The letters of John Hus/Letter 57, To his Friends staying on in Constance

For other English-language translations of this work, see Letter of Jan Hus to his friends (7 June 1415).

LVII. To his Friends staying on in Constance

(Without date: June 7, 1415[1])

I, Master John Hus, in hope a servant of Jesus Christ, earnestly desiring that Christ’s faithful ones may take no occasion of scandal after my decease through deeming me an obstinate heretic, as they call me, do hereby write these words as a memorial to the friends of the truth, calling Christ Jesus to witness, for Whose law I have been longing to die: First, in very many private hearings, and subsequently in public hearings before the Council, I declared that I was willing to submit myself to guidance and control, to recantation and to punishment, if I were convinced that I had written, taught, or in my reply stated aught that had been contrary to the truth. Furthermore, fifty doctors, commissioned, according to their own statement, by the Council, after being frequently censured by me for false extracts from the articles, and that too in a public hearing before the Council, declined to give me any instruction in private, nay, declined to confer with me, saying, “You have to abide by the Council’s decision”;[2] while the Council, on my quoting, in a public hearing, the words of Christ or of the holy doctors, either derided me or said they could not understand me, and the doctors stated that I was bringing in irrelevant arguments. However, one of the cardinals, prominent in the Council and a member of the Commission,[3] said in the public hearing of my case, holding a paper in his hands: “Here is an argument propounded by a master of theology:[4] reply to it.” It was the argument about the common essence which, I maintained, is present in the elements. He afterwards broke down, though reputed to be a most learned doctor of theology, so I went on to give him an account of the common created essence which is the first created esse, imparted to each several creature, and from which he wished to prove the remanence of the material bread. However, he soon came to the end of his tether and was reduced to silence. Then at once an English doctor[5] rose to carry on the discussion, but he broke down in the same way. He was followed by another English doctor, who in a private hearing had remarked to me that Wyclif wanted to destroy all learning,[6] and that in each of his books and in his logical reasoning he laid down erroneous positions. He rose to his feet and began to discuss the multiplication of the body of Christ in the host; and broke down in his argument. When told to be quiet, he shouted out, “This fellow is cleverly deceiving the Council; have a care lest the Council be deceived as it was by Berengarius.”[7] When he had finished, a man began a noisy speech on the created common esse; but the crowd shouted him down. I stood up, however, and asked that he might be heard, while I said to him, “Stick to your argument; I should like to answer you.” But he broke down like the others, and muttered in a temper, “It’s heresy.” What a clamour, what hootings, hissings, and blasphemy arose against me in that assembly, is well known to Barons Wenzel de Duba and John of Chlum and Peter his secretary, brave soldiers and lovers of God’s truth that they are. Though I was often overwhelmed by the loud uproar, I said at last, “I thought that in this Council there would be greater reverence, piety, and discipline.” Whereupon Sigismund ordered silence, and they all began to listen. But the Cardinal who presided over the Council[8] said, “You talked more humbly at the castle.”[9] “Yes,” said I, “because no one was shouting at me then, but here every one is crying me down.” He answered, “This is what the Council wants to know: do you wish to stand by your request for instruction?” “Yes,” said I “most certainly, according to my protests.” He replied, “Take this for the instruction you want: the doctors declare that the articles extracted from your books are erroneous: you ought to withdraw them and abjure the views charged against you by witnesses.” Sigismund, however, said, “You shall have a written statement shortly, and you will reply to that.” The Cardinal said: “This will take place at the next hearing.” The Council then adjourned. God knows what temptations I suffered after it was all over.

  1. Some historians have taken this letter to refer to the audience of June 5. But Sigismund was not present on that day (see p. 207).
  2. See p. 224.
  3. Peter D'Ailli of Cambray (Doc. 276).
  4. Magister sacræ theologiæ. M.S.T., S.T.P., and D.D. are almost interchangeable in the Middle Ages.
  5. From Hardt, v. 97, we read there were present in the Council ‘sixteen (English) masters in theology.’ Some of their names will be found in Hardt, v. 21–8. But it is impossible to identify the reference.
  6. This doctor was not without some justification for this remark. See my Age of Wyclif, p. 219.
  7. At the Synod of Rome in 1059 Berengarius was condemned for his disbelief in Transubstantiation, and fell upon his face and retracted. But on returning to Tours he once more preached his original ideas with increased vigour. Hus’s position and that of Berengarius were practically the same, as Hus recognises in Mon. i. 164. But his knowledge of Berengarius was probably wholly derived from Gratian’s Decretum, ed. Migne, p. 1754.
  8. John de Bronhiaco (Eubel s.v.), Cardinal of Ostia (June 2, 1405—February 16, 1426).
  9. In castro; at Gottlieben (see pp. 204 and 263).