Jan Hus of Prague was martyred on July 6, 1415, in Constance. He was there on trial at the Council of Constance. He had been promised safe conduct, but that was revoked. He was imprisoned for many months before his emaciated body was ordered to march to the spot where he was burned at the stake. He was not Prague’s only martyr. Another was Jerome of Prague. Jerome was born in 1379 in Prague. He was a student at Charles University. He later traveled to Oxford to study, and there he encountered the teachings of John Wycliffe. He was quite the peripatetic student and so, after Oxford, he went on to Europe’s leading universities. He studied at Paris, then at Cologne, then at Heidelberg. He seemed to like collecting master’s degrees, and he collected master’s degrees from all of these universities. He even traveled all the way to Jerusalem in 1403.
In 1410, the pope issued a papal bull outlawing Wycliffe’s writings. This would be used against Jerome of Prague. In 1410, he was in Vienna, and he was arrested. He escaped and made his way back to Prague. At the heart of Jerome’s teaching was the question of authority. This, of course, prefigured the Reformation’s emphasis on Sola scriptura, the idea that Scripture alone is the church’s authority versus Scripture and tradition. Jerome, like the Reformers who would come a full century after him, believed that the teachings of the Bible could be directly read, directly studied, and should be directly obeyed by every Christian. He did not see the need for the councils and church authority to work their way in between the Christian and the Bible. So a full century before the Reformers would emphasize and boldly declare Sola scriptura, Jerome of Prague was doing exactly that. And for that, he was condemned.
Now when Hus left Prague for the Council of Constance in October of 1414, Jerome vowed that should things go awry for Hus, he would risk harm to his own body and join Hus. Hus pleaded with Jerome not to do so, but Jerome made the vow nevertheless. Well, things did go awry for Hus. He was imprisoned and by the spring of 1415, it looked like he would be destined to be martyred. So out of loyalty to the truth and out of loyalty to his brother in arms, Jerome voluntarily went to Constance. He arrived in April of 1415. He was imprisoned for many, many months. He was cruelly tortured, and he was subjected to numerous mock trials. Hus was martyred in 1415. During that time, Jerome of Prague was imprisoned in Constance. He would go on to suffer even more, months after Hus’ trial.
At one point, Jerome did recant. He had been tortured. After he had been hung by his heels for a significant amount of time, Jerome did recant his views. But he later repented of his recantation, and he once again affirmed what was considered to be heretical views by his church. So he had one final trial in May, and then on May 30, 1516, just like Jan Hus before him, he was led out of his prison cell, out of the city gate, about a kilometer out of town, and to the pyre where he was martyred. He was reported to have said, “This soul in flames I offer, Christ, to thee.”
As Charles Haddon Spurgeon, that great nineteenth-century Baptist thundering from his pulpit in London wrote, “Grief for sin is the porch of the House Beautiful, where the guests are full of ‘The joy of the Lord.’”