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§ 46. Jerome of Prag.

A year after Huss’ martyrdom, on May 30, 1416, his friend Jerome of Prag was condemned by the council and also suffered at the stake. He shared Huss’ enthusiasm for Wyclif, was perhaps his equal in scholarship, but not in steadfast constancy. Huss’ life was spent in Prag and its vicinity. Jerome travelled in Western Europe and was in Prag only occasionally. Huss left quite a body of writings, Jerome, none.

Born of a good family at Prag, Jerome studied in his native city, and later at Oxford and Paris. At Oxford he became a student and admirer of Wyclif’s writings, two of which, the Trialogus and the Dialogus, he carried with him back to Bohemia not later than 1402. In Prag, he defended the English doctor as a holy man "whose doctrines were more worthy of acceptance than Augustine himself," stood with Huss in the contest over the rights of the Bohemian nation, and joined him in attacking the papal indulgences, 1412.

Soon after arriving in Constance, Huss wrote to John of Chlum not to allow Jerome on any account to go to join him. In spite of this warning, Jerome set out and reached Constance April 4th, 1415, but urged by friends he quit the city. He was seized at Hirschau, April 15, and taken back in chains. There is every reason for supposing he and Huss did not see one another, although Huss mentions him in a letter within a week before his death,699699    Workman: Letters, p. 266. expressing the hope that he would die holy and blameless and be of a braver spirit in meeting pain than he was. Huss had misjudged himself. In the hour of grave crisis he proved constant and heroic, while his friend gave way.

On Sept. 11, 1415, Jerome solemnly renounced his admiration for Wyclif and professed accord with the Roman church and the Apostolic see and, twelve days later, solemnly repeated his abjuration in a formula prepared by the council.700700    Mansi, XXVII. 794 sqq., 842-864.

Release from prison did not follow. It was the council’s intention that Jerome should sound forth his abjuration as loudly as possible in Bohemia, and write to Wenzel, the university and the Bohemian nobles; but he disappointed his judges. Following Gerson’s lead, the council again put the recusant heretic on trial. The sittings took place in the cathedral, May 23 and 26, 1416. The charge of denying transubstantiation Jerome repudiated, but he confessed to having done ill in pledging himself to abandon the writings and teachings of that good man John Wyclif, and Huss. Great injury had been done to Huss, who had come to the council with assurance of safe-conduct. Even Judas or a Saracen ought under such circumstances to be free to come and go and to speak his mind freely.

On May 30, Jerome was again led into the cathedral. The bishop of Lodi ascended the pulpit and preached a sermon, calling upon the council to punish the prisoner, and counselling that against other such heretics, if there should be any, any witnesses whatever should be allowed to testify,—ruffians, thieves and harlots. The sermon being over, Jerome mounted a bench—bancum ascendens — and made a defence whose eloquence is attested by Poggio and others who were present. Thereupon, the, holy synod "pronounced him a follower of Wyclif and Huss, and adjudged him to be cast off as a rotten and withered branch—palmitem putridum et aridum.701701    For the sentence, see Mansi, XXVII. 887-897. Foxe, in his Book of Martyrs, gives a translation and an excellent account of the proceedings against Jerome and his martyrdom.

Jerome went out from the cathedral wearing a cheerful countenance. A paper cap was put on his head, painted over with red devils. No sentence of deposition was necessary or ceremony of disrobing, for the condemned man was merely a laic.702702    Laicus, Mansi, XXVII. 894. He died on the spot where Huss suffered. As the wood was being piled around him, he sang the Easter hymn, salva festa dies, Hail, festal day. The flames were slow in putting an end to his miseries as compared with Huss. His ashes were thrown into the Rhine. And many learned people wept, the chronicler Richental says, that he had to die, for he was almost more learned than Huss. After his death, the council joined his name with the names of Wyclif and Huss as leaders of heresy.

Poggio Bracciolini’s description of Jerome’s address in the cathedral runs thus:—

It was wonderful to see with what words, with what eloquence, with what arguments, with what countenance and with what composure, Jerome replied to his adversaries, and how fairly he put his case .... He advanced nothing unworthy of a good man, as though he felt confident—as he also publicly asserted—that no just reason could be found for his death .... Many persons he touched with humor, many with satire, many very often he caused to laugh in spite of the sad affair, jesting at their reproaches .... He took them back to Socrates, unjustly condemned by his fellow-citizens. Then be mentioned the captivity of Plato, the flight of Anaxagoras, the torture of Zeno and the unjust condemnation of many other Pagans .... Thence he passed to the Hebrew examples, first instancing Moses, the liberator of his people, Joseph, sold by his brethren, Isaiah, Daniel, Susannah .... Afterwards, coming down to John the Baptist and then to the Saviour, he showed how, in each case, they were condemned by false witnesses and false judges .... Then proceeding to praise John Huss, who had been condemned to be burnt, he called him a good man, just and holy, unworthy of such a death, saying that he himself was prepared to go to any punishment whatsoever .... He said that Huss had never held opinions hostile to the Church of God, but only against the abuses of the clergy, against the pride, the arrogance and the pomp of prelates .... He displayed the greatest cleverness,—for, when his speech was often interrupted with various disturbances, he left no one unscathed but turned trenchantly upon his accusers and forced them to blush, or be still .... For 340 days he lay in the bottom of a foul, dark tower. He himself did not complain at the harshness of this treatment, but expressed his wonder that such inhumanity could be shown him. In the dungeon, he said, he had not only no facilities for reading, but none for seeing .... He stood there fearless and unterrified, not alone despising death but seeking it, so that you would have said he was another Cato. O man, worthy of the everlasting memory of men! I praise not that which he advanced, if anything contrary to the institutions of the Church; but I admire his learning, his eloquence, his persuasiveness of speech, his adroitness in reply .... Persevering in his errors, he went to his fate with joyful and willing countenance, for he feared not the fire nor any kind of torture or death .... When the executioners wished to start the fire behind his back that he might not see it, he said, ’Come here and light the fire in front of me. If I had been afraid of it, I should never have come to this place.’ In this way a man worthy, except in respect of faith, was burnt .... Not Mutius himself suffered his arm to burn with such high courage as did this man his whole body. Nor did Socrates drink the poison so willingly as be accepted the flames.703703    Huss, Opera, II. 532-534. Palacky, Mon. 624-699. A full translation is given by Whitcomb in Lit. Source-Book of the Italian Renaissance, pp. 40-47.

Aeneas Sylvius, afterwards Pius II., bore similar testimony to the cheerfulness which Huss and Jerome displayed in the face of death, and said that they went to the stake as to a feast and suffered death with more courage than any philosopher.704704    Hist. Boh., c. 36.


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