Letters of John Huss Written During His Exile and Imprisonment/Letter 40, To some Friends
TO SOME FRIENDS.
A multitude of people have come to exhort me, and amongst them many doctors, but few brethren, as the Apostle has said. They were prodigal in their counsels and phrases; they told me, that I could and I ought to abjure my scruples in submitting my will to the Holy Church, which the Council represents; but not one of them can avoid the difficulty, when I place him in my situation, and ask him, if, being certain of having never preached, or defended, or entertained heresy, he could, in safe conscience, formally confess that he abjured an error which he never supported. Some of them stated, that it was not necessary to abjure, but merely to renounce the heresy held or not held; others maintain, that to abjure signifies to deny what is attested rightly or erroneously. I would willingly swear, I replied to them, that I have never preached, held, or defended, the errors which are imputed to me; and that I will never preach, hold, or defend them.
And when I spoke thus, they immediately retired. Others insist that, supposing a man really innocent were found in the Church, and this man, through humility, confess himself guilty, he would be well deserving: there upon some one cited, amongst the ancient fathers, a certain saint, in whose bed had been covertly put a prohibited book. Inculpated and examined on this subject, the saint denied the fault, but his enemies answered, “Thou hast concealed the book, and put it in thy bed;” and this book having been found there, the saint confessed himself culpable. Some supported this opinion by the example of a certain holy woman, who lived in a monastery in the disguise of a man. She was accused of being the father of a child. She confessed it, and kept the child: her innocence was afterwards discovered with her sex. Many other means were also proposed to me.
An Englishman addressed me thus, “Were I in your place, I would abjure; for in England, all the masters, and all men held in consideration, who were suspected of adhering to the opinions of Wycliffe, have been severally cited before the archbishop, and have abjured.”
Lastly, yesterday they were all agreed in engaging me to place myself at the mercy of the Council.
Paletz came at my entreaty, for I desired to confess to him. I asked the commissioners, and those who exhorted me, to give me for confessor either him or another. And I said, “Paletz is my principal adversary; I wish to confess to him; or, at least, give me in his stead a man qualified to hear me: I conjure you to do so in the name of the Lord.” This last desire was accorded: I confessed to a monk, who piously and most patiently listened to me; he gave me absolution, and counselled me, but did not enjoin me, to follow the advice of others.
Paletz came: he wept with me when I besought him to pardon me for having uttered before him some offensive words, and especially for having called him a forger of writings. And as I reminded him that, in a public audience, when he heard me deny the articles cited by the witnesses, he rose up and cried: “This man does not believe in God,”—he denied it, but truly he said it, and perhaps you heard him do so. I reminded him, in what manner he said to me in prison, in presence of the Commissioners, “Since the birth of Christ, no heretic has written more dangerously than Wycliffe and thou.” He also insisted, that all those who have read my sermons are infected with the error concerning the sacrament of the altar. He has now denied it, adding, “I did not say all, but a great number.” And yet it is certain that he said it. And when I took him up by saying, “Oh! Master Paletz, how much you wrong me in accusing my auditory of heresy!” he did not reply anything, and he exhorted me, like the others, always repeating, that through me and mine much harm had been done. He told me, also, that he possessed a letter addressed to the Bohemians, in which was written, that, at the Chateau, I sang some verses on my captivity. In the name of Heaven, take great care of my letters: do not let them be carried to any clerical person, and let our Seigniors only trust some laymen. Inform me whether they accompany the Emperor. Jesus Christ, by his grace, preserves me immoveable in my first resolution.
John Huss, in hope, servant of God.
- Hist. et Monum. Johann. Huss, Epist. xxx.