Jerome Of Prague

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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [1]

one of the earliest and ablest of the reformers before the Reformation, a brave defender of the truth, and a most devoted friend and follower of John Huss, was a descendant of a noble Bohemian family, whose real name was Faulsch. Of his early history all data are wanting, but he appears to have been born about 1375, as he is known to have been somewhat younger than his friend Huss, who was born in 1369 (comp. Neander, Ch. Hist. 5, 246). After studying for several years at the university of his native place, "Jerome, full of life and ardor, of an enterprising spirit, not disposed to remain still and quiet a long time in one place," continued his studies at the universities of Paris, Cologne, Heidelberg, and Oxford, from each of which he received the doctorate of divinity (about 1398-1400). Endowed with great natural ability, Jerome obtained from such an extended course of study advantages which soon gave him great reputation for learning, especially as he was one of the few knights in Bohemia who had manifested any zeal for science and literary culture.

But if, by a careful cultivation of his superior natural abilities, he secured for himself the admiration and homage of the men of letters, it is unquestionable that his attachment to the cause of the great anti-reformer was due, in the main, to his stay at Oxford, where he became acquainted with the writings of Wickliffe (q.v.), and at once enlisted with great enthusiasm in defense of the doctrines of the English reformer. "Until now," he is reported to have said when he commenced his copy of the Dialogus et Trialogus, "we had nothing but the shell of science; Wickliffe first laid open the kernel." It is thought possible by some that Jerome had read these works before he went to Oxford, and that his esteem for the writer, whom he could conceive only as a man of a noble, acute, and remarkable mind, had attracted him to Oxford (compare Bohringer, Kirche Christi u. d. Zeugen, p. 611); but, be this as it may, so much is certain, that, on his return to Prague, Jerome "professed himself an open favorer of him (Wickliffe), and, finding his doctrines had made considerable progress in Bohemia, and that Huss was at the head of that party which had espoused them, he attached himself to that leader" (Gilpin, Lives, p. 234; compare, however, Gillett, Life of Huss, 1, 69). May 28, 1403, the University of Prague, at the instigation of the archiepiscopal officials and the cathedral chapter of Prague, publicly condemned the writings of John Wickliffe as heretical, in spite of a strong opposition, headed by John Huss, Jerome, and Master Nicholas of Leitomysl (q.v.). For some time past there had been growing a discontent between the native and foreign element represented at the university.

When that institution of learning was founded, Prague was the residence of the German emperor, but that city was also the capital of Bohemia, a country which "seemed fitted by location and general features to become one of the foremost states of Europe," and the people, aware of their great natural resources, were unwilling to submit to the policy of the rulers to make their country a province of Germany. A strong feeling of nationality, such as is again witnessed in our day, developed itself in every Slavic heart, and gradually Bohemian literature, a nation's strength, which had before succumbed to the German, began to revive, and with it there came a longing desire to force from the Germans the control of the university, in which the native Bohemians saw themselves outvoted by strangers. The Germans were Nominalists, Wickliffe a Realist; no wonder, then, that his writings were condemned, even though the Bohemians were in favor of the Englishman (see Reichel, See of Rome in the Middle Ages, p. 602 sq.; Studien und Kritiken, 1871, 2, 297 sq.). Here, then, came an opportunity for Huss and his friends to strike not only in behalf of the religious interests of their countrymen, but to become champions of their nation's rights, "and on this side they might count on receiving the support of many who did not agree with them in religious and doctrinal matters." They could count on the most influential of the nobility; even king Wenzel himself was won for their cause. He was induced to change the relation of votes at the University at Prague in such a manner that the Bohemians could gain the ascendency, and, this once done, the election of Huss to the rectorate of the university followed. The Germans, of course, were unwilling to submit readily to such changes, and left Prague in large numbers, to found a university at Leipzig.

They also circulated the most injurious reports respecting the Hussites (as we will hereafter call the adherents of Huss and Jerome for convenience' sake). In the meantime also, "by the express admonition of the pope," the archbishop of Prague, Zybneck, had issued (in 1406) a decree "that henceforth no one, under severe penalty, should hold, teach, or, for purposes of academic debate, argue in favor of Wickliffe's doctrines." This same Zybneck was the legate of Gregory XII. To this last pope the king of Bohemia adhered at this time, but in 1409, when the Council of Pisa renounced the rival popes, Gregory XII and Benedict XIII, and declared Alexander V the legitimate incumbent of the papal chair, Huss inclined to favor the action of the Council of Pisa, and won also the king over to his side, through the influence of Jerome, who seems to have been a favorite at court. This brought about an open rupture with Zybneck, who had hitherto hesitated openly to attack Huss and Jerome. Now there was no longer any need for delaying the decisive conflict. "He issued an ordinance forbidding all teachers of the university who had joined the party of the cardinals (who controlled the Council of Pisa) against the schismatic popes, and had thus abandoned the cause of Gregory, to discharge any priestly duties within his diocese."

The Bohemians refused to obey the mandate; the archbishop then complained to the king, and found that he was powerless to enforce obedience to his decrees; neither was his master, Gregory XII, able to do it. Determined to conquer, the archbishop now suddenly espoused the cause of the stronger rival in the papacy, and appealed to Alexander V for his decision in the conflict with the Bohemians. A papal bull was secured condemning the articles of Wickliffe, forbidding preaching in private chapels, and authorizing the archbishop to appoint a commission to enforce the measures adopted by him for the extirpation of the spreading heresy. In addition to a renewal of his former decrees, the archbishop now condemned not only the writings of Wickliffe, but also those of Huss and Jerome, as well as those of their predecessors Milicz and Janow, and caused them to be publicly burned. "The deed was done. The books were burned. The ban of the Church rested on those who had dared to object. Doubtless the archbishop felt that he had secured a triumph. He had executed the papal sentence, and proved himself an able instrument of the Church party who had instigated him to the bold deed. But it provoked more than it overawed.

The king, the court, and a large proportion of the citizens of Prague were enraged and embittered by it. A cry of indignation ran throughout Bohemia" (Gillett, Huss, 1, 157). Acts of violence followed, and, as is too apt to be the case, excesses were committed by marauders, and the crime charged to the reformers. The king and the people siding with the Hussites, it remained for the papal party to adopt severer measures; these were soon found in the proclamation of an interdict on the city of Prague, and the excommunication of the leaders. Huss left the city to avoid an open conflict between his countrymen, and Jerome also soon quitted the place, and went to Ofen (1410). But Zybneck was unwilling to see his opponent abroad proclaiming everywhere the doctrines of Wickliffe, and denouncing even popery. Jerome dared to propose even such questions as these: Whether the pope possessed more power than another priest, and whether the bread in the Eucharist or the body of Christ possessed more virtue in the mass of the Roman pontiff than in that of any other officiating ecclesiastic. Nay, one day, while in an open square, surrounded by several of his friends and adherents, he exposed two sketches, in one of which Christ's disciples, on one side, following, with naked feet, their Master mounted on an ass; while on the other the pope and the cardinals were represented in great state on superb horses, and preceded, as usual, with drums and trumpets. Zybneck caused the arrest of Jerome by the archbishop of Grau, who, recognizing the superior abilities and great influence of Jerome, dismissed him five days after. More vehement and serious became Jerome's opposition to the papal party in 1412, after the publication of the papal bull granting plenary indulgence (q.v.) to all who should engage in "holy warfare" against king Ladislaus (q.v.) of Naples.

Huss, who had returned to Prague, and who now was excommunicated, simply preached with all his power against this bull, but Jerome, urged on by his impulsive nature, was carried far beyond the limits of prudence and of decency. He caused (if he did not head the movement he undoubtedly inspired it) the bull to be carried about the streets by two lewd women, heading a long procession of students, and, after displaying it in this manner for some time, it was publicly burned, with some indulgence briefs, at the pillory of the new town. "That similar scenes not unfrequently occurred is most probable. Among the charges brought against Jerome at the Council of Constance are some which imply that his conduct in this respect had been far from unexceptionable. Some of these are denied; but the evidence is strong, if not decisive, in regard to his course on the reception of the papal bulls for the Crusade. On another occasion he is said to have thrown a priest into the Moldau, who, but for timely aid, would have been drowned. But such violence was bitterly provoked. The burning of the books by Sbynco (Zybneck), the execution of three men for asserting the falsehood of the indulgences, the excommunication of Huss, to say nothing of the course pursued by his assailants, had excited a strong feeling against the patrons of papal fraud and ecclesiastical corruption. We are only surprised that the deep resentment felt was confined in its expression within such limits" (Gillett, 1, 257). Both he and Huss were obliged to flee from Prague, as the safety of their lives was threatened. Huss (q.v.) retired to the castle of Kozi Hradek, while Jerome went to Poland and Lithuania. But the seed which they had widely sown sprang up quickly, and a council which had in the meantime convened at Constance cited Huss for a defense of his course. When the tidings of the imprisonment of his friend reached Jerome he determined to go to Constance himself. He went there at first incognito and secretly (April 4, 1415), but, fearing danger for himself without the possibility of affording relief to his friend, he left for a town four miles distant, and thence demanded of the emperor a safe conduct to Constance, that he might publicly answer before anyone to every charge of heresy that might be brought against him. Not being able to obtain such a safe conduct, he caused to be affixed the next day, on the gates of the emperor's palace, on the doors of the principal churches, the residences of the cardinals, and other eminent prelates, a notice in the Bohemian, Latin, and German languages, wherein he declared himself ready, provided only he should have full liberty and security to come to Constance and to leave it again, to defend himself in public before the council against every accusation made against his faith. Not obtaining what he demanded, he procured a certificate to be drawn up to that effect by the Bohemian knights resident in Constance and sealed with their seals and with this to serve as a vindication of himself to his friends, he prepared to turn his face towards Bohemia.

The papists determining to secure his attendance at the council, a passport was now sent him from the council, guaranteeing his safety from violence, but not from punishment, if he were adjudged guilty of the heresy charged against him; but this Jerome Huss having been already sent to prison seemed insufficient, and he proceeded on his journey. But his enemies succeeded in waylaying him, and on the road he was arrested near Hirschau, a small town in Suabia, April 25, 1415, and delivered over into the power of the council May 23. He was immediately brought before a public convocation of that body. A citation was sent to him, which, it was said, had been posted up in Constance in reply to his declarations to the council. He denied to have seen them before he left the vicinity of Constance, where he had waited sufficiently long to be reached by any reply made within a reasonable limit of time, and that he would have complied with the summons had it reached him even on the confines of Bohemia. But this declaration rather aggravated, if anything, the members of the council, so eager to find a plea to condemn the prisoner. Many members of this council came from the universities of Paris, Heidelberg, and Cologne, and recollecting him, they desired to triumph over the man who had always far outstripped them. "Accordingly one after another addressed him, and reminded him of the propositions which he had set forth. The first among these was the learned chancellor Gerson, who captiously charged him with wishing to set himself up as an angel of eloquence, and with exciting great commotions at Paris by maintaining the reality of general conceptions. We may observe here, as well as in other like examples, the strong propensity which now prevailed to mix up together philosophical and theological disputes. But Jerome distinguished one from the other, and declared that he, as a university master, had maintained such philosophical doctrines as had no concern with faith.

In reference to all that had been objected to him by different parties, he held himself ready to recant as soon as he was taught anything better. Amid the noisy shouts was heard the cry. Jerome must be burnt.' He answered with coolness, Well, if you wish my death, let it come, in God's name!'" Wiser counsels, however, prevailed at the moment, and Jerome was remitted to prison, where he was bound to a stake, with his hands, feet, and neck so that he could scarcely move his head. Thus he lay two days, with nothing to eat but bread and water. Then for the first time he obtained, through the mediation of Peter Maldonisuritz, who had been told of his situation by his keepers, other means of subsistence. This severe imprisonment threw him into a violent fit of sickness. He demanded a confessor, which was at first refused, and then granted with difficulty. After he had spent several months in this severe confinement, he heard of the martyrdom of his friend, whose death and the imprisonment of Jerome produced the greatest exasperation of feeling among the knights in Bohemia and Moravia. On the 2d of September they put forth a letter to the council, in which they expressed their indignation, declared that they had known Huss but as a pious man, zealous for the doctrines of the Gospel; and that he had fallen a victim only to his enemies and the enemies of his country. They entered a bitter complaint against the captivity of the innocent Jerome, who had made himself famous by his brilliant gifts; perhaps he, too, had already been murdered like Huss. They declared themselves resolved to contend, even to the shedding of their blood, in defense of the law of Christ and of his faithful servants" (Neander, Ch. Hist. 5, 375). This decided stand of Jerome's friends forced the council to milder terms, and they determined, if possible, to induce him to recant of his heretical opinions, a point which the effect of Jerome's close confinement, and the sufferings that he had endured for the past six months, made them believe might be carried without much difficulty.

They mainly pressed him to recant his opinion on the doctrine of transubstantiation; and on the third examination, Sept. 11, 1415, Jerome, by this time worn out both in body and mind, made a public and unqualified recantation of the Hussite statement of the eucharistic theory. Here the disreputable conduct of the Romanists might well have rested, and Jerome have been permitted to return to his native land. But there were men in the council who well understood that Jerome had been induced to recant only because he saw no other door to lead from the prison, and that, his liberty once regained, he would return to his friends, to preach anew the truth as he had heard it from the lips of Huss, and as he had received it from the writings of Wickliffe. Indeed, they had reasons to fear that if he ever escaped with his life, it would be given to the cause in which Huss had just fallen. On the other hand, there were men of honor in the council men who, though they had narrowed themselves down until they could see Christ exemplified only in those who bowed submissively before the papal chair, yet would not make pledges only to break them as soon as they found it to their interest to do so. One of these was the cardinal of Cambray, who insisted that Jerome ought now to be liberated, as had been promised him before his recantation. The counsel of the more cunning, however, prevailed, and Jerome was detained to answer other and more serious accusations. Tired of the crooked ways of these so-called defenders of the Christian faith, Jerome finally declined to be any longer subjected to private examinations, and declared that publicly only would he be ready to answer the calumnies of his accusers. May 23, 1416, he finally succeeded in obtaining a public hearing.

On this day, and on the 26th, he spent from six in the morning until one in the afternoon in replying to the different accusations made against him, and closed, to the surprise of all the council, by passionately disclaiming his former cowardly recantation. "Of all the sins," he exclaimed now, with great feeling, "that I have committed since my youth, none weigh so heavily on my mind and cause me such poignant remorse as that which I committed in this fatal place when I approved of the iniquitous sentence rendered against Wickliffe and against the holy martyr John Huss, my master and friend." If his defense had been delivered with such presence of mind, with so much eloquence and wit as to excite universal admiration and to incline his judges to mercy, the closing declaration against his former recantation certainly sealed his own death warrant, and left not the least hope for escape from martyrdom. Yet there were some among his judges in whom he had excited so deep a sympathy that they would not declare against him; there were also some who dared not, by this new martyrdom, provoke still further the angry feelings of the Bohemians. He was granted a respite of forty days for reflection, and an opportunity was afforded to those who still wavered in condemning the heretic to influence him possibly to recant of this decided opposition to the Church. But Jerome remained steadfast this time.

If he had seen a period when, like Cranmer's, his faith faltered, it had passed, and he was now ready to die rather than again deny that he thought and felt as a Hussite. May 30 had been appointed to pass final judgment. He still refusing to recant, the council pronounced against him, and he was handed over for execution to the secular authorities. The whole trial and his last hours are vividly pictured by a Roman Catholic eyewitness, Poggio, a Florentine, who is freely cited by Neander (Ch. Hist. 5, 378 sq.), and is given in full by Gilpin (Lives, p. 255 sq.). Of his last hours Poggio relates as follows: "With cheerful looks he went readily and willingly to his death; he feared neither death nor the fire and its torture. No stoic ever suffered death with so firm a soul as that with which he seemed to demand it. Jerome endured the torments of the fire with more tranquillity than Socrates displayed in drinking his cup of hemlock." Jerome was burned like his friend and master Huss, and his ashes likewise thrown into the Rhine. "Historians, [Roman] Catholic and Protestant alike, vie with each other in paying homage to the heroic courage and apostolic resignation with which Jerome met his doom. Posterity has confirmed their verdict, and reveres him as a martyr to the truth, who, unwearied in life and noble in death, has acquired an immortal renown for his share in the Reformation." Indeed we question whether to Jerome and Huss sufficient credit is given for their share in the Reformation of the 16th century. We fear that it is through neglect alone that to Huss and Jerome is denied a place by the side of Luther and Calvin, to which, as Gillett (Huss and his Times, Preface) rightly says, they are justly entitled. "It is true, indeed, that the great reform movement, of which Huss was the leader, was, to human view, after a most desperate and prolonged struggle, crushed out; not, however, without leaving behind it most important results." See Gillett, Huss and his Times (2 vols. 8vo, new edit. 1871); Neander, Church History, vol. 5 (see Index); Tischer, Leben d. Hieron. v. Prag. (Lpz. 1835); Helfert, Hus u. Hieron.. (Prag. 1853, p. 151 sq., 208 sq.; perhaps the most important, though rather partial); Czerwenka, Gesch. der evangel. Kirche in Bohmen (Bielef. 1869). vol. 1; Bohringer, Die Kirche Christi, 2, 4, 608 sq.; Krummel, Gesch. der bohm. Reformation (Gotha, 1867, 8vo); Palacky, Gesch. v. Bohm. vol. 3 and 4. See Huss. (J.H.W.)


(See Hieronymites).

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [2]

Born at Prague; studied there and at Oxford (where he came under Wycliffe's influence), Paris, Heidelberg, and Cologne; acquired great learning, and displayed great energy and oratorical power; attracted the notice of the Kings of Poland and Hungary; joined John Huss in his agitation against the abuses of the Church; became involved in the movement against Huss, and though he recanted, afterwards withdrew his recantation, and was burned at Constance (about 1365-1416.)