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§ 45. Huss at Constance.
Thou wast their Rock, their fortress and their might;
Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their light of light. Alleluia.
The great expectations aroused by the assembling of the Council of Constance included the settlement of the disturbance which was rending the kingdom of Bohemia. It was well understood that measures were to be taken against the heresy which had invaded Western Christendom. In two letters addressed to Conrad, archbishop of Prag, Gerson bore witness that, in learned centres outside of Bohemia, the names of Wyclif and Huss were indissolubly joined. Of all Huss’ errors, wrote the chancellor, "the proposition is the most perilous that a man who is living in deadly sin may not have authority and dominion over Christian men. And this proposition, as is well known, has passed down to Huss from Wyclif."671671 Van der Hardt, I. 18; Palacky, Docum., pp. 523-528.
To Constance Sigismund, king of the Romans and heir of the Bohemian crown, turned for relief from the embarrassment of Hussitism; and from Lombardy he sent a deputation to summon Huss to attend the council at the same time promising him safe conduct. The Reformer expressed his readiness to go, and had handbills posted in Prag announcing his decision. Writing to Wenzel and his queen, he reaffirmed his readiness, and stated he was willing to suffer the penalty appointed for heretics, should he be condemned.672672 For these letters and copies of the handbill, see Workman, Hus’ Letters, p. 140 sqq.
Under date of Sept. 1, 1414, Huss wrote to Sigismund that he was ready to go to Constance "under safe-conduct of your protection, the Lord Most High being my defender." A week later, the king replied, expressing confidence that, by his appearance, all imputation of heresy would be removed from the kingdom of Bohemia.
Huss set out on the journey Oct. 11, 1414, and reached Constance Nov. 3. He was accompanied by the Bohemian nobles, John of Chlum, Wenzel of Duba and Henry Lacembok. With John of Chlum was Mladenowitz, who did an important service by preserving Huss’ letters and afterwards editing them with notes. Huss’ correspondence, from this time on, deserves a place in the choice autobiographical literature of the Christian centuries. For pathos, simplicity of expression and devotion to Christ, the writings of the Middle Ages do not furnish anything superior.
In a letter, written to friends in Bohemia on the eve of his departure, Huss expressed his expectation of being confronted at Constance by bishops, doctors, princes and canons regular, yea, by more foes than the Redeemer himself had to face. He prayed that, if his death would contribute aught to God’s glory, he might be enabled to meet it without sinful fear. A second letter was not to be opened, except in case of his death. It was written to Martin, a disciple whom the writer says he had known from childhood. He binds Martin to fear God, to be careful how he listened to the confessions of women, and not to follow him in any frivolity he had been guilty of in other days, such as chess-playing. Persecution was about to do its worst because he had attacked the greed and incontinence of the clergy. He willed to Martin his gray cloak and bade him, in case of his death, give to the rector his white gown and to his faithful servant, George, a guinea.
The route was through Nürnberg. Along the way Huss was met by throngs of curious people. He sat down in the inns with the local priests, talking over his case with them. At Nürnberg the magistrates and burghers invited him to meet them at an inn. Deeming it unnecessary to go out of its way to meet Sigismund, who was at Spires, the party turned its face directly to the lake of Constance. Arrived on its upper shore, they sent back most of their horses for sale, a wise measure, as it proved, in view of the thousands of animals that had to be cared for at Constance.673673 Huss kept one for himself, thinking it might be necessary for him to ride and see Sigismund. Writing from Constance, Nov. 4th, he said that horses were cheap there. One, bought in Bohemia for 6 guineas, was given away for 7 florins, or one-third the original price. Workman: Letters, p. 158.
Arrived at Constance, Huss took lodgings with a "second widow of Sarepta," who had kept the bakery to the White Pigeon. The house is still shown. His coming was a great sensation, and he entered the town, riding through a large crowd. The day after, John of Chlum and Baron Lacembok called upon pope John XXIII., who promised that no violence should be done their friend, nay, even though he had killed the pope’s own brother. He granted him leave to go about the city, but forbade him to attend high mass. Although he was under sentence of excommunication, Huss celebrated mass daily in his own lodgings. The cardinals were incensed that a man charged openly with heresy should have freedom, and whatever misgivings Huss had had of unfair dealing were to be quickly justified. Individual liberty had no rights before the bar of an ecclesiastical court in the 15th century when a heretic was under accusation. Before the month had passed, Huss’ imprisonment began, a pretext being found in an alleged attempt to escape from the city concealed in a hay-wagon.674674 The charge is reported by Richental, p. 76 sq. His story is invalidated by the false date he gives and also by the testimony of Mladenowitz, who declared it wholly untrue. If there had been any attempt at escape, it would hardly have been allowed to go unnoticed in the trial. See Wylie, p. 139. On November 28, the two bishops of Trent and Augsburg entered his lodgings with a requisition for him to appear before the cardinals. The house was surrounded by soldiers. Huss, after some hesitation, yielded and left, with the hostess standing at the stairs in tears. It was the beginning of the end.
After a short audience with the cardinals, the prisoner was taken away by a guard of soldiers, and within a week he was securely immured in the dungeon of the Dominican convent. Preparations had been going on for several days to provide the place with locks, bolts and other strong furnishings.
In this prison, Huss languished for three months. His cell was hard by the latrines. Fever and vomiting set in, and it seemed likely they would quickly do their dismal work. John XXIII. deserves some credit for having sent his physician, who applied clysters, as Huss himself wrote. To sickness was added the deprivation of books, including the Bible. For two months we have no letters from him. They begin again, with January, 1415, and give us a clear insight into the indignities to which he was exposed and the misery he suffered. These letters were sent by the gaoler.
What was Sigismund doing? He had issued the letter of safe-conduct, Oct. 18. On the day before his arrival in Constance, Dec. 24th, John of Chlum posted up a notice on the cathedral, protesting that the king’s agreement had been treated with defiance by the cardinals. Sigismund professed to be greatly incensed, and blustered, but this was the end of it. He was a time-serving prince who was easily persuaded to yield to the arguments of such ecclesiastical figures as D’Ailly, who insisted that little matters like Huss’ heresy should not impede the reformation of the church, the council’s first concern, and that error unreproved was error countenanced.675675 In an audience with Sigismund, D’Ailly protested that factum J. Hus et alia minora non debebant reformationem eccles. et Bon. imperii impedire quod erat principale pro quo fuerat concilium congregatum. Fillflastre, in Finke, p. 253. All good churchmen prayed his Majesty might not give way to the lies and subtleties of the Wycliffists. The king of Aragon wrote that Huss should be killed off at once, without having the formality of a hearing.
During his imprisonment in the Black Friars’ convent, Huss wrote for his gaoler, Robert, tracts on the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, Mortal Sin and Marriage. Of the 13 letters preserved from this time, the larger part were addressed to John of Chlum, his trusty friend. Some of the letters were written at midnight, and some on tattered scraps of paper.676676 On reading a letter in the Bethlehem chapel, Hawlik exclaimed, alas, Hus is running out of paper." And John of Chlum spoke of one of Huss’ letters as being written " on a tattered, three-cornered bit of paper." Workman: Hus’ Letters, p. 196. In this correspondence four things are prominent: Huss’ reliance upon the king and his word of honor, his consuming desire to be heard in open council, the expectation of possible death and his trust in God. He feared sentence would be passed before opportunity was given him to speak with the king. "If this is his honor, it is his own lookout," he wrote.677677 Workman: Letters, p. 174, 182, 184, 190.
In the meantime the council had committed the matter of heresy to a commission, with D’Ailly at its head. It plied Huss with questions, and presented heretical articles taken from his writings. Stephen Paletz, his apostate friend, badgered him more than all the rest. His request for a "proctor and advocate" was denied. The thought of death was continually before him. But, as the Lord had delivered Jonah from the whale’s belly, and Daniel from the lions, so, he believed, God would deliver him, if it were expedient.
Upon John XXIII.’s flight, fears were felt that Huss might be delivered by his friends, and the keys of the prison were put into the hands of Sigismund. On March 24th the bishop of Constance had the prisoner chained and transferred by boat to his castle, Gottlieben. There he had freedom to walk about in his chains by day, but he was handcuffed and bound to the wall at night. The imprisonment at Gottlieben lasted seventy-three days, from March 24th-June 5th. If Huss wrote any letters during that time none have survived. It was a strange freak of history that the runaway pontiff, on being seized and brought back to Constance, was sent to Gottlieben to be fellow-prisoner with Huss, the one, the former head of Christendom, condemned for almost every known misdemeanor; the other, the preacher whose life was, by the testimony of all contemporaries, almost without a blemish. The criminal pope was to be released after a brief confinement and elevated to an exalted dignity; the other was to be contemned as a religious felon and burnt as an expiation to orthodox theology.
At Gottlieben, Huss suffered from hemorrhage, headache and other infirmities, and at times was on the brink of starvation. A new commission, appointed April 6, with D’Ailly at its head, now took up seriously the heresy of Huss and Wyclif, whom the council coupled together.678678 See Card. Fillastre’s Diary in Finke’s Forschungen, pp. 164, 179. Huss’ friends had not forgotten him, and 250 Moravian and Bohemian nobles signed a remonstrance at Prag, May 13, which they sent to Sigismund, protesting against the treatment "the beloved master and Christian preacher" was receiving, and asked that he might be granted a public hearing and allowed to return home. Upon a public hearing Huss staked everything, and with such a hearing in view he had gone to Constance.
In order to bring the prisoner within more convenient reach of the commission, he was transferred in the beginning of June to a third prison,—the Franciscan friary. From June 5–8 public hearings were had in the refectory, the room being crowded with cardinals, archbishops, bishops, theologians and persons of lesser degree. Cardinal D’Ailly was present and took the leading part as head of the commission. The action taken May 4th condemning 260 errors and heresies extracted from Wyclif’s works was adapted to rob Huss of whatever hope of release he still indulged. Charges were made against him of holding that Christ is in the consecrated bread only as the soul is in the body, that Wyclif was a good Christian, that salvation was not dependent upon the pope and that no one could be excommunicated except by God Himself. He also had expressed the hope his soul might be where Wyclif’s was.679679 Utinam anima esset ibi, ubi est anima Joh. Wicleff. Mansi, xxvII. 756. When a copy of his book on the Church was shown, they shouted, "Burn it." Whenever Huss attempted to explain his positions, he was met with shouts, "Away with your sophistries. Say, Yes or No." The Englishman, John Stokes, who was present, declared that it seemed to him as if he saw Wyclif himself in bodily form sitting before him.
On the morning of June 7th, Huss exclaimed that God and his conscience were on his side. But, Said D’Ailly, "we cannot go by your conscience when we have other evidence, and the evidence of Gerson himself against you, the most renowned doctor in Christendom."680680 Nos non possumus secundum tuam conscientiam judicare, etc., Palacky, Doc. 278. Tschackert, pp. 225, 235, says D’Ailly would have been obliged to lay aside his purple if he had not resisted Huss’ views. Huss had said of Gerson,O si deus daret tempus scribendi contra mendacia Parisiensis cancellarii, Palacky, Doc. 97. Gerson went so far as to say that Huss was condemned for his realism. See Schwab, pp. 298, 586. D’Ailly and an Englishman attempted to show the logical connection of the doctrine of remanence with realism. When Huss replied that such reasoning was the logic of schoolboys, another Englishman had the courage to add, Huss is quite right: what have these quibbles to do with matters of faith? Sigismund advised Huss to submit, saying that he had told the commission he would not defend any heretic who was determined to stick to his heresy. He also declared that, so long as a single heretic remained, he was ready to light the fire himself with his own hand to burn him. He, however, promised that Huss should have a written list of charges the following day.
That night, as Huss wrote, he suffered from toothache, vomiting, headache and the stone. On June 8th, 39 distinct articles were handed to him, 26 of which were drawn from his work on the Church. When he demurred at some of the statements, D’Ailly had the pertinent sections from the original writings read. When they came to the passage that no heretic should be put to death, the audience shouted in mockery. Huss went on to argue from the case of Saul, after his disobedience towards Agag, that kings in mortal sin have no right to authority. Sigismund happened to be at the moment at the window, talking to Frederick of Bavaria. The prelates, taking advantage of the avowal, cried out, "Tell the king Huss is now attacking him." The emperor turned and said, "John Huss, no one lives without sin." D’Ailly suggested that the prisoner, not satisfied with pulling down the spiritual fabric, was attempting to hurl down the monarchy likewise. In an attempt to break the force of his statement, Huss asked why they had deposed pope John. Sigismund replied that Baldassarre was real pope, but was deposed for his notorious crimes.
The 39 articles included the heretical assertions that the Church is the totality of the elect, that a priest must continue preaching, even though he be under sentence of excommunication, and that whoso is in mortal sin cannot exercise authority. Huss expressed himself ready to revoke statements that might be proved untrue by Scripture and good arguments, but that he would not revoke any which were not so proved. When Sigismund remonstrated, Huss appealed to the judgment bar of God. At the close of the proceedings, D’Ailly declared that a compromise was out of the question. Huss must abjure.681681 See Tschackert p. 230. D’Ailly persisted in this position after he left Constance. Wyclif and Huss remained to him the dangerous heretics, pernitiosi heretici. Van der Hardt, VI. 16.
As Huss passed out in the charge of the archbishop of Riga, John of Chlum had the courage to reach out his hand to him. The act reminds us of the friendly words Georg of Frundsberg spoke to Luther at Worms. Huss was most thankful, and a day or two afterward wrote how delightful it had been to see Lord John, who was not ashamed to hold out his hand to a poor, abject heretic, a prisoner in irons and the butt of all men’s tongues. In addressing the assembly after Huss’ departure, Sigismund argued against accepting submission from the prisoner who, if released, would go back to Bohemia and sow his errors broadcast. "When I was a boy," he said, "I remember the first sprouting of this sect, and see what it is today. We should make an end of the master one day, and when I return from my journey we will deal with his pupil. What’s his name?" The reply was, Jerome. Yes, said the king, I mean Jerome.
Huss, as he himself states, was pestered in prison by emissaries who sought to entrap him, or to "hold out baskets" for him to escape in. Some of the charges made against him he ascribes to false witnesses. But many of the charges were not false, and it is difficult to understand how he could expect to free himself by a public statement, in view of the solemn condemnation passed upon the doctrines of Wyclif. He was convinced that none of the articles brought against him were contrary to the Gospel of Christ, but canon law ruled at councils, not Scripture. A doctor told him that if the council should affirm he had only one eye, he ought to accept the verdict. Huss replied if the whole world were to tell him so, he would not say so and offend his conscience, and he appealed to the case of Eleazar in the Book of the Maccabees, who would not make a lying confession.682682 Workman: Hus’ Letters, pp. 226, 289-241. But he was setting his house in order. He wrote affecting messages to his people in Bohemia and to John of Chlum. He urged the Bohemians to hear only priests of good report, and especially those who were earnest students of Holy Writ. Martin he adjured to read the Bible diligently, especially the New Testament.
On June 15th, the council took the far-reaching action forbidding the giving of the cup to laymen. This action Huss condemned as wickedness and madness, on the ground that it was a virtual condemnation of Christ’s example and command. To Hawlik, who had charge of the Bethlehem chapel, he wrote, urging him not to withhold the cup from the laity.683683 See Workman, pp. 185, 245, 248. He saw indisputable proof that the council was fallible. One day it kissed the feet of John, as a paragon of virtue, and called him "most holy," and the next it condemned him as "a shameful homicide, a sodomite, a simoniac and a heretic." He quoted the proverb, common among the Swiss, that a generation would not suffice to cleanse Constance from the sins the body had committed in that city.
The darkness deepened around the prisoner. On June 24th, by the council’s orders, his writings were to be burnt, even those written in Czech which, almost in a tone of irony, as he wrote, the councillors had not seen and could not read. He bade his friends not be terrified, for Jeremiah’s books, which the prophet had written at the Lord’s direction, were burnt.
His affectionate interest in the people of "his glorious country" and in the university on the Moldau, and his feeling of gratitude to the friends who had supported him continued unabated. A dreadful death was awaiting him, but he recalled the sufferings of Apostles and the martyrs, and especially the agonies endured by Christ, and he believed he would be purged of his sins through the flames. D’Ailly had replied to him on one occasion by peremptorily saying he should obey the decision of 50 doctors of the Church and retract without asking any questions. "A wonderful piece of information," he wrote, "As if the virgin, St. Catherine, ought to have renounced the truth and her faith in the Lord because 50 philosophers opposed her."684684 Workman, p. 264. In one of his last letters, written to his alma mater of Prag, he declared he had not recanted a single article.
On the first day of July, he was approached by the archbishops of Riga and Ragusa and 6 other prelates, who still had a hope of drawing from him a recantation. A written declaration made by Huss in reply showed the hope vain.685685 Ibid., p. 276. Another effort was made July 5th, Cardinals D’Ailly and Zabarella and bishop Hallum of Salisbury being of the party of visiting prelates. Huss closed the discussion by declaring that he would rather be burnt a thousand times than abjure, for by abjuring he said he would offend those whom he had taught.686686 Non vellet abjurare sed millisies comburi, Mansi, XXVII. 764.
Still another deputation approached him, his three friends John of Chlum, Wenzel of Duba and Lacembok, and four bishops. They were sent by Sigismund. As a layman, John of Chlum did not venture to give Huss advice, but bade him, if he felt sure of his cause, rather than to be against God, to stand fast, even to death. One of the bishops asked whether he presumed to be wiser than the whole council. No, was the reply, but to retract he must be persuaded of his errors out of the Scriptures. "An obstinate heretic!" exclaimed the bishops. This was the final interview in private. The much-desired opportunity was at hand for him to stand before the council as a body, and it was his last day on earth.
After seven months of dismal imprisonment and deepening disappointment, on Saturday, July 6th, Huss was conducted to the cathedral. It was 6 A. M., and he was kept waiting outside the doors until the celebration of mass was completed. He was then admitted to the sacred edifice, but not to make a defence, as he had come to Constance hoping to do. He was to listen to sentence pronounced upon him as an ecclesiastical outcast and criminal. He was placed in the middle of the church on a high stool, set there specially for him.687687 Ad medium concilii ubi erat levatus in altum scamnum pro eo. Mansi, XXVII. 747. The bishop of Lodi preached from Rom. 6:6, "that the body of sin may be destroyed." The extermination of heretics was represented as one of the works most pleasing to God, and the preacher used the time-worn illustrations from the rotten piece of flesh, the little spark which is in danger of turning into a great flame and the creeping cancer. The more virulent the poison the swifter should be the application of the cauterizing iron. In the style of Bossuet in a later age, before Louis XIV., he pronounced upon Sigismund the eulogy that his name would be coupled with song and triumph for all time for his efforts to uproot schism and destroy heresy.
The commission, which included Patrick, bishop of Cork, appointed to pronounce the sentence, then ascended the pulpit. All expressions of feeling with foot or hand, all vociferation or attempt to start disputation were solemnly forbidden on pain of excommunication. 30 articles were then read, which were pronounced as heretical, seditious and offensive to pious ears. The sentence coupled in closest relation Wyclif and Huss.688688 The articles are given in Mansi, pp. 754 sq., 1209-1211, and Hardt, IV. 408-12. The first of the articles charged the prisoner with holding that the Church is the totality of the predestinate, and the last that no civil lord or prelate may exercise authority who is in mortal sin. Huss begged leave to speak, but was hushed up.
The sentence ran that "the holy council, having God only before its eye, condemns John Huss to have been and to be a true, real and open heretic, the disciple not of Christ but of John Wyclif, one who in the University of Prag and before the clergy and people declared Wyclif to be a Catholic and an evangelical doctor—vir catholicus et doctor evangelicus." It ordered him degraded from the sacerdotal order, and, not wishing to exceed the powers committed unto the Church, it relinquished him to the secular authority.
Not a dissenting voice was lifted against the sentence. Even John Gerson voted for it. One incident has left its impress upon history, although it is not vouched for by a contemporary. It is said that, when Huss began to speak, he looked at Sigismund, reminding him of the safe-conduct. The king who sat in state and crowned, turned red, but did not speak.
The order of degradation was carried out by six bishops, who disrobed the condemned man of his vestments and destroyed his tonsure. They then put on his head a cap covered over with pictures of the devil and inscribed with the word, heresiarch, and committed his soul to the devil. With upturned eyes, Huss exclaimed, "and I commit myself to the most gracious Lord Jesus."
The old motto that the Church does not want blood—ecclesia non sitit sanguinem — was in appearance observed, but the authorities knew perfectly well what was to be the last scene when they turned Huss over to Sigismund. "Go, take him and do to him as a heretic" were the words with which the king remanded the prisoner to the charge of Louis, the Count Palatine. A guard of a thousand armed men was at hand. The streets were thronged with people. As Huss passed on, he saw the flames on the public square which were consuming his books. For fear of the bridge’s breaking down, the greater part of the crowd was not allowed to cross over to the place of execution, called the Devil’s Place. Huss’ step had been firm, but now, with tears in his eyes, he knelt down and prayed. The paper cap falling from his head, the crowd shouted that it should be put on, wrong side front.
It was midday. The prisoner’s hands were fastened behind his back, and big neck bound to the stake by a chain. On the same spot sometime before, so the chronicler notes, a cardinal’s worn-out mule had been buried. The straw and wood were heaped up around Huss’ body to the chin, and rosin sprinkled upon them. The offer of life was renewed if he would recant. He refused and said, "I shall die with joy to-day in the faith of the gospel which I have preached." When Richental, who was standing by, suggested a confessor, he replied, "There is no need of one. I have no mortal sin." At the call of bystanders, they turned his face away from the East, and as the flames arose, he sang twice, Christ, thou Son of the living God, have mercy upon me. The wind blew the fire into the martyr’s face, and his voice was hushed. He died, praying and singing. To remove, if possible, all chance of preserving relics from the scene, Huss’ clothes and shoes were thrown into the merciless flames. The ashes were gathered up and cast into the Rhine.
While this scene was being enacted, the council was going on with the transaction of business as if the burning without the gates were only a common event. Three weeks later, it announced that it had done nothing more pleasing to God than to punish the Bohemian heretic. For this act it has been chiefly remembered by after generations.
Not one of the members of the Council of Constance, after its adjournment, so far as we know, uttered a word of protest against the sentence. No pope or oecumenical synod since has made any apology for it. Nor has any modern Catholic historian gone further than to indicate that in essential theological doctrines Huss was no heretic, though his sentence was strictly in accord with the principles of the canon law. So long as the dogmas of an infallible Church organization and an infallible pope continue to be strictly held, no apology can be expected. It is of the nature of Protestant Christianity to confess wrongs and, as far as is possible, make reparation for them. When the Massachusetts court discovered that it had erred in the case of the Salem witchcraft in 1692, it made full confession, and offered reparation to the surviving descendants; and Judge Sewall, one of the leaders in the prosecution, made a moving public apology for the mistake he had committed. The same court recalled the action against Roger Williams. In 1903, the Protestants of France reared a monument at Geneva in expiation of Calvin’s part in passing sentence upon Servetus. Luther, in his Address to the German Nobility, called upon the Roman Church to confess it had done wrong in burning Huss. That innocent man’s blood still cries from the ground.
Huss died for his advocacy of Wycliffism. The sentence passed by the council coupled the two names together.689689 Buddenseig, Hus, Patriot and Reformer, p. 11, says, "The whole Hussite movement is mere Wycliffism." Loserth, Wiclif and Hus, p. xvi, says, it was Wyclif’s doctrine principally for which Hus yielded up his life. Invectives flying about in Constance joined their names together. TheMissa Wiclefistarum ran, Credo in Wykleph ducem inferni patronum Boemiae et in Hus filium ejus unicum nequam nostrum, qui conceptus est ex spiritu Luciferi, natus matre ejus et factus incarnatus equalis Wikleph, secundum malam voluntatem et major secundum ejus persecutionem, regnans tempore desolationis studii Pragensis, tempore quo Boemia a fide apostotavit. Qui propter nos hereticos descendit ad inferna et non resurget a mortuis nec habebit vitam eternam. Amen. The 25th of the 30 Articles condemned him for taking offence at the reprobation of the 45 articles, ascribed to Wyclif. How much this article was intended to cover cannot be said. It is certain that Huss did not formally deny the doctrine of transubstantiation, although he was charged with that heresy. Nor was he distinctly condemned for urging the distribution of the cup to the laity, which he advocated after the council had positively forbidden it. His only offence was his definition of the Church and his denial of the infallibility of the papacy and its necessity for the being of the Church. These charges constitute the content of all the 30 articles except the 25th. Luther said brusquely but truly, that Huss committed no more atrocious sin than to declare that a Roman pontiff of impious life is not the head of the Church catholic.690690 Note appended to Huss’ writings, ed. 1537. See Huss’ Opp., Prelim. Statement, I. 4. It did not require the study of the modem historian to affirm the view taken above. John Foxe, in his Book of Martyrs, presented it clearly when he said, "By the life, acts and letters of Huss, it is plain that he was condemned not for any error of doctrine, for he neither denied their popish transubstantiation, neither spake against the authority of the church of Rome, if it were well governed, nor yet against the seven sacraments, but said mass himself and in almost all their popish opinions was a papist with them, but only through evil will was he accused because he spoke against the pomp, pride and avarice and other wicked enormities of the pope, cardinals and prelates of the church, etc.
John Huss struck at the foundations of the hierarchical system. He interpreted our Lord’s words to Peter in a way that was fatal to the papal theory of Leo, Hildebrand and Innocent III.691691 Gerson declared that among the causes for which Huss was condemned was that he had affirmed that the Church could be ruled by priests dispersed throughout the world in the absence of one head an well as with one head. Schwab, p. 588. His conception of the Church, which he drew from Wyclif, contains the kernel of an entirely new system of religious authority. He made the Scriptures the final source of appeal, and exalted the authority of the conscience above pope, council and canon law as an interpreter of truth. He carried out these views in practice by continuing to preach in spite of repeated sentences of excommunication, and attacking the pope’s right to call a crusade. If the Church be the company of the elect, as Huss maintained, then God rules in His people and they are sovereign. With such assertions, the teachings of Thomas Aquinas were set aside.
The enlightened group of men who shared the spirit of Gerson and D’Ailly did not comprehend Wycliffism, for Wycliffism was a revolt against an alleged divine institution, the visible Church. Gerson denied that the appeal to conscience was an excuse for refusing to submit to ecclesiastical authority. Faith, with him, was agreement with the Church’s system. The chancellor not only voted for Huss’ condemnation, but declared he had busily worked to bring the sentence about. Nineteen articles he drew from Huss’ work on the Church, he pronounced "notoriously heretical." However, at a later time, in a huff over the leniency shown to Jean Petit, he stated that if Huss had been given an advocate, he would never have been convicted.692692 Schwab, pp. 588-599, 600. On the whole subject of Huss’ views Schwab has excellent remarks, p. 596 sqq.
In starting out for Constance, Huss knew well the punishment appointed for heretics. The amazing thing is that he should ever have thought it possible to clear himself by a public address before the council. In view of the procedure of the Inquisition, the council showed him unheard-of consideration in allowing him to appear in the cathedral. This was done out of regard for Sigismund, who was on the eve of his journey to Spain to induce Benedict of Luna to abdicate.693693 See Workman: Age of Hus, pp. 284, 293, 364, and Wylie, p. 175 sqq.
As for the safe-conduct—salvo-conductus — issued by Sigismund, all that can be said is that a king did not keep his word. He was more concerned to be regarded as the patron of a great council than to protect a Bohemian preacher, his future subject. Writing with reference to the solemn pledge, Huss said, "Christ deceives no man by a safe-conduct. What he pledges he fulfils. Sigismund has acted deceitfully throughout."694694 Workman: Hus’ Letters, p. 269 sq. The plea, often made, that the king had no intention of giving Huss an unconditional pledge of protection, is in the face of the documentary evidence. In September, 1415, the Council of Constance took formal notice of the criticisms floating about that in Huss’ execution a solemn promise had been broken, and announced that no brief of safe-conduct in the case of a heretic is binding. No pledge is to be observed which is prejudicial to the Catholic faith and ecclesiastical jurisdiction.695695 Mansi, XXVII. 791, 799. Also Mirbt, p. 156. Lea, Inquisition, II. p. 462 sqq., has an excellent statement of the whole question of Huss’ safe-conduct.
The safe-conduct was in the ordinary form, addressed to all the princes and subjects of the empire, ecclesiastical and secular, and informing them that Huss should be allowed to pass, remain and return without impediment. Jerome, according to the sentence passed upon him by the council, declared that the safe-conduct had been grossly violated, and when, in 1433, the legates of the Council of Basel attempted to throw the responsibility for Huss’ condemnation on false witnesses, so called, Rokyzana asked how the Council of Constance could have been moved by the Holy Ghost if it were controlled by perjurers, and showed that the violation of the safe-conduct had not been forgotten. When the Bohemian deputies a year earlier had come to Basel, they demanded the most carefully prepared briefs of safe-conduct from the Council of Basel, the cities of Eger and Basel and from Sigismund and others. Frederick of Brandenburg and John of Bavaria agreed to furnish troops to protect the Hussites on their way to Basel, at Basel, and on their journey home. A hundred and six years later, Luther profited by Huss’ misfortune when he recalled Sigismund’s perfidy, perfidy which the papal system of the 16th century would have repeated, had Charles V. given his consent.696696 Luther declared that a safe-conduct promised to the devil must be kept. See Köstlin, M. Luther, I. 352.
In a real sense, Huss was the precursor of the Reformation. It is true, the prophecy was wrongly ascribed to him, "To-day you roast a goose—Huss—but a hundred years from now a swan will arise out of my ashes which you shall not roast." Unknown to contemporary writers, it probably originated after Luther had fairly entered upon his work. But he struck a hard blow at hierarchical assumption before Luther raised his stronger arm. Luther was moved by Huss’ case, and at Leipzig, forced to the wall by Eck’s thrusts, the Wittenberg monk made the open avowal that oecumenical councils also may err, as was done in putting Huss to death at Constance. Years before, at Erfurt, he had taken up a volume of the Bohemian sermons, and was amazed that a man who preached so evangelically should have been condemned to the stake. But for fear of the taint of heresy, he quickly put it down.697697 John Zacharias, one of the professors of the university at Erfurt, had taken a prominent part in the debates at Constance against Huss, and received as his reward the red rose from the pope. Köstlin, M. Luther, I. 53, 87. The accredited view in Luther’s time was given by Dobneck in answer to Luther’s good opinion, when he said that Huss was worse than a Turk, Jew, Tartar and Sodomite. In his edition of Huss’ letters, printed 1537, Luther praised Huss’ patience and humility under every indignity and his courage before an imposing assembly as a lamb in the midst of wolves and lions. If such a man, he wrote, "is to be regarded as a heretic, then no person under the sun can be looked upon as a true Christian."
A cantionale, dating from 1572, and preserved in the Prag library, contains a hymn to Huss’ memory and three medallions which well set forth the relation in which Wyclif and Huss stand to the Reformation. The first represents Wyclif striking sparks from a stone. Below it is Huss, kindling a fire from the sparks. In the third medallion, Luther is holding aloft the flaming torch. his is the historic succession, although it is true Luther began his career as a Reformer before he was influenced by Huss, and continued his work, knowing little of Wyclif.
To the cause of religious toleration, and without intending it, John Huss made a more effectual contribution by his death than could have been made by many philosophical treatises, even as the deaths of Blandina and other martyrs of the early Church, who were slaves, did more towards the reduction of the evils of slavery than all the sentences of Pagan philosophers. Quite like his English teacher, he affirmed the sovereign rights of the truth. It was his habit, so he stated, to conform his views to the truth, whatever the truth might be. If any one, he said, "can instruct me by the sacred Scriptures or by good reasoning, I am willing to follow him. From the outset of my studies, I have made it a rule to joyfully and humbly recede from a former opinion when in any matter I perceive a more rational opinion."698698 Si aliqua persona ecclesiae me scrip. s. vel ratione valida, docuerit, paratissime consentire. Nam a primo studii mei tempore hoc mihi statui proregula, ut quotiescunque saniorem sententiam in quacunque materia perciperem, a priori sententia gaudenter et humiliter declinarem. Wyclif had expressed the same sentiment in his De universalibus, which Huss translated, 1398. See Loserth, p. 253.
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