The letters of John Hus/Letter 74, To the Faithful Bohemians

For other English-language translations of this work, see Letter of Jan Hus to the faithful Bohemians (24 June 1415).

LXXIV. To the Faithful Bohemians[1]

(June 24, 1415)

Master John Hus, a servant of God in hope, to all the faithful who love and will love God and His law, praying that they may dwell in the truth, grow in the divine grace, and bravely persevere even unto death.

Beloved, I exhort you not to be terrified, neither shaken with fear, because they (my enemies) have ordered my books to be burnt. Remember that the prophecies of the holy Jeremiah, which he wrote at God's command, were burnt, and yet the Jews did not escape the fate he had foretold; for after that they had been burnt, God bade him write the same words, and add to them besides many like words. Which he did: for he dictated them as he lay in prison, and the holy Baruch, who was his scribe, wrote them in a book. You will find it written in Jeremiah the 35th or 46th chapter.[2] In the books of the Maccabees also it is written that sacred writings were burnt, and those who had them in their possession suffered torture.[3] Afterwards, in the times of the New Testament, holy men were burnt, together with the books of God’s law. Cardinals, moreover, condemned and burnt the books of St. Gregory entitled the Morals, and would have destroyed them all had not God preserved them by means of Gregory’s only loyal disciple, Peter.[4] St. John Chrysostom was condemned on the charge of heresy by two Councils,[5] but God in His mercy after St. John’s death revealed their falsehood.[6] Keep these examples before you, that you may not under stress of fear give up reading what I have written and hand over your books to be burnt by them. Remember what the merciful Saviour said to us by way of warning in Matt. xxiv., that before the Judgment Day shall be great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect: but for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened.[7] Holding these things in your memory, beloved, press bravely on; for I trust God that the school of Antichrist shall tremble before you and suffer you to enjoy quietness, and that the Council of Constance shall not come to Bohemia, for methinks many members of the Council will die before they wrest the books from your hands, and they will be scattered abroad from that Council over the earth, like storks; and when winter comes they will discover what they achieved in the summer.[8] Ponder the fact that they condemned their own head on the charge of heresy. Come now, make reply, ye preachers who proclaim that the Pope is God on earth and cannot sin or be guilty of sinning (as the Canonists assert);[9] that the Pope is the head of the Holy Church Universal, ruling it with an all-sufficient power: is the heart of the Church, giving to it spiritual life: is the fountain from which all power and goodness permeates: is the sun of the Holy Church, and the unfailing refuge to which every Christian should flee. But lo! your head is now cut off, God on earth is bound, his sins are openly declared, the fountain has run dry, the sun is darkened, the heart is torn out, the refuge is a fugitive from Constance and is rejected, so that none can flee to him![10] The Council condemned him for heresy because he sold indulgences, bishoprics, and benefices; and he was condemned by these very men, many of whom bought these things from him, while others did good trade by selling them over again. John, Bishop of Leitomischl,[11] was there, who twice attempted to buy the see of Prague, but he was outbid by others. Oh! why have they not first cast the beam out of their own eye? Indeed, their own law hath the provision: Whoso hath gained an office by money, let him be deprived of it.[12] Therefore, let seller and buyer and money-lender and broker be condemned before the world! St. Peter condemned and uttered a curse on Simon, because he had desired to purchase the virtue of the Holy Ghost with money.[13] These men have condemned and uttered a curse on the seller, while the buyers and money-lenders get off scot-free and carry on their sales privately. There is the Bishop of Constance,[14] who buys, and the other person who has sold to him; and the Pope received money for absolving them! The same thing happens, as I know, in Bohemia and Moravia. Would that the Lord Jesus had said in the Council, ‘He that is without the sin of simony, let him condemn Pope John ’ Methinks they would have all gone out of doors one after another![15] Why did they adore him with bended knees, kiss his feet, and call him most holy Father, when they knew he was a ‘heretic, a homicide, and a Sodomite,’[16] all of which sins afterwards came to light? Why did the Cardinals elect him as Pope, when they knew he was so shameful a homicide as to have slain the most holy Father?[17] Why did they suffer him to practise simony while performing the duties of a pope, when they were appointed his advisers for the purpose of giving him good counsel? Are not those to blame who themselves as well as he practised simony? Before he escaped from Constance, why had no one the courage to address him except as the most holy Father?[18] To be sure, they were afraid of him then; but when the secular power seized him, by God’s permission or will, they at once conspired not to let him go free. Surely now the wickedness, iniquity, and baseness of Antichrist has been revealed in the Pope and his associates in the Council: now the faithful servants of God can understand the meaning of the Saviour’s words, When ye shall see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, . . . he that readeth, let him understand.[19] Verily “a great abomination” is pride, avarice, and simony: “in a place apart”[20]—that is, dignity which lacks modesty, love, and other virtues; and this is what we clearly mark in those who win office and dignity. Would that I were allowed to point out their wickedness, in order that the faithful servants of God might beware of them! Gladly would I do so; but I am trusting that God will raise up others after me, braver men than there are to-day, who shall better reveal the wickedness of Antichrist[21] and lay down their lives for the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will grant eternal joy both to you and to me. Amen. I write this letter in prison, on the day of St. John Baptist, as I lie bound in chains, remembering that St. John also was beheaded in prison for the sake of God’s truth.

  1. The letter is in Czech.
  2. Mladenowic has added in the margin: “Hus has no book; the reference is Jer. xxxvi.”
  3. 2 Macc. vii.
  4. For this tale see John the Deacon’s Life of Gregory (iv. c. 69; in Migne, vol, xxv.), from whom it was taken by Platina (see his Life of Sabinianus) and adopted by Milman (ii. 310). There is no mention of it in the earliest Life of Gregory (by a monk of Whitby), and it is rightly rejected, so I take it, by Gregorovius (ii. 94). But Hus has changed the tale for his own purposes; it was not the ‘cardinals’ but the ‘people’ who tried to burn the books.
  5. The Synods of “the Oaks” and Constantinople.
  6. In 438, thirty-three years after his death in exile, the remains of the martyr were brought back to Constantinople.
  7. Matt. xxiv. 21–4.
  8. Hus’s views of the effects of his death on Bohemia were fully fulfilled.
  9. Most definitely asserted in Augustin Trionfo of Ancona, De Potestate Ecclesiastica, dedicated to John XXII., and in Alvaro Pelayo’s De Planctu Ecclesiæ (1332). But Hus, who was no canonist, was probably thinking of Palecz and Stanislaus (see p. 123). Niem (De Schismate, ed. Erler, p. 178) tells us that at this time it was publicly debated whether the Pope could not without simony sell benefices. Compare also Albert Engelschalk of Prague, Aureum Speculum Papæ (in Brown’s edition of Ortiun Gratius’s Fasciculus, ii. 63–101).
  10. Cf. pp. 203, 244.
  11. P. 83
  12. See Gratian, II. C. 1, q. 1, c. 3, where, however, it is wrongly ascribed.
  13. Acts ix. 20.
  14. P. 162, n.
  15. John viii. 7–9.
  16. Cf. p. 130, n. 1, and p. 243, n. 3.
  17. John was commonly accused of having poisoned Alexander V.; but the charge was not in the final official articles (Hardt, iv. 296 ff.).
  18. Hus would not hear in prison of the famous retort of Hallum, Bishop of Salisbury: ‘I ask that Pope John act worthily of his office’ (Hardt, iv. 1418).
  19. Matt. xxiv. 15.
  20. In loco deserto. Hus is quoting from memory.
  21. For the supposed prophecies of Hus concerning Luther, see my Age of Hus, App. B.