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§ 44. John Huss of Bohemia.

Across the seas in Bohemia, where the views of Wyclif were transplanted, they took deeper root than in England, and assumed an organized form. There, the English Reformer was called the fifth evangelist and, in its earlier stages, the movement went by the name of Wycliffism. It was only in the later periods that the names Hussites and Hussitism were substituted for Wycliffites and Wycliffism. Its chief spokesmen were John Huss and Jerome of Prag, who died at the stake at Constance for their avowed allegiance to Wyclif.

Through Huss, Prag became identified with a distinct stage in the history of religious progress. Distinguished among its own people as the city of St. John of Nepomuk, d. 1383, and in the history of armies as the residence of Wallenstein, the Catholic leader in the Thirty Years’ War, Prag is known in the Western world pre-eminently as the home of Huss. Through his noble advocacy, the principles enunciated by Wyclif became the subject of discussion in oecumenical councils, called forth armed crusades and furnished an imposing spectacle of steadfast resistance against religious oppression. Wycliffism passed out of view in England; but Hussitism, in spite of the most bitter persecution by the Jesuits, has trickled down in pure though small streamlets into the religious history of modern times, notably through the Moravians of Herrnhut.

During the reign of Charles IV., king of Bohemia and emperor, 1346–1378, the Bohemian kingdom entered upon the

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John Huss of Bohemia

golden era of its literary and religious history. In 1344, the archbishopric of Prag was created, and the year 1347 witnessed an event of far more than local importance in the founding of the University of Prag. The first of the German universities, it was forthwith to enter upon the era of its brightest fame. The Czech and German languages were spoken side by side in the city, which was divided, at the close of the 14th century into five quarters. The Old Town, inhabited chiefly by Germans, included the Teyn church, the Carolinum, the Bethlehem chapel and the ancient churches of St. Michael and St. Gallus. Under the first archbishop of Prag, Arnest of Pardubitz, and his successor Ocko of Wlaschim, a brave effort was made to correct ecclesiastical abuses. In 1355, the demand for popular instruction was recognized by a law requiring parish priests to preach in the Czech. The popular preachers, Konrad of Waldhausen, d. 1369, Militz of Kremsier, d. 1874, and Matthias of Janow, d. 1394, made a deep impression. They quoted at length from the Scriptures, urged the habit of frequent communion, and Janow, as reported by Rokyzana at the Council of Basel, 1433, seems to have administered the cup to the laity.646646    The truth of Rokyzana’s statement is denied by Loserth, In Herzog, VIII. 588 sq. On other Bohemian preachers of Huss’ day, see Flajshans, Serm. de Sanctis, p. iv. When John Huss entered upon his career in the university, he was breathing the atmosphere generated by these fervent evangelists, although in his writings he nowhere quotes them.

Close communication between England and Bohemia had been established with the marriage of the Bohemian king Wenzel’s sister, Anne of Luxemburg, to Richard II., 1382. She was a princess of cultivated tastes, and had in her possession copies of the Scriptures in Latin, Czech and German. Before this nuptial event, the philosophical faculty of the University of Prag, in 1367, ordered its bachelors to add to the instructions of its own professors the notebooks of Paris and Oxford doctors. Here and there a student sought out the English university, or even went so far as the Scotch St. Andrews. Among those who studied in Oxford was Jerome of Prag. Thus a bridge for the transmission of intellectual products was laid from Wyclif’s lecture hall to the capital on the Moldau.647647    See Loserth, Wiclif and Hus, p. 70. Wenzel or Wenceslaus IV., surnamed the Lazy, was the son of Charles IV. His second wife was Sophia of Bavaria. His half-brother, Sigismund, succeeded him on the throne. Wyclif’s views and writings were known in Bohemia at an early date. In 1381 a learned Bohemian theologian, Nicolas Biceps, was acquainted with his leading principles and made them a subject of attack. Huss, in his reply to the English Carmelite, John Stokes, 1411, declared that he and the members of the university had had Wyclif’s writings in their hands and been reading them for 20 years and more.648648    Flajshans: Serm. de Sanctis, p. xxi. Nürnb. ed., I. 135. Five copies are extant of these writings, made in Huss’ own hand, 1398. They were carried away in the Thirty Years’ War and are preserved in the Royal Library of Stockholm.

John Huss was born of Czech parents, 1369, at Husinec in Southern Bohemia. The word Hus means goose, and its distinguished bearer often applied the literal meaning to himself. For example, he wrote from Constance expressing the hope that the Goose might be delivered from prison, and he bade the Bohemians, "if they loved the Goose," to secure the king’s aid in having him released. Friends also referred to him in the same way.649649    Workman: Hus’ Letters, pp. 94, 118, 163, 189, 192, 198, 201. The spelling, Hus, almost universally adopted in recent years by German and English writers, has been exchanged by Loserth in his art. in Herzog for Huss, as a form more congenial to the German mode of spelling. For the same reason this volume has adopted the form Huss as more agreeable to the English reader’s eye and more consonant with our mode of spelling. Karl Müller adopts this spelling in his Kirchengeschichte. The exact date of Huss’ birth is usually given as July 6th, 1369, but with insufficient authority. Loserth, Wiclif and Hus, p. 65 sq. His parents were poor and, during his studies in the University of Prag, he supported himself by singing and manual services. He took the degree of bachelor of arts in 1393 and of divinity a year later. In 1396 he incepted as master of arts, and in 1398 began delivering lectures in the university. In 1402 he was chosen rector, filling the office for six months.

With his academic duties Huss combined the activity of a preacher, and in 1402 was appointed to the rectorship of the Chapel of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem. This church, usually known as the Bethlehem church, was founded in 1391 by two wealthy laymen, with the stipulation that the incumbent should preach every Sunday and on festival days in Czech. It was made famous by its new rector as the little church, Anastasia, in Constantinople, was made famous in the fourth century by Gregory of Nazianzus, and by his discourses against the Arian heresy.

As early as 1402, Huss was regarded as the chief exponent and defender of Wycliffian views at the university. Protests, made by the clergy against their spread, took definite form in 1403, when the university authorities condemned the 24 articles placed under the ban by the London council of 1382. At the same time 21 other articles were condemned, which one of the university masters, John Hübner, a Pole, professed to have extracted from the Englishman’s writings. The decision forbade the preaching and teaching of these 45 articles. Among Wyclif’s warm defenders were Stanislaus of Znaim and Stephen Paletz. The subject which gave the most offence was his doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

A distinct stage in the religious controversies agitating Bohemia was introduced by the election of Sbinko of Hasenburg to the see of Prag, 1403. In the earlier years of his administration Huss had the prelate’s confidence, held the post of synodal preacher and was encouraged to bring to the archbishop’s notice abuses that might be reformed. He was also appointed one of a commission of three to investigate the alleged miracles performed by the relic of Christ’s blood at Wylsnak and attracting great throngs. The report condemned the miracles as a fraud. The matter, however, became subject of discussion at the university and as far away as Vienna and Erfurt, the question assuming the form whether Christ left any of his blood on the earth. In a tract entitled the Glorification of all Christ’s Blood,650650    De Omni Christi sanguine glorificato, ed. by Flajshans p. 42. Huss took the negative side. In spite of him and of the commission’s report, the miracles at Wylsnak went on, until, in 1552, a zealous Lutheran broke the pyx which held the relic and burnt it.

So extensive was the spread of Wycliffism that Innocent VII., in 1405, called upon Sbinko to employ severe measures to stamp it out and to seize Wyclif’s writings. The same year a Prag synod forbade the propaganda of Wyclif’s views and renewed the condemnation of the 45 articles. Three years later Huss—whose activity in denouncing clerical abuses and advocating Wyclif’s theology knew no abatement—was deposed from the position of synodal preacher. The same year the University authorities, at the archbishop’s instance, ordered that no public lectures should be delivered on Wyclif’s Trialogus and Dialogus and his doctrine of the Supper, and that no public disputation should concern itself with any of the condemned 45 articles.

The year following, 1409, occurred the emigration from the university of the three nations, the Bavarians, Saxons and Poles, the Czechs alone being left. The bitter feeling of the Bohemians had expressed itself in the demand for three votes, while the other nations were to be restricted to one each. When Wenzel consented to this demand, 2000 masters and scholars withdrew, the Germans going to Leipzig and founding the university of that city. The University of Prag was at once reduced to a provincial school of 500 students, and has never since regained its prestige.651651    See Rashdall: Universities of Europe, I. 211-242. The number of departing students is variously given. The number given above has the authority of Procopius, a chronicler of the 15th century. Only 602 were matriculated at Leipzig the first year, and this figure seems to point to a smaller number than 2000 leaving Prag. Kügelgen, Die Gefängnissbriefe, p. ix, adopts the uureasonable number, 5000.

Huss, a vigorous advocate of the use of the Czech, was the recognized head of the national movement at the university, and chosen first rector under the new régime. If possible, his advocacy of Wyclif and his views was more bold than before. From this time forth, his Latin writings were filled with excerpts from the English teacher and teem with his ideas. Wyclif’s writings were sown broadcast in Bohemia. Huss himself had translated the Trialogus into Czech. Throngs were attracted by preaching. Wherever, wrote Huss in 1410, in city or town, in village or castle, the preacher of the holy truth made his appearance, the people flocked together in crowds and in spite of the clergy.652652    Workman: Hus’ Letters, p. 36.

Following a bull issued by Alexander V., Sbinko, in 1410, ordered Wyclif’s writings seized and burnt, and forbade all preaching in unauthorized places. The papal document called forth the protest of Huss and others, who appealed to John XXIII. by showing the absurdity of burning books on philosophy, logic and other non-theological subjects, a course that would condemn the writings of Aristotle and Origen to the flames. The protest was in vain and 200 manuscript copies of the Reformer’s writings were cast into the flames in the courtyard of the archiepiscopal palace amidst the tolling of the church bells.653653    Among the condemned writings, 17 in all, were the Dialogus, Trialogus, De incarnatione Verbi and the De dominio civili.

Two days after this grewsome act, the sentence of excommunication was launched against Huss and all who might persist in refusing to deliver up Wyclif’s writings. Defying the archbishop and the papal bull, Huss continued preaching in the Bethlehem chapel. The excitement among all classes was intense and men were cudgelled on the streets for speaking against the Englishman. Satirical ballads were sung, declaring that the archbishop did not know what was in the books he had set fire to. Huss’ sermons, far from allaying the commotion, were adapted to increase it.

Huss had no thought of submission and, through handbills, announced a defence of Wyclif’s treatise on the Trinity before the university, July 27. But his case had now passed from the archbishop’s jurisdiction to the court of the curia, which demanded the offender’s appearance in person, but in vain. In spite of the appeals of Wenzel and many Bohemian nobles who pledged their honor that he was no heretic, John XXIII. put the case into the hands of Cardinal Colonna, afterwards Martin V., who launched the ban against Huss for his refusal to comply with the canonical citation.

Colonna’s sentence was read from all the pulpits of Prag except two. But the offensive preaching continued, and Sbinko laid the city under the interdict, which, however, was withdrawn on the king’s promise to root out heresy from his realm. Wenzel gave orders that "Master Huss, our beloved and faithful chaplain, be allowed to preach the Word of God in peace." According to the agreement, Sbinko was also to write to the pope assuring him that diligent inquisition had been made, and no traces of heresy were to be found in Bohemia. This letter is still extant, but was never sent.

Early in September, 1411, Huss wrote to John XXIII. protesting his full agreement with the Church and asking that the citation to appear before the curia be revoked. In this communication and in a special letter to the cardinals654654   These letters are given by Workman, pp. 51-54. Huss spoke of the punishment for heresy and insubordination. He, however, wrote to John that he was bound to speak the truth, and that he was ready to suffer a dreadful death rather than to declare what would be contrary to the will of Christ and his Church. He had been defamed, and it was false that he had expressed himself in favor of the remanence of the material substance of the bread after the words of institution, and that a priest in mortal sin might not celebrate the eucharist. Sbinko died Sept. 28, 1411. At this juncture the excitement was increased by the arrival in Prag of John Stokes, a Cambridge man, and well known in England as an uncompromising foe of Wycliffism. He had come with a delegation, sent by the English king, to arrange an alliance with Sigismund. Stokes’ presence aroused the expectation of a notable clash, but the Englishman, although he ventilated his views privately, declined Huss’ challenge to a public disputation on the ground that he was a political representative of a friendly nation.655655    Huss’ reply, Replica, and Stokes’ statement, which called it forth, are given in the Nürnb. ed., I. 135-139.

The same year, 1411, John XXIII. called Europe to a crusade against Ladislaus of Naples, the defender of Gregory XII., and promised indulgence to all participating in it, whether by personal enlistment or by gifts. Tiem, dean of Passau, appointed preacher of the holy war, made his way to Prag and opened the sale of indulgences. Chests were placed in the great churches, and the traffic was soon in full sway. As Wyclif, thirty years before, in his Cruciata, had lifted up his voice against the crusade in Flanders, so now Huss denounced the religious war and denied the pope’s right to couple indulgences with it. He filled the Bethlehem chapel with denunciations of the sale and, in a public disputation, took the ground that remission of sins comes through repentance alone and that the pope has no authority to seize the secular sword. Many of his paragraphs were taken bodily from Wyclif’s works on the Church and on the Absolution from guilt and punishment.656656    Huss’ tract is entitled De indulgentiis sive de cruciatu papae Joh. XXIII. fulminata contra Ladislaum Apuliae regem. Nürnb. ed., 213-235. Huss was supported by Jerome of Prag.

Popular opinion was on the side of these leaders, but from this time Huss’ old friends, Stanislaus of Znaim and Stephen Paletz, walked no more with him. Under the direction of Wok of Waldstein, John’s two bulls, bearing on the crusade and offering indulgence, were publicly burnt, after being hung at the necks of two students, dressed as harlots, and drawn through the streets in a cart.657657    Workman: Hus’ Letters. Huss was still writing that he abhorred the errors ascribed to him, but the king could not countenance the flagrant indignity shown to the papal bulls, and had three men of humble position executed, Martin, John and Stanislaus. They had cried out in open church that the bulls were lies, as Huss had proved. They were treated as martyrs, and their bodies taken to the Bethlehem chapel, where the mass for martyrs was said over them.

To reaffirm its orthodoxy, the theological faculty renewed its condemnation of the 45 articles and added 6 more, taken from Huss’ public utterances. Two of the latter bore upon preaching.658658    See Huss’ reply, Defensio quorundam articulorum J. Wicleff, and the rejoinder of the Theol. faculty, Nürnb. ed., I. 139-146. The clergy of Prag appealed to be protected "from the ravages of the wolf, the Wycliffist Hus, the despiser of the keys," and the curia pronounced the greater excommunication. The heretic was ordered seized, delivered over to the archbishop, and the Bethlehem chapel razed to the ground. Three stones were to be hurled against Huss’ dwelling, as a sign of perpetual curse. Thus the Reformer had against him the archbishop, the university, the clergy and the curia, but popular feeling remained in his favor and prevented the papal sentence from being carried out. The city was again placed under the interdict. Huss appealed from the pope and, because a general council’s action is always uncertain and at best tardy, looked at once to the tribunal of Christ. He publicly asserted that the pope was exercising prerogatives received from the devil.

To allay the excitement, Wenzel induced Huss to withdraw from the city. This was in 1412. In later years Huss expressed doubts as to whether he had acted wisely in complying. He was moved not only by regard for the authority of his royal protector but by sympathy for the people whom the interdict was depriving of spiritual privileges. Had he defied the sentence and refused compliance with the king’s request, it is probable he would have lost the day and been silenced in prison or in the flames in his native city. In this case, the interest of his career would have been restricted to the annals of his native land, and no place would have been found for him in the general history of Europe. So Huss went into exile, but there was still some division among the ecclesiastical authorities of the kingdom over the merits of Wycliffism, and a national synod, convoked February 13, 1413, to take measures to secure peace, adjourned without coming to a decision.

Removed from Prag, Huss was indefatigable in preaching and writing. Audiences gathered to hear him on the marketplaces and in the fields and woods. Lords in their strong castles protected him. Following Wyclif, he insisted upon preaching as the indefeasible right of the priest, and wrote that to cease from preaching, in obedience to the mandate of pope or archbishop, would be to disobey God and imperil his own salvation.659659    Workman: Hus’ Letters, pp. 60, 66. He also kept in communication with the city by visiting it several times and by writing to the Bethlehem chapel, the university and the municipal synod. This correspondence abounds in quotations from the Scriptures, and Huss reminds his friends that Christ himself was excommunicated as a malefactor and crucified. No help was to be derived from the saints. Christ’s example and his salvation are the sufficient sources of consolation and courage. The high priests, scribes, Pharisees, Herod and Pilate condemned the Truth and gave him over to death, but he rose from the tomb and gave in his stead twelve other preachers. So he would do again. What fear, he wrote, "shall part us from God, or what death? What shall we lose if for His sake we forfeit wealth, friends, the world’s honors and our poor life?... It is better to die well than to live badly. We dare not sin to avoid the punishment of death. To end in grace the present life is to be banished from misery. Truth is the last conqueror. He wins who is slain, for no adversity "hurts him if no iniquity has dominion over him." In this strain he wrote again and again. The "bolts of anti-christ," he said, could not terrify him, and should not terrify the "elect of Prag."660660    Workman, p. 107-120. Workman translates seventeen letters written from this exile, pp. 83-138.

Of the extent of Huss’ influence during this period he bore witness at Constance when, in answer to D’Ailly, he said:

I have stated that I came here of my own free will. If I had been unwilling to come, neither that king [referring to Wenzel] nor this king here [referring to Sigismund] would have been able to force me to come, so numerous and so powerful are the Bohemian nobles who love me, and within whose castles I should have been able to lie concealed.

And when D’Ailly rebuked the statement as effrontery, John of Chlum replied that it was even as the prisoner said, "There are numbers of great nobles who love him and have strong castles where they could keep him as long as they wished, even against both those kings."

The chief product of this period of exile was Huss’ work on the Church, De ecclesia, the most noted of all his writings. It was written in view of the national synod held in 1413, and was sent to Prag and read in the Bethlehem chapel, July 8. Of this tractate Cardinal D’Ailly said at the Council of Constance that by an infinite number of arguments, it combated the pope’s plenary authority as much as the Koran, the book of the damned Mohammed, combated the Catholic faith.661661    Du Pin, Opp. Gerson., II. 901. The De ecclesia is given in the Nürnb. ed., I. 243-319.

In this volume, next to Wyclif’s, the most famous treatment on the Church since Cyprian’s work, De ecclesia, and Augustine’s writings against the Donatists, Huss defined the Church and the power of the keys, and then proceeds to defend himself against the fulminations of Alexander V. and John XXIII. and to answer the Prag theologians, Stephen Paletz and Stanislaus of Znaim, who had deserted him. The following are some of its leading positions.

The Holy Catholic Church is the body or congregation of all the predestinate, the dead, the living and those yet to be.662662    Eccl. est omnium praedestinatorum universitas; quae est omnes praedestinati, praesentes, praeteriti et futuri. Nürnb. ed. I., 244. The term ’catholic’ means universal. The unity of the Church is a unity of predestination and of blessedness, a unity of faith, charity and grace. The Roman pontiff and the cardinals are not the Church. The Church can exist without cardinals and a pope, and in fact for hundreds of years there were no cardinals.663663    Writing to Christian Prachatitz, in 1413, Huss said, "If the pope is the head of the Roman Church and the cardinals are the body, then they in themselves form the entire Holy Roman Church, as the entire body of a man with the head is the man. The satellites of anti-christ use interchangeably the expressions ’Holy Roman Church’ and ’pope and cardinals’ etc." Workman: Hus’ Letters, p. 121. As for the position Christ assigned to Peter, Huss affirmed that Christ called himself the Rock, and the Church is founded on him by virtue of predestination. In view of Peter’s clear and positive confession, "the Rock—Petra — said to Peter—Petro — ’I say unto thee, Thou art Peter, that is, a confessor of the true Rock which Rock I am.’ And upon the Rock, that is, myself, I will build this Church." Thus Huss placed himself firmly on the ground taken by Augustine in his Retractations. Peter never was the head of the Holy Catholic Church.664664    Propter confessionem tam claram et firmam, dixit Petra Petro, et ego dico tibi quia tu es Petrus, id est confessor Petrae vertae qui est Christus et super hanc Petram quam confessus es, id est, super me, etc., Nürnb. ed., I. 257. Petrus non fuit nec est caput s. eccles. cathol., p. 263. See also the same interpretation in Huss’ Serm. de Sanctis, p. 84.

He thus set himself clearly against the whole ultramontane theory of the Church and its head. The Roman bishop, he said, was on an equality with other bishops until Constantine made him pope. It was then that he began to usurp authority. Through ignorance and the love of money the pope may err, and has erred, and to rebel against an erring pope is to obey Christ.665665    Nürnb. ed., I. 260, 284, 294, etc. There have been depraved and heretical popes. Such was Joan, whose case Huss dwelt upon at length and refers to at least three times. Such was also the case of Liberius, who is also treated at length. Joan had a son and Liberius was an Arian.666666    Huss also in his Letters repeatedly refers to Joan and Liberius, e.g. he writes, "I should like to know if pope Liberius the heretic, Leo the heretic and the pope Joan, who was delivered of a boy, were the heads of the Roman Church." Workman: Hus’ Letters, p. 125.

In the second part of the De ecclesia, Huss pronounced the bulls of Alexander and John XXIII. anti-christian, and therefore not to be obeyed. Alexander’s bull, prohibiting preaching in Bohemia except in the cathedral, parish and monastic churches was against the Gospel, for Christ preached in houses, on the seaside, and in synagogues, and bade his disciples to go into all the world and preach. No papal excommunication may be an impediment to doing what Christ did and taught to be done.667667    Nürnb. ed., I. 302.

Turning to the pope’s right to issue indulgences, the Reformer went over the ground he had already traversed in his replies to John’s two bulls calling for a crusade against Ladislaus. He denied the pope’s right to go to war or to make appeal to the secular sword. If John was minded to follow Christ, he should pray for his enemies and say, "My kingdom is not of this world." Then the promised wisdom would be given which no enemies would be able to gainsay. The power to forgive sins belongs to no mortal man anymore than it belonged to the priest to whom Christ sent the lepers. The lepers were cleansed before they reached the priest. Indeed, many popes who conceded the most ample indulgences were themselves damned.668668    De indulgentiis, Nürnb. ed., pp. 220-228. Confession of the heart alone is sufficient for the soul’s salvation where the applicant is truly penitent.

In denying the infallibility of the pope and of the Church visible, and in setting aside the sacerdotal power of the priesthood to open and shut the kingdom of heaven, Huss broke with the accepted theory of Western Christendom; he committed the unpardonable sin of the Middle Ages. These fundamental ideas, however, were not original with the Bohemian Reformer. He took them out of Wyclif’s writings, and he also incorporated whole paragraphs of those writings in his pages. Teacher never had a more devoted pupil than the English Reformer had in Huss. The first three chapters of De ecclesia are little more than a series of extracts from Wyclif’s treatise on the Church. What is true of this work is also true of most of Huss’ other Latin writings.669669    Loserth wrote his Wicliff and Hus to show the dependence of Huss upon his English predecessor, and the latter half of this work gives proof of it by printing in parallel columns portions of the two authors, compositions. He says, p. 111, that the De ecclesia is only "a meagre abridgement of Wyclif’s work on the same subject." This author affirms that in his Latin tractates Huss "has drawn all his arguments from Wyclif," and that "the most weighty parts are taken word for word from his English predecessor," pp. xiv, 139, 141, 156, etc. Neander made a mistake in rating the influence of Matthias of Janow upon Huss higher than the influence of Wyclif. He wrote before the Wyclif Society began its publications. Even Palacky, in his Church History of Bohemia, III. 190-197, pronounced it uncertain how far Huss was influenced by Wyclif’s writings, and questions whether he had attached himself closely to the English Reformer. The publications of the Wyclif Society, which make a comparison possible, show that one writer could scarcely be more dependent upon another than Huss was upon Wyclif. Huss, however, was not a mere copyist. The ideas he got from Wyclif he made thoroughly his own. When he quoted Augustine, Bernard, Jerome and other writers, he mentioned them by name. If he did not mention Wyclif, when he took from him arguments and entire paragraphs, a good reason can be assigned for his silence. It was well known that it was Wyclif’s cause which he was representing and Wycliffian views that he was defending, and Wyclif’s writings were wide open to the eye of members of the university faculties. He made no secret of following Wyclif, and being willing to die for the views Wyclif taught. As he wrote to Richard Wyche, he was thankful that "under the power of Jesus Christ, Bohemia had received so much good from the blessed land of England."670670    Workman: Hus’ Letters, p. 36.

The Bohemian theologian was fully imbued with Wyclif’s heretical spirit. The great Council of Constance was about to meet. Before that tribunal Huss was now to be judged.


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