As John Huss studied the Bible he saw more clearly every day that "the Church" had departed from truth.
This inspired him to write his treatise De Ecclesia (On the Church), a work stressing that the Church of Christ is truly a unity and Catholic in the right sense. The true one Catholic and Apostolic church is everywhere in communion with its invisible Head, the Lord Jesus Christ and so united. The exterior constitution of the papal hierarchy is erroneous.
The tract Six Errors followed.. The first error was that of the priests who boasted of making the body of Jesus Christ in the mass. The second was opposition to Rome's required confession: "I believe in the Pope and the saints." Men must believe in God only. The third error was the priestly pretension to remit the guilt and punishment of sin. The fourth was the implicit obedience exacted by ecclesiastical superiors to all their commands. The fifth was the making of no distinction between a valid excommunication and one that was not so. The sixth error was simony. This Huss designated a heresy stating that scarcely could a priest be found who was not guilty of it.
This list of errors was displayed upon Bethlehem Chapel door and circulated throughout Bohemia King Ladislaus of neighbouring Hungary was supporting Pope Gregory XII against rival papal claimant John XXIII. Gregory XII excommunicated Ladislaus to the third generation. The offence which had drawn upon Ladislaus this burst of Pontifical wrath was the support he had given to Gregory XII, one of the rivals of John. Gregory XII commanded all emperors, kings, princes, cardinals, and nobles to take up arms against Ladislaus. Bohemia was wrapped in flames and Huss pointed to the gulf between Christ and his pretended vicars saying "If the disciples of Jesus Christ were not allowed to defend Him who is Chief of the Church, against those who wanted to seize on Him, much more will it not be permissible to a bishop to engage in war for a temporal domination and earthly riches" thus condemning the Church's right to both swords.
Huss next attacked indulgences as "an affront to the grace of the Gospel" and stigmatised the Roman Church as foolish and superstitious. He denied the merit of abstinences; he ridiculed the credulity of believing legends, and the grovelling superstition of venerating relics, bowing before images, and worshipping the dead. Following Wicliffe he then published further tracts condemning the abomination of monks and identifying the pope and Roman Court as members of Antichrist.
Divided Bohemia reached extremity. The king and the priesthood were opposed to Ladislaus of Hungary, and consequently supported John XXIII., defending as best they could his indulgences and simonies. On the other hand, many of the magnates of Bohemia, and the great body of the people, sided with Ladislaus and condemned the crusade which the Pope was preaching against him.
The archbishop of Prague expelled Huss. He was never again to preach in Bethlehem Chapel. From Hussinec his home he prophetically declared of Luther and the coming Glorious Reformation, "If the goose" (Huss signifies goose in Bohemian) which is but a timid bird, and cannot fly very high, has been able to burst its bonds, there will come afterwards an eagle, which will soar high into the air and draw to it all the other birds"
A glittering array
In 1413. Sigismund became Holy Roman Emperor. Beholding three profligate rival popes scandalising Christendom he decided upon a Church Council at Constance (now Konstanz) by Lake Constance (now Bodensee). This plan had been tried at Pisa and failed. Nevertheless Sigismund opened negotiations with John XXIII. It was finally reluctantly agreed that a General Council should convene on November 1st, 1414 in Constance, to settle the papal schism and extirpate heresy. All eyes were upon the glittering array of Kings, Princes, Nobles, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops with swarms of priests. John XXIII and the two other Popes were summoned to settle the schism.
In the train of the Council came a vast concourse of pilgrims from all parts of Christendom The inns were full and booths and wooden erections rose outside the walls. Theatrical representations and religious processions proceeded together mixing the religious and the profane. Parties of revellers jostled with cowled monks devoutly telling their beads. (Wylie was no doubt restrained by Victorian mores to add that tempted by such an opportunity a vast horde of whores also arrived). All the highways leading to Constance were crowded with vehicles, conveying thither all kinds of provisions and delicacies with the finest wines of France, the breadstuffs of Lombardy, the honey and butter of Switzerland, the venison of the Alps and the fish of their lakes, the cheese of Holland, and the confections of Paris and London. Finally lowly Huss was also summoned that heresy might be extirpated.
Sigismund professed John XXIII as the valid possessor of the tiara to facilitate the Council, secretly planning to depose all three claimants. John XXIII leaving Bologna with stores of jewels and money to corrupt by presents and dazzle by the splendour of his court and if this failed to dissolve the Council. As he passed through the Tyrol he made a secret treaty with Frederick, Duke of Austria for a stronghold whence he might flee if all failed.
John XXIII entered Constance on horseback, the 28th of October, attended by nine cardinals, several archbishops, bishops, and other prelates, and a numerous retinue of courtiers. He was received at the gates with all possible magnificence. "The body of the clergy," says Lenfant, "went to meet him in solemn procession, bearing the relics of saints. All the orders of the city assembled also to do him honour, and he was conducted to the episcopal palace by an incredible multitude of people. Four of the chief magistrates rode by his side, supporting a canopy of cloth of gold, and the Count Radolph de Montfort and the Count Berthold des Ursins held the bridle of his horse. The Sacrament was carried before him upon a white pad, with a little bell about its neck; after the Sacrament a great yellow and red hat was carried, with an angel of gold at the button of the ribbon. All the cardinals followed in cloaks and red hats.
The city made the presents to the Pope that are usual on these occasions; it gave a silver-gilt cup weighing five marks, four small casks of Italian wine, four great vessels of wine of Alsace, eight great vessels of the country wine, and forty measures of oats, all which presents were given with great ceremony.
Huss given a safe conduct
While the Pope approached Constance on one side, John Huss travelled towards it on the other. He did not conceal from himself the danger he ran in appearing before such a tribunal. What hope could Huss entertain that they would try him dispassionately by the Scriptures to which he had appealed? Where would they be if they allowed such an authority to speak? But he must appear. Sigismund had written to King Wenceslaus to send him thither; and, conscious of his innocence and the justice of his cause, thither he went. Before setting out had obtained a safe conduct from the King and a certificate of his orthodoxy from Nicholas, Bishop of Nazareth, Inquisitor of the Faith in Bohemia. Drawn up by a notary he declared his willingness to have been vindicated of heresy in Prague but this had been refused.. At every stage of his arduous journey he witnessed for the Gospel allowing Wicliffe to be heard again. He explained to eager crowds that he was going to the Council to give an account of his faith, and invited all who had anything to lay to his charge to meet him there. Before setting out from Krakovec castle and the protection of Jindrich Lefl he took farewell of his friends as those he never again should see.
He expected to find more enemies at the Council than Jesus Christ had at Jerusalem; but he was resolved to endure the last degree of punishment rather than betray the Gospel by any cowardice. The presentiments with which he began his journey attended him all the way. He felt it to be a pilgrimage to the stake. At every village and town on his route he was met with fresh tokens of the power that attached to his name, and the interest his cause had awakened. The inhabitants turned out to welcome him. Several of the country cures [priests] were especially friendly; it was their battle which he was fighting as well as his own, and heartily did they wish him success. At Nuremberg, and other towns through which he passed, the magistrates formed a guard of honour, and escorted him through streets thronged with spectators eager to catch a glimpse of the man who had begun a movement which was stirring Christendom. His journey was a triumphal procession in a sort. He was enlisting, at every step, new adherents, and gaining accessions of moral force to his cause. He arrived in Constance on the 3rd of November, and took up his abode at the house of a poor widow, whom he likened to her of Sarepta.
The emperor did not reach Constance until Christmas Eve. John XXIII sang Pontifical mass, the emperor assisting, attired in dalmiatic in his character as deacon, and reading the Gospel: "There came an edict from Caesar Augustus that all the world". Finally John XXIII presented a sword to Sigismund, with an exhortation to the man into whose hand he put it to make vigorous use of it against the enemies of the Church. The Pope, doubtless, had John Huss mainly in his eye. Little did he dream that it was upon himself that its first stroke was destined to descend. And so the drama was ready to unfold.
Taken from Wylie's History of Protestantism, and edited by Dr Clive Gillis