The letters of John Hus/Letter 9, To John XXIII., the Roman Pontiff

IX. To John XXIII., the Roman Pontiff[1]

(September 1, 1411)

With the proper obedience to be rendered to the Church of Jesus Christ and His supreme pontiff.

Seeing that I am always ready to give an answer to the satisfaction of every man who asks concerning the faith I hold, I declare with a sincere heart that the Lord Jesus Christ is very God and very man; and that His whole gospel is established so firmly in the truth that not a jot nor tittle[2] of it can fail; and finally that His Holy Church hath been so firmly founded on a firm rock that the gates of hell cannot in any wise prevail against it.[3] I am ready in hope of the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself the Head, to bear the punishment of a dreadful death rather than to state by private judgment[4] aught else than His truth, or to declare what would be contrary to the will of Christ and His Church. For these reasons I confidently, truthfully, and steadfastly assert that I have been wrongfully defamed to the Apostolic Seat by those heresy hunters.[5] If they have given or are giving information that I taught the people that in the sacrament the material substance of the bread remains, it is a falsehood.[6] It is a falsehood that I have said that when the host is elevated it is then the body of Christ, but when it is laid down it is not. It is a falsehood that a priest in mortal sin cannot consecrate. It is a falsehood that the lords may withdraw temporal goods from the clergy and that they need not pay tithes. It is a falsehood that indulgences are nothing. It is a falsehood that I have urged an actual attack on the clergy with the sword. It is a falsehood that I have preached or held any error or errors whatsoever or any heresy: or that I have seduced the people in any wise from the way of truth. It is a falsehood that I was the cause of certain German masters being expelled from Prague. As a matter of fact, they themselves were unwilling to enjoy the privileges of the foundation of the noble[7] University of Prague and declined to obey the lawful behests of the most serene prince and lord, Wenzel, King of the Romans, Emperor,[8] and King of Bohemia: and supposing that the University of Prague would be unable to exist without their presence, they retired of their own free will to their own homes or wherever they pleased.[9] Yet I admit that I appealed from the opinion of the very reverend father in Christ, my lord Zbinek, to the Apostolic Seat, and finally from the suits instituted on malicious information by the holy Apostolic See. For those who were jealous of the truth, forgetting their own honour and salvation, maliciously suggested to the Apostolic Seat that in the kingdom of Bohemia, in the city of Prague, and in the marchionate of Moravia, errors and heresies were sprouting up and had affected the hearts of many to such an extent that owing to the great number that had been infected by such errors it was necessary that a remedy by way of correction should be applied. Finally, they falsely suggested that the Bethlehem chapel was a private place, although it had been established by the ordinary as a parish living,[10] while its destruction would impair in some sense God’s honour among the people, would thwart their spiritual progress, cause scandal, and greatly incense the people against its destroyers. Nevertheless, when summoned in person to the Roman Curia, I longed humbly to put in my appearance; but because plots on my life were formed against me both within the kingdom and outside, especially by the Germans,[11] I judged, on the advice of many friends, that it would be tempting God to risk my life when the interests of the Church did not demand it. Consequently I did not appear in person, but appointed advocates and proctors,[12] desiring to obey the holy Apostolic See. On this account, Supreme Vicar of Christ, I humbly entreat the kindness of your Holiness that it may please you, for the mercy of Almighty God, graciously to exempt me from appearing in person and from the other obligations involved therein, on the ground that I am now in complete agreement with the aforesaid reverend father in Christ.[13] The witnesses to this are the most serene prince and lord, Wenzel, King of the Romans and Bohemia, also the very reverend fathers and illustrious princes, Wenzel, Patriarch of Antioch;[14] my lord Conrad, Bishop of Olmütz; the illustrious Prince Rudolph, Duke of Saxony, Elector of the Holy Empire; the other princes, barons, and lords, and the most noble lord Stibor, ambassador of the most illustrious prince and lord, Sigismund, King of Hungary. For I offered to reply to each and all of the charges brought against me, even submitting myself to the hearing of the whole of them, and expressing my willingness, in case anything should be proved against me, to amend my errors by the punishment of fire, unless I should yield therein. And I am prepared to-day to face the whole University of Prague and an assembly of all the prelates and to give an answer to any charges, if any one can be found to bring them forward. But no one so far is willing to take sides against me, as being liable to retaliation, according to the canon laws.[15] Written at Prague with my own hand on St. Giles’s Day.

Master John Hus,

the least of the priests of your Holiness.

  1. See supra, pp. 40–41.
  2. Matt. v. 18.
  3. Matt. xvi. 18; loose.
  4. Elective.
  5. æmuli veritatis.
  6. With the exception of this first point, Hus soon moved very far away from the positions which he here takes up.
  7. Almæ.
  8. Semper Augustus. Wenzel had been deposed August 20, 1400. As he had never been crowned, he was never, strictly speaking, “Emperor” (Imperator). On July 21, 1411, Sigismund, his half-brother, had been unanimously elected King of the Romans. Wenzel had been won over by the promise that Sigismund would not during his lifetime seek the higher title.
  9. Supra, p. 18.
  10. By Gregory XII., at Lucca, May 15, 1408, in a rescript to Zbinek.
  11. Cf. supra, p. 39.
  12. Supra, p. 39.
  13. I.e., Zbinek.
  14. Wenzel Kralík, Dean of St. Peter’s, Wyschehrad, was appointed Patriarch of Antioch (in partibus), April 11, 1397. In 1413 he was appointed administrator of the diocese of Olmütz on the transference of Conrad Vechta to Prague, and is reckoned among its bishops. He died on September 12, 1416, and must not be confused with the French Patriarch of Antioch (Cramaud) who played so prominent a part at Constance. See Eubel, Hierarchia Catholica, s. v.
  15. See Gratian, Pt. ii. C. 2, q. 3, from the Pseudo-Isidore decretals.