The letters of John Hus/Letter 11, To the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Bohemia

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XI. To the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Bohemia

(Undated: December 1411)

To the noble lords and magistrates of the Kingdom of Bohemia, and to the other lords now at Prague. May it please the Lord God in His mercy to grant unto you furtherance in every good thing! Dear lords, heirs of the sacred kingdom of Bohemia, I render thanks before your graces to my most gracious lord, King Wenzel, King of the Romans and of Bohemia, for his kind offices in having enabled me to continue the preaching of God’s word and to persevere in the truth that I love: for having brought about a reconciliation between Zbinek, priest and Archbishop of Prague, of sacred memory, and myself and the other masters, together with the princes, barons, and their advisers: and further for having given a decision in our behalf of which your graces will hear in detail.[1] In defiance of this decision the clergy of the chapter of Prague have commissioned Michael, parish priest of St. Adalbert’s, to bring a lawsuit against me, and accordingly have drawn up against me an edict of excommunication. Of this, lest souls be offended, I am not afraid, but I am willingly and cheerfully enduring it. Yet am I grieved at this, that they are not preaching God’s word; for I would not have the sacred offices interrupted and God’s people distressed. Even granting, beloved lords, that the chief blame rests on my shoulders, consider whether on that account it is right for the praise of the Lord God to be curtailed, and God’s people to be distressed by interdicts of this kind, and by the interruption of their religious duties. They have no warrant in the Holy Scriptures for interrupting worship whenever they like. They oppress and trouble the princes, barons, knights, and nobles, as well as the poor people, and summon them to take their trial outside the land,[2] which is contrary to divine law and to the institutes of canon and civil law.[3] Therefore, beloved lords and heirs of the kingdom of Bohemia, strive to put an end to such calamities and to secure freedom for preaching God’s word to the people. As for myself, I am willing to stand my trial; indeed, I have always been ready to do so, and actually appeared before priest Zbinek, of sacred memory, and his assessors, until at the instigation of the cathedral and parochial clergy of Prague he began to take the side of my enemies and managed to get me summoned to Rome for judgment. However, I wish to stand my trial before all the masters and prelates, and before your graces. I will gladly listen to the charges brought against me, plead my cause, and submit myself to judgment, as becomes a poor priest, provided that the person who is to charge me comes forward. Invariably I offered to do this, and his Majesty granted them this request; but not a charge was ever brought against me, except my alleged disobedience. I am indeed aware that I refuse to obey either Pope or Archbishop when they forbid my preaching, for to cease preaching would be contrary to the will of God and my salvation. But I know, beloved lords, that even you do not obey the command which the late Pope[4] gave in the bull which was bought by them at a great price—viz., that there should be no preaching anywhere in chapels. Many of you have chapels in which there is preaching, and occasionally you have it in your own castles as well. I did not betake myself to the Pope’s Curia, for I had my proctors, whom they threw into prison,[5] though absolutely guiltless, men who would go through fire to face any one desirous of convicting me of heresy. However, I did not start on the journey, because plots were everywhere being laid against my life, so as to prevent my return to Bohemia. I trust, therefore, that your graces, along with their Majesties the King and Queen, will carry out the instructions which it shall please Almighty God to give you for the welfare of your kingdom. May He strengthen you in His grace! Amen.

  1. The reference is to the decision of July 6; see supra, pp. 40–41.
  2. A reference to his own citation; supra, p. 39.
  3. This is not correct. Properly by civil law a man’s judge was the judge ordinary of the defendant’s domicile. But Rome was regarded as the common domicile or fatherland of all men, and the Pope, therefore, as legally their ordinary. See Gratian, Pt. ii. C. 9, q. 3, c. 17.
  4. Alexander V.; see supra, p. 26.
  5. Supra, p. 53. The following passage from one of the Czech treatises of Hus will illustrate this letter. Hus tells us that when his proctors arrived in Rome they could obtain no hearing, though it should have been given to ‘pagan, Jew, heretic, and the devil himself if he had come with the request.’ First one commission of cardinals was appointed who ‘obtained beautiful horses, silver cups, and precious rings from his adversaries. Then the Pope transferred the matter to others, and the same thing happened again. Of the latter commission some are dead, some in the prisons of Ladislaus. Then the Pope himself took up the matter, saying that he wished to decide it himself. “All men,” he added, “have got something from the case, but I have nothing.” But when my advocates pleaded for a hearing he refused, and asked for “yellow knights,” of which Goose had had none, nor would he have given them if he had possessed them. So the Pope, wanting to get these “knights” (a gold coin), ordered my proctors to be thrown into prison’ (Doc. 726; cf. Mon. i. 235, 332, and Doc. 191).