The letters of John Hus/Sigismund's Intended Journey; Hus's Final Declaration; etc.

The letters of John Hus by Jan Hus, translated by Robert Martin Pope
Sigismund's Intended Journey; Hus's Final Declaration; etc.

The three letters written on June 29 are the last that Hus wrote. The month’s grace was evidently fruitless, and Sigismund was in a hurry to depart for Perpignan, there to meet, by agreement, Benedict XIII. and Ferdinand of Aragon, the chief supporter of the Spanish anti-pope, and arrange for the ending of the schism. This journey had twice already been postponed, and admitted of no further delay. For on June 15 the proctor of Gregory XII.—Charles di Malatesta—had arrived in Rome and commenced negotiations for Gregory’s abdication. On July 4 all arrangements were completed, and the Council summoned to listen to a bull of Gregory, convoking and then approving the Council and all its doings, and concluding with a proclamation of his own resignation. But before Sigismund could be allowed to depart from Constance the Council were resolute that he should appear as a consenting party to the death of Hus. It was determined, therefore, to bring matters to an issue. On July 1—two days after Hus’s last letter, and after Sigismund’s return from his short holiday at Ueberlingen—Hus was visited by a deputation of eight prelates, with Hus’s gaoler, the Archbishop of Riga, at their head, who endeavoured once more to persuade the Reformer that he could reasonably recant.

Hus replied by writing out with his own hand his final decision.

Hus’s Final Declaration

(July 1, 1415)

I, John Hus, in hope a priest of Jesus Christ, fearing to offend God, and fearing to fall into perjury, do hereby profess my unwillingness to abjure all or any of the articles produced against me by false witnesses. For God is my witness that I neither preached, affirmed, nor defended them, though they say that I did. Moreover, concerning the articles that they have extracted from my books, I say that I detest any false interpretation which any of them bears. But inasmuch as I fear to offend against the truth, or to gainsay the opinion of the doctors of the Church, I cannot abjure any one of them. And if it were possible that my voice could now reach the whole world, as at the Day of Judgment every lie and every sin that I have committed will be made manifest, then would I gladly abjure before all the world every falsehood and error which I either had thought of saying or actually said. I say I write this of my own free will and choice.

Written with my own hand, on the first day of July.[1]

Four days later the Council made another effort to bring about the desired recantation. A deputation of the leaders of the Council—D’Ailli, Zabarella, Simon Cramaud the Patriarch of Antioch, the Archbishops of Riga and Milan, together with two Englishmen, the illustrious Hallum of Salisbury, and Bubwith, the simoniacal Bishop of Bath, narrowed the issue to the recantation merely of the heresies extracted from articles Hus had recognised as his own. At one time this would have satisfied Hus; but now he refused, and referred them to his declaration of July 1. He dared not cause to stumble those whom he had taught. Later in the day Sigismund, influenced perhaps by some remnants of conscience, made one last effort to save him. He sent Chlum, Wenzel de Duba, and Lacembok, together with four bishops, to ask Hus for his final decision, whether he would persevere or recant. Hus was brought out of his cell to meet this deputation—a sidelight as we take it on his cramped confinement—doubtless wondering whether a new trial of his constancy awaited him in the defection of his dearest friends: ‘Master John,’ said honest Chlum, ‘we are laymen, and cannot advise you. Consider, however, and if you realise that you are guilty concerning any of the charges, do not be ashamed to receive instruction and recant. But if you do not feel guilty, do not force your conscience, nor lie before God, but rather stand fast to the death in the truth which you know.’

Hus replied with tears: ‘Sir John, know that if I was conscious that I had written or preached aught against the law, gospel, or Mother Church, I would gladly and humbly recant my errors. God is my witness. But I am anxious now as ever that they will show me Scriptures of greater weight and value than those which I have quoted in writing and teaching. If these shall be shown me, I am prepared and willing to recant.’ ‘Do you desire to be wiser than the whole Council?’ retorted a bishop. ‘Than the whole Council, no,’ replied Hus; ‘but give me a portion, however small, of the Council to teach me by Scriptures of greater weight and value, and I am ready to recant.’ ‘He is obstinate in his heresy,’ cried the bishops, and retired to make preparation for the final scene.

At six o’clock the next morning Hus was brought to the cathedral. While mass was sung he was kept waiting outside the door; this over, he was placed in the middle of the aisle on an elevated daïs. Around him were placed the various robes needful for celebrating mass. But before taking his stand on this theatre of degradation Hus knelt down and prayed. The whole Council was there, with Sigismund, in his robes and diadem, on the throne. In the sight of all Hus stood alone while the Bishop of Lodi, the customary orator on big occasions, preached ‘a short, compendious, and laudable’ sermon on the danger of heresy and the duty of destroying it. The events of that day, said the preacher, would win for Sigismund immortal glory.‘O King, a glorious triumph is awaiting you; to thee is due the everlasting crown and a victory to be sung through all time, for thou hast bound up the bleeding Church, removed a persistent schism, and uprooted the heretics. Do you not see how lasting will be your fame and glory? For what can be more acceptable to God than to uproot a schism and destroy the errors among the flock.’

But the day was not altogether without its stings for Sigismund. Hus, when he spoke, was not slow to remind him of his safe-conduct. Sigismund, it is said, blushed, an incident denied by some historians with as much warmth as if the blush were as discreditable to Sigismund as his falsehood.

Then the representatives of the nations read aloud the record of the trial and the sentence of the Council. When Hus attempted to reply and point out certain omitted limitations in his theses, D’Ailli ordered him to be silenced. ‘You shall answer all together later.’ ‘How can I possibly answer all together,’ retorted Hus, ‘since I cannot keep them all together in my mind.’ ‘Be silent,’ said Zabarella, ‘we have heard you quite enough.’ ‘I beseech you for God's sake hear me,’ cried Hus, with clasped hands, ‘lest the bystanders believe that I ever held such errors; afterwards do with me as you list.’ We need not wonder at his indignation when we remember that one of the articles read out against him was that he had said that he was the fourth member in the Trinity. When the reading of the tissue of falsehood was completed and the sentence pronounced, Hus knelt once more in prayer: ‘Lord Jesus, pardon all my enemies for Thy great mercy’s sake, I beseech Thee, for Thou knowest that they have falsely accused me. Pardon them for Thy great mercy’s sake.’ But the bishops who stood near frowned and laughed.

After this he was clad by seven bishops in the full vestments of a celebrant. Once more the bishops urged him to recant. But Hus turned to the people and cried out: ‘These bishops here urge me to recant. I fear to do this lest I be a liar in the sight of God, and offend against my conscience and God’s truth.’ So he stepped down from the table, and the bishops began the ceremony of degradation; one by one his vestments were stripped off him. A dispute arose over his tonsure; should it be cut with scissors or a razor? ‘See,’ said Hus, turning to Sigismund, ‘these bishops cannot even agree in their blasphemy.’ A paper crown a yard high, with three demons painted on it ‘clawing his soul with their nails,’ and the words “Heresiarch,” was then fastened on his head. ‘The crown which my Redeemer wore,’ said Hus, ‘was heavier and more painful than this.’ ‘We commit thy soul to the devil,’ sang the priests, as they handed him over to the secular arm. ‘But he, with clasped hands and upturned eyes: I commit it to the most gracious Lord Jesus.’ By a strange oversight the Council forgot to add the crowning farce of these inquisition courts, the solemn adjuration to the secular arm to shed no blood. ‘Go, take him,’ said Sigismund, turning to Lewis, Count Palatine, the sword-bearer of the empire, who stood at Sigismund’s elbow, holding the golden orb and its cross in his hand. The count handed him over to the magistrates, who stripped him of his gown and hose, and led him out to die, escorted by a thousand armed men.

As he passed through the churchyard of the Cathedral, Hus saw a bonfire of his books. He laughed, and told the bystanders not to believe the lies circulated about him. The whole city was in the streets as Hus passed through their midst. But when the procession reached the gates the crowd found that they were forbidden to pass; there were fears lest the drawbridge should break down with their weight. On arriving about noon at the execution ground, familiarly known as “the Devil's Place,” Hus kneeled and prayed ‘with a joyful countenance.’ The paper crown fell off, and he smiled. ‘Put it on again wrong way up,’ cried the mob, ‘that he may be burnt with the devils he has served.’ His hands were tied behind his back, and Hus fastened to the stake which had been driven into the ground over the spot where a dead mule belonging to one of the cardinals had been recently buried. ‘Turn him round towards the West,’ cried the crowd, ‘he is a heretic; he must not face the East.’ This done, a sooty pot-hook chain was wound round his neck, and two faggots placed under his feet Burgher Reichental—the author of the famous illustrated Diary—offered to call a priest. ‘There is no need,’ replied Hus, ‘I have no mortal sin.’ But a priest ’who was riding about in a vest of very red silk,’ was less merciful. ‘No confessor must be given him,’ he cried, ‘for he is a heretic.’ For the last time Lewis, Count Palatine, and the Marshal of the Empire, asked him if he would recant and save his life. Said Hus, ‘in a loud voice,’ ‘God is my witness that the evidence given against me is false. I have never thought nor preached save with the one intention of winning men, if possible, from their sins. In the truth of the gospel I have written, taught, and preached to-day I will gladly die.’ So they heaped the straw and wood around him, and poured pitch upon it. When the flames were lighted, ‘he sang twice, with a loud voice, “Christ, Thou Son of the Living God, have mercy upon me.” When he began the third clause, “Who was conceived of the Virgin Mary,” the wind blew the flames in his face. So, as he was praying, moving his lips and head, he died in the Lord.’[2]

The beadles piled up the fuel, ‘two or three cart-loads,’ ‘stirred the bones with sticks, split up the skull, and flung it back into the flames, together with his coat and shoes,’ which the Count Palatine bought from the executioner, for three times the usual fee ‘lest the Bohemians should keep them as relics.’ When the heart was found they ran a sharp stake through it and set it ablaze. As soon as all was over the ashes were heaped into a barrow, and tilted into the Rhine.

For all thy saints, O Lord,
Who strove in thee to live,
Who followed thee, obeyed, adored,
Our grateful hymn receive.

For all thy saints, O Lord,
Accept our thankful cry,
Who counted thee their great reward,
And strove in thee to die.

Memorial Hymn of the Moravian Church for the Death-day of John Hus (July 6, 1415.)

  1. Not in Palackẏ: from Hardt, iv. 345, I see no reason to doubt its genuineness.
  2. For the various accounts of this trial and last scene, see my Age of Hus, p. 332.