Edmund Alexander De Schweinitz.

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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college of Cardinals may err; he may be deceived by avarice,
or mistaken through ignorance. To resist the Pope, when
he errs, is to obey the Lord Jesus Christ.

^' De Adoratione, Hist, et Mon., II. pp. 512-515. "Vera adoratio

nuUo modo debemus in aliquara creatiiram dirigere," pp. 513 and 514.

^* Sermo de exequiis sen suffragio Mortuorum, Hist, et Mon., II. pp.

3' Ibid, p. 81 .

3« De Ecclesia, Cap. xvii, &c , Hist, et Mon., I. p. 287, &c.

" Ibid, p. 302.


Such is a brief review of the doctrinal system of Hus. It
is imperfect, but contains all the elements of a body of pure
divinity and develops some of them to evangelical complete-
ness. Had his days been prolonged, he would have attained
to a still clearer insight into the truth, and might, perhaps,
have anticipated the position and even the work of Martin


Hus and the Council of Constance. A. D. 1414-1415.

Alarming State of the Church. — A General Council called at Constance. —
Hus invited by Sigismund to appear before this Body. — The royal
Promise. — Preparations for the journey. — Arrival at Constance. — The
Safe-Conduct. — Arrest and Imprisonment of Hus. — Confined in the
Dominican Monastery. — Arrival of Sigismund. — Persuaded by the
Cardinals to leave Hus in their Hands. — His Sufferings in the Castle
of Gottlieben. — His Trial and its three Hearings.

The state of tlie Church was continually growing worse.
Not only did the schism remain a disgraceful source of con-
fusion, but the general corruption of the clergy and the
wickedness which showed itself among the laity were also
bringing about the most alarming results. Iniquity in many
shapes, each more hideous than the other, stalked abroad
unchecked and defiant.^ Under such circumstances the better
classes of Latin Christendom were unanimous in urging the
convocation of a General Council. They found a warm
supporter in Sigismund, who both in virtue of his office as
Roman King and from personal conviction took energetic

' As evidence we adduce the testimony of Pileus of Genoa, a R. C.
Archbishop, who writes: "The Eoman Catholic Church has become a step-
mother. The vices which show themselves openly are these: tyranny
among the clergy, confusion in the churches, quarrels, lawsuits, suppression
of the liberty of the Church, a despising of all virtue and morals, neglect
of learning, ridiculing justice, oppressing the people, endless wars between
the princes, sacrilege, profanation of that which is holy, adultery, murder,
theft, simony, in a word, everything that can be called infamous." Von der
Hardt, II. p. 70. Schwabe, pp. 170-186, gives an appalling array of
testimony gathered from many writers and showing the corruption of the
clergy in particular.


measures to bring about the desired end. The negotiations
were protracted and delicate, especially with Pope John the
Twenty-third, who, in view of his own character and course,
had reason to hesitate; but they proved successful at last.
On the thirtieth of October, 1413, a call was issued convening
a Council on the first of November, 1414, at Constance.

Before this Council Sigismund invited Hus to plead his
cause. He promised him a safe-conduct, a fair hearing, and
a free return to Bohemia even in the event of his not sub-
mittincr to the decision of the Fathers. Barons Henry Left von
Lazan and Mikes von Jemnist were the bearers of this

In spite of the warnings of some of his friends and of one
of the King's own messengers,^ Hus unhesitatingly accepted
the invitation. The prospect of meeting, in the presence of
the representatives of the entire Western Church, the charges
which had been brought against him and of explaining his
views, filled him with joy. There was nothing which he

^ Palacky, IV. p. 306; Kramrael, p. 429. The above promise of
Sigismund is set forth by Hus himself in a letter to his friends in Bohemia
sent from Constance, subsequent to the eighth of June, 1415. Speaking of
Sigismund he writes : " Had he at least said, ' Behold I have given him a
safe-conduct ; if he therefore does not wish to submit to the decision of the
Council I will send him to the King of Bohemia with our sentence and the
testimony, and he and his clergy may judge him !' For he (Sigismund)
made known to me by Henry Lefl and others, that he intended to secure
for me a sufficient hearing, and that, if I would not submit to the judgment
pronounced, he intended to send me back in safety," (vellet me dirigere
salvum vice versa). Documenta Hus, Ep. No. 70, p. 114: Hist, et Mon.,
I. pp. 87 and 88. Berger, pp. 92-94, the object of whose entire work is to
screen Sigismund, asserts that the King could not have given such a
promise, and that Baron Lizan either said more than he was authorized to
say, or that the memory of Hus failed him when he wrote the above letter !
Both of these suppositions are, in the highest degree, unlikely. Would the
messenger of Sigismund, in a case of such importance, venture to deliver
anything but the exact message? Is it credible that Hus would forget the
exact tenor of a promise on which his life depended ?

^ Mikes von Jemnist, who said to him: " Know of a certainty, Master,
that thou wilt be condemned." "I think he knew the intention of the
King," Hus remarked when a prisoner at Constance. Documenta Hus,
p. 114.


desired more : nay, might he not, when the object of his work
in Bohemia came to be understood, be permitted to co-operate
with the Fathers in reforming the Church ?

Conrad von Vechta, the new Archbishop of Prague, who
had succeeded Albicus on the retirement of the latter, having
convened a Diocesan Synod (August, 1414,) Hus, who had
meantime returned to the city, asked permission, through his
advocate Jesenic, to appear before this body in order to give
an account of his faith. Although this request was declined
the Archbishop verbally bore testimony to his orthodoxy, and
the Papal Inquisitor, Nicholas, Bishop of Nazareth, gave him
a written testimonial to the same effect. Having posted a
placard which called upon all who charged him with heresy
to meet him at the Council and sent a letter to Sigismund
expressive of his gratitude for the promised hearing, he went
back to Krakowec* There he composed a refutation of the
articles drawn up by his enemies, as soon as his intention of
going to Constance had become known ; addressed a touching
letter to his pupil Martin, which was to be opened only in case
of his death and which set forth several small legacies f and
wrote a farewell epistle to the Bohemians full of apostolic
unction, instinct with the spirit of godliness, and earnest in its
requests for their prayers, that God would give him strength
to glorify the Gospel, if it need be, even by his death.® The
nearer the time of his departure from Bohemia approached,
the more he realized the risk which he was assuming, and the
less he expected a favorable reception on the part of the

The expenses of his journey were assumed by his friends ;
in order to cover the cost of the prosecution, those of the
clergy of Bohemia and Moravia who were opposed to him

* The letter is found in Documenta Hus, pp. 69-71. That Berger, p. 94,
bases upon this letter, which says nothing of the King's promise of personal
safety but expresses the willingness of Hus to die for the truth, a new
argument to show that such a promise was never made, is another instance
of the illogical deductions with which his work abounds.

^ Documenta Hus, No. 38, p. 47.

6 Ibid, No. 37, pp. 71-73.


eagerly contributed a large amount. Sigismund and Wenzel
conjointly furnished an escort, consisting of Barons John von
Chlum, Wenzel von Duba and Henry von Chlum/ John
von Chlum was accompanied by his secretary, Peter of
Mladenowic;^ and Kardinalis of Reinstein, a priest and friend
of Hus, together with several other Bohemians, joined the party.
On the eleventh of October they left Prague with more than
thirty horsemen and three wagons, in one of which Hus rode
in his priestly robe. Their route lay through Bernau, Sulz-
bach, Hersbruck, Lauf and Nuremberg. To his surprise the
inhabitants of these towns, Germans though they were, gave
him a friendly reception. He had frequent discussions on
theological questions with the clergy and caused posters to be
affixed to the church doors, inviting such as had charges
against him to present them to the Council. From Nurem-
berg, where the streets were crowded with people eager to see
him. Baron Duba traveled to the Phine to get the safe-conduct
from Sigismund, while the rest of the party went directly to
Constance. They arrived on the third of Nov^ember, and
entered the city amidst a great concourse. Hus took lodgings
with a pious widow, named Fida, on St. Paul Street.^

' Henry von Chlum, called Lazembock, did not join the escort until after
its arrival at Constance.

® Peter of Mladenowic, a Bachelor of the University of Prague, wrote a
full account of all that happened to Hus at Constance : Relatio de J. Hus
causa in Constantiensi Concilio acta, found, in its original form, in
Documenta Hus, pp. 237-324. It has also been given by Hofler, I. pp.
in-3"20, who has, however, fallen into a multitude of errors, as Palacky
has abundantly shown (Palacky's Hofler, pp. 22-37.) The narrative
contained in Hist, et Mon , I. pp. 1-37, as also in the second part of
Epistolae Hus, edited by Luther, is a free rendering, with interpolations
and omissions, of the author's work and belongs to the sixteenth century.

* Hus gave an account of his journey in letters to his friends in Bohemia.
Documenta Hus, pp. 66-83; Hist, et Mon., pp. 72 etc.; Bonnechose, pp.
86-88. The house in which he lodged is still standing, No 328, St. Paul
Street. It is three stories high, with an attic, and has two wings. On the
outside wall is a picture of Hus and the following inscription : "Herberge
des Bohmischen Reformators Mag. Joh. Hus, ira Jahr 1414;" to the left
of the picture is a bust of Hus, put up toward the end of the last century,
with another inscription in German ; to the right a Bohemian inscription.


The grandest ecclesiastical pageant which the Middle Ages
saw was the Council of Constance. It continued for nearly
four years, and brought together the Roman King, the Pope,
thirty Cardinals, four Patriarchs, thirty-three Archbishops,
one hundred and fifty Bishops, several hundred Doctors of
Theology and inferior clergy, four Electors, twenty-four
Princes and Dukes, seventy-eight Counts and six hundred and
seventy-six Barons, together with a multitude of retainers,
merchants, artizans and visitors, so that the number of
strangers was never less than fifty thousand.^" Booths were
erected outside of the walls for the accommodation of those
who could not find room in the city itself.

Constance is beautifully situated on the Swiss bank of the
Rhine and occupies a projecting angle of ground at the
western extremity of the Bodensee. At the time of the
Council it was a free imperial town, with fifty thousand in-
habitants ; now it belongs to Baden, and its population, as
though the curse of God had lighted upon the place, has
dwindled to ten thousand.

Barons Chlum and Lazembock notified the Pope of the
arrival of Hus and asked that he might be protected. " Not
if he had killed my own brother," was the answer of John
the Twenty-third, "would I, in any wise, wish to molest him,
or permit him to be molested. He must be safe while he is
at Constance."" On the following day, November the fifth,
which sa^v the opening of the Council, Duba reached the city
and brought the safe-conduct.

This document has given rise to a protracted controversy.^^
Did it, or did it not, guarantee personal safety under all
circumstances ? The latest and most astute champion on the
Romish side of this question is Dr. William Berger, in his
Johannes Hus ufid Konig Sigismund. He tries to prove, and

i» Palacky, IV. p. 307, Note 420.

" Mladenowic Relatio, Doc. Hus, p. 246.

''^ The safe-conduct was written in Latin. Its original text is given in
full in Hist, et Mon., I. p. 2; Documenta Hus, pp. 237 and 238; and
Berger, pp. 178 and 179. Krummel, p. 452, furnishes a German version.


in SO far as its mere wording is concerned, successfully, we
think, that the paper furnished by Sigismund was a passport,
drawn up in the style of other passports, protecting Hus from
illegal interference and violence, but not from the consequences
of a legal sentence pronounced by competent authority ; and
shows further, that ''judicial safe-conducts,"^^ which absolutely
guaranteed personal safety for a limited period, were written
in a different form. Yet, even if we concede these points,
which are not new but have in substance been urged by earlier
writers, Sigismund remains branded with disgrace and the
Council guilty of infamy. For the passports issued in view
of its convocation, by the Roman King, as the head of the
Empire, declaring their bearers to be under its " protection
and tutelage," had, in every instance, a wider significance than
ordinary documents of this kind ; in the case of Hus, however,
who had been formally assured of personal safety by two
royal deputies, the paper set a seal to this promise and assumed
the force of a judicial safe-conduct. That Sigismund himself
took this view of the case, is evident from the indignation
which he manifested on finding that the instrument had not
been respected ; that Hus supposed himself to be under the
aegis of a royal pledge, his letter proves which we have cited
in another connection ; that his countrymen at home interpreted
the document in the same way, becomes clear from the solemn
protest against his breach of faith, forwarded to the King,
by two hundred and fifty Bohemian noblemen, and their
unanimous demand that Hus should be set at liberty, have a
public hearing, and then be sent back to Bohemia ;^* that even
the Council practically conceded the point at issue, is shown
by its resolutions exonerating Sigismund. Moreover, the
very argument which Dr. Berger urges, recoils upon himself.
Hus, he says, held a passport which was to defend him from
illegal interference and violence. What could have been more
illegal than his arrest and imprisonment, and cruel sufferings,

^* " Das gerichtliche Geleite," p. 105.

'* Letter in full, in original Bohemian, translated into Latin by Palacky,
dated May 12, 1415, given in Documenta Hus, pp. 550-553.


without a hearing, without a trial, without a sentence, before
the Council had even taken up his case? To attempt a
justification of the treatment which the Bohemian Reformer
received at Constance, is an intellectual feat that can be
performed only by the pliant mind of a Roman Catholic

Hus was relieved from his sentence of excommunication
and permitted to go about the city ; but he j)referred to remain
in his lodgings, where he prepared for his defence before the
Council. Meanwhile his personal enemies, and among them
especially Michael de Causis and Wenzel Tiem, bestirred
themselves. About the middle of November, they were joined
by Stephen Palec, John the Iron and others, who arrived
from Bohemia with his latest writings. These men posted
placards denouncing him as a most obstinate and dangerous
heretic ; they spread false reports, that he intended to preach
against the clergy and that he had tried to escape from the
city in a covered wagon ; they hurried from bishop to cardinal,
and from cardinal to bishop, urging his immediate arrest.

On the twenty-eighth of JN^ovember he was cited to an
interview with the Cardinals. Baron Chlum, who happened
to be with him when their messengers arrived, vehemently
protested against his going but Hus declared his willingness
to obey the summons. His hostess, in great anxiety, met him
in the hall and wept as he gave her his blessing. On leaving
the house he found the street full of soldiers, who immediately
surrounded him and conveyed him to the episcopal palace,
where the Cardinals awaited his coming. They interchanged
a few words with him and then retired, leaving him in the
hands of a guard. Chlum staid at his side. The afternoon
passed in a painful suspense. Toward evening a papal officer
appeared and dismissed the Baron ; Hus, he said, must remain
in the palace. Shameful perfidy ! He was a prisoner, in spite
of the safe-conduct, in spite of the King's pledge and the
Pope's promise. When this breach of faith had been
determined on, at a meeting of the Cardinals held at four
o'clock in the afternoon, Palec, Michael and other enemies of


Hus, who were present, danced round the apartment exclaim-
ing: " Ha, ha, now we have him ! He shall not escape until
he has paid the uttermost farthing !"^^

Chlum, burning with indignation, hastened to the Pope,
whose lodgings were in the palace, reminded him of his
promise, threatened him with the displeasure of the King, and
said that he would proclaim to all the world how grossly the
safe-conduct had been violated. But John the Twenty-third
cast the responsibility upon " his brethren," as he called the
Cardinals, and privately assured him that his own relations to
them were of such an uncertain character as to render any
interference on his part impossible. " But he deceived him,"
pithily remarks the chronicler.^^

At nine o'clock in the evening Hus was taken to the house
of the precentor of the cathedral, where he remained a week,
closely guarded. On the sixth of December he was removed
to the Dominican monastery, on the shore of the lake. From
the windows of this building the eyes of the monks could
range far over the placid waters and see, in the distance, the
snow-clad peaks of the Appenzell Alps glittering in the sun,
or covering their sheen with a soft and transparent veil of
mist. But the harassed soul of Hus was not to be cheered
with such manifestations of God's glory. A few feet from
the water's edge rose a round tower, containing a dark and
gloomy dungeon.^^ Into this he was mercilessly cast. The
drain of the convent passed close by, poisoning the air with its
exhalations ; he fell ill and was brought to the brink of the
grave. At the instance of the physicians whom the Pope
sent — that a natural death might be prevented — he was con-
fined in a more healthful cell (January the eighth, 1415), and
treated with less rigor, being allowed to read and write and

'^ Mladenowic Relatio, Documenta Hus, p. 250.

'" Documenta Hus, p. 252. John the Twenty-third hoped to win the favor
of the Cardinals by imprisoning Hus. In a letter which he wrote to the
University of Paris, after his deposition, he boasted of what he had done.

" " Opacum vel tenebrosum carcerem." Documenta Hus, p. 252.


receive visitors. In this convent he remained for two months
and a half.^^

The Council appointed a commission of three prelates to
investigate the charges against him. "Weak and helpless
though he still was, they began to worry him with questions
and brought witnesses — on one day not less than fifteen — who
were sworn in his presence, as the canonical law required.
His request that he might be allowed the services of an
advocate was, at first, granted ' but subsequently refused. A
man accused of heresy, said the commissioners, had no right
to expect the protection of the law. " Then let the Lord
Jesus be my advocate," replied Hus, " He will soon judge
you. To Him I have committed myself, as He committed
Himself to God the Father."'^

While the representatives of the Council were dealing thus
unjustly with him, his friends continued to urge his liberation.
John von Chlum was particularly active. He wrote to the
King, importuned the Pope, tried to rouse all Constance ; but
his efforts were fruitless. Sigismund, indeed, sent a message
requiring the immediate release of Hus, and when he arrived
in person, on the Eve of Christmas, and found that his order
had not been obeyed, repeatedly and vehemently demanded of
the Cardinals that they should respect his safe-conduct,
threate"bing to leave the city, if they would not yield. He
actually did withdraw for a short time. But they remained
inflexible. Faith, they asserted, need not be kept with a
heretic ; the Council could free him from his obligations ; he
had no right, without its consent, to give Hus a safe-conduct;
if he left Constance, they would instantly break up the

'^ The Dominican Monastery at Constance is now the Insel Hotel, but
retains some vestiges of its ancient character. The long cloisters, surround-
ing an open court, remain intact, and the old refectory, with scarcely any
changes, is used as a restaurant whose doors open upon a narrow terrace
extending to the water's edge. On this terrace, around the very tower in
which Hus languished, refreshments are served in summer. The Gothic
chapel of the convent is the dining saloon, the walls of which are hmig with
tapestry that can be removed, displaying the original frescoes underneath.

19 Hist, et Mon., I. y,. 92, Ep. xlix; Hofler, I. p. 141.


Council. The King allowed himself to be persuaded, and on
New Year's day, 1415, formally withdrew his protest, declaring
that, in all matters of faith, the Fathers should be free to act
as they might think best. He sacrificed Hus for the sake of
the Council.^"

This body, however, did not at once take up his case. It
was the schism which first engaged its attention ; and the idea
gained ground that all the three Popes should be set aside.
In the case of John the Twenty-third other considerations
also came into play. Latin Christendom, as with one voice,
had brought charges against him. His deposition was im-
minent. In order to avoid this he resigned his crown, March
the second, but subsequently fled to SchafFausen. Thereupon
the keepers of Hus, who were John's servants, delivered the
keys of the cell to Sigismund and followed their master.
This was the King's opportunity ; he could now redeem his
word and wipe a foul blot from his escutcheon. Chlum,
Duba and others, besought him to do so ; and their entreaties
were supported by the most urgent letters which he had
previously received from Bohemia, Moravia and even Poland.
But influenced again by the Cardinals, he declined, and
sanctioned their decision to commit Hus into the keeping of
the Bishop of Constance.

About four miles from the city this prelate had a* castle,
on the Phine, called Gottlieben, with two quadrangular towers
nearly two hundred feet high. In the night of Palm Sunday,
the twenty-second of March, Hus, heavily fettered, was taken,
in a boat, to this castle and made to ascend its western tower
to the very top, his chains clanking dismally as, with weary
steps, he mounted the long stairs. Immediately beneath the
roof was a small wooden structure, or cage, divided into two
compartments. Into one of these he was thrust; his feet
were chained to a block ; at night his right arm was pinioned
to the wall. In this miserable plight he remained for more

'■"' This Sigismund himself practically confessed in a letter, dated Paris,
March the twenty-first, 1416, written to the Bohemian nobles. Documenta
Hus, p. 612.


than two months, cruelly suifering from hunger and cold and
painful attacks of hemorrhage, neuralgia and stone, brought
on by the damp spring-winds which swept through the
windows of the tower.^^

For a time his friends knew not what had become of him ;
when they discovered the place of his imprisonment, they
bribed his keepers and tried to alleviate his sufiFerings. Nor
did they fail to protest against the cruel treatment he was
enduring. At several formal interviews, in the latter half pf
May, with representatives of the Council, they demanded that
he should be set free, offering bail to any amount and in any
form, and that he should have a public trial. Such a trial
was promised and fixed for the fifth of June ; as regarded his
liberation, however, it was, the Fathers said, not to be thought
of, even if bail were given " a thousand times." Nevertheless
he was removed from Gottlieben, about the beginning of June,
brought back to the city, and confined, with far less rigor, in
the Franciscan Monastery.

'^ Dr. Berger — impartial historian ! — describes the cruelties which Has
suffered in this tower as follows: " Dort wurde Has in einem luftigen

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 7 of 64)