Monday, June 16, 2008

Better To Die Well Than Live Badly

In reading through some of Jan (John) Hus's letters I came across an interesting letter to share. It was written while he was in exile and before he was burned at the stake in Constance. Beginning in the first paragraph you get a sense of his commitment to truth, to Christ, and unwillingness to compromise. The following letter is as translated in Herbert Workman and R. Martin Pope's book, The Letters of John Hus, 1904.

XXVII. To THE SAME (To Master Christian of Prachaticz, Rector of the University of Prague)

(Without date: after April 1413)

Greetings from the Lord Jesus Christ! Christ the Lord helping me, I will not accept the judgment of the theological faculty, though I stand before a fire prepared for me. I hope that death will take either me or the two who have deserted the truth, to heaven or to hell, before I agree with their views. For I know that both in previous times loyally confessed the truth according to Christ's gospel; but, stricken with terror, they turned to flattery of the Pope and to lies. Palecz calls us Wyclifists, as if we were straying from the entire faith of Christendom, and Stanislaus calls us infidels, traitors, madmen, and an accursed clergy. But I would pay no heed to this, provided they were not confirming Antichrist in his wickedness. But I hope with God's grace, if needs be, to set myself against them even to the lighting of a fire. And if I cannot deliver the truth in spite of all I do, at least I refuse to be the enemy of the truth and will resist to the death all agreement with falsehood. Let the world run its course, as God permits. It is better to die well than to live badly. We must not sin to avoid the punishment of death. To end in grace the present life is to be banished from misery. He that adds knowledge, adds labour. He that speaks the truth, is smitten on his own head. He that fears death, loses the joys of life. Above all else, truth is conqueror. He conquers, who is slain: for no adversity hurts him if no iniquity hath dominion over him. For the apostle Peter saith: Who is he that can hurt you, if you be zealous of good? Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, saith the Truth. My brethren, count it all joy when you shall fall into divers temptations: blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he hath been proved he shall receive the crown of life. These are my foundations: these the dishes with which my spirit is revived so that I may be courageous against all adversaries of the truth.

As for these doctors whom you mention, they refuse to act against their consciences. You know how Palecz used to talk in the old days at your house. And I know for a fact that Stanislaus held the remanence of the bread and recorded his views in a treatise ; and he asked me before he began this disturbance if I would hold the same view along with him. Subsequently he swore to it and then abjured it; and two years afterwards, when Stiekna came with his treatise, in his terror of the Archbishop and not knowing how to escape, he asserted on oath that he had not finished the treatise. Before he was summoned to the Archbishop's court, he said, "The monk Stiekna must go on his knees before me and beg for his life, because he dared to charge my treatise with being a fresh graft of heresy." How, then, can I believe that they would not be ready to act against their consciences? Is it to save their consciences that they call us infidels, traitors, madmen, wanderers from the entire faith of Christ, and an accursed clergy? Let God be the judge of this.

As to your proposed change of benefice. It seems to me in all conscience you should on no account give it up; for I hope that you are a shield where you are, against Antichrist. It is on this account in my judgment that God hath decreed that, as there was a rector in that parish who was the greatest enemy of the truth, so you, on the other side, should be the friend of God's word. As to the parochial clergy and their unwillingness to receive gratefully all the spiritual oversight which they enjoy, you have in Ezekiel, chapter iii., a full verdict for your own justification. Read the passage. I will write to those whose names you give, and I will forward you the treatise, pending their reply to the charges of Stanislaus. Farewell in Christ Jesus. I think I sinned in giving up my preaching at the King's wish: therefore I am not willing to live any longer in this sin.