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Anything that resembled a bona-fide trial was, therefore, out of question. No legal representative could be granted a heretic. He had merely to appear before the council, recant everything he was accused of having said, and receive condign punishment. Gerson, one of the principal actors in the tragedy of Constance, strongly upheld this standpoint, and it is that also of the earlier Roman writers on the death of Hus. Their attitude is certainly manlier and more straightforward than that of later defenders of the council, who falsely accused Hus of having attempted to fly from Constance, of having preached and said mass publicly at Constance, etc. It is true that, even if we admit the standpoint of the council, the attempts to interrupt Hus by cries and insults when he endeavoured to speak remain indefensible.
We have, however, to consider a further point which has recently attracted considerable attention: Was Hus a heretic? In other words, did he hold any doctrine that was opposed to the teaching of the Church of Rome in the development which it had attained at the beginning of the fifteenth century? It has here been repeatedly stated, and cannot be sufficiently often reaffirmed, that the principal cause on which Hus staked his life was that of churchreform. An intensely pious and rigidly virtuous priest, he viewed with what to worldly men may appear a puerile feeling of horror and indignation the unspeakable degradation of the Bohemian clergy. It has been necessary in this book, destined for the general public, to withhold much evidence on this point. The fact that the ruling powers of the Roman Church made no attempt to discountenance the vices of its clergy, together with the study of Wycliffe's works, then led Hus to adverse criticism of the ecclesiastical organisation of the church, and of papacy in particular. Though there were, as already mentioned, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries writers who maintained the overwhelming power and authority of the pope as strongly and as unconditionally as has been done recently, yet freedom of opinion on such matters still existed at the time of Hus, and he cannot be called a
See Schwab, Johannes Gerson, particularly p. 583.
heretic for expressing views contrary to those of Rome on questions which only the councils of Trent and the Vatican have declared to be matters of dogma. It is certain that many of the accusations against Hus were absolutely false. This applies not only to the monstrous statement that Hus had pretended to be a fourth person within the divinity, but also to such accusations as that Hus had declared the sacrament to be invalid when administered by an unworthy priest. Hus had in his writings frequently and distinctly expressed the contrary opinion. The question therefore arose whether a revision of the judgment on Hus, such as took place in the case of Joan of Arc, would not be possible. Professor Kalousek of the Bohemian University of Prague, one of the most distinguished historians of Bohemia, as long ago as in 1869, addressed a pseudonymous letter to one of the newspapers of Prague suggesting such a revision. The matter at the time attracted considerable attention, and several distinguished Roman Catholic priests published replies to the letter. In a lengthy and very fair work on the teaching of Hus, Dr. Anton Lenz, one of the most eminent Bohemian divines, though doing full justice to the moral qualities, the integrity, and piety of Hus, yet maintains that he was a heretic, and that the council was justified in declaring him to be one. It cannot, however, be denied that among the heretical views which Dr. Lenz in his able book attributed to Hus, some refer to matters which the Roman Church had not at that time declared to be dogmas. Another Bohemian priest, Dr. Francis Sulc, has published 1 a Latin and Bohemian version of the famed thirty articles against Hus, and has printed with each article the recognised teaching of the Roman Church on the subject in question. To one who has no pretence to write as a theologian it certainly appears that on certain questions, that of predestination in particular, Hus's teaching did differ from that of the Roman Church, even in the development which it had reached in the fifteenth century. The question is, however, a very difficult one, and Pro
1 Privately printed at the press of the Bishop of Kralove Hradec (Königgrätz).
fessor Kalousek has in a recent lecture truly stated that much further study of the life and the works of Hus is required. Even quite recently valuable works of the Bohemian church-reformer that were hidden away in formerly inaccessible libraries have been made public. It is hardly necessary to add that, in view of the present current of opinion in the Roman church, a rehabilitation of Hus is now much more improbable than at the time mentioned above.
Opinion will always differ with regard to the question whether Hus should be considered as the last of the mediæval reformers who wished only to purify the church and restore it to its primitive simplicity, or as a forerunner of the great church-reformers of the sixteenth century. Extreme writers of both parties have unanimously adopted the latter supposition. Moderate writers —who it is unnecessary to say are few in number-have alone sometimes expressed doubts. That Hus was a forerunner of Luther has been constantly maintained by ultramontane writers, and they extend to him the unconditionally adverse judgment which they pronounce on the German reformer. On the other hand, most German Protestant writers on the Hussite movement, such as Krummel, Lechler, Neander, have also declared Hus to be the precursor of the German reformation, and have praised him as such. Dr. Harnack alone has expressed a contrary opinion. Luther himself undoubtedly considered Hus as his forerunner. In a wellknown passage of his letters, written when he had just begun to study the works of Hus, he remarks: “We have all been Hussites without knowing it.” On many occasions Luther expressed his admiration for Hus in a manner not dissimilar from that in which the great Bohemian lauded Wycliffe. Thus in the introduction to his edition of Hus's letters, the German reformer calls him
1“ Die wiclifitisch-hussitische Bewegung ... muss als die reifste Ausgestaltung der mittelalterlichen Reformbewegungen gelten. Allein es wird sich zeigen dass auch sie zwar vieles gelockert und vorbereitet, jedoch keinen reformatorischen Gedanken zum Ausdrucke gebracht hat: auch sie hält sich auf dem augustinisch-franciscanischem Boden ” (Dr. Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, vol. iii. pp. 412-413).
optimum et piisimum virum—to quote but one of many instances. Elsewhere Luther writes: “If this man was not a noble, strong, and dauntless martyr and confessor of Christ, then will it indeed be hard for any man to obtain salvation.”
Hus's countrymen have never taken much interest in these questions. To them he has always been a fearless enemy of simony, profligacy, and the unlimited power of the clergy, and a brave champion of his country and its nationality. To quote words I wrote more than ten years ago : 2 "If neglecting for a moment the minutiae of mediæval theological controversy, we consider as a martyr that man who willingly sacrifices his individual life for what he firmly believes to be the good of humanity at large, who 'takes the world's life on him and his own lays down,' then assuredly there is no truer martyr in the world's annals than John of Husinec.”
Very different from the judgment which should be passed on the attitude of the council with regard to Hus is that which we must pass on Sigismund. The council had made no promise of safety to Hus, and was acting in accordance with the teaching of the church when it urged Sigismund not to keep faith with a heretic. Sigismund, on the other hand, had in the most formal and solemn way assured Hus that he would be allowed to safely proceed to Constance, to be heard there freely, and whatever sentence should be passed on him, to return unharmed to Bohemia.3 It is difficult to conceive baser treachery than that of Sigismund with regard to Hus. I must refer the reader to an earlier chapter of this book for the motives that induced Sigismund to entice Hus to Constance, whence—this the King of Hungary had from the
1 It is a proof of Luther's great admiration for Hus that when sending a wedding-present to his friend Nicholas Specht he chose a portrait of the saintly John Hus.” (Letter to Nicholas Specht, December 12, 1538—The Letters of Martin Luther. Selected and translated by Margaret A. Currie.)
* A History of Bohemian Literature, p. 141.
3 The distinguished Roman Catholic priest, Dr. Lenz, whom I have repeatedly quoted, writes: Sigismund broke his word by not handing over Hus to the King of Bohemia after he had been condemned. He was not justified in carrying out the sentence of the council on the unhappy master."
* See Chapter VI.
first decided-he was never to return to his own country. Yet Sigismund's conduct has found defenders, and not only among the extreme adherents of the Church of Rome. One of Sigismund's strongest partisans indeed does not, or did not, belong to any Christian community. It is stated that Sigismund, as a member of the Roman Church, was obliged to obey its command not to keep faith with a heretic, and that he had even exceeded his powers by granting a safe-conduct to Hus. This argument might have had some force at other periods of the history of the church, but at this one it certainly had none. Personal violence had been used against Pope Boniface VIII., and more recently a pope had been besieged at his castle of Avignon. Sigismund himself had imprisoned Pope John XXIII. Even among those who were faithful believers in the teaching of Rome, the popes and prelates had at that time fallen into disesteem and even contempt. Sigismund would certainly not have hesitated to ignore the demands of Pope John XXIII., and afterwards of the council with regard to Hus, had he thought it in his interest to do so. It is true that he shielded himself by invoking the authority of the church when his treachery caused general indignation in Bohemia. It has also been stated that the safe-conduct granted by Sigismund only assured the safe arrival of Hus at Constance. This, however, is in direct contradiction with the wording of the safe-conduct as well as with the fact that Hus started from Prague without this document. It has also been argued in defence of Sigismund that, if the safe-conduct given to Hus had guaranteed his immunity, his trial would have been illusory, as no punishment could have been inflicted. This argument is also founded on a misconception. Had the safe-conduct not been violated, Hus would have been conducted back to his country, and punished according to the decision of his sovereign, King Venceslas of Bohemia. That this by no means necessarily meant immunity will be clearly understood by all who remember that Venceslas had once before threatened Hus with death at the stake.
The contemporaries of Sigismund, and the Bohemians in particular, were almost unanimous in condemning Sigismund's