Foxe's Book of Martyrs
Account of the Life, Sufferings, and Martyrdom of Jerome of Prague, Who Was Burnt At Constance, In Germany, For Maintaining the Doctrine of Wickliffe.
This hero in the cause of truth was born at Prague, and educated in its university, where he soon became distinguished for his learning and eloquence. Having completed his studies, he travelled over great part of Europe, and visited many of the seats of learning, particularly the universities of Paris, Heidelburg, Cologne, and Oxford. At the latter he became acquainted with the works of Wickliffe, and being a person of uncommon application, he translated many of them into his own language, having with great pains made himself master of the English. On his return to Prague, he openly professed the doctrines of Wickliffe; and finding that they had made considerable progress in Bohemia, from the industry and zeal of Huss, he became his assistant in the great work.
On the 4th of April, A.D. 1415, Jerome went to constance. This was about three months before the death of Huss. He entered the town privately, and consulting with some of the leaders of his party, was easily convinced that he could render his friend no service. Finding that his arrival at Constance was publicly known, and that the council intended to seize him, he prudently retired, and went to Iberling, an imperial town at a short distance. While here he wrote to the emperor, and avowed his readiness to appear before the council, if he would give a safe-conduct; this, however, was refused. He then applied to the council, but met with an answer equally unfavourable. After this, he caused papers to be put up in all the public places of Constance, particularly on the door of the cardinal's house. In these he professed his willingness to appear at Constance in the defence of his character and doctrine, both which he said had been greatly falsified. He farther declared, that if any error should be proved against him he would retract it; desiring only that the faith of the council might be given for his security.
Receiving no answer to these papers, he set out on his return to Bohemia, previously adopting the precaution to take with him a certificate signed by several of the Bohemian nobility then at Constance, testifying that he had used every prudent means in his power to procure an audience. Notwithstanding this he was seized on his way, without any authority, by an officer belonging to the duke of Sultzbach, who hoped thereby to receive commendations from the council for so acceptable a service. The duke of Sultzbach immediately wrote to the council, informing them what he had done, and asking directions how to proceed with Jerome. The council, after expressing their obligations to the duke, desired him to send the prisoner immediately to Constance. He was accordingly conveyed in irons, and, on his way, was met by the elector palatine, who caused a long chain to be fastened to Jerome, by which he was dragged like a wild beast to the cloister, whence, after some insults and examinations, he was conveyed to a tower, and fastened to a block with his legs in the stocks. In this manner he remained eleven days and nights, till becoming dangerously ill, they, in order to satiate their malice still farther, relieved him from that painful state. He remained confined till the martyrdom of his friend Huss; after which he was brought forth and threatened with immediate torments and death if he remained obstinate. Terrified at the preparations of pain, in a moment of weakness he forgot his manliness and resolution, abjured his doctrines, and confessed that Huss merited his fate, and that both he and Wickliffe were heretics. In consequence of this his chains were taken off, and his harsh treatment done away. He was, however, still confined, with daily hopes of liberation. But his enemies suspecting his sincerity, another form of recantation was drawn up and proposed to him. He, however, refused to answer this, except in public, and was accordingly brought before the council, when, to the astonishment of his auditors, and to the glory of truth, he renounced his recantation, and requested permission to plead his own cause, which being refused, he thus vented his indignation:
"What barbarity is this? For thee hundred and forty days have I been confined in a variety of prisons. There is not a misery, there is not a want, which I have not experienced. To my enemies you have allowed the fullest scope of accusation: to me, you deny the least opportunity of defence. Not an hour will you now indulge me in preparing for my trial. You have swallowed the blackest calumnies against me. You have represented me as a heretic, without knowing my doctrine; as an enemy to the faith, before you knew what faith I professed. You are a general council: in you centre all which this world can communicate of gravity, wisdom, and sanctity: but still you are men, and men are seducible by appearances. The higher your character is for wisdom, the greater ought your care to be not to deviate into folly. The cause I now plead is not my own, it is the cause of men: it is the cause of Christians: it is a cause which is to affect the rights of posterity, however the experiment is to be made in my person."
This speech, the eloquence and force of which are worthy of the best ages, produced no effect on the obdurate foes of Jerome. They proceeded with his charge, which was reduced to five articles--That he was a derider of the papal dignity--an opposer of the pope himself--an enemy to the cardinals--a persecutor of the bishops--and a despiser of Christianity! To these charges Jerome answered with an amazing force of eloquence and strength of argument. "Now, whither shall I turn me? To my accusers? My accusers are as deaf as adders. To you, my judges? You are all prepossessed by the arts of my accusers." After this speech he was immediately remanded to his prison. The third day from this his trial was brought on, and witnesses were examined in support of the charge. The prisoner was prepared for his defence, which appears almost incredible, when we consider he had been nearly a year shut up in loathsome dungeons, deprived of day-light, and almost starved for want of common necessaries. But his spirit soared above these disadvantages.
The most bigoted of the assembly were unwilling he should be heard, dreading the effects of eloquence in the cause of truth, on the minds of the most prejudiced. This was such as to excite the envy of the greatest persons of his time. "Jerome," said Gerson, the chancellor of Paris, at his accusation, "when thou wast in Paris, thou wast thyself, by means of thine eloquence an angel; and dist trouble the whole university." At length it was carried by the majority, that he should have liberty to proceed in his defence; which he began in such an exalted strain, and continued with such a torrent of elocution, that the obdurate heart was seen to melt, and the mind of superstition seemed to admit a ray of conviction. He began to deduce from history the number of great and virtuous men who had, in their time, been condemned and punished as evil persons, but whom after generations had proved to have deserved honour and reward. He laid before the assembly the whole tenor of his life and conduct. He observed that the greatest and most holy men had been known to differ in points of speculation, with a view to distinguish truth, not to keep it concealed. He expressed a noble contempt of all his enemies, who would have induced him to retract the cause of virtue and truth, and upbraided his late and momentary weakness, which led him to deny himself and forget his glory. He entered on a high encomium on Huss; and declared he was ready to follow him to martyrdom. He then proceeded to defend the doctrines of the English luminary Wickliffe; and concluded with observing, that it was far from his intention to advance any thing against the state of the church of God; that it was only against the abuses of the clergy he complained; and that it was certainly impious that the patrimony of the church, which was originally intended for the purpose of charity and universal benevolence, should be prostituted to sensual and sordid gratification to "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life," which the apostle expressly declares "are not of the Father, but of the world."
The trial being ended, Jerome received the same sentence as had been passed on his martyred countryman, and was, in the usual style of popish duplicity, delivered over to the civil power; but being a layman he had not to undergo the ceremony of degradation. His persecutors, however, prepared for him a cap of paper, painted with red devils, which being put upon his head, he said, "Our Lord Jesus Christ, when he suffered death for me a most miserable sinner, did wear a crown of thorns upon his head; and I, for his sake, will wear this adorning of derision and blasphemy." Two days they delayed the execution in hopes that he would recant; meanwhile the cardinal of Florence used his utmost endeavours to bring him over: but they all proved ineffectual: Jerome was resolved to seal his doctrine with his blood.
On his way to the place of execution he sung several hymns; and on arriving at the spot, the same where Huss had suffered, he kneeled down and prayed fervently. He embraced the stake with great cheerfulness and resolution; and when the executioner went behind him to set fire to the fagots, he said, "Come here, and kindle it before my eyes; for had I been afraid of it, I had not come here, having had so many opportunities to escape." When the flames began to envelope him, he sung another hymn; and the last words he was heard to say were,
"This soul in flames I offer, Christ, to thee!"
He was of a fine and manly form, and possessed a strong and healthy constitution, which served to render his death extremely painful, for he was observed to live an unusual time in the midst of the flames. He, however, sung till his aspiring soul took its flight from its mortal habitation, as in a fiery chariot, which seemed rather sent by God than prepared by man, to convey his blessed spirit from earth to heaven in the sight of a thousand witnesses.