6 July is an important date in Christian history; this year it marks not only the 480th anniversary of the execution of Thomas More, but also the 600th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Bohemian Jan Hus.
A while back, on the anniversary of the death of John Calvin, I posted an excerpt from Theodore Beza’s Icones (1580), his prose and verse tributes to various reformers in the recent history of the church. Not all of his eulogies contain a poem. One such non-poetized memorial is his encomium of Hus, the second man featured in the book, preceded only by John Wycliffe.
Beza displays his classical learning in this passage, comparing the service performed by Hus (“goose”) favorably with that performed in Rome by the Capitoline geese, who saved the citadel during the Gallic sack of the city in the early fourth century BC (also in July). Many other rhetorical turns are used to great effect as well, which I will leave to the reader to examine. He closes by remarking that Hus would be better called a phoenix than a goose, given how many new reformers have risen from his ashes.
IOANNES HUSSUS BOHEMUS,
IN ACADMIA PRAGENSI THEOLOGUS.
O vigilis anseris hoc (enim patria Bohemorum lingua cognomentum illud sonat) minime obstreperum, sed suavissimum, ac plane tempestivum clangorem! quo coelitus potius quam ex terra sonante, veternosi tot seculis Christiani sunt excitati, non ut, anserum Capitolinorum exemplo, Tarpeia rupes adversus invasores servaretur, sed contra ut immanis praedo ex illa eadem arce, partim astu, partim vi occupata, in Christianum orbem diu grassatus, deturbaretur. Ut autem illum idem iste perfide correptum ustularit, quid aliud tamen effecit, quam quod tum sibi ipsi, tum aliis suis mancipiis indelebilem perfidiae notam inussit, tu vero, Husse, quasi ex cavea in coelum emissus ingrata terra relicta evolasti? Quin etiam (dictu mirabile) tot illos qui et iam tum sunt auditi, et nunc adhuc audiuntur olores tibi succinentes, cur non merito velut ex foecundissimis tuis phoenicis potius, quam anseris, cineribus (quod etiam diceris iam iam moriturus praedixisse) enatos dixerimus?
Crematus est vivus, violata publica fide Constantiae ex pseudo-synodi decreto, anno Domini CIƆ. CCCC. XV. VI Iulij.
The Bohemian Jan Hus, Theologian in the Academy of Prague.
O what a sound of the sentinel-goose (for in the native tongue of the Bohemians that is what his surname means), not at all clamorous, but most pleasant, yea, and a clanging manifestly sounding at the right time! When he was sounding forth from heaven more so than from earth, Christians–sleepy for so many centuries–were roused, not in order that the Tarpeian Rock might be preserved against invaders according to the example of the Capitoline geese, but, in contrast, in order that the monstrous robber, long having raged against the Christian world, might be thrust down from the same citadel, besieged partly by craft, partly by violence. When, moreover, that same [robber] burned him, treacherously arrested, what else–contrary to intention–did it accomplish than to brand an indelible mark of treachery both upon him himself 1 and upon his slaves? 2–while you, Hus, flew away, sent forth from the cage into the sky 3, having left behind the ungrateful earth? Nay, more (wondrous to say!), why should we not rightly say that so many swans, who already at that time were heard and even now are heard singing together with you, were born from your most fertile ashes as of a phoenix rather than of a goose (which you are even said to have predicted already at that time when about to die)?
He was cremated alive, when the public trust of Constance had been violated, according to the decree of the pseudo-synod, in the Year of our Lord 1415, 6 July. 4
E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.
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