The letters of John Hus/Letter 8, To John Barbatus and the People of Chrumnaw

For other English-language translations of this work, see Letter of Jan Hus to John Barbatus and the People of Krumlov.

LETTER VIII

John Barbatus, alias Bradáček, or Železna Brada (“Iron Beard”) (infra, pp. 189, 199, n.), to whom this letter is addressed, was a close friend of Hus (infra, pp. 182, 185). As his “beard” shows, he was a layman—‘a stout rustic,’ as an unknown hand has called him in the margin. From the above references we learn that he was at Constance during the trial and death of Hus, of the last scenes of which he has left us a vivid and tender account (Doc. 556). He would seem at this time to have been living in Chrumnaw. Most of the quotations in this letter will be found repeated by Hus in his De Sex Erroribus, c. 4, ‘De Obedentia’ (Mon. i. 192b), as also in his De Ecclesia, c. 19 (Mon. i. 238-9). They are a fair specimen of that mediæval show of learning, so common in Hus, which represents little. For the most part, as our notes indicate, they are taken, in the order in which they stand, from one or two pages of Gratian’s Decretum, a work which Hus used as a quarry of Patristic references. The mediæval conscience in the matter of plagiarism was curiously lax.

VIII. To John Barbatus and the People of Chrumnaw

(May 25, 1411)

Greetings and grace from the Lord Jesus Christ! Beloved, I have heard of your tribulation, but count it all joy that you fall into divers temptations[1] to the proving of your constancy. I am now beginning, dear friends, to be tempted, but I count it a joy that for the gospel’s sake I am called a heretic and suffer excommunication, as an evildoer and malcontent. However, as a defence unto my joy I recall the life and the words of Christ as well as the words of the apostles. In the fourth of Acts it is narrated how Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, called the apostles together and forbade them to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, If it be just in the sight of God to hear you rather than God, judge ye, for we cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard.[2] Again, when the same high priests forbade them to preach, they said in the fifth of Acts: We ought to obey God rather than men.[3] In the same book we find heathen, Jews, and heretics saying that God must be obeyed before everything. But alas! it is the followers of Antichrist that are blind to that rule and not the holy apostles and the true disciples of Christ. The blessed Jerome in his Epistle to the Ephesians[4] saith: If a lord or a prelate issue commands which are not contrary to the faith, nor opposed to Holy Scripture, the bond-servant is to be subject to him. If, however, he order what is contrary to these, the bond-servant must obey the master of his spirit rather than the master of his body. Further on:[5] if the command of the superior be good, carry out the desires of him that issueth the command: if evil, reply,We ought to obey God rather than men.” Item, Augustine in his sixth homily on the words of God:[6] If the authority order what you ought not to perform, in this case of course despise the authority, fearing the authority that is greater. Consider the grades of human offices. If a procurator hath issued a command, is it to be carried out if it is opposed to a proconsul? Again, if the proconsul himself issue a command and the emperor another, is there any question that the former should be neglected and the latter obeyed? Accordingly, if the emperor order something different from God, one ought to neglect the former and submit to the latter. We therefore resist the authority of devil and man if they suggest anything contrary to God: and in so doing we do not resist the ordinance of God but submit to it. For God hath ordained that in things evil we obey no authority. So far Augustine. To the same effect Gregory saith in the last book of the Moralia:[7] It is to be understood that evil must never be wrought through obedience. Item, the blessed Bernard[8] in a certain epistle saith: To do evil at the bidding of another is not obedience but disobedience. Item, the blessed Isidore[9] (and it is found in Cause xi., question 3[10]): If any one in authority do anything, or order anything to be done apart from the Lord, or commit or command a transgression of Scripture, the opinion of St. Paul is to be brought home to him, to wit, “though we, or an angel from heaven preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema,[11] from which it followeth that if any one prevent you from doing the Lord’s bidding, or command what the Lord hath forbidden, let him be accursed to all that love the Lord. It further followeth that if any one in authority state or command anything which is clearly opposed to God’s will or the Holy Scriptures, let him be held a false witness of God or guilty of sacrilege.

From these examples you may see that those who forbid preaching are false witnesses, guilty of sacrilege, and by consequence excommunicated of God, according to the saying of the prophet who pronounces the sentence of excommunication: Cursed are they that go back from Thy commands.[12] In reference to my contention Jerome saith to Rusticus, Bishop of Narbonne:[13] Let none of the bishops henceforth be moved to envy (which is a temptation of the devil) or be angry, if the presbyters occasionally exhort the people or preach in churches, or give their blessing, as hath been said, to the people: for when a man is refusing me these things I should say to him, “He that doth not wish the presbyters to do what is commanded of God should tell us who is greater than Christ.”[14] Item, Bede on this text:[15] You shall find an ass tied and a colt with her: loose them and bring them to me. And if any man shall say anything to you, say ye that the Lord hath need of them; saith: In this passage He mystically instructs doctors not to refrain from preaching, if they meet with opposition or are hindered from loosing sinners from their snares and bringing them to the Lord by confession of the faith. Rather should they constantly be hinting that the Lord hath need of such for the building up of His church. But who could write down all the sayings of the saints which, without exception, teach obedience to God rather than to men? Tyrants set over against these sayings that in Matt. xxiii.: Whatsoever they say to you, do.[16] But they are at once put to confusion by the prohibition which follows: According to their works, do ye not.[17] God accordingly in Deut. xxiv. saith: Thou shalt do whatsoever the priests of the Levitical race shall teach thee, according to what I have commanded them.[18] Mark, the Lord willeth that the obedient man should only obey His commands. Also this passage in First Peter, chapter ii.: Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear. Further on, it saith: also to the froward;[19] inasmuch as[20] a man would no more think of obeying the froward than of obeying the devil.[21] Therefore both the will of God and Scripture teach that we only ought to obey our superiors in things lawful.

I based my case on these principles, when I preferred in the matter of preaching to obey God rather than the Pope, and the Archbishop and his other satraps[22] who act contrary to this word of Christ’s: Go ye into the whole world, etc.[23] I put my signature to this, that you may know how to meet the devil’s dogs.[24]

Monday, Urban’s Day, in Rogation week.

  1. Jas. i. 2.
  2. Acts iv. 6–20.
  3. Acts v. 29.
  4. See Gratian, Pt. ii. C. 11, q. 3 , c. 93; quoted also in Wyclif, De Officio Regis, 192. Gratian’s ascription of it to “Ad Ephesios” is a mistake, probably an original mistake of “Polycarp”—i.e. of the Collectio Canonum Gregorii Presbyteri, one of the sources Gratian used. It is really from Jerome’s Ad Titum, c. 2, vv. 9–10 (in Migne, Op. Hieron. vii. 584). Hus had added to Gratian ‘vel prælatus.’
  5. Et infra, c. 3 , § 1. Part of the quotation in Gratian.
  6. Sermo 68 (ed. Maur). Gratian took it from “Polycarp,” and Hus is quoting very loosely. See Gratian, Pt. ii. C. 11, q. 3, c. 97.
  7. Greg. Moralia, lib. xxxv. c. 14 (ed. Migne, p. 766). Taken by Hus from Gratian, ii. C. 11, q. 3, c. 99.
  8. P.: Benedictus, with the sole MS. But in Mon. i. 94 the correct reading Bernardus is given, as also in Hus, De Ecclesia (Mon. i. 239d) and De Sex Erroribus (Mon. i. 192b), where the reference “In quadam epistola ad Adam monachum” is added. See Migne, Op. Bernard, i. 95 C. This seems to be one of the few original references of Hus, and he was evidently very fond of it. Cf. Doc. 480.
  9. So Gratian, loc. cit.—to whom for once Hus gives a reference. But the words are really from Basil, Regulæ brevius tractatæ, Interrog. 114, ed. Garnier, ii. 631. At his trial in Constance Hus referred to the authorities here cited, and especially to the passage from Isidore (see Documenta, p. 214). Compare also Wyclif, De Offic. Regis, 110–11, from which Wyclif may have taken it. Cf. Hus’s use of ‘satraps’ infra, p. 50, with comment.
  10. i.e., Gratian, loc. cit. c. 101. Copied exactly.
  11. Gal. i. 8.
  12. Ps. cxviii. (cxix.) 21. Quoted also in The Defence of the Articles of Wyclif (1412), Mon. i. 113a.
  13. From Gratian, Pars i. dist. 95, C. 6. Judging by the readings, Hus would seem to have taken it from the Collectio Canonum of Anselm of Lucca. The epistle De Septum gradibus ecclesiæ is not by Jerome, though usually attributed to him. This passage is quoted also by Hus in Mon. i. 112b, Defence of the Articles of Wyclif.
  14. P.: dicat, quod majus est, Xto; read with Gratian and Anselm of Lucca: dicat, quis major est Christo.
  15. A mere paraphrase of Bede’s In Matt. Evang. c . xxi. in loc. (ed. Cologne, 1612, vol. v. p. 61; also eds. Migne and Giles). Quoted also in The Defence of the Articles of Wyclif (Mon. i. 112a).
  16. Matt. xxiii. 3.
  17. Ib.
  18. Deut. xxiv. 8.
  19. 1 Pet. ii. 18.
  20. P.: sed absit; read with Mon.: quod absit.
  21. Hus had forgotten for the moment the retort that might have been made from Wyclif’s famous Deus debet obedire diabolo, with which he must have been familar as early as 1403.
  22. ‘Satraps’ is a favourite word with Wyclif for the higher clergy; cf. Dialogues 25 l. 20; 32 l. 22; 113 l. 33; Cruciata (Polem. Wks. ii. 620) et passim.
  23. Mark xvi. 15.
  24. Diaboli canibut—possibly some pun intended on Dominicani, as often in the writings of the times.