The life and times of Master John Hus/Chapter 3

CHAPTER III

 

THE YOUTH OF HUS

 

The German writers have of late years endeavoured to establish a theory regarding the problems that confront the historian when he attempts to define to what extent general conditions and to what extent the acts of individuals should be considered in history. In other words, the historian should inquire to what extent events occurred in consequence of the social condition, the geographical situation, and the political position of a country, and to what extent the personality of one great and representative man influenced the course of history. If we attempt to solve this problem in connection with Hus, we undoubtedly find that his individuality was largely the cause of the momentous events which have rendered his name famous. Before Hus’s time Milic had been a saintly enthusiast and a vigorous denouncer of the sins and corruption of the times. Matthew of Janov, one of the most learned theologians of the period, had energetically attacked the evil rule of Rome which the schism had rendered yet more scandalous, and he had spoken strongly against the idolatrous veneration of pictures and statues. Hus alone possessed the qualities of a great popular leader. His absolute self-renouncement, the indomitable courage with which he met moral and physical pain of every description for the cause which he firmly believed to be that of God, his enthusiastic devotion to the Slavic and particularly to the Bohemian race, his striking and popular eloquence—all combined to make him the idol of the Bohemian people, whose greatest representative in the world’s story he remains.

If we endeavour to ascertain how great our knowledge of the events of the life of Hus is, we meet with a great contrast. While we have numerous and varied accounts of his later life—the events during his imprisonment can be traced almost day by day—very little is known of the early life of the great Bohemian church-reformer. The almost entirely absent contemporary records are replaced by later legends which are mostly attributable to members of the community of the Bohemian brethren, who believed themselves to have most purely preserved the teaching of Hus. Many of these legends are touching and not devoid of historical value. We are mainly indebted to the careful studies recently published by Professor Flajshans, the greatest authority on Hus of the present day, for whatever knowledge of the youth and early education of Hus we possess.

We are unable to state positively in what year Hus was born. The oldest traditions stated that he was born on July 6, 1373. More recently such great authorities as Palacky and Tomek gave July 6, 1369, as the date of the birth of Hus. According to the latest researches the exact year of his birth cannot be affirmed, but it undoubtedly took place in the period between 1373 and 1375. The day is quite uncertain. The tradition that Hus was born on July 6 is merely founded on a fanciful analogy with the day of his death, which occurred on July 6.

John Hus, or, “of Husinec,” was born in the village of Husinec near the small town of Prachatice, which is not far from the frontiers of Bavaria. This fact deserves notice, as the racial strife which is the keynote of Bohemian history at all periods has always raged most fiercely in those districts where the domains of the Bohemian and German language meet. Husinec and the surrounding district lie on the line of delimitation of the two languages, the Sprachengrenze as it is called in German.

Hus’s father was called Michael, and as it then was customary in Bohemia to describe men only by their Christian name and that of their father, young Hus was first known as John son of Michael (Jan Michaluv, in Bohemian). At Prague he was inscribed in the books of the university in accordance with the name of his native village as John of Husinec. Only after the year 1398 we meet with the signature of “John Hus” or sometimes “John Hus of Husinec.” After the year 1400 the church-reformer always signs himself simply as “John Hus,” though he is in official documents often described as “Magister Johannes, dictus Hus de Husinec.” The parents of Hus were peasants who possessed but scanty means, but endeavoured as far as they were able to give a good education to young John, who was his mother’s favourite son. John Hus had several brothers, of whom, however, nothing is known.[1]

It is probable that Hus received his first education at the school of the town of Prachatice near Husinec, though here as elsewhere great uncertainty prevails with regard to the earliest events in the life of Hus. His mother is stated to have generally accompanied him when he walked to Prachatice, and an ancient legend tells us that when he was returning from school one day a sudden storm obliged him to seek refuge under a rock. His mother joined him there, and almost immediately afterwards lightning struck a juniper bush close by and set fire to it. Hus’s mother said that they must immediately return home, but young John answered, “You will see that I also, like this bush, shall depart from this world in flames.”[2]

It would be very tempting to refer in more detail to the picturesque legends that are connected with the youth of Hus, but they would not, perhaps, have for English readers the same interest that they have for Hus’s countrymen. At an early age, probably about the year 1389, young Hus proceeded to Prague to pursue his studies at the university there. That university is henceforth closely connected with the life of Hus, as it was indeed with the whole history of Bohemia at this period. The Emperor Charles, King of Bohemia, founded the University of Prague in 1348. As a contemporary chronicler writes,[3] Charles, “inflamed by love of God and impelled by his strong affection for his neighbours, wishing to benefit the commonwealth and laudably to exalt his Bohemian kingdom,” obtained from the apostolic see the permission to establish a university (studium) at Prague. Charles, always a great admirer of France, where he had been educated and where, according to an ancient tradition, he had studied at the University of Paris, largely modelled the regulations of his new university on those that were then in force in Paris. As in Paris, the new university formed an independent community which enjoyed complete autonomy both with regard to civil and ecclesiastical matters. At the head of the university was a rector chosen twice annually by the members of the university, scholars as well as masters—a point that deserves notice, as Prague herein differed from Paris. The rector exercised very extensive powers over the members of the university, whom he could sentence to fines, imprisonment, and corporal punishment.

At the foundation of the university Charles had erected no special buildings for the purposes of study. The masters generally lectured in their own dwelling-places or at the monasteries to which they belonged.[4] Gradually, however, colleges sprang up on lines not dissimilar from those of the Sorbonne in Paris. Charles himself founded the Carolinum, and shortly afterwards colleges, some intended only for the masters, others for scholars, also were established. Charles’s son and successor, Venceslas, followed in the footsteps of his father and founded a college in the Ovocny trh (fruit-market) which bore his name and for a time counted Hus among its inmates.

When founding the University of Prague Charles had distinctly stated that he had founded the new establishment mainly for the purpose that the Bohemians might be able to pursue higher studies in their own country without undertaking journeys to distant cities such as Paris, Oxford, or Bologna; only as a secondary motive was the hope expressed that in consequence of the new foundation many foreign students would be attracted to Prague, which Charles had just greatly enlarged by building the “new town.” It was, therefore, undoubtedly in accordance with the wishes of the king that the new university had at first a national character. Thus, among the earliest teachers there, we find the names of John Moravec, Albert Bluduv, John of Dambach, Bohemians by birth, who had been educated at foreign universities. We do not find a single German name among these earliest teachers. It can therefore be said that the University of Prague was originally Bohemian, though Latin was the language in which instruction was given.[5] During the reign of Venceslas matters changed, and at the time of the arrival of Hus at Prague the Germans had obtained almost complete control over the university.

The University of Prague was, almost from its beginning, divided into “nations,” as was customary in Paris and Bologna. The Bohemian nation included besides the students from Bohemia and the county of Glatz—then part of the country—those who belonged to Moravia, Hungary, and the southern Slavic countries. The Bavarian nation comprised the students from the Bavarian principalities as well as those from Austria, Suabia, Franconia, and the Rhinelands. The students from Saxony, Meissen, and Thuringia, with those from Sweden and Denmark, formed the Saxon nation. The Polish nation was composed of Poles, Russians, Lithuanians, and Silesians. Since the foundation of the University of Cracow in 1364, the majority of the members of this nation was German. The division into nations—contrary to the practice of Paris—at Prague extended to the masters also. This, according to the views of a recent learned writer,[6] largely contributed to envenom the national dissensions at the university.

The new university—the first one founded in central Europe—immediately attracted large crowds of students from all parts of Europe. The contemporary chronicler, Benes of Weitmil, writes: “The university became so great that nothing equal to it existed in Germany, and students came there from all parts of the world—from England, France Lombardy, and Poland, and all the surrounding countries, sons of nobles and princes, and prelates of the church from all parts of the world.” The students were not all, as at the present day, men in early youth. The “faculty” of the jurists in particular, which for a time formed a separate body, contained many men of maturer age. Many wealthy men, often accompanied by numerous servants, also came to Prague, more for the purpose of enjoying the pleasures of the capital than for the purpose of study. This vast crowd of students added greatly to the population of Prague, and contributed greatly to enrich the citizens. The latter were not, however, always pleased with this great immigration. Among the students were many turbulent and riotous men Street brawls and even fights were frequent. Prague had somewhat the appearance of Paris at the time of Villon. The rector and beadles often proved unable to maintain order, and in 1374 the authorities of the university came to an agreement with those of the city, according to which the city-guards were empowered to arrest and hand over to the custody of the rector turbulent and riotous students. Other complaints also were made against the members of the new university. It was stated that they were followed everywhere by numerous undesirable female companions.[7] It must, however, be stated in defence of the students that the example given them by the clergy of Prague was not a very edifying one.

It was for this turbulent and sensuous capital that the youthful south Bohemian peasant John left the quiet of his native Husinec. Of his early student-days we possess somewhat touching reminiscences, which are scattered throughout his writings. It is a peculiarity of Hus that he always writes of his actions with a truly saintly humility, exaggerating in an almost childlike fashion every little misdeed, or what he considered as such. He, on the other hand, always takes much trouble to conceal the strenuous work and bitter self-renunciation which were the principal features of his student-life at Prague. In a spirit that almost appears inspired by personal animosity, recent German writers have laid great stress on Hus’s very innocent confessions. The son of poor parents, Hus endured the sufferings of poverty and even of hunger,[8] and was often obliged to sleep on the bare ground and even reduced to begging in the streets—not, it must be remembered, a very exceptional occurrence for a medieval student at a time when the fame of the mendicant orders was at its height. Hus also endeavoured, as he tells us, to add to his scanty means by acting as singing boy and ministrant at religious services. He appears to have taken part in the rough games of his fellow-students, though at the university he always bore an excellent character. Always a severe judge of himself, he confessed at a later period that he had been very fond of playing chess, and had even won money at that game. The life of Hus became somewhat less hard when he obtained admission to the college which King Venceslas had recently founded in the fruit-market. Hus had come to Prague to study theology, then almost the only career for an impecunious, but intelligent and studious young man. In his usual quaintly humorous manner he tells that he rejoiced in the thought of becoming a priest, as he would then have a good dwelling-place and clothing and be esteemed by the people. It would be unnecessary to state—had not the detractors of Hus expressed a contrary opinion—that this casual remark by no means proves that Hus had not from his youth a strong religious vocation and a strong inclination to theological studies. That he soon became famed for his piety in Prague is proved by a legend that is told of his student-days. It was related that Hus had, when reading the legend of St. Lawrence, asked himself whether he also would be able to suffer such pain for the sake of Christ. He immediately placed his hand on the fire in the coal-pan, and firmly held it there till one of his companions drew it away. Hus, we are told, then said: “Why dost thou fear so small a matter? I only wished to test whether I should have sufficient courage to bear but a small part of that pain which St. Lawrence endured.”

That Hus pursued his theological studies with energy and perseverance is proved by his rapid progress at the university. He would, there is little doubt, have become a theologian of the highest rank had his life been longer and less troubled. In his early university days Hus was not only a firm adherent of the Catholic Church—he indeed always continued to consider himself as such—but he even followed superstitious practices of the Roman Church which he afterwards condemned. When, in 1393, a year of jubilee was announced at Prague, and letters of indulgence remitting sins were publicly sold at the Vysehrad, Hus was among those who availed themselves of this privilege and, as he himself tells us, spent his few remaining coins in purchasing these supposed celestial favours. Other men, however, who were older than Hus at this period, already viewed with great displeasure this traffic in holy things, and when, in 1412, indulgences were again sold at Prague to defray the expenses of the war which Pope John XXIII. was waging against the King of Naples, many were mindful of the scandals caused by the sale of indulgences in 1393.

The University of Prague was at that time at the height of its fame, and Hus had the privilege of hearing the sermons and lectures of many eminent men. Among them was Adalbert Ranco, who has already been mentioned, and whose strongly anti-papal views may not have been without influence on the young student. One of Hus’s teachers also was the famed preacher, John of Stekna, whose sermons in the Bethlehem chapel induced Hus to seek indulgences at the Vysehrad, and whom he, referring to his eloquence, compares to a “sonorous trumpet.”[9] We have on the whole but scanty information concerning Hus during his stay at the college in the fruit-market. Among his fellow-students were some men with whom he was again associated later in life. Such men were Jerome of Prague, a man somewhat younger than Hus, and Jacob of Stribro, commonly known as Jacobellus, because of his diminutive size, who was the real originator of utraquism. The fates were to be more gracious to Jacobellus than to his companions, for while Hus and Jerome perished in the flames, Jacobellus died peacefully at Prague in 1429 as honoured leader of the utraquist or Hussite church.

The plan of studies pursued by young Hus at the university was that usually followed by youthful students of theology at mediæval universities. Dr. Flajshans has in his valuable work on Hus given an interesting account of these studies, referring specially to the customs peculiar to the university of Prague. Great importance was attached to theological disputations, in which the subtlety of scholastic distinctions and definitions found full play. Hus appears to have shown great aptitude for the exercises, and this no doubt accounts for the skill and acuteness which he afterwards displayed at Constance, when confronted with the most learned and most Subtle theologians of Europe. In 1393, at an unusually early age, Hus obtained the first of academic honours, that of bachelor of arts. Together with him, several companions, among them Jacobellus, went through the ordeal of the previous examinations, which took place in the large hall of the Carolinum, the college founded by Charles. Probably shortly afterwards the Archbishop John of Jenzenstein conferred on Hus the minor orders, though it appears that he was only ordained as a priest considerably later. He continued meanwhile to pursue successfully his academic career. In 1394 he became a bachelor of divinity, and in 1396 a master of arts. In 1402 he became, at an unusually early age, for the first time rector of the university. It was probably in 1400 that Hus was ordained a priest, but as Dr. Lechler has noted, Hus, like Melanchthon, who played so great a part in the German reformation, never obtained the degree of doctor of divinity. Though Hus had from the first been noted for his piety, his religious enthusiasm, as he has told us, and contemporary writers confirm, became yet greater after he had been ordained. Though Hus, whose home was in the frontier districts where the struggle between Slav and Teuton is always fiercest, no doubt from his earliest youth was interested in this strife, it was also about this time that he began to brood more seriously over the wrongs of his country. In 1401 Bohemia was invaded by the German troops of the Margrave of Meissen, the ally of Rupert, Elector Palatine, whom the enemies of King Venceslas had elected King of the Romans. These troops ravaged Bohemia in a cruel manner—a fact to which Hus alludes in one of his earliest sermons, preached probably in 1401, in which he also incidentally expatiates on the inferior position which his countrymen occupied in their own country. “The Bohemians,” he said, “are more wretched than dogs or snakes; for a dog defends the couch on which he lies, and if another dog tries to drive him away, he rights with him, and a snake does the same. But us the Germans oppress, seizing all the offices of state, while we are silent. Bohemians in the kingdom of Bohemia, according to all laws, indeed also according to the law of God and according to the natural order of things, should be foremost in all offices in the Bohemian kingdom; thus the French are so in the French kingdom, and the Germans in the German lands. Therefore should a Bohemian rule his own subordinates, and a German German (subordinates). But of what use would it be if a Bohemian, not knowing German, became a priest or a bishop in Germany? He assuredly would be as useful as a dumb dog who cannot bark is to a herd! And equally useless to us Bohemians is a German; and knowing that this (i.e. the rule of Germans over Bohemians) is against God’s law and the regulations, I declare it to be illegal.” The great talents of Hus as a preacher appear to have been from the beginning recognised by his countrymen. In 1401 we already find him preaching at the church of St. Michael by permission of Bernard, a monk of the Zderaz monastery, who was the parish priest of St. Michael’s. Though the monk Bernard was a strong opponent of church-reform, Hus was on terms of friendship with him and often dined at the parsonage. Hus, as was always his custom, expressed his opinions freely, and many statements made by him here and at the house of another friend, “Venceslas the cup-maker,” were in a distorted form brought forward as evidence against him many years later.[10] As Hus was then and continued many years afterwards to be on good terms with his ecclesiastical superiors, this circumstance appears an evil example of the tendency to eavesdropping and espionage of which the Bohemians are so often accused by their enemies.

It was due to the great fame of Hus as a preacher that he obtained in 1402 the important appointment of preacher at the Bethlehem chapel. This foundation is so closely connected with Hus and the Hussite movement that it deserves notice here. The foundation was undoubtedly an offshoot of Milic’s reform movement, and it is, as Dr. Tomek writes, somewhat strange that such a foundation should have been permitted by the ecclesiastical authorities at a time when the Archbishop of Prague was persecuting the followers of Milic. The founder of Bethlehem was John or Hanus of Millheim, of whom too little is known. We only read that he was one of the favourite courtiers of King Venceslas IV. and that he was, judging by his name, not a Bohemian by birth. He appears to have been owner of considerable estates—among others, of that of Pardubice in north-eastern Bohemia, as well as of considerable house property in Prague. Through his wife, Anna Zajic of Hasenburg, he was connected with the ancient nobility of Bohemia. The year of his birth is uncertain, but we have documentary evidence to prove that he died before the year 1408. Associated with him in the foundation was the tradesman Kriz, a rich and patriotic citizen of Prague, who was very anxious to obtain for his fellow-citizensm the privilege of hearing sermons in their native language. It was he who gave the building ground on the present Betlemské Namesti (Bethlehem Square), and he hoped, as events proved rightly, that his association with a powerful and influential noble would enable him to overcome the resistance which, during the period of reaction that followed the death of Milic, an enterprise founded on the lines of that church-reformer would necessarily encounter. The document drawn up by Millheim which established the Bethlehem foundation (dated May 24, 1391) indeed breathes entirely the spirit of Milic.[11] He states that, according to the teaching of the holy fathers, the word of God should not be fettered, but should be preached with the greatest freedom and in the manner most useful to the church and its members. Regret is then expressed that there was not as yet at Prague a place specially destined for preaching, and in particular none where sermons could be preached in the national language. Bohemian preachers were therefore generally obliged to seek shelter in houses or hiding-places. To obviate such evils in future Millheim decreed that the rector of the new foundation should be a secular priest whose duty it was to be to preach in Bohemian twice a day — in the morning and in the afternoon—on all Sundays and feast days, except during Advent and Lent, when he was only expected to preach in the morning. Relying on the support of his influential ally, the pious Kriz began building the Bethlehem chapel even before he had received the royal sanction of the foundation. Near the chapel Kriz built, also on the present Bethlehem Square, a modest dwelling for the priest who was to officiate in the chapel. The door of this modest house, sanctified to Bohemians by the fact that it was for a time inhabited by Hus, has been preserved, and is now indicated by an appropriate inscription. The Bethlehem chapel itself was entirely demolished by the Emperor Joseph II. of Austria in 1786.[12] It appears to have been a somewhat extensive building, deserving rather the name of a church than that of a chapel which it always retained. It is said to have been roomy enough to contain over a thousand people. Many ancient views of the famed Bethlehem chapel—Millheim had followed Milic in giving a Biblical name to his foundation—have still been preserved. The German historian Zacharias Theobaldus, who visited Prague in 1621, writes that he had at that time already found little in the Bethlehem chapel that was of historical interest.[13] He saw, however, a bench on which Hus had frequently sat and the pulpit from which he had preached. The latter had been greatly injured by the many pious travellers who had cut off and carried away chips from it.

The Bethlehem chapel, specially instituted for the purpose of preaching in the national language from its foundation, attracted great interest; the preachers there were renowned for their eloquence. The fame of the chapel, however, became yet much greater when Hus began to preach there. As had been the case with Milic, disciples now began to gather round Hus and formed a considerable part of his congregation. His following was not limited to men. Many pious Bohemian ladies soon began to occupy rooms near the Bethlehem chapel to be in the neighbourhood of the enthusiastic preacher. One of the first to do this was Anezka of Stitny, who has already been mentioned. Somewhat later, Cunegunda of Wartenberg, who shared the apartments of Anezka, Catherine Kaplir of Sulevic, and other noble Bohemian ladies found dwelling-places near the Bethlehem chapel, where Queen Sophia, the wife of King Venceslas, was also a frequent visitor. These ladies devoted themselves wholly to religious exercises and works of charity, forming an association similar to those of the Beguines, though they were not fettered by any rules or regulations. The important part played by women in the Hussite movement has, as I have already remarked, been much overlooked by historians.

As so often occurs under similar circumstances, the members of the Bethlehem community gradually and perhaps unconsciously assumed an attitude of aloofness and apartness which could not fail to cause displeasure in the narrow atmosphere of a mediæval city. The followers of Hus specially incurred the dislike of the German inhabitants of Prague. Some of these men had indeed at first welcomed the teaching of Waldhauser and Milic, but at the beginning of the fifteenth century racial discord became more intense in Prague. The Bohemians were greatly irritated by the depredations and cruelties which the German soldiers, sent into the country by Venceslas’s antagonist, Rupert of the Palatinate, committed. Hus shared the general feeling of his countrymen, and in a passage in one of his sermons that has already been quoted spoke strongly against the Germans. Though Hus always declared that he preferred a good German to a bad Bohemian, he also expressed himself strongly with regard to the attitude of the German members of the university who were suspected of favouring Rupert of the Palatinate. “The Germans,” he writes,[14] “who are in Bohemia should go to their king (Venceslas) and swear that they will be faithful to him and to the country, but this will only come to pass when a serpent warms itself on the ice.”[15] Another subject of national discord was the troublous state of affairs at the university. Though the foundation of German universities such as that of Vienna had considerably reduced the number of German students, their preponderance, founded on the artificial system of voting by “nations,” still continued. It had indeed become even more onerous, for since the foundation of the University of Cracow the Germans had secured a majority in the Polish “nation” at Prague. A very vast amount of ecclesiastical patronage was in the gift of the university, and the youthful Bohemian students of theology, mostly penniless young men, naturally feared that they would have little hope of obtaining preferment from a university which was in the hands of the Germans. The great intellectual advance of the Bohemian nation at the beginning of the fifteenth century rendered it yet more sensitive to the slight which consisted in its exclusion from the most important offices of the church and the university. There is no doubt that in this matter also Hus was in sympathy with his countrymen. Certain concessions were indeed made. Thus, after prolonged discussion, an agreement was made in 1384, according to which, of the twelve collegiate seats at the Carolinum college, ten should always be conferred on Bohemians, while the other two should be open to them as well as to the members of the three other “nations.” A similar rule was also established in the college of King Venceslas.[16] These slight concessions, which changed little in the general organisation of the university, may have deferred, but did not prevent the conflict that broke out at the time of Hus, and which will shortly be mentioned.

It is noteworthy that Hus was on good terms with his ecclesiastical superiors during the first years of his priesthood. His strong national feeling did not offend those members of the clergy who belonged to the ancient Bohemian nobility. The nobles of the country were, partly from a feeling of opposition to the German townsmen, generally friendly to the Bohemian people. It is also an error to state, as has frequently been done, that the acquaintance with the works of Wycliffe suddenly turned Hus from a devoted servant of the; Church of Rome into a virulent enemy of that church. The only undoubted change in the nature of Hus was that which occurred at the time of his ordination as a priest. He abandoned at that time the very harmless frivolities in which he had previously indulged. Always a pious man, he now became a very fervent Christian and a very diligent student of theology. Hus’s alienation from the Church of Rome was a gradual one, founded on personal experiences as well as on the study of books, Wycliffe’s among others. The learned Dr. Schwab, in his Johannes Gerson, in which he incidentally gives an interesting account of the early studies of Hus, points out that he devoted much time to the study of the sentences of Peter Lombard[17] and of Gratian’s Decretum. In the latter work Hus found many statements, such as that the primate had only been founded by the Emperor Constantine, and that equality had formerly existed between priests and bishops, which were entirely contrary to the teaching of the church in his time. Of Wycliffe’s works, also, Hus was an enthusiastic student. The writings of the English divine had from their first appearance attracted great attention at the University of Prague. Hus studied them carefully and transferred to his own writings many ideas contained in them, though, as already mentioned, it is always necessary to inquire whether the views expressed by both writers are not derived from a common earlier source. It is a proof of the great interest in Wycliffe’s writings which Hus showed at this period that we find among his earliest works a Bohemian translation of the Trialogus of the English divine.

It was also this interest in the works of Wycliffe which was the cause, or perhaps the pretext, of the first theological controversy in which Hus became involved. It was, however, as yet only the university and particularly its German magisters, not the Church of Rome, that attacked him. A German master of theology, John Hübner, in 1403 brought to the notice of the chapter of Prague—the archbishopric was then vacant—twenty-one “articles” derived from the works of Wycliffe which he declared to be heretical. It should be remarked that Hübner’s “articles”[18] contained many statements that were not derived from Wycliffe, as will be obvious to all who have even a slight acquaintance with the writings of the English divine. None the less these articles, as well as twenty-four others condemned by the synod of London, were by John Kbel and Venceslas of Bechin, canons of the chapter of Prague, brought to the notice of Walter Harasser, a German of the Bavarian “nation” who had just succeeded Hus as rector of the university. A general meeting of the members of the university, presided over by the rector, Walter Harasser, took place on May 28, 1403, in the great hall of the Carolinum college. The debate was a stormy one. Some of the masters who were acquainted with the writings of Wycliffe rightly declared that the articles attributed to him statements that he had never made. Master Nicholas of Litomysl addressed Hübner the informer in these words: “Thou hast falsely and unjustly drawn from these books (i.e. Wycliffe’s) statements that are not contained in them.” Hus exclaimed that the falsifiers should be executed, as were those who falsified victuals, alluding to the recent occurrence that two men had suffered the death-penalty for that offence. Stephen Palec, then an adherent of Hus, but one of those whom intimidation and even meaner reasons afterwards brought over to the Roman party, threw one of Wycliffe’s books on the table and said to the assembled masters: “Let who will stand up and speak against any word contained in this book! I will defend it!” Several other masters spoke in the same sense. The majority of the assembly, however, was of a contrary opinion. A statement was drawn up and passed by majority declaring that “no one should teach, repeat, or affirm these articles either privately or publicly.” To prevent the quarrel from becoming yet more envenomed, no decree declaring the articles to be heretical was passed. Some years afterwards, at a meeting of the members of the Bohemian nation, who were almost all favourable to the cause of church-reform, the former judgment was attenuated. On the proposal of Hus it was declared that “no master or scholar of the Bohemian nation should defend the articles in any false, erroneous, or heretical sense.” This restriction may be said to have rendered the whole prohibition illusory.

These academical discussions appear at this time to have attracted little attention beyond the precincts of the university. Public opinion in Prague became calmer after the election of a new archbishop. The choice fell on Zbynek Zajic of Hasenburg, a member of one of the oldest families of the Bohemian nobility. Though long nominally a priest, he had hitherto devoted himself exclusively to politics and to military matters. A very distinguished soldier, he did not endeavour to conceal his distaste—it was really perhaps contempt—for abstruse theological controversy. Zajic was on the whole a well-meaning man, who did not claim to be a scholar, but was far less illiterate than was stated by his opponents when he was very reluctantly dragged into the turmoil of theological controversy. Zajic, a man of common sense if not of learning, perceived that the real danger to the Bohemian church lay in the terrible immorality and dishonesty of the clergy. It also could not escape his notice that the accusation of holding heretical opinions was often levelled against virtuous and zealous priests by their less worthy colleagues. The exemplary life of Hus and the eloquence of which he had given proof in his sermons at the Bethlehem chapel attracted the attention of the new archbishop. Disregarding the attacks of which Hus had been the subject, Zbynek showed great favour to the pious and eloquent preacher. As Hus afterwards recalled to the archbishop’s memory,[19] he ordered him, “whenever he noticed any irregularity with regard to the government of the church, to bring such irregularity to the archbishop’s knowledge either in person or in case of absence by means of a letter.” Honestly striving to improve the moral conduct of the clergy of his archbishopric, Zbynek determined on instituting frequent meetings or synods in which all matters of discipline could be discussed. He appointed Hus preacher to the synod. Some of his synodal sermons have been preserved, and it cannot be denied that in them he attacked the morals and general behaviour of the Bohemian priesthood in a very strong though doubtlessly justifiable manner. These attacks did not at this period deprive Hus of the favour of the archbishop, as will be shown presently when referring to the important mission that was entrusted to him. At court, also, Hus was now in favour. Though we can hardly believe that King Venceslas felt much interest in matters of theology, he undoubtedly, probably through the influence of his pious queen, Sophia, treated the eloquent preacher with kindness. In later days, also, he extended his protection to Hus even when by so doing he incurred the enmity of the Church of Rome and of his treacherous younger brother Sigismund. Queen Sophia had from the first shown favour to the young priest, John of Husinec, and was often present at his sermons in the Bethlehem chapel. Through her influence Hus became court chaplain, and the queen also appointed him her confessor.

In 1405 Archbishop Zbynek entrusted Hus—together with two other priests—with a mission that had considerable importance. At Wilsnack, a small town of Slavic origin, situated in the present Prussian province of Brandenburg, strange miracles were stated to have occurred. In a chapel there three bleeding holy wafers had been found, and it was
 
"WENCESLAUS PRIUS ROMANORUM IMPERATOR, DEIN REX BOHEMIAE, HUSSITARUM PATRONUS." by Hermanni von der Hardt.

From “Magnum Oecumenicum Constantiense Cocilium.
by Hermanni von der Hardt.

 
affirmed that those who invoked these remnants of the body and blood of Christ obtained miraculous results. A knight named Henry, who was to fight a duel with one Frederick, vowed before doing so that he would dedicate his armour to the Holy Blood of Wilsnack: he killed his adversary. One Peter, a robber and murderer, while confined in prison in fetters, also made a vow to the Holy Blood of Wilsnack. The result was that his fetters were miraculously broken and that he escaped. These and other similar tales were circulated widely all over Europe, and countless pilgrims from all countries—among them many Bohemians—flocked to Wilsnack. Hus and his colleagues questioned very diligently at Prague some of those who had visited the new place of pilgrimage. The evidence they collected is very curious as bearing witness not only to the superstition and credulity of the Middle Ages, but also to the unscrupulous dishonesty of the clergy of the period. Thus the evidence stated that a citizen of Prague, Peter of Ach, one of whose hands was maimed, had undertaken a pilgrimage to Wilsnack and dedicated a silver hand as an offering to the Holy Blood. Peter, however, failed to find relief. He remained three days at Wilsnack, wishing to hear what the priests would say of this. He then saw a priest who showed the silver hand from the pulpit, saying: “Listen, children, to this miracle. The hand of our neighbour from Prague has been healed by the Holy Blood, and he has offered this silver hand as a thanksgiving.” Peter then rose, showed his maimed hand, and exclaimed: “Priest, thou liest; here is my hand maimed as it always was!” The result of the investigation, in the course of which many similar frauds were exposed, was that an archiepiscopal decree enjoined on all preachers in Bohemia the duty of informing the laymen in their sermons that pilgrimages to Wilsnack were prohibited. This prohibition was to be repeated on one Sunday of every month.

The deplorable result of this investigation, in which Hus took a prominent part, and the equally repulsive facts that came to his knowledge in consequence of the supervision of the clergy with which the archbishop had entrusted him, rendered Hus yet more bitter when writing and speaking of the Bohemian priests. He thus drew on himself the undying hatred of many of the priests of Prague, particularly of those whose life was not irreproachable. It was, indeed, mainly on the testimony of such men that Hus was afterwards condemned at Constance.

Meanwhile the university and town of Prague had, partly in consequence of the revelations of Wilsnack, again become a hotbed of theological strife. The fact that the bleeding wafers had been misused in an obviously fraudulent manner led to a truly scholastic controversy on the substance of the blood of Christ. Hus took part in this controversy by means of two of his earliest Latin works, entitled respectively, De Corpore Christi and De Sanguine Christi. The last-named treatise refers directly to the investigation of the so-called miracles of Wilsnack, and was written by order of the archbishop. The older manuscripts mention that it was approved by the archbishop and the University of Prague, while the later ones, written after Hus had been cast off by the Roman Church, state that the treatise had been rejected by the archbishop and university.[20]

As has been frequently pointed out, the question of the sacrament was in Bohemia very closely connected with the pretensions of the priests whose privilege it was to administer it. Hus’s attitude with regard to the pseudo-miracles of Wilsnack no doubt irritated yet further the clergy of Prague, already deeply offended by his outspokenness, and jealous of his success as a preacher. The contemporary chroniclers all attribute the troubles of Hus to the imprudence he showed in attacking the powerful priesthood. One of these writers states:[21] “It was commonly said that as long as he (Hus) preached against the lords, knights, and squires, the citizens and the artisans all praised him and felt kindly towards him. But when he attacked the clergy, the pope, and others of the ecclesiastical estate, then many deserted him.” The Bohemian chroniclers write with a great deal of prejudice, and their statements must be received with caution. Yet this passage probably reflects the popular feeling at Prague at the time when the relations between Hus and the Roman Church began to become strained. It is, at any rate, certain that the enemies of Hus laid great stress on the losses that might befall the Bohemian priests in consequence of his teaching. Such arguments would also, it was hoped, detach from the cause of Hus Archbishop Zbynek, who continued to show great distaste for theological controversies. In 1408, shortly after the second discussion of the works of Wycliffe at the university which, as already mentioned, had ended by a compromise suggested by Hus, the clergy of Prague brought forward new accusations against him based rather on questions of conduct than of dogma. In a document[22] which they forwarded to the archbishop, they, after briefly referring to the previous discussion on the works of Wycliffe, declared that Hus had preached odious and scandalous sermons which had lacerated the minds of the pious, extinguished charity, and rendered the clergy odious to the people. It was further stated that Hus had in the Bethlehem chapel declared before a large congregation consisting both of men and women, “contrary to the regulations of the holy church and the teaching of the fathers,” that all priests who claimed money from their parishioners as retribution for ecclesiastical functions, confession, communion, baptism, and others, were heretics. It was further stated that Hus, while officiating at the funeral of Canon Peter Vserub, who had been a great pluralist, had declared that he would not accept as gift the whole world on the condition of dying possessed of so many benefices. Hus was lastly accused of having in his sermons generally strongly attacked the priests and lowered them in the estimation of the laymen. Hus replied in a lengthy and spirited letter to the archbishop, which is, unfortunately, not devoid of the scholastic hair-splitting then fashionable at the universities. Yet there is no doubt that Hus was entirely in the right, particularly when he laid stress on the baseness of extorting money from the poor as a condition of administering the sacraments to them. As Professor Tomek has truly written, such conduct proves to what a low level the clergy of Prague had sunk at this period. The learned professor has also pointed out that the conduct of the priests blamed by Hus was in direct contravention of the article 65 of the statute of Ernest, Archbishop of Prague, who had some time previously endeavoured to reform the Bohemian Church. Nevertheless, Archbishop Zbynek henceforth showed less favour to Hus, and soon after the complaint of the priests he deprived him of his office of preacher to the synod. It must be admitted that the conduct of Hus at this period was not conciliatory. Ever zealous for the reform of the Bohemian Church—this, not a change in the doctrine of the church, he considered the purpose of his life—Hus addressed to Archbishop Zbynek a letter which, as Dr. Lechler, a Protestant divine, has truly written, reaches the extreme limit of that which is permissible to a priest when writing to his ecclesiastical superior. In this letter Hus interceded for the priest Nicholas of Velenovic, surnamed Abraham. Abraham had preached at Prague without permission, and had been called to account by Canon John Kbel, one of the most strenuous opponents of church-reform. When questioned, Abraham did not deny the offence, but declared that he believed that not only priests, but laymen also, had the right to preach. Thereupon Kbel called him a heretic, and caused him to be imprisoned, and afterwards exiled. This occurrence deeply affected Hus, particularly as Abraham was a man of blameless character. It has already been noted that—though there were many exceptions—it was generally among the worthy, zealous, and pious priests that the friends of church-reform were found. In interceding for Abraham, Hus vividly contrasted his life with that of other priests of Prague.[23] He ended his letter by admonishing the archbishop “to love the good, watch over those who are evil, not let the ostentatious and avaricious flatter him, favour the humble and friends of poverty, oblige the indolent to work and not hinder those who labour steadfastly at the harvest of the Lord.” Relations between the archbishop and Hus became more and more strained, and a letter written at the end of the year 1408,[24] in which Hus defended his conduct and expressed himself in favour of neutrality between the rival pontiffs, closed the correspondence.

The end of the year 1408 is one of the principal landmarks in the life of Hus. The “academic” period, as Dr. Flajshans has aptly named it, now ends. During this period Hus was mainly occupied with university studies and lectures and, still in agreement with his ecclesiastical superiors, enjoyed a comparative degree of quiet such as was never again to be his lot.

Before, however, dealing with the period of strife that now awaited Hus and during which the events of his life become involved in the whirlpool of the politics of his time, the early writings of the Bohemian church-reformer should be briefly noticed. They are more numerous than was formerly believed. Earlier writers generally surmised that all, or almost all, his works had been written during the last six troublous years of his life (1409–1415). It is true that far fewer writings of Hus were then known than is the case at present. Yet it is nevertheless a physical impossibility that Hus should, during those troubled years of exile and imprisonment, have written all the numerous Bohemian and Latin works with which we are now acquainted. The bibliography of the works of Hus is still incomplete, though the masterly work of Dr. Flajshans, entitled Literarni Cinnost Mistra Jana Husi (The Literary Activity of Master John Hus), has thrown a vast amount of light on a formerly very obscure subject. Even now almost unknown manuscripts of Hus that were secreted in little-known libraries continue to be re-discovered and published.

Very early Bohemian writings of Hus, perhaps his earliest, are some sermons that have been recently discovered. Of these some had been partially known previously, as Hus had, as was his custom, incorporated them, though in a modified form, in other works, particularly in his Postilla. The discovery is due to that indefatigable scholar, Mr. Adolphus Patera, formerly librarian of the Bohemian museum at Prague. Mr. Patera found these manuscripts in the library of the Cistercian monastery at Wilhering in Upper Austria, and published them in the Journal of the Bohemian Society of Sciences. Hus, or rather the copier, here still uses the ancient system of writing Bohemian which, as will be mentioned later, was so greatly ameliorated and altered by Hus himself. He here also still intersperses his sentences with Latin words, a proceeding of which Hus strongly disapproved when he began to devote his attention to the language of his country. On the other hand, we here already find Hus’s holy hatred of vice and immorality, and he here already propounds the theory that sin is no more permissible to a priest than to a layman, and indeed more blamable—a theory that appeared paradoxical to most of Hus’s contemporaries, particularly among the priesthood. Thus when preaching on Zacchaeus (St. Luke, chap, xix.) he says: “Those householders are manifest sinners who allow immorality or dice-playing in their houses. I say the same of dancing, by which they mock God on Sundays. As St. Bernard says, those who, particularly if they are priests, allow in their houses dancing or diceing or immorality, commit a mortal sin, and the priests more so than the laymen, for what is venial for a layman is mortal for a priest.”[25] A very early Bohemian work of Hus also is his translation of the Trialogus of Wycliffe. It was probably made between the years 1403 and 1407. If, as has been conjectured on the strength of statements made at the trial of Jerome of Prague at Constance, Jerome assisted Hus in this translation, this would be the only known instance of collaboration between him and Jerome. The translation has been long, and probably irretrievably lost, and its existence is known to us only through the testimony of numerous contemporary writers. Numerous manuscripts of it appear to have existed, but were destroyed during the period of Romanist reaction that followed the battle of the White Mountain. The translation was dedicated to the Margrave Jodocus of Moravia, a cousin of King Venceslas. It is probable that the frequent quotations from this work of Wycliffe which we find in the writings of the later Bohemian reformer, Peter Chelcicky, were derived from this translation.

Among Hus’s Latin works that belong to this early period is one that, though formerly almost unknown, is the largest and may also be considered the greatest of his Latin works. Though Hus here also conforms to the scholastic system which required incessant quotations and “authorities,” he appears here as both a profounder and a more original scholar than in books such as the treatise, De Ecclesia. I refer to Hus’s work, Super IV. Sententiarum,” which has quite recently been published by Dr. Flajshans.[26] The discovery of this work has already changed, and will in future probably even more change, the appreciation of Hus as a scholar. The book is a vast commentary on the then world-famed work of Peter Lombard entitled Sententiarum Libri quatuor. This book, the work of Peter, born at Lumello in Lombardy—whence his name of Lombardus—towards the end of the eleventh century, was for many generations the recognised text-book of theology. Peter’s work consists in a vast collection of the opinions of the fathers of the church on all matters of faith, the writer generally refraining from stating his own views. Though Peter’s book was, of course, in strictest accordance with the views of the Church of Rome as far as they had been formulated in his time, yet it did not always escape suspicion. The work, which is based on the fluctuating foundation of patristic tradition, and places side by side contradictory opinions, bears traces of a freedom that was afterwards lost.[27] The scholastic writers, indeed, contributed very little to the development of dogma. Laying stress rather on those truths that had been longest accepted, they endeavoured to steer clear of dangerously contentious matters. Thus the sentences of Peter contain no references to the papacy. In spite of these circumstances the Libri Sententiarum was a generally recognised authority, and innumerable commentaries on the work soon began to appear. Most young theologians at the beginning of their career lectured on Peter Lombard and then published their lectures in the form of a commentary on his work. Thus Hus’s contemporary and great adversary, Peter of Ailly, also wrote as his first work a commentary on the Sententiarum Libri quatuor.[28] The advancement of his academic career was, as Dr. Flajshans conjectures, an inducement to Hus to undertake this great work, which he began in 1407. Peter Lombard’s book, founded largely on St. Augustine, had, however, in itself great attraction for Hus. Hus’s book, Super IV. Sententiarum, proves that the writer was at that time already a man of vast erudition. Hus followed the argumentation and order of ideas of Lombard, whose work was the subject of his commentary. He borrowed largely from the earlier commentators, Bonaventura and St. Thomas Aquinas. He also quotes extensively St. Augustine and the Trialogus of Wycliffe. In some cases, when it was endeavoured to establish a dependence of Hus on Wycliffe, more careful research has proved that both writers had—as was (then frequently the case—borrowed extensively and without acknowledgment from the works of Peter Lombard. Of the many other writers used by Hus we may mention St. Anselm, Duns Scotus, Occam, and Bradwardine.[29] It is interesting to note as a proof of Hus’s extensive learning that when he—in Book II. distinction 8—treats of the truly scholastic question, whether the angels have bodies naturally (naturaliter) joined to them, he quotes to support his views the opinions, firstly, of St. Augustine, secondly, of Plato—in the Timaeus— thirdly, of Apulejus! It must be noticed that in this extensive work Hus’s teaching is entirely in accordance with that of the Roman Church of his time. In one of his latest works, written but a few months before his death, Hus lays stress on this fact, and in answer to the accusation levelled against him of having denied the validity of the sacrament when administered by an unworthy priest, he quoted his early lectures on Peter Lombard.[30] This is entirely in accordance with the truth. Hus in his Super IV. Sententiarum has expressed on this difficult question views that are identical with those of Rome.[31] Even an unworthy priest can validly administer the sacrament. It is sufficient that he who administers it should be a priest, should speak the words of consecration, and should have the intention of administering the sacrament, that is, of doing what the church does.

It is obviously beyond the purpose of this book to give a detailed account of this great work of Hus’s, which can be described as a commentary on the dogmatics as expounded in the then universally recognised text-book of Peter Lombard. The book, which has only been recently brought to public knowledge, is far too little known, and well deserves to attract attention, particularly among theologians. Of the other Latin works of Hus that belong to this period two, the treatises De Corpore Christi and De Sanguine Christi, have already been mentioned.

 
  1. The fact that John Hus had brothers is only proved by a passage in one of his letters written from Constance to his disciple Martin, in which he says: “Recommendo tibi fratres meos; carissime fac sicut scis ad illos.” (Palacky, Documenta Mag. Joannis Hus, p. 120.)
  2. Flajshans, Mistr Jan Hus.
  3. Chronicon Benessii de Weilmil, edited by Emler, p. 517.
  4. See Tomek, Deje University Prazské (History of the University of Prague) and the same author’s Dejepis Mesta Prahy (History of the Town of Prague), vol. iii., also Dr. S. Winter, O zivote na vysokych skolach Prazskych (Life at the High Schools of Prague), and the same author’s Deje vysokych skol Prazskych (History of the High Schools of Prague).
  5. Tadra, Kultumi Styky Cechs cizinou (Cultural Connection of Bohemia with Foreign Countries), passim, particularly pp. 288–289.
  6. Deuifle, quoted by Winter, Deje vysokych skol Prazskych.
  7. The parishioners of St. Nicholas in the old town declared: “Quod multae domus sunt in parochia ipsorum et aliis, ubi studentes morantur, et rara domus est in quibus morantur in qua non foverent meretrices publicas, de quo multi homines scandalizantur." Quoted by Tomek, Dejepis Mesta Prahy, vol. iii. p. 284, n.
  8. Hus refers in his quaint manner to this time when his only food consisted of a scant pittance of bread and peas. “As I,” he writes, “when I was a hungry little student, made a spoon out of bread till I had eaten the peas, and then I ate the spoon also.” Vyklad desatera bozieho prikazanie (Exposition of the Ten Commandments), chap, lxxvii. p. 278, of Erben’s edition.
  9. Hus, Opera (Nuremberg ed., 1715), vol. ii. p. 65.
  10. See Palacky, Documenta, passim, particularly pp. 174–185.
  11. Tomek, History of the Town of Prague, vol. iii. pp. 426–427.
  12. Not by the Jesuits as has been frequently stated; they had been expelled from the Austrian states several years previously.
  13. Doch habe ich kein Antiquitet so zu diesem meinem proposito (i.e., of studying the history of Hus and the Hussite wars) gehoret finden konnen.” (Zacharias Theobaldus Hussitenkrieg, p. 28.)
  14. Vyklad desatera bozieho prikazani (Exposition of the Ten Commandments), chap, xxxviii. p. 100, of Erben’s edition.
  15. A proverbial locution.
  16. Tomek, Deje University Prazské (History of the University of Prague), p. 112.
  17. Dr. J. B. Schwab, Johannes Gerson. That Hus had written an extensive commentary on the sentences of Peter Lombard—a fact that of course confirms Dr. Schwab's statement—was not known at the time his book appeared.
  18. They are printed by Palacky, Documenta, pp. 451–455. One of the statements attributed to Wycliffe runs thus: “Deus debet obedire diabolo.
  19. In a letter addressed by Hus to the archbishop in July 1408, he reminded him that “in principio vestri regiminis mihi pro regula Pat. Vra. instituerat ut quotienscunque aliquem defectum erga regimen conspicerem, mox personaliter, aut in absentia per literam defectum hujusmodi nuntiarem." (Palacky, Documenta, p. 3.)
  20. Flajshans Literarni Cinnost Mistra Jana Husi (Literary Activity of Master John Hus), pp. 67–70. Both these treatises are printed in the Nuremberg edition of the Latin works of Hus.
  21. Stari Letopisove cessti (Ancient Bohemian Chronicles), edited by Palacky, vol. iii. p. 7.
  22. This important document is printed—together with Hus’s reply—in Palacky, Documenta, pp. 154–163.
  23. The language of Hus is very forcible. He writes: “Qualiter hoc est quod incestuosi et varie criminosi absque rigo (sic) correctionis tamquam tauri indomiti et equi emmissarii collis extentis incedunt libere, sacerdotes autem humiles, spinas peccati evellentes officium vestri implentes regiminis ex bono affectu, non sequentes avaritiam, sed gratis pro Deo se offerentes ad evangelizationis laborem tamquam haeretici mancipantur carceribus et exilium propter evangelizationem ipsius evangelii patiuntur.” Palacky, Documenta, pp. 1–2. The MS. copied and published by Palacky is somewhat defective. It is in this letter that Hus—as mentioned above—refers to the mandate given him by the archbishop to report on the conduct of the clergy of Prague.
  24. Palacky, Documenta, pp. 5–7.
  25. Vestnik Kralovske ceske spolecnosti nauk (Journal of the Rl. Bohemian Society of Sciences) for 1890, p. 360.
  26. Super IV. Sententiarum Heraurgegeben von Wenzel Flajshans und Dr. Marie Kominkova, 1906.
  27. Dr. Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, vol. iii. p. 330.
  28. Tschackert, Peter von Ailly, p. 11.
  29. Hus calls him “Bragwardin,” p. 293 of Dr. Flajshans’s edition of Super IV. Sententiarum.
  30. See p. xvii. of Dr. Flajshans’s (German) introduction to Super IV. Sententiarum.
  31. Distinccio ista 13a. . . . continet quod sacerdotes aliqui, licet sint pravi, consecrant vere, quia non in merito consecrantis sed in verbo efficitur creatoris.” (Super IV. Sententiarum, Lib. IV. Distinccio XIII. pp. 58–-588, of Dr. Flajshans’s edition.)