Jerome Recants

The Death of Jerome

Jerome, hearing of the arrest of Huss, quickly made his way to Constance in the hope of being able to be of some help to him. Upon his arrival, it became apparent to him that he was not going to be able to help his beloved master, but that he was in great danger himself. He attempted to flee and was well on his way to Prague when he was arrested and returned in chains to Constance.

Soon thereafter, a letter arrived from the barons of Bohemia, which convinced the council that it had been self-deceived when it had convinced itself that it was done with Huss when it threw his ashes into the Rhine. Very clearly a storm was brewing; and should they plant a second stake, it would all too certainly burst upon them. It was, therefore, decided that it would be most prudent to induce Jerome to recant, and to this the council now directed its efforts. They brought Jerome before them, depressed in mind and sick in body from four months of confinement in a noisome dungeon. When offered the alternative of recanting or the stake, he yielded to the council.

The retraction that Jerome gave was, however, a very qualified one. He submitted himself to the council and subscribed to the justice of its condemnation of the articles of Wycliffe and Huss, saving and excepting the “holy truths” which they had taught; and he promised to live and die in the Catholic faith.

There were men, however, who were determined that Jerome should pay the penalty for his errors, and a new list of charges were preferred against him. Meanwhile, from his cell, Jerome had an opportunity to reflect on what he had done. As he contrasted the peace of mind he had enjoyed before his retraction with the doubts that now darkened his soul, he realized that it was a gulf with no bottom into which he was about to throw himself. As he looked to His Saviour, his faith grew strong and peace returned to his soul.

The new charges were communicated to Jerome in prison, but he refused to answer and demanded a public hearing. On May 23, 1416, he was taken to the cathedral church where the council had assembled to consider his cause.

Jerome Speaking at his Trial

Greatly fearing the effect of his words, the fathers demanded a simple “Yes” or “No” answer. “ ’What injustice! What cruelty!’ exclaimed Jerome. ‘You have held me shut up three hundred and forty days in a frightful prison, in the midst of filth, noisomeness, stench, and the utmost want of everything. You then bring me out before you, and lending an ear to my mortal enemies, you refuse to hear me. If you be really wise men, and the lights of the world, take care not to sin against justice. As for me, I am only a feeble mortal; my life is but of little importance; and when I exhort you not to deliver an unjust sentence, I speak less for myself than for you.’ ” Wylie, The History of Protestantism, book 3, chapter 10

The uproar that followed his words drowned out any further words. When the storm had abated, it was decided that he should be fully heard three days later.

At his earlier hearing, Jerome had subscribed to the justice of Huss’s condemnation; and at his second hearing he bitterly repented of this wrong, done in a moment of cowardice. Having known Huss since childhood, he stated that he knew him to be of a most excellent character. He continued, “Of all the sins that I have committed since my youth, none weighs so heavily on my mind, and causes me such poignant remorse, as that which I committed in this fatal place, when I approved of the iniquitous sentence recorded against Wycliffe, and against the holy martyr John Huss, my master and my friend. . . . You condemned Wycliffe and Huss, not because they shook the faith, but because they branded with reprobation the scandals of the clergy—their pomp, their pride, and their luxuriousness.” Ibid

These words signaled another tumult in the assembly. From all sides the cry was raised: “What need is there of further proof? The most obstinate of heretics is before us.”

Jerome was carried back to his cell to await sentencing.

On May 30, 1416, Jerome was brought out to receive his sentence. The townspeople, drawn from their homes by the rumor of what was about to take place, crowded to the cathedral gates to watch.

Leading Jerome From the Church

As Jerome was conducted through the city and out to the place of execution, with a cheerful countenance he began to loudly sing. As they arrived at 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 that was a rude likeness of Huss.

When the executioner, about to kindle the pile, stepped behind him, 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.’ ” Wylie, The History of Protestantism, book 3, chapter 11. In Constance, the most pressing matter was now the selection of a new pope; and on November 14, 1417, the cardinals announced that they had chosen Otho de Colonna. Upon receiving the position, he chose the name of Martin V.

In Bohemia, the deaths of Huss and Jerome sent a thrill of indignation and horror throughout the country. All ranks, from the highest to the lowest, were stirred by what had taken place; and every day the flame of popular indignation burned more fiercely. It was evident that a terrible outburst of pent-up wrath was about to be witnessed.

But deeper feelings were at work among the Bohemian people than those of anger. The faith which had been so notably evident in the lives of the martyrs was contrasted with the faith of those who had so basely murdered them, and the contrast was found to be very unfavorable to the latter. The writings of Wycliffe, which had escaped the flames, were read and compared with such portions of Holy Writ as were accessible to the people, resulting in a wide acceptance of the evangelical doctrines. The new ideas gained ground daily, and the adherents came to be known as Hussites.

The throne of Bohemia was at that time filled by Wenceslaus, who gave loose reins to his low propensities and vices. He cared little whether his subjects remained within the paths of orthodoxy or strayed into heresy. His dislike for the priests led him to turn a deaf ear to their pleadings that he forbid the preaching of the new doctrines, and he secretly rejoiced at the progress of the gospel teaching.

Though the citizens of Bohemia were aflame with indignation, they had no one to organize or lead them. It was at this time that a most remarkable man came to the forefront to organize the nation and lead its armies. John Trocznowski, better known as Ziska, who was chamberlain to Wenceslaus, came to the rescue.

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