The letters of John Hus/Letter 29, To Master Christian of Prachaticz, Rector of the University of Prague

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XXIX. To the Same

(Without date: 1413)

I wish to abide by this: I hold the Pope to be Christ’s Vicar in the Roman Church; but it is not the whole of my faith. Item, I abide by this: if the Pope is predestinate and in the exercise of the pastoral office follows Christ in his own life, then he is the head of so much of the Church Militant as he rules over; and if he accordingly rules as head over what is now the entire Church Militant according to Christ’s law, then he is the true representative of the Supreme Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. If, however, his life is contrary to Christ, then he is a thief and robber climbing up another way[1] and is a ravenous wolf, a hypocrite and at this moment among all the pilgrims[2] the chief Antichrist.[3] They ought therefore, according to the forewarning of Christ, to beware of such a wolf and attend to the prophecy of Christ, Who said: If any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ or there, do not believe him. And why? For there shall arise false Christs—that is, popes bearing Christ’s name—and shall show great signs. There shall arise false prophets—that is, the doctors of the popes—and shall show great signs and wonders in so much as to deceive (if possible) even the elect.[4] Blessed therefore is he that shall not be afraid of their terrors that come as lightning from heaven—that is, excommunications whereby they terrify the righteous and provoke marvelling among the peoples; nor of their wonders—that is, miracles wrought at a distance (for they act from the Roman Curia to Prague, a distance of two hundred miles![5]) such as neither Simon Magus nor the apostle Peter wrought. Blessed is he that considers the abomination of desolation which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place. He that readeth, let him understand,[6] saith Christ, the Head of the Church. For what greater abomination can there be in the holy place—that is, the holy office—than that in the place—that is, the sanctity—where the holiest, most gracious, gentlest, humblest, poorest, most untiring, most patient, most chaste of all men hath sat, there is now sitting one in name the holiest, but in reality the worst, the most cruel, the most vengeful, the proudest, the richest in this world’s wealth, the most indolent,[7] the most impatient, and the most unclean?[8] Is it not an abomination of desolation in a place apart? Truly is Christ set forth by the false prophets to be in a desert place, which is left forlorn of all the virtues. Christ the Lord prophesied and forewarned His own: When you shall see the abomination in the holy place: he that readeth, let him understand. And afterwards: If they shall say to you, behold Christ (sic) is in the desert, believe it not: go ye not out[9]—that is, from the right faith which I have declared to you—saying that he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven who is the more humble; and he that exalteth himself, is the more abased.[10] Believe not everything which the false prophets shall say to you when they set forth that Christ in person sits at Rome as the Head of the Church. Blessed is that man who shall not be offended![11]

Item, I abide by this: whatever the Holy Roman Church or the Pope along with the cardinals shall decree or order to be held or done according to Christ’s law, that in a humble spirit, as a faithful Christian, I wish to respect and reverently accept. But not whatever the Pope along with the cardinals hath laid down or ordered universally.[12] For I have taken up the opposite position and abide by it: it is for this reason, as you know, that I am now under excommunication.

Hostiensis[13] in his gloss on the fifth chapter of the decretals (′A nobis[14]) holds that the Pope (as also the whole Roman Curia) can err in the way of morality, just as he often errs in his judgment of the truth. I hold boldly to his reading. For if the twelve apostles erred in their judgment of the truth and in the way of morality, how is it that the Pope and cardinals cannot fail in their judgment of the truth and in the way of morality? This actually happened when Pope John—the woman Agnes[15]— and all the cardinals, nay, those belonging to the Roman Church, were deceived in the judgment of the truth: for this same John, Agnes herself, said she was the Holy Father; and the cardinals, together with the others, affirmed that very same thing. May Christ Jesus then be blessed for having suffered this to take place in His Church for our instruction and warning!

  1. John x. 1.
  2. Viantes. This word and viator are common mediæval words for Christians.
  3. Loserth (W. & H. 257) has pointed out that this passage is compounded from Wyclif’s Trialogus, 423 and 454, and his De Xto et Adversario, c. viii. (Polem. Works, ii. 673). See also his De Eccles. 19.
  4. Matt. xxiv. 23 , 24.
  5. i.e., German miles.
  6. Matt. xxiv. 15.
  7. John XXIII. The passage is valuable as showing the popular estimate. But before his excommunication by John, Hus gave no sign that he knew that he was dealing with a moral monster. See p. 51, and for the character of John, my Age of Hus, App. C.
  8. Accidiosissimus; see note on accidia, p. 104.
  9. Matt xxiv. 26.
  10. Luke xiv. 11; xviii. 14.
  11. Luke vii. 23.
  12. This is really the central position of Wyclifism, and springs from the further position that character makes office. Cf. Wyclif, De Eccles. 34, and cf. Doc. 299, 301. At Constance Hus tried to defend it by a fine distinction between quoad meritum and quoad officium (infra, p. 217). The whole position, of course, was absolutely incompatible with Romanism.
  13. Henry de Segusia, cardinal of Ostia (d. 1271), was the greatest canonist of the Middle Ages. On his relations with England, see Matt. Paris, Chron. Maj. iv. 33 , 286, 351, 353. His work is entitled Summa aurea super titulis decretalium (ed. Basel 1573 or Venice 1605). See lib. v. De Penitentiis et Remissionibus, § 15, ‘Papa potest peccare.’
  14. The decretal ‘A nobis’ is dated May 6, 1199. See Richter-Friedberg, Corp. Jur. Canon, ii . 899 , and cf. Wyclif, De Xto et Adv. (Polem. Works, ii. 676). Hus’s attention to Hostiensis’ comment would be drawn by Wyclif’s De Ecclesia, 522.
  15. Wyclif in his Cruciata calls her ‘Anna’ (Polem. Works, ii. 619), nor does he mention ‘Cestrensis.’ This again adds weight to the supposition that in this matter Hus was not following Wyclif. See p. 125, n. 2.