The letters of John Hus/Letter 75, To his Bohemian Friends

For other English-language translations of this work, see Letter of Jan Hus to his friends (22 June 1415).

LXXV. To his Bohemian Friends

(Without date: June 24 or 25, 1415)

I have been interviewed by many exhorters. They have pleaded at great length that I ought to abjure, and can do so lawfully by submitting my will to the Holy Church, which is represented by the Holy Council. But not one of them can satisfactorily meet the objection, when I put him in my own position, ‘How can a man consistently abjure when he hath never preached, held, or stated the heresy whereof he is charged, and how would he save his conscience if he is not by abjuring to admit that he held the heresy wrongly? ‘Some said that to abjure did not carry with it this meaning, but only amounted to a renunciation of heresy, whether held or not; others that it merely meant a denial of the charges, whether they be true or false. My answer was, “Very well, I will swear that I never preached, held, or stated the errors whereof I am charged, and I never will preach, hold, or state them.” And at once they hark back to the old advice. Some argue that a man who submits himself to the Church wins merit by his humility when he confesses to guilt, though it be granted that he is innocent. In support of this argument one man brought forward the case of a saint in The Lives of the Fathers[1] by whose bed some persons had placed a certain book. When admonished for the offence, he denied it, being holy and blameless. They then said, “You stole it, and hid it in your bed.” The book was discovered there, and he at once admitted his guilt. Another man proved his point by the case of a nun, who, wearing male attire, lived in a cloister, and who was charged with having begotten a son by a certain woman. She allowed ‘Yes’ to go, and kept the boy; but it afterwards came out that she was an innocent woman. Many other cases were brought forward. An Englishman said, ‘If I were in your place, I would abjure at the bidding of my conscience; for in England all the doctors—very good men, too—who have been suspected of holding Wyclif’s views abjure in a formula set them by order of the archbishop.’[2]

Finally, they came yesterday to the old position that I should hand myself over entirely to the grace of the Council. Palecz came at my request. I wanted to confess to him. I asked the commissioners, or rather my exhorters, to give me him or another confessor. I said, “Palecz is my chief opponent; I want to confess to him, or else you can give me another suitable man. For God’s sake oblige me.” They did so, and I confessed to a doctor—a monk—who listened to me in a gracious and right beautiful spirit. He absolved me, and gave me advice, but did not enjoin on me what the others advised.[3]

Palecz came and shed tears along with me, when I begged him to forgive me for any hard words I had used against him, and, in particular, for having called him in writing a fiction-monger.[4] I also told him that he was the slédnik[5] of the whole business, and he did not deny it; also how in a public hearing he had risen to his feet when I denied the articles of the witnesses, and said, “This fellow hath no fear of God.” This he denied: but he certainly said it. Perhaps you heard him. I reminded him too of what he said in prison before the commissioners:[6] “Since the birth of Christ no heretic hath written more dangerous teaching against the Church, with the exception of Wyclif, than yourself—I mean you, John Hus.” He also said, “All who have been here to talk with him have been infected with that error concerning the sacrament of the altar.” He denied it, saying, ‘I did not say “All,” but “Many.”’ But he certainly used these words. And then I rebuked him, saying, “Oh, sir, what a grievous wrong you do me in calling all my hearers heretics!” Afterwards he pleaded with me in the same way as the others. He is always harping on the great harm that had been done by me and my friends. He told me also that they had a letter addressed to Bohemia containing the news that I had composed while at Gottlieben,[7] two verses about my chains to the tune “Buoh Wšemohúcí.[8]

For God’s sake look after the letters. Do not give them to any clerk[9] to carry. Let me have a hint if the nobles are to ride with Sigismund.[10] In His mercy Christ Jesus ever keeps me to my former resolve.

  1. Vitæ Patrum, ed. Rosweyd in Migne lxxiii. 191.
  2. The Englishman was right. The leading Lollards at one time or another had all recanted, and forms of abjuration abound, which are a source of trouble to the historian. See my Age of Wyclif, p. 266, n. 1.
  3. See comment on p. 259.
  4. Fictor, as often in his Responsio ad Palecz, Mon. i. 255 ff.
  5. Arch-detective, chief spy.
  6. P. 174.
  7. In castro.
  8. “God omnipotent.” The poem seems lost. Whether the tune still exists I cannot say. See also p. 15 for Hus and his songs.
  9. Nulli clerico.
  10. See p. 259, n.