The letters of John Hus/Mob Rule Again; Burning the Bulls; etc.

Though deserted by his former friends, Hus was not alone. ‘Women without number and powerful nobles’ rallied to his cause, while the people, under the lead of that stormy petrel of reform, Jerome of Prague, once more took matters into their own hands. As usual in such cases, liberty speedily degenerated into licence. On June 24, 1412, Woksa of Waldstein drove up with a cart in which sat two harlots, or two students dressed up as harlots, ‘with the papal bulls tied round their breasts.’ An armed mob conducted the procession through the streets and burnt the bulls and pardons in the market-place of the New Town, ‘about the hour of vespers.’ In the following August the students seized two pardoners at their trade. ‘Get out, you liars,’ cried Jerome; ‘the Pope your master is a lying heretic.’ A Carmelite friar ‘selling relics for the building of a church’ was seized as he sat, ‘kicked out’ of the church, and his table overturned, ‘relics and all,’ ‘You are palming off dead men’s bones,’ shouted the people, ‘you are hoodwinking Christians.’

A more serious riot was the affair of the Three Martyrs. In spite of Wenzel’s edict—perhaps before it was officially promulgated—on July 10 three artisans cried out in a church that the indulgences were lies: ‘John Hus has taught us better than that.’ They were condemned to death. Hus, attended by a vast throng, demanded a hearing from the magistrates, and declared: ‘Their fault is mine; I will bear the consequences.’ To still the tumult evasive answers were given; but later in the day the prisoners were hurriedly executed, according to Hus, without the King’s orders. The excitement was intense. Women ‘dipped their handkerchiefs in the blood’ of the martyrs, whose bodies, shrouded in white linen, were borne in procession to the Bethlehem Chapel. There amid the chanting of the hymn, “Isti sunt sancti,” and ‘the mass of martyrs,’ they were buried ‘in the name of God.’ To all this, though not present himself at the funeral, Hus was a consenting party. The civil authorities deemed it well to disclaim the riot, and issue an order that no one should preach against the indulgences. But no attempt was made to punish its leaders, or even deprive Woksa for his buffoonery of his place at Court.

‘That Luther,’ laughed Leo, when he heard of his outbreak against Tetzel, ‘has a pretty wit.’ In the case of Hus, however, John was of a different mind. The Pope scarcely needed the formal complaint of the clergy of Prague, stirred up by Michael the Pleader, against ‘that son of Belial, the Wyclifist Hus, a despiser of the keys’ (May 1412). So he committed the case to Cardinal Peter Stefaneschi of St. Angelo, with instructions to proceed without delay. Stefaneschi at once pronounced upon Hus the great curse (July 1412). Hus was declared cut off from ‘food, drink, buying, selling, conversation, hospitality, the giving of fire and water, and all other acts of kindness.’ If within twenty-three days he did not yield, he was to be excommunicated ‘in all churches, monasteries, and chapels,’ with the usual custom of ‘lighted candles, extinguished and thrown to the ground.’ Places which gave him shelter were to be subject to interdict. ‘Three stones were to be hurled against his house as a sign of perpetual curse.’ In a second bull the Bethlehem Chapel was ordered to be razed to the ground, and the person of Hus to be delivered up and burned.

Hus replied by a dignified appeal, which he read in the Bethlehem, from the Pope to ‘the supreme and just Judge who is neither influenced by gifts (supra, p. 60, n.) nor deceived by false witnesses.’ He consoled himself with the memories of Chrysostom and Grosseteste. His hope lay in the meeting of a General Council. Meanwhile he exhorted the people to put their trust in neither Pope, Church, nor prelates, but in God alone. As for himself—a matter which told heavily against him at Constance—he showed how little he cared for the censures of Rome by continuing as before his public preaching, and his administration of the sacraments (see p. 166, n. 1).

The excommunication and attendant interdict soon produced its effect in Prague. ‘The people,’ complained Hus, ‘did not show sufficient courage to bury their dead in unconsecrated ground, and baptise their children themselves.’ Riots broke out on every hand. On September 30 Jerome and others ‘ducked friar Nicholas’ in the Moldau. On October 2 a counter-attack was made on the Bethlehem Chapel, chiefly, says Hus, by the Germans, at that moment the dominant party in the Town Council: ‘What madness! . . . what German audacity! . . . they are not allowed to pull down a bakehouse. The temple of God where the bread of God’s word is distributed they wish to destroy.’ But the Czechs rallied to their national cause, and prevented the outrage, in spite of the archers. But elsewhere the opponents of Hus were victorious. In the University Stanislaus of Znaim and Stephen Palecz were inveighing against their former friend in the presence of Duke Ernest of Austria. (October 1412). Nor was Hus helped by the formal proof of his ally John of Jesenicz, doctor of canon law, that the excommunication was illegal (December 18, 1412). But we are slightly anticipating. Hus, in fact, had already left Prague, on the advice, or rather orders, of Wenzel. This step, as the following letter shows, the Reformer was at first unwilling to take. But Wenzel, who was placed in an awkward position and feared the calling in of the secular arm, was persistent. So Hus left Prague—his enemies claimed that he was expelled—‘that a Synod for settlement might be held with more chance of success.’

The date of Hus’s exile, and therefore of the following letter, is somewhat uncertain. He seems to have left Prague first in the August of 1412, but a few months later, on his own statement, returned and preached. He was certainly absent in the October, when the attack was made on the Bethlehem (see infra, p. 94). But his final departure must have taken place in December 1412, for on the 14th of that month the secular arm was called in by the papal authorities. From the other letters which follow, and which were evidently written in the autumn of 1412, we are inclined to date the following as written before the first departure. Nicholas Miliczin was the colleague of Hus at the Bethlehem. He had taken his bachelor’s degree in 1401, his master’s in 1406. He is probably the Nicholas to whom Hus refers on pp. 236 and 274. Of Master Martin nothing is known, unless indeed he be the Master Martin, ‘his disciple,’ of later letters (see infra, pp. 149, 236, 274).