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The history of the church known as the Unitas Fratrum, Or, The unity of the Brethren, founded by the followers of John Hus, The Bohemian reformer amd martyr online

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^ The scliisin began in ] 378 by the election of Urban the Fifth and Clement
the Seventh.

^ John de Wycliffe, written also Wickliffe, Wyclif, or Wiclif, was born
near Kichmond, England, in 1324. A controversy with the Mendicants led
to his illustrious career as a Keformer before the Reformation. He attacked
some of the most cherished dogmas of Rome, such as plenary indulgence
and transubstantiation ; drew a sharp line between Biblical Christianity
and Romish ecclesiasticism ; translated the Bible into English from the
Vulgate; and labored by his writings, sermons, and lectures at Oxford for
the spread of the pure Gospel. Protected' by the Duke of Lancaster, he
withstood every persecution, and died, as parish priest at Lutterworth,
December the thirty-first, 1384. His followers were the English Lollards.
The newest and best work on Wycliffe is Lechler's Wiclif und die Vorge-
schichte der Reformation. 2 Vols. Leipzig and London, 1873.

' In 1382, Anne, a daughter of Charles the Fourth, married Richard the
Second. This brought about a close connection between Bohemia and


occasion for the appearance of a rival Emperor in the person
of Ruprecht, who disputed the crown for ten years.

It was in such a period of European, history, when no honest
mind could fail to recognize the necessity of reforming the
Church, that Hus began his public career. His earliest lectures
were mostly philosophical. He was a decided adherent of the
realistic school.^ His theology received its tendency from
Matthias of Janow and WycliflPe. The theological writings of
the latter were brought to Bohemia in 1398, by Jerome of
Prague. When Hus had overcome the prejudice which he
entertained against them and began to study them, he was
attracted by their reformatory spirit and the supreme authority
which they ascribed to the Bible. The longer he searched
this sacred volume the more he became convinced of the cor-
ruptness of the Church and the necessity of a reformation.
But he did not set out with the intention of inaugurating such
a work. Nor did he take a position antagonistic to Rome in

^ Realism and Nominalism constituted tlie two conflicting doctrines of
scholastic philosophy. The former taught, that general notions, such as tlie
notion of a tree, have an objective existence and reality; in other words,
" that genus and species are real things, existing independently of our con-
ceptions and expressions" (Fleming's Vocab. of Phil., p. 422). The latter,
" that general notions, such as the notion of a tree, have no realities
corresponding to them, and no existence but as names or words" (lb. p.
346). Applied to theology, realism set up the reality, that is, the absolute
truth of the dogmas of the Church, which were binding upon all and might
not be questioned by any. Nominalism, on the other hand, subjected such
dogmas to critical investigation, and asserted the right of research as a
necessary consequence of that capacity to investigate which has been given
to every man. From this point of view the realism of Hus is surprising.
Indeed, Czerwenka (I. p. 59), denies its existence. But while Hus, in many
of his theological views, was practically a nominalist, because he recognized
the authority of the Bible as supreme, yet in his philosophical views, which
had an influence upon his theology also, he was technically, without question,
a realist. For he took his philosophical views from Wycliffe whose work
on the " Reality of General Ideas " was, for years, a text-book in the
University of Prague. His national feelings, moreover, had much to do
with this position. He would not uphold a system to which the German
Doctors, who were mostly nominalists, adhered, and which, in itself con-
sidered, did not satisfy his aspirations.


obedience to an inward development. Every forward step
was induced by outward circumstances.

His doctrinal system was circumscribed in the same way.
He searched for truth, and the truth as found in the Bible
constituted the foundation on which he built. But as long as
he did not recognize any discrepancy between the Scriptures
and a dogma of the Church, he upheld the latter even if it
was not explicitly taught in the former. On the other hand,
whenever such a disagreement became j)lain, he rejected the
dogma and followed the Scriptures. "From the very be-
ginning- of my studies," he writes, " I have made it a rule,
whenever I meet with a sounder ojjinion, to joyfully and
humbly give up the one I previously entertained. For I am
well assured, as Themistius says, that what w^e know is far less
than what we do not know."^

The Bohemian Doctors were not slow to acknowledge the
commanding position which Hus occupied. A distinguished
circle gathered around him. His most intimate friend and
active coadjutor was Jerome of Prague, a highly gifted man,
an acute reasoner and eloquent speaker, but of a restless dis-
position and fiery temperament." He had studied at Prague,
Oxford, Cologne, Heidelberg and Paris, was honored with two
degrees, and had visited many countries, including Palestine.
Other associates of Hus were Stanislaus of Znaim, one of his
teachers, Peter of Znaim, Stephen of Palec, Christian of
Prachatic, John of Jesenic and Jacobellus of Mies, a disciple
of Janow and the illustrious advocate of the cup in the Lord's
Supper.^ They were accustomed to meet at the house of John
Protzwa, the incumbent of St. Michael's. The bond of
fellowship between them was not only a common philosophical
tendency but also a strong national feeling. They were pro-
nounced Czechs and looked upon German Bohemians wdth no

^ De Trinitate Sancta, Hist, et Mon., I. p. 131.

^ Jerome of Prague, incorrectly surnamed Faulfisch, which name belonged
to an entirely different person, was a native of Prague, and descended from
a noble family. He was several years younger than Hus.

' Jacob of Mies, called Jacobellus on account of his small stature, was
born at Misa and graduated at the University of Prague.


favor. Hus himself was an intense patriot. He never ceased
to labor for the development of the Czech element.^

The mission of Hus was not circumscribed by his academical
labors. On the fourth of March, 1402, after having been
ordained to the priesthood, he was installed as the incumbent
of the Bethlehem Chapel at Prague.^

This historic edifice had been erected at his own expense,
in 1391, by John de Milheim, an enthusiastic pupil of Milic
and Janow. He called it Bethlehem, because, in the language
of the deed of gift, it was to be "a house of bread for the
common people in which they were to be refreshed with holy
preaching in the vernacular." Such an undertaking became
possible only because Milheim stood high in the favor of the
King. It constituted one of the signs of the times. No other
church of the capital afforded the same opportunity for teaching
the Word of God. While the reading of mass was left to the
discretion of the incumbent, he was bound to preach twice, on
every Sunday and feast-day, and only in Bohemian.

Hus entered upon the duties of his office with zeal. It
opened a wide field from which he garnered plentiful harvests.
It brought him into personal contact with the wants of the
human soul. It led him to search the Scriptures, not in
order to enrich scholastic theology, but in order to find words
of eternal life. It carried him forward directly in the way of
a reformation. It proved the means whereby he fomid that
truth which renewed and sanctified his own heart.^

^ The German Doctors of the University devised the following genea-
logical travesty: "Stanislaus of Znaim begat Peter of Znairu, Peter begat
Palec, Palec begat Hus."

^ The Bethlehem Chapel stood next to the College of Lazarus, on the'
street leading from the bridge to the Ring of the Altstadt. It could seat
3,000 hearers. The pulpit was four-cornered, with a staircase at the side
of it leading to the dwelling-room of Hus. Zach. Theobald, p. 37. This
Chapel was eventually given to the Bohemian Brethren. In the Anti-
Reformation it passed into the hands of the Jesuits. It was closed in 1786,
and subsequently torn down. Since 1868 a marble tablet marks its site.

^ Hus has nowhere recorded the time or the particulars of his conversion.
He merely says that the study of the Scriptures and especially the life of
the Saviour led him to a knowledge of the truth.


As a pastor he distinguislied himself by self-denying faith-
fulness and an earnest desire to benefit his fellow-men. It is
said of him : " He was untiring in the confessional, unwearied
in his efforts to convert sinners, assiduous in bringing comfort
to the afflicted. He sacrificed everything, he sacrificed himself,
in order to save souls."^ His own favorite saying was borrowed
from St. Ambrose : " Prayer and tears are the weapons of a
priest." Laboring in such a spirit he won esteem and con-
fidence. Queen Sophia chose him for her confessor ; he was
welcomed to the houses of the nobility ; the common people
loved him as a friend.

His success in the pulpit was extraordinary. Vast congre-
gations thronged to hear him representing every class of society,
except the clergy of rank, the German Masters and the monks.
Nobles, Bohemian ]\Iasters, students, mei'chants, mechanics and
jjeasants, all hung uj)on his words. The Queen was one of
his most ftiithful hearers. And yet, according to the standard
of our day, his sermons were not eloquent. They either con-
sisted of expositions of the appointed Gospels and Epistles
interwoven with practical applications and passages from the
church-fathers, or treated of doctrinal points, or brought out
some subject relating to the history of the times. An occa-
sional anecdote occurred, but rhetorical ornaments were
wanting. Their biblical character and the evidences with
which they abounded that they were the outflow of personal
conviction and living faith, gave them power; while the pure
Bohemian which gushed from his lips, the idiomatic phrases
which he used, and the transparent simplicity of his style
rendered them exceedingly attractive.^

^ Sermo habitus in Bethlehem a quodam Pio, in Memoriam novorum
Martyrum M. Joan. Hus et M. Hieronymi. Hist, et Mon., II. p. 537.

2 The Brethren who founded Ilerrnhut brought from Moravia the Postil
of Hus containing his Bohemian sermons. A series taken from this work
has been translated into German by Dr. John Nowotny. It was published
at Gorlitz, in 1854 and 1855,in four Parts: Johannes Hus Predigten.
The late lamented Dr. Gillett wrote a review of these sermons in "The
New Englander," for October, 1864.


One year after his installation he received another important
appointment. The first Archbishop of Prague had introduced
not only diocesan synods but also the preaching of synodical
sermons. Both these institutions were kept up by his suc-
cessors. In 1403 Zbynek Zajic von Hasenburg was elevated
to the see. He knew more of the weapons of carnal warfare
than of the sword of the spirit, and was better versed in
military aifairs than in the things appertaining to the kingdom
of God. But his intentions were good. He meant to purify
his diocese and elevate the moral standard of his clergy. Hence
he a|)pointed Hus synodical preacher and commissioned him
to report any abuses which might fall under liis notice.

The synodical sermons of Hus differed from his popular
discourses. They were delivered in Latin, showed the scholar
and the theologian, were more systematically and logically
arranged, contained occasional bursts of eloquence and keen
satire, and sparkled with gems from the church -fathers. Their
chief characteristic, however, was the moral heroism which
they displayed, the merciless method in which they set forth,
and the terrific maner in which they condemned, the sins of
the clergy.^

The first intimation which the public had that the University
was divided into two factions and that there existed a deep-
rooted theological difference between them, was given on the
twenty-eighth of May, 1403. Walter Harasser, who had
succeeded Hus in the rectorship, called an academical meeting
and presented for its examination forty-five articles extracted
from the writings of Wycliffe. A stormy debate followed.
The articles were condemned and the members of the
University forbidden to teach them. This act, combined with
the two-fold commission which Hus had received from the
Archbishop, may be said to have constituted the beginning of
the Bohemian Reformation. Its first development was the
correction of a scandalous abuse. At Wilsnak, on the Elbe,
amidst the ruins of an old church, three communion wafers

^ In Hist, et Mon., II. pp. 35-84, we find eight so-called synodical sermons,
sonie of which, however, were delivered before the people.


were found impregnated with what seemed to be blood. The
priests having spread the report that it was the blood of Christ
and could cure all manner of diseases, pilgrims came streaming
to the spot from Bohemia and Moravia, from Hungary and
Poland, and even from Sweden, Norway and Denmark. At
the instance of Hus, the Archbishop appointed a commission
to investigate the reported miracles. They proved to be a
fraud and the pilgrimages were forbidden. This was a hard
blow at the superstition of the age. It opened the eyes of
many to the priestcraft by which they were beguiled, and
caused an intense sensation among the clergy.

Hus followed it up by efforts to purify both the doctrine and
life of the Church. In the University, where the condemna-
tion of Wycliffe's writings had remained practically a dead
letter, he devoted special attention to exegetical lectures and
imbued the minds of the students, and through them, the
popular mind, with such a love for the Holy Scriptures as had
never been known before. In the Bethlehem Chapel he
discussed the essential doctrines of the Christian religion,
setting forth the difference between their biblical form and
that in which they were ordinarily presented, pointing out the
evils to which such perversions had led, and calling, with the
authority of a prophet, the people to repentance and faith. In
his synodical discourses he probed and laid bare the moral sores
of the clergy to the very bone, gave to every sin its right
name, burst in upon it with a tempest of indignation, and blew
an alarm that startled the hardest heart. And thus the work
went bravely on. Anti-scriptural usages, however time-
honored, were recognized in their real character. New ideas
sprang into life. The true light began to shine. Men's re-
sponsibilities to God outweighed their duties to the Hierarchy.
The people of Prague and of all Bohemia were profoundly

On the eighteenth of October, 1407, Hus delivered a sermon
before the clergy^ which was so full of stinging invectives that

1 This sermon, on Ephesians vi, 14 and 15, is found in Hist, et Mon., II.
p. 47, &c.


it led to his deposition from the office of synodical preacher.
This was but one instance of the hostility which his course
evoked. Enemies met him at every step. The clergy of
rank, the foreign Doctors and the monks, formed an unbroken
phalanx against him. They were joined by the Archbishop
himself. Instigated by John the Iron, Bishop of Leitomischl,
the leader of the conservative party, he forgot the favor with
which he had originally looked upon Hus, denounced him a.s
a disobedient son of the Church, forbade him to preach, put
him under the ban, laid an interdict on the city of Prague,
and made himself notorious throughout Europe by committing
to the flames, amidst the tolling of bells and the singing of
the Te Deum, more than two hundred volumes of Wycliffe's
writings, beautifully engrossed and splendidly bound, (July
the sixteenth, 1410). Appeals and counter-appeals to the
Pope followed. Commissioners were appointed at Rome to
try Hus; advocates were sent from Prague to defend him.
Papal bulls against him were met by royal edicts in his favor.
Amidst such experiences he stood firm as a rock and his work
went on. This would have been impossible if dire confusion
had not continued in church and state. Popes and anti-popes
still hurled anathemas at each other. The Council of Pisa
accomplished nothing (1409). At one time there were three
Popes and three Emperors. Old landmarks disappeared.
The foundations of government and of society were shaken.
In such a period af history the Bohemian Reformation grew
rapidly ; in any other, it would have been nipped in the bud.
It was, moreover, upheld to a certain extent by Wenzel him-
self, although he understood neither its character nor object.
One of his acts, in particular, gave a new impetus to the
movement. Contrary to the intentions of its founder, the
German nations in the University had gradually secured
three votes while the Bohemian had but one. This caused
great dissatisfaction among the native Doctors. At their
instigation, Nicholas von Lobkowic, the favorite adviser of
the King, induced him to issue a decree, on the eighteenth of
January, 1409, which reversed the academic status. Three


votes were given to the Bohemian nation and one to the foreign
nations. Thereupon a large number of German Professors,
the majority of whom belonged to the ultra wing of the con-
servative faction, and several thousand German students, left
Prague in indignation.* The liberal party gained strength in
consequence of this exodus. At the same time it intensified
the animosity of the Germans toward the Bohemians, and
made Hus, who had been active in bringing about the change,
notorious throughout Germany.

While the Bohemian Reformation outlived every attempt
to bring it to a violent end, it nearly died a natural death.
In July, 1411, the Archbishop was reconciled both to Hus
and the King. The ban and interdict were to be annulled, all
suits to be quashed, all appeals to be withdrawn, all disputes
to cease. Hus consented to cleanse himself from the suspicion
of heresy by a public confession of his faith, and Zbynek
promised to report to the Pope the complete pacification of the
Church. It is true that the Archbishop, persuaded by John
the Iron, eventually refused to carry out his part of the
compact. But he died while on his way to claim the protection
of Sigismund, the King of Hungary,^ and his successor, Albicus
von Unicow, was too intent upon hoarding money to find
time for the theological questions of the day. The storm of
the past years seemed to have spent its strength. And yet
this was merely a lull in the tempest.

1 These Professors and students subsequently met at Leipzig, and founded
the celebrated University of that city.

* After protracted disputes and conflicts between Wenzel and Sigismund,
these two brothers entered into a compact (June, 1411), according to which
Wenzel was to be Emperor and Sigismund Koman King. After Wenzel's
death Sigismund was to occupy both the Imperial and Bohemian thrones.
Previous to this compact the latter had been chosen Roman King by some
of the Electors, now he was unanimously re-elected (July twenty-first, 1411).
He was not crowned Emperor until 1436 ; Wenzel was never crowned.


Hus and the Papal Indulgences. A. D. 1412.

Election of Alexander the Fifth. — Accession of John the Twenty-third. —
Driven from Rome by Ladislaus of Naples. — Crusade proclaimed
against him. — Papal Indulgences. — Hus opposes their sale. — Sermons
in the Bethlehem Chapel and Disputation in the University. — Speech
of Jerome. — The Students burn the papal Bull — Execution of three
young Mechanics. — Hus extols them as Martyrs. — A Crisis in the
Reformation. — Hus excommunicated. — Interdict at Prague. — Appeals
to Jesus Christ. — Retires from the City. — Futile efforts of Wenzel to
bring about a pacification.

The Council of Pisa elected Alexander the Fifth to
the Papal chair, after having deposed both Gregory the
Twelfth and Benedict the Thirteenth (1409). Although
neither of them would submit, the new pontiff was acknowl-
edged by the larger part of Latin Christendom. But he died
the next year (1410), and was succeeded by Balthasar Cossa,
an atrocious character, who assumed the title of John the
Twenty-third. In the early part of his reign he was driven
from Rome by Ladislaus of Naples, who was not only an
adherent of Gregory but had also conceived the project of
consolidating all Italy under his own sway. The most for-
midable anathemas were immediately fulminated. Ladislaus
was put under the ban and branded as " a perjurer, schismatic,
reviler, heretic, traitor and conspirator;" a general crusade
was proclaimed against him, and those same indulgences for
sin which a campaign against the Turks conferred, were offered
to all who would engage in this holy war, or furnish troops
or money toward its prosecution.


The sale of such indulgences was intrusted to commissioners.
Two of them, Wenzel Tiem and Pace de Bononia, reached
Prague in the Spring of 1412, and began their work with
unblushing effrontery. The papal bull was read in the
churches. Drummers appeared in the public streets, followed
by preachers of the crusade who indiscriminately sold certifi-
cates of pardon. Three large chests were set out for the safe-
keeping of the receipts. In the country the indulgences were
disposed of wholesale, for single parishes or entire districts,
to the highest bidder who retailed them at a profit. It was
the most scandalous abuse which Bohemia had ever seen.

In all his past efforts at reform Hus had avoided a personal
conflict with the Pope. He recognized him as the head of
the Church, appealed to him, addressed him in tespectful
language, and showed him due reverence. Such a position
was no longer possible. His soul revolted at the sale of the
indulgences ; and his duty to Christ and the Church required
that he should express this abhorrence. He knew the risk.
He knew that he was staking his life on the venture. He
knew that some of his friends would desert him. He knew
that, even though the papacy had lost much of its prestige, to
rouse it was to rouse a dragon breathing out fire and smoke.
But he knew also that he was right and that the Lord God
Omnipotent was on his side. Hence he protested, from his
pulpit and cathedra, against the sale of the indulgences. His
sermons on the subject were bold and evangelical. In one of
them he says: "From all this it appears, dear Christian, that
a man can receive the pardon of his sins only through the
power of God and by the merits of Christ. Let who will
proclaim the contrary, let the Pope, or a bishop, or a priest
say : ' I forgive thee thy sins, I absolve thee from their pen-
alty, I free thee from the pains of hell' — it is all vain and
helps thee nothing. God alone, I repeat, can forgive sins
through Christ, and He pardons the penitent only."^ His

' Sermon preached on Sundaj' Quasimodogeniti. Hus Predigten, Part
III. pp. 25 and 39.


address in the University, at a public disputation held on the
seventh of June, 1412, was "a model of acute and striking
argumentation,"^ and proved conclusively that the papal bull
ran counter to the Holy Scriptures and was an outrage upon

On both these occasions, however, Hus avoided everything
calculated to excite his hearers. A different course was
adopted by Jerome of Prague. At the disputation he de-
livered a speech which roused the feelings of the students to
the highest pitch. The Rector could scarcely maintain order.
When the meeting had adjourned, they accompanied Jerome
in a triumphal procession to his lodgings. A few days later
they grew still bolder. The bulls in the hands of the com-
missioners were seized and fastened to the breast of a student
disguised as a courtesan. Seated in an open wagon, sur-
rounded by armed men and followed by a large body of
students, he passed through the city, sometimes making las-
civious gestures and again pretending to impart the papal
benediction, while, from time to time, his guards proclaimed :
" We are carrying the writings of a heretic to the stake !"
Arrived at the pillory the bulls were committed to the flames.
Near by stood an iron chest which the students filled with dirt
and other foul things, as their contribution to the crusade.
Hus took no part in these proceedings.

On Sunday, July the tenth, while the priests of the city

Online LibraryEdmund Alexander De SchweinitzThe history of the church known as the Unitas Fratrum, Or, The unity of the Brethren, founded by the followers of John Hus, The Bohemian reformer amd martyr → online text (page 5 of 64)