Letters of John Huss Written During His Exile and Imprisonment/Letter 5, To John Barbat

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LETTER V.

 

TO JOHN BARBAT.

 

[Huss consoles him, and justifies himself by exposing why he preferred obeying God, who had commanded him to preach, to the pope, the archbishop, and all those who had prohibited him from so doing.]

 

I salute you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

I have learned, my beloved friends,[1] your grievous affliction. Look upon it as for your good; for it is to bring to light your firmness and your constancy, that you have fallen into various temptations.

I also, my very dear friends, have been tempted; and

I rejoice at last that I am called a heretic for the gospel’s sake, and excommunicated like a rebellious and wicked man. To fortify in me the sweet calm of my soul, I have called to mind the life and words of Christ and the Apostles (Acts, iv.). I remembered in what manner Annas, the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and all the kindred of the high priest, when they addressed the Apostles, prohibited them from speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus. “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God, to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” And when the same priests prohibited them a second time from preaching, they replied (Acts, v.), “We ought to obey God rather than man.

It is true that the pagans, the Jews, and the heretics, all regulate their conduct on this precept of the obedience that is due unto God. Alas! this maxim blinds those who are not Christians, but not the Apostles, nor the true disciples of Christ.

St Jerome says:—“If the master or bishop prescribes what is not contrary to the faith or the Scriptures, the servant should obey. But if he commands what is contrary to these, we must rather obey the Master of the soul, than the master of the body.” And in another place he adds:—“If the emperor orders you, to do that which is good, execute the will of the emperor; should he require you to do ill, answer, ‘It is better to obey God than men.’”

St Augustin also says, in his Sermon on the Words of the Lord:—“If my earthly presence commands that which you ought not to do, despise this power, and fear a higher one. Consider the different degrees of human power. Do you obey the under officer, if the proconsul orders you the contrary? And if the proconsul orders you to do one thing, and the emperor another, would you attempt to disobey the latter for the former? If the emperor commands you to do that which is prohibited by God, despise the emperor and obey God. We ought, then, to resist the power of the devil or of men, when they suggest any thing against God ; and in doing so, we resist not, but obey even God’s commands.” Such are the sentiments of St Augustin.

Gregory also says, in his last Treatise on Morality:—“Know, therefore, that evil should never be done from mere obedience.” St Bernard writes in one of his letters:—“To do evil after the orders of any one, is not to obey, but to disobey.” And St Isidore maintains, that if he who is in authority does and orders a thing which is not according to the Lord, or violates the written law, and orders it to be overstepped, to him ought to be applied these words of St Paul: “If an angel should descend from heaven, and preach to you a gospel different from that which we preach, let him be accursed!” He also declares, that whoever forbids you to do what is commanded by the Lord, ought to be held in execration by all who love the Lord—he ought to be regarded as a false witness and a sacrilegious person.

It would appear from these words, that these names are applicable to those who interdict the preaching of the Divine Word, and that such persons are excommunicated according to the words of the Prophet, “Cursed be those who resist thy commandments!” Jerome expresses the same feeling as is experienced by myself, when he thus writes to Rusticus, Bishop of Narbonne:—“Let no bishop abandon himself to envy and anger, through an infernal jealousy, because the priests exhort the people, preach in the churches, and bless the multitude.” I declare, then, to those who prohibit me to do these things, that he who interdicts priests from doing that which God commands, professes himself to be superior to Jesus Christ.

Bede, in speaking of our Saviour, repeats this passage :—“Go ye into the village that is over against you, and immediately you shall find an ass tied, and a colt with him: loose them, and bring them to me: and if any man say any thing to you, say ye, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will let them go.” Jesus Christ, says Bede, teaches mystically the doctors, by these words, that if they meet with any obstacle, if any one prevents them from freeing sinners from the bonds of the devil, from drawing them to God in confessing the faith, they ought not, for this reason, to renounce preaching his word, but should, on the contrary, continue to insinuate it into their souls; for the Lord has need of such labourers to edify his Church. Who could, in fact, quote all that the saints have written, when teaching us, that it is better to obey God than man?

Our oppressors oppose to us these words:—"All, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do," (Matth. xxiii.); but they are reduced to silence by the prohibition which follows:—“But do not ye after their works.” God says, (Deut. xxiv.)—“Do according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach you: as I commanded them, so ye shall observe to do.” The Lord desires, therefore, that he who obeys, should only do so after his own commandments. It is also said, (1 Pet. ii.)—“Servants be subject to your masters with all fear.” And the Apostle further adds:—“Not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.” Not, however, in things in which they are wickedly inclined; for that would be to obey the devil. The will of God and the Holy Scriptures, therefore, teach us, that obedience to superiors is obligatory only in lawful matters. I have clung firmly to this truth, and have preferred in my sermons, to inculcate obedience to God, rather than to the pope and the archbishop, or any others that may oppose this saying of Christ.

I put my name to these words, in order to teach you how to confront the emissaries of the devil.[2]

 

 
  1. Although this letter was more particularly addressed to John Barbat, Huss intended it to be read to several others.
  2. Ut sciatis canibus diaboli obviare.