ARTICLE V. – HERESIES OF THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY. – THE HERESY OF JOHN HUSS, AND JEROME OF PRAGUE. – 39.-John Huss’s character, and the commencement of his Heresy. 40.-His Errors. 41. -He is condemned in a Synod. 42.-Council of Constance he is obliged to appear at it. 43. -He comes to Constance, and endeavours to escape. 44, 45. -He presents himself before the Council, and continues obstinate. 46.-He is condemned to death, and burned. 47.-Jerome of Prague is also burned alive for his obstinacy. 48.-Wars of the Hussites they are conquered and converted.

  1. In the reign of Wenceslaus, King of Bohemia, and son of the Emperor Charles IV., about the beginning of the fifteenth century, the pestilence of the heresy of Wickliffe first made its appearance in Bohemia. The University of Prague was then in a most flourishing condition; but the Professors who had the management of it kept up a very lax system of discipline. They were of four nations, each of which enjoyed equal privileges in that seat of learning Bohemians, Saxons, Bavarians, and Poles; but mutual jealousies blinded them to the danger the Catholic faith was exposed to, for want of due vigilance. Such was the state of things when John Huss, one of the Bohemian professors, obtained a privilege from the King, that in all deliberations of the University, the vote of the Bohemian nation alone should count as much as the three others together. The German professors were so much offended at this ordinance, that they left Prague in a body, and settled in Leipsic, where they contributed to establish that famous University, and thus the government of the whole University of Prague, we may say, fell into the hands of John Huss (1). This remarkable man was born in a village of Bohemia, called Huss, and from which he took his name, and his parents were so poor, that at first the only means of learning he had, was by accompanying a gentleman’s son to school as attendant; but being a man of powerful mind, he, by degrees, worked himself on, until he became the chief professor of the University of Prague, which he infected, unfortunately, with heresy. Having, as we have seen, ousted the German professors, and become almost supreme in his College, it unfortunately happened that one of Wickliffe’s disciples, Peter Payne, who had to fly from England, arrived in Prague, and brought along with him the works of his master. These works fell into the hands of Huss, and though filled with blasphemy, pleased him by the bold novelty of their doctrines, and he imagined that they were well calculated to make an impression on the ardent minds of the youth of the University. He could not at once begin to teach them, for he was one of the Doctors who, a little while before, had subscribed the condemnation of Wickliffe’s errors (2), so he contented himself, for the present, with merely making them subjects of discussion with his pupils; but little by little he became more bold, and not alone among the students of the University, but even among the people in the churches, he disseminated the pestilence.

(1) Coclæus, Hist. Hussit. Æneas Silv. Hist. Bohem. c. 35; Bernin, t. 4, sec. 15, c. 2, p. 9; Graves. I. 4, coll. 3, p. 75; Gotti, Ver. &c. c. 105. (2) Nat. Alex. sec. 14, c 3, . 22, sec. 6; Æneas Silv. Hist. Bohem. c. 35.

At length, he threw off the mask altogether, and preaching one day in the Church of SS. Matthias and Matthew, in Prague, he publicly lauded the works of Wickliffe, and said, if he were dying, all he would desire is to be assured of the same glory that Wickliffe was then enjoying in heaven.

  1. He next translated some of Wickliffe’s works into Bohemian, especially the Trialogue, the worst of them all. He was joined at once by several Priests of relaxed morals, and also by several Doctors, discontented with the unjust distribution of church patronage, which was too often conferred on persons whose only qualification was nobility of birth, while humble virtue and learning was neglected. Among the Doctors who joined him was Jerome of Prague, who, in the year 1408, had, like Huss, condemned the errors of Wickliffe, but now turned round, and even accused the Council of Constance of injustice, for condemning them. Sbinko, Archbishop of Prague, summoned a Synod, which was attended by the most famous Doctors, and condemned the propositions broached by Huss, and he was so enraged at this, that he endeavoured to stir up the people to oppose it; the Archbishop, accordingly, excommunicated him, and sent a copy of the condemnation of his doctrine to Pope Alexander V., but Huss appealed to the Pope, who was badly informed, he said, of the matter, and in the meantime, the Archbishop died, and thus Bohemia became a prey to heresy. Huss was now joined by Jacobellus of Misnia, and Peter of Dresden, who went about preaching to the people against the error the Church was guilty of, as they said, in refusing the people communion under both kinds, and proclaimed that all who received under one kind were damned. John Huss and his followers took up this new doctrine, and so deeply was the error implanted in the minds of the Bohemian Hussites, that even all the power of the Irrfperial arms could scarcely eradicate it.

(3) Nat. Alex. sec. 15, c. 2, a. 1, sec. 2.

  1. Noel Alexander enumerates the errors of Huss under thirty heads (3). We will only take a succinct view of the most important ones. The Church, he said, was composed of the predestined alone (Art. 1, 3, 5, 6); and the two Natures, the Divinity and the Humanity, are one Christ (Art. 4). Peter neither was nor is the head of the Catholic Church (Art. 7, 10, 11); and Civil and Ecclesiastical Lords, as Prelates and Bishops, are no longer so while in mortal sin (Art. 30); and he says the same of the Pope (Art. 20, 22, 24, 26). The Papal dignity is derived from the power of the Emperor (Art. 9); and Ecclesiastical obedience is an invention of the Priests (Art. 15). Everything the wicked man does is wicked, and every thing the virtuous man does is virtuous (Art. 16). Good Priests ought to preach, though they be excommunicated (Art. 17, 18); and in Art. 19, he reprobates Ecclesiastical censures. It was an act of iniquity to condem the forty-five Articles of Wickliffe (Art. 25). There is no necessity of a head to rule the Church, for the Apostles and other Priests governed it very well before the office of Pope was introduced (Art. 27, 28, 29). These are, in substance, the errors of John Huss. Van Ranst (p. 275) remarks, that it appears from his own works, that he always held the belief of the Real Presence, and when, in the Fifteenth Session of the Council, he was accused of teaching that, after the consecration, the substance of bread remained in the Eucharist, he denied that he ever either taught or believed so. He also admitted Sacramental Confession, with its three parts, as we do Extreme Unction, and all the other Sacraments prayers for the dead the invocation and intercession of Saints. How unjustly, then, says the same author, do the Lutherans and Calvinists condemn in the Church of Rome these dogmas held by Huss himself, whom they venerate as a witness of the truth, and through whom they boast that they have derived the original succession of their Churches.
  2. We now come to speak of the sad end the obstinacy of Huss brought him to. The Pope condemned Wickliffe and his errors, in a Synod held in Rome, in 1413. When this came to the knowledge of Huss, he published several invectives against the Fathers composing the Synod, so the Pope found himself obliged to suspend him from all Ecclesiastical functions, the more especially as he had been cited to Rome, but refused to come. In the year 1414, a General Council was held in the city of Constance, at which twenty-nine Cardinals, four Patriarchs, and two hundred and seven Prelates assisted, and the Emperor Sigismund attended there in person also (4). John Huss was summoned by the Emperor to present himself before the Council and defend his doctrine, but he refused to leave Prague until he was furnished by him with a safe conduct. The Emperor gave him the protection he demanded, and he, accordingly, came to Constance, puffed up with the idea, that he would, by his reason ing, convince the Fathers of the Council that he was right. He was quite satisfied, also, that in case even the Council should condemn him, he was quite safe, on account of the Imperial safe-conduct; but it is extraordinary that he never adverted to the clause inserted in it, granting him security as far as he was charged with crimes, but not in regard to errors against the Church (5); for it was stated that he would be exempt from all penalty in regard to his faith, if he would obey the decisions of the Council, after being heard in his defence, but not if he still obstinately remained attached to his errors. But, as we shall see, he refused to obey these conditions. The Lutherans, therefore, are unjust in charging us with upholding that maxim, that faith is not to be kept with heretics, and alleging that as their excuse for not coming to the Council of Trent. Our Church, on the contrary, teaches that faith must be observed with even infidels or Jews, and the Council of Basil faithfully observed the guarantee given to the Hussites, though they remained obstinately attached to their errors.
  3. When Huss arrived in Constance, before he presented himself to the Council he fixed his safe conduct to the door of the Church; and while he remained at his lodging, never ceased to praise Wickliffe, and disseminate his doctrines; and, although he was excommunicated by his Bishop, in Prague, he used to say Mass in a chapel; but when the Archbishop heard of this, he prohibited him from celebrating, and his subjects from hearing his Mass (6). This frightened him, and when he saw the charges that would be made against him, and received an order from the Council not to quit the city, he trembled for his safety, and attempted to escape; he, accordingly, disguised himself as a peasant, and concealed himself in a cart-load of hay, but was discovered by a spy, who was privately placed to watch him, and notice being given to the magistrates of the city, he was taken. This took place on the third Sunday of Lent.

(4) Labbe, . . 12, cone. (5) Varillas, His. &c., t. 1, I. 11, . 25; Gotti, Ver. Bel. 105, s. 3, n. 1. (6) Coclæus, His. Huss. t. 2. Varillas, loc. cit.; Gotti, cit.

He was asked, why he disguised himself in this way, and hid himself in the hay ? He said it was because he was cold. He was put on a horse, and taken to prison, and he then appealed to the safe-conduct given him by the Emperor; but his attention was directed to the clause giving him security only as far as he was charged with certain crimes, but not for any erroneous doctrines concerning the Faith, and he was told, that it was decided that he should prove his cause not to be heretical, and if not able to do that, either retract or suffer death (7). He was now truly terrified; but seeing several Bohemians around him, who accompanied him to the Council, he threw himself from the horse among them, and thus thought to escape, but was immediately seized again, and confined in the Dominican Convent, but attempting to escape from that, he was transferred to a more secure prison (8).

  1. He was summoned from his prison to appear before the Council, and defend himself, and as the Council had already condemned the forty -five articles of Wickliffe, he trembled for his own fate. Witnesses were formally examined to prove the errors he had both preached and written, and a form of abjuration was drawn up by the Council for him to sign, for it was decided by the Fathers, that he should not alone retract verbally, but also subscribe the abjuration of his heresy in the Bohemian language. This he refused to do; but he presented a paper himself, in which he declared that he could not conscientiously retract what he was asked to do, but the Council refused to receive it. The Cardinal of Cambray endeavoured to induce him to sign a general retractation, as every thing charged against him had been proved; and he promised him, in that case, the Council would treat him most indulgently. Huss then made an humble answer : he came, he said, to be taught by the Council, and that he was willing to obey its decrees.

(7) Gotti, loc. cit. sec. 3, n. 3. (8) Gotti, ibid; Van Ranst, p. 279; Varillas, loc. cit.; Bernin. t. 4; Rainaldus, Ann. 1415, n. 32.

A pen was handed to him, accordingly, to sign his retractation in Bohemian, as was commanded in the beginning; but he said that the fear of signing a lie prevented him. The Emperor himself even tried to bend his obstinacy; but all in vain. The Council, accordingly, appointed the 6th of July to give the final decision; but before they came to extremities, the Fathers deputed four Bishops and four Bohemian gentlemen to strive and bring him round, but they never could get a direct retractation from him. The appointed day at last arrived. He was brought to the Church, in presence of the Council, and asked, if he would anathematize the errors of Wickliffe; he made a long speech, the upshot of which was that his conscience would not allow him to do so.

  1. Sentence was now pronounced on him; he was declared obstinately guilty of heresy, and the Council degraded him from the priesthood, and handed him over to the secular power. He made no remark while the sentence was read, intending, after the reading was finished, to say what he intended, but he only commenced to speak, when he was ordered to be silent. He was now clothed in the sacerdotal vestments, which were immediately after stripped off him, and a paper cap was put on his head, inscribed: “Behold the Heresiarch.” Louis, Duke of Bavaria, then took him, and handed him over to the ministers of justice, who cut off his hair in the very place where the pile was prepared to burn him. He was now tied to the stake, but before fire was put to the pile, the Duke of Bavaria again besought him to retract, but he answered, that the Scriptures tell us we should obey God, and not man. The Duke then turned his back on him, and the executioner applied the torch; when the pile began to light, the hypocrite was heard to exclaim : ” Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me ;” words inspired by the vain-glorious desire of being considered to have died a martyr’s death, but we should not forget that the devil has martyrs, and infuses into them a false constancy, and as St. Augustine says : ” It is not the punishment, but the cause, that makes a martyr ;” that is the confession of the true Faith. The flames burned so fiercely, that it is thought he was immediately suffocated, for he gave no other signs of life. His ashes were cast into the lake, and thus the scene closed on John Huss (9).
  2. We have now to speak of Jerome of Prague, who, having joined Huss in his errors, was his companion in a disgraceful death and perdition. He was a layman, and joined Huss in all his endeavours to disseminate his errors, led astray himself, first by Wickliffe’s works, and next by the preaching of his master. He came to Constance to try and be of some assistance to Huss, but was taken and obliged to appear before the Council, together with his patron, but he was not finally tried for a year after the death of Huss. A lengthened process was instituted against him, and it was proved, as Raynaldus tells us (10), that he preached the same errors as Wickliffe and Huss, that he was guilty of several excesses, and had caused several seditious movements in divers kingdoms and cities. When first brought before the Council in 1414, he confessed that he was wrong, and said that he was satisfied to abjure his heresy, even according to the formula required by the Council. He, therefore, got permission to speak with whom he pleased, and he then was so imprudent as to tell his friends that his retractation was extorted from him, not by conscience, but because he was afraid of being condemned to be burned alive, but that now he would defend his doctrines to the death. When he was discovered, he was obliged to appear again before the Council, in 1415, and when the Patriarch of Constantinople called on him to clear himself from the new charges laid against him, he spoke out plainly, and said that his former abjuration was extorted by the dread of being burned alive; that he now held as true all the articles of Wickliffe, and that he was anxious to expiate at the stake, the fault of his former retractation. The Fathers of the Council still charitably gave him time to repent, but, at last, in the Twenty-fifth Session, after the Bishop of Lodi endeavoured by every means in his power to induce him to retract, he was declared an obstinate heretic, and handed over to the civil magistrate, who had him led to the pile. Even then, several persons endeavoured to get him to retract, but he said that his conscience would not allow him; he took off his clothes without any assistance, was tied to the stake, and the pile was fired. His agony was much longer than that of John Huss, but, like him, he died without any signs of repentance (11).

(9) Varill. loc. cit. p. 48; Gotti, loc. cit. s. 3, n. 8; Van Ranst. 279. (10) Rainal. Ann. 1415, n. 13 & seq. (11) Varil.p. 51, l. 1; Gotti, c. 105; Bern. t. 4, c. 4.

  1. The unhappy end of John Huss and Jerome of Prague did not put a stop to the progress of their doctrines; on the contrary, as Varillas writes (12), the Hussites, irritated at the punishment of their leader, united together in Bohemia, ruined the churches, seized on the properties of the monasteries, and attempted the life of their King, Wenceslaus; and though they desisted at the time, they were sorry they did not accomplish it after, and they would have done so even then had Wenceslaus not died in the meantime. They then elected Zisca as Commander- in-Chief, and declared war against the Emperor Sigismund, who succeeded his brother Wenceslaus on the throne of Bohemia, and, having gained four victories, they forced him to quit his kingdom. Although Zisca lost both his eyes in battle, he still commanded his countrymen, but was attacked by the plague and died, having previously ordered that his skin should be tanned, and converted into the covering of a drum, that even after his death he might terrify his enemies. After Zisca’s death the sect was divided into Orphans, Orebites, and Thaborites, who, though disagreeing among themselves, all united against the Catholics. When those heretics got a Catholic priest into their power, they used to burn him alive, or cut him in two halves. When the Council of Basil was assembled, they sent delegates there to make peace with the Church, having previously obtained a safe conduct, but all to no purpose, as on their return into Bohemia, the war raged with greater fury, and, having collected a powerful army, they laid siege to the capital, but were encountered by Mainard, a noble Bohemian, and totally routed. Sigismund then again got posession of his kingdom, and made peace with the Hussites, who abjured their heresy, promised obedience to the Pope, and were absolved by him from all censures on the 5th of July, 1436 (13).

(12)Varil. Dis. t. 1 t. 2; Gotti, c. 105; Van Ranst. p. 281. (13) Van Ranst, p. 382; Bernini, loc, cit.