The martyrdom of Huss and Jerome proved to be a significant turning point in the Bohemian Reformation, leading to the outbreak of all-out war. The Papacy resorted to spiritual and psychological manipulation as they tried to convince Huss to recant and yield his position. The tactics they used were both a fascinating and repulsive spectacle to witness.
Once Huss was sentenced, the Bishops of the Roman Church began the ceremony of degradation in preparation for his martyrdom. They first dressed him in the robes of a priest and asked him one last time if he would recant, to which he responded “How should I look on those multitudes of men to whom I have preached the pure gospel? No; I esteem their salvation more than this poor body, now appointed unto death.” Then the bishops began to remove his papal priestly robes, each pronouncing a curse on Huss as he performed his part in the ceremony.
Finally, they put a dunce cap made of paper on his head on which they had painted the faces of demons and inscribed the word “arch-heretic” conspicuously on the front. Once they had done this they pronounced their final sentence on him saying “Now we devote thy soul to the devil” to which Huss replied, “And I do commit my spirit into Thy hands, O Lord Jesus, for Thou hast redeemed me.”
He was then handed over to the secular authorities and led away to face martyrdom. Three times they relit the fire in order to make sure that his body was burned to ashes and when it was done they dug up his ashes along with the soil underneath and scattered it in the Rhine river.
A year later Jerome was brought to the same spot to face a similar type of martyrdom. As his executioner prepared to set the fire behind him he requested the fire be lit before his face, stating that if he had been afraid to die, he would not have been standing there. They faced martyrdom with the kind of peaceful dignity that was a testament to the quality of their faith in Jesus and the depth of their assurance in what he offered them beyond the grave. They knew the best was yet to come. Speaking of their martyrdom an eye witness had this to say: ‘Both bore themselves with constant mind when their last hour approached. They prepared for the fire as if they were going to a marriage feast. They uttered no cry of pain. When the flames rose, they began to sing hymns; and scarce could the vehemency of the fire stop their singing’.
The problem with psychological warfare is that it can seldom convert the die-hard revolutionary into a divergent, simply because he has found a cause he is to face martyrdom for. Huss and Jerome were not the types of revolutionaries bent on shedding other people’s blood to see their cause prosper, they were willing to sacrifice their own lives instead.
It was one of those moments in history when the underdogs chose to stand their ground rather than submit to an abusive ecclesiastical authority that had far overreached its jurisdiction. Their stand could be viewed as monumental stupidity or as matchless courage. History chooses to remember it as the latter simply because it was based on freedom of conscience. The idea that every man is free to make his own spiritual choices.
Huss and Jerome, like Luther and others after him, had found a cause worth facing martyrdom for. It was a cause built around a rugged Roman cross rudely planted on a hill called the Place of the Skull. It was a cause built on a God who had been willing to die for them. A cause based solely and totally on the kind of matchless, unfathomable love that lies beyond the reach of human capability. A love that reaches its fingers across the barrier to touch the divine.
They died quietly in the very epicenter of a raging inferno because they knew what it felt like to live abundantly, wholeheartedly and with no regrets. No regrets. Now there’s a hashtag worth tweeting.