| Saints and Heroes to the End of the Middle Ages|
|by George Hodges|
| An excellent introduction to the history of the church through portraits of twenty of the most important saints and heroes of the faith from the third century A.D. to the time of the Reformation. Includes Cyprian, Athanasius, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Benedict, Greg-ory the Great, Columba, Charlemagne, Hildebrand, Anselm, Bernard, Becket, Langton, Dominic, Francis, Wycliffe, Hus, and Savonarola. Ages 11-14 |
 THE splendid hope of Hildebrand and Innocent that the
bishop of Rome would make the bad world good, had come
to naught. They had dreamed of a great pope
ministering to the nations as a pastor ministers to his
people, correcting the wrong and commending the right,
having moral authority over kings, and making peace in
the place of war. They felt that what Europe needed
was the control of a strong, wise, and good man.
Unhappily, for three hundred years, from the beginning
of the thirteenth century to the beginning of the
sixteenth, hardly a pope was either strong, or wise, or
good. Some were politicians, who made bargains for
money and power with kings. Some were well-meaning but
weak men. Some were persons whose wicked
lives were a scandal to religion; thieves,
adulterers, and murderers.
At the beginning of the fourteenth century,
the pope moved from Italy to
France, from Rome to Avignon. There
he lived under the control of the French
king. At the end of that century, on the
occasion of a papal election, the cardinals
chose an Italian, who took up his residence
in Rome. He proved, however, to
be so bad a pope that they immediately
chose another, who took up his residence
in Avignon. So there were two popes.
A part of the Church held with the one,
another part with the other. The two
fought with curses, exchanging excommunications.
Wycliffe compared them to
two dogs snarling and growling over a
bone. This state of things continued for
nearly forty years.
At last a council was held which declared
that a general conference of
Chris-  tian men representing the Church is superior to all
popes. An attempt was made to get both popes to resign
for the good of the Church. When they refused, the
council put them both out, and chose another, Alexander
V. He died after a short time, and John XXIII., who is
thought to have poisoned him, became pope in his place.
Thus, although two scandals were amended,—the
scandal of the papal court at Avignon, and the scandal
of the papal schism,—the worst of the scandals
remained: the pope was still a man of wicked life.
John XXIII. is said to have begun his career as a
pirate. The record of his misdeeds was such that
before it was read to the Council which finally deposed
him, all outsiders were put out and the doors were
locked. It was John who began that public and shameless
sale of indulgences which hastened the Reformation. He
conceived the ingenious idea of making
 money by sending agents all over Europe who promised to
release sinners from the punishment due to their sins
on the payment of certain specified prices. Of course,
there were still good Christians. There were faithful
ministers who lived devout lives, and tried to help
their people to do right. But the great Church, as
represented by the pope at the head, and by the
bishops, the monks, and the friars, was teaching men,
by constant example, to break the Ten Commandments.
It was against this dreadful situation that Wycliffe
had protested, but the remedies which he had proposed
seemed as bad as the disease. When he said that the
trouble with the Church was wealth and power, many
agreed; but when he proposed to take away the wealth by
giving up the property of the Church, and to take away
the power by giving up the doctrine of the miracle of
the Body and Blood, they would not follow him.
 Neither would they follow Hus.
John Hus was a professor in the University of Prague,
and the greatest preacher in that part of the country.
Born on a farm, and getting his education in spire of
such poverty that he begged in the street, Hus had made
himself a scholar and a leader. He was a man of simple
mind, and righteous life and plain speech. He saw the
evils in the Church about him, and made it the business
of his life to put an end to them. The books of
Wycliffe came to his knowledge and he liked them
Now, there are two ways in which to deal with evil.
One way is to attack in general, without making mention
of any names. The other way is to attack it in
particular, singling out certain offenders and
denouncing them. The first way is easy and safe; the
second is full of danger. Hus took the second way.
For example, at the town of Wilsnack,
 the priests of one of the churches had announced a
miracle. They said that it was now proved that the
bread in the Lord's Supper is indeed the Body of Christ
because pieces of it on their altar had shed blood.
And the Holy Blood of Wilsnack began to work miracles.
Pilgrims came from all directions, bringing their sick,
to the great advantage of the Wilsnack church. Hus was
sent to look into the matter, and he found that it was
all a fraud. The result was that the pilgrimages to
Wilsnack stopped. But the Wilsnack clergy hated Hus.
And other clergy, for like reasons, hated him. The man
was absolutely outspoken. He had no "tact," as we say.
He never considered whether his words would have a
pleasant sound or not. He paid no heed to his own
interest. Every day, he made enemies. At that time
the most unpopular name in Europe was that of Wycliffe.
He was much more disliked by many
 people than the scandalous popes who were busy breaking
the commandments. Hus approved of him. He did not go
with all the attacks which Wycliffe made on church
doctrine, but he liked every word which Wycliffe said
about the wicked lives of churchmen. And he said so
openly. At a time when bishops were burning Wycliffe's
books, Hus was reading them and praising them. He was
saying in Prague what Wycliffe had said at Oxford.
Hus was therefore summoned by his enemies to defend
himself before the council which was called to meet at
Constance. Over this council the Emperor Sigismund was
to preside. Hus in his simplicity and innocence,
knowing himself to be opposed to nothing in the Church
except its sins, agreed to appear before the council,
and the emperor gave him a safe-conduct. This was a
paper signed by the emperor himself promising that Hus
should be safe from violence and
 should be brought back from the council to his home by
the emperor's own guard, if necessary. Thus he went.
The council immediately arrested Hus, and put him in
prison. They paid no heed to the safe-conduct of the
emperor, and the emperor, on his side, made no serious
protest. The theory was that any man accused of heresy
was to be accounted a heretic until he had proved
himself innocent, and that no faith was to be kept with
heretics. No matter what promises had been made, what
safe-conducts given, what oaths solemnly sworn, all
went for nothing in the case of a heretic.
So Hus was put in prison before his trial had begun,
and then was moved to another prison where he was
chained by the arms in the daytime and by the arms and
legs at night. These were some of the more gentle
measures of the Inquisition.
When he was brought at last before the council, he was
hooted down whenever
 he began to speak. Charges were read against him;
passages were taken from his books and from the books
of Wycliffe, which were held to be against the faith
and order of the Church. Some of these he denied as
not expressing his beliefs; some he said he would
gladly change if anybody could show him that they were
not true. He refused to change any opinion by reason
of compulsion. He declared the independence of man's
conscience, and held that belief is a matter of
persuasion and conviction, not of authority.
This was his chief fault. He had won the hatred of the
Church by his free speech concerning the sins of
churchmen; he was condemned and sentenced because he
maintained the right of a man who is in error to be
shown his error. His only error was that of insisting
that a Christian minister, even a pope, ought to be a
good man. That that was an error, nobody
 could convince him. As for heresy, he had none of it.
Nevertheless, they condemned him to be burned. That
was the answer of the council to the man who tried to
bring back into the Church the plain righteousness of
true religion. They agreed that the Church needed to
be reformed, and had assembled for the purpose of
reforming it. But they did not like John Hus's way.
They degraded him from the ministry, dressing him in
the garments of a priest, and putting a chalice and
paten in his hand, and then taking them away with
curses. "We commit thy soul," they said, "to the
devil." "And I commit it," he answered, "to the most
sacred Lord Jesus Christ."
Then they put a paper cap upon his head, with a writing
on it saying that he died for heresy. He was taken out
and tied to a stake, with a chain about his neck.
Fagots were heaped about him, and he was burned to
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