The letters of John Hus/Toothache; Final Audience; "A King in Mortal Sin is not a King"; etc.

After a night of sleepless pain, ‘toothache, vomiting, headache, and stone,’ Hus was brought up for his final hearing. Sigismund once more was present. Thirty-nine articles extracted from his De Ecclesia and other works were presented against him, and read aloud by an English delegate. Then Hus was allowed to make his limitations and exceptions. But one work, as Hus tells us (infra, p. 218), was not in evidence. Other charges were also introduced: his sermons to the laity against scandalous priests, and especially his celebration of the sacraments while still under excommunication. When Hus owned to this last, Zabarella made a sign to the notary that special record should be made. On the whole the trial was kept well in hand, in spite of the temptation of side issues. One interlude, however, is historical. Hus was defending the famous tenet of Wyclif: ‘If a pope, bishop, or prelate is in mortal sin, then he is not a pope, bishop, or prelate.’ He added incautiously that it applied to temporal rulers; ‘a king in mortal sin is not really a king in the sight of God.’ Sigismund was leaning at that moment out of one of the windows telling Frederick of Nuremberg ‘that in all Christendom there was not a greater heretic than Hus.’ The Council saw their opportunity. ‘Call the King,’ shouted the prelates; ‘bring him here, for this matter concerns him.’ ‘John Hus,’ said Sigismund with dignity, when Hus had repeated his statement, ‘no one lives without sin.’ ‘It is not enough for you,’ said D’Ailli, ‘that you try by your writings and teachings to decry and overthrow the spiritual estate, you now wish to hurl down the throne and royal power.’ Hus tried to turn the tide by asking, ‘If John XXIII. was truly Pope, why was he deposed?’ ‘Baldassarre,’ answered Sigismund, ‘was truly Pope, but was deposed from the Papacy on account of his notorious crimes.’ Hus then fell back on a fine distinction between ‘quoad meritum’ and ‘quoad officium,’ and the arguments drifted off to the stock illustrations of Judas and Pope Joan (cf. supra, p. 125, n. 2).

At length D’Ailli summed up the decision of the Council. Hus must publicly recant and abjure. ‘I am prepared,’ answered Hus, ‘to obey the Council, and to be taught; but I beseech you in the name of God, do not lay snares of damnation for me by compelling me to tell a lie, and abjure articles I never held.’ As he spoke of his conscience, many mocked. ‘Did your conscience,’ they cried, ‘ever teach you that you had erred?’ ‘A fat priest, sitting in the window in a splendid garment, called out that he ought not to be allowed to abjure. If he retract he will not mean it.’ But Sigismund pleaded with Hus, and asked wherein lay his difficulty in retracting errors that on his own showing he was unwilling to hold. ‘That, my lord king,’ answered Hus, ‘is not what they mean by abjuring.’ After a further warning from Sigismund, ‘I stand,’ replied Hus, ‘at the judgment seat of God, who will judge us all according to our merits.’

As he was led back ‘in chains’ to prison, Chlum managed to grasp his hand, ‘though now rejected by all,’ a matter which gave Hus much comfort (see p. 221). Sigismund on his part addressed the assembly: ‘One only of the charges proved against Hus would suffice for his condemnation. If, therefore, he be unwilling to adjure and preach against his errors, let him be burnt, or do with him according to your laws. . . . Wherever his disciples be found, let the bishops tear them up root and branch. Make an end therefore of his secret disciples. I have to go away soon, so begin with that fellow what’s his name?’ ‘Jerome,’ they shouted. ‘Yes, Jerome. I was a boy when this sect first started in Bohemia. See what it has grown into now’ (Doc. 308–15).

This speech, duly reported by the listening Chlum and Mladenowic, cost Sigismund years of warfare and the crown of Bohemia. This hounding on of the Council to the breach of his own safe-conduct was never forgiven. The same night Hus wrote as follows to his friends in Constance. He realised clearly now that there was but one issue. A second letter, also without date, was written while the memory of Chlum’s warm grasp of the hand was still fresh.