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JOHN HUS (1371-1415)


An outstanding feature of Czech history in the second half of the fourteenth century was the powerful movement for Church reform which arose in Bohemia in the reign of Charles IV and rapidly expanded while gaining in intensity. Various causes contributed to this. There was the important political and cultural position of the Czechs in the Europe of that day when the King of Bohemia was at the same time Holy Roman Emperor, and the capital of Bohemia—Prague—was the seat not only of his court but also of the first university established in Central Europe, an institution attended by many foreigners of various nationalities; there was the material and intellectual wealth of the country, which at that time was an important centre of political and cultural activity in Central Europe; there were the almost limitless wealth and power of the Church of Rome, two factors which resulted in extravagance and immorality among the priesthood; there was the undue interference, so unfortunate in its consequences, of the Papal See in the internal affairs of the Church in Bohemia—the appointment of prebendaries, the levying of all kinds of dues—and the general relaxation of morals which all this encouraged; and, finally, the zealous and extraordinarily effective activity of a few chosen spirits against the moral degeneration of the day. The Emperor Charles and his chief adviser, Ernest, the first Archbishop of Prague, had already not only themselves taken action against various evils in the Church and among the priests, but had also protected and supported two famous preachers, the Austrian Conrad Waldhauser of the Augustinian Order (ob. 1369) and the Moravian priest, John Milic of Kromefiz (ob. 1374), in their denunciations of depravity among the burghers of Prague and the priests of the Church. The movement for moral reformation inspired by the activities of these two men continued to develop even after their death. At the close of the fourteenth century two outstanding Czech thinkers and moralists, the knight Thomas of Stitny (ob. c. 1401) and the learned Matthias of Janov (ob. 1394), who had studied at the University of Paris, worked in the spirit of Milic. The people of Prague at this period demonstrated their fidelity to the memory of Milic by their unswerving regard for the preachers who came forward on behalf of true morals. The popularity of these preachers led, in 1391, to the foundation of the Bethlehem Chapel at Prague, the ministers of which were charged by the founders with the duty of preaching twice on every Sunday and holy day in the Czech tongue. It was undoubtedly the in­tention of the founders that the sermons should be preached in the spirit of Milfc’s reforming aims, and although the first preachers at the Bethlehem Chapel were already noted for their denunciation of vice and disorder, this place of divine worship did not become the actual inheritor of Milic’s aims and the executor, as it were, of his testament, until it was placed in charge of a man who raised the Bohemian reformation movement, till then of only local significance, to a place in world history. That man was John Hus.

John Hus was born about the year 1370. His birthplace was probably the village of Husinec near Prachatice in southern Bohemia, although some serious investigators consider that he was born at the village of the same name near Prague. It is certain that he was called John of Husinec after the name of his birthplace, a designation subsequently abbreviated into Hus, which became so usual that he himself used it, and it entered with him into the pages of history. Somewhere about the year 1390 Hus came as a poor student to the University of Prague. The aim of his university studies was doubtless at the outset to enable him to become a priest, a profession to which, as he later reproaches himself, he was, like many others of his contemporaries, attracted mainly by the prospects of a good living. Nor did Hus’ mode of life differ from that of other students of that day. He got a livelihood by serving in the churches, nor did he shun the gay or even exuberant entertainments of his fellow students, but throughout all he preserved the uprightness of his religious feelings. In 1393 he secured the degree of Bachelor of Arts, and in 1396 became Master of Arts. Devoting himself then to theological studies he obtained the degree of Bachelor of Theology, but he never became Master or Doctor of Theology. As a Master of Arts he lectured at the university, examined candidates for the Bachelor’s degree, and was a member of various university commissions. The prestige which he enjoyed at the university is evidenced by the fact that in the autumn of 1401 he was elected Dean of the Faculty of Arts.

Previous to that, in 1400 or 1401, Hus had been ordained priest. This event, it would seem, marked a great turning-point in his life. Up to this time, Hus, though certainly at all times far removed from any debauchery or immorality, had none the less, like other “masters”, found pleasure in secular entertainment and pursuits. He liked fine dress, he did not despise a good table, and he was a passionate player of chess. On becoming a priest he turned away from all such secular vanities and devoted himself with fervent sincerity to the work of his spiritual calling. He took up preaching with especial zeal, and speedily won great popularity among the people of Prague. It was apparently his qualities as a preacher that resulted in 1402 in his appointment to the pulpit of Bethlehem Chapel. In his preaching at Bethlehem Chapel Hus followed in the footsteps of men who, as we have seen, endeavoured in the second half of the fourteenth century, either by their sermons or by their writings, to raise the morals of the day by inveighing against the degeneration they saw around them, and who are generally known as the precursors of Hus. Although it cannot be shewn that Hus personally knew any of these his precursors—two of them, Waldhauser and Milic, he could not, of course, possibly have known—or that he made use of their writings, there is nevertheless not the slightest doubt that in his activities at the Bethlehem Chapel he is closely connected with them and is their true successor. Like Waldhauser and Milic he succeeded by his preaching in dominating the hearts of his hearers, whom he led to true religion and virtuous lives, and whose affection and devotion he won for himself. Lacking the fierce pungency of Waldhauser and the mystical flights of Milic, Hus influenced his audiences more by the simplicity, clarity, and ingenuousness of his sermons and especially by his vivid sense for the needs, the interests, and the feelings of the common people, whose favourite and truly spiritual leader he was. In his endeavours to bring about an improvement in morals and a better, sincerer religious sense, Hus did not confine himself merely to preaching, but with profound comprehension of the simple minds of the people made use of other means as well. He devoted special attention to congregational singing in the churches. Not only did he exhort his hearers to sing the old Czech hymns, of which up to that time there were but few, but he himself composed several new hymns. Whereas, however, up to then, popular hymns had been sung only outside the actual divine service—during processions or after sermons—Hus introduced at the Bethlehem Chapel the singing of hymns by the congregation as part of the service itself. The congregation were not to be mere onlookers during the services, but were to take active part in them with their hymn­singing. Thus was given the impulse to the splendid development of Czech hymnology which followed.

It was not only among the common people, however, that Hus won many faithful friends and admirers; he found them also among the leading burghers of Prague, in the ranks of the nobles, among the courtiers of King Wenceslas (Vaclav); and Queen Sophia herself was so attracted by him that she made him her chaplain and perhaps even her confessor. Although Hus, like his predecessors, sharply castigated the moral short­comings of the clergy in particular, he had many friends among the priesthood, and he was also greatly esteemed by his ecclesiastical superiors. The Archbishop of Prague, Zbynek, who had been appointed to the see as a young man of no great learning but upright and well-intentioned, himself showed Hus favour and confidence, and more than once ap­pointed him preacher at the synods of the Prague clergy.

Like every endeavour towards reform, all this practical effort on the part of Hus directed towards an improvement of morals was a manifestation of dissatisfaction with the conditions then existing, and his protests against the undisciplined clergy and against all manner of evils in the Church involuntarily placed him in opposition to the Church. The fate of Hus’ precursors also shewed plainly enough how efforts towards a betterment of morals, coupled with a severe criticism of actual conditions, could lead to views in conflict with the general doctrines of the Church and cause the zealous protesters to be suspected of heresy—a suspicion welcomed and encouraged by those who were directly affected by the attack on immorality. It is possible, too, that Hus, endeavouring to bring about a reform in ecclesiastical and religious practice, arrived, through his own studies of ancient Church writings, at doubts concerning certain articles of Church doctrine, that he found a divergence between the teaching of Christ and that of the oldest Fathers of the Church on the one hand and doctrines which the Church of his day asked its adherents to believe on the other, that he was dissatisfied with the manner in which the scholasticism of his day settled the fundamental questions of the Christian faith. Finally, Hus was perhaps acquainted with some of the ideas to be found in the writings of his Czech precursors, ideas which not infrequently diverged from those commonly held by the Church. We have no proofs of this, however. On the other hand, the records that have come down to us concerning Hus’ beginnings show that it was by a different path that he was led to the views over which he came into conflict with the Church.

From the accusations brought by his opponents against Hus in the course of the years 1409 to 1414 it appears that the first signs of heretical views were observed in him in the very first year of his priesthood, some time in the year 1401. At the time he is said to have contended in a private conversation at one of the Prague rectories that the elements in the Eucharist even after consecration contained the substance of bread, and that a priest in mortal sin could not validly consecrate the elements. Even if we do not altogether believe this assertion, since it comes from witnesses hostile to Hus, we may assume from it with tolerable certainty that Hus, soon after his ordination as priest, took part in conversation on certain points of religion in the course of which the views were also broached for which he was afterwards condemned at Constance, that already those views were not unknown to him, and that if he did not actually adhere to them, he did not at any rate reject them with due decision. As those views are obviously a reflex of the recent teaching of the English theologian, John Wyclif, it is clear that Hus was already influenced by that teaching which subsequently assumed such fateful significance for him, that he was already acquainted with it and had turned it over in his mind.

The comparatively brisk intercourse between Bohemia and England at the time when Anne, the sister of the Bohemian King Wenceslas, was Queen of England, and when many young Czechs studied at English universities, caused a knowledge of the teachings of Wyclif as well as copies of his writings soon to penetrate to Bohemia. Wyclif s philosophical works were brought to Bohemia soon after the year 1380, that is, while their author was still alive (Wyclif died in 1384), and attained no small popularity among the Czech masters at the University of Prague, who, mainly through Hus’ chief teacher, the learned Stanislav of Znojmo, preferred Wyclif’s philosophic realism to the nominalistic tendencies in vogue among the other nationalities represented at Prague University. Hus himself made in 1398 copies of several of Wyclif’s philosophical treatises, probably in order to use them as the basis of his own university lectures, and his annotations to these copies give evidence of the powerful impression made on him by Wyclif’s works. Somewhat later than Wyclif’s philosophical views, but still before the close of the fourteenth century, the English reformer’s theological views began to penetrate into Bohemia. Old Thomas of Stitny obviously has in mind Wyclif’s teaching on consubstantiation when, in his last work written about the year 1400, he confesses that in his seventieth year he was shaken in his belief in the elements by several masters, so that he did not know whether the substance of bread remains in the elements after consecration, or not. And practically at the same time, as we have already seen, we hear of Hus taking part in conversations in which theological views obviously emanating from Wyclif were discussed. Wyclif’s theological teaching, then, was not unknown in Bohemia before the young Master, Jerome of Prague, Hus’ subsequent companion in his struggles as well as in his death, somewhere about the year 1401 or 1402 brought over from England, where he had been studying, the two main theological works of Wyclif, the Dialogus and Trialogus.

A knowledge of Wyclif’s teachings subsequently spread with rapidity among the masters of Prague University. As early as the beginning of the year 1403, the chapter of the cathedral at Prague—then the supreme ecclesiastical authority in the country, since the archiepiscopal see was vacant—deemed it well to submit the 45 articles of Wyclif to the university for an opinion upon them. To the 24 articles condemned in 1382 by the Synod of London there were added 21 others collected from Wyclif’s writings by one of the German masters of Prague University. In response to the chapter’s request, the rector of the university convened a meeting of the whole university for 28 May 1403 to deliberate upon Wyclif’s articles. Thus came about in Bohemia the first public controversy concerning Wyclif, a skirmish which revealed the attitude of Prague University to his teaching. That attitude was not a unanimous one. The Czech masters championed the articles of Wyclif, though not all with the same determination. Among the defenders of the articles was Hus, but two other Czech masters, Stanislav of Znojmo, mentioned above as Hus’ teacher, and Hus’ friend, Stephen of Palec, were much more decisive in their championship. On a vote being taken, the view of the Czech masters was rejected; the majority of the university, composed apparently of graduates of other nationalities, declared that no one should, either in public or in private, adhere to or defend any of the 45 articles submitted.

The verdict of the university failed to check the study of Wyclif’s writings or the spread of his doctrines among the masters of the Czech University. In particular, Master Stanislav of Znojmo never ceased to defend Wyclif’s articles. Not long after the university meeting he wrote a treatise on the elements in which he entirely accepted Wyclif’s teaching that the substance of bread remained in the elements even after consecration. On an accusation being made against him by one of the German masters at the university, he was summoned to Rome together with Stephen of Palec who had zealously championed him against his German opponent. In the autumn of 1408 the two Czech masters set out for Rome, but at Bologna they were arrested by order of Cardinal Baldassare Cossa, who subsequently became Pope under the name of John XXIII, and Stanislav of Znojmo was ordered by the College of Cardinals, which regarded itself as the supreme ecclesiastical tribunal in place of the de­throned Pope, Gregory XII, to declare that he recanted everything in his writings which could be regarded as in conflict with Holy Scripture and the judgment of the Church, and submitted himself to the judgment of the Apostolic See and of the appropriate ecclesiastical authorities.

Previous to this, in May 1408, a meeting of the Czechs at the University of Prague, convened, doubtless, at the instance of King Wenceslas and Archbishop Zbynek, had deliberated upon the teaching of Wyclif. The 45 articles of Wyclif were again submitted to this gathering, which was attended by a large number of masters, graduates, and students. The object of the meeting was apparently to constrain those Czech masters who, in the year 1403 at the great university assembly, had made a stand for Wyclif or had subsequently taken his part, to declare their dissent from his teaching. In this, at least to outward view, the meeting was successful. On the one hand it was unanimously resolved that mere bachelors of arts should not be allowed to read the main theological writings of Wyclif, Dialogue, Trialogus, and De Corpore Christi, and on the other hand that no Czech member of the university should assent to or defend those of Wyclifs articles which were “heretical, misleading, or causes of offence”. This description was apparently added to meet the views of those Czech masters who were unwilling to subscribe to the statement that all Wyclif’s articles were misleading or heretical. Among these undoubtedly was Hus who, according to his own admission, did not agree with an absolute condemnation of Wyclif's articles, being convinced that several of them, properly interpreted, were correct. It is certain that at the meeting of the Czechs he supported the two resolutions above mentioned.            

From the conduct of Hus at the meeting of the Czechs at Prague Uni­versity, it may be assumed that at that time he had not as yet inclined to Wyclif’s teachings so far as to be able to declare himself directly and openly for them. He certainly did not accede to Wyclif’s view concerning the elements, which had been the main point of contention up till then in Bohemia, nor to Wyclif’s other articles of faith. He was, however, greatly attracted by the fervour of the English reformer in his attack upon the various evils in the Church, and by his determined efforts to bring about a better state of affairs. Hus’ own efforts to uplift the morality of the people and the priesthood took on, thereby, a sharper tone, increased decision and definiteness. He directed those efforts directly against certain features of Church administration mercilessly attacked by Wyclif, and particularly against the evils of simony, prevalent among the priesthood of the day. This brought upon him the wrath of those priests who were able to apply his emphatic accusations to themselves. Influenced by them, Archbishop Zbynek also began to turn away from Hus. Thus it came about that at the synod of the diocese of Prague held in June 1408, at which Hus was no longer the preacher, a resolution was passed directed against his activities, prohibiting in particular any deriding of the priesthood in the course of sermons preached to the public. At the same time it was directed that anyone possessing a copy of any book by Wyclif must hand it in by a certain date to the archbishop’s officials for examination. Although it was to be suspected that the archbishop had the intention of destroying all these books, Hus and almost all the other masters handed over to the archbishop within the given time all the works of Wyclif they possessed. Only five students refused to surrender Wyclif’s works and appealed to the Pope. The prohibition to criticise the faults of the priests in public was not, however, observed by Hus. Not only did he attack them in a special work but he also opposed them by action, preaching unceasingly to the masses in condemnation of unworthy priests. He did not even abandon the condemned views of Wyclif: on the contrary, after the enforced repression of Stanislav of Znojmo’s enthusiasm for Wyclif, Hus began more and more to be recog­nised as the leader of those who championed his teaching.

The tension which all this produced between Hus and the Archbishop of Prague was made more acute by developments in the general condition of the Church. After many fruitless attempts to rid the Church of the schism which had lasted since the year 1378, the cardinals on both sides finally, in the year 1408, decided to convoke a General Council at Pisa which should make a determined effort to unite the divided Church and to remove what were universally felt to be evils in ecclesiastical administration. To bring this about more easily, the cardinals urged the Christian rulers to observe, until the Council should have arrived at its decision, strict neutrality towards the two Popes, acknowledging neither the one nor the other. King Wenceslas readily acceded to the wishes of the cardinals, but Archbishop Zbynek, at the head of his clergy, was unwilling to abandon allegiance to the Roman Pope, Gregory XII, who up till then had been acknowledged in Bohemia. Desirous of breaking down the opposition of the archbishop, the king called upon the University of Prague for an expression of its opinion on the question of neutrality. He manifestly expected that, influenced by the leading Czech masters who had joyfully greeted the attempt of the cardinals to give unity and reform to the Church, the whole university would declare in favour of neutrality. In this, however, he was disappointed. At the meeting of the university only the Czech masters signified their agreement with the king's stand­point, while the masters of the other three “nations” at the university opposed him. Although the majority was thus against neutrality, the rector did not venture to announce to the king an unwelcome result; so the university meeting dispersed without a definite resolution being passed. The Czech masters, however, did not abandon their standpoint, and Hus in particular was active in support of neutrality, winning over influential personages as well as preaching to the people and clergy in its favour. This roused Archbishop Zbynek, the faithful supporter of the Roman Pope Gregory, to such an extent that he issued public letters in both Latin and Czech, forbidding all the masters of Prague University and Hus in particular, whom he specially named therein as a disobedient son of the Church, to exercise any of the priestly functions in the diocese of Prague, thus prohibiting them from preaching the Word of God.

The question of neutrality which caused this public and severe action by the archbishop against Hus also provoked a notable change at the university. Early in 1409 King Wenceslas summoned the leading masters of the four “nations” at the university to meet him at Kutuá Hora, where he was then residing, and whither an embassy had come from the French king to discuss the repudiation of obedience to both Popes. King Wenceslas desired to obtain a final verdict from the university in favour of neutrality. Among the Czech masters was John Hus with his young friend, Jerome of Prague. The king was soon able to convince himself of the divergent attitude to neutrality adopted by the Czech masters on the one hand and those of foreign nationality on the other. It was plain that the university would decide according to the king’s wishes for neutrality if the decision should lie with the Czech masters. Thus arose the idea of altering the statutes of the university in favour of the Czech masters. The king was not at first inclined to agree to this change, since he was offended with several of the Czech masters, especially Hus and Jerome, for continuing to champion Wyclif. When, however, the representatives of the three foreign “nations” at the university persisted in their opposition to a declaration of neutrality, the king resolved to take a decisive step. By the decree of Kutuá Hora, promulgated on 18 January 1409, he gave the Czechs at the university three votes in all university matters, and the other three “nations” had to be content with one. The university, which up to now had been dominated by the three foreign “nations,” thus passed into the control of the Czechs.

This was not only a great national victory for the Czechs, who thus secured the power in the university that had been founded in their capital, but it was also a great triumph for the Hus party, whose position in the university was considerably enhanced by it, for the decisive factor now was the voice of the Czechs, most of whom belonged to the Has party. An obvious outcome of this success was the election of Hus himself as rector of the university in the autumn of 1409. In the dispute with Archbishop Zbynek, which became more and more aggravated, the Hus party also derived advantage from the fact that the archbishop had completely fallen out with the king on the question of neutrality. Immediately after the issue of the decree of Kutuá Hora the king strictly forbade his subjects, and particularly the clergy, to render obedience to Pope Gregory XII. This prohibition was, indeed, obeyed by Hus and his friends, but not by the archbishop, the prelates, and the bulk of the clergy. Thus the Czech clergy were split into two camps—one under the leadership of Hus and protected by the king, the other following the archbishop in allegiance to Pope Gregory XII, and defying the king’s injunctions to observe neutrality. The dissension between the two parties broke out publicly in Lent 1409. The archbishop, instigated doubtless by the university debates in January of that year, in the course of which Jerome of Prague had recommended a study of the works of Wyclif, launched a sentence of excommunication against Hus and several of his friends, and anathematised on that occasion not only the religious teachings of Hus but also his philosophic realism. When those excommunicated did not cease exercising their functions as priests, and in particular continued to preach, the archbishop placed Prague and its neighbourhood under interdict. Hus and his supporters, of course, took no heed of this interdict, and the king himself sternly brought to account all persons who complied with the archbishop’s interdict and thus manifested their disregard of Wenceslas’ injunctions in the matter of neutrality. It was not until after the General Council of Pisa, in June 1409, had deposed the two existing Popes and elected a new pontiff who took the name of Alexander V, that Archbishop Zbynek, some three months later, abandoned the deposed Gregory XII, and, together with all the clergy of his diocese, gave in his allegiance to the conciliar Pope.

Now that the cause of the dispute between king and archbishop had disappeared, the position of the archbishop improved so greatly that he was able to take more decisive and effective steps than hitherto against Hus. Urged on by accusations brought by Hus’ enemies among the Prague priesthood, he began to make difficulties for him in his preaching and other activities at the Bethlehem Chapel. He secured in 1409 from the Pope a prohibition of all preaching outside cathedral, collegiate, parish, and monastic churches, to none of which categories, of course, the Bethlehem Chapel belonged, and further an order to demand the surrender of all books of Wyclif in order that they might be “removed from the sight of the faithful.” Making use of this authorisation, the archbishop decided at the June synod in 1410 that all Wyclif’s books surrendered to him should be burnt; he prohibited, on pain of severe penalties, the teaching and defence of the errors of Wyclif, and forbade all preaching in Prague outside churches of the four categories allowed in the Pope’s bull; therefore the prohibition applied in particular to the Bethlehem Chapel.

Having no intention of submitting to this prohibition, to comply with which would have meant the end of his efforts at reform, Hus, together with several other members of the University of Prague, appealed to the Pope, at that time the notorious John XXIII. The archbishop, however, despite the protest of the university and the wishes of the king himself, caused all Wyclif’s works that had been surrendered to his officials to be burnt on 16 July 1410 in the courtyard of the archiepiscopal palace in a bonfire which he lighted with his own hand. During this ceremony the Te Deum was sung and bells tolled as if for the dead. Immediately afterwards he launched the ban of excommunication against Hus and all those who had joined him in appealing to the Pope. In the struggle that now broke out with new force between the archbishop and the Hus party, the archbishop had, it is true, the full support of the Holy See, but against him not only the people of Prague but also King Wenceslas himself stood by Hus. The king even had the estates of the archbishop and the prelates confiscated to provide compensation for those whose books had been burnt. When the archbishop therefore again placed Prague under interdict, the king began to persecute the clergy who, in obedience to the archbishop’s orders, ceased to celebrate the Church services. Wenceslas’ energetic action finally compelled the archbishop to recede, and through the king’s intervention a truce was brought about between the two parties in the summer of 1411.

Soon afterwards, perhaps at the suggestion of the king, Hus sent a petition to Pope John XXIII denying the charges made against him and asking to be relieved of the duty of appearing in person before the Papal Court, since his conflict with the archbishop had been completely settled. In this letter, which shows of itself that at that time he had not ceased to recognise the Pope as the supreme head of the Church, nor had denied in principle his supreme power of decision in questions of religion, Hus also solemnly declares his attitude to several of the fundamental articles of Wyclif’s doctrine. Never, he says, had he taught that the substance of bread remained in the elements after consecration, nor that a priest in a state of mortal sin could not consecrate; never had he called upon secular lords to take the property of the priests, to refuse to pay tithes, or to punish them with the secular sword; nor, again, had he re­jected indulgences or in any way promulgated errors or heresy. Nor was it his fault, as was asserted by his opponents, that the German masters at the university had departed from Prague.

Although Hus thus expressly disavows the main articles of Wyclif’s teachings of which he had been accused, it would nevertheless seem that even then he was already more affected by Wyclif’s heresies than he admitted or perhaps was himself aware. Certainly his forbearance towards those who obviously championed Wyclif’s teaching, his ostentatious talk in favour of Wyclif and continued use of his works, not only put a welcome weapon into the hands of his personal enemies but also confirmed in their opposition to him those who were against him because they were honestly afraid of Wyclif’s heresies. Thus neither the truce secured through the king between the archbishop’s party and the party of Hus in 1411, nor the petition sent by Hus to the Pope following the truce, nor even the death of Archbishop Zbynek in September of the same year, brought to an end the struggles between Hus and the power of the Church. Whereas, however, up to now Archbishop Zbynek of Prague had represented this power, his place was henceforth taken by the Holy See itself.

Though Hus, throughout the whole period of his conflict with the archbishop, had never ceased to acknowledge the supreme power of the Pope, and continued to manifest his readiness to submit to papal commands, it is nevertheless possible at this very time to observe in him and his friends a serious change in their views of the Papacy. The lamentable state of the Papacy of that day, especially after the election of John XXIII had added to the two existing Popes a third of very doubtful character, and still more a deeper penetration into the teachings of Wyclif, undermined the faith of Hus and his friends in the Pope. This was publicly manifested in the spring of 1412 when, in accordance with a bull of John XXIII, there was proclaimed at Prague a crusade against his opponent, King Ladislas of Naples, and ample indulgences were granted to all who should personally join in the crusade or contribute funds towards it. Those who proclaimed these benefits went about their mission in such a way that their action was hardly distinguishable from an actual sale of indulgences. It is not to be wondered at that this caused great indignation, especially as in Bohemia voices had already been raised in opposition to indulgences altogether. This traffic in indulgences moved Hus to open revolt against the commands of the Pope. He preached and wrote against indulgences, and at a public disputation at the university on 7 June, supported by his friends, particularly by the eloquent Jerome of Prague, he produced reasons, mainly taken from Wyclif’s writings, why it was improper for the faithful to approve of the papal bull proclaiming a crusade against the King of Naples or to give money for the spilling of Christian blood. On this occasion Hus adopted the revolutionary principle that the faithful are not bound to obey papal commands so far as they are in conflict with the law of Christ.

The opposition to indulgences had in the meantime so much increased among the masses that various disturbances occurred, in the course of which the vendors of indulgences, as well as the preachers who recommended them to the people, were abused and held up to ridicule. Even the strict orders given by the king and the city councillors, to the effect that none should speak against the preachers or the papal bulls, failed to check this. One Sunday, 10 July 1412, three youths, probably workmen, were arrested for this offence in three of the principal churches of Prague and haled to the Old Town Hall. In vain Hus begged the councillors not to punish the prisoners, since he himself was the cause of the opposition to the indulgences. The very next day they had the three youths beheaded. The people, however, favouring Hus’ aims, refused to be intimidated. A great procession of masters, bachelors, and students of the university, and other persons, singing hymns, accompanied the bodies of the three young men to the Bethlehem Chapel, and there buried them as martyrs.

While the excitement among the people inspired by Hus’ campaign against indulgences had increased in menacing fashion, the faculty of theology at the university led by Stanislav of Znojmo and Stephen of Palec, who had become the most determined opponents of the views and aims for which they had themselves formerly fought with such fervour, and who had completely separated from Hus, rose up against the reformer. Doctors of theology condemned in a new pronouncement not only the 45 articles of Wyclif but six further heretical articles—a judgment directed against Hus and his friends, and particularly against their denial of indulgences. This action had the result that in the king’s name there was issued, on 16 July, a strict prohibition of all these articles, and all persons disobeying the prohibition were threatened with the king’s displeasure and banishment from the realm. Rome, too, issued an excommunication at this time against Hus and all who should have any relations with him, and another bull ordered that Hus should be arrested and punished under the Canon Law and that the Bethlehem Chapel should be razed to the ground. When, in accordance with a bull of excommunication, service was suspended in the autumn of 1412 in all churches throughout Prague, and the priests were forbidden to baptise the children and to bury the dead, Hus, in order to remove the cause of the interdict, left Prague for the country some time in October 1412. He remained there until the summer of 1414, staying in various places in the south-west of Bohemia and visiting Prague only for short periods. During his sojourn in the country he devoted himself indefatigably to preaching and to writing works in Latin and in Czech. Of his Czech works of that period the most important are his great Exposition of Belief, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer, the sharply polemical On Simony, and his excellent Postilla, or exposition of the lections from Scripture on Sundays. Of his Latin works the outstanding one is De Ecclesia. In composing these works Hus found a model and a fruitful source of ideas in the writings of Wyclif, to whose views he was gradually succumbing more and more, though he did not accept them without considerable changes more in keeping with the general views then held in the Church.

King Wenceslas had, in the meantime, made several attempts to bring about a reconciliation between Hus’ party and his opponents, but an extraordinary synod of the clergy held with this purpose at the command of the king early in 1413 only demonstrated the fact that there was an unbridgeable gulf between the views of the two parties. When a new attempt by the king to settle the differences between them by means of the findings of a special commission failed because of the unyielding attitude of Hus’ opponents, who declined to recognise him and his supporters as true Christians, the king banished their leaders from the country, expelled them from the university, and deprived them of their ecclesiastical dignities and emoluments. Among them were Stanislav of Znojmo, who soon afterwards died, and Stephen of Palec, whom Hus met again a little later at the Council of Constance. Whereas, in Bohemia, Hus’ party had at the beginning of 1413 scored a great success through the intervention of the king, the opposing party’s views now again secured recognition at Rome. Pope John XXIII issued a new bull condemning all the works of Wyclif, ordering them to be burnt, strictly forbidding them to be read, elucidated, used, or even their author’s name to be mentioned.

In this struggle over the very foundations of ecclesiastical theory and practice a decisive change of situation was produced by the convocation of a General Council at Constance for 1 November 1414. It came about chiefly through Sigismund, the Hungarian king, who, having been elected King of the Romans in 1410, made himself the defender of the Roman Church. In addition to the renewal of Church unity and the general reform of morals, the Council called at Constance was to occupy itself with the question of faith, that is, to express its opinion on several doctrines declared to be errors or heresy. It was clear that Wyclif’s teachings and the dispute waged round the person of Hus would come up for consideration. Moreover, King Sigismund, who, as heir apparent to the throne of Bohemia, his brother King Wenceslas being childless, was anxious to see Bohemia cleansed of the disgrace of heresy, conceived the idea of prompting Hus, who had hitherto refused to present himself before the Court at Rome, to attempt his justification before the Council of Constance. In the spring of 1414 he had negotiations to this end opened with Hus, promising him not only a safe-conduct to Constance and a public hearing in the presence of the Council, but also a free and safe return to his country should he not wish to submit to the judgment of the Council. Rejecting the warnings of his friends, Hus decided to accept Sigismund’s invitation. He doubtless cherished the idea that he would be successful in defending himself before the Council on the charge of heresy, but he was also determined to meet death, if need be, for his convictions. Some time in August 1414 Hus informed Sigismund that he was ready to proceed to the Council under the king’s safe-conduct, and he also made this intention public. After having prepared his defence and the speeches which he designed to make before the Council, and after securing various evidence concerning his activities in the past, including the fact that he had never been proved guilty of heresy, Hus set out for Constance at the beginning of October, accompanied by the three Czech nobles who had been appointed for this task by King Wenceslas (Wenceslas, Knight of Dubá, John, Knight of Chlum, and Henry of Chlum) and several other Czechs. Travelling through Nuremberg, Hus arrived at Constance on 3 November 1414.

During the first few days of his sojourn at Constance Hus met with no humiliation. Even the ban against him and the prohibition to celebrate divine service in the place where he was staying were temporarily suspended, since they would have had unfavourable consequences for Constance itself. Hus was also allowed to attend churches and to say the services in his abode. But this changed shortly owing to the action of his opponents. These were in particular the representatives of the Czech clergy hostile to Hus, Bishop John of Litomysl and Michael, nicknamed “de Causis,” procurator of the Prague Chapter at the Papal Court, as well as Stephen of Palec, who had come to Constance on his own account. These compatriots of Hus endeavoured to persuade the Council, by means of public declarations and formal accusations in writing, of Hus’ heresy and of the danger threatening all the clergy from his activities. They brought it about that on 28 November Hus was summoned to the Pope’s palace, subjected to a hearing by the cardinals, and then thrust into prison. He was imprisoned first in the house of the precentor of Constance, but at the end of a week was thrown into a dark and dirty cell in the Dominican convent on the shores of the Lake of Constance. There he soon became so ill that his life was despaired of. In vain King Sigismund endeavoured to get him released, for the king had guaranteed his personal safety by giving him a safe-conduct. Unwilling to permit any restriction of its right to pass judgment upon a heretic, the Council brusquely refused to admit itself bound by Sigismund’s safe-conduct, and the king, allowing himself to be intimidated by the threat that the Council would break up if he persisted in his request, gave way and admitted the complete liberty of the Council in the trial of a heretic.

As soon as Hus had somewhat recovered, he was obliged to answer the accusations brought against him. He was, in particular, required to express himself in writing on the 45 articles of Wyclif, and the 42 articles extracted by Stephen Palec from Hus’ own work De Ecclesia. In his answer Hus rejected several of Wyclif’s articles most decidedly, on others he expressed himself evasively, and with some he expressed agreement. Some of the articles selected by Palec he showed were not correctly extracted from his work, while others he acknowledged and endeavoured to prove their truth. At the same time he never ceased to demand a hearing before the whole Council. This he obtained only at the repeated request of the Czech nobles, and not until the beginning of June 1415.

Meanwhile, after the flight of Pope John XXIII from Constance, Hus had been transferred from the Dominican convent to the fortress of Gottlieben on the Rhine, in the tower of which he suffered imprisonment more than two months (April and May 1415), in fetters and inadequately supplied with food and drink, so that he was soon again afflicted with various maladies. A few days after the transfer of Hus to Gottlieben, his friend Jerome of Prague appeared in Constance. He caused letters to be nailed to the city gates, to the doors of the churches, and to the houses of the cardinals, asking King Sigismund and the Council to grant him a safe-conduct to enable him to appear before the Council and give a public answer to anyone who might desire to accuse him of any error or heresy. In a few days he received an answer in the form of a communication summoning him before the Council. Meanwhile, however, Jerome, urged by Hus’ friends, had left Constance to return to Bohemia. On the way he was arrested, was brought back to Constance at the end of May, and flung into a dark cell in the municipal tower near the church and cemetery of St Paul.

By the cruel imprisonment of Hus and Jerome the Council gave very clear expression of the disfavour with which it regarded the two Czechs. The Council also proclaimed at that time with great clarity its opinion of Wyclif’s works. On the proposal of a commission appointed to conduct the dispute centring round Hus and to examine the works of Wyclif, it confirmed at the beginning of May the condemnation of them launched two years previously by Pope John XXIII, and in addition expressly rejected several articles selected from among them. All this boded ill for the public hearing of Hus before the Council, to which the reformer had looked forward with so much hope. The trial was appointed to begin on 5 June. A short time previous to this Hus was brought from Gottlieben to Constance and imprisoned in the Franciscan convent, in the refectory of which the Council held its sessions. His public hearing before the Council took place in three sessions, on 5, 7, and 8 June, and was marked by many dramatic scenes. Here, too, Hus very decidedly rejected several of Wyclif’s articles (notably his teaching concerning the presence of the substance of bread in the elements after consecration), denying that he had ever taught it, but he admitted his agreement with other articles. He confessed that he did not approve of the condemnation of all the well- known 45 articles of Wyclif, since he could not regard some of them as heresy or error; he agreed, too, that he had spoken with approbation of Wyclif, that he had appealed from the archbishop to the Pope against the burning of Wyclif’s books, and that, when his emissaries had failed to find a hearing at the Papal Court, he had finally appealed to Christ. The trial before the Council showed further that on the whole Hus ac­cepted the teaching of St Augustine and Wyclif which regarded the Church as the company of all those predestined to be saved, and the majority of the consequences deduced therefrom by Wyclif against the then Church of Rome and its institutions, especially against the papal power. Refusing to recant the articles which had been falsely concocted against him, Hus expressed his readiness to recant those which he had really professed, could he be convinced by evidence from Holy Scripture that they were untrue. The Council, of course, insisted on Hus recanting all the articles completely and unreservedly. This he could not be persuaded to do, either by the arguments of various members of the Council or by the persuasion of his friends, although it was clear that, if he did not recant completely and without reserve, he would be condemned to death as a confirmed heretic.

Before the Council delivered final judgment in the case of Hus, it occupied itself with a question closely connected therewith. This was the question of communion in both kinds (bread and wine), which, either shortly before or soon after Hus’ departure from Prague, had begun to find favour with his followers there. The author of this innovation, which in the subsequent development of the Czech religious movement became of such pre-eminent importance, was not Hus himself but his friend and right-hand man, Jakoubek of Stribro (Jacobellus de Misa), who, from a study of the writings of Matthias of Janov with his reasons for frequent communion, came to the conviction that laymen had the same right as priests to communicate in both kinds. In this conclusion he found agreement and effective support in two German masters, Nicholas and Peter of Dresden, who had spent some years at Prague taking a prominent part in the Czech religious struggles of the day on the side of Plus. Although Hus apparently agreed with Jakoubek’s view from the very outset, he requested his friend, previous to his own departure for Constance, to postpone the contest over this subject. Afterwards, however, when disputes upon it arose in his absence among his own followers, threatening to produce a split in their ranks, Hus gave his approval to communion in both kinds in a special work written shortly after his arrival at Constance. The Council, however, at its general meeting on 15 June forbade lay communion in both kinds, and ordered that the communion by laymen in one kind, introduced in the Church for good reasons in place of the original communion in both kinds, was to be maintained as an unalterable practice.

A few days later the Council decided that Hus’ Latin and Czech works ought to be destroyed on the ground that they contained doctrinal errors. In the meantime negotiations proceeded with Hus himself touching the manner of the recantation which he was to make in accordance with the wishes of the Council, but these proved in vain. A commission was sent to him in jail and he was required to give a final answer. On 1 July Hus again declared in writing that he was unable to recant all the articles which had been brought forward against him, since several of them were based upon false witness; that as to the articles selected from his own writings he was willing to recant everything contained in them that was not true, but that he could not recant all, since he did not wish to abuse truth. And when on 5 July the Czech nobles, Wenceslas of Dubá and John of Chlum, interviewed him for the last time at King Sigismund’s request in order to persuade him to recant, he repeated with tears that he could only do so if convinced by better and more powerful reasons taken from Holy Writ.

Perceiving that Hus was not to be moved to make the recantation demanded of him, the Council proceeded to pass judgment upon him. This was delivered in solemn assembly of the Council held on 6 July in the cathedral of Constance, King Sigismund himself presiding. First of all there were condemned 260 heretical passages extracted from Wyclif’s works, then there was read in Hus’ presence a document describing the whole case against him with the accusations, which he was no longer permitted to answer, together with thirty passages taken from his own works, and finally sentence was delivered upon the works of Hus and upon his person. His writings were condemned to be burnt, and he him­self as a manifest heretic who taught false, demoralising, and revolutionary doctrines, who had led many astray, had slandered the honour and power of the Apostolic See and the Church, and obstinately persevered in his errors, was condemned to be degraded from the priesthood and to be punished by the secular powers. The sentence was at once carried out. Hus was unfrocked in the usual ceremony and as a heretic handed over to the King of the Romans. By order of King Sigismund he was at once led away from the town to the place of execution and placed on the pyre that had been prepared. Hus, on being appealed to for the last time to save himself, refused to recant, the fire was lighted, and in a short time, chanting a hymn, he breathed his last.

Less than a year after the death of Hus a like fate overtook his friend, Jerome of Prague. Jerome, it is true, soon after the burning of Hus, was moved by the fear of death and a yearning for liberty to recant publicly before the Council the errors of Wyclif and Hus, to acknowledge the condemnation of Hus as just, and to submit himself in all things to the judgment of the Council (September 1415). Since, however, he was still kept in prison and subjected to a new examination, he demanded a public hearing before the Council, and having obtained it (May 1416) he not only championed the condemned doctrines of Wyclif and Hus, but declared that his greatest sin had been denial of that good and holy man and his teachings. By this he sealed his own fate. On 30 May 1416 he was con­demned by the Council and handed over to the secular arm to be burnt at the stake. On the spot where a year previously Hus had perished, Jerome of Prague met death with courage, dignity, and pious devotion.

The terrible death which Hus had suffered for his convictions has given him the martyr’s halo, won him the universal respect of the whole civilised world, and placed him in the ranks of the greatest and noblest figures of history. But the significance of his death grows when one considers for what it was he suffered. According to a view widely accepted, the real cause of Hus’ death was his fight against the evils in the Church and the immorality of the priests, which brought upon him the hostility of the clergy at home and also influenced the mind of the Council against him. The condemnation of Hus would thus become the work of petty, one might almost say personal, revenge on the part of the priesthood smarting under his accusations. This view is certainly not correct. It is doubtless true that many of Hus’ opponents were against him for some such mean reasons, but the actual causes of the struggle between Hus and his main opponents, especially between him and the Council, certainly lay elsewhere and much deeper.

It was above all a question of several grave differences in belief. In this connexion Hus was mainly accused of championing and proclaiming the heretical doctrine of Wyclif touching the presence of the substance of bread in the elements after consecration (consubstantiatio). This accusation, as we know, Hus very emphatically and with entire truth denied, yet from the Council’s point of view he could not be entirely freed from guilt, in that he had not opposed this doctrine with sufficient resolution when it spread among his supporters. Another of Wyclif’s doctrines which was heretical in the eyes of the Council Hus himself admitted that he accepted. This was the doctrine, derived from St Augustine, that the Church is composed of all persons predestined to salvation. Hus did not accept all the extreme consequences of Wyclif’s doctrine; in particular he did not agree with the view that a priest in a state of sin is unable to minister the sacrament, thus being as it were deprived of his office; but he accepted fully the substantial part of Wyclif’s doctrine. Although doctrine concerning the Church and the Papacy and other questions connected therewith had not up to that time been laid down as a definite article of faith, there was no doubt that what Hus, following Wyclif, believed and taught regarding this was in absolute conflict with the entire spirit of the universal Catholic standpoint, and could only be regarded as heresy by those who upheld the Catholic conception.

Hus’ attitude also to the prevailing Church order could not secure him any mercy from the Council. In his sharpest criticism and rejection of that order Hus did not, it is true, go as far as Wyclif, who rejected practically all the rules of the Church in so far as they were not based on Scripture or were not practised by the primitive Church; but he none the less fiercely attacked many customs and rules established by centuries of development, without which the Church could not be imagined even by those who recognised the need of altering the system of administration which had developed in the course of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, who acknowledged the need of breaking the excessive power of the Pope over the individual branches of the Church, and of putting an end to the financial exploitation of these branches by the Papacy. Great indignation was aroused, for example, at the Council by Hus’ views against ecclesi­astical tithes, and his condemnation of the originators of the secular power of the Church. Hus, it is true, did not reject as decidedly as had Wyclif the right of the Church and priests to possess secular wealth, nor did he directly declare that secular lords should have the right to deprive unworthy priests of their property, but from various utterances of his own and from the fact that several of his friends and adherents openly proclaimed such views, it may be assumed that they were not altogether alien to him.

If some of the views actually proclaimed by Hus, or at least attributed to him, aroused the Council against him, he was perhaps even more damaged in its eyes by the fact that he declined to recant them even when they had been condemned by the Council, and that he refused to submit simply to the decision of the Council, but demanded that he should be shown the falsity of these opinions by the evidence of Holy Scripture. By opposing the Council, which just at that moment had been given supreme power of decision in all ecclesiastical questions and the right to dictate to the faithful what they were to believe, Hus assumed for himself and thus for every believer the right to be his own judge in matters of faith. Although he himself placed limits to the freedom of this right of judgment, desiring that Holy Writ should be acknowledged as a law from which there must be no departure in anything soever, his attitude, never­theless, was in absolute conflict with that principle of one sole supreme authority in matters of faith, upon which the Roman Church had been erected.

If then the Council, from its own point of view, had grave cause for condemning Hus, it cannot be doubted that exactly therein lies the historical significance of the Czech reformer. From the opinions for which Hus was condemned by the Council there was born a great movement rich in ideas and imposing in its outward manifestations, a movement rightly called the Hussite movement after Hus himself, and a movement which gives Czech and Bohemian history its characteristic feature and a worldwide significance. The ideas underlying the movement were, it is true, not entirely original, having for the most part been taken over from Wyclif, but it was Hus and the movement which he enkindled in Bohemia that first made them an important factor in the spiritual evolution of mankind, such a factor as, without Hus and the Hussite movement, they would certainly never have become. The very fact that, in championing these ideas, Hus not only himself undertook an heroic struggle with the supreme ecclesiastical powers on behalf of the liberty of the individual conscience, but also that by his life and death he was able to impel his nation to a grand and successful struggle for that right, contributed un­doubtedly very substantially to liberating the human mind from the heavy fetters laid upon it by the authority of the medieval Church.

Over and above this Hus rendered special services to his own nation. His activities as a Czech author have no small significance for the history of the Czech language and literature. Through his Czech writings Hus put into practice new principles of Czech composition, which meant a considerable simplification and therefore an improvement of Czech orthography. Also from the point of view of the language itself his writings introduced an important innovation. They were not composed in the obsolete tongue, already remote from the living language spoken by the masses, that heavy and hard style that we meet with in the works of the best Czech authors previous to Hus, but in a speech such as was actually spoken in his own environment at Prague, a speech light and supple but at the same time pure and avoiding the use of unnecessary foreign expressions. Thus Hus not only contributed substantially by his Czech writings to the formation of a Czech literary tongue, but he also, through his whole activity as an author, laid the foundations of the subsequent rich development of Czech religious literature. Religious questions had been dealt with in Bohemia before Hus in both Latin and Czech, but these older religious writings of Czech origin, not excluding the Czech works of Thomas of Stitny or the great Latin work of Matthias of Janov, never attained much circulation and could thus have but small effect. It was only with Hus that there began the systematic development of Czech religious literature (to a considerable extent composed in Latin), which for a long time was the most significant element in Czech literature generally and ranks among the most important intellectual productions of the Czech nation as a whole.

But over and above Hus’ services to Czech orthography, language, and literature, his importance for his nation appears still more in his securing for it a place among those peoples who have contributed a share to the general progress of humanity, in his uplifting in no mean measure the national conscience and giving it a new content. The great struggle which Hus himself, and the Czech nation in his spirit, carried on for the reform of the Church and the triumph of the pure law of God was, in the case of the Czech Hussites, from the very outset a fight in defence of national honour and dignity against the reproach of heresy, and soon became in the eyes of the nation the fulfilment of an exalted task for which the Czech nation had been chosen by God. This pious conviction was for a long period a source of noble self-consciousness for the Czechs, giving them an impregnable strength against the hugely superior material forces of their enemies, and later representing a source of consolation for them in their sufferings. To this very day Hus is a great national hero alike for his services to Czech language and literature and for all that he did to cause his name and that of his nation to be inscribed in the annals of the world’s history.