The life and times of Master John Hus/Chapter 4



It has already been noted that the end of the year 1408 is a very important landmark in the life of Hus. He henceforth appears an open enemy of Rome, though he continued to the end of his life to consider himself a true and faithful member of the Church of Christ. The history of Hus at this period widens out and becomes more closely connected with the vast stage of European politics on which Hus himself for a brief moment appears as a prominent figure. The political situation of Europe at the beginning of the fifteenth century was entirely, either directly or indirectly, influenced by the great Western schism. The cardinals assembled in Rome in 1378 had elected as pope, Bartolomeo Prignano, Archbishop of Bari, who assumed the name of Urban VI. Though the Roman Church has in later days declared that Urban VI. and his successors up to Gregory XII. were legitimate popes, Urban’s election was impugned almost immediately, as having been obtained by violence and by intimidation on the part of the populace of Rome. A few months after the election of Urban a certain number of—mostly French—cardinals elected as pope, Robert, Cardinal of Geneva, who took the name of Clement VII. The following period, during which two, and for some time three, popes claimed to be the successors of St. Peter, is one of the darkest in the history of the church. The struggle, however, here requires notice only as far as it concerned Bohemia and the fate of Hus in particular. Verbal warfare between the contending popes was waged in the coarsely vituperative manner customary among mediæval theologians. The formidable power of excommunication which the popes possessed was misused for the purpose of crushing political enemies. To equip armed forces against their adversaries, the contending popes raised money by taxing the faithful, selling absolutions and benefices, and other simoniacal means. Each pope being only able to claim a certain number of countries as belonging to his “obedience,” as it was called, the papal agents became ever more extortionate. It is only by taking these facts into account that we can explain the spirit of intense hatred and scorn with which contemporary, even moderate writers, some of whom had been papal officials, speak of the Roman Church. It was natural that at such a period pious and unworldly men, when contrasting the events of their times with their own ideals, should feel an intense longing for the true Church of Christ as they conceived it.

When Pope Urban VI. died in 1389, the cardinals of his obedience, fearing that the termination of the schism might prove disadvantageous to them, immediately chose as Urban’s successor the Neapolitan cardinal, Piero Tomacelli, who took the title of Boniface IX. Similarly, after the death of Clement VII. in 1394, the Spaniard, Peter de Luna, who took the name of Benedict XIII., was elected pope by the cardinals of Clement’s obedience. The cardinals of both obediences, with characteristic insincerity and falseness, continued meanwhile to maintain that their greatest wish was to terminate the schism. This, however, for the time appeared impossible, nor did the deaths of Boniface IX. in 1404, and of his successor Innocent VII. in 1406, change the situation. Pope Gregory XII. was immediately chosen as the successor of Innocent, and though he conformed to the custom of his predecessors by stating that he wished to re-establish the unity of the church, it was thoroughly understood that, to each of the two popes and to his adherents, unity of the church meant the recognition of the pope of their obedience and the division of the benefices of the church among his principal partisans.

In the year 1408 the principal dignitaries of the Roman Church, with the weighty moral support of the universities of Paris and Bologna, made a determined attempt to terminate the schism. After difficult and prolonged negotiations, cardinals of both obediences, together with many other dignitaries, met at Pisa on March 25, 1409. The debates were stormy and at times threatened to be resultless, but finally the council deprived both popes, Benedict and Gregory, of the papal rank and all other dignities, declaring them to be heretics and schismatics. The faithful were released from their oath of fidelity to both popes, and all decrees and nominations that they might publish were declared void. It remained to elect a new pope. Mainly through the influence of the cardinal-legate of Bologna, Baldassare Cossa, who was the leading spirit of the council of Pisa, Peter Philargi, Cardinal of Milan, was chosen as pope. He assumed the name of Alexander V. His reign was short. Through the influence of Cossa, his principal councillor, he was induced, though already a man of over seventy years, to travel in the middle of winter across the Apennines from Pisa to Bologna. Though he became ill in consequence of the hardships of his journey, his life was not at first despaired of; but he died at Bologna on May 11, 1410, poisoned, as appears almost certain, by Cardinal Cossa, aided by Cossa’s doctor, Master Daniele di Santa Sofia.[1] Baldassare Cossa now openly assumed the authority which he had practically already wielded. On May 17, Cossa was by the cardinals then present at Bologna elected pope, “unfortunately for himself and many others,” as Niem writes. Though his enemies from the first declared that his election was due to intimidation, Cossa was a few days later crowned pope under the name of John XXIII. in the cathedral church of St. Petronius.

While the popes and cardinals previously mentioned enter but little into the life of Hus, this is not the case as regards Baldassare Cossa. We meet with Pope John XXIII. in some of the most important moments of the life of Hus. It was this pope who summoned Hus to Rome. It was the attempt of Cossa to raise funds in Bohemia for the continuation of his war against Naples that caused the troubles in Prague which forced Hus to exile himself. It was Pope John XXIII. who appears as Hus’s principal antagonist during the earlier part of his stay at Constance. It was Baldassare Cossa through whose influence Hus was imprisoned shortly after his arrival at Constance—though the pope repudiated the responsibility for this act whenever he found it convenient to do so. It is therefore interesting to glance briefly at the early life of this pontiff. Baldassare Cossa was born at Naples about the year 1360 and took orders at a very early age. He, however, early in life, felt the vocation of a soldier, and took part in the struggle for the Neapolitan throne between Ladislas of Hungary and Louis of Anjou. Military discipline, however, soon became irksome to Cossa, who is stated to have behaved rather as a brigand than as a soldier. Bishop Creighton, writing with his usual moderation, states that his life exceeded the bounds of military licence.”[2] It has often been stated[3] that he for a time became a pirate, but this tale probably only indicates that he took part in naval warfare during the struggle between the competitors for the Neapolitan crown. Though no one could be less worthy of the papal tiara than Cossa, he was undoubtedly, particularly in his younger days, a man of exceptional talent and reckless determination, endowed with an absolute contempt for the distinction of good and evil,
"IOHANNES XXIII. PAPA, NEAPOLITANUS. ALIAS BALTHASAR DE COSSA. Dictus, Sede motus in Concilio Constantiensi. Anno 1415." by Hermanni von der Hardt.

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

jenseits des Guten und Bösen, to use Nietsche’s now almost proverbial expression. If he played a somewhat pitiable part at Constance, we may assume that the excesses of his earlier days had impaired his formerly brilliant mental power. Finding that a military career was not at that moment likely to lead to rapid advancement, Cossa took to study and visited the famed University of Bologna. He here obtained the degree of laureate both of civil and of canon law “in consequence of his talents,” though he was said to have been more assiduous in debauchery than in study. The accusations afterwards brought forward against Cossa at Constance are terrible. Even if we distrust some of Niem’s hideously-grotesque tales, and believe that some of the evidence produced at Constance may have been spurious, Cossa’s record remains very black. Almost all contemporary writers assert that he was tainted with unnatural vice. Cossa soon ingratiated himself with his countryman, Pope Boniface IX., who appointed him archdeacon of Bologna, an important office, the holder of which acted as rector of the university. To be nearer to the pontiff Cossa proceeded to Rome, and by paying large sums to the pope, whose avarice was insatiable, he became Bishop of Ischia, and cardinal in 1402. He then obtained other ecclesiastical dignities, and was finally sent as papal legate to Bologna, Ferrara Ravenna, and Rimini. These cities, which, during the then prevailing anarchy, had thrown off the papal rule, were subdued by Cossa. Not less greedy for money than his patron Pope Boniface, the new legate succeeded in extorting vast sums from these cities, particularly from Bologna, where even the churches and monasteries were not secure from his greed. Cossa for a time became absolute ruler of Bologna, hardly caring to keep up the pretence that he was acting as a papal legate. His reign of terror, which obtained for him the name of “diavolo cardinale,”[4] scarcely suffered any interruption, when a conflict broke out between him and Pope Gregory XII., the second successor of his former patron. Pope Gregory had appointed his nephew to the wealthy bishopric of Bologna, the revenues of which Cardinal Cossa refused to renounce. Deadly enmity sprang up between the cardinal and the pope, who excommunicated him, stating “that notorious facts proved that the disciple (alumnus) of perdition, Baldassare Cossa, formerly cardinal deacon of St. Eustachius, formerly apostolic legate, had with other sons of iniquity revolted against the pope and the mother-church of God, that he had treated with contempt the worship of God, neglected the ceremonies of the Christian religion, and seized the sword of Satan and that of tyrannical power.”[5] Cossa retaliated without delay. Carrying out a plan he had perhaps previously conceived, he granted his protection to the council assembled at Pisa, which, in the disturbed state in which Italy then was, could hardly have met had it not been for the strong military force that was under Cossa’s command. Through his influence Pope Alexander was elected, and, as already mentioned, Cossa shortly became his successor. As Pope John XXIII. he resumed his former Italian policy, endeavouring in a manner not dissimilar from that afterwards employed by Caesar Borgia to carve out a kingdom for himself in that land. His most dangerous opponent was King Ladislas of Naples. It was by attempting to raise money for the purpose of a crusade against Naples that John XXIII. became the cause of disturbances in the distant city of Prague. When, on the repeated invitation of the Emperor Sigismund, Cossa reluctantly proceeded to Constance, his former good fortune seems to have forsaken him. A thorough Italian, he appears out of his element in northern lands.

After noticing briefly the general state of European politics, dominated as it was entirely by the schism, reference must again be made to Hus. In Bohemia, as elsewhere, the schism was the almost exclusive object of public interest. It has already been noted that the rival pontiffs always expressed their desire that the schism should be brought to an end. Pope Gregory XII., who had by the cardinals of the Roman obedience been elected as successor to Boniface IX. and to Innocent VII., soon after his accession informed the University of Prague that he was ready to resign his dignity, should his opponent Benedict do likewise. There is, however, no evidence that either pope would have accepted any solution except the abdication of his rival. When the cardinals assembled at Pisa to choose a new pope, they addressed a petition to Venceslas and all other Christian princes, begging them to maintain neutrality, that is to say, to recognise henceforth neither of the contending pontiffs, Gregory and Benedict. Venceslas was inclined to view such a proposal favourably. The French court, which was on traditional terms of friendship with the house of Luxemburg, had decreed that, up to the conclusion of the schism, the popes should not be allowed to exercise the papal rights in France. They would thus become unable to confer benefices, and it was hoped that they would in consequence lose many of their supporters. This measure rightly appeared to Venceslas as a first step towards a pacification. He had, however, as was always the case, great difficulty in coming to a decision. In 1408 he had already entered into negotiations with the cardinals who had deserted Gregory and Benedict. He first employed for this purpose Magister Mauritius de Praga,[6] who was, as far as we can conjecture from the very contradictory reports, a partisan of Pope Gregory. At any rate he did nothing to further the negotiations that had been entrusted to him. In October of the same year Venceslas sent to Italy as his envoys two members of the University of Prague, Magisters Stanislas of Znoymo and Stephen Palec, who were known as members of the party favourable to church-reform. The envoys were to proceed to Pisa, but were on their journey arrested at Bologna by order of Cardinal Cossa. As Cossa was the guiding spirit of the council and the envoys were representatives of a sovereign supposed to be favourable to its plan of pacification, this step of Cardinal Cossa has caused much controversy and remains unexplained. Perhaps the fact that the envoys carried with them a large sum of money and had numerous horses in their convoy—they were deprived of both coins and horses—affords some clue to this occurrence. It is also very probable that some message had been sent to Bologna from Prague, stating that the envoys were “Wycliffites.” This would give Cardinal Cossa a welcome pretext for his depredation. The envoys were very roughly treated by the mercenaries of Cossa, and Stephen Palec is said never to have recovered from the fright he felt at this time. Hus did not hesitate to affirm that this was the reason why the opinions of Palec changed suddenly after his mission to Italy. The University of Prague determined to take steps to insure the safety of its imprisoned members. On the suggestion of Hus, Henning of Baltenhagen, then rector, addressed, on December 8, 1408, a complaint to the cardinals assembled at Pisa,[7] stating that those venerable men, Stanislas, of Znoymo, professor of theology, and Stephen Palec, bachelor of theology, “well - beloved sons of the university,” had been deprived of their possessions and imprisoned. After praising “the vigorous wisdom, praiseworthy conversation, and solid doctrine” of these men, the letter begged that they might be released. Cossa was on very good terms with the council, and the prisoners were almost immediately liberated, though their goods were not restored to them.

Very shortly after Stanislas and Stephen had started for Italy, and probably before their arrestation had become known in Bohemia, Venceslas decided to send another envoy to the council. He had previously, in a letter forwarded to the cardinals at Pisa on November 24, 1408,[8] declared his willingness to send an envoy to Pisa on condition that such an envoy should be considered as a representative not only of the King of Bohemia but also of the King of the Romans. A few years, previously some of the German electors had deposed Venceslas and elected in his stead as king Rupert, Count Palatine. It was the invasion of Bohemia by German troops acting in the cause of Rupert that was the occasion of the famed eloquent sermon of Hus, which has already been mentioned. Venceslas had never recognised his deposition, and the demand which he addressed to the cardinals therefore appears justified. It appears to have been accepted, but after considerable delay, for it was only a year later that the king's new representative, Master John “Kardinal,”[9] of Reinstein, started for Italy. While Stanislas and Stephen appear to have had only a semi-private mission, Magister Reinstein acted as the king’s official representative. Reinstein was a firm adherent of the party of church-reform and a warm personal friend of Hus up to the end of his life. Venceslas’s choice of an envoy is therefore significative.

The attempt of the cardinals assembled at Pisa to induce the principal European powers to accept the system of neutrality, that is to say, to renounce the obedience of both Gregory and Benedict, proved on the whole successful. France, where the University of Paris used its great influence in favour of a measure which would, as was believed, terminate the schism, declared in favour of neutrality. In Germany also John of Nassau, the powerful Archbishop of Maintz, used his vast influence in favour of neutrality, though Rupert of the Palatinate, Venceslas's rival as King of the Romans, a firm supporter of Pope Gregory, strongly opposed it. Bohemia would, according to the wishes of Venceslas, also have immediately adhered to the system of neutrality. The fact alone that Rupert of the Palatinate whom Gregory had recognised as King of the Romans opposed that system, rendered it the obvious policy of Venceslas to adopt it. Yet he found difficulties in his path. Archbishop Zbynek was then and continued to a somewhat later period an adherent of Gregory. At the university opinion was divided. The German magisters, many of whom secretly sympathised with Rupert in his conflict with their king, were loath to renounce the obedience of Gregory. The Bohemian members of the university, on the other hand, were unanimous in their desire to comply with the wishes of King Venceslas. They were by no means blind to the many failings of the king, but they believed him to be on the whole a well-meaning sovereign not unfavourable to the cause of church-reform. It should indeed be noted that the very exaggerated unfavourable accounts of the life of Wenceslas, which have been repeated by countless historians, had their origin rather in the favour he for a time accorded to Hus and his disciples than in the very real failings of Venceslas, which he shared with many other princes of the fifteenth century. The Bohemian members of the university were also largely dependent on the king's favour for obtaining the changes at the university favourable to their nation, which they desired. Another motive may also have influenced them. Many of the Bohemian masters may have read the works of Wycliffe and other opponents of the extreme pretensions of the papal see. Such men would be less opposed to the deposition of popes than others who upheld the unlimited authority of papacy; for we meet already with such upholders at this period.[10] The differences of opinion caused by the question of neutrality, as was inevitable, accentuated and envenomed the national discord which already prevailed at the university, where a Bohemian majority was oppressed and deprived of its rights by a somewhat overbearing German minority. At a meeting of the members of the university held late in the year 1408, the rector Baltenhagen and all the German members energetically maintained that Gregory should continue to be recognised as pope. The Bohemians—Hus acting as spokesman—expressed themselves strongly in favour of neutrality up to the time when a new pope should have been elected. The meeting broke up without a vote having been taken, probably because Baltenhagen was afraid of offending the king. Hus always maintained that it was from this moment that he lost the favour of the archbishop. It is certain that shortly after this meeting a decree signed by Archbishop Zbynek declared that Hus, as a disobedient son of the church, was forbidden the exercise of ecclesiastical functions. Hus replied in an eloquent letter—to which reference was made in the last chapter—and the correspondence then ceased.

King Venceslas, who had for some time been residing in Silesia, left that country about the end of the year 1408, and returning to Bohemia, proceeded to Kutna Hora (Kuttenberg), where he and his court remained for a considerable time. Venceslas here awaited the visit of a French embassy, the purpose of which, as was known, was to persuade the king to follow the example of France by renouncing the obedience of Gregory and Benedict. The opinion of the University of Prague at this period was of great importance in all theological discussions. It was customary to consult it in such cases, as had been done in Paris and Bologna. Venceslas therefore summoned to Kutna Hora some of the most prominent members of the university. Among them were the rector Henning of Baltenhagen and several other Germans, as well as four Bohemian masters, the most prominent of whom were Hus, and Jerome who had just returned to Bohemia from prolonged travels. The king first discussed matters with the rector, who adroitly avoided entirely the question of the schism, but complained bitterly of the “Wycliffite” agitation, which, he said, endangered the peace of the city of Prague, as well as the fame of Bohemia as a country exempt from all heresies. He thus referred to a matter which deeply touched the king, as indeed all Bohemians. It is difficult at the present day to realise what a sense of opprobrium the word “heretic” conveyed even to men who openly by deed and word opposed the Church of Rome. Bohemia had always boasted that it was untainted by heresy. Hus in the moment of death declared that he had never expressed heretical views. As late as at the council of Basel the Hussite envoys protested more energetically against the statement that they were heretics than against any other accusation. The anger of Venceslas, who was undoubtedly misled by the cunning German, is therefore natural. The king also may have feared that the popular excitement might cause riots in Prague. Venceslas graciously dismissed Henning of Baltenhagen and then addressed Hus and Jerome in very violent language. He accused them of fomenting disorders in the land and threatened them with death at the stake.

Other councils, however, soon prevailed with King Venceslas. His courtiers were almost all favourable to the party of church-reform, and they frequently assisted at Hus’s sermons in the Bethlehem chapel. They were far too true courtiers to interfere at a moment when the king was carried away by fury, but they gradually guided his thoughts back to the bias they had formerly had. They obtained powerful aid from the members of the French embassy, which arrived at Kutna Hora in January, 1409. The embassy was very numerous, and as was then customary, particularly when ecclesiastical matters were to be discussed, it included theologians—members of the famed University of Paris. These men employed all their eloquence in endeavouring to persuade Venceslas to renounce the allegiance of Pope Gregory, and it is very probable that, when the opposition of the German members of the University of Prague was mentioned, the French envoys may have pointed out that the Paris University granted no such great privileges to aliens.[11] The queen also spoke strongly in favour of the party of Hus. Finally, Nicholas of Lobkowitz, a favourite courtier of the king and one who, as manager of the royal mines at Kutna Hora, had daily access to his sovereign, prevailed on him to sign the famous decree of Kutna Hora (January 18, 1409). In this decree, addressed to the rector of the University of Prague, the king, after the usual formal introductory remarks, proceeds to state that whereas the Teutonic nation, possessing no rights of citizenship in Bohemia, claims, as is truthfully reported, three votes in all matters concerning the University of Prague, while the Bohemian nation, the lawful heirs of this kingdom, possesses and enjoys but one, (therefore) the king, considering it most unjust and unbeseeming that foreigners and aliens should largely enjoy the advantages that belong rightly to the residents, who consider themselves oppressed by this loss and disadvantage, decrees that the university shall henceforth, without all resistance, allow the Bohemian nation to have in all assemblies, judgments, examinations, elections, and other transactions three votes in the same manner as the French nation has them in Paris, and in accordance with the regulations of Lombardy and Italy. The decree ends by stating that the rector, should he not act according to these instructions, would incur the king's gravest displeasure.[12]

This famous decree, which entirely altered the constitution of the university, was naturally received with great enthusiasm by the national party. The principal leader of that party was at this moment seriously ill. Hus, whose nature, in spite of his indomitable physical courage, was a very sensitive one, felt deeply the insulting speech of the king, for whom he, as a loyal Bohemian, felt affection and respect. On his return to Prague he was seized by one of those violent attacks of illness that were not infrequent during his troubled and comparatively short life. It is stated that the good news reached Master John on his sick-bed late on the night of January 19. His friend Nicholas of Lobkowitz had sent a messenger to him with a copy of the decree of Kutna Hora. Hus, Dr. Flajshans writes, eagerly seized with his hands that still trembled from fever this magna charta of the liberty of the Bohemian nation in the university. Almost immediately afterwards Hus was visited by two friends, who found him still in a state of joyful excitement. “Would it be just,” he asked them, “if we had three votes?” Standing near the bed of Hus they both answered as with one voice, “Would that God did but grant it! We shall never attain to such a power.” Hus answered: “Here is a copy of the king’s letter to the university. Read! "Hus’s visitors, ancient masters of the Bohemian nation who had struggled for many years for the rights of their country, were overwhelmed with surprise and joy. Hus, pointing to his emaciated body, exhorted his comrades to fortitude. “I am,” he said, “nearly dying; if then I die, defend, I beg you, the rights and the freedom of our nation.”[13]

After the decisive step, the publication of the decree of Kutna Hora, had been taken, events moved with great rapidity. Only four days later a new decree of King Venceslas[14] stated that the cardinals (i.e., those who had renounced the obediences of Gregory and Benedict), his dearest friends, men who were zealous for the unity of the church, had earnestly begged him to refuse obedience to the two contending pontiffs, pointing out that thus only could peace among the Christian people and the amity of the church be secured. Venceslas then threatened with severe penalties all who should obey any orders of Pope Gregory—Pope Benedict had never been recognised by any one in Bohemia—or his party, or favour them in any way.

On January 26, the royal decree was read to the assembled members of the university. The Germans openly expressed their displeasure, and at a meeting which took place a few days later all the German members of the university pledged themselves, “under the fourfold penalty of perjury, excommunication, deprivation of honours, and a fine of threescore hundred groschen,” to leave the university and never again pursue their studies there, rather than admit that the Bohemians should have three votes at the deliberations of the university and the other nations only one. Hus, though he has often been falsely accused of wishing to expel the German students from Prague, strongly blamed this decision and advised them to “annul their foolish and illicit vow, which the devil had inspired.”[15] Before leaving Prague, however, the German magisters determined to address a remonstrance to Venceslas. This short letter, which cannot be said to have been couched in a very respectful tone, was delivered to the king on February 6. It stated that under an influence or influences known to God alone[16] the king had sent to the university, his daughter, a letter which seriously decreed that the Bohemian nation should in future have three votes at the university and the other nations only one. The German magisters then proceeded to point out the evil results which they said this decree would certainly have.

The king, a few days later, sent a lengthy reply,[17] which very clearly states his case and deserves a somewhat detailed notice. Venceslas began by stating that his royal prerogative permitted him to make whatever changes he thought fit at the university, and then pointed out that he had the right to consider the three nations which had joined into one German nation as a single unity. The letter then, with the abundance of biblical quotations customary at that period, blamed the disobedience of those who refused to obey the king, the ruler of Bohemia. It was further stated that the inhabitants of the kingdom of Bohemia, the true Bohemians (regnicolae regni Bohemiae, veri Bohemi), were entitled to receive such privileges as the king thought fit to bestow on them, and that he had rightly given them such privileges with regard to judgments, offices, elections, and other concerns of the university. The foreign nations—the letter continued to say—or rather the Teutonic nation, should humbly obey the decree of the king, which conferred three votes on the Bohemian nation, mindful of the words: “Friend, I do thee no wrong . . . take that thine is and go thy way. . . . Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil because I am good?”[18] The letter then affirms, again bringing forward scriptural quotations to support the affirmation, that the Bohemian nation must be the ruler (rectrix) of the other nations at the university, and that the Teutonic nation therefore, by claiming three votes, claims supremacy over the Bohemian one—a claim that is contrary to the king's wishes and undutiful to God. The Teutonic nation—the letter continues—would never admit that at Vienna or Heidelberg the Bohemians should hold superior rank and rule over the inhabitants. It is written: As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.[19] If, therefore, the Teutons wish that the Bohemians in Germany should not oppose their supremacy, let them in Bohemia act similarly towards the Bohemians. Both canon and civil law teach that the inhabitants of a kingdom should hold supremacy over the foreigners who visit their country. The letter then contains a detailed refutation of the German statement that the regulations favourable to them at the university were of long standing. Denying this, the letter declares that Charles IV., according to his charter of foundation, had wished it mainly to benefit his Bohemian subjects. If the Bohemians were at first inferior to the Germans in learning, and were indeed as slaves, they now have, with God’s help, become stronger and superior to the Germans in all arts and sciences. Let, therefore, those who had formerly been advantaged at the expense of the true owners of the land give way to them, and let these true owners rule the university for all centuries.

The authorship of this very important document has often been attributed to Hus, but it is more probable that it was the work of his disciple, Master John of Jesenice. The question is of little importance, as the document clearly and circumstantially expresses the views of the whole national party. Important as this state-paper was in any case, it became yet more so in consequence of the events that followed almost immediately.

After the publication of the decree of Kutna Hora all work at the university stopped. It became impossible to elect a rector, and constant conflicts between Bohemians and Germans occurred. The stern command of the king to elect a rector remained unheeded by the Germans, and when the royal decree referred to above was brought to their knowledge, they immediately determined to carry out their threats. Some of the most important German masters had already entered into negotiations with German princes, such as the Landgrave of Thuringia and the Margrave of Meissen, with regard to their eventual emigration to Germany. These negotiations, however, took up some time, and it was only on May 16 that a large number of German magisters and students left Prague for Leipzig. Including servants and menials, they fare stated to have numbered about 2000 men. They arrived at Leipzig about the end of May, and there founded a new university, of which, according to some records, the former rector of the University of Prague, Henning of Baltenhagen, according to others, John of Münsterberg, became the first rector. The former German students of Prague never forgave the injury which they had, according to their views, suffered. They became bitter enemies of Bohemia and of church-reform, and firm adherents of the Roman cause. The Polish students did not take part in the exodus, but remained in Prague with their comrades of the kindred Bohemian nationality.

The departure of the German students from Prague has given rise to a very bitter and prolonged controversy that even now can scarcely be considered as terminated. Writers such as Höfler and Helfert, whose works appeared at a time when the Austrian government was under the influence of extreme ultramontane and Teutonic tendencies, naturally sympathised with the German masters and students who held similar views four centuries previously. Baron Helfert, a distinguished conservative statesman, wrote with dignity and moderation. As much cannot be said of Professor Höfler, who everywhere, and here in particular, overwhelms Hus and the Hussites with an incoherent torrent of vituperation. Höfler repeats the ancient accusation against Hus of having endeavoured to expel the Germans from the university. Even before Hus’s views had been shown more clearly by the remarks contained in one of his recently re-discovered works,[20] it was obvious to all impartial minds that this was untrue.[21] Of the modern Bohemian writers Palacky was by the Austrian authorities only allowed towards the close of his life to express his real views[22] with regard to Hus and the Hussites and the exodus of the German students in particular. Very important, in connection with the departure of the German students from Prague, is the account of that event given by Professor Tomek in his monumental history of the town of Prague (Dejepis mesta Prahy), a work that has unfortunately never been translated.

To judge the question impartially it is necessary to consider the circumstances under which Charles IV. founded the University of Prague. I have given a brief account of them in Chapter III. of this work. There is no doubt that Charles founded the university mainly for the benefit of his Bohemian subjects, that they might, as he expressly stated, find at home the instruction which they had formerly been obliged to seek abroad. It is not probable that the question of race and nationality immediately became prominent. In a community, all whose members habitually used the Latin language, there is indeed no reason why this should have been the case. There is also no doubt, and the state-paper of Venceslas admits this, that the Bohemians were at the time of the foundation of the university somewhat backward and inferior in learning to the Germans. This inferiority has, however, been exaggerated by many writers. Thus, as mentioned previously, a large number of the earliest teachers at the university were Bohemians who had received their education at foreign universities. Other facts also, such as the contemporary writings of Thomas of Stitny, tend to prove that the ignorance of the Bohemians at this period has been exaggerated. In any case, enough is known of the character of Charles, a believer in the solidarity of the Slavic countries, “panslavism,” as it has often been foolishly called,[23] to state with full assurance that he had no intention of founding a Teutonic university. Charles no doubt believed that many students from the neighbouring kingdom of Poland would visit the new university. These visits, however, almost ceased after the foundation of the University of Cracow. Other changes also occurred. Universities were founded in Germany, at Vienna, Heidelberg, and Erfurt. The number of German students at Prague decreased largely in consequence, but their influence continued as great as ever. This was due to the system of voting by “nations,” which was not indeed a fundamental law of the university, but had been gradually and tacitly accepted. While the Germans became fewer in number, the Bohemian students became more numerous every year. The university had many benefices in its gift, a matter of the highest importance to the many penniless students of theology who frequented it. These benefices were of course bestowed in accordance with the system of vote by nations that prevailed in all matters concerning the university. The Bohemians were, therefore, generally excluded from livings situated in their own country and often endowed by their countrymen. It has often been stated that the analogy between the University of Prague and that of Paris established by the decree of Venceslas is false, as in Paris the four nations were the French, Normans, Picards, and English. On further reflection it, however, appears that the analogy is strikingly true. Though under different names the French, Norman, and Picard nations together represented the national indigenous element which possessed three votes, while the foreigners, that is to say the members of the English nation, which included Germans, Bohemians, and others, had one.

German writers have also enlarged on the material loss which the town of Prague suffered from the departure of German students. Such reflections prove an entire misconception of the feelings of the citizens of Prague at this stormy period. The native population of the city was inflamed by the most ardent religious and national enthusiasm, and was prepared to suffer and venture everything for a cause which it believed to be sacred. The citizens indeed proved this a few years later by their splendid defence of the capital when it was attacked by an army of so-called crusaders, gathered together from all parts of Europe. It must also be stated that the continued residence of German students in Prague would at this period, in any case, have proved an impossibility. Overbearing as German students have shown themselves in that city, not only in the fifteenth century, their presence would have led to constant conflicts. Even the German citizens were somewhat later obliged to leave Prague, as the Praguers not unnaturally feared the presence of enemies in their camp. There was at that period of excitement no room within the walls of Prague for upholders of German supremacy and of the extreme claims of the Roman hierarchy.

As regards the university, it cannot be truthfully said that it lost its importance by becoming a national one. Indeed it became, as will be mentioned later, after the death of Hus, for a time the supreme authority in Bohemia on matters of religion, as most of the higher members of the Bohemian clergy were opposed to the cause of church-reform. The downfall of the University of Prague belongs to a far later period, that which followed the battle of the Bila Hora (White Mountain).

  1. Of the many crimes of which Baldassare Cossa was rightly or wrongly accused, this appears one of the most authenticated. See Giovanni Gozzadini, Nanne Gozzadini e Baldassare Cossa, pp. 367 and 368, where a list of contemporary authorities on this subject is given. Mr. Gozzadini’s book contains much authenticated information on the early life of Pope John XXIII.
  2. History of Papacy, vol. i. p. 268.
  3. Dum autem simplex clericus ac in adolescentia consti tutus existeret cum quibusdam fratribus suis piraticam in mari Neopolitano, ut fertur exercuit.” (Theodoric de Niem, De Vita Papae Joannis XXIII.) Except the members of the council of Constance, no one writes of Baldassare Cossa with greater animosity than this grey-grown servitor of the popes.
  4. Mr. Gozzadini, quoting from the archives of the Gozzadini family.
  5. Abridged from Raynaldus Annales Ecclesiasticae, vol. viii. p. 220.
  6. By Hus and his friends generally known as “Rvacka.”
  7. Palacky, Documenta, p. 345.
  8. Ibid. p. 343.
  9. This strange designation of Master John of Reinstein was a nickname.
  10. Dr. Harnack writes (Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, vol. iii., pp. 398–399 n.): “The book de planctu ecclesiae of the Franciscan monk Alvarus Pelagius . . . contains passages which prove that even in the nineteenth century the glorification of papacy could not be carried to a greater extreme.”
  11. Venceslas’s decree changing the constitution of the university—which will be mentioned presently—alludes to the regulations of the University of Paris.
  12. Abridged from the Latin original, printed by Palacky (Documenta, pp. 347–348).
  13. Flajshans, Mistr Jan Hus, pp. 194–195.
  14. Palacky, Documenta, pp. 348–349.
  15. Si quis vestrum juravit ut exiret de Bohemia nunquam reversurus hic illicite juravit; rescindat juramentum stultum illicitum, a dyabolo et a suis satellitibus inductum.” (Super IV. Sententiarum, vol. vi. d. i. p. 503 of Dr. Flajshans’s edition). In his introduction to the work Super IV. Sententiarum, Dr. Flajshans has very skilfully proved that this lecture on Peter Lombard was delivered at the time when the German students were preparing to leave Prague.
  16. Ex cujus vel quorum inductione Deus novit.” Palacky, Documenta, p. 351.
  17. Ibid. pp. 355–363.
  18. Matthew xx. 13–15; only the passages given above are quoted in the letter.
  19. Luke vi. 31.
  20. The Supra IV. Sententiarum. See above.
  21. The matter is stated very clearly by Mr. Krummel in his Geschichte der Böhmischen Reformation, p. 207. Mr. Krummel, though a German, writes of Hus entirely without animus.
  22. See my Lectures on the Historians of Bohemia, pp. 95–96.
  23. I am quite aware of the fact that many German writers have denied that Charles had such a tendency. These writers have not, I think, disproved the assertions of Palacky.