The gospel most likely found its way into Bohemia about the ninth century and soon after, the Bible was available in the local language. However, as the power of the Catholic Church grew, the use of the Latin Bible became more popular.

The Catholic Church grew to become the ruling power in Bohemia, but small groups of people stood up against the Catholic Church by pointing out the sins of the clergy, and errors in doctrine.

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One of these men was Jerome of Prague. He was born sometime between 1365 and 1379, and came from a well-off family. He studied at various universities in Prague, Oxford, Paris, Cologne, and Heidelberg. On his second visit to Oxford he was expelled for his opposition to the Catholic Church.

Jerome’s background let him easily enter the European courts. His ability as a scholar and debater gained him popularity. He became well-known as an opposer to the Catholic Church. His speaking skills and knowledge of the Bohemian language made him a strong foe to priestly corruption. He felt that pointing out the wickedness of the officials of the Catholic Church would keep the Church pure.

Everywhere Jerome went, he expressed his beliefs against the Catholic Church. Jerome was arrested in Vienna for his beliefs. He escaped and went to Moravia, where he was excommunicated. He then went to Hungary, where he preached before the court of King Sigismund, and was arrested. He was released on parole, which he broke, and then went into Bohemia. He later visited the courts of Poland and Lithuania, where he was an honored guest.

The officials of the Catholic Church wanted Jerome arrested and brought to trial. Jerome appeared before the Council of Constance in 1415, but fled quickly towards Moravia when King Sigismund would not give him a pardon. He was arrested before he could escape. He was brought back to Constance and put on trial, with 107 charges against him on reports of witnesses. Poggio Bracciolini, the papal representative at the Council of Constance said this:

With joyful brow, cheerful countenance, and elated face he went to his doom. He feared not the flames, not the torments, not death. None of the Stoics ever suffered death with so constant and brave a mind, and he indeed seemed to desire it. When he had reached the spot where he was to die, he divested himself of his garments, and knelt down in prayer. Logs of wood were then piled about his body, which they covered up to the breast. When they were lighted, he began to sing a hymn, which was interrupted by the smoke and the flames. This, however, is the greatest proof of the constancy of his mind, that when the official wished to light the stake behind his back, that he might not see it, he said, ‘Come here and light the stake before my eyes, for if I had feared it I should never have come to this spot, as it was in my power to fly.’

Jerome requested permission to renounce his beliefs, hoping that this would win him his freedom. However, he remained in prison until the next year, 1416. On May 23 of that year, Jerome appeared before the council and reclaimed his beliefs. This time, he would not back down. Throughout the trial, his wit and knowledge defended him. He also defended the works of Wycliffe, and Jerome’s contemporary John Huss. In the end, Jerome was handed to the secular government to be executed. Jerome was marched out to the stake, where he was burned. However, he did it as a man who had conquered fear.

This article is adapted from Gideon and Hilda Hagstoz’ Heroes of the Reformation.