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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Gemache und viel scharfer bewacht als zuvor." (Berger, p. 143.) The
present Castle of Gottlieben is comparatively a modern building and fronts
the Rhine, but the two ancient towers, which flank the rear and are covered
with ivy, remain unchanged. In the western, first a wooden stairway, then
a circular one of stone, and next two more wooden stair-cases, lead to the
prison of Hus which is still to be seen, each of its two compartments being
in the form of a parallelogram. Gottlieben is the property of Count
Larrasch, of Vienna. In the museum of the Rosen- Garten, at Constance,
interesting relics are preserved : the block of stone to which Hus was
chained, which is about one foot thick and two feet square ; the wooden
door of his dungeon, with its massive lock, huge bolt and staple for a
padlock, having a smaller door in the middle, twelve inches long and four
inches wide, according to our own measurement, with a clasp for another
padlock, through which smaller door his food was handed him ; the bricks
with which his prison was paved and on which he traced words that are
now illegible; and a large stone, three feet long, containing a narrow
opening eighteen inches in length, crossed by two iron bars, which opening
constituted his only window. This last relic evidently belonged to the
dungeon in the Dominican Monastery, as did, in all probability, the bricks
also, and perhaps the door.


A new commission of four prelates had meantime been
named, under whose direction the trial began on the day-
appointed. The first sitting was disgraceful. No sooner did
he attempt a defence than " immediately, with one voice, many-
cried out against him."^^ " They all screamed above measure,"
he himself writes,^^ besetting him on every side, so that he
was obliged to turn continually and meet the vociferations
uttered on his right hand and on his left, behind his back and
before his face. He attempted to show that the articles
drawn from his writings had been misrepresented — " Stop
your sophistry, answer yes, or no !" was the cry. He cited
the church-fathers — " That does not belong here," called out
some. He was silent — " Now you are silent," exclaimed
others, " that shows that you really entertain the errors laid to
your charge !""^ Amidst all this wild confusion Hus main-
tained a dignified bearing and showed a manly self-possession.
As soon as order had, to some extent, been restored, he
remarked in a loud voice that rang through the apartment :
" I supposed, that in a Council like this there would be'more
dignity, order and piety." " What do you say ?" answered
the President, the Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, "you spoke more
humbly in the Castle." "Because, in the Castle, no one
screamed at me," replied Hus, " but here you all scream at
once."^^ This rebuke told. The Council deemed an imme-
diate adjournment to be the only way of escape from its
disgraceful position.

Two more hearings took place, on the seventh and eighth
of June, at both of which Sigismund was present and better
order observed. On the last occasion, however, a tumult
again broke out and grew so stormy that Hus, who had
suffered all night long from neuralgia, nearly fainted.^^

^^ Documenta Hus, p. 275.
^* Hus Briefe, p. 6.

^* The above is reproduced almost literally from the Mladenowic Relatio,
Documenta Hus, p. 275.

2' Hist., et Mon., I. pp. 77 and 78. Ep. xii.
26 Hist, et Mon., I. p. 31.


" They pressed upon me, with threats and deceitful words, to
induce me to recant," he wrote to his friends in Bohemia.^

Although it cannot be denied that an opportunity was given
him, at these two hearings, to defend his views, yet there was
a total lack of equity. His explanations, however biblical,
were disregarded ; doctrines were brought forward which he
had never taught; an absolute recantation was demanded,
without the least regard to the authority or genuineness of the
articles ; and — most shameful of all ! — their condemnation as
heretical had been agreed upon and actually committed to
writing before the trial began.^ " We do not recognize a
single trace of impartiality or real justice," writes Lechler.^^
A century later, Erasmus of Rotterdam forcibly said : " John
Hus was burned, not convicted."^"

The trial closed with a solemn asseveration on the part of
Hus, that he could not retract articles which he had never
taught, but that he would recant such as were his own, provided
they were shown to be false. On being led out, John von
Chlum warmly pressed his hand ; Sigismund, on the contrary,
not perceiving that the Bohemian Barons were still present,
urged that Hus, unless he recanted, should be burned alive,
and that, even in the event of a recantation, he should be
deprived of his priestly office and forbidden to return to

" Ibid, p. 78.

"8 Krumme!, p. 509 ; Lechler, II. p. 216.

»» Lechler Ibid.

'" " J. Hus exustus non convictus."

*' Documenta Hus, pp. 314 and 315.



The Condemnation and Martyrdom of Hus. A. D. 1415.

Injustice of the Council. — Reasons why Hus was condemned. — Sentence
delayed.— The Letters of Hus as an Evidence of his Faith and
Courage. — His written Prayer. — Attempts to induce him to recant. —
The fifteenth General Session of the Council in the Cathedral.— Hus
brought before this Meeting.— The Sermon. — Reading of the Articles
reputed as heretical. — Comments of Hus. — The Blush of Sigismund. —
The Sentence. — Hus degraded.— Delivered to the secular Authorities.
—On the way to Execution.— His last Words and Death.— His Ashes
cast into the Rhine.— Martyrdom of Jerome of Prague.— Reflections.

The eyes of John Hus were now opened. He saw the
great gathering of the heads of the Latin Church, the repre-
sentatives of its learning and piety, from whom he had
expected at least an impartial hearing, swayed by the grossest
injustice, practically rejecting the Bible as the norm of faith,
clinging to traditional dogmas of human invention, stooping
to the despicable trick of foisting on his system articles which
he had never taught, and treating him as a common criminal.
And yet the purpose for which this Council was convoked
and the end which he had in view, were identical. Both
desired to bring about a reformation of the Church ; and he
had not gone farther, or been bolder, in denouncing its sins
than some of tlie Fathers who sat in judgment upon him.
Why was it that he was rejected and that they were honored ?
The premises from which the Council and Hus severally
proceeded were discrepant and irreconcilable. The one upheld
the traditional authority of the Church to which authority
the individual must unconditionally submit in matters of
doctrine and faith ; the other maintained the right of private


research and criticism. The one wished to reform the Church
organically out of itself and through itself; the other contended
for a reformation according to the image of primitive Chris-
tianity as set forth in the New Testament.^ Hence the re-
peated protestations of Hus, that he was willing to be
" instructed/'^ meant nothing less than a refutation of his
doctrinal articles from the Holy Scriptures.

But even this view of the case does not offer a sufficient
explanation; there were other forces at work also. The
inveterate animosity of the Bohemian clergy whose sins he
had mercilessly uncovered, the unceasing machinations of his
personal foes, the bitter antagonism of the realistic and
nominalistic schools of philosophy, the national prejudices
of the Germans against the Bohemians, intensified by the
German exodus from the University of Prague, for which
occurrence Hus was held mainly responsible — all these things
had much to do with his condemnation.

Its formal sentence was delayed for an entire month, Hus
remaining a prisoner in the Franciscan Monastery. He knew
that death, in a cruel form, was approaching, and prepared
for it with the fortitude of the early martyrs. Sometimes a
faint hope that God might yet see fit to deliver him, came
into his mind, but it was like a dim ray of sunlight struggling
through the clouds. He wrote to his friends and bade them
farewell. These letters as well as others, sent from the
Dominican Monastery, bring out his character in beautiful
features and his faith in all its manly strength.^

The patience which he exercises amidst his sufferings is

1 Palacky, IV. pp. 308 and 309.

* The word which Hus invariably used was informari.

^ Four of these letters a^e found in Luther's German publication (Hus
Briefe); a number of them in his Latin Collection (Epistolae Hus); the
most of them in Hist, et Mon., pp. 72-108 ; and all of them, as far as they
are known to exist, in Documenta Hus, pp. 83-150, where they are given
in their only correct form. In the other works the translation of the
Bohemian letters is often faulty. Tlie title which Luther assigns to his
Latin collection is characteristic: Epistolae quaedam, etc., J. H., quae
solae satis declarant Papistarum pietates, esse Satanae furias.


wonderful. "They are," he says, "a deserved punishment
on account of my sins, and a sign of God's love."^ He
forgives his personal enemies and moves Palec to tears by
begging his pardon for the sharp words with which he has
addressed him. The smallest favors excite his deepest
gratitude. He can never forget the grasp of Baron Chlum's
hand at the Council ; he loves to tell of the kindness of his
keepers, especially of one Robert, at whose request he com-
poses, while the theologians of the Church are denouncing
his writings as full of pernicious errors, short religious treatises
which instruct this unlettered man and fill his heart with joy.
The ordeal that is drawing ever nearer leads him to Christ.
He does not rely upon himself, but upon divine grace and
strength. "O holy Lord Christ!" he writes, two weeks
before his death, in closing a letter to his friends at
Constance, "draw us after Thee. We are weak, and if
Thou dost not draw us, we cannot follow Thee. Give us a
strong and willing spirit, and when the weakness of the flesh
appears, let Thy grace go on before us, accompany and
follow us. For without Thee we can do nothing, least of
all suffer a cruel death for Thy sake. Grant a willing spirit,
a fearless heart, true faith, steadfast hope, perfect love, that
for Thy sake we may, with patience and joy, surrender our
life. Amen."^

It was the hope entertained both by the Council and
Sigismund that Hus would, in the end, recant, which delayed
the formal sentence. A recantation would give the victory to
the Fathers ; the intelligence of the growing excitement in
Bohemia and Moravia could not but impress the King.
Frequent attempts were made, by individual members of the
Council, to induce Hus to yield to its decision ; and, on the
first of July, a number of prelates and eminent divines
officially urged him to take this step. His answer was a
written declination. Four days later, July the fifth, Sigis-
mund sent deputies in his own name to make a last attempt.

* Hist, et Mon., I. p. 88. Ep. xxxvii.

* Documenta Hus, p. 131, Ep. 82.


Hus referred them to the paper with which ho had furnished
the first deputation ; that paper, he said, contained his final
reply. The next day, Saturday, July the sixth, was his forty-
sixth birthday; he celebrated it at the stake, sealing his
testimony with his blood.

The Council met in the Cathedral,^ and held its fifteenth
general session with extraordinary pomp. A strong guard
brought Hus to the portal, where he was obliged to wait until
the service of mass had been concluded, so that the holy
mysteries might not be profaned by his presence. On entering
he found, in the middle of the church, a small platform erected,
with a table and wooden rack on which hung the vestments of
a priest. He was assigned a place in front of this platform,
and immediately knelt in silent prayer.'^ That prayer was
heard. Hus was not only about to enter the noble army of
martyrs, but also showed that he deserves to be counted
among those heroes of faith " of whom the world was not
Avorthy," "who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought
righteousness, obtained promises." In that cathedral an
ordeal awaited him which was calculated to torment his mind
as severely as the fire would torment his body. He looked
around and saw an august and imposing assembly. There
was the King on an elevated throne, surrounded by the
magnates of the Empire — the Elector Palatine Louis with
the imperial globe, the Count of Nuremberg with the sceptre,
the Duke of Bavaria with the crown, a Hungarian prince
with the sword, and many other nobles in splendid armor
and nodding plumes. There were the President of the
Council, the Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, the other Cardinals
and many prelates, robed in rich vestments and wearing

^ The Cathedral of Constance, begun in 1048, is a large Gothic but other-
wise unsightly building, which has been greatly changed since the time of
the Council, both internally and externally, presenting therefore a very
diferent appearance now from what it did then.

'' Krummel, p. 537, says that Hus was made to ascend the platform as
soon as he entered the church, and that he remained there until his degra-
dation. Mladenowic, who is our principal authority, particularly says.
Doc. Hus, p. 317, that he took his stand in front of the platform.


scarlet hats or jeweled mitres. There was an array of
learned doctors of theology, of abbots and priests and monks,
from almost every part of the Christian world. There,
finally, appeared a throng of citizens and visitors all eager
to see and hear, and filling the church to its utmost capacity.
In the presence of this assembly Hus was to be sentenced
and degraded. Every eye was upon him, but he flinched
not ; and, as occasion offered, uttered words so telling, so full
of trust, so mighty in their power, that they have inspired
the good and the true in all the centuries since. For it was
not he that spoke, but the Spirit of his Father spoke in him.^
The proceedings began with a sermon, preached by the
Bishop of Lodi, on the words of St. Paul, " that the body
of sin might be destroyed,"^ which words he applied to Hus
as the heretic who was to be destroyed and to Sigismund as
God's agent in so glorious a work, which would bring him
" perpetual praise." Thereupon a report of the past proceed-
ings was communicated, including the articles extracted as
heretical from the writings of Hus. As soon as the first of
these articles had been read, he protested that it did not
correctly set forth his views, but was ordered to remain silent ;
and although he begged, for God's sake, to be allowed to
speak, this request was refused and the vergers were told to
silence him by force, if necessary. When he heard this, he
fell upon his knees and lifted up his folded hands in mute
appeal to heaven. The reading continued, but so flagrantly
untrue were some of the accusations, that he made another
effort to be heard and succeeded in interposing several com-
ments, adding, in a loud voice, while his eyes were fixed full
upon Sigismund, that in reliance on the safe-conduct granted
him by the King, which was to protect him from violence, he
had come to Constance of his own free will, in order to give
an account of his faith. As he uttered these words a deep

« Matt. X, 20.

* Rom. vi, 6. The sermon is given in full in Hist, et Mon., I. pp. 33
and 34.


blush overspread the royal countenance.^" Additional formal-
ities having been gone through with according to canonical
law, Antonius, Bishop of Concordia, an aged prelate of vener-
able aspect, ascended the pulpit and published the formal
sentence : The writings of Hus were to be publicly committed
to the flames ; he was to be degraded from the priesthood and
to be punished as a heretic." " Lord Jesus," he said as soon
as this sentence had been read, " forgive mine enemies ! Thou
knowest that they have borne false witness against me. For-
give them for Thy great mercy's sake!" At this prayer the
eyes of many prelates flamed with indignation and a mocking
laugh burst from their lips.

The ceremony of degradation had been committed to six
Bishops, who now commanded Hus to ascend the platform
and array himself in the priestly vestments which were hang-
ing there. When fully robed they once more exhorted him
to recant and abjure his errors. Facing the vast assembly
he spoke touching words, in a voice almost choked with
emotion. *' Behold, these Bishops demand of me that I shall
recant and abjure. I fear to do this. For, if I complied,
I would be false in the eyes of God and sin against my
own conscience and divine truth ; seeing that I have never
taught what has been falsely charged against me, and that I
have rather written and preached the contrary. There is

^° Lechler, Berger and others omit the incident of the blush ; Alzog, in
his Roman Catholic Manual of Universal Church History, Cincinnati,
1876, Vol. II. p. 964, denies it and pronounces it to be an invention of the
Bohemians, basing this assertion upon the fact that Mladenowic says
nothing of it in his Relatio. Mladenowic, however, does report the inci-
dent, not in his Relatio, but in his brief Bohemian chronicle which, as
Palacky, IV. p. 364, Note 470, tells us, is found in a Latin version in Hist,
et Mon., II. pp. 515-520 (Vide p. 518). Von der Hardt, IV. p. 393, also
relates the occurrence, but has evidently taken it from the Latin version
of Mladenowic's chronicle, for he uses the very words there found. Of
modern authorities, besides Palacky, Krummel, p. 541, Gillett, II, p. 55,
Czerwenka, I. p. 105, and Neander, IV. p. 488, all accept the incident as

" The sentence which was very lengthy, the first part relating to the
writings of Hus and tiie second to himself, is given in full in Hist, et
Mon., I. pp. 35 and 36.


another reason why I cannot recant. I would thereby offend
not only the many souls to whom I have proclaimed the
Gospel, but others also who are preaching it in all faithful-
ness."^^ " Now we see," exclaimed the Bishops, " how
hardened he is in his wickedness and obstinate in his heresy !"
Ordering him to descend, they pressed around him and
snatched from his hand the chalice, saying : " We take from
thee, thou cursed Judas, who hast forsaken the council of
peace and become one with the Jews, this cup of salvation !"
" But I," he answered, " confide in the Lord God Almighty,
for whose name I patiently bear this blasphemy, and who will
not take from me the cup of salvation, but will permit me, I
am firmly persuaded, to drink it, this day, in His kingdom."
Then they tore from his person the priestly vestments, piece
by piece, each with a more fearful malediction, Hus replying
with words of faith and hope. When the tonsure was to be
effaced, a most unseemly wrangle occurred as to the manner
in which this should be done, and whether a razor or shears
should be used; at last it was cut in four directions with
shears, and thus the last symbol of his priestly office dis-
appeared. A paper cap, a yard high, in the shape of a
pyramid, displaying the hideous picture of three devils
struggling with one another for his soul, and the words Hie
est haeresiarcha^^ was then put upon his head, the Bishops
saying: "Thus we deliver your soul to the devil !" Clasping
his hands and lifting his eyes to heaven Hus replied : " But
I commit it to my most gracious Lord Jesus Christ ! For
my sake He bore, though innocent, a much harder and
heavier crown of thorns; why should I poor sinner not wear
this lighter though blasphemous one for His name's and
truth's sake ?"

A formal announcement followed, that the degradation was
completed and that Hus no longer had part in the Church,
but was delivered to the secular arm for punishment. Sigis-

^^ Mladenowic Relatio, Doc. Hus, p. 320. Other sources give the address
in a somewhat different form.
" " This is the Arch-heretic."


raund charged the Elector Palatine with its execution ; the
Elector told the burgher-master of Constance to issue the
necessary orders ; the burgher-master commanded his bailiffs
and the executioners, who were in waiting, to convey Hus
to the stake and forthwith burn him alive. When these
directions had been severally given, the Council continued its

He was led first to the square in front of the Cathedral,
that he might witness the burning of his writings. This
spectacle provoked but a smile ; for he well knew that how-
ever many copies might be destroyed at Constance, there were
far more at Prague and throughout Bohemia. Then, walking
between two servants of the Elector, guarded by more than
one thousand armed men, and followed by a great multitude,
he went forth to die. His step was firm, his bearing manly,
his countenance full of joy. " He proceeded to his punish-
ment as to a feast. Not a word escaped him which gave
indication of the least weakness."^^ About eleven o'clock the
procession reached the fatal spot. It was a meadow, known
as the Bruhl, outside of the city walls, to the left of the road
to Gottlieben. As soon as he came near to the stake he
knelt and prayed the thirty-first and fifty-first Psalms, with
great fervency of heart, so that the people standing by were
deeply moved. While thus engaged the paper cap fell from
his head ; one of the bailiffs replaced it with a brutal jest.
The executioners now ordered him to rise. He obeyed,
saying : " Lord Jesus Christ, this cruel and terrible punish-
ment I will cheerfully and humbly bear for the sake of Thy
holy Gospel and of the preaching of Thy blessed Word !"
His wish to address the people was refused by the Elector,
who commanded him to be burned without further delay,

^* This is the testimony of that elegant Roman Catholic writer Aeneas
Sylvius, afterward Pope Pius the Second. He speaks both of Hus and
Jerome of Prague, and adds : " In the midst of the flames they sang
hymns uninterruptedly to their last breath. No philosopher ever suffered
death with such constancy as they endured the flames." Aen. Syl. Cap.
xxxvi, p. 33.


granting him time merely to bid farewell to his keepers. He
was bound to the stake with seven moistened thongs and a
heavy chain, which was wound round his neck. " Willingly,"
he said, " do I suifer myself to be bound with this chain for
the sake of the holy name of my Lord Jesus Christ, who,
for my sake, was far more cruelly bound." Some of the
bystanders remarking that his face was turned to the East —
a thing unseemly in the case of a heretic — his position was
changed so that he looked to the West. Fagots of dry wood
and straw saturated with pitch were now piled about him up
to his chin. Everything was ready for the torch. In that
supreme moment Count Oppenheim, the Marshal of the
Empire, accompanied by the Elector, rode up to the stake
and offered him his life, if he would recant. " What shall
I recant," was his answer, in a voice clear and loud, "not
being conscious of any errors ? I call God to witness that I
have neither taught nor preached what has been falsely laid
to my charge, but that the end of all my preaching and
writings was to induce my fellow-men to forsake sin. In the
truth which I have proclaimed, according to the Gospel of
Jesus Christ and the expositions of holy teachers, I will, this
day, joyfully die." At these words both the nobles clapped
their hands and rode off. It was the signal for the execution.
The torch was applied. As soon as Hus saw the smoke rising
he began to sing :

Christe, fill Dei vivi, miserere nobis !
Christe, fili Dei vivi, miserere mei /
Qui natus es ex Maria virgine — ^*

here the wind drove the flames into his face. His lips con-
tinued to move, but his last words had been spoken. The
agony was short, and then

" Hus, the victim of perfidious foes,
To heaven upon a fiery chariot rose."

^' "Christ, Thou Son of the living God, have mercy upon us!
Christ, Thou Son of the living God, have mercy upon me!
Thou who wast born of the Virgin Mary — "

— Mladenowic Relatio, Documenta Hus, p. 323.


When the fire had spent its strength, there appeared a
charred post and hanging to it a ghastly corpse. Both were
torn down by the executioners. They crushed the bones,
cleft the skull, heaped up fresh fuel, and reduced these

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 8 of 64)