Front Page Titles (by Subject) XII.: To the People of Pilsen 1 ( Undated: March ( ? ) 1412) - The Letters of John Hus
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XII.: To the People of Pilsen 1 ( Undated: March ( ? ) 1412) - 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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To the People of Pilsen1
To the good—perseverance in virtue; and to the evil—a holy knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Dear lords and brothers in God’s grace, I hear to my great grief that there is a difference and dissension among you concerning divine truth, and that you who began well are doing badly, vexing God, losing your souls, showing a bad example to others, flinging away your integrity, and for the insignificant gain of this world are holding of small moment the life eternal. Why do you not recall our Saviour’s words: What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world but suffer the loss of his soul? and what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?1 Why do you not recall that you were a good example to all Bohemia by your goodly concord, your attention to God’s word, and the restraint you exercised over a wrong spirit? Oh! how strangely you have forgotten that it was your holy union in that which is good that defended you from your enemies, enriched you, and marked you out before God and man! The devil, God’s enemy, saw this, and took it so much to heart that he aroused the members of Antichrist and himself to drive divine grace and goodwill out of you. And now the unclean spirit has returned to the house from which he had been driven out. Taking seven spirits more wicked than himself, he has come back; and the last state is made worse than the first.2 He hath swept out of you the divine word, and restored to you frivolities, gambling, and other sins! Where is the Shepherd of your souls? How does He guide you? Your wound hath not been pointed out. There is none to have pity on you, to pour in oil and wine and to bind up the wound3 inflicted on you by the thieves. Methinks you are attended by those who administer poison to you by making light of Holy Writ, and who pour in the oil, not of true love, but of flattery. You do not understand that the smooth-tongued flatterer is an enemy, while he that chastises is a lover and a healer of wounds, although the sick man is angry and murmurs at the chastisement. O holy Gregory! great Pope, thou sayest: He alone shallbe my friend, who shall cleanse away my soul’s impurity.1 Dear saint, pray for the people of Pilsen, that in this matter they may be imitators of you; and then, as of old, they will spread abroad God’s word, will love sermons preached against sins, will embrace their true leaders and reject ravening wolves. Then they will perceive that he who chastises leads them to God, while the flatterer separates them from God, and that while the flatterer nourishes with poison, the chastiser restores with wine. They will remember that they are soon to die, and that he who dies well will be in bliss, while the wretch that has defiled himself will fall into eternal fire.
O beloved followers of Christ! you know that a good name is better than precious ointment.2 What are you doing with your good name, which used to be of this kind: “The people of Pilsen are above all peaceable, administer their municipality aright, love God’s word, drive out priest’s paramours and procurers, have put down gambling, and show a good example to other cities.” Faithfully had God cared for you and had sown wheat among you, but the devil scattered tares,3 so that the wheat was choked. Oh! in the name of the dear Lord God, in the name of His shameful and cruel martyrdom, in the name of your salvation, your honour, the correction of others and your own happiness, return, you that have strayed, return to the truth. You that are holy, become more holy still! For the Lord God saith: The time is at hand: he that hurteth, let him hurt still: and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is just, let him be justified still: and he that is holy, let him besanctified. Behold, I come quickly, and My reward is with Me to render to every man according to his works.1 Thus saith the Lord Jesus. If you willingly receive and keep His word, He will give you as your reward eternal life and boundless joy; but if you do not receive it nor keep it, He will give you eternal damnation in eternal fire and in darkness among the devils, where there will be neither rest nor consolation. But I have confidence in His holy grace and cherish the hope (and that is why I write to you) that the good among you may persevere, and the rest may welcome you in all honour, become good fruit and be the sons of God, citizens of that city where there shall be no darkness nor sorrow, where you will behold God your Father and understand all things, and you will each love one another perfectly as your own self, and have the desire of your heart. May it please the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost to help you to attain unto that city, when you depart from Pilsen and its strifes, through the death of Christ and the aid of the Virgin Mary and all the saints. Amen.
After writing the above a letter reached me with the news that the priests were preventing the Holy Scriptures from being read in the mother tongue, Czech or German. Secondly, that a certain priest had said in a sermon2 that no person, though he be guilty of a mortal sin, is a servant or son of the devil. Thirdly, that this priest had said in a sermon at a priest’s first mass that up to the time of the actual celebration he was a son of God; but from that moment, and in future when about to celebrate, he was the father of God and the creator of the Divine Body. Fourthly, that this same priest had said in his sermon that the worst priest was better than the best layman. If this is so, and these errors meet with no opposition from any one, it is a clear sign that you have wandered very far from the truth, especially those of you who have been instructed and are in possession of your reason. For, as St. John Chrysostom1 saith in a gloss on these words of Christ, “Fear ye not them that kill the body”:2Christ hath shown by these words that not only is that man a traitor to the truth who speaks the truth fearfully; but he also is a traitor to the truth who doth not sincerely defend it as it ought to be defended. For as a priest ought boldly to preach the truth which he hath heard from God, so a layman also, that is, a person who is not a priest, ought confidently to defend the truth, which he hath heard expounded from Holy Writ by a priest. If he doth not so defend, then he betrays the truth. This then is the great saint’s argument from Christ’s words, Fear ye not, etc.—namely, that every man, be he priest or no, who knows the truth ought to defend it to the death; otherwise he is a traitor to the truth and to Christ as well.
Now, many of you know the truth and are aware that any man can recite, declare and, if a scholar, read the holy gospel either in Latin, as St. Mark wrote it; or in Hebrew, as St. Matthew composed his version; or in Syriac, as St. Luke composed his; or in Persian, as St. Simon preached and composed his; or in Aramaic,1 as St. Bartholomew wrote;2 and likewise in other languages. How, then, can you suffer the priests to prevent people reading the holy gospel in Czech or German? Then as to the second point, are you ignorant of the fact that it is impossible for a man to serve both God in virtue and the devil in sin? I know you have heard Christ’s words: No man can serve two masters;3 and again: You cannot serve God and mammon. You know also that St. Peter saith: By whom a man is overcome, of the same also he is the slave.4 Christ also saith: Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.5 St. Paul also writes to the Romans: You were the servants of sin.6 Why, then, knowing as you do these testimonies of Scripture, do you suffer a priest to preach that no one, though he be living in mortal sin, is a servant of the devil? I know also that you have heard the words of the Lord Jesus that the tares are wicked sons which the devil hath sown in the world;7 also those which He addressed to evil men: Ye are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you will do,8 and He brings forward the cause in these words: Because you cannot hear my word, therefore are ye of your father the devil.9 St. John the Apostle also by the Holy Spirit saith: Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doth justice, is just as Christ is just: but he that committeth sin, is of the devil. Afterwards he saith: In this the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil: whosoever is not just, is not of God.1 You see, therefore, that any one who commits a sin unto death, is of the devil and a son of the devil. Why, then, do you suffer a heresy to be preached contrary to these holy sayings of Christ? Be assured that a man who preaches thus is a servant and son of the devil and is worse than the humblest layman that is good. Nor is that priest the father of God; for God would then be the son of this priest; and yet this priest is a son of the devil. God, therefore, would be a son of the devil also! Nor, again, is a priest who preaches and holds this error a creator of the Divine Body; but he is the author of a great heresy. Granted that with the help of all his associates he procreate a nit, then I will admit that they are creators! It is an impossibility, though it were tedious to prove it in this letter. O brave Christians! are you all dead that you allow errors to be bandied about and God’s word driven into a corner? Scorn them, and let not the devil rule over you. May the Lord God herein be your Helper, who alone can be, and is, Creator. Amen.
Within a few weeks of writing this letter to the people of Pilsen, Hus became involved in a controversy of wider import On September 9, 1411, and again on December 2, John XXIII., in the throes of his struggle with Ladislaus, the King of Naples, and Gregory XII., issued bulls preaching a crusade against his foes. The same indulgences were offered as for a campaign in Palestine to all those who should take up arms, or who bought ‘suitable men’ to fight for them. As with the later Tetzel, the indulgences, no doubt, were duly qualified with the usual limitations, which not only Hus, but the Council of Constance, in their attack upon John seem to have overlooked. In theory they were restricted to the ‘truly penitent.’ In practice, for men do not sin in Latin, John’s indulgences were regarded as the selling permission to sin, or the buying of pardon for past transgressions. In some cases priests of no conscience and evil life used the opportunity to wring out in the confessional money and profit for themselves, a practice which Archbishop Albik tried to check.
In the May of 1412, Master Wenzel Tiem, Dean of Passau, who in the previous December had been appointed agent for the dioceses of Salzburg, Magdeburg, and Bohemia, arrived in Prague and opened his sale. The traffic was soon in full swing, money chests set up in the Cathedral, the Teyn Church, and the Wyschehrad, middlemen doing a good trade for country parishes, where payments were often made in kind. Hus, like Luther—who himself points out the similarity of their circumstances—at once entered the lists. For neither Luther nor Hus seems to have recognised how old the custom was. Hus looked upon it as a complete innovation, and forgot his own early experiences. He placarded church doors with his theses, and thundered against ‘Antichrist’ in the Bethlehem Chapel, and among ‘the artists’ of the University. As ‘the German vicars had received the bull and read it aloud’ in their churches, the Czechs at once rallied to the cause of Hus, and the national feud was revived in a new form.
In his proceedings against the indulgences, Hus seems to have been from the first more conscious of his opposition to the authorities than was Luther. News of the coming sale had already driven him to the bold step of answering publicly in the Bethlehem Chapel, in a legal deed drawn up by a notary—‘because people are come to give greater credence to such a document’—three questions that had been sent to him (March 3, 1412). The questions and the answers of Hus go to the root of the controversy: ‘Whether a man must believe in the Pope, and whether it is possible that a man can be saved who does not really confess to a priest.’ As regards the first, Hus appears at this time repeatedly to have preached that ‘we can well be saved without a Pope.’ We see the same spirit of conscious opposition, so different from the early movement in Germany, in the account Hus has given us of an interview he had with Wenzel Tiem shortly after the latter arrived at Prague. ‘I know well,’ he writes, ‘the difference between the apostolic commands and the commands of the Pope. So when I was asked by the legates of John, in the presence of Archbishop Albik, whether I were willing to obey the apostolic commands, I answered: “I desire with all my heart to obey the apostolic commands.” Thereupon the legates, holding apostolic and papal commands to be interchangeable, thought that I was willing to preach to the people the crusade against Ladislaus. So the legates said: “He is willing you see, lord Archbishop, to obey the commands of our sovereign Pope.” So I said to them: “Sirs, understand me. I said that I am willing with all my heart to obey apostolic commands, but by apostolic commands I mean the doctrines of the apostles of Christ. So far as the commands of the Pope agree with the commands and doctrines of the apostles, and are after the rule of the law of Christ, so far I am heartily prepared to render them obedience. But if I see anything in them at variance with this, I will not obey, even if you kindle the fire for the burning of my body before my eyes.” ’
In this spirit, on June 7, 1412, in spite of the opposition of the eight doctors of the theological faculty, led by ‘the friend of his youth,’ Stephen Palecz, Hus delivered his disputation against indulgences in the large hall of the University. This was his answer to what he called the determination of the friars to proclaim that ‘the Pope is a God on earth.’ His arguments, though aptly applied to the disputes of Gregory and John, need not detain us. When not copied from Gratian they are adopted, as Loserth has shown, with verbal fidelity from three tractates of Wyclif, a circumstance which the doctors were not slow to point out in their reply.
The counterblast of the theological faculty was soon forthcoming. Once more they condemned the forty-five articles of Wyclif, and, with the sanction of Wenzel, in whose presence the articles were read (July 10), forbade their teaching in Bohemia under penalty of expulsion. To these they now added six propositions from Hus. Hus had previously challenged their judgment as regards two of the condemned articles in a dissertation, again taken, word for word, from Wyclif. The two articles were those which touched him closest, for they dealt with the duty and right of preaching, a subject in which, as his Letters show, he was always intensely interested. He followed this up by a Defence of Disendowment (De Ablatione Temporalium a Clericis), of which we shall hear at Constance. This treatise was taken in the main from Wyclif’s De Ecclesia. A third tractate in the same year, nominally on Tithes, contains an uncompromising defence of the weakest point of Wyclif’s system. This was the doctrine of dominion founded on grace, the assertion that office, whether civil or spiritual, lapsed with mortal sin. Hus had moved far since his letter of the previous year to John.
Three days after his dispute in the Carolinum with the theological faculty over the indulgences, Hus wrote the following interesting letter to the King of Poland. The letter not only breathes intense hatred of the whole system and its abuses, but is also an illustration of how far-reaching was the influence of Hus. The Slav races, as the clergy complained, ‘through Bohemia, Poland, Hungary, and Moravia’ rallied to a cause which was almost as much national as religious.
Ladislaus (Jagiello), to whom the letter was addressed, is an interesting character. Originally he was the semi-savage chief of Lithuania, a state at that time at the height of its power, holding possession even of many Russian cities. His mother was a Christian, but Ladislaus himself grew up a pagan. But he was quite willing to turn Christian to secure his marriage with Jadwiga (Hedwig), the heiress of Poland. On his marriage and baptism (1386) he took the name of Ladislaus (Wadyslaw) and transferred his capital from Wilno (Vilna) to Cracow. This step, together with their compulsory conversion to the religion of their Prince, displeased the Lithuanians; but after a short struggle the combined forces of Lithuania and Poland were turned against the Teutonic Knights, whom they overthrew in the disastrous battle of Tannenberg, in Prussia (July 15, 1410). Jagiello was thus looked upon by all Slavs as their champion against the encroachments of the Germans, and probably ranked high on this account in Hus’s thoughts. Hus would also remember that in 1397 Jadwiga had established a college at Prague for poor students from Lithuania. It was one of the grievances of the Czechs that this college had become filled with Germans. Jagiello, though on his marriage he could neither read nor write, yet showed his interest in learning by founding in 1397-1400 a University at Cracow. So successful was his rule that on the death of Jadwiga (1399), though in reality his rights to the crown of Poland had lapsed, the Poles continued him in his position. Like all Lithuanians, he was opposed to the claims of Rome, or any attempts to make mischief in Lithuania by ousting on her behalf the Orthodox Church. This sense of opposition would form a further link between Hus and himself. We must also remember that shortly before this date Jerome of Prague had visited Lithuania, and after allowing his beard to grow—a little matter that was never forgiven—had preached before its duke, Witold, Jagiello’s cousin. Jagiello, after a most successful reign, died in 1434, and is buried in the Cathedral of Cracow, surrounded by the successors in the dynasty he founded.
[1 ]Written in Czech; see supra, p. 58, for the circumstances.
[1 ]Mark viii. 36-7.
[2 ]Luke xi. 24-6.
[3 ]Luke x. 34.
[1 ]I have not discovered this passage.
[2 ]Eccles. vii. 1.
[3 ]Matt. xiii. 39.
[1 ]Rev. xxii. 11.
[2 ]See the Replica contra Prædicatorem Plznensem (Mon. i. 144). The arguments of this letter are expanded by Hus in that tract.
[1 ]Gratian, Pt. ii. C. 11, q. 3, c. 86; loosely quoted. Really from the anomymous Auctor Operis Imperfecti in Matt. hom. 25, a favourite work with Gratian, Hus, and Wyclif, invariably attributed in the Middle Ages to Chrysostom. Cf. p. 12, n.
[2 ]Matt. x. 28.
[2 ]See the tale of Eusebius (H.E. v. 10) of a certain Pantænus of Alexandria who went to preach the gospel to the Indians and found that the apostle Bartholomew had left them St. Matthew’s gospel written in Hebrew characters. Hus repeats this argument in his De Arguendo Clero (Mon. i. 150a), which, possibly, was written at this time, and not as is usually assumed, in 1408.
[3 ]Matt. vi. 24.
[4 ]2 Pet. ii. 19.
[5 ]John viii. 34.
[6 ]Rom vi. 17.
[7 ]Matt. xiii. 38-9.
[8 ]John viii. 44.
[9 ]Ib. viii. 43.
[1 ]John iii. 7-8, 10, Czech.