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recantation in the presence of the council. Jerome consented and his public abjuration took place at a meeting of the council on September 23, 1415.1 Jerome first read out the statement which he had previously sent to the council, stating that knowing the true Catholic and apostolic faith, he anathematised all heresies, and in particular the teaching of John Wycliffe and John Hus as contained in their works, tracts and sermons before the clergy and the people. Having read out this statement, Jerome added that, had he formerly possessed the knowledge which he now had, he would never have maintained these errors. If then his liberty were restored to him he would, possessing the knowledge and instruction which he had now acquired, be ruled by these precepts, and offer his soul as a new one to the bride of Christ, that is to say the holy church. The council, however, evidently continued to distrust Jerome, and insisted on his making several further statements in which he anathematised a large number of articles derived from the writings of Wycliffe, which were all specially enumerated. He also took a solemn oath henceforth to remain faithful to the true doctrine of the Catholic Church, adding that, should he fail to do so, he accepted as deserved every punishment that might be inflicted on him; he lastly declared that he had made all these statements freely and spontaneously.
Jerome was not, however, liberated. He appears soon to have regretted his recantation. On October 29, 1415, Gerson read before the council a statement ? treating of the recantation of heretics generally, but obviously aimed at Jerome. Among other matters, Gerson stated that one who had recanted heretical opinions must necessarily continue to be suspected of heresy. This declaration of Gerson produced a great impression on the mind of Jerome. He felt that he had failed to obtain the confidence of those to whose cause he had devoted himself. On the other hand, though he had not been freed, his renunciation had rendered his imprisonment
1 Von der Hardt (T. iv., pp. 499-514) gives a full account of the proceedings on that day and prints in full the documents referred to above.
?" De protestatione et revocatione in negotio fidei ” (printed by Von der Hardt, T. iii. pp. 39-52).
less severe. It is therefore certain that echoes of the fierce resentment and religious enthusiasm prevailing in Bohemia must have reached him at Constance. He determined to act in a manner which practically involved suicide. It is scarcely necessary to mention how greatly classical learning and that of the stoics in particular has lauded suicide, as the door ever open, when all other issues are closed. These theories of the ancients must have appealed to an early humanist in a manner inconceivable to us whose ancestors have for five centuries been steeped in Greek and Latin culture.
Not long after Gerson's declaration Jerome again gave utterance to statements that were considered heretical, thus as writes Theodoric Vrie, scandalising the whole sacred council. When reproached by members of the council, he claimed a hearing before the full assembly. This was granted to him, and he appeared before the council on May 30, 1416. De Vrie notices his clear voice, pallid look and long black beard. Questioned by members of the council with regard to the heretical opinions which he had again expressed, Jerome answered in a very impressive manner. He declared that he by no means denied having recanted, but that he had never committed a greater sin and crime than when he wrote his recantation. Never also had he so greatly regretted any sin, as he now regretted having rejected the opinions of those holy men, John Wycliffe and John Hus, and having expressed his approval of the death of those good men. A new act of accusation against him was now drawn up which contained principally the same accusations that had previously been brought against Jerome. Though he who wishes to study thoroughly the history of the Bohemian reformation must consider it his duty to wade through the contents of this ponderous document, I do not consider it necessary to refer to them here. The only interesting part of the document is that which refers to Jerome's connection with the “ orthodox” Ruthenians, as it bears witness to the intense animosity which then already existed between the Roman and Greek Churches. 1 Von der Hardt, T. iii., p. 182.
* Ibid. T. iv., pp. 634-691.
A very striking document concerning the last days of Jerome has fortunately been preserved and has rightly attracted great attention. I refer to Poggio Bracciolini's letter to Bruni (Leonardo Aretino). Though Poggio was present at the council as papal legate, his letter is written entirely in the manner of an Italian humanist, and its brilliancy and eloquence have bestowed on the memory of Jerome a not entirely merited aureole. Poggio by no means approved of Jerome as a church-reformer. He indeed states that if he had said anything contrary to the teaching of the church, he deserved punishment, and that the great talents that nature had given him were his misfortune. It was his eloquence and courage that appealed to the humanist. “I must confess," writes Poggio of Jerome, “that I never saw one who in the eloquence of his defence came as near to the eloquence of the ancients, whom we admire so much.” Later on the Italian humanist writes: “His (Jerome's) voice was sweet, clear and resounding. The dignity of the orator's jests now expressed indignation, now moved to compassion, which, however, he neither claimed nor wished to obtain. He stood before his judges undaunted and intrepid. Not only not fearing, but even seeking death, he appeared as another Cato. He was indeed a man worthy of eternal memory in men's minds.”
That such a mode of defence or rather defiance did not tend to conciliate the members of the council is evident. Jerome's speech 2 sealed his fate. The prelates were no doubt particularly indignant at Jerome's allusions to the unedifying life then led by most members of the clergy.3 Jerome was as a relapsed heretic condemned to death at the stake, and the sentence was carried out on May 30,
1“ Poggii Florentini de Hieronymi Haeritici obitu et supplicio narratio." (It has been frequently printed, by. Von der Hardt, by Freherus-scriptores rerum Bohemicarum, together with Aenaeas Sylvius, Historia Bohemica, by Palacky, Documenta, etc.)
a Printed in full in Von der Hardt's account of the trial (T. iv.). • Jerome stated:
.“ Cum patrimonia .ecclesiarum primum deberentur pauperibus et advenis ac demum fabricis, indignum videri, dispendi illa meretricibus, conviviis, equorum copiae aut canum saginae, cultui vestimentorum et aliis rebus indignis religione Christi ” (Palacky, Documenta).
immediately after his appearance before the council. Poggio thus describes his death: “With joyful brow, cheerful countenance, and elated face he went to his doom. He feared not the flames, not the torments, not death. None of the stoics ever suffered death with so constant and brave a mind, and he indeed seemed to desire it. When he had reached the spot where he was to die, he divested himself of his garments, and knelt down in prayer. Logs of wood were then piled about round his body, which they covered up to the breast. When they were lighted, he began to sing a hymn, which was interrupted by the smoke and the flames. This, however, is the greatest proof of the constancy of his mind, that when the lictor (town official or beadle) wished to light the stake behind his back, that he might not see it, he said: 'Come here, and light the stake before my eyes, for if I had feared it I should never have come to this spot, as it was in my power to fly. Thus perished a man eminent beyond belief. I saw his end, I contemplated every one of his acts. Be it that he acted thus from faithlessness or from obstinacy, you could perceive that it was a man of the philosophic school who had perished. ... Mutius did not allow his hand to be burnt with more brave a mind than this man his whole body. Socrates did not drink the poison as willingly as this man submitted himself to the flames." 1
Though Jerome perished by the same terrible death as Hus, nothing can be more different than the circumstances which preceded the deaths of the two men. Hus, inspired here as everywhere by a truly Christian feeling, was ready to render up his life should his duty as a Christian oblige him to do so. Meanwhile, he "guarded it as God's high gift from scathe and wrong." Thus he refused to go to Rome, where certain death awaited him, because he believed that his conscience then ordered him to live. He very clearly expressed his views on this subject in a passage in the
1 Though Poggio Bracciolini's account of the death of Jerome, of which he was an eye-witness, is somewhat rhetorical, yet it can on the whole be considered as trustworthy. Other writers describe the event similarly, though they lay less stress on the heroism of Jerome. Only Richenthal, not a very reliable authority, states that Jerome screamed lowdly ” while in the flames.
treatise De Ecclesia, which I have previously quoted. He did not heed the accusation of cowardice, which was in consequence raised against him by his enemies, and which has been repeated by some of his modern detractors. Similarly, he did not hesitate to leave Prague when his life was menaced there by the Germans, who were determined to destroy the Bethlehem chapel. His difficulty of deciding what course to adopt in this case is shown by many passages of his writings belonging to this period. When, on the other hand, the council demanded that he should recant heretical opinions which he had never held, he refused and calmly and unhesitatingly laid down his life. He well knew that had he himself admitted that he had been a heretic, his life-work for the church and the state of Bohemia would have been undone. Jerome, on the other hand, did not hesitate both at Vienna and at Constance to preserve his life by means that can hardly be called otherwise than dishonourable. When life, or at least the pleasures and interests of life, appeared to vanish, he faced and certainly bravely faced death.