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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 3 — John Huss and the Hussite Wars

Chapter 13 — The Hussite Wars

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Effect of Huss's Martyrdom in Bohemia – Spread of Hussism – The New Pope – Formalities of Election – Enthronisation – Bull against the Hussites – Pope's Departure for Rome – Ziska – Tumults in Prague

HUSS had been burned; his ashes, committed to the Rhine, had been borne away to their dark sepulcher in the ocean; but his stake had sent a thrill of indignation and horror through Bohemia. His death moved the hearts of his countrymen more powerfully than even his living voice had been able to do. The vindicator of his nation's wrongs – the reformer of his nation's religion – in short, the representative man of Bohemia, had been cruelly, treacherously immolated; and the nation took the humiliation and insult as done to itself. All ranks, from the highest to the lowest, were stirred by what had occurred. The University of Prague issued a manifesto addressed to all Christendom, vindicating the memory of the man who had fallen a victim to the hatred of the priesthood and the perfidy of the emperor. His death was declared to be murder, and the Fathers at Constance were styled "an assembly of the satraps of Antichrist." Every day the flame of the popular indignation was burning more fiercely. It was evident that a terrible outburst of pent-up wrath was about to be witnessed in Bohemia.

The barons assumed a bolder tone. When the tidings of Huss's martyrdom arrived, the magnates and great nobles held a full council, and, speaking in the name of the Bohemian nation, they addressed an energetic protest to Constance against the crime there enacted. They eulogized, in the highest terms, the man whom the Council had consigned to the flames as a heretic, calling him the "Apostle of Bohemia; a man innocent, pious, holy, and a faithful teacher of the truth." [1] Holding the pen in one hand, while the other rested on their sword's hilt, they said, "Whoever shall affirm that heresy is spread abroad in Bohemia, lies in his throat, and is a traitor to our kingdom; and, while we leave vengeance to God, to Whom it belongs, we shall carry our complaints to the footstool of the indubitable apostolic Pontiff, when the Church shall again be ruled by such an one; declaring, at the same time, that no ordinance of man shall hinder our protecting the humble and faithful preachers of the words of our Lord Jesus, and our defending them fearlessly, even to the shedding of blood." In this remonstrance the nobles of Moravia concurred. [2]

But deeper feelings were at work among the Bohemian people than those of anger. The faith which had produced so noble a martyr was compared with the faith which had immolated him, and the contrast was found to be in no wise to the advantage of the latter. The doctrines which Huss had taught were recalled to memory now that he was dead. The writings of Wicliffe, which had escaped the flames, were read, and compared with such portions of Holy Writ as were accessible to the people, and the consequence was a very general reception of the evangelical doctrines. The new opinions struck their roots deeper every day, and their adherents, who now began to be called Hussites, multiplied one might almost say hourly.

The throne of Bohemia was at that time filled by Wenceslaus, the son of the magnanimous and patriotic Charles IV. In this grave position of affairs much would of necessity depend on the course the king might adopt. The inheritor of his father's dignities and honors, Wenceslaus did not inherit his father's talents and virtues. A tyrant and voluptuary, he had been dethroned first by his nobles, next by his own brother Sigismund, King of Hungary; but, regaining his throne, he discovered an altered but not improved disposition. Broken in spirit, he was now as supine and lethargic as formerly he had been overbearing and tyrannical. If his pride was stifled and his violence curbed, he avenged himself by giving the reins to his low propensities and vices. Shut up in his palace, and leading the life of a sensualist, the religious opinions of his subjects were to him matters of almost supreme indifference. He cared but little whether they kept the paths of orthodoxy or strayed into those of heresy. He secretly rejoiced in the progress of Hussism, because he hoped the end would be the spoiling of the wealthy ecclesiastical corporations and houses, and that the lion's share would fall to himself. Disliking the priests, whom he called "the most dangerous of all the comedians," he turned a deaf ear to the ecclesiastical authorities when they importuned him to forbid the preaching of the new opinions. [3]

The movement continued to make progress. Within four years from the death of Huss, the bulk of the nation had embraced the faith for which he died. His disciples included not a few of the higher nobility, many of the wealthy burghers of the towns, some of the inferior clergy, and the great majority of the peasantry. The accession of the latter, whose single-heartedness makes them capable of a higher enthusiasm and a more entire devotion, brought great strength to the cause. It made it truly national. The Bohemians now resumed in their churches the practice of Communion in both kinds, and the celebration of their worship in the national language. Rome had signalized their subjugation by forbidding the cup, and permitting prayers only in Latin. The Bohemians, by challenging freedom in both points, threw off the marks of their Roman vassalage.

A slight divergence of sentiment was already traceable among the Hussites. One party entirely rejected the authority of the Church of Rome, and made the Scriptures their only standard. These came to bear the name of Taborites, from the scene of one of their early encampments, which was a hill in the neighborhood of Prague bearing a resemblance, it was supposed, to the Scriptural

Tabor. The other party remained nominally in the communion of Rome, though they had abandoned it in heart. Their distinctive tenet was the cup or chalice, meaning thereby Communion in both kinds; hence their name, Calixtines. [4] The cup became the national Protestant symbol. It was blazoned on their standards and carried in the van of their armies; it was sculptured on the portals of their churches, and set up over the gates of their cities. It was ever placed in studied contrast to the Roman symbol, which was the cross. The latter, the Hussites said, recalled scenes of suffering, and so was an emblem of gloom; the former, the cup, was the sign of an accomplished redemption, and so a symbol of gladness. This divergence of the two parties was meanwhile only incipient. It widened in process of time; but for years the great contest in which the Hussites were engaged with Rome, and which assembled Taborites and Calixtines on the same battle-field, where they joined their prayers as well as their arms, kept them united in one body.

We must bestow a glance on what meanwhile was transacting at Constance. The Council knew that a fire was smoldering in Bohemia, and it did its best to fan it into a conflagration. The sentence of utter extermination, pronounced by old Rome against Carthage, was renewed by Papal Rome against Bohemia, a land yet more accursed than Carthage, overrun by heresy, and peopled by men not worthy to enjoy the light of day. [5] But first the Council must select a new Pope. The conclave met; and being put upon "a thin diet," [6] the cardinals came to an early decision. In their haste to announce the great news to the outer world, they forced a hole in the wall, and shouted out, "We have a Pope, and Otho de Colonna is he!" (November 14th, 1417.)

Acclamations of voices and the pealing of bells followed this announcement, in the midst of which the Emperor Sigismund entered the conclave, and, in the first burst of his joy or superstition, falling down before the newly elected Pope, he kissed the feet of the Roman Father. The doors of the conclave being now thrown open, the cardinals eagerly rushed out, glad to find themselves again in the light of day. Their temporary prison was so guarded and shut in that even the sun's rays were excluded, and the Fathers had to conduct their business with the light of wax tapers. They had been shut up only from the 8th to the 11th of November, but so thin and altered were their visages when they emerged, owing to the meager diet on which they were compelled to subsist, that their acquaintances had some difficulty in recognizing them. There were fifty-three electors in all – twenty-three cardinals, and thirty deputies of the nations – for whom fifty-three separate chambers had been prepared, and distributed by lot. They were forbidden all intercourse with their fellow-electors within the conclave, as well as with their friends outside, and even the dishes which were handed in to them at a window were carefully searched, lest they should conceal contraband letters or missives.

Proclamation was made by a herald that no one was to come within a certain specified distance of the conclave, and it was forbidden, under pain of excommunication, to pillage the house of the cardinal who might happen to be elected Pope. It was a custom at Rome to hold the goods of the cardinal elect a free booty, on pretense that being now arrived at all riches he had no further need of anything. At the gates of the conclave the emperor and princes kept watch day and night, singing devoutly the hymn "Veni Creator," but in a low strain, lest the deliberations within should be disturbed. The election was finished in less time than is usually required to fill the Papal chair. The French and Spanish members of the conclave contended for a Pope of their own nation, but the matter was cut short by the German deputies, who united their votes in favor of the Italian candidate, and so the affair issued in the election of Otho, of the most noble and ancient house of Colonna. His election falling on the fete of St. Martin of Tours, he took the title of Martin V. [7] Platina, who is not very lavish of his incense to Popes, commends his prudence, good-nature, love of justice, and his dexterity in the management of affairs and of tempers. [8] Windeck, one of Sigismund's privy councilors, says, in his history of the emperor, that the Cardinal de Colonna was poor and modest, but that Pope Martin was very covetous and extremely rich. [9]

A few hours after the election, through the same streets along which Huss and Jerome had been led in chains to the stake, there swept another and very different procession. The Pope was going in state to be enthroned. He rode on a white horse, covered with rich scarlet housings. The abbots and bishops, in robes of white silk, and mounted on horses, followed in his train. The Pontiff's bridle-rein was held on the right by the emperor, and on the left by the Elector of Brandenburg, [10] these august personages walking on foot. In this fashion was he conducted to the cathedral, where seated on the high altar he was incensed and received homage under the title of Martin V. [11]

Bohemia was one of the first cares of the newly anointed Pope. The great movement which had Wicliffe for its preacher, and Huss and Jerome for its martyrs, was rapidly advancing. The Pope hurled excommunication against it, but he knew that he must employ other and more forcible weapons besides spiritual ones before he could hope to crush it. He summoned the emperor to give to the Papal See worthier and more substantial proofs of devotion

than the gala service of holding his horse's bridle-rein. Pope Martin V., addressing himself to Sigismund, with all the kings, princes, dukes, barons, knights, states, and commonwealths of Christendom, adjured them, by "the wounds of Christ," to unite their arms and exterminate that "sacrilegious and accursed nation." [12] A liberal distribution was promised of the customary rewards – crowns and high places in Paradise – to those who should display the most zeal against the obnoxious heresy by shedding the greatest amount of Bohemian blood. Thus exhorted, the Emperor Sigismund and several of the neighboring German states made ready to engage in the crusade. The Bohemians saw the terrible tempest gathering on their borders, but they were not dismayed by it.

While this storm is brewing at Prague, we shall return for the last time to Constance; and there we find that considerable self-satisfaction is prevalent among the members of the Council, which has concluded its business amid general felicitations and loud boastings that it had pacified Christendom. It had extinguished heresy by the stakes of Huss and Jerome. It had healed the schism by the deposition of the rival Popes and the election of Martin V. It had shot a bolt at Bohemian discontent which would save all further annoyance on that side; and now, as the result of these vigorous measures, an era of tranquillity to Europe and of grandeur to the Popedom might be expected henceforth to commence. Deafened by its own praises, the Council took no note of the underground mutterings, which in all countries betokened the coming earthquake. On the 18th of April, 1418, the Pope promulgated a bull "declaring the Council at an end, and giving every one liberty to return home." As a parting gift he bestowed upon the members "the plenary remission of all their sins." If only half of what is reported touching the doings of the Fathers at Constance be true, this beneficence of Pope Martin must have constituted a very large draft indeed on the treasury of the Church; but doubtless it sent the Fathers in good spirits to their homes.

On the 15th of May the Pope sang his last mass in the cathedral church, and next day set out on his return for Italy. The French prelates prayed him to establish his chair at Avignon, a request that had been made more than once of his predecessors without avail. But the Pope told them that "they must yield to reason and necessity; that as he had been acknowledged by the whole world for St. Peter's successor, it was but just that he should go and seat himself on the throne of that apostle; and that as the Church of Rome was the head and mother of all the Churches, it was absolutely necessary that the sovereign Pontiff should reside at Rome, as a good pilot ought to keep at the stern and not at the prow of the vessel." [13] Before turning to the tragic scenes on the threshold of which we stand, let us bestow a moment's glance on the gaudy yet ambitious pomp that marked the Pope's departure for Rome. It is thus related by Reichenthal: –

"Twelve led horses went first, with scarlet housings; which were followed by four gentlemen on horseback, bearing four cardinals' caps upon pikes. After them a priest marched, beating a cross of gold; who was followed by another priest, that carried the Sacrament. Twelve cardinals marched next, adorned with their red hats, and followed by a priest tiding on a white horse, and offering the Sacrament to the populace, under a kind of canopy surrounded by men bearing wax tapers. After him followed John de Susate, a divine of Westphalia, who likewise carried a golden cross, and was encompassed by the canons and senators of the city, beating wax tapers in their hands. At last the Pope appeared in his Pontificalibus, riding on a white steed. He had upon his head a tiara, adorned with a great number of jewels, and a canopy was held over his head by four counts – viz., Eberhard, Count of Nellenburg; William, Count of Montserrat; Berthold, Count of Ursins; and John, Count de Thirstein. The emperor held the reins of the Pope's horse on the right hand, being followed by Lewis, Duke of Bavaria of Ingolstadt, who held up the housing or horse-cloth. The Elector of Brandenburg held the reins on the left, and behind him Frederick of Austria performed the same office as Lewis of Ingolstadt. There were four other princes on both sides, who held up the horse-cloth. The Pope was followed by a gentleman on horseback, who carried an umbrella to defend him in case of need, either from the rain or sun. After him marched all the clergy and all the nobility on horseback, in such numbers, that they who were eye-witnesses reckoned up no less than forty thousand, besides the multitudes of people that followed on foot. When Martin V. came to the gate of the town, he alighted from his horse, and changed his priest's vestments for a red habit. He also took another hat, and put that which he wore upon the head of a certain prelate who is not named. Then he took horse again, as did also the emperor and the princes, who accompanied him to Gottlieben, where he embarked on the Rhine for Schaffhausen. The cardinals and the rest of his court followed him by land, and the emperor returned to Constance with the other princes." [14]

Leaving Pope Martin to pursue his journey to Rome, we shall again turn our attention to Prague. Alas,

the poor land of Bohemia! Woe on woe seemed coming upon it. Its two most illustrious sons had expired at the stake; the Pope had hurled excommunication against it; the emperor was collecting his forces to invade it; and the craven Wenceslaus had neither heart to feel nor spirit to resent the affront which had been done his kingdom. The citizens were distracted, for though on fire with indignation they had neither counselor nor captain. At that crisis a remarkable man arose to organize the nation and lead its armies. His name was John Trocznowski, but he is better known by the sobriquet of Ziska – -that is, the one-eyed. The circumstances attending his birth were believed to foreshadow his extraordinary destiny. His mother went one harvest day to visit the reapers on the paternal estates, and being suddenly taken with the pains of labor, she was delivered of a son beneath an oak-tree in the field. [15] The child grew to manhood, adopted the profession of arms, distinguished himself in the wars of Poland, and returning to his native country, became chamberlain to King Wenceslaus. In the palace of the jovial monarch there was little from morning to night save feasting and revelry, and Ziska, nothing loth, bore his part in all the coarse humors and boisterous sports of his master. But his life was not destined to close thus ignobly.

The shock which the martyrdom of Huss gave the whole nation was not unfelt by Ziska in the palace. The gay courtier suddenly became thoughtful. He might be seen traversing, with pensive brow and folded arms, the long corridors of the palace, the windows of which look down on the broad stream of the Moldau, on the towers of Prague, and the plains beyond, which stretch out towards that quarter of the horizon where the pile of Huss had been kindled. One day the monarch surprised him in this thoughtful mood. "What is this?" said Wenceslaus, somewhat astonished to see one with a sad countenance in his palace. "I cannot brook the insult offered to Bohemia at Constance by the murder of John Huss," replied the chamberlain. "Where is the use," said the king, "of vexing one's self about it? Neither you nor I have the means of avenging it. But," continued the king, thinking doubtless that Ziska's fit would soon pass off, "if you are able to call the emperor and Council to account, you have my permission." "Very good, my gracious master," rejoined Ziska, "will you be pleased to give me your permission in writing?" Wenceslaus, who liked a joke, and deeming that such a document would be perfectly harmless in the hands of one who had neither friends, nor money, nor soldiers, gave Ziska what he asked under the royal seal. [16]

Ziska, who had accepted the authorization not in jest but in earnest, watched his opportunity. It soon came. The Pope fulminated his bull of crusade against the Hussites. There followed great excitement throughout Bohemia, and especially in its capital, Prague. [17] The burghers assembled to deliberate on the measures to be adopted for avenging the nation's insulted honor, and defending its threatened independence. Ziska, armed with the royal authorization, suddenly appeared in the midst of them. The citizens were emboldened when they saw one who stood so high, as they believed, in the favor of the king, putting himself at their head; they concluded that Wenceslaus also was with them, and would further their enterprise. In this, however, they were mistaken. The liberty accorded their proceedings they owed, not to the approbation, but to the pusillanimity of the king. The factions became more embittered every day. Tumult and massacre broke out in Prague. The senators took refuge in the town-house; they were pursued thither, thrown out at the window, and received on the pikes of the insurgents. The king, on receiving the news of the outrage, was so excited, whether from fear or anger is not known, that he had a fit of apoplexy, and died in a few days. [18]

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