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Jerom Of Prague








This reformer, who was the companion of Dr. Huss, and may be said to be
a co-martyr with him, was born at Prague, and educated in that
university, where he particularly distinguished himself for his great
abilities and learning. He likewise visited several other learned
seminaries in Europe, particularly the universities of Paris,
Heidelburg, Cologn, and Oxford. At the latter place he became acquainted
with the works of Wickliffe, and being a person of uncommon application,
he translated many of them into his native language, having with great
pains, made himself master of the English tongue.

On his return to Prague, he professed himself an open favourer of
Wickliffe, and finding that his doctrines had made considerable progress
in Bohemia, and that Huss was the principal promoter of them, he became
an assistant to him in the great work of reformation.

On the 4th of April, 1415, Jerom arrived at Constance, about three
months before the death of Huss. He entered the town privately, and
consulting with some of the leaders of his party, whom he found there,
was easily convinced he could not be of any service to his friends.

Finding that his arrival in Constance was publicly known, and that the
council intended to seize him, he thought it most prudent to retire.
Accordingly, the next day he went to Iberling, an imperial town, about a
mile from Constance. From this place he wrote to the emperor, and
proposed his readiness to appear before the council, if he would give
him a safe-conduct; but this was refused. He then applied to the
council, but met with an answer no less unfavourable than that from the
emperor.

After this, he set out on his return to Bohemia. He had the precaution
to take with him a certificate, signed by several of the Bohemian
nobility, then at Constance, testifying that he had used all prudent
means in his power to procure a hearing.

Jerom, however, did not thus escape. He was seized at Hirsaw, by an
officer belonging to the duke of Sultsbach, who, though unauthorized so
to act, made little doubt of obtaining thanks from the council for so
acceptable a service.

The duke of Sultsbach, having Jerom now in his power, wrote to the
council for directions how to proceed. The council, after expressing
their obligations to the duke, desired him to send the prisoner
immediately to Constance. The elector palatine met him on the way, and
conducted him into the city, himself riding on horseback, with a
numerous retinue, who led Jerom in fetters by a long chain; and
immediately on his arrival he was committed to a loathsome dungeon.

Jerom was treated nearly in the same manner as Huss had been, only that
he was much longer confined, and shifted from one prison to another. At
length, being brought before the council, he desired that he might plead
his own cause, and exculpate himself: which being refused him, he broke
out into the following elegant exclamation:

"What barbarity is this! For three hundred and forty days have I been
confined in a variety of prisons. There is not a misery, there is not a
want, that I have not experienced. To my enemies you have allowed the
fullest scope of accusation: to me, you deny, the least opportunity of
defence. Not an hour will you now indulge me in preparing for my trial.
You have swallowed the blackest calumnies against me. You have
represented me as a heretic, without knowing my doctrine; as an enemy to
the faith, before you knew what faith I professed; as a persecutor of
priests before you could have an opportunity of understanding my
sentiments on that head. You are a general council: in you centre all
this world can communicate of gravity, wisdom, and sanctity: but still
you are men, and men are seducible by appearances. The higher your
character is for wisdom, the greater ought your care to be not to
deviate into folly. The cause I now plead is not my own cause: it is the
cause of men, it is the cause of christians; it is a cause which is to
affect the rights of posterity, however the experiment is to be made in
my person."

This speech had not the least effect; Jerom was obliged to hear the
charge read, which was reduced under the following heads:--1. That he
was a derider of the papal dignity;--2. An opposer of the pope;--3. An
enemy to the cardinals;--4. A persecutor of the prelates;--and 5. A
hater of the christian religion.

The trial of Jerom was brought on the third day after his accusation and
witnesses were examined in support of the charge. The prisoner was
prepared for his defence, which appears almost incredible, when we
consider he had been three hundred and forty days shut up in loathsome
prisons, deprived of daylight, and almost starved for want of common
necessaries. But his spirit soared above these disadvantages, under
which a man less animated would have sunk; nor was he more at a loss for
quotations from the fathers and ancient authors than if he had been
furnished with the finest library.

The most bigoted of the assembly were unwilling he should be heard,
knowing what effect eloquence is apt to have on the minds of the most
prejudiced. At length, however, it was carried by the majority, that he
should have liberty to proceed in his defence, which he began to such an
exalted strain of moving elocution, that the heart of obdurate zeal was
seen to melt, and the mind of superstition seemed to admit a ray of
conviction. He made an admirable distinction between evidence as resting
upon facts, and as supported by malice and calumny. He laid before the
assembly the whole tenor of his life and conduct. He observed that the
greatest and most holy men had been known to differ in points of
speculation, with a view to distinguish truth, not to keep it concealed.
He expressed a noble contempt of all his enemies, who would have induced
him to retract the cause of virtue and truth. He entered upon a high
encomium of Huss; and declared he was ready to follow him in the
glorious track of martyrdom. He then touched upon the most defensible
doctrines of Wickliffe; and concluded with observing that it was far
from his intention to advance any thing against the state of the church
of God; that it was only against the abuse of the clergy he complained;
and that he could not help saying, it was certainly impious that the
patrimony of the church, which was originally intended for the purpose
of charity and universal benevolence, should be prostituted to the pride
of the eye, in feasts, foppish vestments, and other reproaches to the
name and profession of christianity.

The trial being over, Jerom received the same sentence that had been
passed upon his martyred countryman. In consequence of this he was, in
the usual style of popish affectation, delivered over to the civil
power: but as he was a layman, he had not to undergo the ceremony of
degradation. They had prepared a cap of paper painted with red devils,
which being put upon his head, he said, "Our Lord Jesus Christ, when he
suffered death for me a most miserable sinner, did wear a crown of
thorns upon his head, and for His sake will I wear this cap."

Two days were allowed him in hopes that he would recant; in which time
the cardinal of Florence used his utmost endeavours to bring him over.
But they all proved ineffectual. Jerom was resolved to seal the doctrine
with his blood; and he suffered death with the most distinguished
magnanimity.

In going to the place of execution he sung several hymns, and when he
came to the spot, which was the same where Huss had been burnt, he knelt
down, and prayed fervently. He embraced the stake with great
cheerfulness, and when they went behind him to set fire to the fagots,
he said, "Come here, and kindle it before my eyes; for if I had been
afraid of it, I had not come to this place." The fire being kindled, he
sung a hymn, but was soon interrupted by the flames; and the last words
he was heard to say these:--"This soul in flames I offer."

The elegant Pogge, a learned gentleman of Florence, secretary to two
popes, and a zealous but liberal catholic, in a letter to Leonard
Arotin, bore ample testimony of the extraordinary powers and virtues of
Jerom whom he emphatically styles, A prodigious man!





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Previous: John Huss



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