Century XV, Chapter II

The firmness, eloquence, and zeal of Jerom, sensibly affected the council. They proposed to him once more to retract. But he replied, " Ye have determined to condemn me unjustly; but after my death I shall leave a sting in your consciences, and a worm that shall never die. I appeal to the sovereign Judge of all the earth, in whose presence you must appear to answer me." After sentence had been pronounced against him,

* Mark, xvi.

Vol. IV. 30

he was delivered to the secular power. He wap treated

with scorn and insiflt, similar to that which his friend

Huss had experienced. He put the mitre with his own

hands on his head,* saying that he was glad to wear it

for the sake of him, who was crowned with one of

thorns. As he went to execution, he sung the apostles'

creed, and the hymns of the church, with a loud voice

and a cheerful countenance. He kneeled at the stake,

and prayed. Being then bound, he raised his voice,

and sung a paschal hymn then much in vogue in the

church.f

Hail! happy day, and ever be adored,

When hell was conquered by great heaven's Lord.

The executioner approaching to the pile behind his back, lest Jerom should see him, " Come forward," said the martyr to him, " and put fire to it before my face."J He continued alive^ in the flames a full quarter of an hour. And there is the most unanimous testimony given by all writers, hussite and roman catholic, to the heroic courage and fortitude with which he sustained the torment. When he was much scorched with the fury of the fire, and almost smothered in its flame, he was heard to cry out, " O Lord God, have mercy on me! have mercy on me!" And a little afterward, " Thou knowest how I have loved thy truth." By and by, the wind parted the flames, and exhibited his body full of large blisters, a dreadful spectacle to the beholders; yet even then his lips are said to have continued still moving, as if his mind was actuated by intense devotion.

Poggius, a celebrated Florentine, who had been the secretary of John XXIII. and was present at these scenes, has left the most unequivocal testimony to the abilities, fortitude, and eloquence of Jerom. I have already given the most material historical facts, which he mentions.

* L'Enfant, vol. i. p. 591. t Salve, festa dies, toto venerabilis scvo, Qua Deus infernura vicit, et astra tenens. t L'Enfant, vol. i. p. 599.

" I confess," says this writer, " I never knew the art of speaking carried so near the model of ancient eloquence. It was amazing to hear with what force of expression, fluency of language, and excellent reasoning he answered his adversaries; nor was I less struck with the gracefulness of his manner, the dignity of his action, and the firmness and constancy of his whole behaviour. It grieved me to think so great a man was labouring under so atrocious an accusation. Whether this accusation be just or not, God knows: I make no inquiry into the merits of the case; I rest satisfied with the decision of my superiors."

" The assembly," continues Poggius, " was very unruly and indecent; yet it is incredible with what acuteness the prisoner answered, and with what surprising dexterity he warded off every stroke of his adversaries. Nothing escaped him: his whole behaviour was truly great and pious.

He took great pains to show that very little credit was due to the witnesses produced against him. He laid open the sources of their hatred to him; and in that way made a strong impression on the minds of his hearers. He lamented the cruel and unjust death of that holy man John Huss, and said he was armed with a full resolution to follow the steps of that blessed martyr.

It was impossible to hear this pathetic orator without emotion. Every ear was captivated, and every heart touched. Throughout his whole oration he showed a most amazing strength of memory. He had been confined almost a year in a dungeon, the severity of which usuage he complained of, but in the language of a great and good man. In this horrid place he was deprived of books and paper, yet notwithstanding this, and,the constant anxiety of his mind, he was no more at a loss for proper authorities and quotations, than if he had spent the intermediate time at leisure in his study.

His voice was sweet and full, and his action every way proper to express either indignation or to raise pity; but he made no affected application to the passions. Firm and intrepid he stood before the council; collected in himself, and not only contemning, but seeming desirous of death. The greatest character in ancient story could not possibly have exceeded him. If there be any justice in history, this man will be admired by all posterity. I call him a prodigious man, and the epithet is not extravagant. I was an eyewitness of his whole behaviour, and could easily be more prolix on a subject so copious."*

Such is the testimony of this ingenuous papist to an adversary. His friend Aretin, to whom he wrote the letter of which the above is an extract, was much less candid. " You attribute," says he, " to this, man more than I could wish. You ought at least to Write more cautiously of these things." It has been well observedf that Poggius would probably have written more cautiously, had he written a few days afterward. But his letter is dated on the very day of Jerom's execution. It came warm from the writer's heart, and proves sufficiently what HE thought of the council of Constance and their proceedings.

Notwithstanding this valuable memoir, I could wish to have been enabled to give a more edifying account of the martyrdom of Jerom: but in this point the materials of history are defective. We must ever expect that writers will record what they esteem important; and pass over what they conceive is better buried in oblivion. Unless, therefore, they have some taste for evangelical principles, and evangelical practice, they will take no notice of many things, which to them appear bordering upon fanaticism or enthusiasm. In the instance before us, indeed, it is very probable, that Jerom himself had no very accurate or systematical acquaintance with the truth of the gospel. The knowledge, however, which he had, doubtless respected the essential doctrines of christianity; and his spirit and constancy in suffering, his dependence on the grace of Christ, his joyful expectation of a blessed resurrection, and his humble confession of sinfulness and unworthiness, sufficiently distinguish him from the stoic philosopher, or the mere moralist, who, whatever portion he may have of the first of these qualities, is totally void of all the rest. It is remarkable, that Poggius observes, in the same letter, that " Jerom met his fate with a cheerful countenance and with more than stoical constancy."

* Letter of Poggius to Aretin. t Gilpin's Jerom.

Among other valuable purposes to which the council of Constance was rendered subservient under divine providence, this was not of the least importance, that the wickedness of the ecclesiastical system, then prevalent in Europe, was demonstrated before all the world. All the knowledge and ability, which Europe could afford, was collected at Constance, yet the able and learned fathers of this council were so far from reforming the evils of what they called the church, that they proved it to be antichrist more certainly than ever. It could no longer be said, that the particular character of such or such popes was the cause of the crimes of the clergy; the whole of the then clerical establishment concurred in support of iniquity.

I have already taken notice of the confession, which in the sermon preached at Constance, they themselves made of the extreme wickedness of the church. Another remarkable instance of the same kind occurred on Whitsunday, the seventh of June, a very little time after the death of Jerom. A doctor preached a sermon from these words: " They were all filled with the Holy ghost." " Instead of the seven gifts," says the preacher, " which God granted to the apostles, I fear that the devil keeps his pentecost in the hearts of most of the clergy, and that he has inspired them with the seven contrary vices." He then gave a catalogue of those vices.

But let not malicious infidelity exult in these incontrovertible proofs of the corrupt state of the church. One of the essential doctrines of christianity, namely, original sin, or the native depravity of man, as an apostate creature, is strongly illustrated by the general wickedness of merely nominal christians. The real gospel itself was then neither understood, nor preached, nor valued in the Roman church. Hence the natural wickedness of mankind met with no resistance; even the papists could see that the whole church was vicious in its head and members, yet they trifled respecting sins with the most scandalous levity, and persecuted to death those very persons, who earnestly opposed the corruption of the times.

All this, however, affords no just ground of triumph to the infidel. The mere nominal christian is, in a scriptural sense, an unbeliever as well as himself; and while neither of these characters Overcomes The World, because he has not true Faith,* it is abundantly evident, and I trust it has appeared so from the course of this history, that where real christianity is understood, and received, there sincerity, and all genuine virtues do actually thrive, and adorn the gospel.

In the year 1417, on the day of Epiphany, a sermon was preached in full council, which described the abuses of the church in so strong a manner, that if the preacher had intended to justify the reformation, attempted by Huss and Jerom, and completed a hundred years after in several parts of Europe by the protestant reformers, he could not have added much to the vehemence of his invectives. The clergy were by him taxed with pride and the love of power, with the bad distribution of benefices, the maladministration of the sacraments, the neglect of the study of the scriptures and of the preaching of the gospel, and the injustice of their ecclesiastical decrees. " Abomination," cried he, " appears even within these walls, nor are we without instances both of the most scandalous passions, and the basest actions." Could a preacher have been permitted with impunity to draw so frightful a picture of the face of the church in full council, if it

* 1 John,v/4,3.v

had not been corrupt in the extreme, and must there not have been a radical apostacy from the real faith of Christ, where such fruits were suffered to abound?

In this year the followers of Huss, under the famous Zisca and Nicolas de Hussinetz, began to exert themselves in opposition to the hierarchy, but certainly in a manner by no means agreeable to the genius of Christianity. They made use of fire and sword; and the latter of these leaders is said* to have collected together in a mountain, which was afterwards called Tabor, t forty thousand hussites, to have arranged them in companies, and administered to them the communion in both kinds. This last point of ecclesiastical regulation seems to have been the predominant article of the faith of the majority of the party, so little did they understand the nature of the gospel! It was indeed the great defect of this whole Bohemian reformation, that, zealous as it was against the popish abominations, it entered not into the genuine, essential, doctrines of the gospel with energy and perspicuity; and thus, as must ever be the case, while external practice is the principal object, these reformers were not able to improve, in any considerable degree, that very practice to which they directed their chief attention. Instead of laying the axe to the root, instead of expounding the doctrines of grace, and preaching the real faith of Christ, and patiently suffering persecution, they took the cause into their own hands, and avenged themselves of their enemies by the sword. Their ill success in the issue, compared with the decisive victories gained over popery afterwards at the reformation by those who preached the real scripture doctrine of justification before God, and who allowed the use of no other arms against popery than" Faith Which Worketh By Love," gives us a salutary lesson, how upon all occasions, in this earthly scene of the trial of the patience and resignation of the righteous, divine truth ought to be defended. To be incited by a zeal, however flaming, against the errors and evils of popery, is not sufficient: it behooves the christian champion to fight with spiritual, not with carnal weapons, to regulate his zeal by christian knowledge, humility, faith, meekness, and patience, and to aim chiefly at the purification of the heart by the practical use of the doctrine of Christ crucified, under the influence of the divine Spirit. But in these things the hussites were poorly furnished; and they miscarried, because they attempted to cleanse the Outside Of The Cup And Platter, before they had cleansed

* Dubravius.

f The hussites erected tents in the mountain. And the word Tabor means Tent in the Bohemian language. The mountain Tabor is only a few miles from Prague.

that WHIcH IS WITHIN.* *

It was a gloomy season of the church when the majority of those, who had the greatest sincerity in religion, made their capital object to be af sacramental circumstance, though certainly scriptural and perfectly well founded. The fact is, they understood very little of the native depravity of man, on which the use and necessity of the gospel depend. A gloomy season truly! when two men, of talents and learning, and uncommonly honest and upright, lost their lives for the support of a good conscience; and when even these, who, it is not to be doubted, died in the faith of Jesus, possessed little clearness of understanding in that faith, and were encumbered with so much rubbish of superstition as to be incapable of giving clear and effectual instruction to their followers and admirers. And further, when the general mass of christians, even all the dignitaries assembled at Constance, could do no more than acknowledge the necessity of reformation, while many of them constantly practised the foulest abominations, and were ready to burn in the flames as heretics any persons, whose knowledge, and zeal, and morals, and conduct, conveyed, by a laudable contrast, a censure on their own principles and practice. The preciousness of real gospel light,

* Matt, xxvii. 26. f Communion in both kinds.

both the clergy and kity followed their decision. Wenceslaus the king, more out of fear than good will to the hussites, granted them a great many churches, in which they administered the eucharist according to the scriptural institution, and also entered every day into new engagements not to obey the council. By these means, many of the Bohemian clergy were stripped of their revenues, and they stirred up the friends of the church of Rome to oppose the innovations. Vast numbers of highwaymen and banditti took the opportunity of this confusion to exercise all acts of violence and robbery with impunity. Wenceslaus, instead of exerting the requisite authority, abandoned Prague, retired to a castle, and minded nothing but his pleasures, while his whole kingdom was in combustion.*

It was not probable that the council of Constance should be able to restore peace and good order to Bohemia: for they themselves, in a great measure had been the cause of the existing troubles. It is, however true, that thev left no stone unturned in their endeavours to reestablish the corrupt custom of administering the sacrament in one kind only. By their order, Gerson composed a treatise against the communion in both kinds, which was publicly read in the assembly; but which, in fact, was little calculated to compose the differences. Conscious of the difficulty of supporting his main point by the authority of scripture alone, he observes, that in order to understand revelation aright, recourse should be had to human laws, decrees, and the glosses of holy doctors. He maintains, that those who presume to interpret scripture, contrary to what is taught in the scripture, as Declared By The Church, and observed by the faithful, ought to be severely punished, rather than dealt with by argument. The whole treatise was unworthy of the learning and sagacity of Gerson, and deserved no notice here, except for the purpose of showing under what strong delusions thos e are permitted to lie, who love not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness. The judicious L'Enfant, who is rarely liberal in his censures, breaks out on occasion of the last mentioned sentiment of Gerson, in the following terms: " I own, I don't understand Gerson's logic on this occasion. He draws a very blunt and rash inference; especially as it was the most improper thing in the world he could say to induce the hussites of Bohemia to come to Constance, whither they were summoned."

* Theobald's War of the Hussites.

The five nations, (for the Spaniards were now added to the French, the Germans, the English, and the Italians,) proceeded to elect a pope; and the choice fell upon Otho de Colonna, who took the name of Martin V. This happened in the latter end of the year 1417. All these nations, on the day after the pope's coronation, concurred in a resolution to demand of the new pope the reformation of the church which he had promised to make after he should be elected. He gave them good words, but did nothing effectual. The Germans were uneasy at his delays, and so were the French; though these, by joining with the Italians and the Spaniards, had caused the deferring of the reformation till after the election of a pope. The answer, which Sigismund gave to the French, was severe, but just. " When I urged you that the church might be reformed before the pope was elected, you would not consent. You would have a pope before the reformation. Go to him yourselves. I have not the same power which I had while the see was vacant."* It is the office of history to do justice to all characters; on which account it behooves us to declare, that Sigismund, grossly perfidious as he had shown himself in regard to Huss, appears to have been sincerely desirous of a partial reformation in the church. He had neither the knowledge nor the zeal, sufficient to lead him to any thing like an evangelical reformation; but, with many other popish princes, he wished to set bounds to the tyranny of the pope, to reduce him from the state of a despot to that of a limited monarch, to check his encroachments on the rights and property both of sovereigns and of subjects, and to bring the church into a state of decorum and order. Sigismund certainly intended all this; and if he failed of obtaining the blessing of God even on his laudable purposes, the christian reader will recollect that this man persecuted the church of God, lived wickedly, and hated the real principles of the gospel of Christ. Before the election of Martin V., the emperor, with the Germans and the English, was zealous that the reformation of the church should precede the election of a new pontiff; and Robert Halam, bishop of Salisbury, had distinguished himself particularly in this point. He Avas the favourite of the emperor; but his death at Constance gave a fatal blow to the designs of those who were anxious to oppose the ambition of the Italians. Not only the French, but even the English, strenuous as they had been for the correction of abuses while Halam lived, deserted the emperor; and he was left in a minority with his Germans. The memorial of this last nation deserves to be mentioned. They complained, that " the popes had assumed to themselves the judgment of all causes both ecclesiastical and civil; that", by a horrid abuse even more scandalous than simony, they taxed and rated crimes like merchandize; selling pardons of sins for ready money, and granting indulgences altogether unusual; that they admitted persons of licentious manners into sacred orders, and that since offices were become thus saleable, no one thought knowledge and virtue to be necessary qualifications."

* I.'Enfant, vol. ii. p. 207.

It is extraordinary, that any modern writers should undertake to vindicate the papacy from the charges of protestants, when it appears repeatedly, that nothing could be said worse of it by its enemies, than what was confessed by the very members of the church of Rome. It is very true that the conduct of these members of the romish church was in the main inconsistent with their professions and declarations. With what the new communion in both kinds; and the taborites mentioned above, who are thought to have much resembled the waldenses. A greater encomium, the circumstances of those times being fully considered, could scarcely be passed upon them. But, it is difficult to reconcile this encomium with the accounts of their military ferocity. Most probably, wheat was mixed with the tares; and while one part of the people lived the life of " the faith of the Son of God,"* the other could produce few marks of zeal in the cause of religion, except those, which were of a bloody and violent kind.

Under the auspices of the council of Constance paganism was extirpated in Samogitia by the king of Poland. Historical justice required that this fact should be mentioned: yet, I know no evidences of real conversion among the Samogitians; but, the very introduction of christian formalities among idolaters ought . to be esteemed, on the whole, a considerable advantage to a nation.

This celebrated council, which began to skin 1414, was dissolved in 1418.

If the materials of evangelical history appear by no means in quantity proportioned to the length of this chapter, the importance of the salutary lessons, connected with the information it contains, may be thought a sufficient apology for the defect. A great effort was made by the united wisdom of Europe, but in vain, to effect that reformation, which God alone in his own time produced in such a manner, as to illustrate the divine declaration, namely, Salvation is f " not by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts."

* Gal. xi. 20. t Zech. iv. 6