Bohemia at War, Compromise and Betrayal

As he was dying, Ziska had named Procopius to be his successor. Though he is not as well known, Procopius was to prove himself an even greater leader than Ziska had been. The son of a nobleman, Procopius had an excellent education and was broadly traveled. Though his spirit was less fiery than that of Ziska, it was not due to a lack of devotion to the Hussite cause, but rather because it was better regulated. Ziska was a soldier and general; but in addition to these qualities, Procopius was a statesman as well.

The enemies of the Hussites, knowing that Ziska, their famous leader, was removed by death, deemed the moment opportune to strike another blow. They confidently expected an easy victory, failing to reflect that the blood of Huss and Jerome was weighing against them. They did not realize that it was not a blind warrior who had defeated them, but that he was merely the instrument of a righteous Power that they would encounter wherever they might raise the sword on Bohemian soil.

A new summons to arms was made. The emperor, having already suffered much for the cause and having no real delight in bitter defeat, was in no great hurry to take up the standard in another campaign. To encourage him, the pope wrote to the princes of Germany, exhorting them to unite in dealing a death blow to the Hussite cause and assuring them that the Hussite heretics were worse than the Turk himself and likewise, a greater threat to Christianity. The letter was soon followed by a bull ordaining a new crusade against the Hussites.

When the first mutterings of the distant storm reached Bohemia, it found the Hussites unhappily divided. There were the Taborites, who acknowledged Procopius as leader; and there were the Calixtines, commanded by Coribut, a candidate for the Bohemian crown. The sudden threat so rapidly approaching, however, had the effect of drawing them together for the common good. Forgetting their differences in the presence of the great danger that faced them, they stood side by side to meet the advancing foe.

The pontiff’s summons had been generally responded to, and the advancing army numbered not less than seventy thousand picked men, though some historians place the number as high as one hundred thousand. Entering Bohemia in three columns, they advanced toward the Hussite camp. Procopius sent a proposal to the invaders that quarter should be given by both sides. The Germans, not anticipating that they would need to avail themselves of this provision, refused to promise it, saying to the Hussites that they were under the curse of the pope and that to spare them would be to violate their duty to the church. “Let it be so, then,” Procopius replied, “and let no quarter be given on either side.” Wylie, The History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 193.

The Bohemians awaited the early morning attack; entrenched behind five hundred wagons fastened to one another by chains, which formed a somewhat formidable fortification. As the Germans stormed their first line of defense, hacking to pieces the wagons, the Bohemians were resting on their arms, discharging an occasional shot on the foe as they struggled to break through. Having once broken through the first line of defense, the Germans were faced with a weaker line of wooden shields stuck into the ground. They arrived within the second line of defense greatly wearied by the labor that their advance had cost them.

Now that they were face to face with the enemy, the Bohemians raised their war cry and, swinging their terrible flails, exacted a terrible price from their attackers. Rank after rank of the invaders pressed forward only to be felled in the terrible carnage. The battle raged till late in the afternoon. Though they fought with valor, the German knights’ labor was in vain. While the Germans were every moment falling before the rain of arrows that fell upon them and suffering greatly from the buffeting of the iron flails, the Bohemian ranks remained almost untouched. As the day wore to a close, the invaders fled the field in confusion, seeking refuge in the mountains and surrounding woods.

“The fugitives when overtaken implored quarter, but themselves had settled it, before going into battle, and accordingly, now quarter was given. Twenty-four counts and barons stuck their swords in the ground, and knelt before their captors, praying that their lives might be spared. But in vain. In one place three hundred slain knights are said to have been found laying together in a single heap.” Ibid. Of the Hussites, there fell only thirty men, while the loss to the invaders is estimated to have been as high as fifty thousand. The German nobility suffered greatly, nearly all of their leaders being left on the field.

The Bohemians, on the other hand, were greatly enriched by the booty that fell into their hands. This advantage was not, however, as important as the prestige that it gave them. From this day forward, the Hussite arms were looked upon as invincible.

The pope, undaunted, organized an even greater crusade the following year. Realizing that it would be in vain to look for a German prince to agree to such an undertaking, he sought the English for help. To his dismay, he found that the English held little enthusiasm for such an endeavor which, while it was no doubt holy, was also beyond doubt going to be very bloody. It was in Belgium that better fortune awaited him; and from all Western Europe, there was such a response, as Europe had not seen since the early crusades. Contemporary writers give the size of the newly formed army at ninety thousand, with an equal number of cavalry. Though this is but a guess at best, there is no doubt that there was a much larger response to this call to arms than for any crusade against the Hussites to that point.

Led by three electors of the empire, by many princes and counts, and headed by the legate-a-latere of the pope, the mighty host moved toward Bohemia and, as it was believed, toward a victory that would strike such a blow as would redeem all past defeats. Until this time, many of the Bohemian Catholics had opposed their Protestant countrymen; but faced with a common peril, they united forces and marched to meet the invaders. They drew within sight of each other with only a river between them. The crusaders, though in greatly superior numbers, instead of dashing across the stream to meet their foe, stood gazing in silence at them. In the face of the Hussites, whose features were hardened by constant exposure, they seemed to realize all of the terror that had been reported to them and suddenly, panic hit them. In utmost confusion they turned and fled. The legate, seeing his hopes and the result of his labors disappearing before his eyes, sought in vain to stop the human tide that was sweeping past him. The Hussites plunged into the river and were soon falling upon the fleeing enemy. The carnage was increased by the fury of the peasantry, who, having suffered the ravages of the advancing papal army, sought their revenge on the vanquished foe.

Still desiring the Bohemian crown but in utter despair of gaining it by force of arms, Emperor Sigismund resorted to diplomacy. Most of the Bohemians, feeling strongly the gulf which had been created by the violation of Huss’s safe conduct and greatly broadened by the bloodshed since, were adamantly opposed to any discussion of the matter; but Procopius was unwilling to forego the hope of peace if there was a possibility of bringing an end to the bloodshed. Though he was willing to die for liberty, he longed for anything resembling an honorable peace, if it could be obtained. In this hope, he assembled the Bohemian Diet at Prague in 1429, at which he obtained its consent to lay the terms of the Bohemian people before the emperor in person.

The terms of the Bohemian people were essentially the four points which they had held to when the war began—the free preaching of the gospel, Communion that included both the bread and wine, the ineligibility of the clergy to hold secular office and rule, and the execution of the laws in the case of crimes, without respect to persons.

Sigismund refused to listen to the proposal; and Procopius returned to Prague at peace in his mind in the knowledge that he had held out the olive branch, and that if blood must again flow, the responsibility would lie at the door of those who had spurned the overtures of a just and reasonable peace.

The Hussites now assumed the offensive; and those nations which had been so eager to carry war to Bohemia, experienced its miseries on their own soil. Procopius entered Germany in 1429; and during that summer and the summers that followed, the whole of Western Germany felt the weight of his sword. He converted some hundred towns and castles to ruins; and from the wealthy cities he spared; he exacted a heavy ransom as the price for their escape from captivity or death.

There was trembling throughout not only Germany but even Rome. The Hussite arms were the terror of all Europe. With the passing of Martin V in February of 1431, Eugenius IV ascended the papal throne. He proclaimed a fifth crusade against the Hussites. Confessors were appointed to give absolution of even the most heinous crimes, even to the burning of churches and murdering of priests, that the crusader might go into battle with a clear conscience. If he was to fall in battle, he was given the assurance of going immediately to Paradise; but should he survive, there awaited a paradise on earth in the booty that he was assured of gaining.

At last, on August 1, 1431, an army of 130,000 footmen assembled on the Bohemian frontier. The Hussites, day by day receiving news of the approaching horde, lifted their eyes to heaven and calmly awaited the approaching foe. Clouds of foreboding had before darkened their skies, only to be scattered by an omnipotent Hand. The advancing host came on, chanting triumph as they approached. Forming into three columns, the invaders moved forward. Procopius fell back before them, sowing reports as he retreated that the Bohemians had quarreled among themselves and were fleeing. His design was to lure the enemy further into the country and then fall upon them from all sides. On the morning of August 14, the Bohemians marched to meet the foe, who now suddenly became aware of the strategy that had been practiced against them. The terrible Hussite soldiers, once believed to be in flight, were not advancing to offer battle.

Before the Hussites broke into view, the rumble of their wagons and their war hymn, chanted by the whole army as it advanced, could be clearly heard. Suddenly, among the invading force there was a strange movement. As if smitten by some invisible power, it appeared all at once to break up and scatter. The proud army was suddenly only a rabble-rout, fleeing when no man pursued. So great was the supernatural terror with which the crusaders were smitten that many of them, instead of continuing their flight into their own country, wandered back into Bohemia. Others, meanwhile, reaching their own hometowns, did not recognize their native city; and when they entered it, began to beg for lodging as if they were strangers.

Having failed with the force of arms, Rome now resorted to wiles. The victorious Hussites were carrying the war to the enemy’s country. They had driven the Austrian soldiers out of Moravia and had invaded Hungary and other provinces, burning towns and carrying off booty. All of this had effectively opened the eyes of the pope and the emperor to the virtue of conciliation, which until this time they had flatly rejected.

A general council of the Church was called at Basel. Letters from the emperor and legate Julian invited the Bohemians to come and confer on their points of difference. Before leaving Prague, the deputies received instructions that they were to insist on the four points which they had previously submitted to Sigismund. Accordingly, when they appeared before the Council, they made it clear that their deliberations must be confined to these points and that the nation had not empowered them to entertain the question of the renunciation of their faith.

The Council sought to draw the Bohemian deputies into a broader discussion, believing that they could more easily be overcome. The Bohemian delegates, however, proving themselves able to defend themselves on both the broader ground and the four points, showed no inclination to yield. They managed to maintain their ground and proved themselves as worthy antagonists in the Council as well as on the field of battle. After three months of fruitless debates, the Bohemian delegates left Basel and returned home. The Council would admit to no terms other than that the Bohemians agree to surrender their faith and submit fully to Rome. The Council failed to remember that it was the Bohemians who were victorious and that it was they who were suing for peace.

A proposal was made to renew negotiations at Prague. The Hussites, reluctant to again engage in armed conflict, agreed. Many an armed embassy had sought to approach Prague, only to be turned back by the valor of her sons. Under a guise of friendship, the papal messengers were able to bring about that which her armies had been unable to accomplish.

The Bohemians sought to display great courtesy and respect on the occasion, and every expression of public welcome greeted the arriving delegates.

The Diet of Bohemia, convoked in 1434, met with much better success than that which had earlier met in Basel. Though the basis of the treaty, which was eventually signed, had the original four points, which Rome professed to accept, the Church reserved for herself the right to determine their true sense. The agreement, known as the Compactata, while ostensibly preserving the faith and liberties of the Bohemians, was, in fact, a surrender of both. It should have been foreseen that from this point onward, it would be the interpretation, rather than the Articles, that would be the rule.

Many of the Bohemians, and most notably the Calixtines, now returned to their obedience to the Roman See; and Sigismund was not acknowledged as the legitimate sovereign of Bohemia.

Divisions that had existed among the Bohemians from the beginning now widened in proportion as the great struggle relaxed. The party that most closely held to the teachings of John Huss was the Taborites. With them, the defense of their religion was the primary concern, with the defense of their civil rights and privileges taking second place. The Calixtines, on the other hand, had become lukewarm and believed that the rift between their country and Rome was unnecessarily wide. The majority of the city leaders and materially advantaged belonged to this party, helping to carry support for the Compactata with public opinion, in spite of the opposition of the Taborites.

In accepting the agreement, the Bohemians stepped down from a position of unparalleled grandeur. Their campaigns had been among the most heroic and brilliant in the annals of war. A little country, with but a small army, she had managed not only to withstand but to triumph over the armies of Rome with their almost unlimited resources that the Church then had at her command. As long as they remained united in purpose, there was no army in Europe that dared to attack them. From the day that the Compactata was accepted, the tide of national prosperity and prestige began to wane.

The Calixtines accepted and the Taborites rejected the proposed arrangement. The Calixtines were much the larger party, as it included not only the majority of those who had been dissenters from Rome but also the Roman Catholics. The Taborites, under the command of Procopius, though loath to take up arms, were unwilling to accept a peace that was fatal to the nation’s peace and liberty. Rather than witness this humiliation, Procopius again took to the field at the head of the Taborites.

After a series of bloody skirmishes, the two armies met on the plain of Lipan on May 29, 1434. In the battle that ensued, Procopius lost his life. With his passing, the Hussite wars came to an end. It was no longer possible for the Taborites to make an effectual stand.

Sigismund was permitted to ascend the throne of Bohemia but only after having sworn to enforce the Compactata. As could be expected from one who had broken his pledge to John Huss, as soon as he was securely seated upon the throne, he immediately set out to restore the dominance of the Church of Rome. This open treachery provoked a storm of indignation; and the country was on the brink of war when the emperor died in 1437, within a year after having been acknowledged as king by the Bohemians.

The years that made up the remainder of the century were checkered. There were wars with periods of relative peace but never again the unity and strength that the country had when it was united in its opposition to the tyranny of Rome.

Wherever the Taborites looked, there was only error. Resolving to separate themselves from the evils that everywhere prevailed, about the year 1455, they formed themselves into a distinct church under the name of the United Brethren. This step exposed them to the bitter enmity of both Calixtines and Roman Catholics. In the persecutions that followed, they were scattered into the woods and mountains where they met secretly in caves.

Wondering if they were along in keeping the true faith, they sent messengers into various countries of Christendom. These messengers returned to say that though darkness covered the face of the whole earth and prevailed everywhere, they had found isolated confessors of the truth. Most notably, they found in the Alps an ancient church that rested on the foundation of the Scriptures. This news greatly cheered and encouraged them.

Separated from the Church of Rome, the question of ordination caused them considerable perplexity. They had left the Church and had no bishop in their ranks. How were they to perpetuate that succession of pastors which Christ had appointed in His church? After much deliberation, seventy of their chief men met and, after humbling themselves with tears and prayer before God, chose nine of their number. From along these nine members, it was decided that three would be ordained. They then placed twelve pieces of paper in the hands of a boy who had no knowledge of what was taking place. Nine of the twelve pieces of paper were blank; the other three had the word Est—i.e., “It is the will of God,” written on them. He distributed the papers; and it was found that the three bearing the word Est had been given to Matthew Kunwaldius, Thomas Prezelaucius, and Elias Krezenovius. These three then received ordination at the hands of a group of Waldensian pastors.

The accession of Valdislav to the Bohemian throne in 1471 brought an end to persecution. The quiet that the Brethren now enjoyed was followed by an increase in their membership. “Their lot was cast in evil days, but they knew that the appointed years of darkness must be fulfilled. They remembered the words first uttered by Huss, and later repeated by Jerome, that a century must revolve before the day should break. These were to the Taborites what the words of Joseph were to the tribes in the House of Bondage: ‘I die, and God will surely visit you, and bring you out.’ The prediction kept alive their hopes in the night of their persecutions and in the darkest hour their eyes were still turned to the horizon like men who watch for the morning.” Ibid., 213.

The end of the century found two hundred churches of the United Brethren in Bohemia and Moravia. Such was the goodly remnant which, escaping persecution, was permitted to see the day foretold by Huss.

The Early Hussite Wars

Jerome, hearing of the arrest of Huss, quickly made his way to Constance in the hope of being able to be of some help to him. Upon his arrival, it became apparent to him that he was not going to be able to help his beloved master, but that he was in great danger himself. He attempted to flee and was well on his way to Prague when he was arrested and returned in chains to Constance.

Soon thereafter, a letter arrived from the barons of Bohemia, which convinced the council that it had been self-deceived when it had convinced itself that it was done with Huss when it threw his ashes into the Rhine. Very clearly a storm was brewing; and should they plant a second stake, it would all too certainly burst upon them. It was, therefore, decided that it would be most prudent to induce Jerome to recant, and to this the council now directed its efforts. They brought Jerome before them, depressed in mind and sick in body from four months of confinement in a noisome dungeon. When offered the alternative of recanting or the stake, he yielded to the council.

The retraction that Jerome gave was, however, a very qualified one. He submitted himself to the council and subscribed to the justice of its condemnation of the articles of Wycliffe and Huss, saving and excepting the “holy truths” which they had taught; and he promised to live and die in the Catholic faith.

There were men, however, who were determined that Jerome should pay the penalty for his errors, and a new list of charges were preferred against him. Meanwhile, from his cell, Jerome had an opportunity to reflect on what he had done. As he contrasted the peace of mind he had enjoyed before his retraction with the doubts that now darkened his soul, he realized that it was a gulf with no bottom into which he was about to throw himself. As he looked to His Saviour, his faith grew strong and peace returned to his soul.

The new charges were communicated to Jerome in prison, but he refused to answer and demanded a public hearing. On May 23, 1416, he was taken to the cathedral church where the council had assembled to consider his cause.

Greatly fearing the effect of his words, the fathers demanded a simple “Yes” or “No” answer. ” ‘What injustice! What cruelty!’ exclaimed Jerome. ‘You have held me shut up three hundred and forty days in a frightful prison, in the midst of filth, noisomeness, stench, and the utmost want of everything. You then bring me out before you, and lending an ear to my mortal enemies, you refuse to hear me. If you be really wise men, and the lights of the world, take care not to sin against justice. As for me, I am only a feeble mortal; my life is but of little importance; and when I exhort you not to deliver an unjust sentence, I speak less for myself than for you.’ ” Wylie, The History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 171

The uproar that followed his words drowned out any further words. When the storm had abated, it was decided that he should be fully heard three days later.

At his earlier hearing, Jerome had subscribed to the justice of Huss’s condemnation; and at his second hearing he bitterly repented of this wrong, done in a moment of cowardice. Having known Huss since childhood, he stated that he knew him to be of a most excellent character. He continued, “Of all the sins that I have committed since my youth, none weighs so heavily on my mind, and causes me such poignant remorse, as that which I committed in this fatal place, when I approved of the iniquitous sentence recorded against Wycliffe, and against the holy martyr John Huss, my master and my friend. . . . You condemned Wycliffe and Huss, not because they shook the faith, but because they branded with reprobation the scandals of the clergy—their pomp, their pride, and their luxuriousness.” Ibid., 172

These words signaled another tumult in the assembly. From all sides the cry was raised: “What need is there of further proof? The most obstinate of heretics is before us.”

“Unmoved by the tempest, Jerome exclaimed: ‘What! do you suppose that I fear to die? You have held me for a whole year in a frightful dungeon, more horrible than death itself. You have treated me more cruelly than a Turk, Jew, or pagan, and my flesh has literally rotted off my bones alive; and yet I make no complaint, for lamentation ill becomes a man of heart and spirit; but I cannot but express my astonishment at such great barbarity toward a Christian.’ ” The Great Controversy, 114

Jerome was carried back to his cell to await sentencing.

On May 30, 1416, Jerome was brought out to receive his sentence. The townspeople, drawn from their homes by the rumor of what was about to take place, crowded to the cathedral gates to watch.

As Jerome was conducted through the city and out to the place of execution, with a cheerful countenance he began to loudly sing. As they arrived at the place, he kneeled down and began to pray. He was still praying when his executioners raised him up, and with cords and chains, bound him to the stake, which had been carved into something that was a rude likeness of Huss.

When the executioner, about to kindle the pile, stepped behind him, the martyr checked him: ” ‘Come forward,’ said he, ‘and kindle the pile before my face; for had I been afraid of the fire I should not be here.’ ” Wylie, The History of Protestantism, 2, vol. 1, 176

Though the light bearers had perished, the light to the truths they proclaimed could not be extinguished.

In Bohemia, the deaths of Huss and Jerome sent a thrill of indignation and horror throughout the country. All ranks, from the highest to the lowest, were stirred by what had taken place; and every day the flame of popular indignation burned more fiercely. It was evident that a terrible outburst of pent-up wrath was about to be witnessed.

But deeper feelings were at work among the Bohemian people than those of anger. The faith which had been so notably evident in the lives of the martyrs was contrasted with the faith of those who had so basely murdered them, and the contrast was found to be very unfavorable to the latter. The writings of Wycliffe, which had escaped the flames, were read and compared with such portions of Holy Writ as were accessible to the people, resulting in a wide acceptance of the evangelical doctrines. The new ideas gained ground daily, and the adherents came to be known as Hussites.

The throne of Bohemia was at that time filled by Wenceslaus, who gave loose reins to his low propensities and vices. He cared little whether his subjects remained within the paths of orthodoxy or strayed into heresy. His dislike for the priests led him to turn a deaf ear to their pleadings that he forbid the preaching of the new doctrines, and he secretly rejoiced at the progress of the gospel teaching.

Meanwhile, back in Constance, the most pressing matter was the selection of a new pope; and on November 14, 1417, the cardinals announced that they had chosen Otho de Colonna. Upon receiving the position, he chose the name of Martin V.

Though the citizens of Bohemia were aflame with indignation, they had no one to organize or lead them. It was at this time that a most remarkable man came to the forefront to organize the nation and lead its armies. John Trocznowski, better known as Ziska, who was chamberlain to Wenceslaus, came to the rescue.

The shock that the martyrdom of Huss gave to the nation was not unfelt by Ziska in the palace. The gay courtier suddenly became thoughtful and quiet. One day the monarch, surprised by his thoughtful mood, exclaimed at finding him so. ” ‘I cannot brook the insult offered to Bohemia at Constance by the murder of John Huss,’ replied the chamberlain. ‘Where is the use,’ said the king, ‘of vexing one’s self about it? Neither you nor I have the means of avenging it. But,’ continued the king, thinking doubtless that Ziska’s fit would soon pass off, ‘if you are able to call the emperor and Council to account, you have my permission.’ ‘Very good, my gracious master,’ rejoined Ziska, ‘will you be pleased to give me your permission in writing?’ Wenceslaus, who liked a joke, and deeming that such a document would be perfectly harmless in the hands of one who had neither friends, nor money, nor soldiers, gave Ziska what he asked under the royal seal.” Ibid., 183

Ziska , who accepted the authorization as no joke, bided his time until the right opportunity should present itself. It soon came. The pope had sent his legate to Bohemia to ascertain how matters stood. In his report, the legate stated that the tongue and pen were no longer of any use and that without further ado, it was high time to take arms against such obstinate heretics. This further stimulated the excitement already felt in Prague where the burghers were assembled to deliberate on the measures to be adopted in avenging the nations’ insulted honor and defending its threatened independence.

Suddenly, Ziska appeared, armed with the royal authorization. The citizens were embolden when they saw one who stood so high, as they believed, in the favor of the king, putting himself at their head. They were led to conclude that Wenceslaus was also with them, but in this they were mistaken. The factions within the city became more embittered every day, and a tumult and massacre broke out against the Catholics. The king, hearing the news of the outrage, was so excited that he had a fit of apoplexy and died a few days later.

Once the king was dead, the queen espoused the side of the Catholics and the tumults broke out anew. For a whole week the fighting continued, resulting in considerable bloodshed and the pillaging of the convents. Emperor Sigismund, brother of the deceased Wenceslaus, now claimed the crown of Bohemia and marched on Prague to take possession of the crown. The Bohemians, however, resolved on resistance, and the pent-up tempest burst.

The Hussites had agreed to meet on Michaelmas Day, 1419, on a plain not far from Prague to celebrate the Eucharist. On the day appointed, 40,000 from all the surrounding towns and villages assembled and partook of the Communion. It was a very simple affair; and when it was concluded, they took up a collection to give to the man on whose ground they had met. Before parting, they agreed to a second meeting to take place before Martinmas.

The matter became known, and it was determined that the second meeting would not be allowed to pass so quietly. A body of the emperor’s troops were sent to lie in ambush. The knowledge of this was given to the approaching Hussites. Being armed only with walking staves, they sent messengers to the towns behind them, begging assistance. A small body of soldiers was dispatched to their aid; and in the conflict which followed, the imperial cavalry, though a superior force, was put to flight.

The die had been cast; and the Bohemians were involved in a conflict, the scope of which they but little dreamed. The Turks, with no thought of intentionally aiding them, struck the empire from the opposite side, thus dividing the emperor’s forces. Ziska, recognizing this Providential occurrence, hurriedly rallied the whole of Bohemia before the emperor could ease the situation with the Moslems and before the bands of Germany, summoned by the pope, should arrive. He at once issued a manifesto in which he invoked both the religion and the patriotism of his country men. In it he said, “Remember your first encounter, when you were few against many, unarmed against well-armed men. The hand of God has not been shortened. Have courage, and be ready. May God strengthen you!” Ibid., 185

The appeal put forth by Ziska was responded to with a burst of enthusiasm. From all parts of the country, the people rallied to the standard. Unfortunately, these hastily assembled masses were but poorly disciplined, and still more poorly armed. This shortage was, however, supplied in a way that they but little dreamed of.

They had but scarcely begun their march toward the capital when they encountered a body of imperial cavalry. They quickly routed, captured, and disarmed them, thus gaining the weapons they so desperately needed. Marching on to Prague, they entered the city and proceeded to sack the monasteries which were known for their beauty. The treasure taken, which was immense, went a long way to defray the expenses of the war.

Sigismund deemed it prudent to come to terms with the Turks that he might more effectively deal with the Hussites. Assembling an army of 100,000 men of various nationalities, he marched on Prague, now in possession of the Hussites, and laid siege to it. The citizens, under the brave Ziska, drove them with disgrace from the field. The imperial forces avenged themselves by committing atrocities in their retreat.

A second attempt was made to take Prague the same year, resulting only in further disgrace to the imperial forces, who again marked their retreat by outrages against the populace.

In the war that followed, the small nation of Bohemia was pitted against the combined nations of Europe. No one can doubt that the hand of Providence covered them as Ziska won battle after battle. He completely outmaneuvered the armies of the emperor, overwhelming them by surprises and baffling them by new and masterly tactics.

The cause for which they fought had a hallowing effect on the conduct in the camps of the Hussites. Often in their marches they were preceded by their pastors, reminiscent of the march of Jehoshaphat against the combined forces of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir when the priests led the army with singing. In the rear of the army the women followed, tending the sick and wounded; and in cases of necessity, working on the ramparts.

This struggle by the Bohemians, reluctant to unsheathe the sword, taught their enemies a lesson long remembered. Their struggle paved the way for the quiet entrance of the Reformation a century later. Charles V long pondered the situation before lending his sword to the cause of the papacy, well remembering the terrible price that had been extracted from those who sought by conflict of arms to crush the Hussites.

Ziska , the greatest general that ever lived, had been deprived of the sight in one of his eyes by an accident in boyhood. During the course of the war, at the siege of Raby, ziska lost the other and was now entirely blind. In spite of this apparent setback, he demonstrated a marvelous genius for arranging an army and directing its movements. When an action was about to take place, he would call a few officers around him and have them describe the nature of the ground and the position of the enemy. His arrangement was instantly made as, if by intuition, he saw the course the battle must run and the successive maneuvers by which victory was to be gained. His inner eye surveyed the whole field and watched every movement.

One contributing factor to his brilliant successes was his manner of arranging his defense. The wooden wagons were linked to one another by strong iron chains, and, ranged in line, were placed in front of the army. This fortification, ranged in the form of a circle, at times enclosed the whole army. Behind this first rampart rose a second wall formed by the long wooden shields of the soldiers, stuck in the ground. The movable walls were formidable obstructions to the German cavalry. Mounted on heavy horses and armed with pikes and battle-axes, they had to force their way through this double fortification before they could close with the Bohemians. All the while they were hewing their way through the wagons, the Bohemian archers were plying them with their arrows. It was a thinned and exhausted force that at length was able to join battle with the foe.

Even when engaged in battle, they found themselves at a disadvantage. The Bohemians were armed with long iron flails which they swung with great force and accuracy, allowing them to crash through the brazen helmet of their opponents. Moreover, they carried long spears which had hooks attached with which they speedily brought the German horsemen to the ground and dispatched them. In addition to numerous skirmishes and many sieges, Ziska fought sixteen pitched battles, all from which he returned a conqueror.

Suddenly Ziska ’s career was ended. It was not in battle that he fell but by the plague. He died October 11, 1424. By his hand, God had humbled the haughty pride of that power which had sought to trample the convictions and consciences of his countrymen in the dust, filling Europe with the fear of his name. The little nation laid him to rest with a sorrow more universal and profound than that with which she had buried any of her kings.

The End

The Trial, John Huss, part 2

Sigismund, the son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, was born in 1368. Through marriage to Mary, Queen of Hungary, in 1387, he became king of Hungary two years later. In 1396 he led an army of Crusaders against the Turks and received a crushing defeat at what is now Nikopol, Bulgaria. Upon the death of Holy Roman Emperor Rupert in 1410, Sigismund was elected to succeed him. Wherever he looked, the situation in Europe was most distressing. There were three popes, each of whose personal profligacy’s and official crimes were the scandal of Christianity, who yet claimed to be the supreme pastor and chief teacher of the Church. The most sacred things were bought and sold. Everywhere was strife and bloodshed as nation contended with nation. Many of the major nations of Europe were convulsed with internal problems; and to complete the confusion, the Moslem hordes, encouraged by these dissensions, were threatening to break through and subject all Christianity to Mohammed.

The spectacle of Christianity, disgraced and fractured by three popes while the Church was being corrupted by heretics, greatly concerned Sigismund. In considering how to deal with the situation, he hit upon the expedient of calling a General Council. He determined to assemble the whole Church, with all its patriarchs, cardinals, bishops, and princes, and to summon before this august body the three rival popes. He believed that a council of this nature would have sufficient authority, especially when supported by the imperial power, to force the rival popes to adjust their claims and at the same time silence heretics.

In 1414, Sigismund sought to persuade Pope John XXIII to convoke a council. Such a proposition was alarming beyond measure to him. Nor can we wonder at this if he were guilty of half the crimes which have been attributed to him by church historians. John was accused of having cleared his way to the papal chair by the murder of his predecessor, Alexander V; and he lived in continual fear of himself being removed by the same dreadful means by which he had ascended it. He was in the position, however, of having but little choice. He was at war with Ladislaus, against whose armies he had not fared well and from whom he had been forced to flee to Bologna. Rather than offend the emperor, whose assistance he desperately needed, he determined to face the council. A General Council was finally agreed upon, to be convoked at Constance, November 1, 1414.

Amid all of the many dignitaries to attend the Council were three who took precedence of all others: Sigismund, Pope John XXIII, and John Huss. The two anti-popes had been summoned to the Council, but they chose to appear by representation, rather than in person.

Sigismund appeared, professing John XXIII to be the only valid contender to the tiara. Nevertheless, it was his secret purpose to force John to renounce his claim. John, on the other hand, pretended to be quite cordial in calling the Council, while secretly he was determined to dissolve it as quickly as possible should he find it unfriendly to himself. He left Bologna with a substantial store of jewels and money, hoping to be able to use them to corrupt those he could not dazzle with their splendor. All along the way he took care to make arrangements to leave the way clear should he have to leave Constance in haste. As he passed through Tyrol, he made a secret treaty with Frederick, Duke of Austria, to the effect that one of his strong castles would be at his disposal should it become necessary. When he arrived with the league of Constance, he sought to bind the Abbot of St. Ulric to himself by bestowing on him the miter.

“Meanwhile, another traveler was approaching Constance. Huss was conscious of the dangers which threatened him. He parted from his friends as if he were never to meet them again, and went on his journey feeling that it was leading him to the stake. Notwithstanding he had obtained a safe-conduct from the king of Bohemia and received one also from the emperor Sigismund while on his journey, he made all his arrangements in view of the probability of his death.” The Great Controversy, 104, 105. Though he expected to find more enemies in Constance than Christ had at Jerusalem, he was determined not to betray the gospel by cowardice.

Through every town and village on his route, there were indications of the spread of his doctrines and the favor with which they were held. The inhabitants turned out to welcome him in large numbers. At Nuremberg, as well as at other town through which he passed, the magistrates formed a guard of honor and escorted him through the streets that were thronged with spectators, eager for a glimpse of the man who was changing the face of Christianity. Thus, his journey was, of a sort, a triumphal procession.

Soon after his arrival, Huss met with John XXIII, who added his safe conduct to that of the emperor. A short time later, in violation of these solemn promises, Huss was arrested on orders of the pope and cardinals and thrust into a loathsome dungeon.

The imprisonment of Huss excited great indignation in Bohemia. A number of the barons united in remonstrating with the emperor, reminding him of his safe conduct. Sigismund’s first impulse was to set the Reformer free, but Huss’ enemies were determined and malignant in their designs against him. Playing upon the emperor’s zeal for the Church, they brought forward arguments that sought to convince him that he had had no right to issue such a safe conduct in the circumstances without the consent of the counsel and that the greater good of the Church must overrule his promise. In the voice of the assembled Church, Sigismund believed that he heard the voice of God and allowed the enemies of Huss to have their will with him.

Emperor Sigismund was 47 years of age at the time of the Council. Noble in bearing and tall in stature, he was graceful in manners. His understanding had been improved by study, and he spoke with ability several languages. Had it not been for one grave error, the name that has come down to posterity with an eternal blot upon it might have been fair, if not illustrious. Sigismund committed the grave error common to almost all the princes of his age in believing that in order to reign, it was necessary to dissemble and that craft was an indispensable part of policy.

One of the first matters to be taken up by the Council was that of the trial of John XXIII. John, faced with the charges that were drawn up against him, promised to abdicate; but recovering, he was more determined than ever to maintain his cause and, in stealth, fled the city.

In contrast with the pomp with which he arrived in Constance, John left in the disguise of a peasant. His departure had been arranged beforehand with the Duke of Austria, a friend and staunch protector. The duke, on a given day, was to give a tournament. The spectacle was to take place late in the afternoon; and while the whole city was engrossed in the proceedings, oblivious to all else, the pope would make good his escape.

When the pope’s flight became known, the city was thrown into confusion. Everyone thought that the Council was at an end and the merchants shut their shops and packed up their wares, fearful of pillage from the lawless mob into whose hands they feared the city had been thrown. As soon as the initial excitement had somewhat abated, the emperor rode around the city, openly declaring that he would protect the Council and maintain order.

Sigismund hastily assembled the princes and deputies and indignantly declared that it was his purpose to bring the pope back, and if necessary, reduce the duke of Austria by force of arms in the process. When the pope leaned that a storm was gathering that threatened to follow him, he wrote in conciliatory terms to the emperor, excusing his hasty departure by saying that “he had gone to Schaffhausen to enjoy its sweeter air, that of Constance not agreeing with him; moreover, in this quiet retreat, and at liberty, he would be able to show the world how freely he acted in fulfilling his promise of renouncing the Pontificate.” Wiley, History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 152.

John, however, appeared to be in no haste to lay aside the tiara, and every few days he moved farther and farther away in his quest for still sweeter air. He had believed that his flight would be the signal for the Council to break up, and in this he hoped to block Sigismund’s plans and avoid the humiliation of deposition.

The emperor was determined not to be put off in his plans, and the Council proceeded. The charges against John were sustained and he was stripped of the pontificate. When the news arrived, John was as abject as he had before been arrogant. He acknowledged the justice of the sentence and asked only that his life might be spared—which no one at that time had thought to deprive him of.

The cases of the other two popes were more easily dispensed with; and by election of the cardinals, Otta de Colonna was unanimously elected to rule the church as Martin V.

Having condemned John for crimes far more grievous than the charges Huss had made and for which he was called to trial, the Council turned its attention to the Reformer.

Called before the Council, Huss naturally wished to reply to the charges, pointing out those which were false. He had uttered but a few words when there arose such a clamor as to completely drown out his voice. Huss stood motionless, viewing the excited assembly with pity rather than visible anger. As the tumult subsided, he again attempted to proceed with his defense. He had gone but a little ways when he had cause to appeal to the Scriptures, and immediately the storm was renewed with even greater violence.

Some Bohemian noblemen who had witnessed the scene informed Sigismund of what had transpired, urging him to be present at the next hearing.

At the next meeting Sigismund and Huss were brought face to face. The chains that bound Huss were a silent but eloquent commentary on the imperial safe conduct. The emperor, however, consoled himself with the thought that while he had been willing to deprive the Reformer of his freedom, he would at the last extremity save his life. There were two things, however, that Sigismund had failed to take into consideration. The first was the firm and unyielding resolve of the Reformer; the other was the awe in which he, himself, held the Council. Too late, he found, as did Pilate, that having once compromised his conscience, there was no room to change. “And so, despite his better intentions, he suffered himself to be dragged along on the road of perfidy and dishonour, which he had meanly entered, till he came to its tragic end, and the imperial safe conduct and the martyr’s stake had taken their place, side by side, ineffaceable, on history’s eternal pages.” Ibid., 158.

While Huss differed from the Church of Rome, it was not so much on dogmas as on great points of jurisdiction and policy. While these differences directly attacked certain of the principles of the papacy, they tended indirectly to the subversion of the whole system. This was perhaps a far greater revolution than Huss perceived, or perhaps intended; for until the last, he did not abandon the communion of the Roman Church. He admitted to the Divine institution and office of the pope, though he made the effacy of their official acts dependent on their spiritual character. “He held that the supreme rule of faith and practice was the Holy Scriptures; that Christ was the Rock on which our Lord said He would build His church; that ‘the assembly of the Predestinate is the Holy Church, which has neither spot nor wrinkle, but is holy and undefiled; that which Jesus Christ calleth His own;’ that the Church need no one visible head on earth, that it had none such in the days of the apostles; that nevertheless it was then well governed, and might be so still although it should lose its earthly head; and that the Church was not confined to the clergy, but included all the faithful.” Ibid., 158, 159.

Already enfeebled by illness and by his long confinement, he was exhausted and worn out by the length of the appearance and the attention demanded to rebut the attacks and reasonings of his attackers. At length, the Council rose, and Huss was led back to prison.

During the interval between Huss’ second and third appearance, the emperor tried ineffectually to induce the Reformer to retract. Not only was he motivated by a genuine desire to save Huss’ life, but doubtless also out of a regard for his honor which was deeply at stake in the issue. The Reformer, while most willing to abjure those things of which he was falsely accused, refused to be moved regarding those truths he had taught. “‘He would rather,’ he said, ‘be cast into the sea with a millstone about his neck, than offend those little ones to whom he had preached the Gospel, by abjuring it.’” Ibid., 160.

At last the matter was brought to the point of whether or not he would submit implicitly to the Council. “‘If the Council should even tell you,’ said a doctor, whose name has not been preserved, ‘that you have but one eye, you would be obliged to agree with the Council.’ ‘But,’ said Huss, ‘as long as God keeps me in my senses, I would not say such a thing, even though the whole world should require it, because I could not say it without wounding my conscience.’ What an obstinate self-opinionated, arrogant man! Said the Fathers.” Ibid. Even the emperor became irritated at what he regarded as obstinacy.

This was the great crisis in the Reformer ‘s life. It was as if the Council had laid aside all charges of heresy and asked only that he give assent to its divine authority as an infallible council. From that moment, Huss had greater peace of mind than at any time since his ordeal had begun, and he calmly began to prepare for his death.

During his imprisonment before his third and final hearing, Huss was cheered by a prophetic glimpse of the dawn of the better days that awaited the church of God.

While awaiting his final hearing and sentencing, Huss’ thoughts often turned to the chapel of Bethlehem in which he had proclaimed the gospel. One night he “saw in imagination, from the depths of his dungeon, the pictures of Christ that he had painted on the walls of his oratory, effaced by the pope and his bishops. This vision distressed him: but on the next day he saw many painters occupied in restoring these figures in greater number and in brighter colours. As soon as their task was ended, the painters, who were surrounded by an immense crowd, exclaimed: “Now let the popes and bishops come! They shall never efface them more!” D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation, Book 1, chapter 6, 30.

As the Reformer related his dream to his faithful friend, John de Chlum, he was advised to occupy his thoughts with his defense, rather than with visions. “’I am no dreamer,’ replied Huss, ‘but I maintain this for certain, that the image of Christ will never be effaced. They have wished to destroy it, but it shall be painted afresh in all hearts by much better preachers than myself.’” Ibid.

Thirty days elapsed and the Council again called for Huss. The charges against him were again read, following which Huss refused to abjure. This he accompanied with a brief recapitulation of the events that had led up to that moment. He ended by saying that he had come to this Council of his own free will, “‘confiding in the safe conduct of the emperor here present.’ As he uttered these last words, he looked full at Sigismund, on whose brow the crimson of a deep blush was seen by the whole assembly, whose gaze was at the instant turned towards his majesty.’” Wiley, History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 161.

Sentence of condemnation was now passed upon Huss. There then followed the ceremony of degradation. One after another of the garments of a priest were brought forward and placed upon him. They next placed in his hand the chalice, as if he were about to celebrate mass. He was then asked if he were willing to adjure. “‘With what face, then,’ he replied, ‘should I behold the heavens? How should I look on those multitudes of men to whom I have preached the pure Gospel? No; I esteem their salvation more than this poor body, now appointed unto death.’” Ibid.

“The vestments were removed one by one, each bishop pronouncing a curse as he performed his part of the ceremony. Finally “they put on his head a cap or pyramidal-shaped miter of paper, on which were painted frightful figures of demons, with the word ‘Archheretic’ conspicuous in front. ‘Most joyfully,’ said Huss, ‘will I wear this crown of shame for Thy sake, O Jesus, who for me didst wear a crown of thorns.’” The Great Controversy, 109.

As the fire began to burn, Huss began to loudly sing, “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.” Even his enemies were struck with his heroic bearing. One of the observers, AEneas Sylvius, who afterwards became pope and whose testimony is not liable to suspicion, commented on the heroic demeanor of both Huss and Jerome at their executions. It was said that the vehemence of the fire could scarcely stop their singing.

When Huss bowed at the stake, it was the infallible Council that was vanquished, not the martyr. “Heap together all the trophies of Alexander and of Caesar, what are they all when weighed in the balance against this one glorious achievement? . . . From the moment he expired amid the flames, his name became a power, which will continue to speed on the great cause of truth and light, till the last shackle shall be rent from the intellect, and the conscience emancipated for from every usurpation, shall be free to obey the authority of its rightful Lord.” Wiley, History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 164, 165.

Already Bohemia was awakening; and within a hundred years, Germany and all Christendom would arise from their slumber to the awakening prophetically seen in the martyr’s dream.

John Huss and the Reformation in Prague

The Reformation that began in England as the result of the teachings of John Wycliffe was not restricted to England. Though the work appeared to have stopped with the translation of the English Bible, such was not the case. Though Wycliffe had passed from the field of action, the seed he had sown remained and was yet to emerge in a distant land. Oceans could not stop the spread of truth, nor could national boundaries prevent its triumph. In the year 1400, Jerome of Prague returned to his homeland from England, bringing with him the writings of Wycliffe. It was this seed of truth that opened the eyes of John Huss.

Bohemia and Moravia correspond to what is now the western most part of the Czech Republic. It is believed that Christianity first entered this area in the wake of the armies of Charlemagne (742–814), who established his rule over most of western and central Europe. These Western missionaries, ignorant of the Slavonic tongue, could really effect little conversion of the Bohemian people beyond a nominal acceptance of Christianity. “Accordingly we find the King of Moravia, a country whose religious condition was precisely similar to that of Bohemia, sending to the Greek Emperor, about the year 863, and saying: ‘Our land is baptized, but we have no teachers to instruct us, and translate for us the Holy Scriptures. Send us teachers who may explain to us the Bible.’” Wylie, History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 131.

As a result, the Bohemian church, though adopting Eastern ritual, remained under the jurisdiction of Rome. Later, as the schism between the Eastern and the Western Churches fully developed, the Greek liturgy was discouraged by Rome and the Latin rite was introduced. At length, in 1079, Pope Gregory VII issued a bull forbidding the Oriental ritual to be used any longer, or for public worship to be celebrated in the common language. This order effectively closed every church and Bible in Bohemia. So far as instruction in truth was concerned, total night had set in.

At this dark hour, when it appeared that the Christianity of the nation would completely disappear, the arrival of the Waldenses and Albigenses, fleeing from persecution in Italy and France, breathed new life into the movement. They spread themselves in small colonies all over the Slavonic countries, making their headquarters in Prague. Thought they did not dare to preach publicly, they were zealous evangelists and carried the truth from door to door, keeping the truth alive for two centuries before John Huss appeared.

Because Bohemia was so far removed, it was difficult for Rome to enforce its commands. In many places worship continued to be celebrated in the tongue of the people. Powerful nobles were, in many cases, the protectors of the Waldenses and native Christians who brought prosperity to their lands. All through the fourteenth century these Waldensian exiles continued to sow the seed of pure Christianity in Bohemia.

There were three pioneers of truth who preceded Huss in Bohemia. The first, John Milicius, or Militz, was a man of learning and an eloquent preacher. Whenever he appeared to speak, he addressed the people in the common tongue; and the cathedral was thronged. In hope of finding rest for his soul by fasting, he made a trip to Rome. Upon his arrival, he was shocked to find that the scandals he had spoken out against in Prague paled in comparison to the enormities that were practiced in Rome. In departing, he wrote over the door of one of the cardinals, “Antichrist is now come, and sitteth in the Church.” Ibid., 132.

No sooner had he returned home than the archbishop of Prague, under orders of the pope, placed him in prison. Soon, however, murmurs began to be heard among the citizens; and fearing an uprising, the archbishop released him after a short incarceration. He lived to die in peace at eighty years of age in 1374.

With the passage of time, papal persecution was instigated against the confessors in Bohemia. They no longer dared to celebrate communion using the cup openly but sought retreat in private homes or the yet greater concealment of woods and caves. Finally, in 1376, the stake was decreed against all who dissented from the established rites.

John Huss was born in 1373 in the village of Hussinetz on the edge of the Bohemian Forest. He took his name from his birthplace. His father died while he was yet young. Having completed his education at the provincial school, his mother took him to Prague. There at the university he received his Bachelor of Arts in 1393, Bachelor of Theology in 1394, and Master of the Arts in 1396. Two years later, he entered the church and rose rapidly to distinction until the queen, Sophia of Bavaria, selected him as her confessor.

It was in 1402 that Huss’ career really began when he was appointed the preacher at the Chapel of Bethlehem. At this time, the level of morality had sunken to an extremely low level. In addressing these abuses, Huss aroused opposition, but the queen and archbishop acted as his protectors, and he continued to preach.

The Bethlehem Chapel was founded by a certain citizen of Prague in 1392 with the stipulation that the preaching of the Word of God was to be in the mother tongue. In presenting the Bible truth to his listeners, Huss himself grew in faith and understanding. When he began to study the works of Wycliffe, he found himself not altogether opposed to the reforms Wycliffe proposed.

In preaching from the Bible, Huss had begun a movement the significance of which he little realized. Having placed the Bible above the authority of pope or council, he had, without realizing it, entered upon the road of Protestantism, though at the time he had not thought of breaking with the Church of Rome.

One of the events that took place and which helped to encourage the intercourse between England and Bohemia was the marriage of Richard II of England, to Anne, sister of the king of Bohemia. On the death of the princess, the ladies of her court, on their return to their native land, brought with them the writings of Wycliffe, whose follower their mistress had been.

About this time (1404), two theologians from England, graduates of Oxford and disciples of the gospel, arrived in Prague. They came planning to hold public disputations, and they chose as their opening wedge the primacy of the pope. The country was scarcely prepared to be open to such a message and the authorities promptly put a stop to their efforts in that direction. As they considered what avenue they might take to pursue their purpose, an idea presented itself. Both of these would-be missionaries had studied art as well as theology and they proceeded to demonstrate their skill in drawing in the corridor of the house in which they were staying. On one wall they portrayed the humble entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. On the other they displayed the more royal magnificence of a pontifical procession. There was seen the pope, dressed in his pontifical robes, the Triple Crown on his head, with trumpeters proclaiming his approach. Many were drawn to gaze upon the contrasting pictures. Such excitement was stirred that the artists deemed it prudent to withdraw for a time.

Among those who came to gaze at this antithesis of Christ and Antichrist was John Huss. The effect that it had upon him led him to a more careful study than ever of the writings of Wycliffe. He could not, however, accept the sweeping measure of reform that was advocated by him. The idea of overturning the hierarchy and replacing it with the simple ministry of the Word was an idea so revolutionary as to make him draw back.

One of the things that helped to open Huss’ eyes was the presentation of relics and the lying wonders that were attributed to them. Many doubts were expressed regarding the cures, and the archbishop ordered an investigation into the truth of the matter. As a result, it was discovered that all of the miracles were impostures. In the summer of 1405, under threat of excommunication, all preachers were enjoined to publish to their congregations the episcopal prohibition of pilgrimages.

The events that were transpiring in Prague could not long escape the notice of Rome. In response, Pope Alexander V issued a bull commanding the archbishop of Prague to burn all the books written by Wycliffe. Upwards of 200 volumes, beautifully written and elegantly bound, some of which were ornamented with precious stones, were burned to the tolling of bells. Their beauty and costliness showed that their owners were men of high standing, and their number reflected on how widely the writings of the English Reformer had been circulated in Prague alone.

This act further inflamed the zeal of Huss, and his sermons now attacked indulgences as well as the abuses of the hierarchy. A summons now arrived from Rome demanding that Huss appear in person to defend his doctrines. To obey was certain death. The king, the queen, the university, and many other persons of rank and influence united in sending an embassy requesting the pope to dispense with Huss’ personal appearance, allowing him to be heard by legal counsel. The pope refused to listen and went on to condemn him in absentia, laying the city of Prague under interdict.

On every side there were tokens of doom. The church doors were locked; corpses lay by the wayside awaiting burial. The images which stood at the street corners were covered with sackcloth or laid prostrate on the ground.

A tumult was beginning to disturb the peace; and Huss, following the command of Jesus, when persecuted in one place, fled to another. Leaving Prague, he retired to his native village where he enjoyed the protection of the territorial lord, who was his friend. From there he traveled to the surrounding towns and villages, preaching the gospel as he went.

“The mind of Huss, at this stage of his career, would seem to have been the scene of a painful conflict. Although the Church was seeking to overwhelm him by her thunderbolts, he had not renounced her authority. The Roman Church was still to him the spouse of Christ, and the Pope was the representative and vicar of God. What Huss was warring against was the abuse of authority, not the principle inself. This brought on a terrible conflict between the convictions of his understanding the claims of his conscience. . . . This was the problem he could not solve; this was the doubt that tortured him hour by hour. The nearest approximation to a solution, which he was able to make, was that it had happened again, as once before in the days of the Saviour, that the priest of the Church had become wicked persons, and were using their lawful authority for unlawful ends.” Ibid. 139. It is doubtful that even as he stood at the stake that Huss had the clearness of sight that Wycliffe had developed. He was unable to separate in his mind the true church from the organized structure that represented to him the ship in which all were to obtain safety.

Gradually things quieted in Prague and an uneasy calm settled in. Huss longed to return to his post in the Chapel of Bethlehem. Upon his return, he spoke even more boldly against the tyranny of the priesthood in forbidding the preaching of the gospel.

About this time, the Lord brought Jerome into Huss’ life. Jerome, a Bohemian knight, had returned from having spent some time at Oxford where he had imbibed of Wycliffe’s teachings. As he passed through Paris and Vienna, he challenged the learned men of these universities to dispute him in the matter of faith. As a result, he was thrown into prison but made his escape and returned to Bohemia to spread the doctrines of the English Reformer.

Though much alike in their great qualities and aims, Huss and Jerome differed in minor points to be sufficiently diverse to compliment each other. Huss was the more powerful character while Jerome was the more powerful orator. Their friendship and affection for each other grew and continued unbroken until they were united in death.

About this time, three popes were all contending for supremacy, filling Christendom with strife and tumult. Each, casting about to find means with which to raise armies to support his claim to St. Peter’s chair, offered for sale the blessings of the church. The bishops and lower levels of the clergy, quick to learn from the example set them by the popes, enriched themselves by simony. Of the practices of piety, nothing remained but a few superstitious rites. The words of the prophet certainly applied. “And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.” Isaiah 59:14.

While this is truly a distressing and melancholy spectacle, perhaps it was necessary that the evil should more fully develop and manifest itself that the eyes of men might be opened and they might see that, “It was indeed a ‘bitter thin’ that they had forsaken the ‘easy yoke’ of the Gospel, and submitted to a power that set no limits to its usurpations, and which, clothing itself with the prerogatives of God, was waging a war of extermination against all the rights of men.” Ibid., 141. As long as men believed that the church was the ship of salvation by which all must stand—the ark of God, which would weather every storm to arrive at last at the heavenly shore—the supremacy of Rome was assured. As long as this delusion was systematically taught and fondly received, reformation was impossible.

As Huss contemplated the frightful condition of society and the church, he was led to study more deeply the Bible and the writings of the early church fathers. He began to see more clearly how far the church had digressed from the purity of doctrine that had once been delivered to the saints. It was at this time that he wrote his treatise On the Church, a work that revealed the extent of his emancipation from the shackles of church authority.

This tract was soon followed by another entitled The Six Errors. In this tract, he set forth a list of errors of the Roman Church, which included: 1) the error of transubstantiation; 2) the confession required of all church members as to their belief in the saints and the pope; 3) the pretension of the priests to remit the guilt and punishment for sin; 4) the implicit obedience required of all to their ecclesiastical superiors; 5) the failure to make a distinction between a valid excommunication and one that is not; and 6) simony.

About this time, the war between the popes reached such a level that it threatened to engulf a divided Bohemia. The king and priesthood of the nation supported John XXIII, while the common people and many of the leading citizens sided with Ladislaus, King of Hungary, who supported Gregory XII. As Huss viewed the contending factions, he spoke plainer and more boldly with every passing day. The scandals which multiplied around him no doubt aroused his indignation, and the persecutions he endured no doubt strengthened him in purpose. In the midst of this turmoil, the archbishop placed Prague under interdict and threatened to continue the sentence so long as Huss remained in the city. He was persuaded that if Huss should retire, the movement would go down and the war of factions would subside in peace. In this, however, he was deceived. Two ages were struggling together, and movement was now beyond the power of any man to control.

Huss, fearing that his presence in Prague might embarrass his friends, again withdrew to his native village. It was from there that he wrote for the first time the prophetic words that were later to be repeated, each time taking a more exact and definite form. “’If the goose’ (his name in the Bohemian language signifies goose), ‘which is but a timid bird, and cannot fly high, has been able to burst its bonds, there will come afterwards an eagle, which will soar high into the air and draw to it all the other birds.’” Ibid., 143.

It was pleasant to lave the strife of Prague for the quietude of his birthplace. Here he could devote himself to study and communion with God and reflect on the result of the work that he had begun. He had been able to partially emancipate his country from the darkness of error. One more act remained for him to perform—the greatest and most enduring of all. As the preacher of Bethlehem Chapel, he had largely contributed to the emancipation of Bohemia; but as the martyr of Constance, he was to largely contribute to the emancipation of Christendom.