Wenceslas College at Charles University, Prague, was a hotbed of reform in the 1390s, and black-bearded Jerome of Prague was perhaps the hottest head of all. Tall and impressive, impetuous and adventurous, he got into plenty of trouble. Only once was he unable to get out.

Jerome received his Bachelor of Arts in 1398, then he gained leave to study abroad. Close links had developed between Bohemia and England since the marriage of King Václav's sister, Anne, to Richard II, and scholarships encouraged students to further their studies at Oxford University.

While his friend Jan Hus pursued an academic career at Prague, Jerome avidly absorbed the teachings of John Wyclif, the English reformer, at Oxford. Jerome copied Wyclif's books, then carried them back to Prague in 1401.

As Hus and the other Czech masters devoured the books, Jerome's restless spirit set him traveling again. Jerome made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1403, and he was no sooner back in Prague than he was off to Paris. He never finished a degree in theology or sought ordination, but he eagerly participated in theological debates wherever he went.

On a journey to Poland and Lithuania in 1413, he helped spread reform even as he gathered fuel for the Czechs' cause. At a great public disputation at the University of Kraków, he caused a fantastic commotion. He also learned that Orthodox churches administered Communion in bread and wine—knowledge that helped his colleagues in Prague solidify their case for the practice.

Jerome's abilities as a scholar and orator gained him acceptance as a master at the Universities of Paris, Heidelberg, Cologne, and Vienna. His rhetorical skills also brought his downfall, as he increasingly used them to condemn the evils and corrupt teachings ...

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