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THE TRIAL AND DEATH OF HUS
THOUGH the council had been obliged to grant Hus a public hearing, it did so most reluctantly and with the firm intention that he should be declared guilty and under all circumstances prevented from returning to Bohemia-on this Sigismund laid great stress. During
deliberation of the council, which immediately preceded the trial, it was resolved that, should Hus not retract, he should be handed over to the secular authorities to receive condign punishment. By a legal fiction the church avoided ordering the execution of the sentence. Death at the stake was the penalty for heresy according to a law of the Emperor Frederick II., who, as Dr. Lenz writes in his clever defence of the conduct of the council,1 " cannot be considered a friend of the popes, and still less an ultramontane." Though the matter will have to be mentioned again later, it should here already be stated that Sigismund had pledged his honour to allow Hus to return to Bohemia from Constance, whatever sentence might have been passed on him there. The secular authority to whom Hus should have been handed over was his own sovereign, King Venceslas, not the burgomaster of Constance. The possibility of Hus's retracting had also been taken into consideration. was decided that in that case Hus should, in punishment of the scandal which he had caused, be imprisoned for life in a Swedish monastery, in a cell that was to be walled up, leaving only a small opening through which food and drink were to be handed to the prisoner.? On the morning of June 5 Hus was conveyed from the Tower of
1 Uceni mistra Jana Husi (the Teaching of Master John Hus), p. 361. : Dr. Flajshans, Mistr Jan Hus, p. 361.
Gottlieben to the monastery of the Franciscan order 1 at Constance, which was to be the last of his prisons. The members of the council who were to interrogate Hus, with Cardinal D'Ailly as their head, assembled in the refectory of the Franciscan monastery, and many other members were also present. The accusations against Hus were read out before he was admitted into the hall. As Mladenovic writes in a passage which I have already quoted, many statements never made by Hus were attributed to him and many passages quoted from his writings had been falsified. We meet with this complaint frequently, and it appears to have been one of the principal grievances of Hus. He began now to see that the trial was a mere formality by means of which Sigismund wished to appease the increasing irritation of the Bohemians. A significant incident which occurred at the very beginning of the trial was at any rate sufficient to dispel whatever illusions Hus and his companions may still have preserved. Before Hus appeared in the hall the document stating the accusations against him, which have been so often mentioned, and ending with his condemnation had been prepared and was shown to some of the members of the assembly. A young Bohemian named Oldrich who was present succeeded in obtaining a glance at the document and read in it the
passage which contained the condemnation of Hus and several statements of importance for the trial. A forged letter was referred to, in which Hus was purported to have written that, should he retract his teaching at Constance, such a retraction was to be considered as obtained by force and therefore invalid. 3 intended by this cunning device to prevent Hus's regaining his liberty, even should he retract the statements to which objection was made; this, as he repeatedly declared, he was prepared to do,
1 Between the cathedral and the church of St. Stephen. The building is now used as barracks.
Lenfant, Histoire du Concile de Constance (p. 199) and Von der Hardt (T. iv. pp. 196, 306) state that Mladenovic himself discovered the document. This is contradicted by Mladenovic's own report, quoted above. Mladenovic cautiously gives only the initials of the names of the persons concerned.
Quale mendacium! Omnipotens Deus.” Mladenovic writes with not unnatural indignation.
if contrary evidence were produced. Oldrich immediately informed Mladenovic of what he had seen, and the latter reported to Lord Venceslas of Duba and John of Chlum that the sentence on Hus had already been drawn up. The Bohemian nobles appealed to Sigismund. No one was more anxious than was the King of Hungary that Hus should, under all circumstances, be prevented from returning to Bohemia. He was not, however, under the circumstances, able to show his true feelings, and indeed feigned anger and indignation. He sent Louis Count Palatine and Frederick Burgrave of Nuremberg to the members of the council, ordering them not to condemn Hus immediately, but first to grant him a hearing.
Hus was now introduced into the hall. He had previously to Lords Duba and Chlum the original manuscripts of his book De Ecclesia, and of his writings against Palec and Stanislas of Znoymo. The articles that were now read out contained many extracts from these works, but whether these quotations were genuine, and to what extent they were the work of Palec and Michael was not examined during the so-called trial. Hus contented himself with declaring that if there was anything evil or erroneous in his writings, he was ready humbly to amend it. After the articles, the depositions of the witnesses were read out. Hus then attempted to speak, but was immediately interrupted by loud cries as with one voice." Those of his friends who had been unable to enter the hall, but remained outside, heard him“ turning now to the right, now to the left, now forward, now backward, answering those who were crying out at him and assailing him.' When he wished to point out ambiguities contained in the act of accusation and to declare that the accusers had interpreted certain statements contained in his writings in a manner different from that which he had intended, even louder cries arose. Some screamed: "Abandon all sophistry, say "Yes or No'"; others began to deride him. The tumult became yet greater when Hus attempted to quote the holy fathers of the church. All cried: “ This is of no importance! this is not to the question!” When Hus, seeing that
the assembly had determined to prevent his being heard, ceased speaking, all cried out to him: “Behold, thou art silent, thou hast admitted thy errors!”i Writing to Lord John of Chlum in the evening of June 5, Hus says: “ All cried out at me, as did the Jews against Jesus." Still hoping that he might be treated more fairly at another meeting, he writes not quite hopelessly at the end of the same letter: “I doubt whether they will allow me to quote the views of St. Augustine on the praedestinati and praesciti, or on evil prelates.” The proceedings on the first day of Hus's trial were so scandalous ? that it was determined to suspend the sitting and continue the trial on June 7.
On June 7, the second day of the trial, a total eclipse of the sun took place. It was particularly noticed by the pious citizens of Prague, who believed that it foreshadowed the doom of their beloved master.3 Darkness also covered the city of Constance, and lights had to be lit in the refectory when the trial was resumed. A large body of Hungarian mercenaries had been placed in the refectory by Sigismund's order. The emperor still feared or feigned to fear that Hus would escape him. Articles of accusation against Hus were again read out, and the first subject discussed were the difficult questions connected with the sacrament, the remanence of bread, and transubstantiation. Hus seems to have been allowed a somewhat greater liberty of speech than on the first day of the trial. It was stated that Hus had in his sermons in the Bethlehem
1 This account is abridged from the narrative of Mladenovic, who was present at the trial of Hus.
? The proceedings of the Council of Constance were often very turbulent -not only on the occasion of the trial of Hus. They sometimes resembled the sitiings of certain modern parliaments. Thus Pope John XXIII., when complaining to the King of France of the conduct of the emperor, accused Sigismund of having sent to the meetings of the council men of low rank, who interrupted the cardinals and prelates. Then “sibilabatur et fiebat eis (the prelates) tanta injuria quod oportebat ipsos obmutescere et abire confuse (Tosti, History of the Council of Constance).
3 Lawrence of Brezova writes: “ Item VII. die mensis Junii, qui erat feria VI. post Bonifacii hora XI. ecclipsatus est totus sol ita quod non poterant missae sine luminibus celebrari in signum quod sol Justiciae Christus in cordibus praelatorum multorum ad mortem Magistri Johannis Hus de proximo per concilium mortificandi anhelantium fuit obscuratus." (Fontes rerum Bohemicarum, v. 338.)
chapel repeated Wycliffe's teaching on the question of transubstantiation. 1 Cardinal D'Ailly, who presided, believed that it would be easy for him, who was famed as one of the most brilliant dialectitians of his day, to confound Hus, of whose intellectual powers
appears to have had a mean opinion. To him-and the opinion has been revived by some modern writers--Hus appeared as a man of little education, who only copied and repeated Wycliffe's views. As already mentioned, recent research has proved that Hus was a man of learning, not unversed in scholastic controversy. He certainly proved it on this occasion. When Hus stated that he believed in transubstantiation, D'Ailly asked him in the terminology of scholasticism whether he believed in "universals ” (universalia a parte rei). Hus affirmed that he did so, and the cardinal now wished to force him to draw the consequence that if “ universals were admitted the transformation of the substance of the consecrated bread (transubstantiatio) could not be maintained; for if Hus taught the doctrine of transubstantiation, he would have to admit that together with the cessation of the individuality (singulare) of the consecrated bread, its universale also ended. Hus, with great perspicacity, refuted the insidious arguments of D'Ailly, by stating that he considered transubstantiation as an exceptional case in which, together with the singulare, the universale also ceased to exist; in all other cases the singulare continued to exist (in aliis singularibus subjectatur). Hus's defence was undoubtedly successful, and he heartily expressed his joy in a letter written on that evening. His enemies, however, continued their attacks with undaunted energy. No matter appeared irrelevant which was likely to throw suspicion on Hus. His former English antagonist, John Stokes, again appeared on the scene. He stated that he had while at Prague read a treatise which was attributed
Nothing is more complicated, and indeed contradictory, than Wycliffe's teaching with regard to transubstantiation and communion. The accusation was intentionally vague.
2 Mladenovic, pp. 276–285. See also Hus's letter written on June 7 (Palacky, Documenta, pp. 106-108). Tschackert, Peter von Ailly (pp. 226-230) gives a short, very lucid account of the scholastic discussion between Hus and D'Ailly.