The life and times of Master John Hus/Chapter 6

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Compared to the period of constant struggle, such as the years 1409 to 1412 had been to Hus, the time between October 1412, when he left Prague, and October 1414, when he started on his fateful journey to Constance, cannot be considered momentous. Still less can it be compared in interest to the period of Hus’s residence in Constance, which comprises his imprisonment and sufferings there, and his death which has rendered him immortal. If these months during which Hus was mostly absent from Prague do not require as detailed an account as other periods of his life, most of his most prominent works were written at this time and will require careful notice.

It is not easy to ascertain with certainty where Hus wended his way when he left Prague. As was the case a century later when Luther sought refuge in the Wartburg, Hus and his friends thought it advisable that his dwelling-place should remain for a time unknown. It appears most probable that Hus went first to Southern Bohemia, and a very ancient tradition states that he visited Husinec, his birthplace, and preached there. In December Hus addressed to the citizens of Prague a letter in which he explained to them the reasons that induced him to leave Prague. He again referred to the passage from the Gospel of St. John (chapter x.), which has already been mentioned,[1] and defended his conduct by the example given by Jesus Christ.[2] A man so entirely guided by the dictates of his conscience as was Hus felt obliged to recur frequently to this question, and we find allusions to it in several of his works. It is certain that Hus at the beginning of his exile spent some time at the castle, or “tower” as it is called in Bohemian, of Kozi Hradek, the property of John the elder, Lord of Usti, one of the firmest upholders of the cause of church-reform.

Shortly after the departure of Hus from Prague, King Venceslas resumed his well-meant attempts to re-establish religious concord in Bohemia. His task was not an easy one. The opponents of church-reform, considering the departure of Hus from Prague as a signal victory, became more exigent and more intransigent in consequence of that event. They continued to maintain that Hus had been expelled from Prague—a totally untrue statement that was repeated by the mendacious Michael de causis at Constance. The Estates of Bohemia met at Prague in December. Hus from his place of exile addressed a petition to the assembly, in which he complained of the persecution which he had suffered on the part of the parish priests of Prague and begged that the freedom of preaching should be maintained in the city. Hus's words did not fail to make a considerable impression on the members of this assembly, composed mainly of Bohemian nobles, many of whom shared their sovereign's objection to the extreme power and wealth of the clergy. It is but just to add that some of these men supported the cause of church-reform from higher motives and afterwards offered up their lives for it on the battlefields of the Hussite wars. The Estates advised the king to call together a synod of the Bohemian clergy which was to mediate between the contending parties. Venceslas gladly assented. He was, during all these protracted negotiations, guided by the wish to settle as far as possible within the country the differences that had broken out among the Bohemian clergy. It was endeavoured to exclude as far as possible the intervention of Pope John XXIII. The latter on February 2, 1413, at a meeting of the Roman clergy at the Lateran, which the pope considered to be a council, condemned as heretical all the writings of Wycliffe without exception.

The meeting of the Bohemian synod was, however, delayed by a new change in the person of the Archbishop of Prague. Archbishop Albik, a wealthy and well-intentioned man had, on the particular request of King Venceslas, consented to become Archbishop of Prague and had even, according to the evil custom then prevalent in Bohemia, paid a large sum for that honour. Albik soon tired of his new dignity and felt that it became ever more difficult to conform to the wishes both of King Venceslas and of Pope John, whose views were often directly contradictory. He therefore entered into an agreement with two other great dignitaries of the Bohemian Church, according to which they were on receipt of a considerable pecuniary remuneration to exchange their offices. Large presents were previously sent to Pope John XXIII. , who on receipt of them gave his consent to the agreement. Albik resigned the archbishopric of Prague in favour of Conrad of Vechta, then Bishop of Olomouc (Olmütz). Conrad, a German of Westphalian origin, had been one of the favourites of King Venceslas. Later in life, when Archbishop of Prague, he joined the Hussite Church and became the object of great opprobrium on the part of ultramontane writers. Tomek, whose strictly impartial attitude contrasts favourably with that of most historians of this period, writes:[3] “Archbishop Conrad was neither better nor worse than the great majority of those who held the prominent ecclesiastical offices in Bohemia in his time. Like the others, he only wished to acquire large worldly possessions as rapidly as possible.” A contemporary chronicler, writing of the accession of Conrad of Vechta, tells us:[4] “Conrad was an elderly and weak man. He pledged many of the towns and estates belonging to the archbishopric, and some are still in pawn. For himself, he kept only the Castle of Roudnice.” Albik, however, though anxious to abandon the difficult task of ruling the archbishopric of Prague, had no intention of foregoing altogether the ecclesiastical dignities which had come to him late in life. A further agreement, concluded at the same time, stipulated that the new archbishop should cede his bishopric of Olomouc to Venceslas of Burenic, provost of the Vysehrad, who was to give over his previous dignity to Albik, who was also given the titular rank of Archbishop of Caesarea.

Even at a period when simony was universal in Bohemia, this chaffering for the highest ecclesiastical dignities in the land became the subject of general talk and caused much scandal and indignation.[5] It is in such occurrences in Bohemia itself, far more than in the influence of distant countries, that we must seek the origin of Hussitism as well as the enthusiasm which the ascetic teachings of Hus aroused in Bohemia. On the other hand, the more Hus spoke against the avarice and immorality of the Bohemian clergy, the greater became the hatred and the animosity of the unworthy priests. They considered it necessary to silence at any price so dangerous an enthusiast—and they eventually succeeded in doing so.

It was this ignoble traffic in ecclesiastical dignities which was the immediate motive of Hus’s famous treatise, O svatokupectvi (On Simony), which will be mentioned presently. It was probably written at Prague, where Hus stayed secretly for a short time during the last weeks of the year 1412. He wished to confer there with his friends with regard to the attitude which the church-reformers should take up at the synod which was shortly to meet. On January 2, 1413, King Venceslas published a decree summoning the members of the synod to meet at Nemecky Brod (Deutsch Brod) on February 1. The reason why the meeting was not to take place at Prague appears to have been that Archbishop Albik, though he had resigned his dignity, still resided in the archiepiscopal palace. Albik, however, removed from his former residence before February 1, and the synod took place at the palace of the archbishops. Two statements were immediately laid before the assembly. One, which emanated from the party that favoured the existent state of affairs—it would be invidious to call it the conservative party—stated that the present discord had been caused by some priests who had disobeyed their superiors, and by those who spread the heresies of Wycliffe. They therefore recommended that Wycliffe’s heresies should be again denounced, and that the papal bull which decreed the destruction of the Bethlehem chapel should be carried out. They also demanded that Hus should be delivered up to the temporal authorities to receive condign punishment. An additional paper from the same source offered suggestions as to the steps to be taken to suppress all opposition to the Church of Rome, and also protested against Hus’s visits to Prague, “be they manifest or secret.” The church-reformers in their statement demanded that Hus should be allowed to appear before the synod in his own defence. If no one there was prepared to bring accusations against him, then those who had calumniated him should be called on to prove that, as they had previously stated, heresies were prevalent in Bohemia; should they be unable to do this, they were to be punished. Simultaneously the university also forwarded to the synod a document from the pen of the gifted Master Jacobellus which covered the same ground as the one mentioned before, but expressed more fully and more clearly the views of the Bohemian church-reformers. It began by stating the necessity of restoring peace in Bohemia and putting a stop to the disorders in the Bohemian Church. The king should therefore take determined measures to secure the re-establishment of peace and concord, to destroy the heresy of simony, adultery, fornication, concubinage, and the superfluity of worldly goods and temporal power among the clergy. The priests would thus be able to discharge more freely their sacerdotal duties and live according to the rules of the gospel; the laity also would in consequence fulfil more worthily its duties according to the decrees of Scripture. All customs obviously contrary to Christ’s law which had been introduced among the Christian people should be extirpated everywhere—from the king downward to the meanest layman. With regard to Hus, the statement demanded that he should be confronted with his adversaries. Should it, after this confrontation, appear to be impossible to obtain both spiritual unity and worldly advantage, let at least peace and concord according to Christ’s law be maintained in Bohemia, and all be ordered to conform to it. Then would evil report and the accusation of heresy not harm the kingdom of Bohemia. If unfounded evil report did not harm the Son of God, neither would it harm the Bohemian kingdom. The puritanic note of this spirited declaration is very striking. We meet here with ideas such as that of the duty of rulers to suppress open sin that played a large part in the Hussite movement. The controversy continued, and both parties replied to the accusations raised against them by their opponents. The friends of church-reform denied again that Hus and his friends were guilty of heresy. They maintained that the real cause of the complaints against them was the fact that they had strongly denounced the vices prevalent among the Bohemian clergy. The party opposed to church-reform found a very energetic champion in John the iron, bishop of Litomysl, afterwards of Olomouc. He addressed to the new Archbishop Conrad a letter couched in very strong language, but which contained nothing that had not been previously stated. The bishop made no allusion to church-reform, but maintained that the pope alone could and should decide on all contentious questions of doctrine, and insisted on the blind obedience to their hierarchical superiors which was the duty of all priests. Hus was denounced in violent terms as one who shed the venom of his wickedness, heeding not the papal interdict, who falsely invoked in his favour decisions of the church that had never been published, that he might not be hindered by the teaching of the church which did not admit the “snarling of foxes and howling of wolves” which Hus mendaciously declared to be evangelical voices.[6] As was inevitable under the circumstances, the synod soon separated without having arrived at any conclusion. Hus had again left Prague, probably at the time when the sittings of the synod began. He appears again to have been guided by the advice of the king, who well knew that his renewed preaching at the Bethlehem chapel had greatly irritated those who wished to suppress at any price every discussion on the all-important question of the prevalence of simony.

King Venceslas was naturally greatly disappointed at the complete failure of the synod in which he had placed great hopes. He rightly attributed this failure mainly to the attitude of the opponents of Hus, and, always an enemy of the rich and overbearing higher clergy of Bohemia, he now became even more determined in his hostility to these men. He did not, however, even now despair of reconciling the contending parties. By his wish a large number of prominent ecclesiastics in April 1414 met for another conference at the house of Magister Kristan of Prachatice, parish priest of St. Michael, who was at that time also rector of the university. Kristan was a thorough adherent of Hus, and the choice of the meeting-place proves that the king still favoured the party of church-reform. As royal commissioners Archbishop Albik and Zdenek of Laboun, Provost of All Saints, were present. Four masters of theology, Peter and Stanislas of Znoymo, Stephen Palec, and John Elias, represented the theological faculty, in which the opponents of church-reform still had the upper hand. The other representatives of the university were, besides Kristan the rector, Magister Jacobellus, Simon of Tisnov, and John of Jesenice, one of Hus’s intimate friends, who seems to have acted as his representative at the conference. The conference ended almost as soon as it began. Acting by royal authority Zdenek of Laboun asked the assembly whether they would consider themselves bound by the decisions of the Roman Church in all matters of faith. Palec and his friends said that they agreed to this, but added that they wished to state that the Roman Church was that of which Pope John XXIII. was the head, and his cardinals the members. John of Jesenice protested against this statement declaring that the Roman Church was that of which Christ was the head while the pope was his representative. He added that he and his friends would obey this church “as faithful and pious Christians.” Laboun, who, like his master, wished above all things to re-establish concord in the country, declared that these definitions formed the base of an agreement and that their acceptation bound all present under penalty of fine and imprisonment to submit to whatever resolutions the conference might adopt. His hopes were not destined to be fulfilled. At the second meeting of the conference Stephen Palec raised various sophistical objections to the continuation of the proceedings.[7] The bad faith of Palec appears to have been so palpable that it caused the indignation of the royal commissioners, who spoke sharply to Palec, accusing him of rendering an agreement impossible, while the friends of church-reform had been willing to come to terms.[8] The conscience of Palec does not appear to have been very clear, for he and his colleagues did not assist again at the meetings of the conference, which therefore broke up. Palec and the other members of the theological faculty, declaring that they were afraid of the anger of King Venceslas, left Bohemia and retired to foreign countries, where they continued to stir up public opinion not only against Hus and his disciples, but also against the King and Queen of Bohemia and their court. Many of their falsehoods and fictions were circulated at Constance and have even found their way into books written centuries after these events. King Venceslas was not unnaturally indignant at the departure of Palec, which accentuated the failure of another attempt to re-establish concord in his kingdom. By a decree published in the month of April 1414 he pronounced the sentence of banishment against Palec and his companions and gave the order that other masters should in order of seniority obtain the offices that had become vacant.

Hus had on leaving Prague again retired to the castle of Kozi Hradek.[9] He seems now to have despaired of a reconciliation between the contending parties and to have spoken even more openly than before. Now, as ever, he dwelt little in his sermons on controversial matters of theology, but he exhorted the peasants who flocked to his preaching to lead honest, chaste, pious, and abstemious lives and to demand that the priests, who, according to the church, were superior to them in authority, should at least not be inferior to them in their private life. Hus preached not only in the immediate neighbourhood of Kozi Hradek, but also at more distant places such as Usti, Lhota, and at Cerveny Dvur, where, according to a very ancient tradition, he said mass in a barn. His sermons, preached of course in the national language, attracted great crowds and caused intense enthusiasm. The neighbourhood of Tabor henceforth became the centre of the partisans of church-reform. Among the younger men who listened to Hus’s preaching were many who afterwards as “warriors of God” formed part of the armies which under Zizka beat back the forces of the whole world that was in arms against Bohemia. From this period dates the immense popularity of Hus among the Bohemian people—a popularity that clings to his memory up to the present day. It would, however, be very untrue to history if we pictured Hus as a democratic or socialist agitator—and it is not only his enemies who have sometimes attempted to do this. Hus remained to his death a loyal subject of King Venceslas, and for his pious consort, Queen Sophia, he always retained a respectful admiration. He was always on terms of friendship with many of the Bohemian nobles, as is indeed proved by the fact that he sought refuge in their castles. As he wrote in his famed Bohemian letter of June 10, 1415—a letter to which I shall again refer—he wished “the nobles to rule justly, the burghers to conduct their business honestly, the artisans to work conscientiously, the servants to obey faithfully their master and mistress.” The unspeakably evil life, the avarice, and the simony of the Bohemian clergy strongly excited his indignation, and as a true Bohemian patriot he deeply resented the fact that, in consequence of former faulty regulations of the university, the rich benefices of his country were almost exclusively in the hands of German aliens. Frequent preaching did not, however, entirely absorb the activity of Hus at Kozi Hradek. He kept up a constant correspondence with his many friends at Prague and exhorted them to continue to worship at the Bethlehem chapel as long as it should not have been destroyed by the Germans; for it was frequently rumoured at this time that they had the intention of doing so. Some of Hus’s most important works also were written at the castle of Kozi.

Neither the departure of Hus from Prague nor the exile of Palec and his adherents had re-established tranquillity in the city. Lengthy and wordy warfare was carried on between the contending parties by means of numerous books and pamphlets. Some writings of Hus which deal with these polemics will be mentioned presently when referring to his works of this period. The population of Prague took an increasing interest in the controversy. Bohemia has, except during the not infrequent periods when the ruling powers have forbidden all discussions on matters of religion, been one of those countries where, as in England and Scotland, theological controversies have greatly interested the large masses of the people. Nicknames were soon given to the adherents of the contending parties, and while the upholders of church-reform were called “Wycleffites,” its opponents became known as “the Mohamedans.” The latter strange byname is said to have been given to them because of the violence with which they enforced their doctrines.[10] It may also have conveyed an ironical allusion to the morals of the rich parish priests of Prague, who were Hus’s bitterest enemies.

Foreign countries, in which—with the exception of England—Hus’s teaching had not hitherto attracted much attention, now began to feel a certain interest in the Bohemian movement in favour of church-reform. The first statements concerning the Bohemian movement came from France, a country that, mainly through dynastic links, had for some time been closely connected with Bohemia. A man whose opinion carried the greatest weight in France wrote denouncing severely the endeavours of Hus and his friends. This man was the famed divine, John Gerson, then chancellor of the University of Paris. Since Dr. Schwab[11] has proved that Gerson was not the author of the treatise De modis uniendi et reformandi Ecclesiam[12] long attributed to him, and on the strength of which he was believed to have been a tolerant and enlightened divine, Gerson’s violent attack on the Bohemian church-reformers no longer causes surprise. In a letter sent from Paris on May 27, 1414, to the new Archbishop Conrad,[13] Gerson denounced the heretical views that were then being spread in Bohemia, and earnestly entreated the archbishop to extirpate at any price all doctrines and practices contrary to the Roman Church. Gerson laid great stress on the necessity of employing if necessary the secular arm. This, he continued, the archbishop should do at any price lest his sheep be infected with the poison of heresy; for St. Peter, who had confided them to him, had ordered him to feed them, not to allow them to be poisoned. Archbishop Conrad was to appeal to King Venceslas to advise, request, and, if necessary, order him to exterminate all heresies, if he wished to avoid the penalties that awaited all rulers who were lax in the persecution of heretics. Conrad’s answer[14] was very short. He entirely joined in the reprobation of the “heresiarch” Wycliffe, and said that as far as it was his duty and circumstances permitted he would extirpate heresy, even at the risk of his soul or his body. Conrad, who had been a member of the royal court, knew how anxious the king was to re-establish peace among the Bohemian clergy, and how strongly he objected to the intervention of foreigners in what he considered the internal affairs of his country. Gerson was by no means deterred from further attempts to obtrude his unwelcome advice. He addressed another letter to the Archbishop of Prague,[15] in which he laid great stress on the fact that it was rather by fire and sword than by argument that the prevalent heresies should be extirpated.[16] Gerson sent with this letter a list of heretical statements which, as he said, had been made by Hus. We again find among them the wearisome falsehood that Hus had said that the sacraments were invalid when administered by an unworthy priest. These bitter letters, written some time before the meeting of the Council of Constance, render Gerson’s intransigent attitude at that assembly less surprising. The voice of Gerson did not remain isolated. Thus Simon, Cardinal of Rheims, addressed a letter to Archbishop Conrad in which he also begged him to extirpate heresy in his diocese.[17] The evil fame of Bohemia as a country where heretics dwelt now began to spread, and was indeed scarcely extinct among the uneducated in Austria before the beginning of the nineteenth century. We find an early proof of this animosity when we read that Bohemian students were attacked as being “heretics” at the then newly-founded University of Vienna. A letter of Magister Michael Malenic, rector of the University of Prague, in which he complains to the authorities of the Vienna University of the ill-treatment of Bohemian scholars, has been preserved.[18]

The movements of Hus are at this period very uncertain, but there is little doubt that he paid another short visit to Prague in April 1414. He appears not to have stayed there long. The letters of Gerson, who as chancellor of the famed University of Paris and friend of the French royal family was greatly esteemed, made Hus’s position in Prague even more difficult than it had been before, and they may also have impressed for a time King Venceslas. He was at heart always a friend of Hus, but greatly feared his treacherous younger brother Sigismund, through whose intrigues he had at the beginning of his reign twice been imprisoned by his own subjects. Utterly faithless and unscrupulous as was Sigismund, he was as ready to employ the accusation of heresy as any other for the purpose of injuring his brother. Hus, in whose character his deep gratitude for the often unstable support of his king must be noted as a somewhat touching feature, decided again to leave Prague. He did not, however, return to Kozi Hradek, but accepted the invitation of Lord Henry Lefl of Lazan to make his temporary home at Krakovec, one of Lord Henry’s many castles. Krakovec, near the small town of Rakonic in Western Bohemia, was, very conveniently for Hus, situated much nearer to the capital than Kozi Hradek. The career of Henry of Lazan is very interesting as being typical of that of many Bohemian nobles of his time. He had met Hus at the court of King Venceslas and had, like so many others, been fascinated by the manner and the enthusiasm of the young Bohemian priest. Lazan was one of those who, when Hus was illegally imprisoned at Constance, demanded most energetically that King Sigismund should release him. Yet he, some time after the execution of Hus, joined the forces of Sigismund, whom, after the death of King Venceslas, he considered his legitimate sovereign. He fell fighting against his country at the battle of the Vysehrad,[19] and before dying received communion in the two kinds according to the custom of his own Bohemian Church.[20] Perhaps among no class of men have these conflicts of contradictory duties been so frequent and so painful as among the nobles of Bohemia. At Krakovec, as at Kozi Hradek, Hus worked assiduously at the numerous and important books that belong to this period of his life. He also continued preaching to the people, who again flocked to his sermons, even from great distances. Hus was in constant touch with the court of King Venceslas, and it is probable that he was about this time informed of the plan of convoking a general council of the church, and of the possibility that he might be summoned to defend his opinions there. The innate goodness of Hus always led him to disbelieve in evil, unless confronted by its dire reality. He believed that the proceedings of the council would be somewhat similar to those of the “disputations” in which he had so often taken part in Prague. He did not think that the council would proceed almost exactly on the lines of the trials instituted by the inquisition, that he would merely be summoned to recant all statements attributed to him by his enemies—whether he had ever made them or not—and that in case of his refusal he would be delivered over to the civic authorities to suffer death at the stake.

Meanwhile the negotiations between Venceslas’s treacherous brother Sigismund and Pope John XXIII., which were to lead to the meeting of the council at Constance, had already begun. The diavolo cardinale was strongly opposed to a general council of the church, and particularly to one held outside the frontiers of Italy. He still had in that country a large military force by means of which he could, should a council meet in Italy, exercise over it the same dictatorial power which he had previously exercised at Pisa and Rome. On the other hand, the pope was obliged to consider the wishes of King Sigismund, for the two rival popes still had many adherents. Another difficulty that confronted the pope was that, even at that unscrupulous and unspeakably corrupt period, his evil life caused much scandal. At the recent “private council,” if we may call it so, Baldassare Cossa was said to have stopped on their way to Rome and ordered back all prelates whom he believed to be hostile to his cause. Sigismund, whose help against his old enemy, the King of Naples, Cossa then desired, was intent on furthering the meeting of a general council of the church, which was to assemble under his control in an imperial free city. He rightly thought that nothing would contribute more to the restoration of the somewhat faded prestige of the empire. The fact that war was then about to break out between England and France also made the moment appear a favourable one for reviving the glories of the Holy Roman Empire. It is probable that to the humble priest John of Husinec Sigismund also assigned a part in his far-reaching plans. Sigismund, always well informed on matters concerning Bohemia, knew that Venceslas had to a great extent regained his popularity in that country. His vices, in consequence of the influence of the pious Queen Sophia, were less prominent. He was decidedly popular with the townsmen and on good terms with a large part of the nobility. Sigismund knew that he could not now, acting as a bandit, seize and imprison his brother, as had been possible formerly. Sigismund had, as he mentioned at Constance, followed the career of Hus from its beginning. He did not doubt that the pious, simple-minded priest, whose actions were entirely governed by his conscience, would consider it his duty to appear at the council. Still less did he doubt that it would be possible to prevent Hus’s return to his native country. This, at least, he was from the first determined to prevent. Sigismund believed—wrongly, as events proved,—that Hussitism, Hus once removed, would have a brief and precarious existence. The king knew that both Venceslas and Queen Sophia were already suspected of heresy. Should they be convicted of it, Sigismund could, as defender of the Roman faith, conquer Bohemia and free himself of his detested brother. The English students of the life of Hus have generally first met with Sigismund when he entered the cathedral of Constance on Christmas Day, 1414. His earlier record, his actions in Poland and Hungary, tainted as they are with perfidy and treachery of every description, are less known.[21]

The two men, who, not to the honour of humanity, were then the rulers of the Christian world, had some difficulty in agreeing as to the locality and the date of the council. When the papal envoys, Cardinals Antony of Challant and Francis Zabarella, who were accompanied by the Greek scholar Chrysolaras, visited Sigismund at Como in October 1413, they used


all their eloquence to persuade him to consent to the meeting of the council on Italian soil. Sigismund had, however, already decided that the council should meet at Constance, and not to lose time, he published a decree[22] dated October 31, 1413, in which he stated that the papal envoys had in the name of the Pope John XXIII. and with the approval of King Sigismund convoked a general council of the church that was to meet at Constance on November 1, 1414. Cossa was still reluctant, but at a meeting with Sigismund at Cremona at Christmas, 1413, he gave his definitive consent, and even promised to be present at the council. The meeting at Cremona has retained some celebrity because of the alleged intention of Gabrino Fondolo, tyrant of Cremona, to throw the spiritual and secular rulers of the world from the summit of a high tower to which he had conducted them.

Sigismund employed his great energy in endeavouring to induce all countries to send their representatives to the council. France was secretly ill disposed to the meeting of the council, and indeed to Sigismund who, abandoning the traditional policy of the House of Luxemburg, which was favourable to France, was then engaged in negotiations with England. The popular feeling was, however, at that time so strongly in favour of a council that, largely in consequence of the intercession of the University of Paris, the rulers of France decided to send representatives to Constance. England was favourable to the council. It was no doubt in consequence of the reaction against Wycliffe’s teaching that the English representatives assumed what would now be called an ultramontane attitude at Constance. In every part of Europe the coming council was awaited with great anxiety. In view of the hopeless condition of the church ruled by men such as Cossa, it was hoped and believed that a council inspired by the Holy Ghost would re-establish union in the church and also—what appeared almost more important—check the unspeakable corruption of the priesthood. From the sources we possess it does not appear very clearly when the negotiations to induce Hus to attend the council began. As one who was excommunicated he was by canon law prohibited from attending a council. His frequent -requests to appear before the recent synod at Prague had met with a refusal. It was, therefore, a very serious step on the part of Hus to proceed to Constance. Yet now, as at every moment when he believed that he was obeying God’s command, he did not hesitate. The negotiations concerning Hus’s journey to Constance were probably carried on at the castle of Krakovec. Peter of Mladenovic,[23] who is our foremost authority on the last months of the life of Hus, writes:[24] “After having come to an agreement with Pope John XXIII. for the purpose that a general council of the church should be held at Constance in Suabia, King Sigismund sent from Lombardy certain Bohemian noblemen, his councillors and friends, who were to persuade Magister John Hus to proceed to Constance that he might there purge both himself and the kingdom of Bohemia from the infamous accusation (i.e., of heresy). They were to inform him that the king would grant him a safe-conduct which would enable him to go safely to Constance and to return safely to Bohemia.” The much-discussed though really very clear question as to Hus’s safe-conduct will have to be mentioned when referring to its violation by Sigismund. It should, however, here already be noted that Sigismund distinctly guaranteed Hus’s safe return to Bohemia, whatever might be the decision of the council. Hus, Mladenovic continues, having received so great and so far-reaching promises, wrote to the king that he would proceed to Constance.

There were not wanting warning voices that advised Hus to reconsider his decision. Even one of Sigismund’s envoys,
Distribution of food at Constance during the ecumenical council 1414–1418.jpg


(From Reichental’s Chronicle of the Council of Constance)

Nicholas Divoky of Jemniste—according to the Bohemian custom of abbreviating names he was generally known as Divucek—during the final negotiations that took place at Prague said to Hus: “Master, be sure that thou wilt be condemned.” A member of the court of one of the most perfidious of rulers, Divucek well knew how easy it would be to Sigismund and to the council to apply to Hus the then generally accepted maxim that no faith should be kept with heretics. Hus at this time, probably to consult his friends, left Krakovec and again visited Prague for a short time. Here many of the prominent members of the university also entreated him to remain in Bohemia, where he would be safe under the protection of the nobles and the people. Many of the nobles—as one of them afterwards declared at the council—were not only willing, but able to defend Hus in their castles against all enemies. Of the sympathy of King Venceslas and the more open friendship of the queen, Hus felt sure. Yet he remained firm. He wrote several letters of farewell to friends, one of which has somewhat the form of a last will. There is, however, no justification in suggesting, as has been sometimes done, that Hus believed from the first that King Sigismund would break his word. His way lay through a wide expanse of German territory, and he knew, and even exaggerated, the hostility of the Germans to his person. It was also known that the former German members of the University of Prague were stirring up the people against Hus and the Bohemian kingdom. Hus being a man of truly apostolical poverty, it now became necessary to raise money to enable him to undertake so lengthy a journey. Many of the nobles and probably the king and queen contributed to the expenses. The university, which considered him its representative at the council, also supplied some financial aid. The “nobles presented him with a comfortable carriage, Lord Pflug of Rabstein gave him a handsome horse, and another noble also gave him a horse.”[25] On October 11, 1414, Hus left Prague accompanied by Lord Venceslas of Duba, Lord John of Chlum, whom King Sigismund had deputed to escort him, Peter of Mladenovic, private secretary to Lord John, and some attendants. A large crowd, including many magisters and other members of the university, accompanied him to the city gate. Many expressed fears that Hus would never return to his native country.

It has already been mentioned that the years 1412–1414 were the years of Hus’s greatest literary activity. It will be well to notice first his Bohemian writings, which are more interesting as giving a clearer insight into the individuality of the writer. The recent researches of scholars have added so largely to the number of works rightly or wrongly attributed to Hus that I shall here confine myself to the mention of a few that are particularly valuable.[26] To the earliest part of this period, if not to a yet earlier date,[27] belong two treatises entitled Zrcadlo Hrichuv (the Mirror of Sin), an almost literal translation of fhe work entitled Speculum Peccatoris that has been attributed to St. Augustine, and a similar shorter work entitled Mensi Zrcadlo (the Smaller Mirror). To the year 1412 belong a series of expositions (Vyklad) dealing consecutively of the faith, the commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer[28] and a short work entitled Dcerka (the Daughter) dedicated to one of the pious women who had taken up their abode near the Bethlehem chapel. An ancient and interesting tradition states that the book was dedicated to Anezka, the daughter of Thomas of Stitny. The teaching of Hus is here quite in accordance with that of the Roman Church. He here and everywhere maintains the mediæval and indeed monkish theory of the superiority of maidenhood to the state of a matron.

Of greater interest than any of these writings is the short book entitled O Svatokupectvi (On Simony) written early in 1413; for it deals with the real cause of the Bohemian troubles of this period. The intense horror and detestation of the traffic in ecclesiastical titles and religious dignities—enhanced by the fact that both buyer and seller were generally Germans—was really the greatest factor in the religious upheaval of Bohemia. This has often been overlooked by those who have written on this period, though it is obvious enough to the reader of the contemporary Bohemian chronicles. In close connection with this point arose the question whether men who had by foul and unworthy means obtained ecclesiastical dignities could truly and validly administer the sacraments. Hus himself, as has already been stated, held the orthodox Roman opinion, but the subject gave rise to much discussion, which was by no means exclusively caused by the study of Wycliffe’s works. The troubles of the schism had, of course, increased the difficulty of judging what bishops and priests could administer the sacraments validly. The papal secretary Collucio, in a letter addressed to Margrave Jodocus of Moravia, even stated that a schismatical or simoniacal pope could not ordain true bishops, and that those who worshipped the sacrament administered by a schismatical priest worshipped an idol.[29] It was for this reason that the Hussites in the “Articles of Prague” and elsewhere laid so great stress on the administration of the sacrament by “worthy priests.”

It is with this then burning question that the treatise on simony[30] deals. It was stated by the adherents of all the contending popes that their opponents were heretics, and at that period, more than at any other, the accusation of heresy was scattered broadcast among the people. Hus desired to affirm that simony also is a form of heresy. Written at a time when Hus was incessantly accused of heresy by all those whom his denunciations of simony displeased, the book has, of course, an intensely personal note. In the first chapter Hus writes: “As simony is heresy, and as the evil denounce good men as heretics, I wish—as an admonition and confirmation for the good, and also for the correction of the evil—to define first of all what heresy is, that people may know whether those are heretics to whom they give that name, or whether they are themselves tainted by heresy.” Hus then gives a definition of heresy derived almost literally from St. Augustine, and identical with the one contained in his Super IV. Sententiarum.[31] In the following chapter Hus defines the three sources from which heresy springs; they are apostacy, blasphemy, and simony. Apostacy is committed by those who forsake God’s laws. Those are guilty of blasphemy who attempt to limit God’s power, or speak irreverently of him, or attribute to human force things that God alone can do; among the latter are the priests, who say that they are creators of God, that they create the body of God whenever they wish, and that they send to hell whomever they will. Even such a short extract from this chapter conveys an idea of the unlimited power which a clergy holding such views necessarily acquired over an uneducated population, and of the terrible consequences which such a power wielded by immoral and unscrupulous men was likely to produce.

In the third chapter Hus writes of the origin and development of simony. Its beginnings, he tells us, date from the time of the Old Testament. It had “two fathers, one in the Old Testament called Gehazi, the other in the New Testament called Simon. The former took gifts for the healing of Naaman of leprosy,[32] the latter gave the apostles money,[33] wishing to obtain the power of conferring the Holy Ghost on men by laying their hands on them—but I will now more plainly describe the simonists, who are like those sons who, having had evil fathers before them, put on their boots.”[34] “Know then,” Hus continues, “that as those who follow Simon are called Simoniacs or Simonists, thus the followers of Gehazi are called Gehazites, those of Balaam Balaamites, of Jeroboam Jeroboamites, of Judas Judites.” Hus, whose knowledge of Scripture was exceptionally extensive for his time, enlarges on these early simonists and then proceeds to more recent events. He writes: “Thus this year lying, lascivious, avaricious men, who by their evil deeds disowned Christ and derided the true path of Christ, have robbed the people by false indulgences, imagining strange speeches and absolutions, and granting remittance of all sins and punishments. And these men having the support of the masters (of the university) robbed the people all the more boldly, and lied as much as they could. But our dear Lord God gave the inspiration of the Holy Ghost to the good priests that they might preach against these liars, and to faithful laymen also (he gave it) that they should bravely risk their lives[35] and they offered up three lives (namely), Martin, John and Stasek[36] who, because they protested against false preaching, were beheaded in Prague, while others were struck, whipped and cudgelled in the church of Prague by the choir-boys, and others again cursed, insulted and imprisoned. Praise be given to Thee, dear Christ, that Thou hast given Thy faithful such grace that they professed Thy truth.”

In the following chapters Hus deals with simony as it appears in the different ranks of the hierarchy. He first—in Chapter IV.—treats of the papacy, and begins by refuting the theory that it is impossible that a pope should commit a sin and therefore that he should be guilty of simony. Hus then denies that the pope is the most holy father, whom sin cannot touch; for only one is our most Holy Father, the Lord God whom sin cannot touch. Hus then proceeds to define in the customary scholastic fashion of his time the different manners in which a pope can commit simony. Always, however, mainly interested in the affairs of his own country and endeavouring to contribute to its spiritual welfare, he soon refers to the manner in which in Bohemia, as in other countries, papal nominees, often men of detestable reputation, were appointed to ecclesiastical dignities. “Is it not,” he writes, “contrary to God’s regulations that the pope should decree that his cooks, porters, equerries, footmen, should have first claim on the most important benefices even in lands of which they do not know the language?” This matter had great practical importance in Bohemia, where at that moment Roman nominees had even more than in other countries taken the places of native priests.[37] In Chapter V. Hus refers to bishops. “A worthy bishop,” he writes, “must be of holy life, called by God through the will of the people, and without having bestowed gifts. When he is called, let him consider himself unworthy; and when he is compelled to accept, let him do so meekly for the praise of God, for the salvation of the people, and his own. For if he who accepts a bishopric is of holy life, full of learning and thus able to instruct the people, chosen by God through the people, consecrated and approved without gifts, then he truly enters into (possession of) his bishopric. But how nowadays shall such a one, who is worthy, be elected, and also confirmed by the pope? Sooner will the bridge of Prague break down than that any one shall in this holy manner obtain possession of the bishopric of Prague.” This interesting passage proves that Hus had studied the records of the early church, when men were modestly reluctant to accept the office of bishop, and had almost to be forced to do so. Hus’s ideal bishop also contrasts strangely with the bishops of his own time, who were warriors and lawyers rather than priests. In Chapter VI. Hus deals with, the monks and specially with the mendicant friars. Of these, like most mediæval writers, he speaks unfavourably. After referring to St. Bernard, on one of whose works this chapter is, according to Dr. Novotny, partly founded, Hus writes: “But he who has not the books of St. Bernard, let him observe their (the friars’) deeds, how with their meals and their servants, their fattening and dressing (their food), their dishes and goblets, their drinking and their spoons, they surpass the lords of the land. Driving in their carriages also and riding on their horses they surpass the lords of the land and the knights. Then in feasting and banqueting with their friends and others, who are compliant to them, they lose (spend) their alms very gaily. And how much do they spend on the keep of their dogs of various breeds ? Who can write of their foreign wines of various fragrance? St. Bernard, a monk, describes to us how this one of their wines tastes of wormwood, that of rosemary, that of laurel, that of sage, that of elecampane, that of ginger, how sweet some are, and others how fragrant; and these they pour out, now from one distillery, now from another. And though thou, St. Bernard, wert not in Bohemia, I will tell thee that they (the friars) have also beer, both old and new, heavy and light. If unknown laymen visit them, they give them this light beer, thinking that they will believe that they (the friars) also drink it, and also that they (the visitors) may drink less. But if they perceive a man of whom they think that he might wish to rest (to be buried) with them after death, or of whom they hope that he may give them something, then they draw for him a good pittance,[38] and one pittance follows another, and with them a pittance signifies to drink deeply and to feed well. Thus have these poor people renounced the bodily pleasures of this world that there are no men who have a more delightful dwelling-place for their bodies. Kings, lords, princes have not always food and drink so good, and always ready. The cellars of worldly men are sometimes empty, theirs never. Kings and lords may not find their food cooked and roasted, and may even lack bread, but for them deliciously white bread is always ready.”

In the following two short chapters—VIII. and IX.—Hus discourses on simony among the lower clergy, and among the laity. Chapter IX., one of the most interesting, treats of those who indirectly abet simony, and shows how difficult it was at that time to avoid committing that sin. Among those here accused by Hus we find also the magisters of the university, and this affords to him the opportunity of introducing references to himself that, written with touching humility, appeal to all readers of his works. He writes: “Truly have I in the schools heard the magisters speak of humility, patience, poverty, courage, and other virtues, and very diligently and firmly did they speak, as if nothing could be better, and as if they fulfilled (possessed) all these virtues; but then in their deeds I found naught of these virtues, but a fulness of pride, avarice, impatience, and cowardice. And, as dear Christ states, they lay heavy burdens on the people, issuing their decrees, pressing forward to (obtain) the highest dignities of priesthood; and if men bow not before them like before gods, they wax angry; and if they are not placed at the highest place at table, they strangely mark their displeasure, and they dispute much for the foremost place in the schools.” After a reference to the pride of the monk Marik, one of Hus’s adversaries at Prague, Hus continues his reflections on the magisters, whom he compares to the Pharisees. He writes: “Our Saviour said that they (the magisters) love the first places at assemblies, they spread out the edges of their robes and cloaks and tabards and mantles. Alas! I also had these tabards, robes with wide sleeves, capes lined with white fur; for, alas! thus have they hedged in the rank of magister that you cannot attain it if you have not these garments. Therefore to guard men against pride did Our Saviour say to his disciples and the people: ‘But be not ye called Rabbi, for one is your master, even Christ.’[39] Of these words St. Jerome has said that Christ thus wished to check evil desires, so that none might from pride claim to be called master. And truly I do not understand how a man can worthily be a master unless it be that he may have a better place to teach God’s truth, and that he may more bravely speak the truth and defend it. But I have already found that simple poor priests, poor laymen, and women defend the truth more bravely than doctors of the Holy Writ, who from fear flee from the truth and dare not speak it. And I, myself, alas! was he who dared not sincerely and openly preach the truth. And why are we (magisters) thus? Because we are cowardly, fearing some of us to lose the praise of the world, and its favour, others (fearing to lose) our income. We are as the Jewish priests of whom St. John wrote: ‘Among the chief rulers many believed in him, but because of the Pharisees, they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue. For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.’”[40]

The extreme conscien tiousness and the extreme humility of Hus areappare nt in this chapter. He deeply repented the natural, momentary pleasure which the son of the peasant of Husinec felt when first arrayed in academic garb, and again felt doubtful whether he had done his duty when he left Prague for Kozi Hradek.

The last chapter of the treatise on simony endeavours to find a remedy for the terrible abuses which had been so powerfully described in the previous ones. Hus’s suggestions are very bold, and they must have added greatly to the already large number of his enemies among the Bohemian clergy. Hus begins by expressing a somewhat Utopian hope that Christianity would return to the institutions of the primitive church. “The best way” (to prevent simony), he writes, “would be that men be elected bishops and parish priests according to God’s will. Thus did the apostles act, having no revelation as to whom they should receive as bishop in place of Judas. Referring to this, St. Jerome[41] says: ‘As so great a man as Moses was not allowed to choose the priests of the people according to his own sagacity, or to appoint a substitute, who would there be among the people—who are often excited by rumours, vain-glory and material advantages—who also among the priests, who would consider himself worthy (to be a priest or bishop)? He only to whom, after he has implored God and prayed, God manifests this wish that he should become a priest.’” Direct election by God is therefore, according to Hus, the most perfect way by which the priests of the Lord could be appointed. The Bohemian brethren who considered themselves the true successors of Hus actually attempted to carry out this precept.[42] From these ideal heights Hus descends to more matter-of-fact suggestions. He considered the present system of the appointment of bishops and priests as a necessary evil, but thought that strict subjection of the clergy to the secular power would act as a beneficial control, and check the sins and especially the simony prevalent among the clergy. “As every king,” he writes, “has of God power over his kingdom that he may truly and justly rule his kingdom, and as the priests are in the kingdom, the king must guide them in the path of truth and justice; and he would not guide them in the path of truth and justice did he allow them, like negligent servants, to incur the wrath of the Highest of Kings; he would not thus fulfil the duties of his royal office.”

I must reluctantly refrain from dwelling longer on the treatise O Svatokupectvi, to which I have perhaps already devoted too much space. It is, however, impossible, I think, to exaggerate the importance of this treatise. The positions of the contending parties, of the king and his court, of the opulent and simoniac clergy, and of the church-reformers, with whom was the great mass of the people, appear very clearly. We understand the true causes of the prolonged struggle in Prague which was delineated in the previous chapters. I may here mention that I entirely agree with a remark made some years ago by the late Rev. A. H. Wratislaw, who wrote: The treatise on simony would well bear translation into English as a whole.

That Hus was thoroughly aware of the importance of his book, of its boldness, and of the danger to which it might expose him, is proved by its closing words. “I have written these leaflets,” he tells us, “knowing that I should obtain through them neither praise nor kindness nor bodily advantage either from avaricious priests nor from others who are laymen, for I demand no such things from them, desiring only God’s reward and salvation. And if blame and torment befall me, I have placed it before my mind that it is better to suffer death for the truth than to obtain by flattery earthly reward. Thus also St. Paul said: ‘If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.’[43] Understand then: if I had by flattery pleased the people, I should not have been a servant of God—therefore I avoid flattery that I may not imperil the souls of others and my own by flattery. Openly and simply have I set down my speech, that I may as far as is in my power crush and weed out simony. Deign Thou to be helpful to me in this cause, oh, merciful Saviour.” I am not, I hope, prejudiced as being a countryman of Hus if I venture to state that, according to my opinion, few sublimer words have ever been written by the pen of man.

To the year 1413 belongs also another of Hus’s most valuable Bohemian works. It may be stated generally that the treatise on Simony, the Postilla to which I shall now refer, and the Letters are the most precious of Hus’s works written in his own language. It is in them that we find the true Hus, not in the scholastic and sometimes sophistical controversies with Stokes, Palec, and others. The Postilla, finished by Hus on October 28, 1413, was not actually the last even of his Bohemian works. It was, however, the last of his more extensive and striking writings and was therefore afterwards greatly venerated as his “testament” or “last will.” A particular veneration for the Holy Scriptures was characteristic of Hus as of Matthew of Janov and all Bohemian church-reformers. The Bible was, however, very little known to the Bohemian people, and its study was by no means encouraged by the priests. The Postilla is a collection of sermons on the gospel for every Sunday and more important holy days of the year. Hus writes in his introduction: “I resolved for the glory of God, and for the salvation of the faithful Bohemians, who wish to know and to fulfil God’s will, briefly to expound with God’s help the gospel for all the Sundays of the year. I desire that those who read or listen be saved, that they may beware of sin, love God above all things, love one another, increase in virtue and pray to the Lord God for me, sinner.” Hus then alludes to the ignorance of the Bible that was general among the Bohemians. “As the people,” he writes, “generally have no gospel written in Bohemian, and it is difficult to understand an exposition without a foundation (previous knowledge), therefore will I always place the gospel first (at the beginning) of the exposition.” The Bohemians thus became acquainted with at least a small part of the Holy Scriptures, which was read out to them in their own language.

Hus in this work, and indeed generally when he is not writing according to the scholastic method, shows a lightness of touch and a sometimes almost playful manner which render the Postilla very attractive. Since the Bohemians have obtained at least a certain amount of religious liberty, the book has been frequently published.[44] It is very difficult to give short extracts from a book such as the Postilla, but I think that a quotation from the exposition of the gospel for Palm Sunday[45] will give an idea of the interest and value of the book. After quoting the gospel of the day,[46] Hus writes: “Our gracious Saviour, approaching Jerusalem for our salvation, as to-day, showed great humility, great mercy; and entering the temple he showed humility, mercy, and justice. Humility because though being the Lord and King of the whole world he rode simply on an ass, to condemn worldly pride. Mercy he showed because, coming to Jerusalem and knowing what would befall its people both in spirit and in body, he cried bitterly till he sobbed, and unable to finish his speech said: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if thou hadst known, even thou’—he did not through tears finish his speech, but cried.

“In the temple also he showed mercy when the blind and lame came up to him, and he healed them. Justice he showed when with a whip he drove the priests and merchants out of the temple, saying to them: ‘It is written. My house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves.’” After again referring to the gospel of the day, Hus continues: “Behold this is what, word by word, the pope, the bishop, the parish priest must read to-day when they stand at the church gates in procession, that is, in the ordered march of the deacons and the rest of the people. And I know not how the pope could well read out this, if he can read, or a bishop; for there are many popes, archbishops, cardinals, bishops, canons, and parish priests who know not how to read in books. How also could (such a one) wish to read (the gospel) when everything (contained in it) would be against him? Christ on an ass and he on a large white stallion or horse, with a golden bit, the bit, girths and harness adorned with gold and precious stones; coloured tassels float from his hat down to the ground, and the caparison which covers his steed trails to the earth; before him they drive an ass or mule, which carries the body of Christ[47] and sometimes feeds on the grass in the fields; meanwhile they heed not Christ but kneel before the pope. They carry a baldachin over him, call him the most holy, throng round him begging for prebends and kissing his feet, if the mercenaries clad in armour, who with silver clubs drive away the poor, permit it. And he (the pope) sits on his war-horse smiling that he has so much praise. And our dear, tranquil, meek Redeemer rides onward on his mule weeping bitterly.” Hus gives here a very striking sketch of the appearance and surroundings of a great warrior-priest of his time. If we remember that the reigning pope of the time was the diavolo cardinale, the contrast between the haughtiness of the pope and the meekness of Jesus Christ contained in this passage has a touch of very bitter though perhaps unintentional irony. Here, as ever, Hus expresses the craving for the return to the simplicity of the primitive church, which was the ideal of most noble minds of his time. The ideal may have been delusory and unattainable; it was certainly noble.

He who attempts to outline the life of Hus must allude to all those of his works that are important, or characteristic of the writer. I cannot, therefore, omit the strange little book entitled, Writings against the Priest-Kitchenmaster. The work, written, as the title indicates, in a popular manner, met with great favour, and has been mentioned oftener than it deserves. Written in 1414, it was first printed in 1509, at an earlier period than almost any other work of Hus.[48] It certainly gives evidence of the occasional smallness of a great mind. It appears that Hus, during his exile, perhaps while a guest at the castle of one of the Bohemian nobles, met a “priest-kitchenmaster” (or steward of the kitchen), who is otherwise unknown to us. The man, who had given up his ecclesiastical rank to take a situation in a kitchen, affronted Hus, stating that “he was worse than any devil.” Hus bore down on the unfortunate cook with all the weight of his scholastic skill. He advances fifteen arguments to prove that he was not worse than the devil, one of them being that the devil had sinned for 6005 years, while he (Hus) had not sinned for fifty years, not having as yet attained that age. Incidentally—and this is the only real interest of the book—Hus shows how largely the priests then occupied secular offices. “The priests,” he writes, “now strive to obtain a hold on all worldly offices, where they smell money. We find priests as burgraves, priests at the register offices, priests as judges, priests as estate-agents, priests as cooks, priests as writers, and if the beadle’s work were not so hard and so ill-paid, we would find priests as beadles also.” Hus then somewhat uncharitably reminds his adversary of the proverb that there is no shorter walk than that from the kitchen to the beer-cellar.

Of the Latin writings of Hus that belong to this period, the most important is the treatise De Ecclesia. It was the principal cause or rather pretext of his condemnation at Constance. The book is an abridgment of the work of Wycliffe that bears the same name, and its last chapters are also largely-grounded on Wycliffe’s treatise De Potestate Papae. It is not only certain that Hus differed from Wycliffe on several dogmatic subjects—being nearer to the teaching of the Roman Church than the English reformer was—but we have also no proof that he considered all the statements contained in the treatise De Ecclesia as absolute and indisputable truths. He never asserted this, and when questioned on this subject at the Council of Constance, declared that he would withdraw whatever might be contrary to the true faith, if valid evidence from Scripture were placed before him. No such discussion was allowed to take place. The members of the council interrupted Hus with loud threats and cries and silenced him. The condemnation of Hus was for the council a foregone conclusion, and as the treatise De Ecclesia contained sentences of Wycliffe that had already been declared heretical, the treatise was the safest weapon to bring about the death of Hus.

The keynote of the treatise De Ecclesia is the theory of predestination, but as will have to be noted when dealing with the trial of Hus, it is not certain that his views differed widely from those of the Roman Church at the point of development which they had then attained. The theory of predestination had undoubtedly by both Wycliffe and Hus been adopted from St. Augustine. In some cases the views expressed by St. Augustine do not differ widely from those contained in Hus’s treatise De Ecclesia.[49] On the subject of predestination, as on almost all more important points, Hus was not allowed freely to express his views at Constance; but it is evident that he firmly believed that his views on this subject were not opposed to those of the Roman Church. He relied on his studies of the works of St. Augustine. A man of great humility and simplicity, he little thought that St. Augustine himself was little in favour with the churchmen of that day, who were statesmen, lawyers, warriors, anything but priests.[50]

The principal ideas contained in the treatise De Ecclesia may be briefly summarised thus: All men are divided into two classes, those who are—either conditionally or unconditionally—predestined (predestinati) to eternal bliss, and those who are foreknown (presciti) to damnation. The mass of the predestinati form the true Holy Catholic Church, but the church as at present constituted includes the presciti as well as the predestinati. Of the true church Christ is the only head. As man He is “head of the church within it” (caput intrinsecum), as God He is its “head without” (caput extrinsecum). Christ is the true Roman pontiff, the high priest, and the bishop of souls. The apostles did not call themselves “Holy Father” or “Head of the Church,” but servant of God and servant of the church. A change came with the “donation of Constantine.”[51] Thenceforth the pope considered himself as head (capitaneus) of the church and Christ’s vicar upon earth. It is not, however, certain that the pope is Christ’s successor in this world. Only then is he Christ’s representative and the successor of St. Peter, and only then are the cardinals successors of the apostles, when they follow the examples of faith, modesty, and love which St. Peter and the apostles gave. Many popes and cardinals have not done this, and indeed many saintly men, who never were popes, were truer successors of the apostles than, for instance, the present pope (John XXIII.) St. Augustine did more for the welfare of the church than many popes, and studied its doctrines more profoundly than any cardinal from the first to the last. If pope and cardinals give their attention to worldly affairs, if they scandalise the faithful by their ambition and avarice, then are they successors not of Christ, not of Peter, not of the apostles, but of Satan, of Antichrist Judas Iscariot. It is not certain that the pope is really the head of the church; he cannot even be sure that he is not a prescitus, and therefore no member of the true church at all. St. Peter erred even after he had been called by Christ. Pope Leo was a heretic and Pope Gregory (XII.) was but recently condemned by the Council of Pisa. It is a popular fallacy to imagine that a pope is necessary to rule the church. We must be thankful to God that He gave us His only son to rule over the church, and He would be able to direct it, even if there were no temporal pope, or if a woman occupied the papal throne.[52] As with the pope and the cardinals, so with the prelates and the clergy generally. There is a double clergy, that of Christ, and that of Antichrist. The former live according to the law of God, the latter seek only worldly advantage, Not every priest is a saint, but every saint is a priest. Faithful Christians are, therefore, great in the church of God, but worldly prelates are among its lowest members, and may indeed, should they be presciti, not be members of the church at all.

Of the other Latin works that belong to this period, in which—as already mentioned—Hus’s literary activity was greatest, only a few can be mentioned. Foremost among them, mainly because of its great historical interest, is Hus’s Appeal from the Pope to Jesus Christ,[53] to which I have already referred.[54] To the haughty and worldly clergy of the time it appeared both absurd and insolent, and every mention of the document was at Constance received with jeers and derision. With the articles derived from Wycliffe’s works, which Hus was, rightly or wrongly, stated to have accepted in their entirety, and the ludicrously untrue and wicked statement that Hus had declared that he was one of the persons of the divinity, the appeal was the document by which the council was mostly influenced when it pronounced sentence on Hus. This is a striking proof of the unacknowledged and perhaps unconscious scepticism which prevailed among the rich prelates whose influence directed the deliberations at Constance. Hus’s profound piety is evident in every line of his appeal. He confidently appeals to “the omnipotent God, the first and last refuge of the oppressed, the Lord who will preserve the truth in all eternity.” Hus then quotes the examples of Christ himself, St. Chrysostomus, Bishops Andrew of Prague and Robert of Lincoln as precedents for his direct appeal to God.[55] He then begs all faithful in Christ, particularly the princes, barons, knights, citizens, and all other inhabitants of the Bohemian kingdom, to pity him, who had been unjustly struck down by excommunication on the instigation of his enemy, Michael de causis. Pope John XXIII. had decreed this punishment without even granting a hearing to Hus’s representatives, a favour which should not even be refused to Jew, pagan, or heretic. Hus ends by again appealing to the “Lord Jesus Christ, the justest judge, who knows, protects, and rewards all men whose cause is just.” Though one of Hus’s shortest works, the Appeal is, because of its historical interest, one of the best known. We therefore possess very numerous manuscripts of the treatise, and it has been frequently printed and translated into Bohemian, German, English, and French.

The Appellatio dates from August 1412, and almost at the same time Hus first wrote a short treatise, which he afterwards submitted to the Council of Constance, and which in consequence has become known as his protest to the council.[56] Hus frequently refers in his other writings to this brief document, which is a short confession of faith. He repeatedly affirms in it that he is a faithful member of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the head and bridegroom of the holy church which he redeemed, and that he never had maintained and never would maintain any doctrine that was contrary to the truth, and that he was ready to lay down his life for the law of Christ.

Incessantly attacked as Hus was by opponents who were largely influenced by personal and egotistical motives, he naturally became engaged in frequent polemics. This applies to this period also, though not so exclusively as to the previous one. Of the polemical works written between 1412 and 1414 I will only mention two. One of these is the treatise entitled Replica Contra Prædicatorem Plznensem (A Reply to the Preacher of Plzen). It is very interesting as showing what outrageous pretensions the Bohemian clergy raised at this period. They explain to a great extent the stern disapproval and dislike of priests shown by many genuinely pious Bohemians at this time. The friends of Hus informed him that a preacher at Plzen had in his sermons raised strange—to a modern mind they appear blasphemous—claims on behalf of the clergy. The priest had stated, among other things, that the worst priest was better than the best layman,[57] and that a priest when officiating was the father of God and the creator of God’s body.[58] Hus then drew attention to a book, entitled Stella Clericonum, which was then widely read by the clergy. The book contained even more outrageous statements than those mentioned before. Thus the superiority of priests over the Virgin Mary was affirmed.[59] Hus indignantly repudiated these pretensions of the clergy, which he rightly stigmatised as being blasphemous. This little known polemical treatise to a great extent explains the strong opposition to the doctrine of transubstantiation which we find in the writings of many Bohemian church-reformers, though not in those of Hus. Though greatly disapproving of claims such as those mentioned above, Hus always accepted the doctrine of transubstantiation as taught by the Roman Church.

The only other polemical work of this period which I shall mention is Hus’s Answer to the Writings of Stanislas. Stanislas of Znoymo had at the beginning of the Bohemian movement been a favourer of church-reform and a personal friend of Hus. He shared the latter’s admiration of the writings of Wycliffe, and accepted the theories of the English church-reformer far more unconditionally than Hus ever did. Stanislas several times defended the famous articles of Wycliffe before the University of Prague. He afterwards entirely changed his views and became, with Palec and the infamous Michael de causis, one of Hus’s bitterest enemies. It was, of course, the principal task of these enemies to maintain that Hus had expressed heretical opinions, and that they attacked him for this reason, not because he blamed the evil life of the Bohemian priests. Stanislas had written a book, known from its opening words as Alma Venerabilis. This book has not been preserved and we can only judge of its contents by Hus’s refutation. It is certain that in his work Stanislas dealt largely with the power and authority of the pope, which he appears to have defined in a manner similar to that of the most extreme modern ultramontanes. His opinions were thus in direct opposition to those of Hus.[60] As Hus very openly stated, Stanislas was to a great extent influenced by fear. Hus did not omit to draw attention to the strange contrast between Stanislas’s former exaggerated praise of Wycliffe and his present equally exaggerated denunciations of the English divine. Replying to Stanislas’s panegyric of the papal power, Hus naturally, though perhaps hardly fairly, alluded to the infamous character of Pope John XXIII., who then held the dignity of pontiff. After denying that it could be proved from Scripture that God had given unlimited power to a pope chosen at an election influenced by the favour of man, fear, and cupidity, Hus challenges Stanislas to prove John XXIII.’s claim to the throne “by the sanctity of his life and of his deeds, not by his desire for the comforts and honours of the world, not by the fulminations of terrible censures to show his power, not by the plundering of the subject fold, not by extortion and simony; for Christ hath said: Ye shall know them by their fruits.”[61] The book generally somewhat recalls the treatise De Ecclesia. We meet here again with the defence of the claim of the temporal power to control the papacy and the church. They were the same views that had appeared so prominently in the writings of Marsiglio of Padua and of the other theologians of the court of Louis of Bavaria, as well as in those of Wycliffe. We find again in this controversial work of Hus allusions to the two great fables of the Middle Ages, the one papal, the other anti-papal. I refer to the “donation of Constantine” and the tale of the Popess Joan, whom Hus calls “Agnes.” Hus here again affirms that Jesus Christ, not the pope, is the head of the Catholic Church. In this mass of argument founded on the writings of earlier theologians, we meet here and there with opinions very characteristic of Hus, who always wished to be a moralist rather than a theologian. Thus, when animadverting on the evil choice often made by popes when appointing bishops, he writes:[62] “Christ, the bridegroom of the church, would far better and more readily choose for the people of the Bohemian nation a bishop learned in its law, able to preach the gospel in Bohemian, one living soberly, chastely, piously, and justly.”

  1. See p. 162.
  2. Non igitur minim est quod ego exemplo ejus (Christi) fugi, et quia quaeritant et colloquuntur sacerdotes similiterque alii, ubi sim ego.” (Pragensibus, December 1412. Palacky, Documenta, pp. 40-47.)
  3. Story of the Town of Prague, vol. iv. p. 140.
  4. Ancient Bohemian Chroniclers, vol. iii. p. 14.
  5. A contemporary writer—quoted by Tomek—says: “Mirabile cambium tecerunt! Sed utinam illud cambium csset sine simonia maxima.
  6. All the documents concerning the synod referred to above are published by Palacky, Documenta, pp. 472–504. It has here only been possible to note the most important points.
  7. It has not appeared to me necessary to give a full account of these objections. They will be found in Dr. Flajshans, Mistr Jan Hus, p. 325, and Tomek, History of the Town of Prague, vol. iii. p. 538. We have also Palec’s own letter to his colleagues of the theological faculty (Palacky, Documenta, pp. 507–510).
  8. Ipsi vero” (the royal commissioners) “commoti sunt et nos gravissime inclamaverunt, comminationes facientes quod infra sex dies adhuc, debet redundare in nostra capita, et quod volunt D. Regi et omnibus dicere quod pars adversa vult et voluit, quae nos optavimus consentire et omnia facere, et nos noluimus acceptare; et sic cum indignatione magna stomachati recesserunt.” (Letter of Palec. Palacky, Documenta, p. 509.)
  9. According to some Bohemian writers the spot to which Hus first retired on leaving Prague is uncertain, and he only now proceeded to Kozi Hradek.
  10. This is the explanation given by Magister Jacobellus in a treatise printed by Von der Hardt, Magnum Oecomenicum consilium Conlantiense, iii. 648. Jacobellus writes: “Hanc enim legem, ut legitur in chronicis Machmet docuit suos, ut scilicet persequerentur et occiderent, non Christus.
  11. Dr. Schwab, Johannes Gerson.
  12. Printed by Von der Hardt, who attributed the authorship to Gerson.
  13. Printed by Palacky, Documenta.
  14. Palacky, Documenta.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Videtur autem parvitati meae quod contra hunc errorem exsurgere deberet omnis dominatio tam spiritualis quam temporalis ad exterminationem magis igne et gladio quam curiosa ratiocinatione.
  17. Palacky, Documenta.
  18. Ibid.
  19. See Chapter XII.
  20. Lawrence of Brezova, p. 440 of Dr. Goll’s edition. See also Dr. Flajshans, Mistr Jan Hus, p. 348.
  21. Those who do not feel inclined to wade through the contemporary Polish and Hungarian chronicles, written in mediæval Latin, will find a good account of the early life of Sigismund in Aschbach’s Geschichte Kaiser Sigmunds.
  22. Palacky, Documenta, pp. 515–518.
  23. For Mladenovic, see my History of Bohemian Literature, 2nd edition, p. 145.
  24. Relatio de magistri Joannis Hus causa” (printed by Palacky, Documenta).
  25. Dr. Flajshans, Mistr Jan Hus, p. 360.
  26. The late Rev. A. H. Wratislaw in the chapter of his John Hus entitled “John Hus as a writer in his native language,” refers to some of the Bohemian works of this period, though many would not now agree with his appreciation of their relative value. In my History of Bohemian Literature I refer (pp. 121–131) to the Bohemian works of Hus.
  27. See Dr. Flajshans, Literarni cinnost Mistra Jana Husi (Literary Activity of Master John Hus). It is not—according to Dr. Flajshans—certain that the Smaller Mirror is a work of Hus.
  28. My History of Bohemian Literature (2nd ed., pp. 123–127) contains translations from the Vyklad.
  29. Quis nescit ex vitiosa parte veros episcopos esse non posse? et per consequens veros deficere sacerdotes, veraque non habituros post aliquid temporis sacramenta, quos contigerit partem vitiosam esse secutos. . . . Illi ergo qui fuerint obedientes non vero pontifici quamvis simpliciter et conscientia non corrupta, si in aliquem inciderint ordinatum ab episcopis novis adorantes hostiam et calicem non Christi corpus et sanguinem, sed illam puram panis materiam atque vini cum aqua mixti velut quoddam idolum adorabunt.” (Letter printed by Martene et Durand, Thesaurus novus Anecdotorum, vol. ii. pp. 160–161.)
  30. I have used Dr. Novotny’s edition published in 1907.
  31. See Chapter III.
  32. Kings ii. 5.
  33. Acts viii.
  34. A colloquial expression in old Bohemian signifying the following an example (i.e. “walk in their footsteps”).
  35. In the original, “necks.”
  36. The names of the three young men who were beheaded by order of the magistrates of the old town of Prague. See p. 157.
  37. This matter has been very clearly stated in the Cesky Historicky Casopis (Bohemian Historical Yearbook) by Dr. Krofta in a series of articles to which I have already referred.
  38. The Bohemian word pitancie is identical with the English word pittance in the ancient monastical sense. Hus has here made a pun on the similarity of this word with the verb “piti” (to drink). It is impossible to render the pun in English.
  39. St. Matthew xxiii. v. 8.
  40. St. John xii. 42–43.
  41. According to Dr. Novotny these words are quoted literally from the Decretum of Gratian.
  42. The first priests of the brethren were chosen in this manner. It was believed that God’s will could be ascertained by the drawing of lots. See my History of Bohemian Literature (2nd edition, pp. 208–211).
  43. Galatians i. 10.
  44. I have used the edition published by Dr. Flajshans, who has modernised the Bohemian of Hus.
  45. Pp. 121–127 of Dr. Flajshans’s edition.
  46. St. Matthew xxi.
  47. Opulent priests at this period were in the habit of having the sacrament carried before them in the manner described here.
  48. Printed in Erben’s Husi Sebrane spisy ceske (Hus’s selected Bohemian works), vol. iii. pp. 241–254.
  49. Compare the following passage from St. Augustine (De praedestinatione, 34): “Electi sunt ante mundi constitutionem ea praedestinatione in qua Deus sua future facta praescivit; electi sunt autem de mundo ea vocatione, qua Deus id quod praedestinavit, implevit. Quos enim praedestinavit ipsos et vocavit ilia scilicet vocatione secundum propositum non ergo alios, sed quos praedestinavit ipsos et vocavit nec alios sed quos praedestinavit, vocavit justificavit ipsos et glorificavit, illo utique fine, qui non habet finem.”
  50. This interesting subject into which I cannot enter is very clearly expounded by Dr. Harnack (Dogmengeschichte, iii. pp. 434–439). Dr. Harnack writes: “Die Geschichte der Kirchenlehre im Abendlande ist eine vielfach verdeckte Geschichte des Kampfes gegen Augustin.
  51. Hus of course believed in the authenticity of the “donatio” as did all mediæval writers before its exposure by Laurentius Valla.
  52. An allusion to the fable of Pope Joan.
  53. Appellatio M. Joannis Hus a sententiis pontificis Romani ad Jesum Christum supremum Judicem” (printed Hus Opera, 1715, vol. i. pp. 22–23, and more correctly Palacky, Documenta, pp. 464–466).
  54. See p. 160.
  55. . . . ad Deum appello, committens sibi causam meam, salvatoris Jesu Christi sequens vestigia, sicut sanctus et magnus patriarcha Constantinopolitanus Joannes Chrysostomus a duplici episcoporum et clericorum concilio, et beati in spe episcopi, Andreas Pragensis et Robertus Linconiensis episcopus a papa ad supremum et justissimum judicem, qui nec timore concutitur, nec amore flectitur, nec munere curvatur, nec falsis decipitur testibus, injuriose oppressi humiliter et salubriter appellarunt.
  56. Printed in Hus Opera, 1715, vol. i. p. 13, and Palacky, Documenta, p. 267.
  57. Tertio praedicavit quod pessimus Sacerdos est melior optimo Laico.” (Hus Opera, 1715, vol. i. p. 179.)
  58. Articulus secundus ponit quod Sacerdos postquam officiat est pater Dei et creator corporis Dei.” (Hus Opera, 1715, vol. i. p. 181.)
  59. Unde assumpto mendacio arguunt (the priests) sic: Si virgo Maria est beata, vel digna quia semel Christum genuit, beatior vel dignior est quilibet sacerdos, qui eum saepe creavit, et potest creare quando vult.” (Ibid. p. 182.)
  60. Stanislas—quoted by Hus—stated that the pope was the head of the church “in quo capite est fontalis et capitalis plenitudo ecclesiasticae potestatis supra terram propter quod illud caput omnes alias simul super terram dignitates officiarias, ecclesiasticas et seculares, Patriarchales, Episcopales, Sacerdotales, Clericales, Magistrales, Imperiales, Regales, Ducales, Marchionales, Comitales, Baronales, Militares, Consulares, etc., in dignitate transcendit innumerabiliter, in profunditate sicut fons, in altitudine sicut caput, in latitudine sicut alveus." Responsio ad Scripta Stanislai (Hus Opera, 1715, vol. i. p. 342).
  61. “Non sufficit doctori (Stanislas) humana electio, quae ex favore humano. Timore vel cupidine processit, imo claudicat doctoris positio, nisi ipsam stabilitat a posteriori scilicet ex vitae et operum sanctitate ipsius Joannis, non ex aspiratione ad seculi commodum vel honorem, nec ex fulminatione censurae terrificae ad ostendendam dominationem, quam Petrus sequendo Christum prohibet, nec ex tonsione gregis subjecti per temporalium extorsionem, nec ex fomento publicanatus vel Simoniae. . . Cum dicat Christus, Dominus Joan, 10, Operibus credite; et Matth. 7. A fructibus eorum cognoscitis eos." (Ibid. p. 342.)
  62. Hus Opera, 1715, vol. i. p. 348.