Front Page Titles (by Subject) LVII.: To his Friends staying on in Constance ( Without date: June 7, 1415 1 ) - The Letters of John Hus
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
LVII.: To his Friends staying on in Constance ( Without date: June 7, 1415 1 ) - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
To his Friends staying on in Constance
I, Master John Hus, in hope a servant of Jesus Christ, earnestly desiring that Christ’s faithful ones may take no occasion of scandal after my decease through deeming me an obstinate heretic, as they call me, do hereby write these words as a memorial to the firends of the truth, calling Christ Jesus to witness, for Whose law I have been longing to die: First, in very many private hearings, and subsequently in public hearings before the Council, I declared that I was willing to submit myself to guidance and control, to recantation and to punishment, if I were convinced that I had written, taught, or in my reply stated aught that had been contrary to the truth. Furthermore, fifty doctors, commissioned, according to their own statement, by the Council, after being frequently censured by me for false extracts from the articles, and that too in a public hearing before the Council, declined to give me any instruction in private, nay, declined to confer with me, saying, “You have to abide by the Council’s decision”;2 while the Council, on my quoting, in a public hearing, the words of Christ or of the holy doctors, either derided me or said they could not understand me, and the doctors stated that I was bringing in irrelevant arguments. However, one of the cardinals, prominent in the Council and a member of the Commission,3 said in the public hearing of my case, holding a paper in his hands: “Here is an argument propounded by a master of theology:1 reply to it.” It was the argument about the common essence which, I maintained, is present in the elements. He afterwards broke down, though reputed to be a most learned doctor of theology, so I went on to give him an account of the common created essence which is the first created esse, imparted to each several creature, and from which he wished to prove the remanence of the material bread. However, he soon came to the end of his tether and was reduced to silence. Then at once an English doctor2 rose to carry on the discussion, but he broke down in the same way. He was followed by another English doctor, who in a private hearing had remarked to me that Wyclif wanted to destroy all learning,3 and that in each of his books and in his logical reasoning he laid down erroneous positions. He rose to his feet and began to discuss the multiplication of the body of Christ in the host; and broke down in his argument. When told to be quiet, he shouted out, “This fellow is cleverly deceiving the Council; have a care lest the Council be deceived as it was by Berengarius.”4 When he had finished, a man began a noisy speech on the created common esse; but the crowd shouted him down. I stood up, however, and asked that he might be heard, while I said to him, “Stick to your argument; I should like to answer you.” But he broke down like the others, and muttered in a temper, “It’s heresy.” What a clamour, what hootings, hissings, and blasphemy arose against me in that assembly, is well known to Barons Wenzel de Duba and John of Chlum and Peter his secretary, brave soldiers and lovers of God’s truth that they are. Though I was often overwhelmed by the loud uproar, I said at last, “I thought that in this Council there would be greater reverence, piety, and discipline.” Whereupon Sigismund ordered silence, and they all began to listen. But the Cardinal who presided over the Council1 said, “You talked more humbly at the castle.”2 “Yes,” said I, “because no one was shouting at me then, but here every one is crying me down.” He answered, “This is what the Council wants to know: do you wish to stand by your request for instruction?” “Yes,” said I “most certainly, according to my protests.” He replied, “Take this for the instruction you want: the doctors declare that the articles extracted from your books are erroneous: you ought to withdraw them and abjure the views charged against you by witnesses.” Sigismund, however, said, “You shall have a written statement shortly, and you will reply to that.” The Cardinal said: “This will take place at the next hearing.” The Council then adjourned. God knows what temptations I suffered after it was all over.
After a night of sleepless pain, ‘toothache, vomiting, headache, and stone,’ Hus was brought up for his final hearing. Sigismund once more was present. Thirty-nine articles extracted from his De Ecclesia and other works were presented against him, and read aloud by an English delegate. Then Hus was allowed to make his limitations and exceptions. But one work, as Hus tells us (infra, p. 218), was not in evidence. Other charges were also introduced: his sermons to the laity against scandalous priests, and especially his celebration of the sacraments while still under excommunication. When Hus owned to this last, Zabarella made a sign to the notary that special record should be made. On the whole the trial was kept well in hand, in spite of the temptation of side issues. One interlude, however, is historical. Hus was defending the famous tenet of Wyclif: ‘If a pope, bishop, or prelate is in mortal sin, then he is not a pope, bishop, or prelate.’ He added incautiously that it applied to temporal rulers; ‘a king in mortal sin is not really a king in the sight of God.’ Sigismund was leaning at that moment out of one of the windows telling Frederick of Nuremberg ‘that in all Christendom there was not a greater heretic than Hus.’ The Council saw their opportunity. ‘Call the King,’ shouted the prelates; ‘bring him here, for this matter concerns him.’ ‘John Hus,’ said Sigismund with dignity, when Hus had repeated his statement, ‘no one lives without sin.’ ‘It is not enough for you,’ said D’Ailli, ‘that you try by your writings and teachings to decry and overthrow the spiritual estate, you now wish to hurl down the throne and royal power.’ Hus tried to turn the tide by asking, ‘If John XXIII. was truly Pope, why was he deposed?’ ‘Baldassarre,’ answered Sigismund, ‘was truly Pope, but was deposed from the Papacy on account of his notorious crimes.’ Hus then fell back on a fine distinction between ‘quoad meritum’ and ‘quoad officium,’ and the arguments drifted off to the stock illustrations of Judas and Pope Joan (cf. supra, p. 125, n. 2).
At length D’Ailli summed up the decision of the Council. Hus must publicly recant and abjure. ‘I am prepared,’ answered Hus, ‘to obey the Council, and to be taught; but I beseech you in the name of God, do not lay snares of damnation for me by compelling me to tell a lie, and abjure articles I never held.’ As he spoke of his conscience, many mocked. ‘Did your conscience,’ they cried, ‘ever teach you that you had erred?’ ‘A fat priest, sitting in the window in a splendid garment, called out that he ought not to be allowed to abjure. If he retract he will not mean it.’ But Sigismund pleaded with Hus, and asked wherein lay his difficulty in retracting errors that on his own showing he was unwilling to hold. ‘That, my lord king,’ answered Hus, ‘is not what they mean by abjuring.’ After a further warning from Sigismund, ‘I stand,’ replied Hus, ‘at the judgment seat of God, who will judge us all according to our merits.’
As he was led back ‘in chains’ to prison, Chlum managed to grasp his hand, ‘though now rejected by all,’ a matter which gave Hus much comfort (see p. 221). Sigismund on his part addressed the assembly: ‘One only of the charges proved against Hus would suffice for his condemnation. If, therefore, he be unwilling to adjure and preach against his errors, let him be burnt, or do with him according to your laws. . . . Wherever his disciples be found, let the bishops tear them up root and branch. Make an end therefore of his secret disciples. I have to go away soon, so begin with that fellow what’s his name?’ ‘Jerome,’ they shouted. ‘Yes, Jerome. I was a boy when this sect first started in Bohemia. See what it has grown into now’ (Doc. 308-15).
This speech, duly reported by the listening Chlum and Mladenowic, cost Sigismund years of warfare and the crown of Bohemia. This hounding on of the Council to the breach of his own safe-conduct was never forgiven.
The same night Hus wrote as follows to his friends in Constance. He realised clearly now that there was but one issue. A second letter, also without date, was written while the memory of Chlum’s warm grasp of the hand was still fresh.
[1 ]Some historians have taken this letter to refer to the audience of June 5. But Sigismund was not present on that day (see p. 207).
[2 ]See p. 224.
[3 ]Peter D’Ailli of Cambray (Doc. 276).
[1 ]Magister sacræ theologiæ. M.S.T., S.T.P., and D.D. are almost interchangeable in the Middle Ages.
[2 ]From Hardt, v. 97, we read there were present in the Council ‘sixteen (English) masters in theology.’ Some of their names will be found in Hardt, v. 21-8. But it is impossible to identify the reference.
[3 ]This doctor was not without some justification for this remark. See my Age of Wyclif, p. 219.
[4 ]At the Synod of Rome in 1059 Berengarius was condemned for his disbelief in Transubstantiation, and fell upon his face and retracted. But on returning to Tours he once more preached his original ideas with increased vigour. Hus’s position and that of Berengarius were practically the same, as Hus recognises in Mon. i. 164. But his knowledge of Berengarius was probably wholly derived from Gratian’s Decretum, ed. Migne, p. 1754.
[1 ]John de Bronhiaco (Eubel s.v.), Cardinal of Ostia (June 2, 1405—February 16, 1426).
[2 ]In castro; at Gottlieben (see pp. 204 and 263).