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Source: The Church by John Huss. Translated, with Notes and Introduction by David S. Schaff, D.D. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1915).
INTRODUCTION BY DAVID SCHAFF
Of the writings of John Huss of Bohemia, the Treatise on the Church is the most important. From its pages the charges were drawn upon which the author was pronounced a heretic by the council of Constance and the same day, July 6, 1415, burned at the stake. It was written in Latin and the translation, here offered, is the first that has appeared in English and seems to be the first to be issued in any language. It is offered as a help in the appreciation of a memorable man who deserves well of Western Christendom and as a contribution to the study of ecclesiology.
I. The Author. John Huss is the chief religious character of Bohemia, as Luther is of Germany, and John Knox of Scotland; and he is the one contribution his country has made to the progress of religious thought and of culture in Western Christendom. His fame it has been possible for several centuries to obscure through the semi-mythical personality of the Roman Catholic saint, John Nepomuk, but recently Huss’s eminence as a notable preacher and an unselfish patriot has come to recognition among his people, and in Southern Bohemia, though it is loyal to the Roman Catholic church, his memory is yearly celebrated.
Born in 1373, Huss studied at the university of Prague—then in the golden period of its history. In 1403, he was made its rector, holding the position six months and later, in 1409, for the term of a year. In 1403, he was also appointed preacher at Bethlehem chapel which had been founded ten years before to afford preaching in the native Czech tongue. Under Huss the chapel became the most conspicuous religious centre of the city next to the cathedral of St. Vite and the centre of a national movement. His sermons at once attracted attention by their Scriptural fervor and by their attacks upon the abuses of the clergy. As Æneas Sylvius bears witness, he was forcible in speech; and his purity of character was such that no charge was ever made against it in Bohemia or during his trial in Constance. The hostility of the clergy, which his attacks aroused, followed him till his death.
There were three specific movements, which involved Huss in trouble and brought on violent dissension in Prague.
The first was the spread of Wyclif’s views. Soon after Wyclif’s death, 1384, his writings were carried to Bohemia, where they made as deep an impression as in Wyclif’s own country. His views had been pronounced heretical by Gregory XI and what was heresy in England was heresy in Bohemia. By some of the Prague clergy XLV Articles said to contain Wyclif’s views were brought to the attention of the university, 1403, for its decision. In spite of Huss’s protest and the protest of Palecz and Stanislaus of Znaim, Huss’s intimate friends, and other members of the theological faculty, the writings were forbidden to be read or taught. Huss declined to accept the decision, and was charged with declaring for the remanence of the bread and wine after the words of institution and with publicly announcing the pious hope, that Wyclif’s soul was among the saved. Vigilant for the interests of the orthodox faith, the clergy hostile to Huss appealed to Rome, and first Innocent VII and later the Pisan pontiff, Alexander V, instructed Zbynek, archbishop of Prague, to proceed against Wyclifite heresy, and Alexander ordered chapels, such as Huss preached in, to be closed. Against Huss’s open protest the archbishop seized two hundred of Wyclif’s writings and made a bonfire of them in the courtyard of his palace, 1410. After this event, Huss publicly defended one of Wyclif’s writings, the tract on the Trinity.
A second movement which involved Huss in violent controversy and trouble was the change in the charter of the university, 1409. By this change the Czech element was given three votes, and the foreign nations reduced from three to one. Against Huss, the recognized leader of the movement, was aroused the bitter opposition of the German population which exercised an influence in the city out of all proportion to its numbers. In this issue the court party was on Huss’s side, but the hostility of the Germans, so Huss felt, thenceforth threatened even his very life.
The third cause of trouble for Huss was his attack, in 1412, upon the sale of indulgences authorized by John XXIII to enable him to carry on a crusade against Ladislaus, king of Naples. Deserted over this issue by most of his intimate friends at the university, Huss nevertheless spoke out as boldly as Luther did a hundred years later against the unholy traffic. He had already refused to obey a citation to Rome and was now placed under the ban of excommunication by the curia. This proving ineffective, the city of Prague was put under the interdict. In the meantime, Huss had appealed from the apostolic see to Christ himself, as the just judge and the supreme ruler of the church.
The interdict meant moral and religious starvation. In part to avert the calamity of a cessation of divine ministries and heeding the friendly counsel of the king, Wenzel, Huss withdrew from Prague and spent the next two years, from the fall of 1412 to October, 1414, in the rural districts of Bohemia, protected by powerful members of the nobility, and preaching in the villages and on the fields and active with his pen.
The œcumenical council, which was appointed to meet at Constance in 1414, seemed to offer an opportunity for a fair hearing of Huss’s case and the removal from Bohemia of the ill-fame of heresy which now attached to it. For Huss’s name was spread all through Europe and was scarcely less notorious than Wyclif’s. Provided with a safe-conduct by Sigismund, heir of his brother Wenzel and of the empire, Huss proceeded to the council but, soon after his arrival in Constance, was seized by the cardinals and consigned to prison, where he languished till death put an end to his trials.
Examined by one commission after another, including among its members such eminent men as d’Ailly and Cardinal Zabarella, he persistently refused to abjure, unwilling, as he professed, to offend against God and his conscience. On July 6, 1415, the council in full session charged him with thirty errors and turned him over to the civil authority to suffer the penalty appointed for heretics, death in the flames.
II. The Circumstances under which the treatise was written. The immediate occasion of the writing of the Treatise on the Church was a document signed by eight doctors belonging to the theological faculty of the university, dated February 6, 1413. Its immediate occasion was the papal bulls calling for a crusade against that refractory Christian prince, Ladislaus of Naples, and the sale of indulgences on the streets of Prague. It asserted the duty of absolute submission to the commands of pope and other ecclesiastical superiors, condemned the XLV Wyclifite Articles as scandalous and heretical and demanded that the kingdom of Bohemia be cleared of heresy, if necessary by the severest ecclesiastical and also civil punishments. The Bohemian clergy and nation, it affirmed, were in complete accord in all matters of belief and worship with the Roman church—tenet et credit fideliter sicut Romana ecclesia et non aliter—the pope being the head of the Roman church and the college of cardinals its body. Of all names, so the doctors confessed, the name heretic is the most to be abhorred. As for the sentences pronounced by Rome upon Huss, it was not within the province of the clergy of Prague to sit in judgment upon them—nec est cleri in Praga judicare si justa vel injusta est M. J. Hus excommunicatio et aggravatio a curia romana.
These and other positions of the eight doctors the Treatise on the Church takes up one by one and discusses. Huss’s work called forth replies from Palecz and Stanislaus of Znaim, two of the signers of the document, and to each Huss made a rejoinder as he also wrote a more elaborate and very vigorous rejoinder addressed to the eight doctors as a body. In the first two of these rejoinders Huss cites his Treatise on the Church by name at least eleven times, and in the Reply to the Eight Doctors at least five times. The Treatise on the Church grows in interest as it is read in connection with these three cognate works, which further elucidate some of its principles and add items of personal interest.
Intended as a reply to the document issued by the eight theological doctors, this treatise became Huss’s a pologia pro sua vita, the defense of the views which he had drawn from Wyclif and advocated. With Cajetan before Luther at Augsburg, the eight doctors knew of only one word applicable to Huss, the word recant. His case was not arguable. Unquestioning submission was imperative. Rome had spoken: “Yield and obey,” they wrote—obediendum et paricndum est. Huss’s final reply was not recorded with pen or expressed by word of mouth. He sealed his convictions with his life at Constance.
III. Contents. Huss’s line of thought runs as follows: First, the author defines the church and its headship. He proceeds by discussing the authority of the pope and the college of cardinals. The power of the keys is then taken up at length, and the limits in ecclesiastical matters of the authority of superiors over inferiors examined. Finally, the Scriptures are set forth as the sufficient standard of faith and conduct. The conclusions, thus reached, Huss then applies to his own case of alleged contumacy to the mandates of his ecclesiastical superiors with the result that a Christian’s supreme duty is to the Scriptures and God, for, as he often repeats: “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
Not only are these main principles also discussed in the three rejoinders referred to above, but they are taken up in other works such as his Six Errors,—de sex Erroribus—his Attack on the Bulls of Indulgence, his Reply to an Occult Adversary and in his letters written during the period of his semi-voluntary exile from Prague and his imprisonment at Constance, especially his letters to Christian Prachaticz, rector of the university of Prague.
In the following fundamental positions the Treatise on the Church opposed the accredited ecclesiastical system which the fifteenth century had inherited from the age of the Schoolmen.
1. The Church. The holy catholic—or universal—church is the body of the predestinate in heaven, earth and purgatory. The church is either general or particular. Wherever two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name there is the church, whether in India, Greece, Spain, Rome or any other locality. The church is one throughout the world. The bond of unity is predestinating grace or, as Huss also put it, faith, hope and love. The pope, as he affirmed distinctly, is not the bond of Christian unity, and nowhere does he represent the sacraments as the bond of unity.
Following Augustine, Huss proceeds to show that the church is a mixed body, made up of predestinate and præsciti, or reprobate, and he uses the parable of the net and other parables to prove it. Although according to the popular opinion—vocationem vulgarem et reputationem ecclesiasticam—all Christians are members of the church militant, yet it is one thing, Huss affirmed, to be in the church and another to be of the church. Judas was in the church for a season, but ultimately lost, and Paul by predestination was of it even during the period of his persecuting activity, when he was not in it.
These definitions set aside the following views which prevailed in Huss’s time.
The pope and the cardinals do not constitute the church. This was a wide-spread popular conception and Huss is at great pains to prove its fallacy. The document of the eight doctors had so defined the church. Wyclif, before Huss, had said that “the public understands by the Roman church the pope and the cardinals.”
The church is not confined to the body over which the apostolic see has jurisdiction. The particular Roman church is a company of the faithful living under the obedience of Rome, as the companies of the faithful living under the obedience of Antioch and Constantinople were called the church of Antioch and the church of Constantinople. In a notable passage in one of his letters to Prachaticz, Huss said succinctly: “The Roman church is not the catholic apostolic church, for no partial church can be the holy catholic church. However, among the militant churches the Roman church is the principal one.”
The church is not inerrant. One of the proofs given is that the church chose Agnes, a woman, pope and consented to be ruled over by her. Indeed, the Roman church with the pope and cardinals may be transformed into Sodom, but against the Church of Christ the gates of hell cannot prevail.
Pope and prelates are not necessarily in authority by reason of appointment or election to office. They only are true officials, and only the authority of those prelates is to be acknowledged, whose lives are in accordance with Christ’s precepts. The standard of judgment is found in the words, “by their fruits ye shall know them,” a passage Huss quoted again and again.
All these assertions make straight in the direction of the rights of private judgment. On that principle Huss justified his refusal to obey the Roman pontiff and other ecclesiastical superiors.
2. The Papacy. The Roman pontiff is not the head of the church on earth. Christ is the head. Not by delegated authority does Christ’s promise, “Lo, I am with you alway,” become effective. Every predestinate person is immediately joined to him and receives from him grace and religious power even as the body receives sensation and guidance from the head. Were this not the case, the church would have many times been acephalous, without a head, as in the interims between the death of one pontiff and the election of his successor. The pope, so the doctors affirmed, is the head of the whole militant church, its heart, its navel, its unfailing fountain, and its all-sufficient refuge—caput, cor,alveus, fons indeficiens et refugium sufficientissimum. In view of such statements, Huss affirms that the doctors treated the Roman pontiff as a fourth person in divine things and placed him on an equality with the Holy Spirit.
In the course of his discussion on the papal office, Huss presents the following views:
The rock upon which the church is built, Matt. 16:18, is Christ and not Peter. The Apostles called Christ the foundation. To Christ, not to Peter, did the patriarchs look forward; and the early Christians did not base their faith on the Apostle.
The Roman pontiff shares authority with other bishops of the church, as Peter shared authority with the other Apostles. Christ did not give the care of all the sheep to Peter even as he did not exclusively give him the power to preach and administer the sacraments.
The word pope is not a Scriptural word and in the early history of the church there were a number of popes. Originally all bishops were called popes, and these were equally the immediate vicars of Christ.
The pope is not infallible. In matters of faith popes may err and have erred—falli et fallere possunt. They may be led astray by avarice or be deceived by ignorance.
The pope may also be a heretic and, as a matter of fact, before the fifteenth century there had been both wicked men and heretics on the papal chair. Here Huss drew for historical data upon the Chronicles of Ranulph Higden, Martinus Polonus, and Rudolph Glaber.
Repeatedly did Huss return to the list of popes heretical and popes flagitious. The rudest layman, a woman, a heretic, yea antichrist himself may be a pope. But in none of these lists does the name of Honorius I appear, the pontiff on whose case Bishop Hefele, in 1870, rested the argument against the doctrine of papal infallibility.
Among the heretical popes Huss included Boniface VIII and Clement VII of the fourteenth century and, as more recent cases of papal errors, he cited the acts of Boniface IX setting aside Wenzel as king of the Romans and Sigismund as king of Hungary. During his trial Huss had another instance at hand of a disreputable pontiff in John XXIII, accepted by almost the whole of Western Christendom and then deposed for crimes and iniquities unspeakable. Huss also recalled that Gregory XII and Benedict XIII were pronounced heretics by the council of Pisa.
But the case on which Huss laid most stress was the papissa Agnes who, according to the universal opinion of his time, occupied under the name of John VIII the papal office for more than two years. Gerson used her as a proof that it is possible for the church to err. It was monstrous, so Huss thought, for a female to rule Christendom, and such a female—a woman of unsavory repute before she was made pope and revealing her sex by the sudden birth of a child on one of the streets of the holy city.
Huss went still further, in declaring that popes may be præsciti, reprobates, though legitimately elected to their office. Without definitely assigning by name this or that pontiff to hell, as did Dante, yet Huss declared that popes there have been who had conferred ample indulgences by word—verbaliter—and are damned. Christ chose a thief as an Apostle: so may the cardinals choose an antichrist as Roman pontiff. The only standard by which it can be judged whether a pope is a vicar of Christ or antichrist is by his conformity to the law of Christ in daily life and ministries.
The outward display assumed by popes, the kissing of their feet, the name most holy—sanctissimus—by which they allowed themselves to be addressed, Huss stigmatized, as Luther did a hundred years later, as incompatible with their holy office.
The origin of all this false pomp Huss found, as Wyclif did before him, in the donation of Constantine, the fictitious gift passed off upon credulous Europe by the pseudo-Isidorian Decretals in the ninth century and to which appeal continued to be made down to Alexander VI in his bull distributing America between Spain and Portugal “forever,” and later. As a compensation for being healed of leprosy by Sylvester, Constantine bequeathed to that pontiff and his successors civil rule over Rome and all the regions of the West and conferred upon them the crown and the other insignia of temporal lordship and glory. This imperial gift, Wyclif and Huss contended, was the beginning of the decline of the church from its pristine purity, and modern—moderni—popes and cardinals who protruded their feet to be kissed and gloried in the address “most holy” did not possess a scintilla of sanctity and utterly lacked the power of the early rulers of the church, so that the demons could say of them: “Paul I know and Peter I know, but who are you?” With Gregory the Great, Huss affirmed that the name does not make the bishop but the life.
One of the conclusions drawn in this treatise, as also in other treatises from Huss’s hand, is that the church once got along very well without popes. And she might get along well without them again, Chapter XV.
A second conclusion was that papal decrees are not always to be obeyed. To rebel against an erring pope Huss boldly said was to obey God. So clear and emphatic were Huss’s views on this subject that Luther declared that “Huss committed no more atrocious sin than to profess that a pope of an impious life is not the head of the church catholic. He conceded he was the head of a church, but not of the catholic church. Truly he ought to have said: ‘No matter how criminal and wicked the pontifex maximus is yet ought he to be venerated for sanctity. He cannot err and all that he says and does is to be accepted and treated as an article of the faith.’ The good men at Constance disposed of three wicked popes and would not allow them to be taken to the fire: but Huss was sentenced to death.”
3. The Power of the Keys. Huss’s chief statements are as follows: The Apostles, as has already been said, were all the immediate vicars of Christ, Peter’s authority not being universal and total but partial and particular. Without recourse to Peter the remaining Apostles ordained bishops and presbyters, taught and pastured. Thomas, the Apostle to India, was not appointed by Peter, nor was Matthias, James presided as a superior over the conclave at Jerusalem and Paul required no human license—sine licentia—to preach and to rule.
Not only all bishops but all presbyters are successors of the Apostles, as originally the church was governed by presbyters. For this view Huss quoted Jerome’s famous statement.
It must be remembered that in the Middle Ages the episcopate was not looked upon as a distinct order. The three orders, according to Thomas Aquinas, were the subdeacon, deacon and priest.
The keys were conferred upon the church, Matt. 18:17, 18, and in binding and loosing, Peter acted as a representative of the church. The church is the final tribunal. In giving the power to Peter, Christ gave it in his person to every presbyter whatsoever.
Priestly acts of all kinds are invalid except as the priest’s life is conformed to Christ’s law. No one has ever more clearly laid stress on the necessity of purity of life to the clerical office than Huss.
The power of the keys, or of remitting sins and retaining them, is a declaratory power such as the priest under the old dispensation exercised in pronouncing the leper clean and as the disciples exercised in loosing Lazarus, John 11:44. The priest did not make the leper clean nor did the disciples release Lazarus from the bonds of death. Neither pope nor priest can absolve from sin except where God has before absolved. As Huss said in his attack against John XXIII’s bulls, the pope’s act in absolving is nothing more than the announcement of a herald—factum papæ ad maximum non est nisi præconis Dei promulgatio. Peter bade Simon Magus call upon the Lord for indulgence which he could not himself grant.
In his Commentary on the Sentences of the Lombard Huss presents substantially the same view that he presents in this treatise and the cognate writings, but not so boldly. There, he says, no one can be excommunicated unless he is first excommunicated by himself and except he offends against Christ’s law. In his treatise on The Six Errors, Huss quotes Peter the Lombard to show that the remission by a priest is a different thing from remission by God who remits of Himself, purifying the soul of guilt and loosing it from the debt of eternal death. Did the pope possess the power of the keys in the way generally supposed, as a thing of his own, then he might empty purgatory itself, and, if he neglected to do so, he would be guilty of ill-will or indifference. On the question of absolution Huss is most emphatic, and he restates his views again and again. No saint, he says, could be found who had the presumption to say: “I have forgiven thee thy sins,” or “I have absolved thee.” With Wyclif, and upon the basis of the Lord’s Prayer, Huss said that in a real sense every Christian has the right to absolve.
The two keys which are put into the hands of the church are knowledge and authority. The chief power given to the Apostles and their successors was to preach or evangelize. No prelatic authority has the right to inhibit one ordained from preaching the Gospel any more than it has the right to prohibit the giving of alms. As for the use of the prerogative to censure, Huss insisted that it should be exercised sparingly. Christ did not call down fire from heaven on the Samaritan city. By tears and prayers and Christian ministries should the supreme pontiff and priests fulfil their office.
Along the same line of curbing the assumptions of the priesthood, Huss insists in this treatise upon the right of inferiors, including laymen, to examine the mandates of the clergy and ecclesiastical superiors before giving them heed. Even the civil realm has the right to punish priests and to remove them from their offices as did, so Huss affirms, Charles IV, king of Bohemia, and as Titus and Vespasian at God’s command had done in destroying Jerusalem and the priests.
4. The Scriptures. They are the supreme rule of faith and conduct. This treatise and all Huss’s writings abound in Scripture quotations. A charge made against him by Stephen Palecz was that more than any neretic before him, he had fortified his heresies by appeals to the sacred volume. Huss expressed his hope to die in the faith, but also that at the great judgment bar he might be found not to have denied a single iota of their contents. Charged with following Wyclif, he replied that if he accepted Wyclif’s statements, it was because they were drawn from the Scriptures. The holy volume, he maintained, is a book of life, an animate thing. The priest’s main duty is to set forth its truths and, in being true to it, it is not possible to incur damnation through any prelatical command. Huss’s own following was called the evangelical clergy—clerus evangelicus.
In repeated discussions, Huss made the clear distinction between apostolic commands, as contained in the Scriptures, and papal mandates. No bidding is obligatory which is not distinctly based on the Scripture—præter expressam scripturam—and, where usage and Scripture disagree, usage is to be set aside. In deciding what the Scriptures teach, reason is to be employed. But the safest refuge of the church, Huss declared, is no human authority but the Holy Spirit.
In view of these positions on the supreme authority of Scripture and the right of individual judgment, Bishop Hefele rightly declares that Huss was fully out of accord with the Catholic church and a true precursor of the Reformation.
5. To these fundamental principles Huss, in this treatise, adds another in which he also took solemn issue with the practice and the theory of the mediæval church,—the death penalty for heresy. He calls it the “sanguinary corollary.” In repudiating it, Chapter XVI, he was setting himself against Innocent III and the great pontiffs who came after him and also against the theological statement of the Schoolmen. The execution of religious dissenters was begun in 385 with the death of the Priscillianists at Treves. Fathers of the ancient church exhausted the dictionary for severe words to stigmatize heretics. Athanasius called them dogs, wolves and worse. When ecclesiastical dissent reappeared in Western Europe in the twelfth century, the words, “compel them to come in,” which St. Augustine used to justify physical measures to coerce the Donatists, were explained to justify the putting of dissenters out of the world. They were likened to scabby sheep and to the locusts of Joel hidden in the dust. Heresy was a cancer to be cut out by the extermination of the heretic. Innocent III set on foot the organized crusades for the extirpation of heresy with the sword in Southern France. Thomas Aquinas, d. 1274, made the solemn statement that as coin-clippers, who offend against the majesty of the state, are put to death, so heretics, who offend against the church, deserve to be put out of the world.
This principle was incorporated in the civil codes of the Schwabenspiegel and Sachsenspiegel and in the laws of Frederick II who proscribed death in the flames for heretics. In accordance with the old axiom that the church does not desire blood—ecclesiam non sitit sanguinem—it did not of itself execute the death sentence. However, it was participant in the execution, for it threatened civil magistrates with severest spiritual penalties who hesitated to execute it. Gregory IX demanded from the Roman senator a promise to search out heretics and to put them to death within eight days of their condemnation by the ecclesiastical tribunal. Louis IX, in France, and parliament by its act of 1401, in England, introduced the law of death. The horrors of the system of torture were authorized by Innocent IV, the successor of Gregory IX. Later, it remained for Sixtus IV in 1478 to open the second volume in the history of the horrors of the mediæval inquisition by sanctioning the holy office of Spain.
Thus, by papal assumption and scholastic definition and state legislation, the claim was made to the awful power of shutting up dissenters eternally in hell and of depriving them of life on the earth.
In opposing this usage, Huss appealed to the example of Christ and the purpose of the Gospel. Christ did not assume civil authority. He refused the title of king. He did not wish that men should be put to death—nec voluit civiliter judicare nec morte corporis condemnare voluit. It is true that before d’Ailly and the commission at Constance Huss modified this statement, declaring that the suspected heretic should be labored with and instructed and only then, if necessary, punished corporally. As thus modified, the statement started a tumult among those present. And, when Huss went on to say that the priests and scribes who delivered Christ to Pilate had the greater sin, the tumult was repeated. It is possible that Huss was moved by the sufferings he was undergoing to make this modification, but exactly what he meant is not clear.
In his attack against John XXIII’s bulls calling for the crusade against Ladislaus, he repudiated the right of a pontiff to call for war against Christians in the absence of a special command from God. He denied the application of the cases of the Old Testament and Sapphira to Christian officials in the ordinary exercise of their authority. Only an express command from above would justify the use of the death penalty. Nor is torture to be applied to Christians. When Christ wished to defend himself against his enemies, he “meekly bore their attacks and did good to his detractors,” an example priests should follow. By word and example Christ commended peace—ad pacem ducit verbo et exemplo.
In dealing with Augustine’s use of the passage “compel them to come in,” Huss affirmed that it is one thing to compel and quite another to exterminate or kill. The death penalty for heretics was never expressly recommended by Augustine, and it is probable that Huss more nearly represented the views and spirit of the African Father than did the Schoolmen and the council of Constance. The armor of the church, Huss insisted, is not carnal but spiritual as set forth in the last chapter of the Ephesians, a passage he frequently expounded.
Indeed, heresy has its uses, and heretics are to be reclaimed to Christ’s sheepfold by methods of persuasion, so Huss affirmed. As for himself, he professed that excommunication and the harshest treatment are rather to be chosen than a pretended absolution from guilt and punishment, for he is more likely to be absolved from guilt and punishment who, in God’s cause, suffers malediction and contumely even unto death, than he who prevaricates to himself or persecutes Christians.
Thus, a hundred years before Luther wrote his famous words against the burning of heretics, Huss took the same position. But, so far as we know, there was not a single individual in the great council of Constance who had any sympathy with the views of the Bohemian heretic. Nay, the council went further than to burn Huss: it supplemented its verdict by a solemn declaration that faith is not to be kept with a heretic. The pity is that Bullinger—in the Second Helvetic Confession, John Calvin and other leaders of the emancipation of the sixteenth century did not fully conform to the principle set forth by Huss and Luther and shake themselves free from the method of the inquisition practised by our religious ancestors of the Middle Ages.
These fundamental principles, in regard to the church, the papal office, the keys and the Scriptures, for which Huss stood were adapted to shake the ecclesiastical organization of his day to its very foundations. The council of Constance when it stated them in its thirty charges fully appreciated the grave menace. Had that solemn assembly accepted Huss’s principles it would have set aside the construction built up by the pride of the mediæval hierarchy and the laborious reasoning of the Schoolmen.
IV. Huss’s Debt to Wyclif. The leading principles set forth in his Treatise on the Church, Huss found in the writings of Wyclif and particularly in Wyclif’s treatise on the same subject. Not only has he the main principles in common with Wyclif, and also many of his quotations from the Fathers and the canon law and his proofs from Scripture. Huss appropriated paragraph after paragraph from his predecessor and transferred them often with little verbal change to his own pages. The agreement has been convincingly shown by Loserth, who prints the corresponding paragraphs side by side. It is not necessary here to repeat what he has done.
Huss’s reverend respect for Wyclif has already been indicated. Whereas Stephen Palecz, Stanislaus of Znaim and other theological colleagues, who at first shared his admiration for the English teacher, came to regard his teaching as honeyed poison—mellatum venenum—Huss continued to bow before him as the “master of deep thoughts.” And it was for Wyclif’s doctrines and, in a sense, in his stead he died at Constance.
The recent publication of Wyclif’s works beginning with 1883, under the auspices of the Wyclif society, has made possible a full estimate of the obligation which Huss owed to his English predecessor. Up to that date only a comparatively small number of his writings, English as well as Latin, were in print, and Wyclif’s Treatise on the Church appeared for the first time, 1886. In the light of Wyclif’s printed text, the theory advocated at length by Neander that Huss was indebted to Matthias of Janow for his view on the authority of Scripture and other topics is found to be wholly without foundation. And, in fact, nowhere does Huss express any debt to that writer of Prague who, by the way, recanted his views which were pronounced erroneous. Never did a man owe more to mortal teacher than Huss did to John Wyclif. In the fundamental doctrines concerning the predestinate, the church, the papacy, the power of the keys and the authority of the Bible Huss agrees exactly with his predecessor. They are one in their denunciation of Boniface VIII’s bull, Unam sanctam, and of Constantine’s donation. All the reformatory—and we may say revolutionary—principles affirmed by the former will be found in Wyclif.
However, Huss was not a servile imitator of Wyclif and it seems never to have occurred to his opponents in Prague to twit him on the use he made of Wyclif’s writings. It must be borne in mind, that from no other source outside the pages of Scripture could Huss have learned what he came to believe as from the pages of Wyclif. Reading him was like taking clear water from a vessel filled at a spring rediscovered. And, it must be remembered, that Huss had no sooner left the university than he found himself in an atmosphere charged with the controversial spirit, himself the chief figure.
To these considerations the following must also be taken into account. Instead of transferring to his pages paragraphs from Wyclif bodily, Huss might easily have introduced into them words of his own or taken the meaning and re-expressed it in his own language. That he did not pursue this method is evidence that he had no intention of using the garments of his great teacher to make a reputation for himself. He was ready to die for his convictions and in this treatise the chief consideration was to give the most forcible expression possible to the views he and Wyclif were known to hold in common. The chief weapon of attack against him was Wyclif’s system as set forth in the XLV Articles, condemned by ecclesiastical authority and recently by the eight doctors to whom he was replying.
The materials, taken from Wyclif, are under Huss’s hand subjected to altogether new collocations, and in matters of detail, where we would expect Huss to have drawn from his predecessor, he does not. For example, he does not repeat Wyclif’s use of the ark and the seamless coat of Christ as figures for the unity of the church nor make reference to Solomon and the temple. Nor does he introduce David at the side of Peter as an example of one who is predestinate and yet is lacking for a time in righteousness. Huss omits many of the authors quoted by Wyclif such as Bradwardine, Henry of Gauda and, as already stated, Bonaventura. There is evidence, as Schwab long ago suggested, that Huss was well read in the canon law and used it independently. As for Augustine, Loserth has expressed the opinion that Huss knew his copy well. With Luther, at a later time, he felt profound respect for this father’s theological learning and piety. In this treatise he designates Augustine now the “holy man” now the “great doctor” and pronounced him the foremost of biblical expositors, the man who was more profitable to the church than many popes. As for materials from Scripture Huss’s treatise contains much that Wyclif does not give as also fresh considerations from reason. His references to Christ, whom he frequently calls “the best of masters” will at times be found to be charged with true eloquence as well as piety.
If it were necessary to point to the custom of his age to justify Huss’s procedure, the cases of John Gerson and Cardinal d’Ailly might be cited. Gerson, rector of the university of Paris, without making acknowledgment, appropriated a considerable part of one of Henry of Langenstein’s works and d’Ailly pursued the same method with Ockam’s Dialogus.
Huss’s Commentary on the Sentences of Peter the Lombard, recently published in a volume of eight hundred pages, has re-established the author’s claims to be a sane and well-balanced theological student. Here he expresses himself independently and shows himself conversant with those phases of theological thought which were a subject of special discussion in his day as well as with the fundamental catholic principles.
Comparing the two treatises on the church along general lines this may be said:
Huss is the more clear and direct of the two writers. Much as he seems to repeat himself, he nevertheless pursues a definite aim. Wyclif, as was his custom, was drawn aside by the exuberance of his intellect into all sorts of discussions germane and not strictly germane. His treatise has extended paragraphs on canonization, mathematics, alms, relic worship, the evils of ecclesiastical endowments. He shows his scholastic bent by that peculiar use of Latin terminology characteristic of mediæval scholasticism. Although Huss employs some of Wyclif’s characteristic words, as antonomasia, yet he is comparatively free in this respect.
We come now to the temper in which the two works are written as indicated by particular statements as well as the general drift. Huss is much less severe in his judgments of individuals than is Wyclif. The latter called Gregory XI a terrible devil—horrendus diabolus—and blessed God for bringing him to his death when He did. The cardinals he stigmatized as the very synagogue and nest of Satan and a nest of heretics.
At times, in his English writings, he calls the pope the vicar of the fiend—the devil. Huss joins with Wyclif in saying that it might be well to get along without a pope, though not in such strong language, but nowhere uses such an expression as Wyclif’s, enormous pride of the Western church—monstruosa superbia ecclesiæ occidentalis—or plainly denounces the last clause of Boniface’s bull as to be detested. Nor did Huss in his treatise directly repudiate the authority of church teachers such as Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventura, as Wyclif did, although, as his pages show, he put strange interpretations on some of the statements of the canon law and seems to have been at times under the constraint of usage in clinging to those statements rather than of conviction.
Huss, in other words, was much less severe in his judgment of individuals and more moderate in his language than his predecessor. Wyclif used a sharp blade and sometimes the acrimony of the pamphleteer. The Bohemian carried to his desk the homiletic instinct of the preacher addressing an audience whose welfare he held in mind. The one was governed somewhat by the love of the truth as a matter of intellectual determination; the other altogether by the love of the truth as a practical force in daily life.
In his last months in prison, Huss definitely accepted the distribution of the cup to the laity and exclaimed against the impiety of the council’s act when it threatened every priest with the ban who dared to distribute it. On the other hand, he did not adopt Wyclif’s doctrine of the eucharist but to the end insisted that he was wrongly charged with denying the church’s dogma of transubstantiation.
V. Importance. Huss’s treatise has a place of first importance among works on the church. Its treatment is clear, elaborate and professedly based on Scripture. It is the best known work on the subject issued from Augustine to the Reformation period. It was the basis of charges in the most famous formal trial of a single individual in the history of the Christian church. It was cherished and used by a large section of the Bohemian people. It has had a permanent influence upon the development of the idea of the church.
Upon the council assembled at Constance Huss’s volume made a deep impression as a work calculated to be disastrous in its effects, unless counteracted by the severest measures within the church’s reach. One of its foremost leaders, that eminent man Cardinal d’Ailly, who had probably more to do than any other man of the council with Huss, declared that by an abundance of proofs Huss’s treatise combated the plenary authority of the church as much as the Koran combats Christ.
Wyclif’s Treatise on the Church was hidden away in manuscript until a generation ago. His followers at Oxford, soon after his death, repudiated his views. His name was a memory except as his English version of the Bible was read in narrowing groups of Lollards. That memory, indeed, was powerful, for the early Protestant Reformers looked back to him and Tyndale wrote: “They said it in Wyclif’s day and the hypocrites say it now, that God’s Word arouseth insurrection.” And Bishop Tonstall, writing to Erasmus, 1524, said that the new views were “not a question of some pernicious novelty, but only that new arms were being added to the great band of Wyclifite heretics.”
But what Wyclif’s Bible was to the small company of dissenters in England, Huss’s Treatise on the Church was to the large body of Bohemians who respected Huss’s memory and followed, in part or in whole, his views.
In Luther’s time, Huss’s name and also his treatise were a live power. As for his treatise, a copy of it was sent by Hussites to the German Reformer on the ground that he and Huss were agreed and, in 1520, an edition was printed in Mainz by Ulrich von Hutten. Wyclif was not quoted by the Reformers. They knew him through Huss.
The ancient church produced two writers on the specific topic of the church, Cyprian and Augustine. The Unity of the Church written by the bishop of Carthage, though small in compass, is of much importance for its view of the episcopate. Augustine, in the controversy with the Donatist dissenters, furnished material of great moment for the definition of the church without giving a succinct definition. The nearest approach to it were his statements that the church is the holy body of all the faithful, to be saved—sancta cong. omnium fidelium salvandorum—and the body of the faithful who are elect and justified—fidelium predestinatorum et justificatorum. The term catholic, or universal, first used by Ignatius, was employed by these Fathers in conformity with the usage which had become general.
During the Middle Ages, the topic was not a matter of special treatment. The ideas of Augustine were not questioned that baptism is essential to salvation and that all those, not in communion with the visible church, are lost. The church was looked upon as a tangible, palpable institution, as much so as the duchy of Spoleto or the kingdom of France. The Schoolman, who came nearest giving a definition, was Hugo of St. Victor who, in his work on the sacraments, called the holy catholic church the body of Christ vivified by one Spirit, united in one faith and sanctified. It is the number of the faithful, the totality of all Christians. Thomas Aquinas passed it by except as he discussed the pope’s absolute supremacy. The fourth Lateran indeed spoke of the church as “the one universal church of the faithful outside of which there cannot be any salvation”—extra quam nullus omnino salvatur—a statement which narrowed the church down to the limits of the Roman communion in the profession demanded of the Waldenses, namely, “we believe with the heart and confess that the one church is not of the heretics but the holy Roman catholic church outside of which no one can be saved.”
In his Rule of Princes and Errors of the Greeks, Thomas Aquinas gave his assent to Innocent III’s assumption claiming for the Roman pontiff plenitude of power and declared that obedience was due to the Roman church as to the Lord Jesus himself—cui obediendum est lanquam Domino Dco, Jesu. He used also the words: “subjection to the Roman pontiff is of necessity to salvation”—subesse romano pontifici est de necessitale salutis.
A new period in the history of the conception of the church opened with Boniface’s bull, Unam sanctam, and was forced by it, the text on which other writers as well as Wyclif and Huss comment frequently. This notorious document might have been relegated to the archives of innocuous legal papers, had it not been for the fact that it confirmed Louis the Fair of France in his opposition to the temporal absolutism of the papal throne and united his kingdom around him in this interest. Groups of pamphleteers in Italy and France attacked now the claims of the papacy to secular authority, as Dante, and now its spiritual claims, as Peter Dubois and Marsiglius of Padua. These men agreed in repudiating Constantine’s donation on the ground that Constantine had no right to bestow upon the Roman pontiff any such power; and Marsiglius went far along the line of making the claims which the Protestant Reformers afterwards united in making. This keen critic, who was anathematized by John XXII for asserting that Peter was not the head of the church, also asserted that the distinction between bishops and priests is not founded in Scripture and that the church has no authority to coerce by physical measures. Contemporary with him, Ockam was also affirming that Christ did not appoint a primacy at Rome and that the pope is not essential to the church but is of human appointment—ex ordinatione humana. This English Schoolman defined the church as “the community of the faithful comprehending clerics and laymen.” It may be reduced to one person as it was to Mary when the disciples fled. A generation before, Philip the Fair had proudly reminded Boniface that the church was made up of laymen as well as priests.
The removal of the papacy to Avignon and the papal schism which followed, 1377-1415, were adapted to intensify the controversy over the nature and functions of the church, questions which had seemed to be forever settled before Boniface issued his bull. The discussions were participated in by a class of men of whom Konrad of Gelnhausen was one of the very first, and by Wyclif followed by Huss who constitute a much more advanced group. The opinions of the former group found expression in the Reformatory councils, notably the council of Constance. The opinions of the latter involved an ecclesiastical revolution and led straight forward to the Protestant Reformation.
The opening clause of Boniface’s bull asserting the unity of the church, Wyclif and Huss both accepted, but they put upon it another interpretation from that intended by Boniface. The unity was not in the apostolic see but in predestinating grace as manifesting itself in the exercise of the Christian virtues. The other clauses they wholly repudiated, namely the clause that to the church is given both swords and the clause that it is altogether necessary for salvation that every creature be subject to the Roman pontiff. The latter repeats the very language of Thomas Aquinas. In renouncing these two propositions, Wyclif and Huss set themselves against the fabric of the mediæval system.
It was Huss’s merit that he kept open the subject of the church by his death and this treatise. He passed Wyclif’s views on to a later time, and his volume was the avenue for their transmission. Huss’s tenets and his memory, embodied in the Christian dissenters known as “the Bohemians,” were a constant source of interest and of controversy down to the age of Luther. At the close of the fifteenth century, Wessel exclaimed: “The church cannot err, but what is the church? It is the communion of the saints to which all true believers belong who are bound together by one faith, one love, one hope.” The definition of the nature and the functions of the church was awaiting settlement, and the staggering blow to Boniface VIII’s arrogance was given by the Reformation.
In view of our authorities, it would be false to say that Luther learned directly from Huss, but Luther’s assertions show that he not only took Huss under his protection, but that he was confirmed in his opposition to the pope by his regard for Huss and by his writings. Not to quote again what I have quoted in another place, Luther said: “I rejoice that Huss, a true martyr, is rising before this, our century, that is to be properly canonized even if the papists are broken to pieces. Oh! that my name were worthy to be associated with such a man.
Luther’s definition of the church is embodied in the Augsburg Confession. It was due to Luther and Zwingli that the terms visible and invisible were used to designate the true church from the body of the baptized.
True to the mediæval conception and only six months before the nailing up of the XCV Theses, Leo X confirmed Boniface’s Unam sanctam, and in reply to Luther Prierias declared the church to be in essence the community of believers but virtually the Roman church and the Roman pontiff—ecclesia universalis essentialiter est convocatio credentium, virtualiter ecclesia Romana et pontifex maximus. The catholic polemic of the seventeenth century, with Bellarmine at its head, made the rule of the papacy of the essence of the definition of the church. He expressly repudiated as heretical the definition of Wyclif, Huss and Calvin. Still true to the mediæval idea, Pius IX, in 1873, in a communication addressed to the German emperor, William I, declared that all the baptized are in some sense subject to the Roman pontiff.
Several matters in Huss’s treatment call for passing note.
The first is that Huss, as also Wyclif before him, continued to call the church mother and holy mother. Although this designation has the prestige of high antiquity, it is to be used with great caution. The church is not a personality, giving birth to spiritual children. The designation is drawn from Paul’s placing Christ and the church figuratively in the relation of bridegroom and bride. But nowhere in the New Testament is the church called mother or bringing forth ascribed to it. The term is bound up with the conception of the church as a saving institution and its use developed with the development of the sacramental system. From the Protestant standpoint it is fallacious. Wyclif and Huss, again and again, pronounce it a metaphor and so prepared the way for its rejection by the Reformers.
Another remark is that Huss makes not a little of church history. He had the historical sense and less of the scholastic than we might expect. The age of criticism was dawning not only among the men of the Renaissance but in the church. It is interesting to compare Luther’s conception of the use of history to do away with bad usages. In his Introduction to Dr. Barnes’s History of the Lives of the Popes, issued in 1536, he said that, in the beginning, not being much versed in the lives of the popes, he attacked the papacy a priori, that is, from holy Scripture, but was wonderfully delighted that others were doing the same a posteriori, that is, from history. Huss used history to prove the truth of Scripture.
A third remark is that nowhere in this treatise does Huss use the passage, John 17, “that they may be one as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee,” so much quoted in this present age as if corporate union were the test of the fulfilment of the words. Huss’s treatise presents an entirely different test of Christian unity. He must not be pressed too far. Nevertheless, it is plain that he laid stress on particular churches and made the bond of union between them and between their members predestinating grace and an active life of Christian virtue.
VI. The Canon Law. The authorities used in this treatise are the Scriptures, accredited writers of the church, the canon law and Wyclif. Among the accredited writers frequently quoted are Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory the Great, Bernard, and Peter the Lombard. It is noticeable that Bonaventura’s name is not mentioned at all, whereas Wyclif’s Treatise on the Church quotes him at least sixteen times, and, for some reason, Huss draws upon Thomas Aquinas much less than did his English precursor.
With few exceptions the places where these quotations are found in the volumes of Migne and the Nicene Fathers series have been noted, and also the references to the canon law as they are found in Friedberg’s edition. The verses of the Scripture texts, which in Huss’s time had not yet been marked, have been supplied. All this matter, which the translator is responsible for, is enclosed in brackets, as also an occasional brief explanation.
Like the sacramental system, the universities and the cathedrals, the body of the canon law was one of the imposing constructions of the Middle Ages. It had as its first and chief compiler Gratian who, about 1150, was teaching church law in Bologna as Irnerius was teaching Roman law. From the university of Bologna, which became the celebrated centre of the study of both laws, such eminent popes went out as Alexander III and Innocent III, and the advice of its jurisconsults was sought on questions of first import, as by Frederick Barbarossa on the plain of Roncaglia, 1158.
In his Concordantia canonum discordantium, usually called Decretum Gratiani, Gratian attempted to bring into a harmonious code the statements of councils, popes, and eminent Fathers bearing on all manner of questions concerning the government of the church and its usages. This digest had even greater authority in its department than Peter the Lombard’s Sentences in the department of systematic theology. In its sections are also contained the fictitious materials of the pseudo-Isidorian decretals, the most notorious portion of which is the donation of Constantine.
As time wore on, the need was felt of supplements to Gratian’s work, which were furnished in the Decretals, so-called, collected by order of Gregory IX, 1234, the Liber Sextus or Sext, by Boniface VIII, 1298, the Liber Septimus or Clementine Constitutions, by Clement V, 1314, and the so-called Extravagantes, or fugitive decretals, twenty in number, issued by John XXII and incorporated into the code by John Chappuis in his edition of 1500. Chappuis also added seventy other decretals issued between the pontificates of Boniface VIII and Sixtus IV, 1294-1484. The completed digest, consisting of these parts, was authoritatively issued by Gregory XIII, 1582.
The Glosses and Little Glosses, which Huss frequently quotes—the Glossa ordinaria—are comments made upon the original texts by glossators, among whom Cardinal Zabarella, so prominent in Huss’s trial at Constance, d. 1417, occupies a place of distinction.
In this treatise and elsewhere Huss was concerned first of all to base his views upon plain Scripture, and then to find their confirmation in the pages of the canon law. In doing so, he quoted the spurious decretals of pseudo-Isidore, their genuineness in that age being still universally accepted.
It will be seen that, for Huss, the canon law at times was a heavy load to carry. He did the best he could to explain away its language which taught the high-church views which he distinctly repudiated, and to bring its statements into harmony with the teachings of Scripture he adduced. He speaks of the respect due to the body of canon law in a tone which leads us to infer that he accepted it in places with mental reservation. A single case in which he is seen to have absolutely set aside its plain meaning is his exposition of the last clause of the Unam sanctam to the effect, that there is no salvation except for those who fully submit to the Roman pontiff, pp. 120, 121. In a fine passage Huss makes the Roman pontiff refer to Christ, the supreme Pontiff and Shepherd, but Boniface had no such idea in mind when he issued his arrogant deliverance.
In regard to Constantine’s donation, which established the most pretentious claims made for the papal monarchy and for the sacerdotal office, Huss took the position Dante had taken before him, that Constantine had no right to bestow the privileges he did. For the first time, a generation or two after him, the genuineness of this document was seriously doubted by Laurentius Valla. It was not until 1520 that Valla’s destructive criticism was brought to Luther’s attention by Ulrich von Hutten.
To have been consistent, Huss would have been obliged to discard Gratian’s compilation as Luther did, who, in 1520, threw the ponderous volume into the same flames at Wittenberg which consumed Leo X’s bull. And the marvel is that Huss, and Wyclif before him, should have been able to take the advanced views they did with this heavy load of the traditions of men—some good and some utterly anti-Scriptural—weighing them down.
VII. The Translation. This translation has been made from the second edition of Huss’s writings, entitled Historia et Monumenta J. Hus, published in two volumes at Frankfurt, 1715, with respectively 627 and 542 pages. The edition is a reprint of the earlier edition, Frankfurt, 1558, also in two volumes. The translator has had both editions on his table, using the second on account of the greater clearness of the print. After comparing the two editions almost paragraph by paragraph, he has failed to find a single verbal difference in the text. The only differences are an occasional case of capitalization and punctuation.
With exceptions, Huss’s quotations are found to conform exactly to the Vulgate, the text of the canon law and the other texts which he quotes. It was the translator’s desire to examine one or more of the original manuscripts of the treatise and through the courtesy of the eminent Huss expert, Dr. Flajshans, of Prague, he received a list of the more important manuscripts. It was found impossible to realize this desire; but from the accuracy with which Huss has transferred quotations to his pages as found in the Frankfurt text, it is fair to presume that the manuscript would show no change in any essential matter. It is to be hoped that Dr. Flajshans will add to his other editions of Huss’s writings a new edition of this, Huss’s most important treatise.
Huss’s Treatise on the Church is now within the reach of readers who have known it chiefly by its fame. Its pages will enable him who reads to feel some of the pious and heroic spirit of its author, the preacher of Bethlehem chapel, and at the same time to appreciate more fully what was the doctrinal and hierarchical system handed down from the classic period of the Middle Ages to the age of Wyclif and Huss. According to the letter of this system these two men were justly pronounced heretics, but not according to the Scriptures to which they appealed.
To follow Huss’s own presentation, the principle upon which Christ was put to death was stated in the words, “We have a law and by that law he ought to die.” On the same principle of ecclesiastical usage Huss suffered at the stake at Constance. When the two principles emphasized in this treatise are given proper recognition—personal devotion to Christ and a daily life conformed to his teachings and example—the practice of Christian tolerance and all human tolerance will be advanced. Then will creedal union and ritualistic prepossessions be softened and the barriers of denominational self-sufficiency be broken down, barriers which, at least in part, have been erected on metaphysical definitions in theological matters or uncertain assumptions drawn from history concerning the ministry and the sacraments, for which no distinct warrant can be found in the pages of the New Testament. This treatise will have a mission to-day, if its pages promote the idea that devotion to Christ is the condition and the surety of Christian fellowship and co-operation.