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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