John Huss

John Huss was born at Hussenitz, a village in Bohemia, about the year

1380. His parents gave him the best education their circumstances would

admit; and having acquired a tolerable knowledge of the classics at a

private school, he was removed to the university of Prague, where he

soon gave strong proofs of his mental powers, and was remarkable for his

diligence and application to study.

In 1398, Huss comm
nced bachelor of divinity, and was after successively

chosen pastor of the church of Bethlehem, in Prague, and dean and rector

of the university. In these stations he discharged his duties with great

fidelity; and became, at length, so conspicuous for his preaching, which

was in conformity with the doctrines of Wickliffe, that it was not

likely he could long escape the notice of the pope and his adherents,

against whom he inveighed with no small degree of asperity.

The English reformist Wickliffe, had so kindled the light of

reformation, that it began to illumine the darkest corners of popery and

ignorance. His doctrines spread into Bohemia, and were well received by

great numbers of people, but by none so particularly as John Huss, and

his zealous friend and fellow-martyr, Jerom of Prague.

The archbishop of Prague, finding the reformists daily increasing,

issued a decree to suppress the farther spreading of Wickliffe's

writings: but this had an effect quite different to what he expected,

for it stimulated the friends of those doctrines to greater zeal, and

almost the whole university united to propagate them.

Being strongly attached to the doctrines of Wickliffe, Huss opposed the

decree of the archbishop, who, however, at length, obtained a bull from

the pope, giving him commission to prevent the publishing of Wickliffe's

doctrines in his province. By virtue of this bull, the archbishop

condemned the writings of Wickliffe: he also proceeded against four

doctors, who had not delivered up the copies of that divine, and

prohibited them, notwithstanding their privileges, to preach to any

congregation. Dr. Huss, with some other members of the university,

protested against these proceedings, and entered an appeal from the

sentence of the archbishop.

The affair being made known to the pope, he granted a commission to

cardinal Colonna, to cite John Huss to appear personally at the court of

Rome, to answer the accusations laid against him, of preaching both

errors and heresies. Dr. Huss desired to be excused from a personal

appearance, and was so greatly favoured in Bohemia, that king

Winceslaus, the queen, the nobility, and the university, desired the

pope to dispense with such an appearance; as also that he would not

suffer the kingdom of Bohemia to lie under the accusation of heresy, but

permit them to preach the gospel with freedom in their places of


Three proctors appeared for Dr. Huss before cardinal Colonna. They

endeavoured to excuse his absence, and said, they were ready to answer

in his behalf. But, the cardinal declared Huss contumacious, and

excommunicated him accordingly. The proctors appealed to the pope, and

appointed four cardinals to examine the process: these commissioners

confirmed the former sentence, and extended the excommunication not only

to Huss but to all his friends and followers.

From this unjust sentence Huss appealed to a future council, but without

success; and, notwithstanding so severe a decree, and an expulsion in

consequence from his church in Prague, he retired to Hussenitz, his

native place, where he continued to promulgate his new doctrine, both

from the pulpit and with the pen.

The letters which he wrote at this time were very numerous; and he

compiled a treatise in which he maintained, that reading the book of

protestants could not be absolutely forbidden. He wrote in defence of

Wickliffe's book on the Trinity; and boldly declared against the vices

of the pope, the cardinals, and clergy, of those corrupt times. He wrote

also many other books, all of which were penned with a strength of

argument that greatly facilitated the spreading of his doctrines.

In the month of November, 1414, a general council was assembled at

Constance, in Germany, in order, as was pretended, for the sole purpose

of determining a dispute then pending between three persons who

contended for the papacy; but the real motive was, to crush the progress

of the reformation.

John Huss was summoned to appear at this council; and, to encourage him,

the emperor sent him a safe-conduct: the civilities, and even reverence,

which Huss met with on his journey, were beyond imagination. The

streets, and, sometimes the very roads, were lined with people, whom

respect, rather than curiosity, had brought together.

He was ushered into the town with great acclamations and it may be said,

that he passed through Germany in a kind of triumph. He could not help

expressing his surprise at the treatment he received: "I thought (said

he) I had been an outcast. I now see my worst friends are in Bohemia."

As soon as Huss arrived at Constance, he immediately took lodgings in a

remote part of the city. A short time after his arrival, came one

Stephen Paletz, who was employed by the clergy at Prague to manage the

intended prosecution against him. Paletz was afterward joined by Michael

de Cassis, on the part of the court of Rome. These two declared

themselves his accusers, and drew up a set of articles against him,

which they presented to the pope and the prelates of the council.

When it was known that he was in the city, he was immediately arrested,

and committed prisoner to a chamber in the palace. This violation of

common law and justice, was particularly noticed by one of Huss'

friends, who urged the imperial safe-conduct; but the pope replied, he

never granted any safe-conduct, nor was he bound by that of the emperor.

While Huss was in confinement, the council acted the part of

inquisitors. They condemned the doctrines of Wickliffe, and even ordered

his remains to be dug up and burnt to ashes; which orders were strictly

complied with. In the mean time, the nobility of Bohemia and Poland

strongly interceded for Huss; and so far prevailed as to prevent his

being condemned unheard, which had been resolved on by the commissioners

appointed to try him.

When he was brought before the council, the articles exhibited against

him were read: they were upwards of forty in number, and chiefly

extracted from his writings.

After his examination, he was taken from the court, and a resolution was

formed by the council to burn him as a heretic if he would not retract.

He was then committed to a filthy prison, where, in the daytime, he was

so laden with fetters on his legs, that he could hardly move, and every

night he was fastened by his hand to a ring against the walls of the


After continuing some days in this situation, many noblemen of Bohemia

interceded in his behalf. They drew up a petition for his release, which

was presented to the council by several of the most distinguished nobles

of Bohemia; a few days after the petition was presented, four bishops

and two lords were sent by the emperor to the prison, in order to

prevail on Huss to make a recantation. But he called God to witness,

with tears in his eyes, that he was not conscious of having preached or

written, against the truth of God, or the faith of his orthodox church.

On the 4th of July, Dr. Huss was brought for the last time before the

council. After a long examination he was desired to abjure, which he

refused without the least hesitation. The bishop of Lodi then preached a

sanguinary sermon, concerning the destruction of heretics, the prologue

to his intended punishment. After the close of the sermon, his fate was

determined, his vindication was disregarded, and judgment pronounced.

Huss heard this sentence without the least emotion. At the close of it

he knelt down, with his eyes lifted towards heaven, and with all the

magnanimity of a primitive martyr, thus exclaimed: "May thy infinite

mercy, O my God! pardon this injustice of mine enemies. Thou knowest the

injustice of my accusations; how deformed with crimes I have been

represented; how I have been oppressed with worthless witnesses, and a

false condemnation; yet, O my God! let that mercy of thine, which no

tongue can express, prevail with thee not to avenge my wrongs."

These excellent sentences were esteemed as so many expressions of

treason, and tended to inflame his adversaries. Accordingly, the bishops

appointed by the council stripped him of his priestly garments, degraded

him, put a paper mitre on his head, on which was painted devils, with

this inscription, "A ringleader of heretics." Our heroic martyr received

this mock mitre with an air of unconcern, which seemed to give him

dignity rather than disgrace. A serenity, nay, even a joy appeared in

his looks, which indicated that his soul had cut off many stages of a

tedious journey in her way to the realms of everlasting peace.

After the ceremony of degradation was over, the bishops delivered Dr.

Huss to the emperor, who put him into the hands of the duke of Bavaria.

His books were burnt at the gates of the church; and on the 6th of July,

he was led to the suburbs of Constance, to be burnt alive. On his

arrival at the place of execution, he fell on his knees, sung several

portions of the Psalms, looked steadfastly towards heaven, and repeated

these words: "Into thy hands, O Lord! do I commit my spirit: thou hast

redeemed me, O most good and merciful God!"

When the chain was put about him at the stake, he said, with a smiling

countenance, "My Lord Jesus Christ was bound with a harder chain than

this for my sake, and why then should I be ashamed of this rusty one?"

When the fagots were piled up to his very neck, the duke of Bavaria was

so officious as to desire him to abjure. "No, (said Huss;) I never

preached any doctrine of an evil tendency; and what I taught with my

lips I now seal with my blood." He then said to the executioner, "You

are now going to burn a goose, (Huss signifying goose in the Bohemian

language;) but in a century you will have a swan whom you can neither

roast nor boil." If he were prophetic, he must have meant Martin Luther,

who shone about a hundred years after, and who had a swan for his arms.

The flames were now applied to the fagots, when our martyr sung a hymn

with so loud and cheerful a voice, that he was heard through all the

cracklings of the combustibles, and the noise of the multitude. At

length his voice was interrupted by the severity of the flames, which

soon closed his existence.