1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Jerome of Prague

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JEROME OF PRAGUE (d. 1416), an early Bohemian church-reformer and friend of John Hus. Jerome’s part in the Hussite movement was formerly much overrated. Very little is known of his early years. He is stated to have belonged to a noble Bohemian family[1] and to have been a few years younger than Hus. After beginning his studies at the university of Prague, where he never attempted to obtain any ecclesiastical office, Jerome proceeded to Oxford in 1398. There he became greatly impressed by the writings of Wycliffe, of whose Dialogus and Trialogus he made copies. Always inclined to a roving life, he soon proceeded to the university of Paris and afterwards continued his studies at Cologne and Heidelberg, returning to Prague in 1407. In 1403 he is stated to have undertaken a journey to Jerusalem. At Paris his open advocacy of the views of Wycliffe brought him into conflict with John Gerson, chancellor of the university. In Prague Jerome soon attracted attention by his advanced and outspoken opinions. He gave great offence also by exhibiting a portrait of Wycliffe in his room. Jerome was soon on terms of friendship with Hus, and took part in all the controversies of the university. When in 1408 a French embassy arrived at Kutná Hora, the residence of King Wenceslaus of Bohemia, and proposed that the papal schism should be terminated by the refusal of the temporal authorities further to recognize either of the rival popes, Wenceslaus summoned to Kutná Hora the members of the university. The Bohemian magistri spoke strongly in favour of the French proposals, while the Germans maintained their allegiance to the Roman pope, Gregory XII. The re-organization of the university was also discussed, and as Wenceslaus for a time favoured the Germans, Hus and Jerome, as leaders of the Bohemians, incurred the anger of the king, who threatened them with death by fire should they oppose his will.

In 1410 Jerome, who had incurred the hostility of the archbishop of Prague by his speeches in favour of Wycliffe’s teaching, went to Ofen, where King Sigismund of Hungary resided, and, though a layman, preached before the king denouncing strongly the rapacity and immorality of the clergy. Sigismund shortly afterwards received a letter from the archbishop of Prague containing accusations against Jerome. He was imprisoned by order of the king, but does not appear to have been detained long in Hungary. Appearing at Vienna, he was again brought before the ecclesiastical authorities. He was accused of spreading Wycliffe’s doctrines, and his general conduct at Oxford, Paris, Cologne, Prague and Ofen was censured. Jerome vowed that he would not leave Vienna till he had cleared himself from the accusation of heresy. Shortly afterwards he secretly left Vienna, declaring that this promise had been forced on him. He went first to Vöttau in Moravia, and then to Prague. In 1412 the representatives of Pope Gregory XII. publicly offered indulgences for sale at Prague, wishing to raise money for the pope’s campaign against King Ladislaus of Naples, an adherent of the antipope of Avignon. Contrary to the wishes of the archbishop of Prague a meeting of the members of the university took place, at which both Hus and Jerome spoke strongly against the sale of indulgences. The fiery eloquence of Jerome, which is noted by all contemporary writers, obtained for him greater success even than that of Hus, particularly among the younger students, who conducted him in triumph to his dwelling-place. Shortly afterwards Jerome proceeded to Poland—it is said on the invitation of King Wladislaus. His courtly manners and his eloquence here also caused him to become very popular, but he again met with strong opposition from the Roman Church. While travelling with the grand-duke Lithold of Lithuania Jerome took part in the religious services of the Greek Orthodox Church.

During his stay in northern Europe Jerome received the news that Hus had been summoned to appear before the council of Constance. He wrote to his friend advising him to do so and adding that he would also proceed there to afford him assistance. Contrary to the advice of Hus he arrived at Constance on the 4th of April 1415. Advised to fly immediately to Bohemia, he succeeded in reaching Hirschau, only 25 m. from the Bohemian frontier. He was here arrested and brought back in chains to Constance, where he was examined by judges appointed by the council. His courage failed him in prison and, to regain his freedom, he renounced the doctrines of Wycliffe and Hus. He declared that Hus had been justly executed and stated in a letter addressed on the 12th of August 1415 to Lacek, lord of Kravář—the only literary document of Jerome that has been preserved—that “the dead man (Hus) had written many false and harmful things.” Full confidence was not placed in Jerome’s recantation. He claimed to be heard at a general meeting of the council, and this was granted to him. He now again maintained all the theories which he had formerly advocated, and, after a trial that lasted only one day, he was condemned to be burnt as a heretic. The sentence was immediately carried out on the 30th of May 1416, and he met his death with fortitude. As Poggio Bracciolini writes, “none of the Stoics with so constant and brave a soul endured death, which he (Jerome) seemed rather to long for.” The eloquence of the Italian humanist has bestowed a not entirely merited aureole on the memory of Jerome of Prague.

See all works dealing with Hus; and indeed all histories of Bohemia contain detailed accounts of the career of Jerome. The Lives of John Wicliffe, Lord Cobham, John Huss, Jerome of Prague and Žižka by William Gilpin (London, 1765) still has a certain value.  (L.) 

  1. The statement that Jerome’s family name was Faulfiss, is founded on a misunderstood passage of Aeneas Sylvius, Historica Bohemica. Aeneas Sylvius names as one of the early Bohemian reformers a man “genere nobilis, ex domo quam Putridi Piscis vacant.” This was erroneously believed to refer to Jerome.