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parishes, in England there were fifty-two thousand,
richly endowed, besides collegiate churches, monas-
teries, and hospitals.

4. The arguments of the English prelates pre-
vailed, and they were admitted to sit in the Council.
Four presidents were named — the Patriarch of
Antioch for France, Anthony Archb'shop of Rigen
for Italy, Nicholas Archbishop of Genusuensis for
Germany, and Nicholas Bi=^hop of Bath for ^-ng-

This is not the place to give an exact report of all
that passed in the Council. Many tomes might
be filled with the proceedings. We propose to
offer little but what has a direct bearing on the



cases of those champions for a reform in the church,
Avho were the especial objects of priestly rage, from
the fearless hostility which they had opposed to the
frauds of the Pope and his creatures. The Council
assembled on the 28th of November 1414, but the
Emperor Sigismund, who was expected to grace it
with his presence, not having arrived, it was pro-
rogued till the 17th of December. A further pro-
rogation was then deemed necessary, as the coming
of Sigismund was still deferred. He at length
reached Constance on the 23rd of that month, at
midnight, accompanied by his empress.

Like the first assemblings of all great bodit^s, the
opening formalities were, comparitively, of little
interest : they consisted mainly of resolutions decla-
ratory of the legal constitution of the Council, and
of their right to continue their sittings, even if the
Pope should withdraw, or attempt to dissolve them,
and of regulations for their future guidance and
the preservation of good order. The last object,
liowever, was but very imperfectly obtained, and
much confusion ensued, so that, in their fifteenth
session, it was judged necessary to command that
silence should be kept by all parties, on pain of ex-
communication. It was declared that "the great
curse should fall on any person, high or low, — em-
]>eror, king, and cardinal not excepted, — who
should disturb the council with any manner of
noise, by hand, foot, or voice."


The second representation made by the nobles
of Bohemia in favour of Huss was not passed over
unnoticed. In the name of the council, the Patri-
arch of Antioch took upon himself to reply, that
injustice should not be done, and that, if the ad-
versaries of the Bohemian had brought charges
against him which were unfounded, the result
would be to cover them with ignominy. But a
peremptory refusal answered the request which
had been pressed, to liberate liim on security being
given for his appearance. To that, he said, the
council could not agree, in this man's case, since
the prisoner was one on whose faith or credit no
reliance could be placed. He however promised
that Huss should be brought to Constance and
permitted fully to speak his mind before the

The assurance that he should be heard was
deemed an important concession. At one time,
the venerable and sacred persons who formed the
council entertained the monstrous thought of con-
demning John Huss, unseen and unheard, on the
mere view of his writings, or on the evidence
which I'elentless enemies volunteered against him.
And such a course they held to be consistent
with religion, and likely to gratify a God of
mercy, whose name, by such horrors, they de-
clared, with sickening blasphemy, it was their



sole object " to glorify." To glorify ! — as if
the purity, before which " all our righteousness
ii* but as filthy rags/' could derive new lustre from
mortal cruelty, rendered more odious by associa-
tion with pretended adoration of everlasting be-
nevolence !

On the same day on which the nobles received
the answer of the patriarch, they made a suppli-
catory representation to the Emperor Sigismund,
in which they set forth the appeal they had for-
warded to the council, with " one mind, consent,
and accord," in favour of Huss. In conclusion,
they said, — ■

''We, therefore, most humbly require and pray
\ our princely majesty, that, both for the love of
justice, and also the fair renown of the famous
land of Bohemia, whereof we acknowledge you
the undoubted true lord and heir successor, you,
looking to the import of your safe-conduct, will
favourably countenance the mo&t reasonable and
just supplication made to the council aforesaid, and
lend your helping hand that they may effectually
liear us. And lest the enemy of the fame and
renown of Bohemia should hereafter slander us by
saying we have urged an unreasonable prayer, we
have desired that they would be pleased to
authorise our said supplication, by setting their
hand and seal to it; and we most earnestly pray


your highness, in like manner, that you will vouch-
safe to give us your testimony."

To this proper and very respectful application
the emperor gave no answer. Already his resolu-
tion had begun to waver, or he had made up his
mind that no faith was to be kept with one accused
of heresy, and that the honour of a great mo-
narch could not be tarnished by quibbling fraud
and cold-hearted treachery.

The 5th day of June was named by the Patri-
arch of Antioch for bringing John Huss before the
council, when he promised those who had in-
terested themselves in his behalf, that he should
have free liberty to speak his mind, and " be
lovingly and gently heard." In the convent of
Franciscans on that day, the cardinals, bishops,
and priests assembled in great numbers, and in
awful form ; and, notwithstanding the promise that
had been made, it was proposed that, before John
Huss was admitted to their presence, they should
decide on the articles which they had gathered
from his books, and on the answers which they had
already received. This flagrant violation of good
faith seemed about to be resolved upon, when a
notary, one Peter Mlademewitz, who had much
regard for Huss, hastened to make the Baron de
Chlume and his friends acquainted with what was
intended. They lost no time in communicating it


to the emperor, and, in that instance, so effectual
were their representations, that Sigismund, Louis
the County Palatine of Heidelberg, and the Lord
Frederick Burgrave of Nuremberg, declared that
nothing should be done against Huss by the coun-
cil in his absence, and, in consequence, the pro-
ceedings were suspended.

The Baron de Chlume and another of his friends
humanely endeavoured to improve the time thus
gained, by forwarding a digest of the opinions en-
tertained by Huss, to the princes who had inter-
fered, and to several members of the Council.
These epitomes were transmitted to the cardinals
and bishops, and on the following day, when their
author next appeared before the Council, they
were produced against him. Strong in the recti-
tude of his intentions, he met the charge without
any symptoms of shrinking alarm, and avowed
that he had written the matter objected to.

6. Most extraordinary was the scene which fol-
lowed. In these times a tumult in a court of
justice, though only in approbation of a righteous
decision, is uniformly reprehended as a sin against
decorum j but in the Council of Constance, the
members of which claimed reverence for their
sanctity, the disorder which prevailed, after the
first article had been read against Huss, was so
great, that the prisoner in vain attempted to speak,


and the defence, on which he had confidently
relied, drawn as it was from Scripture, was refused
a hearing. He manfully strove against the op-
position, formidable and overpowering as it was ;
but, if he for a moment succeeded in raising his
voice above the clamour, an insulting sneer im-
mediately interrupted the unfortunate speaker, and a
yell of fiendlike triumph rendered it impossible for
him to proceed with any hope of being listened to,
by those whom he had weakly imagined were not
inaccessible to reason, and not insensible to, or un-
mindful of, the claims of justice and religion. Huss
often renewed the attempt to make his true senti-
ments known, but to no purpose ; and he at length
abandoned it in despair, and stood silent before the
Council. Great was the general exultation then.
** He is dumb," " He can no longer pretend to defend
his damnable errors," were the cries which burst
forth in that " sacred assembly," as it was called.
These at length subsided, and an air of modera-
tion was assumed. In the excited state of the
Council, it was resolved to proceed no further at
that time. The prisoner was ordered to be re-
moved, and to be brought up again the next day.

On the 7th of July the fate of this good man
and intrepid reformer was to be decided. An al-
most total eclipse of the sun occurred, but this celes-
tial sign, though viewed with awe, did not induce


the cardinals and bishops to relax in the pursuit of
the victim they had enthralled. Far from regard-
ing it as an indication of Divine wrath, when the
great orb of light regained its wonted lustre, they
conceived it but to figure that thus should the
church regain all its pristine splendour, when the
gloom of reform should be subdued by the destruc-
tion of its generous advocate, Huss. At an early hour
the council resumed its sitting, and the prisoner, es-
corted by a body of armed men, was brought before
them. The charges previously exhibited were then
repeated; and some of the Bohemian priests spoke
to his having publicly maintained those opinions
which were denounced as errors. He solemnly de-
nied that they were his. Questioned on the subject
of the sacrament, he admitted that after consecra-
tion the bread used in it became the body of Christ,
but still considering that in one sense it remained
bread. He was accused of crafty evasion, and taunted
with imitating the artful shiftings of Wickliffe.
Two of the English prelates pressed him closely on
this point. Huss admitted, what many subsequent
reformers could never be brought to comprehend,
— that the bread used became the identical body of
the Saviour, which was born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered death on the cross, and rose from the grave
to sit on the right hand of God ; but this was not
going far enough for his examiners, who held that,


because he did not consider the bread to be wholly
annihilated, he meant to maintain the fearful heresy
that material bread still remained after the solemn,
sanctifying words had been pronounced. One
Stokes, an Englishman, supported this charge,
and decared to the Council that, being at Prague,
he had seen a treatise which was ascribed to Huss,
and therein it was positively affirmed that mate-
rial bread existed, though consecration had been
performed. Huss pointedly declared, but with
reverend courtesy to the witness, that he had
written no such work. The priests severally
made oath that the evidence they had previously
given was correct j and one of them, named John
Protyway, a parish-priest of Prague, added that
Huss had spoken disparagingly of the authority of
St. Gregory. Huss strongly denied it, and said
he had ever held St. Gregory to be a most holy
doctor of the church, and a virtuous man. This
had no effect on his judges. His case was truly
hopeless. If he stated his thoughts to be in unison
with theirs, he was accused of craft and dissimula-
tion ; and if he differed from them, he was con-
demned for obstinacy and error.

The man accused of heresy was not to be endured
by such judges. Even where they wrung from
weakness the submission demanded, still they re-
mained unsatisfied. Offers of pardon were reite-


rated to the last moment of the sufferer's life ; but
the victim had good reason to apprehend, that, if
it were accepted, he could hardly escape. The
enemies of reform thirsted for blood, and the .un-
happy man who attempted to escape from their
grasp was still rancorously pursued. His footsteps
were unceasingly watched by the instruments of
persecution, who were ready to magnify the slight-
est offence into an enormous crime. Sometimes
those who recanted were detained in prison, and
subjected to a series of hardships and indignities,
which rendered the life they retained valueless. A
knowledge of these facts possibly rendered Huss
and others more steadfast than they might else have
been found. There can, however, be no doubt that
the Bohemian's heart was sincerely engaged in the
cause, and his firmness could neither be shaken by
temptation or danger.




t. Continuation of proceedings against Huss. — 2. John Gei-
son. — ^3. Husa vindicates the propriety of appealing from an
earthly tribunal to Christ. — 4. Huss a pictorial satirist. —
5. The emperor's safe-conduct no protection. — 6, Cruelty of
Sigisinund. — 7. Huss defends himself, but is not listened
to. — 8. Epitome of his opinions.— 9. Harsh treatment of the
reformer.- — 10. An imperial disputant. — 11. Bodily suffer-
ings of Huss while in prison.

1. Few minds could have continued so long die
unequal struggle. With every display of power
and authority, and every disposition in connexion
with the former to exercise the latter with measure-
less severity, the council could not intimidate or
silence one patient but determined man. He was
insultingly mocked as an enemy to truth. The
Cardinal of Florence expressed vast surprise that
Huss should expect to gain credence, when he im-
pugned the testimony of so many good men.

*' I take God and my conscience to witness,'^ the
prisoner earnestly replied, "that these men have not
Vol. II. G


feared to allege against me that which they never
heard. Were they as many more in number as
they are, much more^ and beyond all comparison,
should I esteem the witness of my Lord God/'

The cardinal answered him by declaring that
the council must act, not on his declarations, but
on the facts proved by unexceptionable evidence.
He was satisfied that the witnesses bore him no
malice ; and remarked in particular that Stephen
Palletz, who had been charged with misrepresent-
ing his opinions by garbling his writings, he (the
cardinal) considered, far from doing so, had, in
many instances, softened down passages to favour
him. A like charge, he said, had been with equfeil
injustice preferred against several eminent men,
and, amongst others, against Gerson the Chancellor
of Paris, ^' than whom," added the cardinal,
" there is not a more excellent, pious, and Christian
man in the whole world."

2. If infuriated bigotry, if a raging desire to
shed the blood of those he deemed in error, consti-
tute a claim to piety, John Gerson merited the
panegyric of the Cardinal of Florence. He held,
that to draw the sword of justice against heretics
was an act of mercy, as well as a duty. The in-
activity of Wenceslaus King of Bohemia, while the
new principles were making rapid conquests of the
hearts of his subjects, Gerfon, and those who


thought with him, fiercely condemned as an in-
stance of impious negligence. However clearly it
was shown that reform was wanted in the church,
he could not for a moment, even while constrained
10 admit its necessity, be induced to regard with
complacency the labours of Huss, and of his friend
and pupil Jerome. The doctrines attributed to
the Bohemian were formally condemned by the
university of Paris, acting under the influence
of Gerson. His signature authorised the public
act. In this furious document it was admitted
that there was ample room for reform in the church,
notwithstanding that by him it was opposed with
Buch steadfast resolution. ** Though there ap-
pears," says this act, ^* on the part of these heretics,
some zeal against the vices of the bishops, whichy
in truth, are very great and manifest, still their
zeal is defective, as it is not sufficiently enlight-
ened. A discreet mind tolerates and deplores the
gins which it finds in the house of God, when it
cannot altogether remove them. It however is
impossible to correct vice by vice, and error by
error ; as the devil is not expelled by Beelzebub,
but by the spirit of the Almighty, whose will it is
that the correction of abuses be undertaken with
great prudence and due regard to existing circum-

Gjrson was learned and ingenious, and, in the



estimation of many, intrepid, and eminently pious*
But he was of opinion that tlie name of religion
could be properly used, by artifice, to form a snare
for those who, unsuspectingly, might too readily
believe what they were told by their king or their
bishop. Of this we have a pregnant instance in
the harangue made by him, in the name of the
university of Paris, to King Charles the Sixth
and all his council, setting forth the principles by
which both the king and the kingdom ought to be

Huss was formally arraigned before the council
for teaching and defendino; certain erroneous doc-
trines, and more especially for favouring the
opinions of Wickliffe, even though he knev/ them
to be condemned at Rome. He answered with
great readiness, denying that he was guilty of what
had been urged asrainst him. Tf Wickliffe had
sowed errors in Enoland, he considered the Eno;-

* " Qui n'a foy a Dieu, son souverain Seigneur, et a sry
mesmes, comme la gardera il a autruy. Qui sibi nequam cui
bonus? Exemple, notez in historia tripartita, comment Con-
stantin esprouva ses bons amis : II fist crier, que tous ceux qu i
voudroient renier la loy et foy Crestienne seroient ses bons
amis et prochains conseillers; les aulres s'en partirent tantost.
Plusieurs renierent la loy: aucun s'en partirent en h, gardant.
Constantin mua sa sentence : il retint les loyaux a Dieu, en
disant, ' Si vous ne gardez foy a vostre Dieu, quelle esperance
doy-ie avoir que loyaut6 vous me faciez ?' "

wickliffe's works burnt. 65

lisli ought to look to that ; but, for his own part,
those opinions of Wickliffe with which he was ac-
quainted were such as he durst not condemn.
The undiscriuiinating fury with which the writ-
ings of that eminent man had been pursued, he did
not fear to expose and reprehend. Many doctors
of Prague, he affirmed, held parts of them in great
respect; but in consequence of an order from the
Pope, that all men should give up Wickliffe's
books, he, when it was intended to burn them at
Prague, had presented such as he had to the arch-
bishop, and requested him, if he found any errors
or heresy in them, to mark the same, and he would
publish them to the world; but the archbishop,
instead of complying with his request, had com-
mitted the works of the English reformer to the
flames without reading them. The bull, or order,
under which this was done, was said to have been
pi'ocured, by artful misrepresentations, from Pope
Alexander the Fifth ; and a representation was
made by many of the members of the university of
Prague, to stay the proceedings under it. An appeal
to the king on this subject met with a favourable
reception, and the archbishop, in obedience to the
royal will, consented to let the matter rest till the
books had been further examined. How he kept
his promise we learn from what Huss thought it
pertinent to mention while before the council.


66 wickliffe's works supplied by cobham.

3. " After this," said he, " Pope Alexander the
Fifth being dead, the archbishop, fearing lest the
bull received from him would not continue in force
under the new pontiff, called his adherents about
hira, and, shutting the gates of his court, being
guardetl by soldiers, he burned all Wickliffe's
books which had been there collected, and com-
manded that, from that time forward, no man
should teach in chapels under pain of excommu-
nication. Thereupon," he continued, "I desired
to appeal to Pope Alexander, but, he being dead, I
appealed to his successor. At Rome, for the space
of two 3'^ears, ray advocates applied for a hearing in
vain. Then did I appeal to the high judge of all,
even to Jesus Christ."

Huss had been well supplied with the writings
of the English reformer. They were prepared and
sent for him by Lord Cobham. Not fewer tlian
two hundred volumes are recorded to have been for-
warded to him for perusal and distribution, — a
splendid instance of the generosity, as well as of the
zeal, of the English champion of religion, purified
from the vices by which impious men had laboured
but too successfully to degrade it.

A question was raised as to the lawfulness of the
appeal he stated himself to have made to the Savi-
our of man. The prisoner ably defended it by a
reference to what was done in earthly courts; and


as, there, nothing was more common than, in a
case where wrong was done by an inferior judt^e,
to appeal to higher authority, he contended that
nothing could be more correct than for one suffer-
ing, like himself, under an earthly judge, to appeal
to Jesus Christ.

But this reasoning was treated with scorn, as
puerile in the extreme; and it was now alleged that
he had, on many occasions, sounded the praises of
the English heretic Wickliffe. Among other things,
it was said he had declared that once, when he
was confronted by his enemies in a church, the
door burst open, and they were in great danger of
being destroyed by a vivid blast of lightning; and
such was his conviction that the detested Wick-
liffe was the favourite of Heaven, that he had been
heard to wish his soul miglu reach the same place
where, he felt assured, the spirit of the English re-
former reposed.

That he had spoken to this eiiect, he could not
deny ; but, in explanation, he told the council that,
njany years before any of his writings on divinity
found their way into Bohemia, he had seen certain
works on philosophy from his pen, which he
greatly admired, and, when informed of the goodly
life which their author had led, he had then ex-
pressed doubt whether such a man could be damned,


and wished his own soul might be admitted to the
same place where that of WicklifFe was.

Such an admission was a great triumph to his
accusers ; and, forgetful of all decorum, they
mocked the speaker with a burst of laughter. To
suppose WicklifFc's ideas on any subject could be
rational and good, they held to be a gross absurd-
ity ; and to doubt that a preacher so much out of
favour with them, now that he was in his grave,
could be other than doomed to everlasting perdi-
tion, was an extravagance so outrageous, that it
provoked their mirth.

One really serious charoe was brought against
Huss. It was this, — that he had counselled his
hearers, after the example of Moses, that every man
should resist with the sword all who might be
found to oppose the doctrines he taught ; that bro-
ther should not spare brother, nor neighbour neigh-
bour. He strongly denied that he had acted such
a part, or advised his congregation to assume other
armour than that commended by the apostle — the
sword and helmet of salvation. Of a material
sword he had never spoken. The charge, never-
theless, was pressed ; and it was asserted that the
clergy of Bohemia had been despoiled, and reduced
to great distress, in consequence of his preaching.
A doctor, named Naso, who had been in the court


of King Wenceslaus, came forward to support this
accusation ; and the Cardinal of Cambray, one of
the judges, declared he had had the fact several
years before from the lips of certain Bohemian pre-
lates. Huss repeated his denial, but owned that he
had approved of some of the resolutions of the
king, which had been condemned at Rome.

4. One offence, which had greatly outraged the
Pope and those who were now joining with him to
put down heresy, and which had contributed in no
slight degree to the gall and rancour which swelled
their hearts, was not forgotten on this occasion.
It appears, certain pictures had been produced by
him, or at his suggestion. One qualification Huss
possessed, which it is not very common to find
associated with meekness and devotion like his : he
had a keen sense of the ridiculous, and was a pow-
erful satirist. His enemies writhed under his lash.
They were outrageously indignant at the paintings
in question, which placed the Pope and his cardi-
nals in a situation so exquisitely farcical, that, to
all but those whose interests were bound up with

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Online LibraryThomas GaspeyThe life and times of the good Lord Cobham (Volume 2) → online text (page 4 of 18)