Jerome of Prague
Jerome was born in Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic) in 1379 and graduated from the University of Prague in 1398. He later studied at Oxford University where he first became familiar with the reformist teachings of John Wyclif. He was a philosopher, theologian, university professor, and church reformer who dedicated his life to eradicate those church doctrines and dogmas he found to be corrupt. He was constantly in and out of jail. His radical ideas eventually brought about his death by execution as a heretic to the church, but made him a martyr for the Protestant Reformation and followers of Jan Hus (known as Hussites). He was well-educated and spent most of his life traveling, trying to incite religious reform in various cities. It was for his criticisms rather than heresy that he was martyred.
Early Life and Education
Jerome spent time teaching at the universities of Paris, Cologne, and Heidelberg, but was accused of heresy at all these universities and forced to return to Bohemia. He spent much of his life traveling about various universities, but frequently returned to Bohemia where he was virtually safe from any prosecution. He earned popular renown, as his rhetoric and oratory skills were acclaimed and often roused the public into demonstrations against the church, although they sometimes ended badly. He secured, in 1399, permission to travel. In 1401 he returned to Prague, but in 1402 visited England, where, at Oxford University, he copied out the Dialogus and Trialogus of John Wyclif, and thus evinced his interest in Lollardry. He became an ardent and outspoken advocate of realism and, thereafter, of Wyclifism; charges of which were constantly getting him into trouble. In 1403 he went to Jerusalem, in 1405 to Paris. There he took his Master's degree, but Jean Gerson drove him out. In 1406 he took the same degree at the University of Cologne, and a little later at the University of Heidelberg.
He was no safer in Prague, where he returned, and where, in 1407, he took the same degree. In that year he returned to Oxford, but was again compelled to flee. During 1408 and 1409 he was in Prague, and there his pronounced Czech preferences aroused opposition to him in some quarters. Early in January 1410, he made a cautious speech in favour of Wyclif's philosophical views, and this was cited against him at the Council of Constance four years later. In March 1410, a Papal Bull against Wyclif's writings was issued, and on the charge of favouring them, Jerome was imprisoned in Vienna, but managed to escape to Moravia. For this he was excommunicated by the bishop of Kraków. Returned to Prague, he appeared publicly as the advocate of Hus. Popular legend attributes to Jerome leadership of a protest in which papal bulls were first strung around the neck of a prostitute in a cart and then carried to the pillory in Prague to be publicly burned, but the leader was actually Wok of Waldstein.
Middle Life and Teachings
Jerome tended to teach radical ideas pertaining to Roman Catholic doctrine, namely that God’s teachings were directly accessible to a Christian without need for the church or church officials. He taught that one should obey the direct teachings of Jesus, even when they conflicted with those of the Catholic Church. He was largely a follower of the ideologies of both church reformers John Wyclif and Jan Hus. As his teachings were contrary to those of the Roman Catholic Church, he was constantly on the run from authorities. Hus, although much less disruptive in his approach, was a mentor for Jerome.
Jerome incited public demonstrations in Paris, Vienna, Prague, and everywhere in between; most of these demonstrations took place in cities with universities where Jerome taught. Teaching at universities allowed Jerome to reach a broad audience. In Kraków, he was publicly examined as to his acceptance of the forty-five articles which the enemies of Wyclif had made up from Wyclif's writings and which they asserted represented Wyclif's heretical teachings. Jerome declared that he rejected them in their general tenor.
Trial and Death
When, on 11 October 1414, Hus left for the Council of Constance, Jerome assured him that if needed, he would come to his assistance, contrary to the wishes of Hus. Hus was tricked into attending the Council of Constance by means of a letter promising immunity, and upon his arrival in the city he was arrested and imprisoned. Jerome kept his promise, even though Hus and other friends of Jerome warned him not to come. On 4 April 1415, he arrived at Constance. Predictably, he created a stir in the town.
As he had, unlike Hus, come without a safe-conduct, Jerome's friends persuaded him to return to Bohemia. But on his way back he was arrested in Hirschau on 20 April and taken to Sulzbach[disambiguation needed], where he was imprisoned, and was returned to Constance on 23 May. He was immediately arraigned before the council on the charge of fleeing a citation.
His condemnation was predetermined in consequence of his general acceptance of the views of Wyclif and his open admiration for Hus. Consequently he did not have a fair hearing. The conditions of his imprisonment were so horrid that he fell seriously ill and so was induced to recant at public sessions of the council held on 11 and 23 September 1415. The words put into his mouth on these occasions made him renounce both Wyclif and Hus. The same physical weakness made him write in Bohemian letters to the king of Bohemia and to the University of Prague, which were declared to be entirely voluntary and to state his own opinions, in which he announced that he had become convinced that Hus had been rightfully burned for heresy. (Hus had been burned at the stake while Jerome was imprisoned.) However, the Council of Constance kept him imprisoned as they doubted his sincerity and wanted a more incriminating confession. On 23 May 1416, and on 26 May, he was put on trial by the Council. On the second day he withdrew his recantation, and on 30 May he was condemned and burned. In this way, Jerome became the first official martyr for the Hussite reform cause.
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