “Seeking alms, while I exhibit my relics,” was the reply. “You speak false,” said the disciple of Huss, “if you call these the relics of saints. You keep here the bones of dead carcasses, and deceive Christians by your greedy begging.” Suiting the action to the word, he kicked over the table on which the relics lay, and tumbled them to the earth. The friar caught the offender, put him under arrest, and had him called upon to answer the charge against him, when the prisoner’s friends learning what had taken place, assembled in large number, deeply indignant, and armed for the rescue. The residence of the friars, probably not without a good degree of resistance both by the arm and tongue, was sacked and ravaged, and the poor mendicants, after revilings and beatings, were left to mend their broken relics.
That similar scenes not unfrequently occurred, is most probable. Among the charges brought against Jerome at the council of Constance, are some which imply that his conduct in this respect had been far from unexceptionable. Some of these are denied; but the evidence is strong, if not decisive, in regard to his course on the reception of the papal bulls for the crusade. On another occasion he is said to have thrown a priest into the Moldau, who, but for timely aid, would have been drowned. But such violence was bitterly provoked. The burning of the books by Sbynco, the execution of the three men for asserting the falsehood of the indulgences, the excommunication of Huss, to say nothing of the course pursued by his assailants, had excited a strong feeling against the patrons of papal fraud and ecclesiastical corruption. We are only surprised that the deep resentment felt was confined in its expression within such limits.
Among the antagonists of Huss were four men who had been numbered among his most intimate friends. These were Stanislaus of Znoyma, his former teacher, Stephen, prior of Dola, Stephen Paletz, and Andrew Broda, the two latter once his fellow-students, sharers of his table and his bed. Broda deserted him from the moment that he was excommunicated, but he still corresponded with him by letter, in the hope of inducing him to return again, as he phrased it, to the unity of the church. A man of kindly disposition, but of no remarkable ability, and terrified at the very name of papal fulmination. Broda shrunk from Huss as from the touch of leprosy, yet still addressed him in terms dictated by the memories of former intercourse and affection. Stephen of Dola, however, was less scrupulous. His first assault upon Huss was under cover of an attack against the articles of Wickliffe. He calls the English reformer, “Thou son, not of man, but the devil,” and asks, “Why do you love vanity and seek after a lie?” As he proceeds his vocabulary of abuse is enlarged, and he speaks of him as “a tricky fox with deep holes,” “a worse traitor than Judas.” He arraigns Wickliffe for maintaining that the decretals are apocryphal, and that the clergy who waste time in their study are fools, while papal and episcopal indulgences are warmly defended.
That Huss felt that the treatise was aimed at him is manifest from his letter to the monks of Dola, where the author of the work had been prior, before his removal to Olmutz. This letter is inserted by Stephen in his preface to his “Anti-Hussus,” in which he throws off the mask and comes out boldly against Huss himself. In this letter Huss complains of Stephen for the slanders which he had uttered against himself and others. He was unwilling to be so fully identified with Wickliffe. “Though Wickliffe or an angel from heaven, taught otherwise than scripture teaches, I would not follow him—my heart abhors the errors ascribed to me.” Such is his language. As to his disregard of excommunication, he claims that he has not shown contempt for any just authority. “I disobey,” he says, “the de-ordination of my superiors, because scripture teaches me to obey God rather than man. The apostles preached Jesus Christ when forbidden by the chief priests.” After giving his reasons for non-compliance with the papal citation, he cautions his antagonist how he judges others.
But Stephen, in his reply, seems to pay small heed to such wise counsel. He begins his treatise by a play upon Huss’ name, bidding him beware lest he fly too high and scorch his wings. He charges him with having made his pulpit, in Bethlehem church, a chair not of preaching, but of prevarication. His temple was turned into an ensnaring den of Wickliffites, where he spoke against his fathers and brethren and the common pastor of the church, to the grave scandal of the people. A just sentence had, therefore, overtaken him. It was but right that, by the force of the interdict, he should be made a vagabond, driven from place to place to conceal himself. But the great crime of Huss, in the eyes of Stephen, was his contempt for ecclesiastical authority. The evils that had followed his teachings were frightful, in the view of his accuser. “So far has Huss prevailed,” says Stephen, “that I have heard and understood that many of the laity say, ‘What so great need is there that we should confess to a mortal man, when with contrite heart we confess to the high Priest, God Almighty, alone?’”
To this treatise of the monk of Dola, Huss replied. The issue was such that the author found little encouragement to renew the attack in a direct planner. In his “Dialogus Volatilis,” addressed to the bishop of Leitomischel, he takes occasion again to reprehend the course of Huss, complaining mainly of his disobedience and disregard of the sentence of excommunication.
It is not difficult, from the knowledge of the course of Paletz, and his former relations, and subsequent treatment of Huss, to divine some at least of the motives that incited him to assail a former friend and companion. Huss and Paletz were both men of marked ability, and, to a considerable extent, their aims had harmonized. But when Huss braved the fulminations of the papal court, Paletz, whose convictions on the subject in dispute were the same with those of his associate, shrunk back with a craven fear. It was now that, jealousy of his rival’s influence gave a sting to the malice of his treachery. Stephen of Dola had dilated upon the large salary which Huss received, and Paletz, probably judging from after-disclosures at the council of Constance, shared the same feelings. Moreover, having committed himself to a cause which demanded first of all the sacrifice of conscience, the pride of Paletz forbade his withdrawal from a conflict which he had himself challenged. Henceforth with him it was war, without truce or compromise, till one or the other was forced to submission.
Meanwhile the enemies of Huss at Prague and in the university were not idle. Conrad, who had acted as administrator of the archiepiscopal office, and who now, in name as well as in reality, was archbishop of Prague, was a man of a different temper from his predecessor Sbynco. Less rash and hasty, he proceeded in his measures with a cautious deliberation. He sent to the university of Paris to procure an authentic copy of the counsel which they had given to his predecessor in regard to the steps to be taken for extirpating heresy from Bohemia. This counsel, notwithstanding the schism, and the liberality of the Paris theologians, was after the most approved pattern of church orthodoxy. It directed that the doctors and masters of the university should be assembled by the archbishop along with his clergy at his palace, and that each should be required to declare, under oath, that he neither holds nor wishes to maintain any of the forty-five articles of Wickliffe; that in regard to relics, indulgences, and the ceremonies, customs, and censures of the church, he believes as the church believes of which the pope is the head, and the cardinals, the manifest successors of the apostles, are the body; that each should profess obedience to the Roman See; and that it should be announced to all the members of the university that no one should maintain any of the forty-five articles, under pain of anathema, or banishment from the kingdom. These measures were, moreover, to be published throughout the diocese, and anyone who transgressed should be proceeded against according to canonical sanctions. The derisive songs which were sung in the streets and taverns were to be suppressed, and Huss was not to be allowed to preach until he had obtained absolution from the court of Rome.
This counsel of the university of Paris was submitted by the archbishop to a synod, summoned to meet at Bomischbrod, but afterwards transferred to Prague. Huss, aware of the proposed measure, came with a “counsel” of his own, which he was prepared to lay before them. “For the honor of God, the salvation of the people, the good name of Bohemia and Moravia, as well as of Prague and the university, and for the restoration of peace and unity”—such was the object, according to Huss, to be promoted by the measures he proposed. These were, that the former edict of conciliation between the archbishop and the barons and Huss should be solemnly confirmed; that Bohemia should be allowed to retain its rights, liberties, and privileges, in the same manner with other kingdoms; that Huss, against whom Sbynco had brought no charge when he consented to the compromise, should be present to meet any charges whenever they were made, and that none should be allowed to make any which he was not prepared to substantiate, under pain of a sentence such as his charge against Huss implied; that public notice should be given that any who wished to accuse Huss should inscribe their names upon the archbishop’s chancellor’s book; that such as spread reports that were merely slanderous, should be punished; that the doctors of theology and of canon law should be required, if they knew of any heretic, to name him, and if they should say they knew of none, should be forbidden, under penalties, to circulate charges of heresy; that in case this was done, a deputation should be sent to the Roman court to vindicate the fair name and honor of the kingdom; and that for the present the interdict should not be enforced, notwithstanding the presence of Huss.
But Paletz and Stanislaus, in the name of other masters of the theological faculty, had their “counsel” to present. As the king and barons had directed an investigation of the causes of the troubles, they proposed to point them out. In their view, they were threefold, viz: the opposition made to the condemnation of Wickliffe’s articles; the contempt shown the pope and cardinals, as well as their authority, by appeals to Holy Scripture as their judge, while the appellants interpret it as they please; and the general disregard of ecclesiastical authority, both that of prelates and of the Apostolic See, by inferiors. The doctors held that the clergy were not to judge of the validity or justice of the excommunication of Huss, and that consequently, accepting it, they must observe the interdict. Papal and prelatical authority was exalted above that of the scriptures. The doctors would have it enjoined, under severe penalties, that no one in Bohemia should hold or teach other than as the Romish church holds and teaches; and, in case any should offend by speaking in favor of Wickliffe’s articles, or resisting the ecclesiastical authority, he should be given over for judgment to the ecclesiastical courts, or, in case this did not avail, to the secular arm. The excommunication of Huss, without any discussion of its justice or injustice, was to be accounted valid in virtue of the authority of the Apostolic See.
The theological faculty also presented a separate “counsel.” It agreed mainly with that of Paletz and Stanislaus. It proposed, however, a meeting of all the doctors and masters of the university at the archbishop’s palace, where each should be required, under solemn oath, to declare that he accepted none of Wickliffe’s forty-five articles as true; that, as to the seven sacraments and all matters of faith, he believed in accordance with the Romish church, whose head is the pope and whose body is the college of cardinals; and that he recognized the duty of obedience to the Apostolic See and the prelates of the church. This oath was to be required of all, under penalty of excommunication and banishment. The archbishop also was to summon a synod, and by it enjoin that no error should be preached throughout the land. And as to Huss, he should be utterly forbidden to preach till he had received absolution from the pope; nor was he any longer to be allowed, by his secret presence in Prague, to put obstacles in the way of the observance of the divine offices.
With such diverse counsels before it, it was impossible for the convocation to effect a compromise. The position of Huss was utterly irreconcilable with that of the doctor, and the archbishop was at a loss what course to pursue. He had not the Quixotic zeal that would lead him to repeat the blunders of his predecessor, or tilt at the shadow of heresy at the risk of his position, as well as honor and peace. He sent, therefore, the various “counsels,” including that of Huss as well as those of the universities of Paris and Prague, to the martial bishop of Leitomischel—”John the Iron,” as he was most appropriately called—asking his advice. The stern prelate—whom we again meet at the council of Constance—more fitted both by taste and experience to wield the sword than the crosier, was most ferociously orthodox. He was opposed to all compromise, and favored the execution, to the letter, of the “counsel” of the university of Paris. His advice was that the vice-chancellor should take careful supervision of the masters and students of the university, investigating and correcting their errors; that, as the controversies which found place among them were ventilated among the people by the public preaching from the pulpit, care should he taken that Huss and his followers should be silenced—especially were they to be excluded from Bethlehem chapel; that the papal mandates on the subject should be enforced, and that heretical books, and those who owned or read them, should be anathematized. The bishop then attempts to refute the counsel of Huss, and closes by exhorting archbishop Conrad to a zealous prosecution of measures for extirpating heresy from Bohemia.
The synod had met February 6, 1413. The bishop’s letter dates four days later, February 10, so that his response must have been prompt at least. But there was yet another who was to take part in the discussion. This was Jacobel, or James of Misa, a friend of Huss. Whether his views were presented at the synod, or subsequently, as in the case of the bishop, is somewhat uncertain. It appears probable, however, that they were urged before the synod.
The object of the convocation was a compromise that should promote peace. “But,” inquired Jacobel, “what sort of a peace is meant? Is it peace with the world, or peace with God? If the latter, it could be secured only by keeping the divine commandments. The very origin of the strife was in the unholy and violent resistance offered to those who wished to establish this peace. Without it, moreover, the peace of the world would be of no avail; but let it be first secured, and the other would follow of itself.”
Whether in consequence of this discussion or not, Wenzel was led to issue a decree which seemed intended for the support of the ecclesiastical authorities, although he advised the doctors to refute error by arguments rather than by edicts. The decree, however, was publicly proclaimed in the council-house of the city. But it was evidently designed more to keep up appearances, than to throw any obstruction in the way of the friends of Huss. Indeed, viewed in this light, it was but a dam of straw thrown across the tide of popular feeling. It was impossible that the decree should be enforced. Nor was it long before a refutation of the positions taken by the doctors appeared. Two of the procurators of Huss, who had answered his citation at the Roman court, John of Jessenitz, and Frederic Epinge, the first a doctor, and the last a bachelor of canon law, had already come forward publicly in his defense, and this defense overthrew the main points on which the doctors based their conclusions. To this Huss refers the doctors. Jessenitz had shown that no prelate should excommunicate anyone, unless he knows that he is first excommunicate of God; and in several respects had argued the nullity of Huss’ sentence. But Huss himself went further. He reprehends those excommunications which are unjustly prelatic, or rather Pilatic, and maintains that the curse of the wicked is rather a benediction. The scriptural knowledge that had already become diffused among the people, enabled them to vindicate this view of the matter, and meet even the doctors with arguments not easy to be confuted. In vain were the decretals cited, or the authority of the church adduced. “Laity, butchers, shoemakers, tailors, and humble mechanics,” says Stephen of Dola, “rise up proudly, and contemn authority.” Cochleius has preserved a brief summary of the arguments employed by the Hussite party to refute the doctor. As to the first cause of the troubles, they deny utterly the truth of the charge that the nation generally are heretical, and denominate the imputation of erroneous views in regard to the sacraments a mere slander. They hold, that not the pope and his cardinals, but that all priests and bishops are successors of the apostles. The head of the church is not the pope, but Christ. The body is not the cardinals, but all believers. Such is the testimony of scripture and of the fathers. They deny, moreover, the competent authority, on the part of bishops and archbishops, for condemning the articles of Wickliffe. These were substantially the views presented by Huss in his work on the church.
As to the second cause of discord urged by the doctors, Huss himself refers to the schismatic state of the church, divided under the allegiance of three several popes, and shows how futile the effort to obtain from them decisions of doubtful questions, in regard to which they could not agree, and especially if these should be found contrary to the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, from which the fathers themselves deduced their authority. Besides, he remarks how the doctors stultify themselves in citing scripture (Deuteronomy 17), to show that not Scripture, but the prelates are to decide doubtful questions. He appeals to scripture for the support of his position, yet they make the pope supreme. As to the place where the decision is to be solicited in accordance with the passage cited from Deuteronomy—why is it to be sought at Bologna, Perusia, or Avignon, where the pope resides, rather than at Jerusalem, Antioch, or Rome? The doctors, moreover, had asserted that the pope was in all things to be obeyed. This was putting a contempt upon the Holy Scriptures and the sacred canons; for some popes had been heretical, and one was a woman, and these not only should not be obeyed, but should not be communed with or favored—so at least the rubrics and canons taught. The true causes of the troubles in Bohemia are traced to the preaching of the gospel, with the reproofs and admonitions of which the clergy are enraged, on account of the exposure which is thus made of their simony and heretical practices.
As to the argument of the doctors that the excommunication of Huss was to be considered valid because the papal mandates to that effect had been issued and had been generally received, the same argument might be employed to show that because Adam and Eve complied with the temptations of the devil, and obeyed him, therefore their descendants should do the same; or that, inasmuch as our fathers were pagans, we should have remained pagan still. Besides, various reasons might be adduced to show that the sentence against Huss was null and void.
But the doctors were not content even yet to let the matter rest. To the arguments of Huss they make a lengthy and minute reply. They do not hesitate to maintain, in an almost unqualified manner, the most objectionable of their former doctrine, although upon some points they could not agree among themselves. Huss shows, in his reply to them, how Paletz and Stanislaus could not accord on the subject of the headship of the church. Paletz, however, seems to have been supported by most of the other six doctors, and to have carried the day over the more enlightened and scriptural views of Stanislaus. A large part of the argument is taken up in showing that the headship of the church is in the pope, and in reducing the authority of scripture to a minimum, while that of the prelates and the pope and cardinals is exalted above all other authority on earth. They maintain that so long as it could not manifestly be known or shown that John XXIII was a heretic, his commands were to be obeyed. Could they have looked forward to the trial and deposition of that pontiff two years later, they would probably have modified or kept back that proposition.
These views were urged in behalf of others more obscure, by eight doctors, of whom Paletz, Stanislaus, and Andrew Broda are the most prominent. The names of the others were Peter de Ikoyma, John Elia, John Hildesis, Matthew the monk, and Herman the Eremite; beside whom, we find the names of George Bota and Simon Wenda mentioned. All of these no doubt sympathized together in the general opposition to the reform party, but as the reply of Huss is denominated “The Refutation of the Eight Theological Doctors,” it is most probable that only eight of them appended their names to the document. Notwithstanding their united effort, Huss did not shrink from the encounter to which they had thus challenged him. In the most merciless manner he exposes the inconsistency of their positions, and quotes them—as his knowledge of their former views enabled him to do—against themselves. But it was scarcely needed that Huss should throw his pen into the scale, to determine how it should preponderate. The argument of the doctors had only exposed the weakness of a cause which their united ability could not even render plausible. Some of their statements were so evidently subversive of the whole doctrine of scriptural Christianity, that the only choice left was between the word of God and the decretals or constitutions of the popes. It was in vain that the doctors attempted to recommend the latter. Popular opinion spurned such counsel. The reasons given for this by Cochleius are, that the followers of Huss were loud in their demand for the reform of the clergy, “whose vices, as simony, concubinage, avarice, luxury, and worldly pride, they accused with bitterness in their frequent sermons and harangues to the people,” and that for this the laity encouraged and sustained them. It is evident, therefore, that in the popular conviction there must have been a large basis of truth at the bottom of the charges.
It must now have become evident to the archbishop that to adopt the counsel which the university of Paris had extended to his predecessor was no longer practicable. The reform party had become too numerous and powerful to be thus summarily dealt with. There was a prospect that the conflict would be more bitterly renewed, and the king felt that it was time for him to interpose. The synod had accomplished nothing. No compromise could be effected by it. The king therefore tried another expedient. He appointed a commission, consisting of the archbishop, the Vissehrad dean, Jacob, the provost of All-Saints, Zdenek of Labaun, and Christiann of Prachatitz, rector of the university, as well as a fast friend of Huss. The two parties were bound, under penalty of fine and banishment, to abide by the decision of this commission. For two days both parties were heard, but agreement was impossible. Four doctors entered their protest and withdrew from the conference. The king, exasperated at their course, banished them. Shortly after, the party suffered another defeat. The German element had hitherto predominated in the city council; but at this juncture, one of its members, for some cause, was executed. The king, by new appointments, gave the Bohemians the ascendency.
Nor was this all. The king followed up the matter by measures for reforming the clergy. He kept back the salary of unworthy priests, and thus practically adopted one of the principles for which Huss had contended, namely, that the secular power is authorized to resort to forcible measures, and the control of the temporalities of the church, for the reform of clerical corruption. This step of the king was decisive in securing the predominance of the reform party. It struck terror into the ranks of its opponents. The priests who had opposed Huss were less anxious to see the sentence against him executed than to retain their salaries. A thousand eyes were watching them; a thousand witnesses were ready to testify against them, whenever they rendered themselves obnoxious to the cause of reform. Rather than be harassed by frequent accusations and constant risk, some of them openly joined the party which they had opposed, and others, for the time at least, were constrained to moderation, if not to silence. The abandonment of the papal cause, in many cases no doubt, was a cover to past delinquencies, so that the very vices and excesses of the clergy were forced for the time being to strengthen the cause which had been hitherto an object of mortal hatred. It was no longer dangerous for Huss to visit Prague. His enemies did not dare to molest him, and he might safely challenge his accusers to present their charges.
During the period of these discussions, which continued from the time of the publication of the crusade to the spring of 1414, it is difficult to trace the course of Huss except from his writings. That he was during a portion of the time absent from Prague, is evident from his letters. That he frequently returned, or was present in Prague, in spite of the interdict, is attested not only by the royal decree which required the priests to perform the divine offices as usual, notwithstanding the presence of Huss, but from the writings of Paletz and of Broda. According to the latter, Huss boasted that he walked openly in the city and in the sight of all, and yet the interdict was disregarded. The only reply which Broda can make is that his presence was not always known, and that he was in fact seen by very few. It was therefore the ignorance of the clergy as to the presence of Huss—so he would represent—which led them to continue in the discharge of their duties.
Yet, if not in the city, he was at least not far distant. The demand which was made by his friends, that in case accusations were presented against him he should be allowed to be present and confront his accusers, would seem to imply this. But after the royal measures taken upon the subject of clerical reform, in the summer and autumn of the year 1413, most of the difficulties which drove him from the city would be removed. Opposition was for the most part silenced, and Huss was at liberty to return to Prague. In these circumstances, his enemies found themselves disappointed and defeated. Huss openly disregarded the papal sentence; while many questioned even whether any had ever been pronounced against him. The interdict was a mere nullity. Those who had sought to enforce it, cringed as suppliants of the royal favor and bounty. They were no longer the bold accusers, but trembled at the charges to which on every side they were exposed. There was now occasion for Huss in his turn to exult, if he had been so disposed. The humiliation of his enemies was in fact so ludicrous in some of its aspects, that he could not but refer to it. With Wickliffe, he had accounted tithes mere alms, or voluntary grants, and as such they might be withheld if the neglect or vice of the ecclesiastics furnished occasion. His enemies had virulently assailed a position so fatal to the security and integrity of their gains, nor did they spare its author in the venom of their malice. Now they came to the town hall to present their petitions for their tithes. “Ah!” said the lords, “you said before that tithes were not purely alms; but you assert now that they are, and so condemn yourselves.” Huss noticed this absurd course of the clergy. “I wonder,” says he, with stinging sarcasm, “I wonder that the doctors do not now teach in the town hall the putting into execution of that article on the withholding of temporalities from the delinquent clergy by the secular lords! Now, like the chief priests and Pharisees, they are silent; they no more assemble to condemn that article. Surely, what they feared has come upon them, and will come again. For they will lose their temporalities, but God grant that they may save their souls! The doctors said that if the articles were condemned, there would be peace and concord; but their prophecy has turned out the reverse. They were exultant in the condemnation, but now they mourn as they give up their salaries. They condemned the article that tithes were alms; now they beg that their salaries, which are alms, may not be taken away.”
Resistance to Huss was no longer offered. Only Paletz and Broda still kept up the controversy by their letters, reproaching Huss mainly for his contumacy, and for what they denominated his slanders against the clergy.
For several months affairs remained quiet at Prague. The adherents of Huss were no longer molested, and the heat of controversy died away. The archbishop seemed to have given up all thought of any further proceedings against Huss. Meanwhile the cause of reform steadily advanced. Its adherents, in their study of the scriptures, were attaining views more and more evangelical. They were publicly known as the evangelical party. Huss no longer approved of the worship of a wooden cross. He condemned the adoration paid to the pictures of the saints in the churches. On the subject of confession he appeals to Chrysostom as sustaining him in his teachings upon that subject. “I do not bid you present yourselves in public, or accuse yourselves before others; I only wish you to obey the prophet where he says, Lay your way open before the Lord, confess your sins to the true judge, declare your faults, not with the tongue, but the conscience, and then hope to obtain mercy.”
The seed which Huss had sown was ripening to its harvest. Many had adopted his views, and with a zeal equal to his own, though not always as discreet, disseminated them abroad. Even while the measures for the reform of the clergy had not yet been adopted, the adherents of Huss had been active and diligent in their work. “You send your messenger,” says Stephen of Dola, “everywhere, to nobles, soldiers, common people, women.” The present period allowed them larger and freer scope for their labors They quoted scripture largely in defense of their course. The word of God, they maintained, should not be bound. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel.” This was the commission which furnished them their warrant. “If persecuted in one city, flee ye into another,” justified them in shunning dangers which they did not feel called to meet. Things done in secret they were ready “to proclaim upon the housetops,” and if it was objected to them that they were violating ecclesiastical ordinances, they were ready with the reply, “It is better to obey God than man.” Such was the method and justification of the missionaries which Huss sent out, according to Stephen. The evangelical party was manifestly in the ascendant. Bohemia might almost be considered as hopelessly lost to the church. Something must be done to check the spreading heresy. But there was no hope in the king; he could not be relied on, but was rather amused with the complaints of the clergy. There was no hope in the barons; they strongly sympathized with Huss. There was no hope in the archbishop; even now there may have been ground to suspect the orthodoxy of his intentions in regard to rooting out heretical views. The university was already lost to the church party. Help, if any was to be found, must come from abroad. There was a conviction becoming deeper and more general on every side, among the papal party, that Huss could only be managed, and his heresy restrained, by a general council. Might not one be convoked?
This was a question not only agitated in Bohemia, but all over Europe. There were many reasons which conspired to urge its convocation. The scandalous condition of Christendom, divided in allegiance to three rival pontiffs was a problem which, by general consent, demanded the assembled wisdom of the church for its solution. There was, moreover, on all sides a loud demand for ecclesiastical reform. How could measures which had this for their object be initiated, except by the action of a general council?
There were, indeed, other reasons for such a convocation, which rested upon the emperor’s mind with peculiar weight. His hereditary kingdom of Hungary was peculiarly exposed to Moslem invasion. Already he had experienced the effects of the power, valor, and fanatical energy of his terrible neighbors. In the fearful battle of Nicopolis (1396) an army of 100,000 men, drawn from every part of Europe, and among whom were some of the highest nobility of France, had been routed in utter and almost annihilating defeat. Yet it had been their proud boast that if the sky should fall they would uphold it upon their lances. Few escaped from the field of battle, and for these, enormous ransoms were demanded. Sigismund himself experienced great difficulty and danger in attempting to return to Hungary, which he only reached after a twelve-month absence, and even then to find in Ladislaus of Naples a dangerous competitor for his crown. The danger to Europe was indeed menacing. The Eastern empire could only serve as a temporary barrier to the flashing vengeance of Ilderim, or the lightning, as Bajazet, the Turkish sultan, was called. It might well be that he would soon execute his exultant threat of marching to Rome, and feeding his horse with a bushel of oats upon the altar of St. Peter. But an attack of the gout accomplished what armies were weak to achieve. It stayed the day of Moslem vengeance, and granted Europe a brief reprieve. Meanwhile the weak emperor of the East made his way to the Western courts supplicating aid. None could be afforded; but help was to come from another source. A strange ally appeared, invited by the diplomacy of the Eastern empire and the negotiations of Christian monarchs. It was the victorious Tamerlane—the Napoleon of his age—whose ambition had already grasped the larger part of Asia, and could brook no rival empire. More than 1,000,000 men met on the battlefield of Angoura, in Natolia (July 26th, 1402), and Tamerlane was victorious. His victim, the sultan, is said to have dashed out his brains against the bars of the iron cage in which he was confined and exhibited by his conqueror.
But the danger had only been deferred. A few years passed, and the Turkish power again assumed a threatening aspect. Sigismund had peculiar reason to beware of its invasions. Yet how could he hope to meet the tide and roll it back, unless he could receive the united support of Christendom? But the prospects of such support, while the church was rent by schism and the nations were arrayed against one another, or rent by internal dissensions, was dark and dubious. The troubles and discords of Bohemia, moreover, required attention, and the emperor was not unmindful of the glory which he might secure as guardian of the church in defending her against foes within as well as without.
All these motives and considerations conspired to enforce the policy of convoking a council. The demand for it came from diverse and distant quarters. By the persuasions of the emperor—persuasions pointed with threats and terror—John XXIII reluctantly consented to join the emperor in taking measures for its convocation. It was to meet at Constance, an imperial city, on the third day of October, 1414. Huss was cited to appear before it and answer the charges to be brought against him. The emperor directed Wenzel to see that Huss was escorted thither properly attended.
Sermons, Doctrines, and Letters of Huss
The course of Huss had made him many enemies beyond the limits of Bohemia. The Germans were enraged at the part he had taken in vindicating the rights of the Bohemian nation in the university. His defense of Wickliffe was regarded as an adoption of all his objectionable views, though the inference was in fact unwarranted. England, France, and Germany were ready to lend their influence to silence the reformer.
John Gerson was at this time the chancellor of the university of Paris. He was probably the most powerful subject in France, the Duke of Burgundy excepted. Born of poor parents, he had raised himself by his genius and application to a position in which he exerted a greater sway over the mind of Christendom than any private man in Europe. We cannot but respect his ability, and acknowledge the general integrity of his course. The whole vigor and energy of his manhood were devoted to the interests of the church, and the removal of the papal schism. He was dismayed at the intelligence that reached him from Bohemia. Some of the German students who left Prague would doubtless visit the university of Paris, and report, with all necessary exaggeration, every story that could be devised or distorted to his prejudice. And yet Gerson’s bosom friend, Clemengis, had uttered truths and expostulations fully as fervid and stinging as any that fell from the lips of the Bohemian reformer. Could these two men have laid aside their opposite philosophies—for Gerson was a Nominalist, and Huss a Realist—and have become acquainted with one another, we can well imagine that all their antagonism would have been laid aside, and they have rushed with mutual admiration into each other’s arms.
But this result was not to take place. Opposite philosophical views embittered in Gerson’s mind the prejudice which he had already conceived against Huss. He regarded him only as a heretic, a dangerous champion of Wickliffe, to be punished with severity. A historian, opposed to Huss, has preserved us the letter which he wrote to the archbishop of Prague, during the absence of Huss in the year 1413. Assuming as unquestioned the heresy of Huss, he speaks of the methods of extirpating it. These he finds to have been in past times various “by miracles in the times of the apostles; by argumentative disputations of learned men afterward; and when these failed, by general councils, held under the favor of emperors. Last of all, when the evil became desperate, the arm of the secular power was invoked to cut off heresies, with those that favored them, and cast them into the fire, thus guarding against their word eating like a canker, to their own and others’ destruction.” He suggests to the archbishop that his path of duty is plain. “If false teachers sowing heresy demand miracles, let them know that their object has been attained, and they are passed and gone. Our faith is not now a novel thing to be confirmed by them. These men may have not only Moses and the prophets, but the apostles and ancient doctors, as well as the holy councils. They have also modern doctors, gathered in the universities, especially that mother of them, the university of Paris, which has been free of heresy hitherto, and, with God’s protection, shall be for ever. Having all these things, let them believe them. Otherwise they would not believe, though one rose from the dead. There will be no end to disputing with such men, who contend with persevering animosity, and lean on their own conceit. Moreover, by too much altercation truth suffers, the common people are scandalized, and charity is violated. Such perversity of obstinate men comes to this of the poet, Ægrescit Medendo. If, then, none of the previously mentioned remedies avails, it only remains that the axe of the secular arm be laid at the root of the barren and cursed tree. That arm you are to invoke by all methods; and you are required to do it by a regard for the salvation of those committed to your hand.”
The university of Paris, doubtless at the instigation of Gerson, had already pronounced sentence upon some of the more obnoxious doctrines advocated by Huss. His enemies were busy abroad as well as at home, and the prospect of the approaching council would not slacken their diligence.
Yet an examination of the sermons of Huss, preached in the earlier years of his ministry, will show that at that time, when no suspicion of his orthodoxy existed, he had really held the same views which were subsequently charged as heretical. In them we find those ideas advanced which were the germ of his treatise on the church, and in the utterance of his rebukes he is fully as free and earnest as at any subsequent period. He had commenced his labors in Bethlehem chapel a year before Sbynco was elevated to the archbishopric of Prague. From his reputation for integrity and ability, as well as from his distinguished position, it was not strange that he should have been selected during successive years to preach the synodical sermon. On the first occasion upon which he discharged this duty—probably in 1404—he took occasion to rebuke the tyrannic exercise of ecclesiastical authority by which worldly-minded priests exulted over the poor, in the infliction of censures. He holds up to reprehension their drunkenness, luxury, and lascivious connection, and calls attention to their avarice, extortion, and ambition to secure plurality of benefices.
In his synodical sermon of the following year (1405), he distinctly teaches that Christ, and not Peter, is the rock on which the church is built; that the church of the predestinate is the mystic body of Christ; that every priest in mortal sin is an enemy of God; and that the extortions of the ecclesiastics are detestable. He rebukes the monks for their robbery, and the violation of their vows of poverty, and exposes the simony that trafficked in sacred things. In his discourse in 1407, he is especially severe upon the corrupt and shameful life of the clergy, their licentiousness, disobedience, quarrels, and greed of gain; and he does not fail to strike a heavy blow at the gainful frauds practiced in the sale of indulgences. He sees worldly prosperity, but spiritual misery on all sides. “The church shines in its walls, but starves in its poor saints; it clothes its stones with gold, but leaves its children naked.” His picture of priestly luxury is drawn in a masterly manner. Almost everything had become matter of traffic. All the offices of the church were for sale. Pride, simony, and thirst for promotion were almost universal. Yet he holds that none but he who “puts on the Lord Jesus Christ” can put on any moral virtue, and declares the danger lest he who is a pluralist in benefices shall be a pluralist in torments.
In 1410 (March 4), Huss preached before the university; and another sermon bears date August 28th of the same year. In these he refers largely to current events. He complains of those doctors who persecute the preachers of the gospel by their slanders. “To silence them they invent lies, put forth innuendoes, say that by their love of error they have driven out the foreign nations from the university. They falsely accuse them of thinking ill of the body of Christ, and of saying that the pope is of no account.” It seems, therefore, by this sermon, that he recognizes the authority of the popes, since he calls Alexander V, and John XXIII who had just been elected his successor, vicars of the apostles. He prays for the soul of one in case of his having committed any venial sin, and for the sanctification of the other.
About the close of the same year he preached on the words of Luke 13:23—”Compel them to come in.” In this sermon are some things worthy of special notice. He holds that the civil power extends to clergy as well as laity. Christ subjected himself to the authority of human rulers. A prelate should be feared, not like a lay prince, for corporeal inflictions, but for the spiritual terrors which he threatens against the guilty. In this same sermon the course of the king is commended in requiring the priests to preach and discharge their office under penalty of losing their revenues. This shows that the interdict was disregarded by the king, and that at this time he did not approve of the measures of the pope.
In the following year Huss preached on All-Saints day on the words of John 11:21, where Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if thou hadst been here my brother had not died.” In this sermon he treats on the different practices of commemorating the lives of the saints, or the festivals dedicated to their memory. Some of these he approves, and others he condemns. Those which he approves are meditation on the misery of man subjected to death by sin, and on the death of Christ on account of our sins. This meditation leads us, he says, to enter into our own hearts, so that we may be converted and die happily. We should pray, moreover, for the dead, and thus procure aid for the sleeping church, that is, for souls in purgatory.
That which he reprehends in these solemnities is the pomp and show that accompany them, the false eulogies of the dead, and the profit which thereby accrues to the priests. On this subject he quotes a Latin verse:
De morbo medicus quadet, de morte Sacerdos.
“To what serves the multiplication of vigils in the houses of those who have died rich, except for vain praises? There is no great anxiety to chant the appointed psalms, either on the part of him who pays or the priest who is paid. He that pays only asks that numerous vigils be performed in honor of the dead; and he that is paid is only anxious to be done with them. To this end he hurries through his duty as fast as he can. To what end is this pompous gathering of the rich to the processions of the dead? Is it not laughable and quite ridiculous to see the priests comfortably seated on their cushioned chairs, while Christ wept over the tomb of Lazarus? What is the use of the ceaseless tolling of so many bells, but needlessly to lavish out money that might be better employed? And as to the feasts that are made after the burial, in what do they end, but gluttony, drunkenness, and vain conversations?”
Although it appears by this sermon that Huss still believed in purgatory, he did not regard the prayers of the living for the dead as any very effectual aid “because,” says he, “the matter is not spoken of in the whole scripture, except in the second book of Maccabees, which is not reckoned by the Jews in the canon of the Old Testament. Neither the prophets, nor Jesus Christ, nor his apostles, nor the saints that followed them, ever taught explicitly that we should pray for the dead; but they have said that he that lived a holy life should be saved. For myself, I believe that this practice has been introduced first of all by the avarice of the priests, who take little trouble to exhort the people as the prophets, Christ, and his apostles did, to an holy life; but who take particular pains to persuade them to make rich offerings, in the hope of blessedness and a speedy deliverance from purgatory.” He then accuses the priests of supporting this delusion by many falsehoods, and among others, by this: of attributing to St. Gregory, in his Stella Clericorum, the words, “Oh! what a marvelous gift of divine mercy, that a mass is never celebrated which does not result in these two things—the conversion of a sinner, and the deliverance of at least one soul from the pains of purgatory.” He maintains, moreover, that the mass of a wicked priest is an abomination in the sight of God, and can be of no service either to the living or the dead.
The abuses of saint’s days, of which Huss complained in his sermons, were by no means exaggerated. The evil throughout Christendom had grown to an enormous magnitude. Almost at the same time that Huss was calling for a reform at Prague, Clemengis, studying the scriptures at Langres, had his attention forcibly drawn to the same subject. The ex-rector of the university of Paris is not one whit behind the ex-rector of the university of Prague in the severity of his rebuke. “From sunrise to midnight, they (they multitude) loiter, swear, blaspheme, curse God and all the saints, shouting, disputing, quarrelling. With their clamor, tumult, and excess, they seem to rave like madmen. They strive to see who can drink the most, pledge one another in their cups, become drunk, and fall to violence and bloodshed. Passions are roused, threats uttered, injuries inflicted. The wretched criminals are brought before the courts, found guilty, and fined so heavily that the loss of one day cannot be made good by a month’s labor.
“What heathen, acquainted with the old sacrilegious ritual, would not suppose, if he could be present on these occasions, that they were rather the florals of Venus on the orgies of Bacchus, than the festival of a saint, especially when he saw such enormities practiced as was customary in their idolatrous rites? That festival is even accounted tame and uninteresting which is not spiced with a fight and bloodshed. Now need we be surprised that Mars should become the associate of Bacchus and Venus. Minds impelled by wine and lust are readily led into contention, as by the poets Venus is figured united to Mars by a subtle and indissoluble bond.
“Who does not see how much more honest and healthful it would be not to observe these festivals at all, than to observe them in this manner? Whose heart is so alien to all that is reasonable, so led astray by the perversity of error, as not to perceive that there is less evil on these festivals of the saints in ploughing, herding flocks, sowing, and other rustic occupations, than to, not celebrate, but profane them by such horrid and heathen rites? And yet if anyone pressed by extreme poverty should have been found to have done any work in his field or vineyard, he is at once summoned to answer for a violation of the day, and is harshly dealt with. But he who shall commit these grosser transgressions against the law and commandments of God, may go free of punishment, and even of accusation.”
In regard to the vigils with which Huss finds fault, the language of Clemengis is no less severe. He declares the observance of them in many cases to be base and shameful. Some, in the very churches, spend the night in dances, and singing wanton song, playing at dice, and using impious and profane language; and in these things the priests joined, furnishing their flocks a fitting example.
Clemengis reprehends the rites of some of the festivals more recently introduced. The lessons that were read were almost all of them apocryphal; the formula of the service was itself deformed, utterly unfitted to excite devotional feeling, of trivial meaning, and uncouth expression; by the puerilities of rhythm ministering to a vain and barren curiosity. Such is the testimony of a man whose learning, character, and standing give his words the greatest weight. The language of Huss is temperate and calm by the side of that of the learned Frenchman, and his opportunities for observation in Bohemia, great as they were, did not surpass those of Clemengis in France. Surely, with such grievous corruptions obtruding themselves everywhere upon the notice of Christendom, it was time that the voice of remonstrance was loudly and effectually raised.
It thus appears that from the first Huss had adopted the principles which he maintained to the end. His earliest sermons are as earnest and severe as those which were preached at a later period. If he was a heretic in 1412, when the bulls of the pope were published in Prague, he was equally so when he preached his first sermon in Bethlehem chapel. Uniformly he had appealed to scripture as the supreme authority for Christian doctrine.
It is thus seen that Huss had grounds of confidence in the consistency of his course and the justice of his cause. He felt ready, therefore, to submit them to the judgment of a body answering to his ideal of the convocated wisdom and piety of the church. Imperfectly did he comprehend the effectiveness of those powerful influences which were conspiring to crush him. So clear was he in his own conviction, so sanguine in the belief that the simple statement of the grounds of his faith would vindicate him from any charge of heresy, that he only asked the privilege of a free audience before the general council which it was proposed to convoke. Upon this he insisted in his letter to Sigismund, asking for a safe-conduct.
Nor was he without encouragement in the affection of his fellow-citizens. From the time when, on the withdrawal of the Germans, he had been elevated to the rectorship of the university, the sympathy of the nation had rallied to his side. A large number of the educated men of the country bad been brought under his influence, as exerted both in the lecture-room and in the pulpit, while the patriotic feeling, both of the nobility and of the common people, was strongly enlisted in his support.
Indeed, for the four years from 1409 to 1413, there was not another man in the kingdom whose influence was equal to his own. His character, ability, position, and doctrines, and even the persecution which had driven him into temporary exile, had conspired to elevate him in popular esteem, and to give publicity and effect to his uttered sentiment.
This period, moreover, had been one characterized on his part by unwearied effort and incessant industry. Most of his writings, now preserved in his “Monumenta,” were produced during these four years. Among these, the first in importance, and among the earliest in date, is his work on the church, the substance of which has already been given. This work—the extraordinary ability of which is conceded by his opponents—gave occasion for repeated and prolonged controversy, and some of the ablest efforts of Huss were produced in defense of its positions. Stanislaus and Paletz had united to assail it. To them he replied with overwhelming force. Both of them had, at the time of the interdict, been excommunicated along with Huss. Terrified by the bull, they had, in the most humiliating manner, abandoned their former ground. When Huss was informed of Paletz’s desertion, he replied, “Paletz is my friend, and truth is my friend; but both being my friends, the truth I must honor in preference.” Indeed, to appreciate the relative position of the two men, and the course which Paletz afterwards took as the persecutor of his friend, we need to know what Huss has stated in his writings as to the origin of the difficulty. He says, “On the publication of the bull of crusade and indulgences, he presented me with a paper, in his own hand-writing, stating the palpable errors of the bull. I keep this paper still in my hands, as evidence of what I say. It was on his consultation with another colleague, that he changed his course and went back.” With such facts in hand, it was not difficult for Huss to place his old associate in a most unenviable light.
Still more important in some respects was the controversy of Huss, already mentioned, with “The Eight Doctors.” From his treatise in connection with it, it appears that Paletz, stung by the cutting reply and scathing exposure administered by Huss, had urged upon a clerical assemblage at Zebrak, a more active prosecution of the process against the reputed heretic. Others shared his zeal, and Huss, for reasons more obvious in his age than in ours, offered to submit himself—as Savanarola afterwards did—to the ordeal by fire. But with the good sense that must have characterized his estimate of a barbarous and absurd custom, he insisted that to make the terms equal all his accusers should submit to the same ordeal. To this, however, they very naturally objected. They had not sufficient confidence, either in the justice of their cause, or the harmlessness of the flames, to warrant them in walking one after another into the midst of the blazing fagots. They proposed that one of the accusers should be selected, and that he and Huss together should undergo the ordeal. Huss insisted—we can scarcely believe without something of a grave waggery—on his own proposition. It was too much for his clerical opponents. They were affrighted, and declined the terms. But, not altogether to be defeated, the eight doctors assail Huss with the pen.
It was a most unfortunate measure. The eight combined are no match for Huss, single-handed and alone. His treatise is one of the ablest arguments in controversial divinity that was ever penned. Huss and the doctors remind us of Milton and Salmasius. For keenness of reply, vigor of retort, and caustic irony, the Bohemian and the Englishman might be accounted peers, and surely, in the old blind poet of England there could not have been a more devoted love of truth, a more ardent and fearless chivalry in its defense, or a greater readiness to risk all in a holy cause, than were to be found in Huss.
Other works of the reformer, worthy of more extended notice than can now be given them, are his treatises on “The Three Doubts,” on “The Body of Christ,” etc., and his “Commentaries” on different portions of scripture, as well as several smaller works, in which his views on important subjects are clearly defined.
Throughout these writings the sentiments and doctrines are for the most part such as would now be termed Evangelical. Occasionally he gives utterance to views which betray the lingering influence of tradition and authority. Transubstantiation he maintains in as firm a tone as Luther employed when he met Zwingli with the repeated citation, “This is my body.” He allows, though very cautiously, and with qualification, of prayers for the dead. He was as yet satisfied with the old observance of the eucharist in which bread only was administered. He allowed confession to a priest, and a qualified absolution, although he contended that none could forgive sins but God only.
But in the most explicit manner he maintains that the scriptures are the only supreme authority in matters of faith, and vindicates “The sufficiency of the law of Christ for the rule of the church.” False decretals, traditions, and priestly superstitions are thus swept away at a single stroke. Christ is the sole head of the church, and no bull or excommunication is to be regarded which conflicts with justice or with the cause of Christian truth. It is first of all to be tried by the word of God. In his reprobation of the sale of indulgences, and masses for the dead, he was most severe. While not as distinct as later reformers on the doctrine of justification by faith, he holds that “Christ is the basis of all merit of the members of the church,” and that works without faith are of no avail.
But in the exposition of the claims of the law of God in setting forth its condemnation of all sin and wickedness—the venality, avarice, ambition, extortion, sensuality, and vice of the ecclesiastical orders, and indeed of all classes—he expended his strength. His own life was above reproach, and his vehement rebukes did not lose their force by being made to recoil upon himself.
This was one great secret of his strength. In a corrupt and venal age he refused the bribes of ambition, and stood unawed by the terrors of power. He was known as one set for the defense of truth. The strength of his convictions contributed to make him strong.
And in his letters, written during his exile from Prague, we gather instructive views of his aims and character, as well as of the earnestness of his purpose. An active correspondence was kept up with his friends in the capital. Throughout this correspondence there breathes the spirit of a most ardent and glowing devotion, while the deep and apostolic anxiety with which he watched over the spiritual welfare and progress of his absent flock, is betrayed in almost every line. The reasons of his withdrawal from Prague are discussed. “‘The hireling fleeth.’ I have thought of that. But we must pray for guidance. We can do nothing better. Tell me whether my absence gives occasion for scandal. Are sacraments administered? Pray God to direct me what to do.”
Again, he writes to the friend who had succeeded to his place as rector: “Your letter consoles me, where you say that the righteous will not be overwhelmed with sadness, let what will happen, and all that will live godly must suffer persecution. What to me are riches, honors, or disgrace ? My sins alone grieve me. What if the just man lose his life; it is only to find the true life. God will yet destroy Antichrist. Be prepared for the conflict. Woe is me if I do not expose the abomination of desolation by preaching, teaching, and writing.” Again, in another letter, he says, “I count it all joy that I am called a heretic, and so am excommunicated as disobedient. With Peter and John, it is better to obey God than man. The word of God is to be preached.” He cites the examples of ancient saints to confirm his own faith under his harsh experience.
But his enforced separation from his beloved flock bore heavily upon his spirits. His heart was still with them. He did not forget to admonish and encourage them in his absence. Personal consequences to himself alone would not have kept him from them. “I have withdrawn myself,” he says, “that I may not prove to the wicked an occasion of everlasting damnation, and to the good, cause of oppression and trouble.” Again he writes: “I say to you, my beloved, though I am not in prison, yet I would gladly, for Christ’s sake, die and be with him; and yet I would gladly, too, for your good, preach to you God’s word; but I am in a strait betwixt two, and know not which to choose. For I await God’s mercy, and I fear again lest something bad be done among you, so as to expose the faithful to persecution, and the unbelieving to eternal death.”
He reminds his Bethlehem congregation of his many years of service among them, and its fruits, and says, “For this, as God is my witness, I have labored more than twelve years among you preaching the divine word; and in this, my greatest consolation was to observe your earnest diligence in hearing God’s word, and to witness the true and sincere repentance of many.” He bids them beware of fickleness, and “have no regard for those persons walking a crooked path, who have turned about, and are now the most violent enemies of God, and our enemies.” For himself, he asks their prayers, that God would give him good success in preaching his word. “In all the places where a need exists—in cities, in villages, in castles, in the fields, in the forests, wherever I can be of any use—pray for me that the word of God may not be kept back in me.”
To the citizens of Prague he writes (Christmas of 1413), urging them to be constant in hearing the word of God. With scriptural admonitions he exhorts and encourages them, reminding them how Christ was treated. “I hear,” he says, “of the plan in agitation for tearing down or invading the churches where the gospel is preached, Bethlehem chapel especially. I am confident that God will not suffer them to accomplish anything. They tried to catch the goose (Huss) in the net of citations and anathemas, and now they are having designs upon some of you. But, instead of a single swallow, the truth has sent forth many eagles, that fly high in the strength of Christ. Pray for me, that I may write and preach more abundantly against the wickedness of Antichrist. … If I came to Prague, my enemies would lie in wait for me, and would persecute you. But we will pray for them, that the elect among them may be saved.”
In another letter, he says, “I am at a loss what to do; if I return to Prague, my presence might bring trouble. … Do not be disturbed for my absence; I trust in God that all will yet turn out well. Let them sing their ribaldry, or crucify me with their blasphemies, or stone the church doors, if they will.”
From these letters it is evident that some, during his absence, were urgent for his return to Prague. This, however, was at the time contrary to his own judgment. He desired to return, both on his own account and for the sake of his friends, but he did not deem it wise. He consoles them with encouragements drawn from the prophecies of Christ’s second coming. “I fled,” he says, “because Christ bids those that are persecuted in one city to flee into another. He did so himself. Some of your priests would be glad to have me back at Prague, to bring the interdict in force, only that they might be relieved of saying masses at the canonical hours. They however are stung by the gospel. I should be glad indeed to come back and see you, and preach the gospel.”
To the citizens of a neighboring town, to which it appears the reform movement had extended, Huss writes an encouraging letter: “I have never seen you, but I have heard of your faith. I am unknown to you by face, but in Christ I would be faithful for your salvation.”
Of the letters which he received during this period of his exile, but one has been preserved. It came from England, and it bore to Huss the expression of the sympathy and consolations of a Christian brother, “unknown by face, but not by faith and love, for space cannot separate those whom the love of Christ unites.” How precious and cheering to him such sympathy and brotherhood from the land of Wickliffe! Bohemia had caught the echo of reform from England, and now Prague was prepared to respond in the person of one not unworthy to rank as Wickliffe’s peer.
Yet the period from the first publication of the interdict until the final return of Huss to Prague, had been one, to him, of severe trial. His enemies were not disposed to leave him at peace. His anxieties in behalf of what he regarded as the sacred cause of truth, knew no intermission. His warfare with error and with abounding iniquity was vigorous and incessant. Yet if he had been willing to abandon his ground and belie his own convictions, he could almost have imposed his own terms. But he was not a man to be bought or sold. His conscience was made of sterner stuff.
From his own declarations, we know that his inward conflicts were severe. Yet, so far as we can judge from the course of his public career, he never wavered. Not for a single moment did he so far forget his position or duty, as to yield to guilty compromise. Amid the surging agitations around him he stands ever firm, like the rock amid the billows. Power has no terrors, and honor has no bribes, that can sway him from the straightforward path of duty.
Such is the man who, in the calm confidence of his own innocence and of the justice of his cause, patiently awaits the assembling of a general council, to which he will carry his appeal.
END OF SECTION II