The letters of John Hus/Letter 15, To Masters Martin and Nicolas Miliczin

For other English-language translations of this work, see Letter of Jan Hus to Masters Martin and Nicolas Miliczin.

XV. To Masters Martin and Nicolas Miliczin

(Undated: August (?) 1412)

Peace be unto you—that peace which he that seeks shall not have with the world, the flesh, and the devil. In the world, saith the Saviour, you shall have distress;[1] but if you are jealous for that which is good, who is there to hurt you? I have a jealousy for preaching the gospel, but I am careworn, because I know not what I am to do.

I have pondered over our Saviour’s words in the gospel of John, chapter x.: The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep. But the hireling and he that is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming and leaveth the sheep, and flieth: and the wolf catcheth, and scattereth the sheep.[2] I have also pondered over another passage in Matt. x.: When they shall persecute you in this city, flee unto another.[3] This, then, is the precept or promise of Christ. I am in a strait betwixt two, and know not how I ought to act.

I have pondered over the epistle of the blessed Augustine to Bishop Honoratus,[4] who sought guidance in a similar case. Here is the reply and conclusion of Augustine: Whosoever fleeth so that his flight doth not leave the Church without the necessary ministry, is acting according to the Lord’s precept or promise. But he that fleeth so as to withdraw from Christ's flock the nourishment which supports its spiritual life, is an hireling, who seeth the wolf coming and flieth, because he cared not for the sheep. Seeing, beloved brother, that you have consulted me, this is my genuine opinion and the answer which true love[5] moves me to send: but I do not restrict you to this view, if you can find a better. Nevertheless, we cannot find out any better how to act in these difficulties than by praying to our Lord God to pity us: for we[6] have obtained the power both to will and to do this very thing, to wit, that all the wise and holy men of God should not forsake the churches: and in the teeth of opposition we have not fallen away from our own purpose. Thus Augustine.

Let me know, therefore, if you can rest satisfied with this advice of Augustine; for I am urged by my conscience not to be absent and thus prove a stumbling block, although the necessary food of God’s word be not wanting to the flock. On the other hand, the fear confronts me that my presence, by the wicked device of an edict, may become a pretext for the withdrawal of that food—that is, the Holy Communion, and the other things pertaining to salvation.

Therefore, let us humbly pray that it may please Almighty God to instruct us how I, poor wretch! am to act in the present crisis, so as not to stray from the paths of righteousness. It is beautiful advice that the blessed Augustine gives in that letter. For there he clearly lays down in the special case brought to his notice that it is possible to flee lawfully. He mentions St. Athanasius[7] as an example. Supposing the lives of all were in peril, then perhaps it would be their duty to arrange for some one to take to flight who[8] would be most useful for the welfare of the Church in the days to come, and thus perhaps carry out, etc.[9]

  1. John xvi. 33.
  2. John x. 11–12.
  3. Matt. x. 23.
  4. Ed. Maur, Ep. 228 (vol. ii. p. 830–35). Written during the irruption of the Vandals in 428 or 429 A.D. The unusual accuracy of the quotations in this letter would lend me to the conjecture that the editors of the Monumenta (1558), where alone it is found, did a little “editing” of the MS. after their wont.
  5. Mon.: recta caritate. Ed. Maur: et certa.
  6. Mon.: qui id iptum ut scilicet ecclesias non desererent . . . meruerunt. Ed. Maur: quod ipsum, ut scilicet Dei ecclesias non deferent, Dei dono . . . meruerunt.
  7. Infra in same letter: ‘the holy Athanasius who was specially sought after by the Emperor Constantius, while the Catholic people who remained in Alexandria were in no wise deserted by the other ministers.’
  8. quis. Either read qui, or quis is used elliptically for aliquem qui.
  9. facta forte, etc. There is no MS., only the ed. 1558 (Monumenta). Perhaps we should read facta sorte, ‘arrange by casting lots,’ etc., for Augustine goes on to say that ‘in such a difficulty the lot seems the fairest decision, in default of others.’