The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe/Volume 3/The Letter of Pope John to King Wenceslaus

The Letter of Pope John to King Wenceslaus.

John, bishop, servant of God's servants, to his well-beloved son in Christ, Wenceslaus, king of Romans and of Bohemia, greeting and apostolical benediction. Among other desires and delights of our heart, who, although, unworthy, represent the room of Christ here in earth, this doth chiefly redound to our singular comfort, so often as we do hear of the brotherly entreaty of peace and concord (by which concord kingdoms do increase, as, contrary, by discord they are diminished) which is between your honour and our well-beloved in the Lord, Sigismund, your brother German and cousin, for the noble king of the Romans, &c.

And, furthermore, it followeth in these words:

And as we have cause to joy at the premises, so likewise again the heavy rumours which are here, do trouble and damp our minds. For we hear that in divers places under your dominion, there be certain who do follow and lean to the errors of that arch-heretic Wickliff, whose books have been long since condemned in the general Roman council, to be erroneous, heretical, and swerving from the catholic faith. And furthermore, which is worst of all, the said persons cleaving to the opinions of the heretics (lest they should be corrected by their superior powers for their excess, to cover their naughtiness and stubbornness in despising the commandments of the apostolical seat), do openly teach disobedience and contempt of the keys and ecclesiastical censure, to the subversion of the apostolical dignity, setting at nought the decrees of the holy fathers and canons. Wherefore we do exhort your worship, for the mercy of our God, as heartily as we may or can, that it would please you, as we desire and hope you will, so effectually to show forth your regal power, both for the glory of God, and defence of the catholic faith, which you go about to defend, and for the conservation of your kingly name, state, and honour, and for the prosperous and safe government of your kingdom and dominions, as it becometh a catholic prince; whereby this blot of heresy, which doth so lamentably and miserably spring up and creep in those parts, and doth so infect the minds of mortal men, to the destruction of their souls, and doth sequester them from the congregation of the pure and catholic faith and truth, may be rooted out, &c.

Given at Bononia, in the ides of June, in the fifth year of our popedom, &c.

In this epistle of pope John above prefixed, forasmuch as mention is made of a certain council before holden at Rome (which was four years before) against the articles and books of John Wickliff, it shall not be impertinent, nor out of purpose, to repeat a certain merry history, and worthy otherwise to be noted, written by Nicholas Clemangis, of a certain spirit which ruled the popish councils: his words are these:

An owl appears at the council of pope John.
"The same pope called a council at Rome about four years before, at the earnest suit of divers men; and a mass of the Holy Ghost being said at the entrance into the said council according to the accustomed manner, the council being set, and the said John sitting highest in a chair prepared for him for that purpose: behold, an ugly and dreadiul owl, or, as the common proverb is, the evil sign of some mischance of death to follow, coming out of the back half of him. Hew to and fro with her evil-favoured voice, and standing upon the middle beam of the church, cast her staring eyes upon the pope sitting. The whole company began to marvel to see die night-crow, whicli is wont to abide no light, how she should, in the midday, come in the face of such a multitude; and judged, not witliout cause, that it was an ill-favoured token. 'For behold,' said they (whispering one in another's ear), 'the spirit appeareth in the shape of an owl.' And as they stood beholding one another, and advising the pope, scarcely could they keep their countenance from laughter. John himself, upon whom the owl steadfastly looked, blushing at the matter, began to sweat, and to fret and fume with himself, and not finding by what other means he might salve the matter, being so confused, dissolving the council, rose up and departed. After that there followed another session: in which the owl again, after the manner aforesaid, although, as I believe, not called, was present, looking steadfastly upon the bishop; whom he beholding to be come again, was more ashamed than he was before, and justly; saying, he could no longer abide the sight of her, and commanded that she should be driven away with bats and shoutings. But she, being afraid neither with their noise nor with any thing else, would not away, until, with the strokes of the sticks which were thrown at her, she fell down dead before them all. This I learned of a faithful friend, who at the same time came to Rome: which thing I scarcely crediting for the rareness of the matter, he affirmed by his oath, that it was most certain and true: adding, moreover, that all there present were much offended, and did greatly deride that council called for such a purpose; and by little and little the council was dissolved, nothing done there, as he saith."

Although it hath not been always seen that such spiritual doves have been present with popes and their councils, and governed them, yet their evil doctrine declareth no less. Read, gentle reader! the book of Clemangis, and thou shalt not think thy labour ill bestowed; for he hath both learnedly, truly, freely, and godly, bewailed the filthiness of Antichrist and his ministers, their wickedness, impiety, and cruelty, and the miserable state and face of the church. And thus much for pope John.