Huss and Jerome
THE gospel had been planted in Bohemia as
early as the ninth century. The Bible was translated, and public worship was conducted, in
the language of the people. But as the power of the pope increased, so the word of God was
obscured. Gregory VII, who had taken it upon himself to humble the pride of kings, was no
less intent upon enslaving the people, and accordingly a bull was issued forbidding public
worship to be conducted in the Bohemian tongue. The pope declared that "it was
pleasing to the Omnipotent that His worship should be celebrated in an unknown language,
and that may evils and heresies had arisen from not observing this rule."--Wylie, b.
3, ch. 1. Thus Rome decreed that the light of God's word should be extinguished and the
people should be shut up in darkness. But Heaven had provided other agencies for the
preservation of the church. Many of the Waldenses and Albigenses, driven by persecution
from their homes in France and Italy, came to Bohemia. Though they dared not teach openly,
they labored zealously in secret. Thus the true faith was preserved from century to
Before the days of Huss there
were men in Bohemia who rose up to condemn openly the corruption in the church and the
profligacy of the people. Their labors excited widespread interest. The fears of the
hierarchy were roused, and persecution was opened against the disciples of the gospel.
Driven to worship in the forests and the mountains, they were hunted by soldiers, and many
were put to death. After a time it was decreed that all who departed from the Romish
worship should be burned. But while the Christians yielded up their lives, they looked
forward to the triumph of their cause. One of those who "taught that salvation was
only to be found by faith in the crucified Saviour," declared when dying: "The
rage of the enemies of the truth now prevails against us, but it will not be forever;
there shall arise one from among the common people, without sword or authority, and
against him they shall not be able to prevail." -- Ibid., b. 3, ch. 1. Luther's time
was yet far distant; but already one was rising, whose testimony against Rome would stir
John Huss was of humble
birth, and was early left an orphan by the death of his father. His pious mother,
regarding education and the fear of God as the most valuable of possessions, sought to
secure this heritage for her son. Huss studied at the provincial school, and then repaired
to the university at Prague, receiving admission as a charity scholar. He was accompanied
on the journey to Prague by his mother; widowed and poor, she had no gifts of worldly
wealth to bestow upon her son, but as they drew near to the great city, she kneeled down
beside the fatherless youth and invoked for him the blessing of their Father in heaven.
Little did that mother realize how her prayer was to be answered.
At the university, Huss soon
distinguished himself by his untiring application and rapid progress, while his blameless
life and gentle, winning deportment gained him universal esteem. He was a sincere adherent
of the Roman Church and an earnest seeker for the spiritual blessings which it professes
to bestow. On the occasion of a jubilee he went to confession, paid the last few coins in
his scanty store, and joined in the processions, that he might share in the absolution
promised. After completing his college course, he entered the priesthood, and rapidly
attaining to eminence,
he soon became attached to the court of the king. He was also made
professor and afterward rector of the university where he had received his education. In a
few years the humble charity scholar had become the pride of his country, and his name was
renowned throughout Europe.
But it was in another field
that Huss began the work of reform. Several years after taking priest's orders he was
appointed preacher of the chapel of Bethlehem. The founder of this chapel had advocated,
as a matter of great importance, the preaching of the Scriptures in the language of the
people. Notwithstanding Rome's opposition to this practice, it had not been wholly
discontinued in Bohemia. But there was great ignorance of the Bible, and the worst vices
prevailed among the people of all ranks. These evils Huss unsparingly denounced, appealing
to the word of God to enforce the principles of truth and purity which he inculcated.
A citizen of Prague, Jerome,
who afterward became so closely associated with Huss, had, on returning from England,
brought with him the writings of Wycliffe. The queen of England, who had been a convert to
Wycliffe's teachings, was a Bohemian princess, and through her influence also the
Reformer's works were widely circulated in her native country. These works Huss read with
interest; he believed their author to be a sincere Christian and was inclined to regard
with favor the reforms which he advocated. Already, though he knew it not, Huss had
entered upon a path which was to lead him far away from Rome.
About this time there arrived
in Prague two strangers from England, men of learning, who had received the light and had
come to spread it in this distant land. Beginning with an open attack on the pope's
supremacy, they were soon silenced by the authorities; but being unwilling to relinquish
their purpose, they had recourse to other measures. Being artists as well as preachers,
they proceeded to exercise their skill. In a place open to the public they drew two
pictures. One represented the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem,
"meek, and sitting
upon an ass" (Matthew 21:5), and followed by His disciples in travel-worn garments
and with naked feet. The other picture portrayed a pontifical procession--the pope arrayed
in his rich robes and triple crown, mounted upon a horse magnificently adorned, preceded
by trumpeters and followed by cardinals and prelates in dazzling array.
Here was a sermon which
arrested the attention of all classes. Crowds came to gaze upon the drawings. None could
fail to read the moral, and many were deeply impressed by the contrast between the
meekness and humility of Christ the Master and the pride and arrogance of the pope, His
professed servant. There was great commotion in Prague, and the strangers after a time
found it necessary, for their own safety, to depart. But the lesson they had taught was
not forgotten. The pictures made a deep impression on the mind of Huss and led him to a
closer study of the Bible and of Wycliffe's writings. Though he was not prepared, even
yet, to accept all the reforms advocated by Wycliffe, he saw more clearly the true
character of the papacy, and with greater zeal denounced the pride, the ambition, and the
corruption of the hierarchy.
From Bohemia the light
extended to Germany, for disturbances in the University of Prague caused the withdrawal of
hundreds of German students. Many of them had received from Huss their first knowledge of
the Bible, and on their return they spread the gospel in their fatherland.
Tidings of the work at Prague
were carried to Rome, and Huss was soon summoned to appear before the pope. To obey would
be to expose himself to certain death. The king and queen of Bohemia, the university,
members of the nobility, and officers of the government united in an appeal to the pontiff
that Huss be permitted to remain at Prague and to answer at Rome by deputy. Instead of
granting this request, the pope proceeded to the trial and condemnation of Huss, and then
declared the city of Prague to be under interdict.
In that age this sentence,
whenever pronounced, created widespread alarm. The ceremonies by which it was accompanied
were well adapted to strike terror to a people who looked upon the pope as the
representative of God Himself, holding the keys of heaven and hell, and possessing power
to invoke temporal as well as spiritual judgments. It was believed that the gates of
heaven were closed against the region smitten with interdict; that until it should please
the pope to remove the ban, the dead were shut out from the abodes of bliss. In token of
this terrible calamity, all the services of religion were suspended. The churches were
closed. Marriages were solemnized in the churchyard. The dead, denied burial in
consecrated ground, were interred, without the rites of sepulture, in the ditches or the
fields. Thus by measures which appealed to the imagination, Rome essayed to control the
consciences of men.
The city of Prague was filled
with tumult. A large class denounced Huss as the cause of all their calamities and
demanded that he be given up to the vengeance of Rome. To quiet the storm, the Reformer
withdrew for a time to his native village. Writing to the friends whom he had left at
Prague, he said: "If I have withdrawn from the midst of you, it is to follow the
precept and example of Jesus Christ, in order not to give room to the ill-minded to draw
on themselves eternal condemnation, and in order not to be to the pious a cause of
affliction and persecution. I have retired also through an apprehension that impious
priests might continue for a longer time to prohibit the preaching of the word of God
amongst you; but I have not quitted you to deny the divine truth, for which, with God's
assistance, I am willing to die."--Bonnechose, The Reformers Before the Reformation,
vol. 1, p. 87. Huss did not cease his labors, but traveled through the surrounding
country, preaching to eager crowds. Thus the measures to which the pope resorted to
suppress the gospel were causing it to be the more widely extended. "We can do
nothing against the truth, but for the truth." 2 Corinthians 13:8.
"The mind of Huss, at
this stage of his career, would seem to have been the scene of a painful conflict.
Although the church was seeking to overwhelm him by her thunderbolts, he had not renounced
her authority. The Roman Church was still to him the spouse of Christ, and the pope was
the representative and vicar of God. What Huss was warring against was the abuse of
authority, not the principle itself. This brought on a terrible conflict between the
convictions of his understanding and the claims of his conscience. If the authority was
just and infallible, as he believed it to be, how came it that he felt compelled to
disobey it? To obey, he saw, was to sin; but why should obedience to an infallible church
lead to such an issue? This was the problem he could not solve; this was the doubt that
tortured him hour by hour. The nearest approximation to a solution which he was able to
make was that it had happened again, as once before in the days of the Saviour, that the
priests of the church had become wicked persons and were using their lawful authority for
unlawful ends. This led him to adopt for his own guidance, and to preach to others for
theirs, the maxim that the precepts of Scripture, conveyed through the understanding, are
to rule the conscience; in other words, that God speaking in the Bible, and not the church
speaking through the priesthood, is the one infallible guide."--Wylie, b. 3, ch. 2.
When after a time the
excitement in Prague subsided, Huss returned to his chapel of Bethlehem, to continue with
greater zeal and courage the preaching of the word of God. His enemies were active and
powerful, but the queen and many of the nobles were his friends, and the people in great
numbers sided with him. Comparing his pure and elevating teachings and holy life with the
degrading dogmas which the Romanists preached, and the avarice and debauchery which they
practiced, many regarded it an honor to be on his side.
Hitherto Huss had stood alone
in his labors; but now Jerome, who while in England had accepted the teachings of
Wycliffe, joined in the work of reform. The two were
hereafter united in their lives, and
in death they were not to be divided. Brilliancy of genius, eloquence and learning--gifts
that win popular favor--were possessed in a pre-eminent degree by Jerome; but in those
qualities which constitute real strength of character, Huss was the greater. His calm
judgment served as a restraint upon the impulsive spirit of Jerome, who, with true
humility, perceived his worth, and yielded to his counsels. Under their united labors the
reform was more rapidly extended.
God permitted great light to
shine upon the minds of these chosen men, revealing to them many of the errors of Rome;
but they did not receive all the light that was to be given to the world. Through these,
His servants, God was leading the people out of the darkness of Romanism; but there were
many and great obstacles for them to meet, and He led them on, step by step, as they could
bear it. They were not prepared to receive all the light at once. Like the full glory of
the noontide sun to those who have long dwelt in darkness, it would, if presented, have
caused them to turn away. Therefore He revealed it to the leaders little by little, as it
could be received by the people. From century to century, other faithful workers were to
follow, to lead the people on still further in the path of reform.
The schism in the church
still continued. Three popes were now contending for the supremacy, and their strife
filled Christendom with crime and tumult. Not content with hurling anathemas, they
resorted to temporal weapons. Each cast about him to purchase arms and to obtain soldiers.
Of course money must be had; and to procure this, the gifts, offices, and blessings of the
church were offered for sale. The priests also, imitating their superiors, resorted to
simony and war to humble their rivals and strengthen their own power. With daily
increasing boldness Huss thundered against the abominations which were tolerated in the
name of religion; and the people openly accused the Romish leaders as the cause of the
miseries that overwhelmed Christendom.
Again the city of Prague
seemed on the verge of a bloody conflict. As in former ages, God's servant was accused as
"he that troubleth Israel." 1 Kings 18:17. The city was again placed under
interdict, and Huss withdrew to his native village. The testimony so faithfully borne from
his loved chapel of Bethlehem was ended. He was to speak from a wider stage, to all
Christendom, before laying down his life as a witness for the truth.
To cure the evils that were
distracting Europe, a general council was summoned to meet at Constance. The council was
called at the desire of the emperor Sigismund, by one of the three rival popes, John
XXIII. The demand for a council had been far from welcome to Pope John, whose character
and policy could ill bear investigation, even by prelates as lax in morals as were the
churchmen of those times. He dared not, however, oppose the will of Sigismund.
The chief objects to be
accomplished by the council were to heal the schism in the church and to root out heresy.
Hence the two antipopes were summoned to appear before it, as well as the leading
propagator of the new opinions, John Huss. The former, having regard to their own safety,
did not attend in person, but were represented by their delegates. Pope John, while
ostensibly the convoker of the council, came to it with many misgivings, suspecting the
emperor's secret purpose to depose him, and fearing to be brought to account for the vices
which had disgraced the tiara, as well as for the crimes which had secured it. Yet he made
his entry into the city of Constance with great pomp, attended by ecclesiastics of the
highest rank and followed by a train of courtiers. All the clergy and dignitaries of the
city, with an immense crowd of citizens, went out to welcome him. Above his head was a
golden canopy, borne by four of the chief magistrates. The host was carried before him,
and the rich dresses of the cardinals and nobles made an imposing display.
Meanwhile another traveler
was approaching Constance. Huss was conscious of the dangers which threatened him.
parted from his friends as if he were never to meet them again, and went on his journey
feeling that it was leading him to the stake. Notwithstanding he had obtained a
safe-conduct from the king of Bohemia, and received one also from the emperor Sigismund
while on his journey, he made all his arrangements in view of the probability of his
In a letter addressed to his
friends at Prague he said: "My brethren, . . . I am departing with a safe-conduct
from the king to meet my numerous and mortal enemies. . . . I confide altogether in the
all-powerful God, in my Saviour; I trust that He will listen to your ardent prayers, that
He will infuse His prudence and His wisdom into my mouth, in order that I may resist them;
and that He will accord me His Holy Spirit to fortify me in His truth, so that I may face
with courage, temptations, prison, and, if necessary, a cruel death. Jesus Christ suffered
for His well-beloved; and therefore ought we to be astonished that He has left us His
example, in order that we may ourselves endure with patience all things for our own
salvation? He is God, and we are His creatures; He is the Lord, and we are His servants;
He is Master of the world, and we are contemptible mortals--yet He suffered! Why, then,
should we not suffer also, particularly when suffering is for us a purification?
Therefore, beloved, if my death ought to contribute to His glory, pray that it may come
quickly, and that He may enable me to support all my calamities with constancy. But if it
be better that I return amongst you, let us pray to God that I may return without
stain--that is, that I may not suppress one tittle of the truth of the gospel, in order to
leave my brethren an excellent example to follow. Probably, therefore, you will nevermore
behold my face at Prague; but should the will of the all-powerful God deign to restore me
to you, let us then advance with a firmer heart in the knowledge and the love of His
law."--Bonnechose, vol. 1, pp. 147, 148.
In another letter, to a
priest who had become a disciple of the gospel, Huss spoke with deep humility of his own
errors, accusing himself "of having felt pleasure in wearing
rich apparel and of
having wasted hours in frivolous occupations." He then added these touching
admonitions: "May the glory of God and the salvation of souls occupy thy mind, and
not the possession of benefices and estates. Beware of adorning thy house more than thy
soul; and, above all, give thy care to the spiritual edifice. Be pious and humble with the
poor, and consume not thy substance in feasting. Shouldst thou not amend thy life and
refrain from superfluities, I fear that thou wilt be severely chastened, as I am myself. .
. . Thou knowest my doctrine, for thou hast received my instructions from thy childhood;
it is therefore useless for me to write to thee any further. But I conjure thee, by the
mercy of our Lord, not to imitate me in any of the vanities into which thou hast seen me
fall." On the cover of the letter he added: "I conjure thee, my friend, not to
break this seal until thou shalt have acquired the certitude that I am dead."--
Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 148, 149.
On his journey, Huss
everywhere beheld indications of the spread of his doctrines and the favor with which his
cause was regarded. The people thronged to meet him, and in some towns the magistrates
attended him through their streets.
Upon arriving at Constance,
Huss was granted full liberty. To the emperor's safe-conduct was added a personal
assurance of protection by the pope. But, in violation of these solemn and repeated
declarations, the Reformer was in a short time arrested, by order of the pope and
cardinals, and thrust into a loathsome dungeon. Later he was transferred to a strong
castle across the Rhine and there kept a prisoner. The pope, profiting little by his
perfidy, was soon after committed to the same prison. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 247. He had been
proved before the council to be guilty of the basest crimes, besides murder, simony, and
adultery, "sins not fit to be named." So the council itself declared, and he was
finally deprived of the tiara and thrown into prison. The antipopes also were deposed, and
a new pontiff was chosen.
Though the pope himself had
been guilty of greater crimes than Huss had ever charged upon the priests, and for which
he had demanded a reformation, yet the same council which degraded the pontiff proceeded
to crush the Reformer. The imprisonment of Huss excited great indignation in Bohemia.
Powerful noblemen addressed to the council earnest protests against this outrage. The
emperor, who was loath to permit the violation of a safe-conduct, opposed the proceedings
against him. But the enemies of the Reformer were malignant and determined. They appealed
to the emperor's prejudices, to his fears, to his zeal for the church. They brought
forward arguments of great length to prove that "faith ought not to be kept with
heretics, nor persons suspected of heresy, though they are furnished with safe-conducts
from the emperor and kings."--Jacques Lenfant, History of the Council of Constance,
vol. 1, p. 516. Thus they prevailed.
Enfeebled by illness and
imprisonment,--for the damp, foul air of his dungeon had brought on a fever which nearly
ended his life,--Huss was at last brought before the council. Loaded with chains he stood
in the presence of the emperor, whose honor and good faith had been pledged to protect
him. During his long trial he firmly maintained the truth, and in the presence of the
assembled dignitaries of church and state he uttered a solemn and faithful protest against
the corruptions of the hierarchy. When required to choose whether he would recant his
doctrines or suffer death, he accepted the martyr's fate.
The grace of God sustained
him. During the weeks of suffering that passed before his final sentence, heaven's peace
filled his soul. "I write this letter," he said to a friend, "in my prison,
and with my fettered hand, expecting my sentence of death tomorrow. . . . When, with the
assistance of Jesus Christ, we shall again meet in the delicious peace of the future life,
you will learn how merciful God has shown Himself toward me, how effectually He has
supported me in the midst of my temptations and trials."--Bonnechose, vol. 2, p. 67.
In the gloom of his dungeon
he foresaw the triumph of the true faith. Returning in his dreams to the chapel at Prague
where he had preached the gospel, he saw the pope and his bishops effacing the pictures of
Christ which he had painted on its walls. "This vision distressed him: but on the
next day he saw many painters occupied in restoring these figures in greater number and in
brighter colors. As soon as their task was ended, the painters, who were surrounded by an
immense crowd, exclaimed, 'Now let the popes and bishops come; they shall never efface
them more!'" Said the Reformer, as he related his dream: "I maintain this for
certain, that the image of Christ will never be effaced. They have wished to destroy it,
but it shall be painted afresh in all hearts by much better preachers than
myself."--D'Aubigne, b. 1, ch. 6.
For the last time, Huss was
brought before the council. It was a vast and brilliant assembly--the emperor, the princes
of the empire, the royal deputies, the cardinals, bishops, and priests, and an immense
crowd who had come as spectators of the events of the day. From all parts of Christendom
had been gathered the witnesses of this first great sacrifice in the long struggle by
which liberty of conscience was to be secured.
Being called upon for his
final decision, Huss declared his refusal to abjure, and, fixing his penetrating glance
upon the monarch whose plighted word had been so shamelessly violated, he declared:
"I determined, of my own free will, to appear before this council, under the public
protection and faith of the emperor here present."--Bonnechose, vol. 2, p. 84. A deep
flush crimsoned the face of Sigismund as the eyes of all in the assembly turned upon him.
Sentence having been
pronounced, the ceremony of degradation began. The bishops clothed their prisoner in the
sacerdotal habit, and as he took the priestly robe, he said: "Our Lord Jesus Christ
was covered with a white robe, by way of
insult, when Herod had Him conducted before
Pilate."-- Ibid., vol. 2, p. 86. Being again exhorted to retract, he replied, turning
toward the people: "With what face, then, should I behold the heavens? How should I
look on those multitudes of men to whom I have preached the pure gospel? No; I esteem
their salvation more than this poor body, now appointed unto death." The vestments
were removed one by one, each bishop pronouncing a curse as he performed his part of the
ceremony. Finally "they put on his head a cap or pyramidal-shaped miter of paper, on
which were painted frightful figures of demons, with the word 'Archheretic' conspicuous in
front. 'Most joyfully,' said Huss, 'will I wear this crown of shame for Thy sake, O Jesus,
who for me didst wear a crown of thorns.'"
When he was thus arrayed,
"the prelates said, 'Now we devote thy soul to the devil.' 'And I,' said John Huss,
lifting up his eyes toward heaven, 'do commit my spirit into Thy hands, O Lord Jesus, for
Thou hast redeemed me.'"--Wylie, b. 3, ch. 7.
He was now delivered up to
the secular authorities and led away to the place of execution. An immense procession
followed, hundreds of men at arms, priests and bishops in their costly robes, and the
inhabitants of Constance. When he had been fastened to the stake, and all was ready for
the fire to be lighted, the martyr was once more exhorted to save himself by renouncing
his errors. "What errors," said Huss, "shall I renounce? I know myself
guilty of none. I call God to witness that all that I have written and preached has been
with the view of rescuing souls from sin and perdition; and, therefore, most joyfully will
I confirm with my blood that truth which I have written and preached."-- Ibid., b. 3,
ch. 7. When the flames kindled about him, he began to sing, "Jesus, Thou Son of
David, have mercy on me," and so continued till his voice was silenced forever.
Even his enemies were struck
with his heroic bearing. A zealous papist, describing the martyrdom of Huss, and of
Jerome, who died soon after, said: "Both bore themselves with constant mind when
their last hour approached. They prepared for the fire as if they were going to a marriage
feast. They uttered no cry of pain. When the flames rose, they began to sing hymns; and
scarce could the vehemency of the fire stop their singing."-- Ibid., b. 3, ch. 7.
When the body of Huss had
been wholly consumed, his ashes, with the soil upon which they rested, were gathered up
and cast into the Rhine, and thus borne onward to the ocean. His persecutors vainly
imagined that they had rooted out the truths he preached. Little did they dream that the
ashes that day borne away to the sea were to be as seed scattered in all the countries of
the earth; that in lands yet unknown it would yield abundant fruit in witnesses for the
truth. The voice which had spoken in the council hall of Constance had wakened echoes that
would be heard through all coming ages. Huss was no more, but the truths for which he died
could never perish. His example of faith and constancy would encourage multitudes to stand
firm for the truth, in the face of torture and death. His execution had exhibited to the
whole world the perfidious cruelty of Rome. The enemies of truth, though they knew it not,
had been furthering the cause which they vainly sought to destroy.
Yet another stake was to be
set up at Constance. The blood of another witness must testify for the truth. Jerome, upon
bidding farewell to Huss on his departure for the council, had exhorted him to courage and
firmness, declaring that if he should fall into any peril, he himself would fly to his
assistance. Upon hearing of the Reformer's imprisonment, the faithful disciple immediately
prepared to fulfill his promise. Without a safe-conduct he set out, with a single
companion, for Constance. On arriving there he was convinced that he had only exposed
himself to peril, without the possibility of doing anything for the deliverance of Huss.
He fled from the city, but was arrested on the homeward journey and brought back loaded
with fetters and under the custody of a band of soldiers. At his first appearance before
the council his attempts to reply to the accusations brought against him were met with
shouts, "To the flames with him! to the flames!"--Bonnechose, vol. 1, p. 234. He
was thrown into a dungeon, chained in a position which caused him great suffering, and fed
on bread and water. After some months the cruelties of his imprisonment brought upon
Jerome an illness that threatened his life, and his enemies, fearing that he might escape
them, treated him with less severity, though he remained in prison for one year.
The death of Huss had not
resulted as the papists had hoped. The violation of his safe-conduct had roused a storm of
indignation, and as the safer course, the council determined, instead of burning Jerome,
to force him, if possible, to retract. He was brought before the assembly, and offered the
alternative to recant, or to die at the stake. Death at the beginning of his imprisonment
would have been a mercy in comparison with the terrible sufferings which he had undergone;
but now, weakened by illness, by the rigors of his prison house, and the torture of
anxiety and suspense, separated from his friends, and disheartened by the death of Huss,
Jerome's fortitude gave way, and he consented to submit to the council. He pledged himself
to adhere to the Catholic faith, and accepted the action of the council in condemning the
doctrines of Wycliffe and Huss, excepting, however, the "holy truths" which they
had taught.-- Ibid, vol. 2, p. 141.
By this expedient Jerome
endeavored to silence the voice of conscience and escape his doom. But in the solitude of
his dungeon he saw more clearly what he had done. He thought of the courage and fidelity
of Huss, and in contrast pondered upon his own denial of the truth. He thought of the
divine Master whom he had pledged himself to serve, and who for his sake endured the death
of the cross. Before his retraction he had found comfort, amid all his sufferings, in the
assurance of God's favor; but now remorse and doubts tortured his soul. He knew that still
other retractions must be made before he could be at peace with Rome. The path upon
he was entering could end only in complete apostasy. His resolution was taken: To escape a
brief period of suffering he would not deny his Lord.
Soon he was again brought
before the council. His submission had not satisfied his judges. Their thirst for blood,
whetted by the death of Huss, clamored for fresh victims. Only by an unreserved surrender
of the truth could Jerome preserve his life. But he had determined to avow his faith and
follow his brother martyr to the flames.
He renounced his former
recantation and, as a dying man, solemnly required an opportunity to make his defense.
Fearing the effect of his words, the prelates insisted that he should merely affirm or
deny the truth of the charges brought against him. Jerome protested against such cruelty
and injustice. "You have held me shut up three hundred and forty days in a frightful
prison," he said, "in the midst of filth, noisomeness, stench, and the utmost
want of everything; you then bring me out before you, and lending an ear to my mortal
enemies, you refuse to hear me. . . . If you be really wise men, and the lights of the
world, take care not to sin against justice. As to me, I am only a feeble mortal; my life
is but of little importance; and when I exhort you not to deliver an unjust sentence, I
speak less for myself than for you."-- Ibid., vol. 2, pp. 146, 147.
His request was finally
granted. In the presence of his judges, Jerome kneeled down and prayed that the divine
Spirit might control his thoughts and words, that he might speak nothing contrary to the
truth or unworthy of his Master. To him that day was fulfilled the promise of God to the
first disciples: "Ye shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake. . . .
But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be
given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the
Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you." Matthew 10:18-20.
The words of Jerome excited
astonishment and admiration, even in his enemies. For a whole year he had been
a dungeon, unable to read or even to see, in great physical suffering and mental anxiety.
Yet his arguments were presented with as much clearness and power as if he had had
undisturbed opportunity for study. He pointed his hearers to the long line of holy men who
had been condemned by unjust judges. In almost every generation have been those who, while
seeking to elevate the people of their time, have been reproached and cast out, but who in
later times have been shown to be deserving of honor. Christ Himself was condemned as a
malefactor at an unrighteous tribunal.
At his retraction, Jerome had
assented to the justice of the sentence condemning Huss; he now declared his repentance
and bore witness to the innocence and holiness of the martyr. "I knew him from his
childhood," he said. "He was a most excellent man, just and holy; he was
condemned, notwithstanding his innocence. . . . I also--I am ready to die: I will not
recoil before the torments that are prepared for me by my enemies and false witnesses, who
will one day have to render an account of their impostures before the great God, whom
nothing can deceive."--Bonnechose, vol. 2, p. 151.
In self-reproach for his own
denial of the truth, Jerome continued: "Of all the sins that I have committed since
my youth, none weigh so heavily on my mind, and cause me such poignant remorse, as that
which I committed in this fatal place, when I approved of the iniquitous sentence rendered
against Wycliffe, and against the holy martyr, John Huss, my master and my friend. Yes! I
confess it from my heart, and declare with horror that I disgracefully quailed when,
through a dread of death, I condemned their doctrines. I therefore supplicate . . .
Almighty God to deign to pardon me my sins, and this one in particular, the most heinous
of all." Pointing to his judges, he said firmly: "You condemned Wycliffe and
John Huss, not for having shaken the doctrine of the church, but simply because they
branded with reprobation the scandals proceeding from the clergy--their pomp, their pride,
and all the vices of the prelates and priests.
The things which they have affirmed,
and which are irrefutable, I also think and declare, like them."
His words were interrupted.
The prelates, trembling with rage, cried out: "What need is there of further proof?
We behold with our own eyes the most obstinate of heretics!"
Unmoved by the tempest,
Jerome exclaimed: "What! do you suppose that I fear to die? You have held me for a
whole year in a frightful dungeon, more horrible than death itself. You have treated me
more cruelly than a Turk, Jew, or pagan, and my flesh has literally rotted off my bones
alive; and yet I make no complaint, for lamentation ill becomes a man of heart and spirit;
but I cannot but express my astonishment at such great barbarity toward a
Christian."-- Ibid., vol. 2, pp. 151-153.
Again the storm of rage burst
out, and Jerome was hurried away to prison. Yet there were some in the assembly upon whom
his words had made a deep impression and who desired to save his life. He was visited by
dignitaries of the church and urged to submit himself to the council. The most brilliant
prospects were presented before him as the reward of renouncing his opposition to Rome.
But like his Master when offered the glory of the world, Jerome remained steadfast.
"Prove to me from the
Holy Writings that I am in error," he said, "and I will abjure it."
Writings!" exclaimed one of his tempters, "is everything then to be judged by
them? Who can understand them till the church has interpreted them?"
"Are the traditions of
men more worthy of faith than the gospel of our Saviour?" replied Jerome. "Paul
did not exhort those to whom he wrote to listen to the traditions of men, but said,
'Search the Scriptures.'"
"Heretic!" was the
response, "I repent having pleaded so long with you. I see that you are urged on by
the devil."-- Wylie, b. 3, ch. 10.
Erelong sentence of
condemnation was passed upon him. He was led out to the same spot upon which Huss had
yielded up his life. He went singing on his way, his countenance lighted up with joy and
peace. His gaze was fixed upon Christ, and to him death had lost its terrors. When the
executioner, about to kindle the pile, stepped behind him, the martyr exclaimed:
"Come forward boldly; apply the fire before my face. Had I been afraid, I should not
His last words, uttered as
the flames rose about him, were a prayer. "Lord, Almighty Father," he cried,
"have pity on me, and pardon me my sins; for Thou knowest that I have always loved
Thy truth."--Bonnechose, vol. 2, p. 168. His voice ceased, but his lips continued to
move in prayer. When the fire had done its work, the ashes of the martyr, with the earth
upon which they rested, were gathered up, and like those of Huss, were thrown into the
So perished God's faithful
light bearers. But the light of the truths which they proclaimed--the light of their
heroic example--could not be extinguished. As well might men attempt to turn back the sun
in its course as to prevent the dawning of that day which was even then breaking upon the
The execution of Huss had
kindled a flame of indignation and horror in Bohemia. It was felt by the whole nation that
he had fallen a prey to the malice of the priests and the treachery of the emperor. He was
declared to have been a faithful teacher of the truth, and the council that decreed his
death was charged with the guilt of murder. His doctrines now attracted greater attention
than ever before. By the papal edicts the writings of Wycliffe had been condemned to the
flames. But those that had escaped destruction were now brought out from their hiding
places and studied in connection with the Bible, or such parts of it as the people could
obtain, and many were thus led to accept the reformed faith.
The murderers of Huss did not
stand quietly by and witness the triumph of his cause. The pope and the emperor united to
crush out the movement, and the armies of Sigismund were hurled upon Bohemia.
But a deliverer was raised
up. Ziska, who soon after the opening of the war became totally blind, yet who was one of
the ablest generals of his age, was the leader of the Bohemians. Trusting in the help of
God and the righteousness of their cause, that people withstood the mightiest armies that
could be brought against them. Again and again the emperor, raising fresh armies, invaded
Bohemia, only to be ignominiously repulsed. The Hussites were raised above the fear of
death, and nothing could stand against them. A few years after the opening of the war, the
brave Ziska died; but his place was filled by Procopius, who was an equally brave and
skillful general, and in some respects a more able leader.
The enemies of the Bohemians,
knowing that the blind warrior was dead, deemed the opportunity favorable for recovering
all that they had lost. The pope now proclaimed a crusade against the Hussites, and again
an immense force was precipitated upon Bohemia, but only to suffer terrible defeat.
Another crusade was proclaimed. In all the papal countries of Europe, men, money, and
munitions of war were raised. Multitudes flocked to the papal standard, assured that at
last an end would be made of the Hussite heretics. Confident of victory, the vast force
entered Bohemia. The people rallied to repel them. The two armies approached each other
until only a river lay between them. "The crusaders were in greatly superior force,
but instead of dashing across the stream, and closing in battle with the Hussites whom
they had come so far to meet, they stood gazing in silence at those
warriors."--Wylie, b. 3, ch. 17. Then suddenly a mysterious terror fell upon the
host. Without striking a blow, that mighty force broke and scattered as if dispelled by an
unseen power. Great numbers were slaughtered by the Hussite army, which pursued the
fugitives, and an immense booty fell into the hands of the victors, so that the war,
instead of impoverishing, enriched the Bohemians.
A few years later, under a
new pope, still another crusade was set on foot. As before, men and means were drawn
all the papal countries of Europe. Great were the inducements held out to those who should
engage in this perilous enterprise. Full forgiveness of the most heinous crimes was
ensured to every crusader. All who died in the war were promised a rich reward in heaven,
and those who survived were to reap honor and riches on the field of battle. Again a vast
army was collected, and, crossing the frontier they entered Bohemia. The Hussite forces
fell back before them, thus drawing the invaders farther and farther into the country, and
leading them to count the victory already won. At last the army of Procopius made a stand,
and turning upon the foe, advanced to give them battle. The crusaders, now discovering
their mistake, lay in their encampment awaiting the onset. As the sound of the approaching
force was heard, even before the Hussites were in sight, a panic again fell upon the
crusaders. Princes, generals, and common soldiers, casting away their armor, fled in all
directions. In vain the papal legate, who was the leader of the invasion, endeavored to
rally his terrified and disorganized forces. Despite his utmost endeavors, he himself was
swept along in the tide of fugitives. The rout was complete, and again an immense booty
fell into the hands of the victors.
Thus the second time a vast
army, sent forth by the most powerful nations of Europe, a host of brave, warlike men,
trained and equipped for battle, fled without a blow before the defenders of a small and
hitherto feeble nation. Here was a manifestation of divine power. The invaders were
smitten with a supernatural terror. He who overthrew the hosts of Pharaoh in the Red Sea,
who put to flight the armies of Midian before Gideon and his three hundred, who in one
night laid low the forces of the proud Assyrian, had again stretched out His hand to
wither the power of the oppressor. "There were they in great fear, where no fear was:
for God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee: thou hast put them to
shame, because God hath despised them." Psalm 53:5.
The papal leaders, despairing
of conquering by force, at last resorted to diplomacy. A compromise was entered into, that
while professing to grant to the Bohemians freedom of conscience, really betrayed them
into the power of Rome. The Bohemians had specified four points as the condition of peace
with Rome: the free preaching of the Bible; the right of the whole church to both the
bread and the wine in the communion, and the use of the mother tongue in divine worship;
the exclusion of the clergy from all secular offices and authority; and, in cases of
crime, the jurisdiction of the civil courts over clergy and laity alike. The papal
authorities at last "agreed that the four articles of the Hussites should be
accepted, but that the right of explaining them, that is, of determining their precise
import, should belong to the council--in other words, to the pope and the emperor."--
Wylie, b. 3, ch. 18. On this basis a treaty was entered into, and Rome gained by
dissimulation and fraud what she had failed to gain by conflict; for, placing her own
interpretation upon the Hussite articles, as upon the Bible, she could pervert their
meaning to suit her own purposes.
A large class in Bohemia,
seeing that it betrayed their liberties, could not consent to the compact. Dissensions and
divisions arose, leading to strife and bloodshed among themselves. In this strife the
noble Procopius fell, and the liberties of Bohemia perished.
Sigismund, the betrayer of Huss and Jerome, now became king of Bohemia, and regardless of his oath to support the
rights of the Bohemians, he proceeded to establish popery. But he had gained little by his
subservience to Rome. For twenty years his life had been filled with labors and perils.
His armies had been wasted and his treasuries drained by a long and fruitless struggle;
and now, after reigning one year, he died, leaving his kingdom on the brink of civil war,
and bequeathing to posterity a name branded with infamy.
Tumults, strife, and
bloodshed were protracted. Again foreign armies invaded Bohemia, and internal dissension
continued to distract the nation. Those who remained faithful to the gospel were subjected
to a bloody persecution.
As their former brethren,
entering into compact with Rome, imbibed her errors, those who adhered to the ancient
faith had formed themselves into a distinct church, taking the name of "United
Brethren." This act drew upon them maledictions from all classes. Yet their firmness
was unshaken. Forced to find refuge in the woods and caves, they still assembled to read
God's word and unite in His worship.
Through messengers secretly
sent out into different countries, they learned that here and there were "isolated
confessors of the truth, a few in this city and a few in that, the object, like
themselves, of persecution; and that amid the mountains of the Alps was an ancient church,
resting on the foundations of Scripture, and protesting against the idolatrous corruptions
of Rome."--Wylie, b. 3, ch. 19. This intelligence was received with great joy, and a
correspondence was opened with the Waldensian Christians.
Steadfast to the gospel, the
Bohemians waited through the night of their persecution, in the darkest hour still turning
their eyes toward the horizon like men who watch for the morning. "Their lot was cast
in evil days, but . . . they remembered the words first uttered by Huss, and repeated by
Jerome, that a century must revolve before the day should break. These were to the
Taborites [Hussites] what the words of Joseph were to the tribes in the house of bondage:
`I die, and God will surely visit you, and bring you out.'"-- Ibid., b. 3, ch. 19.
"The closing period of the fifteenth century witnessed the slow but sure increase of
the churches of the Brethren. Although far from being unmolested, they yet enjoyed
comparative rest. At the commencement of the sixteenth century their churches numbered two
hundred in Bohemia and Moravia."--Ezra Hall Gillett, Life and Times of John Huss,
vol. 2, p. 570. "So goodly was the remnant which, escaping the destructive fury of
fire and sword, was permitted to see the dawning of that day which Huss had
foretold."--Wylie, b. 3, ch. 19.