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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

While Wenzel insisted that he was still Emperor

[Sidenote: 1410.]

In 1410, the year of Rupert's death, Europe was edified by the spectacle of three Emperors in Germany, and three Popes of the Church of Rome, all claiming to rule at the same time. The Diet was divided between Sigismund and Jodocus of Moravia, both of whom were declared elected, while Wenzel insisted that he was still Emperor. A Council held at Pisa, about the same time, deposed Pope Gregory XII. in Rome and Pope Benedict XIII. in Avignon, and elected a third, who took the name of Alexander V. But neither of the former obeyed the decrees of the Council: Gregory XII. betook himself to Rimini, Alexander, soon succeeded by John XXIII., reigned in Rome, and the three spiritual rivals began a renewed war of proclamations and curses. In order to obtain money, they sold priestly appointments to the highest bidder, carried on a trade in pardons and indulgences, and brought such disgrace on the priestly office and the Christian name, that the spirit of the so-called "heretical" sects, though trampled down in fire and blood, was kept everywhere alive among the people.

[Sidenote: 1411. THE EMPEROR SIGISMUND.]

The political rivalry in Germany did not last long. Jodocus of Moravia, of whom an old historian says: "He was considered a great man, but there was nothing great about him, except his beard," died soon after his partial election, Wenzel was persuaded to give up

his opposition, and Sigismund was generally recognized as the sole Emperor. In addition to the Mark of Brandenburg, which he had received from his father, Karl IV., he had obtained the crown of Hungary through his wife, and he claimed also the kingdoms of Bosnia and Dalmatia. He had fought the Turks on the lower Danube, had visited Constantinople, and was already distinguished for his courage and knightly bearing. Unlike his brother Wenzel, who had the black hair and high cheek-bones of a Bohemian, he was blonde-haired, blue-eyed and strikingly handsome. He spoke several languages, was witty in speech, cheerful in demeanor, and popular with all classes, but, unfortunately, both fickle and profligate. Moreover, he was one of the vainest men that ever wore a crown.

Before Sigismund entered upon his reign, the depraved condition of the Roman clergy, resulting from the general demoralization of the Church, had given rise to a new and powerful religious movement in Bohemia. As early as 1360, independent preachers had arisen among the people there, advocating the pure truths of the Gospel, and exhorting their hearers to turn their backs on the pride and luxury which prevailed, to live simply and righteously, and do good to their fellow-men. Although persecuted by the priests, they found many followers, and their example soon began to be more widely felt, especially as Wickliffe, in England, was preaching a similar doctrine at the same time. The latter's translation of the Bible was finished in 1383, and portions of it, together with his other writings in favor of a Reformation of the Christian Church, were carried to Prague soon afterwards.

The great leader of the movement in Bohemia was John Huss, who was born in 1369, studied at the University of Prague, became a teacher there, and at the same time a defender of Wickliffe's doctrines, in 1398, and four years afterwards, in spite of the fierce opposition of the clergy, was made Rector of the University. With him was associated Jerome (Hieronymus), a young Bohemian nobleman, who had studied at Oxford, and was also inspired by Wickliffe's writings. The learning and lofty personal character of both gave them an influence in Prague, which gradually extended over all Bohemia. Huss preached with the greatest earnestness and eloquence against the Roman doctrine of absolution, the worship of saints and images, the Papal trade in offices and indulgences, and the idea of a purgatory from which souls could be freed by masses celebrated on their behalf. He advocated a return to the simplicity of the early Christian Church, especially in the use of the sacrament (communion). The Popes had changed the form of administering the sacrament, giving only bread to the laymen, while the priests partook of both bread and wine: Huss, and the sect which took his name, demanded that it should be administered to all "in both forms." Thus the cup or sacramental chalice, became the symbol of the latter, in the struggle which followed.

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