Edmund Alexander De Schweinitz.

The history of the church known as the Unitas Fratrum, Or, The unity of the Brethren, founded by the followers of John Hus, The Bohemian reformer amd martyr online

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midst of one of the most puissant hosts that had ever been
marshalled. It fled, in abject terror, as soon as the noise of
the war-wagons and the sound of the battle hymn, heralding
the approach of the Hussites, were heard in the distance.
They had but to pursue and slay and spoil. After this no
more crusades were proclaimed against them. Sigismund
unwillingly confessed that the Bohemians could be con-
quered by Bohemians only; Julian declared that the sole
hope remaining was the Council which had been appointed
to meet at Basle. Well might he say this ! The Roman King
and the Roman Pontiff had exhausted the strength of arms,
the power of anathemas, expedients of every kind, including
even a menacing letter which the Maid of Orleans was induced
to issue^^ — the Bohemians remained unsubdued.

'^ Procop, called Weliky, the Great, or Holy, the Bald, was a married
priest, a man of clear understanding, free from blind fanaticism, thoroughly-
versed in the Scriptures and bitterly opposed to Rome. Bezold, pp. 70
and 71.

'* This letter, dated Suliaci, March the twenty-third, 1430, threatened the
Bohemians with the divine vengeance if they did not at once return to the
obedience due to the Church. Palacky, V. p. 481 and Note 488.


Hastening to Basle, where he assumed the presidency of
the Council, Cardinal Julian induced this body to invite the
Hussites to take part in its deliberations, to the end that peace
might be restored. The invitation was accepted, after the
vehement opposition of the Taborites had been overcome.
In January of 1433, a delegation representing the Utraquists,
the Taborites and the Orphans, reached Basle and was wel-
comed with every token of amity and respect. And now
began a spectacle unprecedented in the history of the Church
of Rome. For nearly two months the Hussite delegates
engaged in disputations with the Council, using the utmost
boldness of speech, uncovering the sins of the Hierarchy,
exalting Hus and Jerome of Prague as witnesses of the truth,
and maintaining, with masterly skill and unflinching deter-
mination, the principles set forth in the Articles of Prague.
In May, accompanied by deputies of the Council, they
returned to Bohemia. The negotiations were continued at
Prague and resulted, after a second delegation of Hussites
had visited the Council and a second deputation from the
Council had come to Bohemia, in the Compactata of Basle,
which substantially conceded the Four Articles of Prague.
On the thirtieth of November, 1433, these Compactata were
ratified by the Diet. The Taborites and Orphans, however,
manifested the utmost dissatisfaction and insisted on further
concessions. But their power was rapidly waning. Weary
of the ceaseless strife of the past years and instigated by the
Utraquists, the nobility formed a league with which all men
of rank, irrespective of party, united and which had for its
object the forcible pacification of Bohemia and Moravia.
This league raised a formidable body of troops; the Taborites
and Orphans gathered their forces. On the thirtieth of May,
1434, the two armies met, at Lipan, in a fierce and deadly
conflict. The Taborites and Orphans were totally defeated.
Prokop the Great and tliirteen thousand of his warriors lay
dead on the field.



Rohycana and the Utraquist National Chureh.
A. D. 1434-1453.

Bohemia and Moravia in the Hands of the Utraquists. — John Rokycana,
Archbishop elect. — Sigismund acknowledged King of Bohemia. —
Begins a Eeaction.— His Death. — Albert's Death. — Interregnum and
Leagues. — Baron Ptacek. — Convention of Kuttenberg. — Utraquists the
National Church of Bohemia. — Disputation at Kuttenberg and Diet at
Prague. — End of the Taborites. — George Podiebrad Regent. — Union
with the Greek Church projected. — Accession of Ladislaus Posthumus.
— Rokycana's sermons against Rome. — State of Morals and Religion
in Bohemia and Moravia. — Sects. — Societies.

The battle of Lipan was a turning point in the history of
the Hussites, It put Bohemia and Moravia into the hands
of the Utraquists, and enabled them to cany out their plans
unhindered. The man who was foremost in shaping events
and who became more and more prominent, until he exercised
a commanding influence, was John of Rokycana.

Born at Rokitzan, near Pilsen, a child of poverty but
endowed with rare gifts, he passed through the University as
a charity-student, attained a Master's degree, and, in 1425,
was appointed to the Thein Church at Prague. This position
gave him power and his eloquence won him fame. He was
one of the leading Bohemian delegates at the Council of Basle
and stood, by common consent, at the head of the Utraquists.
But he was vain, greedy of popularity, and inordinately
ambitious. To become the spiritual ruler of all Bohemia
was the goal toward which he pressed. With this object in
view he was mainly instrumental in bringing about the civil
war which led to the overthrow of the Taborites as a military
power, and now labored incessantly to uproot them as a re-



Hgious bodj. At the Diet of 1435 he was unanimously elected
Archbishop, and Martin Lupac of Chrudim and Wenzel of
Hohenmauth were appointed his suiFragans.

Meantime Sigismund endeavored to regain his kingdom.
The Diet made demands Avhich were stringent and humiliating ;
but he pledged himself to fulfill them, and on the fifth of
July, 1436, at a meeting held, with great pomp and solemnity,
in the market place of Iglau, was formally acknowledged as
King of Bohemia. On the same occasion, the Compactata
were anew ratified and the Bohemians re-admitted to the
fellowship of the mother church. But scarcely had Sigis-
mund reached his capital when he began so serious a reaction
in favor of Rome that Rokycana secretly left the city and
retired to a castle near Pardubic (1437). The King's
treachery was, however, cut short by the hand of death, on
the ninth of December, of the same year, at Znaim, while on
his way to Hungary ; and his successor and son-in-law, Albert
of Austria, followed him to the grave in 1439, in the midst
of a campaign against the Turks. Bohemia was left without
a ruler, for Albert had no children except a posthumous son.
A time of anarchy began and various leagues arose, the most
powerful of which stood under Baron Ptaeek. It was a
fortunate circumstance that he proved to be a man of sound
judgment and liberal views, who endeavored to prevent law-
lessness and unite the religious factions. He caused a Diet of
his party to meet at Caslau in 1441, where measures looking
to the public good were adopted, and, in the same year,
called an ecclesiastical convention at Kuttenberg (October the
fourth). This convention brought about far-reaching results.
Three hundred priests were in attendance. Rokycana was
acknowledged as Archbishop elect, the supreme direction of
ecclesiastical affairs was committed into his hands, the priests
promised him obedience, and twenty-four doctrinal and con-
stitutional articles were adopted which laid the foundation of
the Utraquist Church as the National Church of Bohemia,
But the Taborites stood aloof. Two more conventions were
held without effectiug a change in their position. At last a


disputation was agreed upon, the results of which were to be
referred to the Diet for final decision. After the Taborites
had reluctantly consented to give a written pledge, to which
the seals of their cities were attached, that this decision should
be binding, the disputation took place, on the eighth of July,
1443, at Kuttenberg. The Diet met on the eighth of
January, of the following year, at Prague. But few Taborites
attended. The doctrinal formulas, embracing the results of
the disputation, were read and referred to a committee that
brought in a report wholly Utraquist in its character. It
was adopted by an overwhelming majority. The Taborites
suffered a worse defeat than at Lipan; with every show of
fairness their cause was condemned by the Diet of their
country. They lost all prestige ; their towns, with the excep-
tion of Tabor, passed out of their hands; their membership was
scattered and a large part of it joined the National Church.

In the following summer Ptacek died and George Podiebrad
succeeded him as the head of the league. Although a young
man of only twenty-four years, he displayed the sagacity of
an experienced statesman and was distinguished by the virtues
of a patriot. In 1448 a bold stroke made him master of
Prague and constituted him practically Regent of all Bohemia;
four years later his regency was formally acknowledged. He
was a warm friend of Pokycana whose consecration he en-
deavored to bring about. The Archbishop elect, who returned
to Prague as soon as it fell into the hands of Podiebrad, was
no less eager to be consecrated, and entertained high hopes of
conciliating the Pope and reaching the goal of his ambition.
But when he perceived that these hopes were not well founded
and gradually realized that he would never receive the mitre
from papal hands, he began to favor a project which had been
suggested by others and which he had opposed, as long as he
deemed it expedient to foster the good will of Rome. The
Bohemian Church was to cut itself loose altogether from the
Roman Catholic and unite with the Greek Church. With
this end in view negotiations were actually begun in 1452, but
came to an abrupt close in the following year, in consequence


of the fall of Constantinople. About the same time Ladis-
laus Posthumus, Albert's son, assumed the crown, Podiebrad
remaining Regent. The latter continued the friend of
Rokycana ; the former, who was a Catholic, conceived a
strong dislike to him.

As soon as Rokycana had given up the hope of conciliating
Rome, he began to preach, with great power and eloquence,
against its corruptions; his sermons grew vehement and
intensely bitter when Pope Nicholas the Fifth sent Nicholas
of Causa, one of his most learned Cardinals, and John
Capistran, a brilliant orator and reputed worker of miracles,
to bring the Bohemians and Moravians back unconditionally,
with no further thought of the Compactata, under the sway
of the Hierarchy.^

But the Roman Catholic was not the only church that
deserved strictures. Rokycana could not shut his eyes to the
sins of his own people. Iniquity abounded in Bohemia and
Moravia. The wars begot an evil progeny. That puritanic
severity of morals which had distinguished Zizka and the early
Taborites no longer gave tone to the nation. It is true that
religious questions still constituted a general subject of thought
and topic of conversation, and that the Church, the Papacy,
the Lord's Supper, the Cup and the Word of God, were every-

^ In order to understand this effort we must glance at the history of the
papacy. Martin the Fifth, who had unwillingly convened the Council of
Basle and appointed Julian its President, died In 1431, and was succeeded
by Eugene the Fourth, who dissolved it in the following year. But the
Fathers continued their sessions in spite of him, and an open rupture took
place which was subsequently, to some extent, healed, so that Eugene was
induced to accept the Compactata. In 1437, however, he again dissolved
the Council and called another at Ferrara. Thereupon a number of the
Fathers left Basle and went to Ferrara; those that remained deposed
Eugene, in 1438, and elected Felix the Fifth in his place. Thus there were
again two Popes and even two Councils. But the larger part of the Church
acknowledged Eugene ; the Council of Basle, greatly reduced in numbers,
came to an end in 1443. Eugene died four years later (1447) and was suc-
ceeded by Nicholas the Fifth, in whose favor Felix abdicated. Nicholas
refused to sanction the Compactata and looked upon them with extreme
disfavor, as the production of a schismatic Council.


where discussed ; but, at the same time, vices of all kinds were
increasing both openly and in secret, the Hussite period, in
spite of its democratic tendencies, had not elevated the peas-
antry but rather put a heavier yoke of serfdom upon their
necks, the poor were oppressed, violence and robbery were
common, avarice, ostentation and pride of birth disgraced the
higher classes ; vanity and extravagance in dress, luxurious
tables, inordinate pleasures were features of their daily life.^
The clergy were degenerating and religious affairs generally
sinking into confusion. The Utraquist Church, indeed, was
established, but no harmony of aim and fellowship of heart
existed. There were differences of doctrine and many spirits,
each antagonistic to the other and deeming its own position
to be exclusively correct.^ As regarded the Taborites, their
last seat, Tabor with its impregnable walls, surrendered at the
call of Podiebrad in 1452 ; yet this very circumstance gave
rise to new sects. Not a few earnest Taborites remained true
to their faith and lived in quietness ; but the restless spirits
that had, after the battle of Lipan, fled to Tabor for refuge,
now began to wander through the country. False teachers
arose who proclaimed antiscriptural doctrines, the Nikolaites
appeared claiming direct revelations from God, remnants of
the Adamites showed themselves, and numerous societies, each
with views and regulations of its own, were organized at
Wilemow, Diwisow, Saaz, Kolin, Koniggratz, Leitomysl,
Eeichenau and other places.

All these strange and unsatisfactory results were, however,
the outcome of the Hussite movement, not of the testimony
borne by Hus himself. His martyr-blood had not been shed
in vain. In a better sense than that which Utraquism
afforded, it was to be the seed of the Church ; for the time
drew on which would reveal his true followers. They became
known mainly through the instrumentality of Peter Chelcicky.

"^ Palacky, VII. pp. 535-544, who presents copious extracts from the
writings of Peter Chelcicky describing the morals of the age.
3 Ibid, p. 465, Note 381, Extract from Chelcicky's Postil.



Peier Cheleiehy and the Men who founded the Unitas Fratrum.
A. D. 1454-1457.

Peter Chelcicky. — His Character, Life and Writings. — Independent Posi-
tion. — Views on the Lord's Supper. — His Ethical Principles. — Protest
against War. — Extreme Views. — Eokycana and Chelcicky. — The
Founders of the Unitas Fratrum. — Gregory the Patriarch. — The
Spiritual Seed of Hus. — Rokycana's Earnest Sermons. — Chelcicky's
Influence on the Founders of the Church. — They urge Rokycana to
begin a Reformation. — He declines. — Waiting and Praying for the
Lord's Help.

Among- the Bohemian writers of the fifteenth century no
one, except HiiSj ranked higher than Peter Chelcicky.^ With-
out the advantages of a theological or even a classical training,
having but an insufficient knowledge of the Latin language, a
simple layman and small landholder of the village of Chelcic,
near Wodnan, he watched, with a keen eye, the events that
were transpiring around him, investigated, with an indepen-
dent mind and a fearless criticism, the great questions of his
age, acknowledged no authority but the Bible, and unfolded
an originality of thought and power gf diction that made him,
in spite of the obscureness of his position, a master among the
learned and a teacher among the unlettered. The time of his
birth is unknown and his personal history, for the most part,

^ Sources: Palacky, VII. pp. 465-482; Gindely,L pp.13-17; Cerwenka,
II. pp. 6-14; Gillett's Taborites and the Germ of the Moravian Church
in Am. Presb. and Theo. Review, 1864.


remains shrouded in mystery.^ We first meet with him in
the Bethlehem Chapel of Prague, in 1420, engaged in a dis-
putation with Jacobellus of Mies on the unfitness of appealing
to arms in matters of religion. His activity as a writer did
not begin until a number of years later, probably between
1433 and 1443. The pen was thrust into his hand by his
friends, but when he had grasped it, he employed it with
unwearied diligence. Three of his works — The Net of Faith,
a Postil, containing expositions of the Gospel Lessons, and
The Picture of Antichrist — were printed in the sixteenth
century ; the rest remain in manuscript.^

The position which Chelcicky assumed in these writings,
was wholly independent. He walked in no man's footsteps.
He criticised even John Hus. He took sides with neither of
the Hussite factions. What the Utraquists taught in relation
to indulgences, transubstantiation, the invocation of the saints,
purgatory and the power of the keys as claimed by the priest-
hood, he utterly rejected ; against the Taborite doctrine of tlie
Lord's Supper — that bread and wine are mere symbols of the
body and blood of Christ — he earnestly and solemnly protested.
His own view in this respect is important, because it shaped
the teachings of the Brethren's Church on the subject. He
accepted the simple words of Scripture and believed, on the
one hand, that in the sacrament Christ's body is not born, not
begotten and not created ; yet, on the other, that God, by His

^ He is supposed to have been born about 1390, and it is said that he
intended to enter a convent but was deterred by the unsettled state of the
Church. That he studied, for a time, at Prague, without finishing his
course, seems to be certain.

^ Gindely, I. pp. 489-490, Note 4, adduces eleven works of Chelcicky,
besides a collection of seven tracts. In addition to the three mentioned in
the text, the most important are: A Reply to Rokycana; A Reply to Nich-
olas, the Taborite Bishop, found at Herrnhut, in the L. F., II, pp. 221-229
and endorsed, in the handwriting of Comenius, with the words, a " golden
letter;" A Treatise on the Body of Christ; and The Foundation of human
Law. The Net of Faith was published at Wilimow, in 1521 : the Postil, at
Prague, in 1522 and again in 1532 ; the Picture of Antichrist is no longer
extant. Copies of his MS. works are preserved at Paris, Prague and Olmiitz.


power and through the words of institution spoken by the
priest in faith, causes it to be spiritually present along with the
substance of the bread.

It was, however, not doctrine which chiefly engaged the
attention of Chelcicky, but ethics. He looked upon Chris-
tianity rather as a life than a creed, and his entire system
shows that the dogmatic was made subordinate to the

To imitate the example of Christ — so he teaches — is the
most exalted rule of life ; to love God above all and one's
neighbor as oneself, the supreme law. Such love implies
hearty obedience to the divine commandments, willingness to
suffer injustice, and an unwavering determination never to
repay evil with evil. The show of virtue without the sub-
stance, hypocrisy and Phariseeism, attaching importance to
mere outward rites, ceremonies and usages of the Church,
without fostering holiness of heart and seeking a reformation
of life, he denounces in the strongest terms. Under all
circumstances the divine law is sufiicient; and Christianity
constitutes the kingdom of liberty. In this kingdom the
spiritual part of man lives and strives for that which is good,
undisturbed by discord, violence, or war. The realm of
heathenism, on the contrary, is the outgrowth of his carnal
nature and hence full of wickedness which must be coerced.
If all men were true Christians there would be no necessity
for kings or lords. Worldly government originates in sin and
is an evil, but a necessary evil over against iniquity. The
nobility are base tyrants ; doctors of theology, masters of art
and priests " satraps of the Emperor," who strive to exalt the
secular power to an article of faith.

Nothing, however, excites the indignation and horror of
Chelcicky so much as war. It is absolutely inadmissible ; a
warrior is a murderer; to shed human blood, even in the
way of self-defence or of capital punishment, constitutes an
abominable sin. His literal interpretation of the Sermon on
the Mount leads him, moreover, to forbid his followers to
a.ppeal to the secular arm, to take an oath, or to fill a civil


office. They must humbly and patiently bear injustice, never
avenge themselves, neither murmur nor be profane, but
imitate Christ who was brought as a lamb to the slaughter
and opened not His mouth.

In setting forth such views he often adopted the tone of
the satirist, and his invectives cut like a two-edged sword.
" There are," says Gillett, " passages of his writings which
well entitle him to the epithet of the Christian Juvenal."

In course of time his followers constituted themselves into
a Society, known as the Brethren of Chelcic.

A character so original and independent attracted the
attention of Rokycana. He opened a correspondence with
Chelcicky, called him " his beloved brother,"* visited him at
his home, entertained him at Prague, and was the means of
brinofino: him into connection with the men whom God had
foreordained to take the lead in founding the Unitas Fratrum,
but who did not, as yet, recognize their mission.

They were members of the Thein parish and among the
most faithful of Rokycana's hearers. His eloquence capti-
vated their minds and his earnestness touched their hearts.
When he preached they took notes of his sermons and after-
wards committed them to writing, that they might study them
at their leisure. Painfully recognizing the pictures which he
drew of the corruptness of the Church and the evil of the
times as startling copies of what was transpiring before their
very eyes, they endeavored to regulate their own lives by the
divine law and to save themselves from the "untoward
generation" by which they were surrounded. Earnest men
they were, seeking the truth, thirsting for God.

Foremost among them was Rokycana's nephew, Gregory
the Patriarch, as he is commonly called — a man of strict
morals and deep piety, active, ready to undertake and endure
all things for God's honor, but humble, without ambition,
seeking not his own. In his youth he entered a monastery
of the Cordeliers and attained a high reputation for sanctity.

* A letter of Eokycana to Chelcicky is found in L. F. II. pp. 224-227.


The Hussite disturbances put an end to his monastic life. At
the time when he became prominent he was about fifty
years of age.^

Rokycana asserted that Antichrist had corrupted even the
sacraments of the Church, so that the peojjle partook of them
to their own condemnation. It was this jjosition which filled
Gregory and his friends with the deepest anxiety. If the
sacraments were thus corrupted, how could they, through
them, obtain a seal to their acceptance in the sight of God and
be nourished unto life ? This and other cognate questions
they discussed among themselves and with Rokycana, uniting
in frequent prayer that they might be led in the Avay of truth.

But these men were not alone in their aspirations. Others
of like mind were found in many parts of Bohemia and
Moravia,^ true followers of Hus who had, for years, been lost
among the Hussite factions.^ In the language of Lasitius,
they were the young sprouts which appeared when the forest
had been cut down.* That they sought and found fellowship
among themselves was a necessaiy consequence of the attractive
force which inheres in tlie communion of saints. The bond
of union grew continually stronger, imtil there existed,
thoughout Bohemia and Moravia, what might be called an
invisible church of the genuine seed of Hus, unconsciously
preparing, by God's appointment and under the leadership of
Gregory and his associates at Prague, for a manifestation in
visible form.

In the early part of 1 454 Rokycana, wounded by the con-

^ Gregory's father was a Bohemian knight and his mother the sister of
Kokycana, as Gindely, I. p. 21, sets forth. Palacky, VII. p. 484 and Note
394, calls this relationship into question ; but the only evidence which he
adduces seems Xo us to be quite insufficient. Blahoslaw, in his Summa
quaedam, &c., MS. L. F. VIII. pp. 157-171, says : " Quorum non postremus
fuit Gregorius, sororis Kokycanae filius." There exists no sound reason
why the usual view should be abandoned.

^ Jaffet's Geschichte der Enstehung de Briider-Einigkeit, p. 33, &c., MS.,
H. A., found in Keichel's Zusatze, pp. 10 and 12.

' Blahoslaw's Summa quaedam, MS. L. F. VIII.

Online LibraryEdmund Alexander De SchweinitzThe history of the church known as the Unitas Fratrum, Or, The unity of the Brethren, founded by the followers of John Hus, The Bohemian reformer amd martyr → online text (page 10 of 64)