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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
J. Newton Brown
From the book, Memorials of Baptist Martyrs, 1854
This remarkable man was the intimate friend and companion of the celebrated John Huss, in the early part of the fifteenth century. He was in early life distinguished for the pursuit of knowledge, and spent many years in the Universities of Prague, Paris, Heidelberg, Cologne, and Oxford.
At the latter university he became acquainted with the works of Wickliffe; he translated them into his native language, and on his return professed warm adherence to his views.
In addition to the fact stated in a letter written to Erasmus from Bohemia, that the followers of Huss "admit none until they are dipped in water, and they reckon one another, without distinctions of rank, to be called brothers and sisters,” and the statement by Robinson, that the sermons of Huss were full of "anabaptistical errors," as they were called, and that many of his followers became Baptists, Orchard tells us that he was baptized by immersion by some of the Greek Church.
This view of Jerome's creed, and the fact of his being a layman, will account for many historians omitting his name altogether. But this omission may well be pardoned while we have a full and satisfactory account furnished by some of his strongest enemies.
When Jerome heard, while at a distance, that his beloved friend John Huss was in danger before the Council of Constance, in 1411, he fled to his help, and was soon apprehended, and tried in company with him, and both were sentenced to death. Huss, however, suffered some months before him.
There seems to have been a period, when like Cranmer, Jerome's faith faltered, and he recanted; but his adherence to the Saviour was soon renewed, and he died at the same stake where his dear friend Huss had been sacrificed to Christ. "The sanguinary annals of the human race," says Bonnechose, "do not, perhaps, present any spectacle more odious than the funeral pile of Jerome."
Poggius, who was secretary to the Pope, a frank, ingenuous man, saw and heard Jerome in the council, and wrote, in a letter to his friend Leonard Aretin, a eulogium on him in a spirit of admiration and love. He says:
"Since my return to Constance, my attention has been wholly engaged by Jerome, the Bohemian heretic, as he is called. The eloquence and learning which this person has employed in his own defence, are so extraordinary, that I cannot forbear giving you a short account of him.
“To confess the truth, I never knew the art of speaking carried so near the model of ancient eloquence. It was, indeed amazing to hear with what force of expression, with what fluency of language, and with what excellent reasoning, he answered his adversaries. Nor was I less struck with the gracefulness of his manner, the dignity of his action, and the firmness and constancy of-his whole behavior.
“It grieved me to think so great a man was laboring under so atrocious an accusation. Whether this accusation be a just one, God knows: for myself, I inquire not into the merits of it: resting satisfied with the decision of my superiors. But I will just give you a summary of his trial.
"After many articles had been proved against him, leave was at length given him to answer each in its order; but Jerome long refused, strenuously contending that he had many things to say previously in his defence, and that he ought first to be heard in general; before he descended to particulars.
“When this was overruled, 'Here,' said he, standing in the midst of the assembly, 'here is justice—here is equity! Beset by my enemies, I am pronounced a heretic. I am condemned before I am examined. Were you Gods omniscient, instead of an assembly of fallible men, you could not act with more sufficiency.
“Error is the lot of mortals; and you, exalted as you are, are subject to it. But consider that the higher you are exalted, of the more dangerous consequence are your errors. As for me, I know I am a wretch below your notice; but at least consider, that an unjust action in such an assembly will be of dangerous example.'
“This, and much more, he spoke with great eloquence of language, in the midst of a very unruly and indecent assembly; and thus far, at least, he prevailed; the council ordered that he should first answer objections, and promised that he should then have liberty to speak.
“It is incredible with what acuteness he answered, and with what amazing dexterity he warded off every stroke of his adversaries. Nothing escaped him: his whole behavior was truly great and pious. If he were, indeed, the man his defence spoke him, he was so far from meriting death, that, in my judgment, he was not in any degree culpable.
“In a word, he endeavored to prove, that the greater part of the charges were purely the inventions of his adversaries. Among other things, being accused of hating and defaming the Holy See, the pope, the cardinals, the prelates, and the whole estate of the clergy, he stretched out his hands, and said, in a most moving tone:
“’On which side, reverend fathers, shall I turn for redress? Whom shall I implore? Whose assistance can I expect? -Which of you hath not this malicious charge alienated from me? Which of you hath it not changed from a judge into an inveterate enemy? It was artfully alleged indeed! Though other parts of their charge were of less moment, my accusers might well imagine, that if this were fastened on me, it could not fail in drawing upon me the united indignation of my judges.'"
It appears from this secretary, Poggio Bracciotini, that on the third day of his trial, Jerome obtained leave to defend himself.
"He first began with prayer to God, whose assistance he pathetically implored. He then referred to profane history, and to unjust sentences given against Socrates, Plato, and Anaxagoras. He next referred to the Scriptures, and exhibited the sufferings of the worthies: and then he dwelt on the merits of the cause pending, resting entirely on the credit of witnesses, who avowedly hated him; and here his appeal made a strong impression upon the minds of his hearers, and not a little shook the credit of the witnesses. It was impossible to hear this pathetic speaker without emotion.
“Every ear was captivated, and every heart touched. But wishes in his favor were vain; he threw himself beyond the possibility of mercy. Braving death, he even provoked the vengeance which was hanging over him.
“Through this whole oration, he showed a most amazing strength of memory. He had been confined almost a year in a dungeon, the severity of which usage he complained of; but in the language of a great and good man. In this horrid place, he was deprived of books and papers; yet notwithstanding this, and the constant anxiety which must have hung over him, he was at no more loss for proper authorities and quotations, than if he had spent the intermediate time of leisure in his study."
“In his defence, his voice was sweet, distinct, and full; his action every way the most proper, either to express indignation or to raise pity, though he made no affected application to the passions of his audience: Firm and intrepid, he stood before the council, collected in himself, and not only contemning, but seeming even desirous of death.
“The greatest character in ancient story could not possibly go beyond him. If there is any justice in history, this man will be admired by all posterity. I speak not of his errors: let these rest with him. What I admired was his learning, his eloquence, and amazing acuteness. God knows whether these things were not the groundwork of his ruin.
"Two days were allowed him for reflection; during which time many persons of consequence, and particularly my lord cardinal of Florence, endeavored to bring him to a better mind. But persisting obstinately in his errors, he was condemned as a heretic.
"With a cheerful countenance, and more than stoical constancy, he met his fate; fearing neither death itself, nor the horrible form in which it appeared. When he came to the place, he pulled off his upper garment, and made a short prayer at the stake; to which he was soon after bound, with wet cords and an iron chain, and enclosed as high as his breast in fagots.
“Observing the executioner about to set fire to the wood behind his back, he cried out, ‘Bring thy torch hither. Perform thy office before my face. Had I feared death, I might have avoided it.’ As the wood began to blaze, he sang a hymn, which the violence of the flames scarcely interrupted.
"Thus died this prodigious man. The epithet is not extravagant. I was myself an eyewitness of his whole behavior. Whatever his life may have been, his death, without doubt, is a noble lesson of philosophy."
To this account of Jerome, furnished by an enemy to his faith, we have only to add that he suffered martyrdom, May 20, 1416.