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This speech had not the least effect; Jerome was obliged to hear the charge read, which was reduced under the following heads: 1. That he was a derider of the papal dignity. 2. An opposer of the pope. 3. An enemy to the cardinals. 4. A persecutor of the prelates. 5. A hater of the Christian religion.
The trial of Jerome was brought on the third day after his accusation 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 three hundred and forty days shut up in loathsome prisons, deprived of daylight, and almost starved for want of common necessaries. But his spirit soared above these disadvantages, under which a man less animated would have sunk; nor was he more at a loss of quotations from the fathers and ancient authors than if he had been furnished with the finest library.
The most bigoted of the assembly were unwilling he should be heard, knowing what effect eloquence is apt to have on the minds of the most prejudiced. At length, however, it was carried by the majority that he should have liberty to proceed in his defence, which he began in such an exalted strain of moving elocution that the heart of obdurate zeal was seen to melt, and the mind of superstition seemed to admit a ray of conviction. He made an admirable distinction between evidence as resting upon facts, and as supported by malice and calumny. 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. He entered upon a high encomium of Huss; and declared he was ready to follow him in the glorious task of martyrdom. He then touched upon the most defensible doctrines of Wickliffe; and concluded with observing that it was far from his intention to advance anything against the state of the Church of God; that it was only against the abuse of the clergy he complained; and that he could not help saying, 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 the pride of the eye, in feasts, foppish vestments, and other reproaches to the name and profession of Christianity.
The trial being over, Jerome received the same sentence that had been passed upon his martyred countryman. In consequence of this, he was, in the usual style of popish affectation, delivered over to the civil power: but as he was a layman, he had not to undergo the ceremony of degradation. They had prepared 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 for His sake will I wear this cap."
Two days were allowed him in hopes that he would recant; in which time the cardinal of Florence used his utmost endeavors to bring him over. But they all proved ineffectual. Jerome was resolved to seal the doctrine with his blood; and he suffered death with the most distinguished magnanimity.
In going to the place of execution he sang several hymns, and when he came to the spot, which was the same where Huss had been burnt, he knelt down, and prayed fervently. He embraced the stake with great cheerfulness, and when they went behind him to set fire to the fagots, he said, "Come here, and kindle it before my eyes; for if I had been afraid of it, I had not come to this place." The fire being kindled, he sang a hymn, but was soon interrupted by the flames; and the last words he was heard to say these, "This soul in flames I offer Christ, to Thee."
The elegant Pogge, a learned gentleman of Florence, secretary to two popes, and a zealous but liberal Catholic, in a letter to Leonard Arotin, bore ample testimony of the extraordinary powers and virtues of Jerome whom he emphatically styles, A prodigious man!
Persecution of Zisca
The real name of this zealous servant of Christ was John de Trocznow, that of Zisca is a Bohemian word, signifying one-eyed, as he had lost an eye. He was a native of Bohemia, of a good family and left the court of Winceslaus, to enter into the service of the king of Poland against the Teutonic knights. Having obtained a badge of honor and a purse of ducats for his gallantry, at the close of the war, he returned to the court of Winceslaus, to whom he boldly avowed the deep interest he took in the bloody affront offered to his majesty's subjects at Constance in the affair of Huss. Winceslaus mourned it was not in his power to revenge it; and from this moment Zisca is said to have formed the idea of asserting the religious liberties of his country. In the year 1418, the Council was dissolved, having done more mischief than good, and in the summer of that year a general meeting was held of the friends of religious reformation, at the castle of Wisgrade, who, conducted by Zisca, repaired to the emperor with arms in their hands, and offered to defend him against his enemies. The king bid them use their arms properly, and this stroke of policy first insured to Zisca the confidence of his party.
Winceslaus was succeeded by Sigismond, his brother, who rendered himself odious to the reformers; and removed all such as were obnoxious to his government. Zisca and his friends, upon this, immediately flew to arms, declared war against the emperor and the pope, and laid siege to Pilsen with 40,000 men. They soon became masters of the fortress, and in a short time all the southwest part of Bohemia submitted, which greatly increased the army of the reformers. The latter having taken the pass of Muldaw, after a severe conflict of five days and nights, the emperor became alarmed, and withdrew his troops from the confines of Turkey, to march them into Bohemia. At Berne in Moravia, he halted, and sent despatches to treat of peace, as a preliminary to which Zisca gave up Pilsen and all the fortresses he had taken. Sigismond proceeding in a manner that clearly manifested he acted on the Roman doctrine, that no faith was to be kept with heretics, and treating some of the authors of the late disturbances with severity, the alarm-bell of revolt was sounded from one end of Bohemia to the other. Zisca took the castle of Prague by the power of money, and on August 19, 1420, defeated the small army the emperor had hastily got together to oppose him. He next took Ausea by assault, and destroyed the town with a barbarity that disgraced the cause in which he fought.
Winter approaching, Zisca fortified his camp on a strong hill about forty miles from Prague, which he called Mount Tabor, whence he surprised a body of horse at midnight, and made a thousand men prisoners. Shortly after, the emperor obtained possession of the strong fortress of Prague, by the same means Zisca had before done: it was blockaded by the latter, and want began to threaten the emperor, who saw the necessity of a retreat.
Determined to make a desperate effort, Sigismond attacked the fortified camp of Zisca on Mount Tabor, and carried it with great slaughter. Many other fortresses also fell, and Zisca withdrew to a craggy hill, which he strongly fortified, and whence he so annoyed the emperor in his approaches against the town of Prague, that he found he must either abandon the siege or defeat his enemy. The marquis of Misnia was deputed to effect this with a large body of troops, but the event was fatal to the imperialists; they were defeated, and the emperor having lost nearly one third of his army, retreated from the siege of Prague, harassed in his rear by the enemy.
In the spring of 1421, Zisca commenced the campaign, as before, by destroying all the monasteries in his way. He laid siege to the castle of Wisgrade, and the emperor coming to relieve it, fell into a snare, was defeated with dreadful slaughter, and this important fortress was taken. Our general had now leisure to attend to the work of reformation, but he was much disgusted with the gross ignorance and superstition of the Bohemian clergy, who rendered themselves contemptible in the eyes of the whole army. When he saw any symptoms of uneasiness in the camp, he would spread alarm in order to divert them, and draw his men into action. In one of these expeditions, he encamped before the town of Rubi, and while pointing out the place for an assault, an arrow shot from the wall struck him in the eye. At Prague it was extracted, but, being barbed, it tore the eye out with it. A fever succeeded, and his life was with difficulty preserved. He was now totally blind, but still desirous of attending the army. The emperor, having summoned the states of the empire to assist him, resolved, with their assistance, to attack Zisca in the winter, when many of his troops departed until the return of spring.
The confederate princes undertook the siege of Soisin, but at the approach merely of the Bohemian general, they retreated. Sigismond nevertheless advanced with his formidable army, consisting of 15,000 Hungarian horse and 25,000 infantry, well equipped for a winter campaign. This army spread terror through all the east of Bohemia. Wherever Sigismond marched, the civil officers laid their keys at his feet, and were treated with severity or favor, according to their merits in his cause. Zisca, however, with speedy marches, approached, and the emperor resolved to try his fortune once more with that invincible chief. On the thirteenth of January, 1422, the two armies met on a spacious plain near Kremnitz. Zisca appeared in the center of his front line, guarded, or rather conducted, by a horseman on each side, armed with a pole-axe. His troops having sung a hymn, with a determined coolness drew their swords, and waited for a signal. When his officers had informed him that the ranks were all well closed, he waved his sabre round his head, which was the sign of battle.
This battle is described as a most awful sight. The extent of the plain was one continued scene of disorder. The imperial army fled towards the confines of Moravia, the Taborites, without intermission, galling their rear. The river Igla, then frozen opposed their flight. The enemy pressing furiously, many of the infantry and in a manner the whole body of the cavalry, attempted the river. The ice gave way, and not fewer than two thousand were swallowed up in the water. Zisca now returned to Tabor, laden with all the spoils and trophies which the most complete victory could give.
Zisca now began again to pay attention to the Reformation; he forbid all the prayers for the dead, images, sacerdotal vestments, fasts, and festivals. Priests were to be preferred according to their merits, and no one to be persecuted for religious opinions. In everything Zisca consulted the liberal minded, and did nothing without general concurrence. An alarming disagreement now arose at Prague between the civil officers who were Calixtans, or receivers of the Sacraments in both kinds, and the Taborites, nine of the chiefs of whom were privately arraigned, and put to death. The populace, enraged, sacrificed the civil officers, and the affair terminated without any particular consequence. The Calixtans having sunk into contempt, Zisca was solicited to assume the crown of Bohemia; but this he nobly refused, and prepared for the next campaign, in which Sigismond resolved to make his last effort. While the marquis of Misnia penetrated into Upper Saxony, the emperor proposed to enter Moravia, on the side of Hungary. Before the marquis had taken the field, Zisca sat down before the strong town of Aussig, situated on the Elbe. The marquis flew to its relief with a superior army, and, after an obstinate engagement, was totally defeated and Aussig capitulated. Zisca then went to the assistance of Procop, a young general whom he had appointed to keep Sigismond in check, and whom he compelled to abandon the siege of Pernitz, after laying eight weeks before it.
Zisca, willing to give his troops some respite from fatigue, now entered Prague, hoping his presence would quell any uneasiness that might remain after the late disturbance: but he was suddenly attacked by the people; and he and his troop having beaten off the citizens, effected a retreat to his army, whom he acquainted with the treacherous conduct of the Calixtans. Every effort of address was necessary to appease their vengeful animosity, and at night, in a private interview between Roquesan, an ecclesiastic of great eminence in Prague, and Zisca, the latter became reconciled, and the intended hostilities were done away.
Mutually tired of the war, Sigismond sent to Zisca, requesting him to sheath his sword, and name his conditions. A place of congress being appointed, Zisca, with his chief officers, set out to meet the emperor. Compelled to pass through a part of the country where the plague raged, he was seized with it at the castle of Briscaw, and departed this life, October 6, 1424. Like Moses, he died in view of the completion of his labors, and was buried in the great Church of Czaslow, in Bohemia, where a monument is erected to his memory, with this inscription on it-"Here lies John Zisca, who, having defended his country against the encroachments of papal tyranny, rests in this hallowed place, in despite of the pope."
After the death of Huss and Jerome, the pope, in conjunction with the Council of Constance, ordered the Roman clergy everywhere to excommunicate such as adopted their opinions, or commiserated their fate.
These orders occasioned great contentions between the papists and reformed Bohemians, which was the cause of a violent persecution against the latter. At Prague, the persecution was extremely severe, until, at length, the reformed being driven to desperation, armed themselves, attacked the senate-house, and threw twelve senators, with the speaker, out of the senate-house windows, whose bodies fell upon spears, which were held up by others of the reformed in the street, to receive them.
Being informed of these proceedings, the pope came to Florence, and publicly excommunicated the reformed Bohemians, exciting the emperor of Germany, and all kings, princes, dukes, etc., to take up arms, in order to extirpate the whole race; and promising, by way of encouragement, full remission of all sins whatever, to the most wicked person, if he did but kill one Bohemian Protestant.
This occasioned a bloody war; for several popish princes undertook the extirpation, or at least expulsion, of the proscribed people; and the Bohemians, arming themselves, prepared to repel force by force, in the most vigorous and effectual manner. The popish army prevailing against the Protestant forces at the battle of Cuttenburgh, the prisoners of the reformed were taken to three deep mines near that town, and several hundreds were cruelly thrown into each, where they miserably perished.
A merchant of Prague, going to Breslau, in Silesia, happened to lodge in the same inn with several priests. Entering into conversation upon the subject of religious controversy, he passed many encomiums upon the martyred John Huss, and his doctrines. The priests taking umbrage at this, laid an information against him the next morning, and he was committed to prison as a heretic. Many endeavors were used to persuade him to embrace the Roman Catholic faith, but he remained steadfast to the pure doctrines of the reformed Church. Soon after his imprisonment, a student of the university was committed to the same jail; when, being permitted to converse with the merchant, they mutually comforted each other. On the day appointed for execution, when the jailer began to fasten ropes to their feet, by which they were to be dragged through the streets, the student appeared quite terrified, and offered to abjure his faith, and turn Roman Catholic if he might be saved. The offer was accepted, his abjuration was taken by a priest, and he was set at liberty. A priest applying to the merchant to follow the example of the student, he nobly said, "Lose no time in hopes of my recantation, your expectations will be vain; I sincerely pity that poor wretch, who has miserably sacrificed his soul for a few more uncertain years of a troublesome life; and, so far from having the least idea of following his example, I glory in the very thoughts of dying for the sake of Christ." On hearing these words, the priest ordered the executioner to proceed, and the merchant being drawn through the city was brought to the place of execution, and there burnt.
Pichel, a bigoted popish civil officer, apprehended twenty-four Protestants, among whom was his daughter's husband. As they all owned they were of the reformed religion, he indiscriminately condemned them to be drowned in the river Abbis. On the day appointed for the execution, a great concourse of people attended, among whom was Pichel's daughter. This worthy wife threw herself at her father's feet, bedewed them with tears, and in the most pathetic manner, implored him to commisserate her sorrow, and pardon her husband. The obdurate civil officer sternly replied, "Intercede not for him, child, he is a heretic, a vile heretic." To which she nobly answered, "Whatever his faults may be, or however his opinions may differ from yours, he is still my husband, a name which, at a time like this, should alone employ my whole consideration." Pichel flew into a violent passion and said, "You are mad! cannot you, after the death of this, have a much worthier husband?"No, sir, (replied she) my affections are fixed upon this, and death itself shall not dissolve my marriage vow." Pichel, however, continued inflexible, and ordered the prisoners to be tied with their hands and feet behind them, and in that manner be thrown into the river. As soon as this was put into execution, the young lady watched her opportunity, leaped into the waves, and embracing the body of her husband, both sank together into one watery grave. An uncommon instance of conjugal love in a wife, and of an inviolable attachment to, and personal affection for, her husband.