1902 Encyclopedia > Jerome of Prague

Jerome of Prague
Early Bohemian church reformer and friend of John Hus
(c. 1365 -1416)

JEROME OF PRAGUE (c. 1365-1416), the friend and disciple of John Huss, derives the surname by which he is best known from his native town, where he was born somewhere between 1360 and 1370. His family name is sometimes, but erroneously, said to have been Faullisch. After completing his studies in the university of Prague, he proceeded (about 1396) to Oxford, where in course of a residence of some duration he became acquainted with the teaching and writings of Wycliffe, of which he became a zealous disseminator on his return to his native land. In 1398 he took his bachelor's degree at Prague, and then visited Paris, Heidelberg, and Cologne ; at the first-mentioned university he seems to have graduated as master of arts. Returning about 1407 to Prague, he took a prominent part with Huss in the university disputes which led to the withdrawal of the German " nation." So great did his reputation for learning, energy, and sagacity become that he was employed by Ladislaus II., king of Poland, in 1410 to assist in placing the university of Cracow upon a proper footing, while by Sigismund, king of Hungary, he was, although not in orders, invited to preach before him at Ofen. His public discourses in Hungary, however, soon brought him under suspicion of Wycliffite heresy, and he found it necessary to fly the country; taking refuge in Vienna, he was there arrested and thrown into prison, but on the intervention of his friends in Prague obtained his release. He now again became closely associated with Huss in his native city, to which lie had once more returned, and where he remained after the expulsion of his friend. In 1415 he went spontaneously to Con-stance, determined to do what he could for Huss, who had meanwhile been imprisoned there ; the news he received on his arrival were so discouraging, however, that, panic-stricken, he immediately again withdrew. Though without a safe conduct he would no doubt have reached Prague in safety had he only been able to hold his peace; but while resting at Hirschau he allowed his feelings to gain the mastery of him, and, in the presence of many clergy, broke out in vehement denunciation of the injustice of the council ; the consequence was that he was forthwith arrested by order of the duke of Bavaria and sent back a prisoner to Constance (May 1415). There, after enduring the most rigorous confinement for some months, he was brought before a public session of the council on Septem-ber 23, 1415, when he made a full retractation of all errors against the Catholic faith, especially those of Wyc-liffe and Huss. His enemies, however, were determined that not even thus should he escape their hands; by Michael de Causis and Stephen Palecz (who also had made themselves conspicuous in the persecution of Huss) it was declared that the recantation was ambiguous, and new articles were exhibited against their victim. Thrice again he was brought before a general congregation of the council. On the last of these occasions (May 26, 1416) all his timidity seems to have finally left him. In a bold and vigorous declamation he solemnly retracted the retractation which had been wrung from him eight months before ; " of all the sins that I have committed since my youth, none weigh so heavily on my mind and cause me such keen remorse'as that which I committed in this evil place when I approved of the iniquitous sentence given against Wycliffe aud against the holy martyr John Huss, my master and friend." Four days afterwards he was con-demned as a relapsed heretic ; his reply was an appeal to the supreme Judge before whom he and his accusers alike were destined to stand. Two days later he marched with a cheerful countenance to the stake, bidding the execu-tioner light the fire before his face ; " had I the least fear, I should not be standing in this place." His ashes, like those of Huss, were gathered and thrown into the Rhine. Jerome owes his fame to his association with Huss, and par-ticularly to the splendid heroism with which in his death he atoned for one moment of faltering in his loyalty to the doctrines to which he had faithfully devoted his life. No literary remains survive by which we might estimate with precision how far the claims to learning and superiority of intellect often made for him can be justified. Of absolute originality he obviously had none. The truth seems to be that, with considerable advantages of birth and early train-ing, and with a mind more variously accomplished than that of Huss, he nevertheless wanted the moral weight which gave his master so great an ascendency over the minds and hearts of men. Bold even to rashness, his courage was shown rather in bursts of furious vehemence than in the equable tenor of his life, and more than once failed him in critical moments. In this weakness he only reflected the turbulent and unruly spirit of the age he lived in; but it is also a weakness that sufficiently justifies history in assigning to him a comparatively subordinate though still highly honourable place among the pioneers of the Reformation.

See Heller, Hieronymus von Prag, 1835 ; Neander, Church His-tory ; and Lechler, Johann von Wiclif u. die Vorgeschichte der Reformation, 1873.

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