The letters of John Hus/Letter 3, To Zbinek, Archbishop of Prague

III. To Zbinek, Archbishop of Prague

(Undated: early December 1408)

Your humble and dutiful subject now and ever!

It is demanded by our Saviour’s rule that a father should not proceed rashly to the reprobation of a son unless the son rejects his father’s counsel and is clearly convicted of contumacy;[1] nor ought the father of the household to drive away from the harvest a son who works, unless he first of all clearly knows that the son is minded disgracefully to squander his father’s harvest. Thus in the sixteenth of Luke it is shown by our Saviour that the rich man did not give up the steward after hearing the charge of wrong-doing brought against him, but wisely summoned him and said: How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship.[2] Nor did our Saviour forbid a certain man who cast out devils not being His follower from so doing; but rather He desired to lend His authority to such acts: for in the ninth of Luke it is written that the disciples said to Jesus: Master, we saw a certain man casting out devils in Thy name and we forbad him, because he followeth not Thee with us. And Jesus said to them, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.[3]

Now, most reverend father, your grace hath been instructed in these examples of our Saviour, and should not have listened to the infamous charges of jealous men—charges set forth in writing in Latin as well as in the vernacular. You should not have branded me with public insinuations as a disobedient son of our holy mother Church; but you should have ascertained the truth and said: How is it that I hear this of thee? If I had been in error, you should have enjoined a pious correction; and if I had failed to give up my disobedience to the holy mother Church, you should then have had recourse to suitable measures and declared me as disobedient, and as a matter of expediency have forbidden me to preach the holy gospel. Your grace ought therefore to know that it never hath been, nor will be, as I trust in God, my intention to withdraw from obedience to the holy mother Church. It is my intention not only to obey the Roman pontiff and your grace in accordance with the blessed Peter’s command, but also to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake, whether it be to the king as excelling, or to governors as sent by him.[4] Further on he adds: Be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.[5] See how the apostle of Christ commands obedience to every human creature and to froward rulers, but obedience for God’s sake, and not in the case of commands that are froward, but those which are lawful and uttered to the praise of God Almighty, to the end that servants may obey their masters and those set over them. Whatever, therefore, the Roman pontiff Gregory XII. or the holy mother Church, yea, and your grace, lawfully enjoins, I will humbly obey. But I cannot engage in controversy to win the greater praise: for our Saviour forbade this to His disciples in Luke xii.;[6] nor can I side with my apostolic lord in his failure to observe the oath which was sworn, as it were, before all Christendom.[7] For in so doing I should be acting contrary to Christ, who says in Matt. v.: Let your speech be, Yea, yea: no, no:[8] and who says by the prophet: Vow ye, and pray to the Lord your God.[9] Therefore as far as these two points are concerned, the controversy of Pope and anti-pope and the breaking of the oath, I am neutral; but not in the sense of the term as used by the crowd who are ignorant that “neutral” is a relative term like the simple word from which it is compounded, requiring the context of the subject matter.[10] Consequently, when the phrase “He is neutral” is used, it is unintelligible unless the alternatives are added, and it is clearly shown in what respect he intends to be neutral in his support.[11] And further it does not follow that a third person is neutral, because he refuses to obey either of two others: as, for example, if the mother of Peter quarrels with his father, Peter as a faithful son ought to be neutral in his support in the dispute between his father and mother, while at the same time he ought to obey father as well as mother in matters lawful. Hence Peter ought not to be neutral so far as obedience is concerned, but only so far as his support in the dispute is concerned; for he ought as far as possible to prevent a dispute of this kind, in order that, peace being restored, his father and mother may more securely be united in love and beget brothers for Peter.

Furthermore, most beloved and reverend father, my enemies hurl insults at me as they have been wont to do for a long time. I could write of these at greater length, but let this suffice for the present, that if your grace discovers the fault in me, I am willing humbly to submit to punishment. Yet I humbly beg your grace for God’s sake not to put trust in every one, and not to suspend me from preaching now that you have received this written testimony that I have not departed from obedience to the Roman pontiff Gregory XII. Nay, last Sunday I publicly said in the pulpit in my sermon that I had not withdrawn from allegiance to my lord Pope Gregory, but desired to obey the holy Roman Church and its lord in all lawful matters. If your grace had known of this, perhaps you would not have placed me in your letters as your first disobedient son, like a mark for the arrow. But I ought to suffer, because the Saviour saith: Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven;[12] and this reward may it please our Lord Jesus Christ to grant to your grace. Amen.

  1. Matt. xviii. 15–17.
  2. Luke xvi 2.
  3. Luke ix. 49, 50.
  4. 1 Peter ii. 13.
  5. 1 Peter ii. 18.
  6. Luke xii. 58.
  7. See The Age of Hus, p. 44; Niem. De Schismate (ed. Erler), pp. 206–9.
  8. Matt, v. 37.
  9. Ps. lxxv. 12. Vulg. (A. V. lxxvi. 11).
  10. P.: requirens substantiam adjacentiam. Better, on the whole, to read with Höfler, adjacentium.
  11. In quo est neutralis quoad auxilium intentione.
  12. Matt. v. 12.