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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 3 — John Huss and the Hussite Wars

Chapter 11 — Condemnation and burning of Jerome

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Jerome Condemned – Appareled for the Fire – Led away – Sings at the Stake – His Ashes given to the Rhine

ON the 30th of May, 1416, Jerome was brought to receive his sentence. The grandees of the Empire, the dignitaries of the Church, and the officials of the Council filled the cathedral. What a transition from the gloom of his prison to this brilliant assembly, in their robes of office and their stars of rank! But neither star of prince nor miter of bishop was so truly glorious as the badges which Jerome wore – his chains.

The troops were under arms. The townspeople, drawn from their homes by the rumor of what was about to take place, crowded to the cathedral gates, or pressed into the church.

Jerome was asked for the last time whether he were willing to retract; and on intimating his refusal he was condemned as a heretic, and delivered up to the secular power. This act was accompanied with a request that the civil judge would deal leniently with him, and spare his life, [1] a request scarcely intelligible when we think that the stake was already planted, that the faggots were already prepared, and that the officers were in attendance to lead him to the pile.

Jerome mounted on a bench that he might the better be heard by the whole assembly. All were eager to catch his last words. He again gave expression to his sorrow at having, in a moment of fear, given his approval of the burning of John Huss. He declared that the sentence now pronounced on himself was wicked and unjust, like that inflicted upon that holy man. "In dying," ,said he, "I shall leave a sting in your hearts, and a gnawing worm in your consciences. And I cite you all to answer to me before the most high and just Judge within all hundred years." [2]

A paper miter was now brought in, with red devils painted upon it. When Jerome saw it he threw his cap on the floor among the cardinals, and put the miter upon his head, accompanying the act with the words which Huss had used on a similar occasion: "As my Lord for me did wear a crown of thorn, so I, for Him, do wear with joy this crown of ignominy." The soldiers now closed round him. As they were leading him out of the church, "with a cheerful countenance," says Fox, "and a loud voice, lifting his eyes up to heaven, he began to sing, 'Credo in unum Deum,' as it is accustomed to be sung in the Church." As he passed along through the streets his voice was still heard, clear and kind, singing Church canticles. These he finished as he came to the gate of the city leading to Gottlieben, and then he began a hymn, and continued singing it all the way to the place of execution. The spot where he was to suffer was already consecrated ground to Jerome, for here John Huss had been burned. When he came to 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 like a rude likeness of Huss. When the wood and faggots began to be piled up around him, he again began to sing, "Hail, happy day!" When that hymn was ended, he sang once more, "Credo in unum Deum," and then he addressed the people, speaking to them in the German tongue, and saying, "Dearly-beloved children, as I have now sung, so do I believe, and none otherwise; and this creed is my whole faith."

The wood was heaped up to his neck, his garments were then thrown upon the pile, and last of all the torch was brought to light the mass. His Savior, who had so graciously supported him amid his dreadful sufferings in prison, was with him at the stake. The courage that sustained his heart, and the peace that filled his soul, were reflected upon his countenance, and struck the beholders. One short, sharp pang, and then the sorrows of earth will be all behind, and the everlasting glory will have come. Nay, it was already come; for, as Jerome stood upon the pile, he looked as one who had gotten the victory over death, and was even now tasting the joys to which he was about to ascend. The executioner was applying the torch behind, when 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." [3]

When the faggots began to burn, Jerome with a loud voice began to sing "Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commit my spirit." As the flame waxed fiercer and rose higher, and the martyr felt its scorching heat, he was heard to cry out in the Bohemian language, "O Lord God, Father Almighty, have mercy upon me, and be merciful unto mine offenses, for Thou knewest how sincerely I have loved Thy truth." [4]

Soon after the flame checked his utterance, and his voice ceased to be heard. But the movement of his head and rapid motion of his lips, which continued for about a quarter of an hour, showed that he was engaged in prayer. "So burning in the fire," says Fox, "he lived with great pain and martyrdom whilst one might easily have gone from St. Clement's over the bridge unto our Lady Church." [5]

When Jerome had breathed his last, the few things of his which had been left behind in his prison were brought out and burned in the same fire. His bedding, his boots, his hood, all were thrown upon the still smoldering embers and consumed. The heap of ashes was then carefully gathered up,

and put into a cart, and thrown into the Rhine. Now, thought his enemies, there is an end of the Bohemian heresy. We have seen the last of Huss and Jerome. The Council may now sleep in peace. How short-sighted the men who so thought and spoke! Instead of having stamped out this heresy, they had but scattered its seeds over the whole face of Christendom; and, so far from having erased the name and memory of Huss and Jerome, and consigned them to an utter oblivion, they had placed them in the eyes of the whole world, and made them eternal.

We have recorded with some minuteness these two martyrdoms. We have done so not only because of the rare qualities of the men who endured them, the tragic interest that belongs to their sufferings, and the light which their story throws upon their lives, but because Providence gave their deaths a representative character, and a moulding influence. These two martyr-piles were kindled as beacon-lights in the dawn of modern history. Let us briefly show why.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 22nd, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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