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LETTER III: To Zbinek, Archbishop of Prague ( Undated: early December 1408) - Jan Huss, The Letters of John Hus 
The Letters of John Hus. With Introductions and Explanatory Notes by Herbert B. Workman and R. Martin Pope (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904).
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A full explanation of all the circumstances which led to the writing of this letter would take us far afield. There were wheels within wheels in the complex politico-religious race-feuds and Church struggles of the times. At Prague three distinct issues had become curiously mixed up together towards the close of 1408, in all of which Hus was a leading actor. There was first of all the issue to which this letter especially refers. Tired of the delays of Gregory XII. and Benedict XIII. in coming to any arrangement for ending the great schism, the cardinals of both Pope and anti-pope had withdrawn to Leghorn, and thence on June 24, 1408, had summoned a council to meet at Pisa on March 25, 1409. Under pressure from the University of Paris Europe prepared to obey. What course Bohemia would take was for the moment uncertain. But Wenzel found that Gregory XII. continued to recognise his rival Rupert as king of the Romans. So he determined, at the instance of an envoy of France, that he would side with the cardinals at Pisa, at least to the extent that he would remain neutral (November 24, 1408). For a similar but opposite reason the Germans remained faithful to Gregory and the Rhenish Kaiser, whom they had elected (May 25, 1400) in the place of the drunkard Wenzel. This in itself was sufficient to induce the Bohemian “nation” to follow Hus, when he took up the idea of Wenzel, and brought it before the University. From this arose complication number two. The Czechs found that in the University they were powerless; they had but one vote. The Bavarians and Saxons controlled the Senate, and had the support of Zbinek and the clergy—complication number three—who discerned clearly the danger to themselves in the triumph of Wyclifist Realism, and of the religious and national enthusiasm with which it had become identified. For the Bohemian Church, as Jerome pointed out at Constance, was at this time almost an alien or German institution, fast slipping back into the dependence from which Charles IV. had endeavoured to save it. The Czechs, who had long groaned at the ascendancy of strangers, judged the present a suitable time, by the help of Wenzel, to establish their supremacy, at any rate in the University. Under the lead of Hus they induced Wenzel to decree that the Bohemians should have three votes, the other three nations but one (January 18th, 1409).
The consequences are well known. After a short struggle the “three nations”—variously estimated by mediæval writers at all figures up to 44,000; in reality, as the recently published Matriculation rolls of Leipzig University show us, under 1,000—‘according to their oath quitted the city, some on foot, others on horseback and waggons,’ and founded the University of Leipzig. But a scanty remnant of under 500 Czechs were left behind in Prague. The victory was ascribed to Hus; he was at once appointed rector of the mutilated Czech University. “Praise God,” he said, in one of his sermons, “we have excluded the Germans.” In reality, it was one of the most fatal moves he ever made, and was remembered against him in later years, as the Letters show.
This matter of the “neutrality,” mixed up as it was with the disruption of a University of which Zbinek was chancellor, produced a complete breach, as this letter shows, between the Archbishop and Hus. As a strong adherent of Gregory XII., Zbinek entered into the struggle with the Pisan cardinals by inhibiting, as Hus tells us, ‘in letters fixed to the doors of the churches,’ from all priestly functions Hus and ‘all masters who sided with the sacred college’ (infra, p. 55).
To this challenge Hus replied in the following remonstrance, which we date early in December 1408. It cannot have been written later, for in January 1409 Hus fell dangerously ill, while Wenzel’s decree of “neutrality”—a strong adhesion to the Pisan cardinals—evidently had not yet been issued. From the absence, further, of any reference to the imprisonment of Palecz and Stanislaus of Znaim (see infra, p. 73), we judge that the news of their arrest had not yet reached Prague (about December 8, 1408), for Hus would otherwise have blamed Zbinek for it, or in some way have identified himself with his friends. For, as The Chronicle of the University informs us, Hus and Christian Prachaticz were the chief agents in procuring their release.1
To Zbinek, Archbishop of Prague
Your humble and dutiful subject now and ever!
It is demanded by our Saviour’s rule that a father should not proceed rashly to the reprobation of a son unless the son rejects his father’s counsel and is clearly convicted of contumacy;2 nor ought the father of the household to drive away from the harvest a son who works, unless he first of all clearly knows that the son is minded disgracefully to squander his father’s harvest. Thus in the sixteenth of Luke it is shown by our Saviour that the rich man did not give up the steward after hearing the charge of wrong-doing brought against him, but wisely summoned him and said: How is it that I hearthis of thee? give an account of thy stewardship.1 Nor did our Saviour forbid a certain man who cast out devils not being His follower from so doing; but rather He desired to lend His authority to such acts: for in the ninth of Luke it is written that the disciples said to Jesus: Master, we saw a certain man casting out devils in Thy name and we forbad him, because he followeth not Thee with us. And Jesus said to them, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.2
Now, most reverend father, your grace hath been instructed in these examples of our Saviour, and should not have listened to the infamous charges of jealous men—charges set forth in writing in Latin as well as in the vernacular. You should not have branded me with public insinuations as a disobedient son of our holy mother Church; but you should have ascertained the truth and said: How is it that I hear this of thee? If I had been in error, you should have enjoined a pious correction; and if I had failed to give up my disobedience to the holy mother Church, you should then have had recourse to suitable measures and declared me as disobedient, and as a matter of expediency have forbidden me to preach the holy gospel. Your grace ought therefore to know that it never hath been, nor will be, as I trust in God, my intention to withdraw from obedience to the holy mother Church. It is my intention not only to obey the Roman pontiff and your grace in accordance with the blessed Peter’s command, but also to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake, whether it be to the king as excelling, or to governors as sent by him.3 Further on he adds: Be subject to yourmasters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.1 See how the apostle of Christ commands obedience to every human creature and to froward rulers, but obedience for God’s sake, and not in the case of commands that are froward, but those which are lawful and uttered to the praise of God Almighty, to the end that servants may obey their masters and those set over them. Whatever, therefore, the Roman pontiff Gregory XII. or the holy mother Church, yea, and your grace, lawfully enjoins, I will humbly obey. But I cannot engage in controversy to win the greater praise: for our Saviour forbade this to His disciples in Luke xii.;2 nor can I side with my apostolic lord in his failure to observe the oath which was sworn, as it were, before all Christendom.3 For in so doing I should be acting contrary to Christ, who says in Matt. v.: Let your speech be, Yea, yea: no, no:4 and who says by the prophet: Vow ye, and pray to the Lord your God.5 Therefore as far as these two points are concerned, the controversy of Pope and anti-pope and the breaking of the oath, I am neutral; but not in the sense of the term as used by the crowd who are ignorant that “neutral” is a relative term like the simple word from which it is compounded, requiring the context of the subject matter.6 Consequently, when the phrase “He is neutral” is used, it is unintelligible unless the alternatives are added, and it is clearly shown in what respect he intends to be neutral in his support.1 And further it does not follow that a third person is neutral, because he refuses to obey either of two others: as, for example, if the mother of Peter quarrels with his father, Peter as a faithful son ought to be neutral in his support in the dispute between his father and mother, while at the same time he ought to obey father as well as mother in matters lawful. Hence Peter ought not to be neutral so far as obedience is concerned, but only so far as his support in the dispute is concerned; for he ought as far as possible to prevent a dispute of this kind, in order that, peace being restored, his father and mother may more securely be united in love and beget brothers for Peter.
Furthermore, most beloved and reverend father, my enemies hurl insults at me as they have been wont to do for a long time. I could write of these at greater length, but let this suffice for the present, that if your grace discovers the fault in me, I am willing humbly to submit to punishment. Yet I humbly beg your grace for God’s sake not to put trust in every one, and not to suspend me from preaching now that you have received this written testimony that I have not departed from obedience to the Roman pontiff Gregory XII. Nay, last Sunday I publicly said in the pulpit in my sermon that I had not withdrawn from allegiance to my lord Pope Gregory, but desired to obey the holy Roman Church and its lord in all lawful matters. If your grace had known of this, perhaps you would not have placed me in your letters as your first disobedient son, like a mark for the arrow. But I ought to suffer, because the Saviour saith: Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven;1 and this reward may it please our Lord Jesus Christ to grant to your grace. Amen.
[1 ]Documenta, p. 731.
[2 ]Matt. xviii. 15-17.
[1 ]Luke xvi. 2.
[2 ]Luke ix. 49, 50.
[3 ]1 Peter ii. 13.
[1 ]1 Peter ii. 18.
[2 ]Luke xii. 58.
[3 ]See The Age of Hus, p. 44; Niem. De Schismate (ed. Erler), pp. 206-9.
[4 ]Matt. v. 37.
[5 ]Ps. lxxv. 12. Vulg. (A.V. lxxvi. 11).
[6 ]P.: requirens substantiam adjacentiam. Better, on the whole, to read with Höfler, adjacentium.
[1 ]In quo est neutralis quoad auxilium intentione.
[1 ]Matt. v. 12.