The letters of John Hus/Letter 2, To the Nuns of a Certain Convent

LETTER II

The following letter, written in Czech, is without date, but may be referred to this period. Several of the songs of Hus, in addition to the rhymes written in prison (infra, pp. 197, 228), have been preserved for us. The only one of any merit is a short poem, De Cœna Domini, printed in the second volume of the Historia et Monumenta (Mon. ii . 348a). The “Holy Virgins” refer to St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand. The student will notice that, though Hus more than once refers to this feast (infra, pp. 17, 155), he never mentions St. Ursula. St. Ursula, in fact, was a later addition to the legend, the original form of which would appear to have been the Eleven Thousand.[1] As the feast takes place on October 21, we may date this letter September or October 1408. But there is nothing in the letter itself that would rule out an even earlier year, though the absence of all polemical tone would shut out a later date.

II. To the Nuns of a Certain Convent

(Undated: September 1408?)

May it please your husband the Lord Jesus to grant unto you His grace, and to strengthen you in your grace and virginity! You have loved Him above all others, and that in truth most wisely. For He is a King most wise and most powerful, the wealthiest, the strongest, the altogether lovely, and therefore of all most pleasant. He doeth no violence or wrong to His brides, and bringeth no distress to them. He doth not grow old to them. He never breaketh His troth; neither indeed can He. He will be with them for ever, and they will find Him ever ready to their desire, and thus each of them shall be filled with the kingdom of heaven. In that kingdom each man and woman will do His bidding. Each sister shall have her desire, which can never be for aught that is evil. Ponder this well, dear brides of Christ the glorious King. Forsake Him not for any other that is wicked, unclean, base, and defiled, with whom you shall have more distress than joy. For if that other is good-looking, you will be afraid of his unfaithfulness; if deformed, of ennui; if drunken or bad-tempered or of other evil habits, of a devil's life. If offspring be granted to you, there will be misery during pregnancy and in the birth and in the training of the child. If barrenness be your lot, there will be disgrace, distress, and an imperfect union. If a child is born, you will have fears of its survival or of its deformity. Who can recount the miseries from which the blessed unwedded life in Christ is free, and such virginity as His mother’s, which is exalted above widowhood and matrimony? The Holy Scriptures bear witness that the angels delight in such a life,[2] and it is to this that Jesus invites us when He says: He that can take, let him take it.[3] St. Paul also useth much argument in its favour.[4] Therefore, beloved virgins, brides and daughters of Christ, keep unspotted for Him your virginity, which is the guarding of the will from carnal taint in man or in woman who, like Christ and the Virgin, have never yielded to bodily passion. Blessed shall be the celibate and the virgin when by such a life and the keeping of God’s other commands they shall receive the chief crown—to wit, their reward in eternal bliss! Strive earnestly for this even unto death, dear brides of Christ. You shall win this prize of your faithfulness if you hold in remembrance the eternal kingdom, mark the vanity of the world, beware of evil habits, keep your heart under by toil, love not fine dress, and often partake of the body of Christ.[5]

I beg you to keep all this well in mind. If God give me leisure and a letter-carrier, I will write to you at greater length. I send you a song to chant at the vespers of the holy virgins, so that, as you bethink you of the words, you may have joy in your hearts and make melody with your lips. Chant, however, in such a manner that you will not be overheard by the men; for they might cherish evil purposes, while you might fall into the sin of pride or of scandal.

Master John Hus, a weakling priest.

  1. See Owens College Historical Essays, pp. 16–56.
  2. Matt. xxii. 30.
  3. Matt. xix. 12.
  4. 1 Cor. vii. 7, 8.
  5. The question of the frequency of communion had been much discussed in Bohemia since the days of Mathias of Janow and Milicz of Kremsier, the two forerunners of Hus. On October 18, 1389 Mathias of Janow was compelled by the Synod of Prague to retract his teaching ‘that the laity ought to be exhorted to daily communion’ (Doc. 70 ). While in prison in Constance, Hus urged in his tract De Cœna Domini the necessity of daily communion in similar language to that of Janow (see Mon. i. 41b; Loserth, Wyclif and Hus, pp. 52–63).