The Council of Constance, including the Cases of John Huss, and Jerom of Prague.
1 HIS celebrated council did not make any essential reformation in religion: on the contrary, they persecuted men who truly feared God; and they tolerated all the predominant corruptions. Their labours, therefore, do not deserve to be recorded, on account of the piety and virtue of those who composed the council. Yet the transactions at Constance claim considerable attention in these memoirs. They tend to throw light on the state of religion at that time: they also serve to illustrate the character of John Huss and of Jerom; and they afford various instructive reflections to those, who love to attend to the dispensations of divine providence, and would understand the comparative power of nature and of grace, of mere human resources, and of the operations of the holy Spirit.
The council met in the year 1414. Its objects were various and of high importance.* The necessity of the times had called aloud for an assembly of this kind. Ecclesiastical corruptions had increased to an intolerable magnitude; and christendom had been distracted, nearly forty years, by a schism in the popedom. To settle this dispute, and restore peace to the church was the most urgent concern of the council. Three pretenders to the chair of St. Peter, severally, laid claim to infallibility. The very nature of their struggle was subversive of the authority to which each of them made pretensions; and " of their vain contest there seemed no end." The princes, statesmen, and rulers, of the church in those times, wanted not discernment to see the danger to which the whole ecclesiastical system was exposed by these contentions; but it seems never to have come into the minds of them or of any of the members of the council, to examine the foundation on which the popedom itself, was erected. That, on all sides, was looked on as sacred and inviolable, though allowed to be burdened and encumbered with innumerable abuses.
* L'Enfant's History of the Council of Constance.
It is foreign to my design to follow this author through the details of his very accurate and circumstantial narration. The affairs, however, of John Huss and of Jerom deserve a minute attention.
However, they deposed the three existing popes, and chose a fresh successor of St. Peter, Martin V.; and we are to remark a providential benefit, which arose from the accomplishment of this first object of the council; namely, that while they had their eye only on the restoration of the unity of the Roman see, they were led to decree the superiority of councils over popes. Thus a deep wound was given to the tyrannical hierarchy, which proved of considerable service to those real reformers, who arose about a hundred years after the council of Constance.
I say real reformers; for, I cannot give this venerable name to the members of that assembly. That there needed a reformation of the church in all its component parts, and that church discipline ought to be reestablished, these were ideas, indeed, which lay within their competence; and the members of this council universally confessed, that reformation and discipline ought to be prosecuted with vigour. But they brought not to the council the materials, which alone could qualify them for such a work. In general, the best individuals among them were merely moralists; had some " zeal for God, but not according to knowledge;" and knew no higher principles than the voice of natural conscience, the dictates of common sense, and some information concerning the preceptive part of christianity. Their system of religion was letter, not spirit; law, not gospel. They had some degree of insight into the distemper of human nature, little or none into the remedy. To promote the recovery of depraved mankind, they knew no methods but those of moral suasion, upon principles merely natural. The original depravity of man, salvation through the atonement of a redeemer, and regeneration by the holy Spirit, were doctrines, the use and efficacy of which they did not understand: yet, these are the only effectual instruments for the reformation either of a corrupted church, or of a corrupted individual, though they are, by the world, generally suspected to be productive of enthusiasm, and are also too often professed by men of counterfeit religion.
A hundred years after the council of Constance, a reformation was attempted and carried on, with permanent success, by men furnished with truly evangelical views and materials. But the members of this celebrated council undertook to make " bricks without straw;" and their projects of reform served only, in the event, to teach posterity, that the real doctrines of the gospel ought to be distinctly known, cordially relished, and powerfully experienced, by those who undertake to enlighten mankind; and that without this apparatus, the efforts of the wisest and most dignified personages in Europe, (for such were those assembled at Constance,) will evaporate in the smoke of fair words and speeches, and of promising, but inefficient and unsubstantial schemes.
A moment's attentive consideration may convince us that this must unavoidably be the case. How could it be expected, in the instance before us, that popes and cardinals, bishops, and clergy, would enact, and what is still more, would execute laws, which bore hard on their own pride, their sloth, and their love of gain? or, that the laity, noble or vulgar, would submit to strict rules of church discipline? Nothing but the principle of divine love in the heart could effect these things; and divine love is learnt only in the school of Christ, and under the fostering influence of scripture doctrine, connected with spiritual discernment. * I need not put the reader in mind how igno
* 1 Cor. ii. 14.
rant in general, in regard to these things, men were in the fifteenth century. And hence, we are no more to wonder at the failure of the attempts of the council of Constance, than at the inefticacy of the complaints, made from age to age, of the wickedness of men, both by philosophers of old and by nominal christians in our own times, while those, who complain and even endeavour to effect reforms, are destitute of real christian perceptions, and regard no other light than that of mere nature. Thus the institution of mere laws however good, " can never give life;"* " the motions of sin by the law work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death:"f if even the best characters, among the prodigious congregation at Constance, thus failed, through ignorance of the true method of relieving human evils, we need not be surprised, that those who were actuated by bad motives, should contribute nothing towards a real reformation. The consequence was, that the prevailing abuses remained in the church in full force. The council managed to restore unity to the popedom, which was indeed a very difficult point; but they found it more easy to procure consent to the deposition of wicked popes, than to compel the clergy to divest themselves of that avarice, ambition, and sensuality, which were the grand sources of the existing ecclesiastical disorders.J However, That which men attempted in vain by methods merely human, God himself, about a century afterwards, effected, by the foolishness of preaching,^ and by his own spirit of grace.
It was proposed, that the bishops and other pastors should be compelled to reside in their cathedrals and parishes, to visit their flocks, to renounce pluralities, and to preach the word of God themselves, instead of committing that charge to ignorant or profane priests. Amendments truly just and laudable! But those, who proposed these excellent things, were themselves in a high degree proper objects of censure. Some of the orators of the council declared that, " they strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel." In fact, several little punctilios were reformed; but, as we have just observed, all the substantial evils remained in the church.
* Gal. Hi. t Rom. vii. t L'Enfant. § 1 Cor. I
There can be no doubt but they ought to have begun with christian doctrine itself, and its influence on the heart, if they had expected success.
The knights of the Teutonic order, at this time ranged through all their own neighbourhood with fire and sword, under the pretence of converting infidels, and had been justly complained of by the king of Poland; yet this council supported them in their enormities; nor would they even condemn a libel written by a monk, who had exhorted all christians to murder that monarch and to massacre the Poles. John Petit, a friar, had publicly vindicated the assassination committed by the duke of Burgundy's order on the duke of Orleans, brother to the king of France. It may seem incredible, but it is true, that the king of France, who prosecuted this friar before the council of Constance, could not procure his condemnation. All the dignified orders in Europe, there assembled together, had not sufficient spirit and integrity to punish crimes of the most atrocious nature. Yet they could burn without mercy those whom they deemed heretics, though men of real godliness. This part of the conduct of the assembly particularly deserves our attention; and still more so, if we keep constantly in mind who the members were that composed it. Italy, France, Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Poland, England, Denmark, Sweden, were represented by deputies. Four electors were present, namely, those of Mentz and Saxony, the elector Palatine, and the burgrave of Nuremberg, who there received the electoral cap, besides envoys from the other electors. The emperor Sigismund was never absent, unless employed in the express business of the council. Many other German princes were present, besides the clergy, among whom were twenty archbishops, nearly one hundred and fifty bishops, about one hundred and fifty other dignitaries, and more than two hundred doctors.
After this general review, it may now be proper to lay before the reader a connected view of the proceedings of this council, chiefly in regard to those subjects Avhich relate to the concerns of the real church of Christ.
At the opening of the council of Constance, pope John XXIII. and the emperor Sigismund were at the head of it; and they continually endeavoured to baffle the views of each other. The former was by far the most powerful of the three popes, who at that time struggled for the chair of St. Peter; but his character was infamous in the extreme; and\ Sigismund, while he pretended to acknowledge the authority of John, had formed a secret resolution to oblige him to renounce the pontificate. This same Sigismund was remarkable for hypocrisy and dissimulation: political artifices, however, were multiplied by both these potentates, and by many others connected with the council. But what has the church of Christ to do with the intrigues of politicians? These were the men who undertook to punish heretics and to reform the church.
John XXIII. secretly designed to leave the council as soon as possible; particularly if their pulse did not beat in his favour. His conscience suggested to him, that an inquiry into his own conduct would terminate in his disgrace; and the very situation of Constance, an imperial city, in the circle of Suabia, exposed him too much to the machinations of the emperor. As he had, however, in a council at Rome, already condemned the opinions of John Huss, he was determined to confirm that judgment at Constance, and in that way to signalize his zeal for what was then called the church.
John Huss had been summoned to the council to answer for himself, though already excommunicated at Rome. He obtained, however, a safe conduct* from the emperor, who, in conjunction with his brother Wenceslaus, king of Bohemia, had committed him to the care of several Bohemian lords, particularly of John de Chlum. These travelled with him to Constance, where they arrived six days after the pope.ment of God." He continued still to preach on subjects, which he deemed seasonable and useful. In one sermon he treated of the uses of the commemoration of the saints, among which he reckons meditation on the misery of man, subject to death for sin; and on the death which Jesus Christ suffered for our sin. In this same sermon, while he zealously opposes the abuses of the times, he discovers that he himself was not yet entirely clear of the popish notion of purgatory. " In praying devoutly for the dead," says he," we procure relief to the saints in purgatory." It is sufficiently plain, however, that he could not lay much stress on the prayers of the living for the dead; for he also says expressly, " that there is no mention of such a practice in the holy scriptures: and, that neither the prophets nor Jesus Christ, nor his apostles, nor the saints that followed close after, taught prayer for the dead." " I verily believe," continues Huss, " this custom was introduced by the avarice of priests, who don't trouble themselves to exhort the people to live well, as did the prophets, Jesus Christ and the apostles; but take great care to exhort them to make rich offerings in hopes of happiness and a speedy delivery from purgatory."
* A safe conduct here means an engagement in writing that he should tie allowed to pass without molestation.
John Huss was born in Bohemia in 1373. He was of mean parentage, but was raised to eminence by his superior genius and industry. All the authors of that time acknowledge, that he was a man of capacity and eloquence, and highly esteemed for the probity and decency of his manners. This is the testimony of the famous iEneas Sylvius afterwards pope of Rome. But the letters of Huss written from Constance, which he specially requested might never be published, afford a still more striking attestation to his character. He was appointed rector of the university of Prague, which was then in a very flourishing state. His character was no less eminent in the church than in the academy. He was nominated preacher of Bethlehem in the year 1400; and was in the same year made confessor to Sophia of Bavaria, the wife of Wenceslaus king of Bohemia, a princess who highly esteemed John Huss, and was a personage of great merit: how far she was affected by the doctrine which he preached, it is not easy to ascertain; but there is no doubt that, after his condemnation, she was obliged, by the order of the emperor Sigismund, to retire to Presburg.
In 1405 Huss preached in the chapel of Bethlehem with great celebrity. Some of Wickliff's works had been brought into Bohemia by a Bohemian gentleman, named Faulfisch, when he returned from Oxford. Hence, and probably by other modes of conveyance, the evangelical views of the English reformer were introduced into that country. It is not easy to determine the point of time, when John Huss received a favourable impression of the works of Wicklift". At first he is said to have held them in detestation. The effect of prejudice indeed on a serious mind, against a person who has been condemned for heresy was not
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easily to be overcome; and it is not impossible, but that Luther's account of his own first reception of the works of Huss might resemble the celebrated Bohemian's, reception of the works of Wickliff. " When I studied at Erford," says that truly great man, " I found in the library of the convent, a book entitled, ' The Sermons of John Huss.' I was anxious to know the doctrines of that archheretic. My astonishment in the reading of them was incredible. What, thought I, could move the council to burn so great a man, so able and judicious an expositor of scripture! But then the name of Huss was held in abomination: if I mentioned him with honour, I imagined the sky would fall, and the sun be darkened; I therefore shut the book with indignation. But I comforted myself with the thought, that perhaps he had written this before he fell into heresy!" Such were the juvenile reflections of that renowned reformer.
But it is not in the power of prejudice to prevent the progress of the divine counsels, and the work of the holy Spirit on the heart. Notwithstanding the opposition of prejudice, habit, and natural corruptions, Huss was gradually convinced of the power and excellency of evangelical doctrine. It was not necessary that he should see all things in the same light as other reformers; but there are certain truths, in which all, who are taught of God, in every age, do and must agree; and certain points of experience also in religion, in which it is even impossible for them to differ. The doctrinal knowledge of the Bohemian reformer was indeed always very limited and defective; but the little fundamental light which, through grace, he attained, was directed to the best practical purposes. He preached loudly against the abuses of the Romish church; and particularly against the impostures of false miracles, which then abounded. And about the same year 1405 he also preached in a synod at Prague, in the archbishop's presence, with amazing freedom against the vices of the clergy.
It was impossible, that a man who rendered him
At length John Huss was forbidden to preach at Prague any more. All that he could then do was to instruct his countrymen by writings. Being summoned, as we have seen, to Constance, he obeyed; and before his departure, offered to give an account of his faith in the presence of a provincial synod at Prague, but was not able to obtain an audience. In this and some other particulars he appears to have acted with great frankness and sincerity; and, though his mind strongly forboded that which happened in the issue, his resolution to appear at the general council was constant and unmoved. By a letter,* which he wrote to a friend, immediately before he left Prague, he entreats him, on the outside of it, not to open the letter, till he should have had certain news of his death. And among
* L'Enfant, p. 40.
and as far as a judgment can now be formed, he was not possessed of more tight than was absolutely necessary to constitute the character of a genuine christian. On this account the wickedness of his enemies was more palpably evident. The world hated him, because he was not of the world, and because he testified of it, that its works were evil. In what then did the peculiarities of his doctrine consist? The little specimen, which has been given of his creed explains this matter. He held the faith of God's elect, a divine faith necessarily productive of love and obedience, distinct in its whole kind from the mere human faith of wicked men. With them faith has nothing in its nature that draws a man to God in confidence and affection; with them, the term " vicious believer," appears not to be a solecism in language; and indeed, it may generally be observed, that godly men in all ages, even those men, whose evangelical knowledge, like that of Huss, is extremely imperfect, always distinguish between a dead and a living faith; and that their views of this distinction are the consequents of the work of the* fioly Spirit on their own hearts. They have kUwn in common with the rest of mankind what a formal assent to christianity means; they have known also, by the influence of the holy Spirit, what a lively faith means. The former is merely human, has a dead uniformity, or an unanimated sameness; the lattef has life and power; is productive of spiritual exercises and actions; is capable of great varieties, augmentations, declensions, and intervals; and is felt to be not of man, but of God. It is the distinctive mark of a child of
God, THAT HE IS IN POSSESSION OF THIS LIVELY
Faith; and this, no doubt, was the spark of dirine fire, which inflamed the heart of the Bohemian martyr; and which was there preserved alive amidst the contagion of superstition, the temptations of the world, and the menaces of insolent and tyrannical domination.*
* I have here described what the faith of the gospel implies and produces, rather than in what it specifically consists This has been done on former occasions, and may be done again in the course of this history, when we are reviewing characters who understood evangelical truth much better than Huss did
Those who look only at the surface of religion, might be tempted to think, that the council in general was influenced by the Spirit of God. In all their public sessions they sang an anthem, and then they prayed kneeling.* After having remained some time in this posture, a deacon called out to them to rise; and the president, addressed himself to the Holyghost in a loud voice in a collect, which, in very solemn and explicit terms, supplicated his effectual influence, that notwithstanding the enormity of their sins, which filled them with dread, he would deign to descend into their hearts, to direct them, to dictate their decrees, and to execute them himself, and also to preserve their minds from corrupt passions, and not suffer them, through ignorance or selfishness, to swerve from justice and truth. The ideas, and perhaps the very words, of the prayer were taken from better times, when the operations of the Holyghost were not only professed, but Felt in christian assemblies. The formalities of true religion often remain a long time, after the spirit ojg^ has been almost extinguished. It is not easy to say how much wickedness may be united with religious formalities. The rulers and great men of the Jewish nation, in the time of Christ, were remarkable examples of the hypocrisy here alluded to; and those, who are acquainted with the history of tjjeir flagitious conduct, will not be surprised to hear of similar instances. Both the emperor- Sigismund and his consort Barba attended the religious ceremonies of this council, and both were infamous for lewdness- f
Sigismund in a deacon's habit read the gospel, while the pope celebrated mass!
Huss was soon deprived of his liberty in the following manner. He was accused by Paletz, professor of divinity at Prague, and by Causis, a pastor of one of the parishes of the same city. These men caused on this subject. That prince immediately sent express orders to his ambassadors to cause him to be set at liberty, and even to break the gates of the prison in case of resistance. We naturally expect to hear, in the next place, of the prisoner's enlargement; for, independently of this application of count de Chlum, the honour of Sigismund himself, who had positively promised a safe conduct to Huss, seemed to require it. But notwithstanding all this, the unfortunate Bohemian teacher was not released! The crooked arts and intrigues both of the pope and of the emperor, were too powerful for the sincerity and open dealings of Huss: and, he soon found, that to commit himself to him, that judgeth righteously, was his only expedient. In the mean time, ihe doctors, in their preachings, exclaimed most pathetically against the prevailing evils and abuses, and exhorted the council to reform the church with vigour. Its growing corruptions and enormities were, by them, exposed in the strongest colours. Wickliff himself, or Huss, could scarcely have spoken in a more pointed or in a severer manner. But these Innovators, we find, were not permitted, to censure, with impunity, even the most shameful practices. The explanation is, Their attachment to the see of Rome itself was doubted; whereas the divines just mentioned, preached by order of their superiors, and constantly took particular care, in the midst of their keenest animadversions, to express an unequivocal respect to the popedom in general.
* Ibid, p. 50.
f .Sineas Sylvius. Hist.
In the beginning of the year 1415, the commissioners for examining Huss, found themselves impeded by the emperor's grant of a safe conduct; and they scrupled not, at once to intreat that prince to violate his most solemn engagement. To be brief; Sigismund was at length persuaded, that his conscience ought not to be burdened in this matter; but that he was excused from keeping faith with a man, accused of heresy; and that to acquiesce in the desires of the venerable council, was the proper line of conduct for anself in so disagreeable a situation at Constance, partly from the accusations of his enemies, to the justice of which his own conscience could not but assent, and partly from the intrigues and manoeuvres of Sigismund and the majority of the council, that he determined to depart, in secret, from the assembly. Four nations were represented at Constance, namely, the Italians, the Germans, the French, and the English. The last of these had proposed even to arrest the pope; and, though this proposal did not take effect, there seemed a general agreement in the four nations to oblige him to resign his authority. The other two antipopes, Benedict XIII. who was chiefly owned in Spain; and Gregory XII. who had some partisans in Italy, were also pressed to resign; but, like John XXIII. they were determined to preserve the shadow of power as long as possible. The three popes seemed to vie with one another in equivocation, artifice and disingenuity. However, Benedict and Gregory were not present at Constance, but sent thither their respective legates, during the sessions. At this moment, when the council seemed not a little embarrassed what course they should take, William Fillastre, a cardinal and a French divine, composed a memorial, which was highly acceptable both to the emperor and to the nations. He even advanced a sentiment, which, at last, very much prevailed in the assembly, and was actually reduced to practice; namely, that a " general council was authorised to depose even a lawful pope."* This, as we have already observed, was the most beneficial effect of the council of Constance. The wisdom of divine providence weakened the strength of antichrist by the measures of a council, which, in the main, was destitute both of piety and of probity!
| Maimburg's Hist- of the Western Schism, Part ii. Varillas Hist- of Wickliff, Part i. t L'Enfant, p. 61.
It is a remarkable instance of the love of power, in men who have been habituated to it, that John XXIII. even in the decline of his authority, was glad to signalize the relicks of his pontificate by the canonization of Bridget, a Swedish woman, which took place in this same year 1415.
* Page 109.
After numberless intrigues, in which the pope and the emperor seemed" to strive which should exceed the other in dissimulation, the former fled from the council to Schaffhausen, whence he wrote to the emperor a letter couched in the most respectful terms. Schaffhausen, it should be observed, was a city belonging to Frederic, duke of Austria, who had promised to defend pope John.
By this step, the designs of those, who really intended to put an end to the schism, seemed to be quashed entirely. Among these was the emperor himself, in whose conduct, scandalous and hypocritical as it was in the extreme, one object is yet plainly discernible, a sincere desire of restoring the unity of the hierarchy. He assured the council, on the day after the departure of pope John, that he would defend their authority to the last drop of his blood. He observed, that there were many antichrists in the world, who sought their own interest, not that of Jesus Christ. He inveighed against the conduct of John; he expos- ed his tyranny, simony, chicanery, and insincerity, and exhorted them to judge him according to his deserts. Thus, while the members of this assembly agreed in persecuting the church of God, and still detained in prison the excellent John Huss, they were involved in extreme difficulties and scarcely knew how to support the system of idolatry, and secular formality of religion, to which they were in general attached. The doctrine of the superiority of a council, started by Fillastre, was, however, maintained and pressed at this time in an elaborate discourse of John Gerson, chancellor of the university of Paris, who was looked upon as the soul of the assembly, and who, in fact, was one of the greatest men of that age in erudition and knowledge. He admits the pope to be Christ's vicar on earth; but asserts that his power is limited, and ought to be restrained by certain rules and laws for the edification of the church, to which the authority of the pope and all other persons ought to be devoted. Gerson seems to have disregarded the authority of scripture, which knows nothing of such a vicar of
Christ. Common sense, however, and the experience of the necessity of some restrictions of the papal power appear to have suggested to this great man several salutary arguments and propositions; nor is this the only instance in which we may see, that even mere natural principles, without the aid of revelation, can proceed to a Certain Length in correcting the enormous abuses of a corrupt church.
While the imperial and papal parties were thus contending, the commissioners endeavoured to oblige John Huss to retract, but in vain. Though infirm, and harassed, during his confinement in prison, with a variety of vexations, he answered to ever particular inquiry and objection; at the same time, always desiring to be heard by the council itself. The pope's officers hitherto guarded him; but these being gone to their master, he was delivered to the bishop of Constance, and was afterwards carried to the fortress of Gottleben. In his letters to his friends, he commends the pope's officers for their gentle treatment, and expresses his fears of worse usage in his new circumstances.
It was one of those remarkable instances of the conduct of divine providence, with which the history of the council of Constance abounds, that John XXIII. himself, the unrighteous persecutor of Huss, was soon after brought as a prisoner to the same castle of Gottleben, and lodged in the same place with the victim of his cruelty. For Sigismund, determined to support the authority of the council, took such measures as effectually quashed the power of Frederick, duke of Austria, reduced him to surrender at discretion, and obliged him to abandon the cause of the pope. Whence this pontiff, who at first had presided at the council, after having been driven to the necessity of fleeing from place to place, was at length confined at Gottleben, which was within half a league from Constance. Seldom has there been a case, which more remarkably showed that, in external things, the same events often attend the righteous and the wicked. The real difference of condition between the pope and the martyr was
Internal, and ought to be measured by the different frame of their Minds. The one was harassed with all the pangs of disappointed ambition; and had neither the knowledge nor the disposition to console himself with the Divine Promises; the latter " in patience possessed his spirit and rejoiced in hope of the glory of God."
John XXIII. was, at length, solemnly deposed, and was also rendered incapable of being reelected. The same sentence was issued against Benedict XIII. and Gregory XII. The conduct of these three men, particularly of the first, had been so infamous, that all the world applauded these determinations of the council. In general the members of this assembly were influenced, by superstitious, selfish, worldly motives; but this decision is among the very few important instances in which they merit commendation.
While the Bohemian reformer, contrary to every principle of justice, honour, and humanity, was still detained in confinement, and still in vain solicited a fair hearing of his cause, there was exhibited at this council another striking example of the same spirit of persecution.
Jerom of Prague arrived at Constance. He was a master of arts; but had neither the clerical nor the monastic character. He is universally allowed to have been a man of very superior talents. He had adhered to John Huss; and very vigorously seconded all his endeavours to promote a reformation in Bohemia. He had travelled into England for the sake of his studies; and had thence brought the books of Wickliff into his own country.* When Huss was setting out from Prague, Jerom had exhorted him to maintain with stedfastness the doctrines, which he had preached; and had promised that he would himself go to Constance to support him, if he should hear that he was oppressed. Huss, in one of his letters, expressly desired a friend to prevent Jerom's performance of this promise, lest he should meet with the same treatment as he himself had experienced. But Jerom had the generosity to disregard the intreaties of Huss, and came directly to Constance. Hearing, however, that Huss was not allowed a fair examination, and that some secret machination was carrying on against himself, he retired to Uberlingen, whence he wrote to the emperor to request a safe conduct. Sigismund refused to grant his petition. Upon which Jerom published a paper, declaring it to be his desire to answer any charges of heresy that could possibly be brought against him. And for the purpose of executing so honest a purpose, he begged, in the name of God, to have a safe conduct granted to him. " If," says he, " I am put in prison, and violence is used against me before I am convicted, the council will manifest to the whole world their injustice by such a proceeding." The publication of this writing produced no satisfactory answer; and Jerom finding it impossible to be of any service to his friend Huss, he resolved to return to his own country. After his departure from Constance, he was summoned to appear before the council; and a Safe Conduct or Passport was despatched to him; which promised him, indeed, all manner of security, but it contained such a Salvo To JusTice and the Interests Of The Faith, as rendered it, in effect, a mere nullity: and as to the citation for his appearance, Jerom protested, on his first examination, that it had never reached his hands.
* Camerar. Hist or. Narr.
To omit a long detail of uninteresting particulars, this persecuted reformer was arrested at Hirsaw on his return to Bohemia; and led in chains to Constance.
He was immediately brought before a general congregation, which seems, on this occasion to have assembled for the express purpose of insulting, insnaring, and browbeating their virtuous prisoner. A bishop questioned him concerning his precipitate flight from Uberlingen, and his nonobedience to the citation. " Because," answered Jerom, " I was not allowed a safe conduct: notwithstanding, however, if I had known of the citation, I would have returned instantly, though I had been actually on the confines of Bohemia." Upon this answer, there arose such a clamour in the assembly, that no one could be heard distinctly: every mouth opened, at once, against Jerom; and the impartial spectator saw rather the representation of the baiting of a wild beast, than of a wise assembly investigating truth, and dispensing justice. When order was restored, Gerson who had formerly known Jerom in France, and who discovered much acrimony towards Both the Bohemian reformers, reproached him for having formerly given much offence to the university of Paris, by introducing several erroneous propositions. With great spirit Jerom answered, that it was hard to have opinions objected to him, of so long a date; and that, moreover, the disputations of young students were never to be considered as strict disquisitions of truth. " As I was admitted master of arts," said he, "I used the liberty of discussion allowed to philosophers; nor was I then charged with any error: I am still ready to maintain what I advanced at that time, if I am allowed; and also to retract if I be convicted of mistake."
This was not the only instance in which Jerom had occasion to show his promptitude in answering calumnies. He was repeatedly attacked in a similar style; for a persecuted follower of Christ is looked on, by the world, as lawful game. The governors of the university of Cologne and of Heidelburg made heavy complaints of the heresies which the prisoner had maintained in those places respectively. " You vented several errors in our university," said a doctor from Cologne. " Be pleased to name one," answered Jerom. The accuser was instantly stopped in his career, and pleaded that his memory failed him. " You advanced most impious heresies among us," said a divine from Heidelburg: " I remember one particularly concerning the trinity. You declared that it resembled water, snow, and ice." Jerom avowed, that he still persisted in his opinions, but was ready to retract with humility
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and with pleasure, when he should be convinced of an error. However, no opportunity was allowed either for explanation or defence: all was confusion and uproar: voices burst out from every quarter, "Away with him, away with him; to the fire; to the fire.
Jerom stood astonished at the gross indecency of this scene; and as soon as he could, in any degree, be heard, he looked round the assembly with a steady and most significant countenance, and cried aloud, " Since nothing but my blood will satisfy you, I am resigned to the will of God." With sufficient adroitness, (if the passage had but been quoted in support of a better cause,) the archbishop of Saltzbourg replied, " No Jerom—God hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that he turn from his way and live."
After this tumultuous examination Jerom was delivered to the officers of the city, and immediately carried to a dungeon. Some hours afterward, Wallenrod, archbishop of Riga, caused him to be conveyed privately to St. Paul's church, where he was bound to a post, and his hands were chained to his neck. In this posture he remained ten days, and was fed with bread and water only. His friends all this time knew not what was become of him; till at length one of them received notice of his pitiable situation from the keeper of the prison, artd procured him better nourishment. But notwithstanding this, the various hardships he had undergone, brought upon him a dangerous illness, in the course of which Jerom pressed the council to allow him a confessor. With difficulty he at length obtained his request; and, through the means of his confessor, the poor heretic procured some small mitigation of his sufferings from bonds and other cruel treatment. But he remained in prison till his death.
A number of important, coincident, circumstancestending to illustrate the state of religion in those times, have given vast celebrity to the council of Constance; otherwise, the reader must now be convinced, that the members who composed that immense assembly, merit the description which we have already given of their general character. Many of them were learned and able; many of them superstitious and bigoted; and most of them worldlyminded and unprincipled, and totally ignorant of evangelical truth.
As the works of the famous Wicklifl had undoubtedly laid the foundation of the religious innovations in Bohemia, they now proceeded to condemn the doctrines of that obnoxious reformer. In this point they harmonized with John XXIII., whom they had deposed and now held in custody. For this same pontiff, John XXIII., had formerly at the desire of Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury, condemned the doctrines of Wickliff.* These very doctrines, digested into fortyfive articles, which had formally been pronounced heretical at Rome, were now read in the council; and as7 far as appears, they were reprobated without one dissenting voice, and the author of them was pronounced a heretic.
The decrees of so violent and so iniquitous a council as that of Constance, concerning articles of faith, are of little moment. The heads of the articles, however in the main and in substance, express the real sentiments of Wickliff, which have been already considered and reviewed. His opposition to the POPisHf doctrine of transubstantiation, was positive and unequivocal. In some particular points, his meaning seems to have been distorted, through prejudice or malice. In regard to his opinions concerning tithes and the temporal possessions of the clergy, let the reader, when he has compared the several arguments advanced by the parties, judge for himself, whether Wickliff or the council had the advantage in that controversy. After what has been stated in chapter the third, cent. 14, I I shall make no further observations on the subject, except that the council, on this head, do not appear to have misrepresented Wickliff's notions.
* Wilkin's Council, p. 350.
f It bas been before observed, that on this article of faith WicklHFapproaches nearly to consubsiantiation.
" Tithes," says Wickliff, " are not of divine right, because it cannot be proved from the gospel, that Jesus Christ either paid or ordered them to be paid." In his complaints to the king and parliament he desired, that tithes and offerings might be Given, as before, to honest and able persons, not Extorted by force. He thinks it wrong, that the laity should be so much oppressed for the purpose of pampering the luxury of a priest, as not to be able to maintain their own families, and to relieve the poor. " As the laity only," says he, " paid tithes to be instructed in the word of God, there are many cases, in which according to the laws of God and man, the people may refuse to pay them. However, a Good priest ought to have a handsome maintenance: and the appropriation of parish churches to rich monasteries is a great evil."
Even the council of Constance will deserve to be heard, when they appeal to scripture, and give reasons to support their decrees. " The right," say they, " which the clergy have to the possession of temporalities, is established by several arguments drawn from the holy scriptures. The clergy under the old law possessed forty-eight cities with their suburbs. They had tithes of all the Israelites, and the first fruits of their corn, wine, oil, &c. as well as of all things consecrated to God. Besides, if according to St. Paul, a bishop must be given to hospitality, and a deacon must rule his house, they must have houses and substance. It appears by the book of the Acts, that the believers had possessions; and among those believers were the clergy. Jesus Christ himself had money, of which Judas was the treasurer. God orders Jeremiah to buy a field, which belonged to a levite, who is called in scripture Hanameel. Augustin, in an epistle to a bishop, named Boniface, " observes, that Avhat the clergy possess more than necessary, belongs to the poor. What other practical tendency can Wickliff's doctrine on this subject have, than to stir up the laity to seize the possessions of the clergy?"
Wickliff is accused also of saying, that all things happen from absolute necessity. The council use the common arminian arguments in opposition to the English reformer, whose sentiments, however, on this subject have never been shown to be materially different from what by far the greater part of good christians have maintained in all ages.
If the council of Constance had studied to vindicate Wickliff's reasonings respecting the abuses of popery, and to cast an odium upon their own doctrines and proceedings, they could scarcely, it should seem, have effected their purpose by surer means, than by using certain arguments which they thought proper to bring forward in confutation of the opinions of the man whom they looked on as a most dangerous innovator. Thus, on one occasion, they boldly affirm, " That there is no salvation out of the church of Rome." A proposition of this magnitude, one would have thought, requiredall the proof and illustration that could be given to it. Whereas the learned council content themselves with gravely appealing to a decree of the lateran council, and to a decretal of pope Callixtus, which established the two following points; 1st, that the church of Rome is the mistress of all churches; and 2dly, that it is not lawful to depart from her decisions. " Hence, say they, it clearly follows, that the pope is the immediate vicegerent of Jesus Christ, because the church of Rome has so determined. Though this or that particular pope be corrupt, the church of Rome itself can never decay." Thus do these men give the palm of truth to the man whom they condemn as a heretic. For He appealed to the scriptures; They to the church of Rome; on a subject too, in which that church is more particularly bound to adduce another sort of argument than that of her own authority.
In the same year commissioners were appointed to inquire into the disputes between the Teutonic knights and the Polesj And though nothing was decided at present in that business, it may throw some light on the state of christendom, to give a general idea of the case. The Prussians, as we have seen, were among the last of the nations of Europe, who received the forms of christianity. Barbarous and untractable in their manners, they invaded and harassed their neighbours the Poles, who called to their assistance the Teutonic knights, the remnants of those warlike crusaders, who so long had desolated the east. The knights, in consideration of the succours afforded to the Poles, received from them the grant of Prussia and of some neighbouring districts; which grant was confirmed by the Roman pontiff. In this manner Prussia at length was obliged to profess itself christian, nor do there seem to be in history any instances of national conversions, more contrary to the genius of the gospel, than this of the Prussians. The knights, armed with indulgences for the conversion of infidels, and with bulls for putting themselves in possession of conquered countries, gratified their military passion, while they imagined they were doing God service, and while they wasted all the neighbourhood with fire and sword, and assaulted even the Poles their benefactors. Several pitched battles were fought between them and the king of Poland, in which they were generally defeated. Their perfidy was equal to their ambition; for though truces were made from time to time, they continually violated them, as if they had been determined with all their might to disgrace the holy religion for which they professed so much zeal. Ladislaus, king of Poland, had views more honourable to the christian name. In a letter, which he wrote to a friend, he protested, that he could not refrain from tears before a battle, in which he foresaw the defeat of the knights, and that he entered into the engagement with much commiseration of his enemies.
The repeated violences of these fighting professors of christianity, obliged this prince, though victorious in the field, to send ambassadors to the council of Constance. The question of law for the decision of the assembly was, whether it is right for christians to convert infidels by force of arms, and to seize their estates. The knights maintained the affirmative, the Polish ambassadors the negative; and such was the state of religion at that time, that the authority of a council was deemed necessary to decide a case, which to us does not appear to involve the smallest difficulty. When men are heated by ambition, or blinded by prejudice and selfinterest, they often forget the dictates of common sense, and the first principles of morality.
In the same year 1415, another object of controversy was started in the council, which was afterwards attended with important consequences, and produced one of the usual subjects of contention between the papists and the protestants; I mean the doctrine of the communion in both kinds.* John of Prague, bishop of Litomissel in Moravia, censured in the assembly the practice of the followers of Huss, who administered the wine to the laity. About twenty-five years before the council of Constance, Matthias, a curate of Prague, had ventured to preach publicly against the general disuse of the cup in the communion, and is said to have actually administered the sacrament to the laity in both kinds. It is not easy to say precisely, at what period the general disuse took place, but we have seen that it was gradually effected in the dark ages, long after the time of Gregory the first of Rome; and that it was, most probably, a concomitant of the doctrine of transubstantiation. Matthias was obliged to retract in a synod assembled at Prague in 1389. It is however agreeable to the general views of this history to observe, from a Bohemian writer,f that Matthias was a pastor of great piety and probity, fervently zealous for the truth of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the gospel, an enemy to the reigning corruptions and abuses, and one who suffered greatly for his assiduity in preaching the word of God. He died in 1394. Some months after the departure of John Huss for Constance, Jacobel, a pastor of Prague, a man renowned for learning and purity of manners, revived the doctrine of Matthias. Peter of Dresden, being expelled from Saxony for maintaining the waldensian doctrines, retired to Prague and there instructed youth. From him Jacobel learnt that the withholding the cup from the laity was an error.* The man was faithful to his convictions: he preached with perspicuity and with vehemence: he roused men's attention and excited their zeal; and by these means a flame was kindled throughout Bohemia respecting this matter. The clergy of that kingdom complained to the council of Constance; and the bishop of Litomissel, while he impeached Jacobel, represented the circumstance of this new controversy, as a consequence of the doctrine of John Huss, in order to hasten his condemnation.
* L'Enfant, p. 256. f Procopius of Prague.
That reformer had probably been inclined to the views of Jacobel before he left Prague; but it was not till after he came to Constance, that he published his approbation of the communion in both kinds. The principal author, or to speak more properly, the principal reviver of this practical truth in the church of Christ, was Jacobel, who seems to have been a zealous, active, laborious, minister of Christ. Little indeed is known of his pastoral services, because here, as in other cases, we have to lament that the accounts of vital godliness are general and short, while those of the controversies in external affairs are verbose and prolix. Let the christian reader, however, contemplate with a lively satisfaction the providential effects of waldensian light and knowledge in spiritual things.
The appearance of the new controversy, added to the question concerning Jerom of Prague, increased the fury of the storm against Huss; and his enemies laboured day and night for his destruction. His health and strength were decayed by the rigour of confine ment. The great men of Bohemia, repeatedly insisted on justice being done to their countryman. But justice was a stranger at Constance: the emperor himself had perfidiously given up this faithful servant of God to the malice of his enemies; and the council, as if conscious of the difficulty of condemning him openly, had recourse to the despicable means of attempting, by repeated insults and venations, to shake his constancy, and render a public trial unnecessary. He was frequently examined in private. An air of violence and of menace was employed on those occasions, of which we may form some idea from one of the letters of Huss; " Causis, says he, was there, holding a paper in his hand, and stirring up the bishop of Constantinople to oblige me to answer distinctly to each article it contained. Every day he is brewing some mischief or other. God, for my sins, has permitted Him And Paletz to rise up against me. Causis examines all my letters and words with the air of an inquisitor; and Paletz has written down all the conversation which we have had together for many years. I have this day suffered great vexation."
* It appears from Perrin's History of the Waldenses, p. 156, that this people rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation. According to them, "the eating of the spiritual bread is the eating of Christ's body figuratively. Otherwise, Christ must have been eaten perpetually. For we need to feed on him continually in a spiritual sense. To eat him, is to abide in him."
The approbation of a good conscience, and the comforting presence of the spirit of God, appears to have supported this holy man in all his sufferings. He gave his adversaries no advantage over him either through warmth or timidity; he refused to give answers in private; he reserved himself to the public trial which he had always solicited; he retracted nothing of what he had openly preached, and he possessed his soul in patience and resignation.
The unrighteous views of the council being thus far baffled, he was conducted to Constance, lodged in the franciscan monastery, and loaded with chains; in which condition he remained till the day of his condemnation.
His first hearing before the council was attended with so much confusion, through the intemperate rage of his enemies, that nothing could be concluded. In the second, in which the emperor was present, for the
Vol. IV. 27
purpose of preserving order, Huss was accused of denying the doctrine of transnbstantiation. Some Englishmen, who knew what Wickliff held on that point, and who were ready to take for granted, that Huss dissented in no article from their countryman, pressed him vehemently on the subject. It appeared however, that the Bohemian teacher followed the church of Rome on this important doctrine; and the sincerity of his creed, though a mistaken one, appears from his treatise on the body of Christ.
A tedious dispute ensued concerning the refusal of Huss to join with those, who condemned the errors of Wickliff. He explained himself with sufficient precision on this head: he declared, that he blamed the conduct of the archbishop Subinco at Prague, only because he had condemned Wickliff's books without examination, and without distinction; and he added, that most of the doctors of the university of Prague found fault with that prelate, because he produced no reasons from the scriptures. Huss further observed to the council, that, not having been able to obtain justice from John XXIII. he had appealed from him to Jesus Christ. His seriousness in mentioning this appeal exposed him to the derision of the council. It was even doubted whether it was lawful to appeal to Jesus Christ. Huss, however, with great gravity affirmed, that it was always lawful to appeal from an inferior to a higher court; that in this case the judge was infallible, full of equity and compassion, and one who would not refuse justice to the miserable. The levity of the assembly, and the seriousness of the prisoner were remarkably contrasted in these proceedings. The reader will of course understand John Huss in the sense in which, no doubt, he intended to be understood. In appealing to Jesus Christ, the conscientious martyr had his own mind fixed on the last judgment, and he aimed at making an impression on the court by directing their attention to that awful tribunal.
It would be tedious and uninteresting to take notice of the variety of calumnies with which he was aspersed. One instance may deserve to be mentioned.* " You one day, said his accusers, advised the people to take up arms against those, who opposed your doctrine." " I one day, replied Huss, while I was preaching on the christian armour, described in the sixth chapter to the Ephesians, exhorted my audience to take the sword of the spirit, and the helmet of salvation; but I expressly admonished them, that I meant the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God, and not a material sword." Sigismund exhorted him to retract his errors, and declared, that rather than support him in his heresy, he would with his own hands kindle the fire to burn him.
John de Chlum, however, was not to be dismayed by the power and multitude of the adversaries of Huss: he supported the insulted victim of their fury with courage and constancy. In his third hearing, John Huss, answered the inquiries made to him concerning articles of supposed heresy, which were extracted from his own works. He answered severally to the questions with much clearness and candour, owning, denying, or explaining, as occasions required. He was vehemently pressed to retract his errors, to own the justice of the accusations, and to submit to the decrees of the council. But neither promises nor menaces moved him. " To abjure, said he, is to renounce an error that hath been held. But, as in many of those articles, errors are laid to my charge which I never thought of, how can I renounce them by oath? As to those articles, which I own to be mine, I will renounce them with all my heart, if any man will teach me sounder doctrines than what I have advanced." His conscientious integrity, however, availed him not. The court demanded a universal retraction; and nothing short of that could procure him their favour. The tedious malignity of the third day's examination
* L'Enfant, p. 330. vol. i.
oppressed at length both the mind and body of Huss; and the more so, because he had passed the preceding night sleepless through pain of the toothach. For some days before, he had also been afflicted with the gravel, and was, in other respects, in a weak state of health. At the close of the examination he was carried back to prison, whither John de Chlum followed him. " Oh what a comfort, said he, was it to me, to see that this nobleman did not disdain to stretch out his arm to a poor heretic in irons, whom all the world, as it were, had forsaken!" In the same letter in which he mentions this, he begs the prayers of his friend, because " the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
Such is the treatment, which the dearest and most faithful servants of God are frequently called upon to endure from an evil world. After the departure of Huss, Sigismund, with the most unrelenting barbarity, expressed himself against him, as a heretic worthy of the flames. On the next day a form of retraction was sent to this persecuted prisoner, which, though it was penned in equivocal and ambiguous terms, plainly appeared on the whole, to imply a confession of guilt. Huss therefore refused to sign it; and added, that he had rather be cast into the sea with a millstone about his neck, than give offence to his pious neighbours by acknowledging that to be true, which they knew to be false; that he had preached patience and constancy to others, and that he was willing to show an example of these graces, and hoped by divine assistance to be enabled to do so.
We have constantly seen in the course of this history, that the holiness of heart and life, which real christians have evidenced from age to age, was always connected with the peculiar doctrines of christianity. Sometimes one of these doctrines, and sometimes another, constituted the prominent feature of their profession; but it is in vain to look for men of real holiness and virtue, who were inimical or even indifferent to the fundamentals of the gospel. If there were any one doctrine more particularly insisted on than another by sincere christians, that doctrine was always in its nature, of considerable importance; and by just connexion it implied and involved the whole of godliness, even though that connexion might not be understood or relished in every part by all persons of , true piety. Should we then be asked, what peculiar doctrine was maintained and espoused by John Huss, whose holiness and integrity were undoubtedly eminent, the answer is, it was the doctrine of the depravity of human nature and of the necessity of a divine influence. This I doubt not, will appear sufficiently evident to the evangelical reader, who will take the trouble fully to consider several of the articles, which were objected to him, and also some extracts from his letters; for, notwithstanding that the frequent use of the terms Predestinate, Chosen, Elect, &c. in those articles and extracts, might lead an uninformed and superficial reader to conclude that Huss was merely a speculative defender of the doctrine of absolute decrees, without being an advocate for a real change of heart and personal holiness, it deserves to be remarked, first, that this reformer used the terms in question precisely in the sense in which they are used in scripture; and secondly, that the doctrine of the total inability of man to save himself, both from the punishment and from the dominion of sin, was the great practical point he had in view. Among the expressions, which he had used, and which were objected to him, we may mention the following: " The assembly of the predestinated is the holy church, which has neither spot nor wrinkle, which Jesus Christ calls his own: a reprobate is never a member of holy church." These and similar passages, produced in accusation against him, he partly admitted as his own; and partly qualified by a fair and candid explanation. On the whole, it is very evident, that he gave offence, by studiously distinguishing those, whom God hath chosen to be his peculiar people in Christ, and are evidently pointed out, by their real practical holi
ness, as different from the common bulk of nominal christians. Even the pope and his cardinals, if not predestinated,* to him appeared to be no members of the body of Christ. " The church of Christis," says he, from Bernard, " his own body more evidently, than the body which he delivered for us to death. The church is as it were the " barn floor,f of the Lord, in which are the predestinate and the reprobate, the former being as wheat, and the latter as chaff." In these subjects he followed the ideas of Augustin, with whose writings he appears to have been much acquainted. Divine influence, therefore, implying and involving all the essentials of the gospel according to the views of Augustin, and evidencing itself in particular persons by real humility, piety, and integrity, was one of the grand doctrinal points of John Huss; and this holy man defective as he was in christian light, and obscured with much superstition, was yet enabled to distinguish his scriptural creed from that of the mere religion of nature, both in theory and in practice; and he accordingly underwent that cross of Christ from the persecutions of the wicked, which must ever be expected by those who will not allow merely nominal christianity to be the real religion of Jesus. For it is well known that nothing more irritates those who live according " to the course of this world,"J than to be told that God has a holy peculiar people, formed for himself to show forth his praise. The following passages are extracted from his letters: " Almighty God will confirm the hearts of his faithful people, whom he hath chosen before the foundation of the world, that they may receive the eternal crown of glory. I am greatly comforted with those words of our Saviour: " Happy are ye when men shall hate you, and shall separate you from their company, &c. O precious consolatory lesson, difficult, indeed, not to understand, but to practise in time of tribulation. Let patience have her perfect work. It is a light
•Romans, viii. 29. -(• 2 Kings, chap. vi. ver. 27. iEphesians, chap.ii.
matter to speak of patience, but a great matter to fulfil it. Our most patient champion himself, who knew that he should rise again the third day, and redeem from damnation all his elect, was troubled in spirit. Yet he, though sorely troubled, said to his disciples, let not your hearts be troubled, &c. I trust stedfastly, the Lord will make me a partaker of the crown with you, and with all them who love the Lord Jesus Christ. Merciful Christ! draw us weak creatures after thee; for except thou draw us, we are not able to follow thee. Give us a courageous spirit that it may be ready; for without thee we can do nothing. Give us an upright faith, a firm hope and perfect charity."*
The integrity of the Bohemian martyr was severely tried by the solicitations of several persons. But divine grace had given him the virtue of sincerity to a very eminent degree, so that the very least equivocation was abominable in his eyes. Even his enemy Paletz, inwardly reverencing the virtue of the man, took pains to induce him to retract. Put yourselves in my place, said Huss, what would you do, if you were required to retract certain errors, which you were sure you never held. " I own, it is an hard case," answered Paletz, with tears in his eyes. It is not improbable, that this man had never meant actually to expose his countryman to the flames; and it is extremely probable that he had never before considered the dilemma to which the spirit of persecution must reduce a person of real integrity, namely, either to perjure himself, or to be consumed in the flames. One of the doctors, who visited Huss, said to him, " if the council should tell you, that you have but one eye, though you have really two, you would be obliged to agree with the council." " While God keeps me in my senses," replied Huss, " I would not say such a thing against my conscience, on the intreaty or command of the whole world."
This holy personage foreseeing his end to be near, redeemed* the little time which was left to him, by writing letters, which were publicly read at Prague, in his chapel at Bethlehem, the once delightful scene of his ministry. One of these letters may be considered as a farewel sermon addressed to his flock. He intreats them to adhere solely to the word of God, and not to follow himself,.if they have observed any thing in him not agreeable to it; and he particularly begs them to I pardon him, where he had been guilty of any levity in discourse or behaviour. He begs them to be grateful to John de Chlum and another nobleman, who had been faithful to him in his sufferings. He adds, that he hears no news of Jerom, except that he was a prisoner like himself, waiting for the sentence of death; and he concludes with an earnest prayer that the gospel of Christ may be always preached to them in his dear chapel of Bethlehem. His firmness was that of a christian, not of a stoic; founded in humility, not in pride. He experienced some attacks of the fears of death; but soon recovered his courage. " I am far," said he, " from the strength and zeal of the apostle Peter. Jesus Christ has not given me his talents: besides* I have more violent conflicts, and a greater number of shocks to sustain. I say therefore, that placing all my confidence in Jesus Christ, I am determined when I hear my sentence, to continue stedfast in the truth, even to the death, as the saints and you shall help me." Thus modestly does he write to a friend; and it is, from his private epistolary correspondence, that the most genuine features of his character may be drawn. John Huss appears indeed to have, been one of those of whom "the world was not worthy;"f and of no mere man could it ever be said with more propriety, that the world hated him, because he testified of it, that its works were evil. Undoubtedly his open rebukes of sin, both by his public preaching and writings, arid by the uniform purity and innocence of his manners, had inflamed the tempers of the great men of the age, both in church and state; yet, it was scarcely to be expected, that the council of Constance, should even upon their own principles, proceed, without the least proof of heresy, to condemn to the flames the most upright of men, because he refused to acknowledge that to be true which he believed to be false; or that this same council should justify the deceit and perfidy of their imperial president: their conduct, therefore, is to be considered as a striking proof not only of the general depravity of human nature, but also of the general wickedness and hypocrisy of the Roman church at that time. and upon oath, the moment he was convinced of an error by the testimony of holy scripture. One of the prelates observed," For my part I am not so presumptuous, as to prefer my private opinion to that of the whole council." " Let the meanest member of that council, replied Huss, convince me of a mistake, and I am perfectly disposed to obey their injunctions." Some of the bishops observed, " See, how obstinate he is in his errors." the sacerdotal ornaments. When he was fully apparelled, the prelates once more exhorted him to retract; and to this exhortation he replied with his usual firmness. They then caused him to come down from the stool on which he stood, and pronounced these words, " O cursed Judas, who having forsaken the counsel of peace, art entered into that of the Jews, we take this chalice from thee, in which is the blood of Jesus Christ." But God was with the martyr, who cried aloud, " I trust in the mercy of God, I shall drink of it this very day in his kingdom." Then they stripped him of all his vestments, one after another, uttering a curse on' stripping him of each. Having completed his degradation by the addition of some other ridiculous insults not worthy of a distinct relation, they put a paper coronet on his head, on which they had painted three devils with this inscription, ArchHeretic, and said, " We devote thy soul to the infernal devils." " I am glad," said the martyr, " to wear this crown of ignominy for the love of him, who wore a crown of thorns."
* Fox, vol. i. p, 716.
* Ephosians, ver. 16. f Heb. xi. 38.
The council settled beforehand after what manner he was to be treated, in case he should retract.* He was to have been degraded from the priesthood, and to be forever shut up between four walls. This was the only reward which the unfeeling tyrants had intended to bestow on him, in the event of his wounding his conscience to gratify them. To lay the whole weight of blame on the popes, on account of the enormities of the Roman church, is to view that church superficially. It was generally and systematically corrupt: it had recently deposed three popes; it was, at present, without a pope; and yet could be guilty of crimes, not less heinous than some of the worst, which the popes ever committed.
The council, so Huss wrote the night before his death, exhorted him to pronounce every one of the articles, which had been extracted from his books, to be erroneous: but he absolutely refused to accede to so unreasonable a requisition; except they could, from the scriptures, Prove his doctrines to be erroneous, as they asserted them to be. It may be proper to have mentioned this circumstance here by way of anticipation, to obviate a misrepresentation which was studiously made concerning John Huss, as if he had Promised to retract. On the contrary, it appears that he persisted to the last in the defence of his innocence
With UNSHAKEN INTECRITY.
*, L'Enfant, p. 363, vol. i.
Vol. IV. 28
While the council was preparing the formalities of his condemnation, they enacted a decree to forbid the reception of the communion in both kinds; and assigned no other reason for it, except their regard to the doctrine of transubstantiation; at the same time they owned that, In The Primitive Church, This
SACRAMENT IN BOTH KINDS WAS REcEIVED BY
The Believers.* Thus the triumph of the Roman church seemed to be complete. She dared to own, that she contradicted primitive christianity; and she dared to enact that those, who refused to obey Her institutions, though confessedly contrary to those of the primitive church, ought to be treated as heretics! What is this but open, undisguised, opposition to the commands of Jesus Christ? And what other name but that of antichrist can so well express the corrupt and presumptuous domination of the romish hierarchy?
But there is a voice in natural conscience, which it is not in the power of Satan easily to silence. Sigismund, inwardly ashamed of his baseness and perfidy towards Huss, wished to save the life of that good man, though he saw that, according to the wicked policy of the council, this was not to be done, except the prisoner could be induced to forswear himself. Many persons, to second the views of the emperor, endeavoured to overcome the constancy of Huss: even the council sent several deputations to him for that purpose. One of this martyr's letters throws some light on these transactions.! " Paletz," says he, " attempts to persuade me, that I ought to abjure, because of the great advantage which will accrue to me from it. I told him, that to be condemned and burned was not so scandalous, as to be guilty of falsehood." He speaks thus of his other accuser Causis. " That poor man has been often with the deputies before the prison. I heard him say to the guards; if it please God, we shall shortly burn this heretic, who has cost me so many florins in prosecuting him."
* L'Enfant, p. 386, vol. i. f Ibid. P- 397, vol i.
He was now presented before the council in the presence of the emperor, the princes of the empire, and of an incredible concourse of people. The bishop of Lodi preached a sermon from those words of St. Paul, " that the body of sin might be destroyed."* With the grossest ignorance or the most virulent and indecent malice he perverted the words to the purpose of the council. " Destroy heresies and errors," said he, " but chiefly that obstinate heretic," pointing to the prisoner. While t^py were reading the articles extracted or pretended to be extracted from his works, Huss was beginning to answer to each distinctly, but was told that he might answer to them all at the same time, and was ordered at present to be silent. He expostulated against the unreasonableness of this injunction in vain. Lifting up his hands to heaven, he begged the prelates in God's name to indulge him with the freedom of speech, that he might justify himself before the people; after which said he, " you may dispose of me, as you shall think fit." But the prelates persisting in their refusal,f he kneeled down; and with uplifted eyes and hands, and with a loud voice, he recommended his cause to the Judge of all the earth. Being accused in the article of the sacrament of having maintained that the material bread remains after consecration, he loudly declared, that he had never believed or taught so. Nothing could be more iniquitous than this charge, which he had fully refuted on his former examination. But the council was determined to burn him as a here
• Rom. vi. f P- 421. L'Enfant.
* We are told, that when Charles V. was solicited at the diet of Worms to arrest Luther, notwithstanding the safe conduct which he had granted him, he replied, " I should not choose to blush with my predecessor Sigismund.'* Op. Hus. Tom. it.
When the painted paper was placed upon his head, one of the bishops said, " Now we commit thy soul to the devil." "But.I," said Huss, "commit my spirit into thy hands, O Lord Jesus Christ, unto thee I commend my spirit which thou hast redeemed."* The council now ordered this sentence to be pronounced, namely, " The holy synod of Constance declares, that John Huss ought to be given up to the secular power, and does accordingly so give him up, considering that the church of God has no more to do with him."
Sigismund committed the execution of Huss to the elector Palatine. The martyr walking amidst his guards, declared his innocence to the people. When he came near the place of execution, he kneeled and prayed with such fervour, that some of the people said aloud, " What this man has done before, we know not; but now we hear him offer up most excellent prayers to God." The elector Palatine prevented him from speaking to the people, and ordered him to be burned. " Lord Jesus," said Huss aloud, " I humbly suffer this cruel death for thy sake, and I pray thee to forgive all my enemies." His paper crown falling from off his head, the soldiers put it* on again, saying, that it must be burnt with the devils, whom he had served. His neck was fastened to the stake, and the wood was piled about him. The elector advanced to exhort him once more on the often repeated subject of retractation. " What I have written and taught," these were the words of Huss, " was in order to rescue souls from the power of the devil, and to deliver them from the tyranny of sin; and I do gladly seal, what I have written and taught, with my blood." The elector withdrawing, the fire was kindled, and Huss was soon suffocated, having called on God as long as he could speak.
* Fox, Acts, &c. vol. i. p. 709.
Many other circumstances of the cruel indignity with which he was treated, it is not necessary to relate. It is more to our purpose to observe what Apneas Sylvius a roman catholic historian records of John Huss and of Jerom of Prague, " They went," says he, " to the stake, as to a banquet; not a word fell from them, which discovered the least timidity; they sung hymns in the flames to the last gasp without ceasing."
Thus by a death, which has affixed eternal infamy on the council of Constance, slept in Jesus the celebrated John Huss, one of the most upright and blameless of men. Human depravity has not often produced a scene so completely iniquitous, and so much calculated to bring disgrace on the Roman church. The uncommon pains taken to prevent his death by a retractation, demonstrates the conviction of the council, that they were doing what they could not justify to their own consciences. At the same time the grace of God was
• P. 429rL*Enfant,
marvellously displayed in supporting and strengthening the martyr, who appears indeed to have exhibited all the graces of a true disciple of Christ. It has often been said, that good men would not suffer persecution, if they were not so bigoted in points of sentiment. But what shall we say of the case before us"? A man of the most irreproachable character suffers the most cruel death, attended with a severe course of insult and indignity, even though he could not be proved to have held any point of doctrine absolutely distinct from the creed of his adversaries; but he was a holy man; and the whole world lieth in wickedness.*
The parts and acquirements of John Huss seem to have been above mediocrity; and yet neither of them are by any means to be ranked in the highest class. A vein of good sense runs through all his writings; insomuch that Luther calls him the most rational expounder of scripture he had ever met with. His natural temper was mild and condescending; all the traces of harshness or severity which are to be found in this reformer must be looked for in his contests with vice. The events of his life prove him to have possessed an exquisite tenderness of conscience, together with great piety and almost unexampled fortitude. Moreover, as the piety of this champion of the faith was perfectly free from enthusiasm or mysticism, so was his fortitude unsullied with vanity or ostentation. A mind of equal energy and resolution, at the same time less scrupulous and conscientious than that of Huss, somewhat less attentive to religious practice, and more inquisitive and solicitous concerning matters of opinion, such a mind, it may be supposed, would probably have got Sooner rid of the chains of superstition. There is, however, good reason to think that he had gained so considerable an insight into the prevailing ecclesiastical abuses, that it was not possible for him to have been held much longer in slavery by papal corruptions. But the wicked decree of the council of Constance shortened his life.
* John, 5. 19.
The council, with Sigismund at their head, still preserved the most solemn forms of religion, though their conduct continued to be destitute of humility, justice, and humanity. Gerson preached a sermon concerning the reformation of the church, the object of which seems to have been, to transfer to the general council, that despotic power, which had been supposed, on divine authority, to rest with the pope. In the mean time Jerom of Prague was repeatedly examined; and he continued to sustain the rigor of his confinement with patience and constancy.
It is remarkable, that a divinity professor, named Bertrand, preached on the necessity of the reformation of the church; and strenuously exhorted the council to use the most speedy and effectual means, to correct abuses: " particularly the insatiable avarice, the excessive ambition, the gross ignorance, the shameful laziness, and the execrable pride of the clergy." The council itself affected to undertake the work of reformation. They could not but be sensible, that the world had a right to expect it from them: but what hopes could be indulged of success from men, who, at the very same time, gloried in their iniquity; and wrote imperious letters into Bohemia, charging the clergy there to use all possible diligence to extirpate the followers of John Huss; that is, the very persons who had been most sincerely zealous in promoting that same reformation of the clergy, which the council pretended to regard as their capital object.
Non tali auxilio, nee defensoribus istis
Tempus eget. Virg.
Something even besides solid learning and good sense was requisite for a work of this nature. Gerson excelled in both these qualities. A treatise, which he composed at this time on the trial of spirits, abounds with excellent rules for the detection of feigned revelations and visions, and contributed to prevent the canonization of some pretended saints. But there was
Vol. IV. 29
not in the council the *unction from the holy One, of which St. John speaks; that is, the true faith of Christ and real christian humility were not the ruling principles in the famous assembly at Constance.
Toward the latter end of the same year 1415, a letter was sent to the council from Bohemia signed by about sixty principal persons, barons, noblemen, and others of Bohemia,t an extract of which is as follows; " We know not from what motive ye have condemned John Huss, bachelor of divinity, and preacher of the gospel. Ye have put him to a cruel and ignominious death, though convicted of no heresy. We wrote in his vindication to Sigismund, king of the Romans. This apology of ours ought to have been communicated to your congregations; but we have been told that ye burnt it in contempt of us. We protest therefore, with the heart as well as with the lips, that John Huss was a man very honest, just, and orthodox; that for many years he conversed among us with godly and blameless manners; that during all those years he explained, to us and to our subjects, the gospel and the books of the old and new testament, according to the exposition of holy doctors approved by the church; and that he has left writings behind him in which he constantly abhors all heresy. He taught us also to detest every thing heretical. In his discourses he constantly exhorted us to the practice of peace and charity, and his own life exhibited to us a distinguished example of these virtues. After all the inquiry which we have made, we can find no blame attached to the doctrine or to the life of the said John Huss; but on the contrary every thing pious, laudable, and worthy of a true pastor. Ye have not only disgraced us by his condemnation, but have also unmercifully imprisoned, and perhaps already put to death Jerom of Prague, a man of most profound learning and copious eloquence. Him also ye have condemned unconvicted. Notwithstanding all that hath passed, we are resolved to sacrifice our lives for the defence of the gospel of Christ, and of his faithful preachers." This letter was unanimously approved in an assembly of Bohemian lords held at Prague.
* 1 John, ii 20. f L'Enfant, p. 506. vol. i.
John de Trocznow, chamberlain to Wenceslaus, king of Bohemia, known by the name of Zisca, or the oneeyed, was one of the Bohemian noblemen, who highly resented the base conduct of the council. Wenceslaus asking him one day what he was musing upon, I was thinking, said he, on the affront offered to our kingdom by the death of John Huss. " It is out of your power or mine, to revenge it," said the king; " but if you know which way to do it, exert yourself." From that time Zisca meditated those military projects, for which he was afterwards so famous in history.
The council, startled at the expostulations of the Bohemian lords, yet being still determined to maintain their own unjust authority, at length, partly by promises, and partly by threatenings, induced Jerom of Prague to retract his sentiments. To Carry this point they appear to have used their utmost efforts. Nor is it difficult to comprehend their motives. They were anxious to avoid the infamy, which would unavoidably be connected with their execution of another great and good man. Jerom's retractation was at first ambiguous and equivocal, afterwards explicit and circumstantial. He anathematized the articles both of WickIiff and of Huss, and declared that he believed every thing which the council believed. He even added, that if in future any doctrine should escape from him contrary to his recantation, he would submit to everlasting punishment! Thus was disgraced before all the world, and humbled in his own eyes, a man of most excellent morals, of superior parts, and of great learning and fortitude. Reader! this is an event, memorable in the annals of human imbecility. Consider diligently the instruction it affords. The power and the mercy of God, in owning his fallen servant, and in afterwards restoring and supporting him, were magnified, in this instance, in a very striking manner.
Jeroiu, notwithstanding his retractation, was remanded to prison, where, however, we find he was allowed a little more liberty than before.*
The council, during these transactions, made a constant parade of reforming the church. On Sundays and holidays, sermons were preached on that subject from time to time. One preacher said, " When a prelate is consecrated, they ask him if he knows the old and new testament. Most of them, I will venture to say, cannot affirm this with a safe conscience." This same preacher inveighed in general, with great vehemence against the vices of the clergy, which he might do with little danger to his own person, and with as little probability of profiting his audience, because he always took care at the same time to assert the unlimited power of the pope. Other sermons, to the same purport, were preached, in which the wickedness of the clergy were so keenly reproved, that we cannot but conclude that their manners must have been at that time licentious beyond measure. Dr. Abendon of Oxford particularly exhorted bishops and other superior clergymen to apply themselves to the study of the scriptures, rather than to the litigious and lucrative science of the canon law. He inveighed against the nonresidence and the simony of the prelates. The council by their silence could bear to give a sanction to these exhortations, though they had just before condemned to the flames a pastor, who had been singularly exempt from all these vices. There were also those, who, not content with the unhappy retractation of Jerom, insisted upon his being tried second time; and Gerson himself, with his usual ze; against heresy, was not ashamed to use his utmost efforts in promoting this most iniquitous measure.
The council actually proceeded to examine Jerom again upon the articles formerly exhibited against him, and also upon fresh articles, collected in Bohemia bjj certain carmelite friars, and now for the first tinv
* L'Enfant p. 513. vol i.
brought forward. The prisoner refused to be sworn, because they denied him the liberty of defence.
Then it was that this great man, whom a long series of affliction and cruel persecution, and above all, the consciousness of his late prevarication had brought into the lowest distress, began to exhibit that strength of mind, that force of genius and eloquence, and that integrity and fortitude, which will be the admiration of all ages. How bitterly he had repented in secret, and mourned over his fall, and with what exercises of soul he had been disciplined in secret, the intelligent christian may easily conceive, though we have no particular account on record. We know indeed, that after he had acted against his conscience, he retired from the council with a heavy heart. His chains had been taken from him, but the load was transferred from his body to his mind; and the caresses of those about him served only to mock his sorrow. The anguish of his own reflections rendered his prison a more gloomy solitude than he had ever found it before. Jerom, however, was not an apostate; and the God whom he served, had compassion on the infirmities of his mature, and did not desert him in his humiliation. No; he made his latter end to be blessed and glorious.
" How unjust is it," exclaimed this christian hero, " that ye will not hear me! Ye have confined me three hundred and forty days in several prisons, where I have been cramped with irons, almost poisoned with dirt and stench, and pinched with the want of all necessaries. During this time ye always gave to my enemies a hearing, but refused to hear me so much as a single hour. I wonder not, that, since ye have indulged them with so long and so favourable an audience, they should have had the address to persuade you, that I am a heretic, an enemy to the faith, a persecutor of the clergy, and a villain. Thus prejudiced ye have judged me unheard, and ye still refuse to hear me. Remember'however, that ye are but men; and as such ye are fallible, and may suffer others to impose on you. It is said, that all learning and all wisdom is collectcd in this council. The more then does it behoove you to take heed that ye act not rashly, lest ye should be found to act unjustly. I know that it is the design of this council to inflict sentence of death upon me. But when all is done, I am an object of small importance, who must die sooner or later. Therefore what I say is more for your sakes than my own. It ill becomes the wisdom of so many great men to pass an unjust decree against me, and by this to establish a precedent for consequences much more pernicious than my death can be." The council was so far moved by his reasonings, that they resolved, after he had answered to the articles, to grant him liberty of speech. All the articles were read to him, one after another; and his answers were delivered with an acuteness and dexterity, which astonished the court. When he was upbraided with the grossest calumnies, he stood up, with extended hands, and in a sorrowful tone cried out, " Which way, fathers, shall I turn? whom shall t call upon for help, or to bear witness to my innocence? Shall I make my address to you? But my persecutors have intirely alienated your minds from me by saying that I am myself a persecutor of my judges. If ye give them credit, I have nothing to hope for." But, it being impossible to bring the affair to an issue at that time because of the number of the accusations, the court was adjourned to another day.*
The former examination took place on May 23d, 1416, and he was called again before the council according to adjournment, on the succeeding 26th of the same month. On that day the remaining articles were read to him. After he had answered all the charges, owning some, denying others, and clearing up the rest, he was told, that though he had been convicted of heresy by proofs and witnesses most unexceptionable, yet they gave him liberty to speak, so that he might defend himself or retract; only, if he persisted in his errors, he must expect judgment without mercy.
P. 596. ibid.
Jerom, having gained this liberty of speech, though with much difficulty and opposition, determined to avail himself of the opportunity. He began with invoking the grace of God so to govern his heart and his lips that he might advance nothing but what should conduce to the salvation of his soul. " I am not ignorant," continued he, " that many excellent men have been borne down by false witnesses, and unjustly condemned." He proved this from various instances adduced both from sacred and profane history. " Moses," said he, " was often scandalized by his brethren; Joseph was sold through envy; and afterwards imprisoned upon false reports. Isaiah, Daniel, and almost all the prophets were unjustly persecuted. And was not John the Baptist, Jesus Christ himself, and most of his apostles, put to death as ungodly, seditious persons? In other books as well as the bible we have similar instances. Socrates was most unjustly condemned by his countrymen; he might indeed have saved his life by doing violence to his conscience, but he preferred death to a disingenuous recantation. Plato, Anaxagoras, Zeno, and many others, were maltreated in various ways. " It is a shameful thing," continued Jerom, " for one priest to be condemned unjustly by another; but the height of iniquity is, when this is done by a council, and a college of priests." He gave so probable an account of the reasons of the malice of his adversaries, that for some moments he seemed to have convinced his judges. " I came here of my own accord," said he, " to justify myself, which a man conscious of guilt would scarcely have done. Those who know the course of my life and studies, know that my time has been spent in exercises and works of a very different tendency from any thing wicked or heretical. As to my sentiments, the most learned men of all times have had different opinions concerning religion; they disputed about it, not to combat the truth, but to illustrate it. St. Augustin, and his contemporary St. Jerom, were not always of the same opinion, yet were not on that account accused of heresy. I shall make no apology for my sentiments, because I am not conscious of maintaining any error, nor shall I retract, because it becomes not me to retract the false accusations of my enemies." He then extolled John Huss, vindicated the innocence of that holy martyr, and declared that he was ready to suffer after his example. " This pastor," said he," by finding fault with the abuses of the clergy, and the pride of the prelates, did not act against the church of God." He declared that he hoped one day to see his accusers, and to call them to judgment before the tribunal of the sovereign judge of the world. He accused the council of an act of high injustice in trying him a second time on the same indictment, and declared that he should never acknowledge the authority of the new commissioners, but should look on them as judges* sitting in the chair of Pestilence. "I came," said he, " to Constance to defend John Huss, because I had advised him to go thither, and had promised to come to his assistance, in case he should be oppressed. Nor am I ashamed here to make public confession of my own cowardice. I confess, and tremble while I think of it, that through fear of punishment by fire, I basely consented against my conscience to the condemnation of the doctrine of Wickliff and Huss." He then declared that he disowned his recantation, as the greatest crime of which he had ever been guilty; and that he was determined to his last breath to adhere to the principles of those two men, which were as sound and pure, as their lives were holy and blameless. He excepted indeed Wickliff's opinion of the sacrament, and declared his agreement with the Roman church in the article of transubstantiation. Having concluded his speech, he was carried back to prison, and was there visited by several persons, who hoped to reclaim him, but in vain.
On May 30th, Jerom being brought again before the council, the bishop of Lodi preached a sermon from these words, " he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart."* He exhorted the prisoner not to show himself incorrigible, as he had hitherto done. He paid some tribute of praise to his extraordinary abilities, and at the same time extolled the lenity and generosity with which he had been treated by the council. The reader, now in possession of the facts, might smile at this gross flattery, if the subject were less grave and less affecting. Jerom, raising himself on a bench, undertook to confute the preacher. He declared again, that he had done nothing in his whole life, of which he so bitterly repented, as his recantation; that he revoked it from his very soul, as also the letter which he had been induced to write on that subject to the Bohemians; that he had been guilty o'f the meanest falsehood by making that recantation; and that he esteemed John Huss a holy man. At the same time he declared, that he knew no heresy to which Huss was attached, unless they should call by that name his open disapprobation of the vices of the clergy; and that if after this declaration credit should still be given to the false witness borne against him, he should consider the fathers of the council themselves as unworthy of all belief. " This pious man," said Jerom, alluding to John Huss, " could not bear to see the revenues of the church, which were principally designed for the maintenance of the poor, and for works of liberality, spent in debauchery with women, in feasts, hounds, furniture, gawdy apparel, and other expenses, unworthy of christianity."
• P. 583. ibid.
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
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
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