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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* Croeger, I. p. 49.


tinued coldness of young Ladislaus and anticipating a new
reaction against Utraquism, began to preach on the Lamen-
tations of Jeremiah, the Prophecies of Daniel and portions
of the Revelation of St. John. With even more than his
ordmary power he set forth the deplorable state of the Chui'ch,
the misuse of the sacraments, the sins of the priesthood. Even
the Utraquists, he said, had not reached the solid ground of
faith ; others would reach that ground to the good of men
and the glory of God ; the Church must be built up, as Hus
had taught, upon a threefold foundation, embracing Christ,
the Holy Scriptures and the model of the apostolic church.^
When speaking of a reformation he added, that the number
of those who followed the truth was very small ; that they
would not be accepted of the world; and that if they attempted
a reformation, great and terrible dangers would beset them,
illustrating this last point by the image of a city burned and
destroyed, whose ruins formed the dens of wild beasts that
would not suffer men to come and rebuild its houses and

Such sentiments excited, in the highest degree, Gregory
and his friends, who besought the eloquent preacher to tell
them what they must do in order to be accepted of God.
Rokycana referred them to Peter Chelcicky. This was a
turning point in their development and a long stride forward
on the way by which God was leading them. Chelcicky was
as necessary an agent in bringing about the founding of the
Unitas Pratrum as Hus himself. The latter quarried, from
the hills of truth, the stones which were used in its building,
the former shaped these stones and gave firmness to the hands
that set them up. Through him, Rokycana's disciples, and
Gregory in particular, were led to understand that it was not
enough to long and pray for a reformation, but that for such
a cause they must work, venture and suffer. At the same
time, the tendency to subordinate doctrine to practice, the

^ Lasitius, I. pp. 58 and 59, quoted by Plitt. See list of authorities.
'" Blahoslaw's Bohemian MS. History, quoted by Palacky, VII. pp. 483
and 484, Note 393. See list of authorities.


principle of non-resistance, the duty of patiently bearing
persecutions for Christ's sake, the extreme views with regard
to civil offices, taking oaths and cognate subjects — as these
points subsequently showed themselves in the system of the
Brethren and, in part, led to dissensions and a schism — were
all received from Peter Chelcicky. His intercourse with
Gregory and Gregory's friends continued for several years.
When he had imparted his principles to them, his mission
came to an end. He died about the time of the founding of
the Church.

Each successive visit to Chelcic filled Rokycana's disciples
with greater enthusiasm, until they began to importune him
to put himself at their head and begin a reformation, assuring
him that they would stand by him whatever might happen
and follow wherever he might lead. But his heart had no
chord which vibrated in harmony with their appealing touch.
He saw only difficulties like mountains in the way, and grew
almost as eloquent in explaining the reasons why he could not
yield to their wishes, as he was in setting forth the corrup-
tions of the Church. At the same time he told them, that if
they had courage to undertake the work, he would not
absolutely dissuade them, for God might possibly grant them
that success which He had withheld from those who had
sought the same end by an appeal to arras. A second effi^rt
which they made, irritated him. " You are," he said excitedly,
" urging me to a most dangerous leap. Do you want to have
things perfect at once ? Every great undertaking involves
great peril.""

Deeply grieved to find that their master was unwilling to
be their leader, they began to" absent themselves from the
Thein church and hold services of their own. Similar services,
conducted by priests of like mind, were instituted by their
brethren throughout the country ; in case no such priests
were present, the Scriptures were read and explained by lay-
men. This formed the first step toward a secession from the

" Laeitius, I. 69, &c., quoted by Plitt.


Church. And yet Gregory and his circle at Prague did not
relinquish the hope that Rokycana would eventually put
himself at their head and take a stand as the reformer of his
day. But in spite of their renewed and urgent entreaties,
they were doomed to disappointment. He advised them,
however, to settle in various parishes which he named, where
they would find priests sharing their views and aspirations.^^^
This counsel they rejected ; for they were too firmly con-
vinced, that if their union was to be maintained, its bonds
must be drawn closer and not loosened. What they and their
associates throughout the country now needed, was a rallying-
place. Such a place God showed them, and there the Unitas
Fratrum was founded.

From the preparatory history which we have thus given
it appears, that John Hus, the Bohemian Reformer, John
Rokycana, the Bohemian Archbishop elect, and Peter, the
stern moralist of Chelcic, were God's appointed agents
in brinffino; about this result, but that the corner-stone was
actually to be laid by Gregory the Patriarch and his associates
of Prague. The immediate founders of the Church were
therefore, as Jaffet explicitly sets forth, not foreigners, not
sectaries, not Taborites, but native born Czechs, members
of the Utraquist National Church, comprising not merely
common people but also nobles, priests, masters and bachelors
of arts trained in the wisdom of the schools.^^

12 Blahoslaw's Bohemian MS. Hist, quoted by Palacky.

13 Jafiet's MS. Geschichte der Entstehung d. B. E., p. 33, &c., H. A., in
Eeichel's Zusatze, p. 10. He says : " Die Anfanger der Unitiit waren keine
Auslander, sondern achte eingeborne Bohmen und Miihren ; audi keine
Sektirer, sondern wahre Christen des gewcihnlichen Katholisclien Glaubens
sub utraque, auch nicht Taboriten, sondern von der Partei der Meister (i. e.
Calixtines). Es waren nicht bloss gemeine Leute, sondern Herrn, Ritter,
kluge Clerici, Priester, Magister, Baccalaurei von Schulgelehrsamkeit."




A.D. 1457-1722.




A.D. 1457-1496.



The Founding and Earliest Development of the Church.
A. D. 1457-1460.

Lititz and the Barony of Senftenberg. — Gregory and his Friends settle at
Kunwald. — Michael Bradacius and others join them. — Principles of
Doctrine and Practice agreed on. — Names of the Church. — The original
Object of its Founders. — The Year of Organization. — Twenty-eight
Elders elected. — Their Names. — Other Representative Men. — Increase
of the Church. — Rokycana's Relation to it. — Disputes among the
Brethren about the Lord's Supper. — Synod of 1459. — Doctrine of the
Lord's Supper formulated. — Resolution with regard to the Writings
of the Taborites. — Ritual simplified.— Moravian Taborites join the

The traveler who enters Bohemia at its eastern boundary,
on the railway to Koniggriitz, passes, beyond Geiersberg, into
the romantic valley of the Wilde Adler and soon reaches a
narrow gorge formed by the Chlura Mountain on one side and
a height crowned with the ruins of an ancient castle, on the
other. Fields creep far up this latter hill to the edge of its
forest and a village nestles at its base which is pierced by
a tunnel ; near by the stream, with rapid current, hastens to
meet its Southern branch, the Stille Adler, that they may
together flow into the Elbe. A steep path leads to the ruins.
Over the outer gateway appears a tablet with this inscription,
now almost illegible : A. D. regnante Geo. Podiebrado
MCDLXVIII. Other gateways are still standing; a huge
tower rears its head and shows its subterranean depths, where
once were gloomy dungeons ; in the main court-yard, across
whose pavement knights were wont to dash, great trees have


sprung up and cast their shade over walls which, even in their
decay, are vast and imposing. A grand castle it must have

This is Lititz, the centre of an estate constituting a part of
the Barony of Senftenberg, which stretches to the Silesian
frontier. To the east lies the chief town of this domain and
bears its name. It is a market-town, with a modern castle,
an ancient church and a large square adorned with statues of
saints. Due north is the village of Kunwakl.

In the German War of Liberation the Emperor Francis
invested an Englishman, of Hamburg, one Parrish, Mdio had
rendered Austria important services, with this entire Barony,
creating him Baron of Senftenberg, and from him it descended
to his nephew who was the owner until recently, when he died
without issue ;^ at the time of which our history treats it
belonged to George Podiebrad, had but a sparse population
and was suffering from the devastations of the Hussite war.
The inhabitants inclined to the principles of the Taborites,
some of whose prominent leaders had been brought, after the
fall of Tabor, to the Castle of Lititz for safe-keeping.

Gregory heard of this domain. It seemed to oifer the abode
for which he and his friends were looking and which they had
sought in vain among the Societies at Diwisow and Wilemow.
It was a retreat, amidst lonely hills and mountains, where
they could worship God in fellowship and peace, and a centre
around M-hich their associates from the country could gather.
Accordingly they asked Rokycana to secure for them the
Regent's permission to settle on this Barony.^ Rokycana,
hoping to rid himself of his troublesome followers, gladly
presented their request. It was at once granted ; for Podiebrad
foresaw the advantages which would accrue to his property.
He designated Kunwald as the place for the settlement.

^ The recent owner, who did not bear his uncle's title, was well acquainted
in the United States, where he often visited and had large properties. To
whom the Barony has passed since the death of the late Mr. Parrish, we do
not know.

2 Jaffet's Entstehung, &c., p. 91, MS., H. A.


Thither Gregory and his companions took their way. They
found a hamlet almost hidden within a narrow valley and
surrounded on all sides by forests, deep, silent and solemn,
above which, toward the East, appeared the massive ridge of
the Glatz Mountains. The place formed a natural sanctuary,
secluded from the turmoil of the world, and fit to be the
earliest seat of a church of confessors and martyrs.^

The settlers began to build cottages and were joined by some
of their associates from other parts of the country.* Ere long
came the priest of Seuftenberg, Michael Bradacius, a venerable
and godly man, and cast in his lot with the new community.
Whether he was a stranger attracted by its earnest spirit, or
an associate acquainted with its aims, does not appear ; in any
case, this priest, together with Gregory, was put at its head,
and under their joint direction, certain principles were drawn
up to regulate its doctrine and practice.^ Of these principles,
however, we know nothing except that they were based on the
Bible and the Articles of Prague. They were not published
to the world, but constituted a private code of statutes. Indeed
the settlers formally determined not to make them known,
unless it became imperatively necessary. They were moved
to adopt this resolution by the fear that a proclamation of
their views would increase the discord and confusion prevail-
ing throughout Bohemia and Moravia in matters of religion.^
The name which they chose was " Brethren of the Law of
Christ" — Fratres Legis Ckristi ; in as much, however, as this
name gave rise to the idea that they were a new order of

* Kunwald is half an hour's drive from Senftenberg. At the present day
it is a large village stretching up the valley, which is only about three
hundred yards wide and whose sides are partly cultivated and partly still
covered with woods. The cottages, some of which undoubtedly occupy sites
selected by the Brethren, are embowered in shrubbery and orchards and
present a picturesque appearance. Toward the northern end of the valley,
on an elevation, stands the church on the same spot, it is said, where the
Brethren built their chapel. The Glatz Mountains are distant between
three and four miles.

* Palacky, VII. pp. 486 and 487.
^ Reichel's Geschichte, p. 13.

« Lasitius, I. p. 76 fPiitt).


monks, they changed it simply into " Brethren."^ When the
organization of their church had been completed, they assumed
the additional title of Jednota Bratrska, or Unitas Fratrum,
that is, " The Unity of the Brethren," which has remained
the official and significant appellation of the Church to the
present day.^

Such was the beginning of the Unitas Fratrum. No further
details can be given, because they were intentionally concealed.

In effecting this original organization its founders had no
thought of setting up a new church. This was God's plan,
but they did not recognize it until after the lapse of several
years. What they now aimed at was a fraternal association
within which they could carry out the reformation that Hus
began but did not live to complete, and that liokycana urged
but had not the courage to bring about. Its practical object
was their own salvation. Hence they introduced a strict
discipline, searched the Scriptures, admonished and edified
one another in the Lord, and determined, if need be, to
suffer persecution patiently, without appealing to arms, as the
Taborites had done ; but, while they repudiated Romanism in
every form, they did not absolutely secede from the National
Church, and were satisfied with the ministrations of such of
its priests as shared their views and aspirations.^ There were,
as yet, comparatively few Brethren residing on the domain of
Senftenberg, but new settlers continued to arrive until 1461,
and the entire association throughout the country numbered
several thousand members. ^'^

' Comenii Hist., Sect. 51, p. 15.

* It was often abbreviated into " The Unity." Another name by which
the Church called itself was " The Bohemian Brethren." It related to all
the Brethren, whether they belonged to Bohemia, Moravia, Prussia or
Poland. To call them "The Bohemian-Moravian Brethren," or "The
Moravian Brethren," is historically incorrect. The name "Moravian"
arose in the time of the Renewed Brethren's Church, because the men by
whom it was renewed came from Moravia. The Bohemian Brethren were
frequently called " Waldenses" to denote their supposed origin.

3 Plitt, Chap. 24.

i» Gindely, I. p. 27.


The organization of the Unitas Fratrum took place in
1457/' in the year which witnessed the unexpected death of
young King Ladislaus (November the twenty-third), in the
reign of Pope Calixtus the Third and of the Emperor
Frederick the Third, sixty years prior to the Reformation of
the sixteenth century.

Either in the same or in the following year, twenty-eight
Elders were elected as the spiritual guides of the people, who
were pledged to obey and consult them in all matters affecting
religion. These Elders, writes JaflFet, constituted " so to say,
the Rectors of the congregation for a period of nearly ten
years, before priest or bishop had been appointed. "^^ Some
of them resided at Kunwald, the rest were dispersed through
the country. At stated times they met for consultation, or
convened Synods at which the membership generally w^as
represented. In addition to the Elders were priests, ordained
in the Roman Catholic or Utraquist Church, to whom all
ministerial functions were committed.

The names of the Elders have been preserved and are set
forth by Jaifet in the following order: 1, Brother Gregory;
2, Priest Michael, that is, Michael Bradatz or Bradacius,
ordained in the Roman Catholic Church; 3, Augustin Halar,
a Bachelor of Arts; 4, George of Fiinfkirchen, a man of
humble origin ; 5, Veit the Great, also of humble origin ; 6,
Thomas of Prelouc, a well-educated man ; 7, John Korunka,
probably the same as John of Sdberle or Zabori, a priest
ordained in the Utraquist Church ; 8, Brother John Chel-
cicky, a priest from Chelcic, ordained in the Roman Catholic
Church; 9, Brother John Klenovsky, of humble origin; 10,

'^ Blahoslaw's Latin MS. Hist. L. F., who says. "Acta sunt haec anno
Domini 1457 ;" Ratio Disciplinae, Praefatio, p. 3 ; Bekentniss des Christ-
lichen Glaubens, von 1572, Vorrede, p. 11. While there is no authority
for celebrating the first of March as the day of the founding of the U. F.,
as is done throughout the Church, it is proper to commemorate the event,
and this may as well be done on that day as on any other.

" Jaffet's Goliath's Schwert, p. 9, &c., MS., Herrnhut Archives ; also his
Geschichte der Entstehung, &c.; both found in Reichel's Zusatze, pp. 13
and 14.


Brother Matthias of Kunwakl, a farmer, a young man of
extraordinary gifts and holy life, subsequently the presiding
Bishop of the Church ; 11, Lawrence Krasonicky, a Bachelor
of Arts and learned scholar, who, at a later time, by his
disputations and writings, became one of the most zealous
supporters and able defenders of the Unity ; 12, Prokop
Hradecky, or, of Neuhaus, a Bachelor of Arts; 13, Brother
Elias of Chrenow, a miller; 14, Brother Adalbert; 15,
Brother Ambrose, of Prague, a man of culture; 16, Hawel
(Gallus), a Master of Arts ; 1 7, Victorin, a Master of Arts ;
18, Matthew (Notardus Cathedralis), a Bachelor of Arts ; 19,
Isaiah Wenzl, of Reichenau, a scrivener ; 20, Adalbert
Wenzl, a servant at the royal court; 21, John Jestrebsky, a
learned nobleman ; 22, George of Chropin, of humble origin,
as were all the rest whose names follow; 23, Wenzel of
Stecken ; 24, Thomas Prostegowsky ; 25, Amos ; 26, John
Holek ; 27, Wenzel of Beroun ; and 28, John Javornicky.^^

Only three of these Elders were priests; the rest were
laymen representing various stations in life from the nobleman
to the servant and the peasant. Such as belonged to the
lower classes were, however, far from being rude and ignorant
men. Popular education, as we have said in another connec-
tion, was zealously furthered by the Taborites. In this respect
the common people of Bohemia and Moravia were in advance
of those in other countries. A thorough knowledge of the
Bible in particular was almost universal, and for years
religious questions were discussed in all circles. A Bohemian
mechanic, or servant, or peasant, might well, therefore, be
intrusted with duties such as the eldership among the Brethren

Other priests, not belonging to the Elders, were John of
Taborsky, ordained in the Roman Catholic Church, subse-
quently a Taborite officiating at Tabor, where he was known

" Jaffet's Goliath's Schwert, p. 20, MS., H. A., found in Reichel's Zusiitze
p. 15. In our copy of these Zusiitze No. 21 of the above list is given as
John Gesteubsky ; but this is probably an error and the name should read
Jestrebsky, which is found in Gindely's list.


as John Wilemek ;^^ William of Tabor ; Andrew, formerly
abbot of the Slavonian Monastery of Emmaus at Prague;
and Martin of Krcin, all three ordained in the Utraquist
Church : other prominent laymen were George of Sussic,
Peter of Ledec and Methudius Strachota, a nobleman.*^

These thirty-five men constituted therefore the leading
representatives of the primitive Church of the Brethren.

In the second year of its existence it developed rapidly.
*'At that time," says JafFet, "friend longed for friend and
brother for brother, so that more persons continually joined
the Brethren, and their number increased. "^^

Rokycana, who was commonly regarded as the patron of the
settlement at Kunwald, looked upon them with favor. It
seemed to him that they were merely endeavoring to repro-
duce, in an evil time, the ideal of the apostolic church, without
seceding from the National Church. Why should he not be
satisfied, especially as his former disciples still kept up, to some
extent, a connection with him and, in conjunction with their
numerous associates, might yet be of use to him in extending
his influence ? The election of his friend George Podiebrad
to the Bohemian throne (March the second, 1458), had filled
him anew with ambitious hopes.

Discordant elements, however, began to appear among the
Brethren themselves (1459). The subject in dispute was the
Lord's Supper. Some maintained the Utraquist or Romish
dogma, others the Taborite belief. The contention grew
violent and bitter, threatening the very existence of the
Church. In this emergency the Elders convened a Synod at
which the differences were adjusted through the adoption, in
substance, of the view taught by Peter Chelcicky.^'' This
view was formulated as follows : " All Avho receive the sacra-
ment in truth, through faith, believe and confess that it is the

" Gindely's Quellen, p. 326.
15 Gindely, I. p. 27.

1® Entstehung, &c., p. 33, &c., found in Reichel's Ziisatze p. 12.
" Gindely, I. p. 26, whose autliority is L. F., Ill, p.258 and Blahoslaw's
Boh. MS. Hist., I. p. 21.


true body and blood of Christ, according to His word and
mind, without adding anything, or taking away anything,
and rejecting all human explanations.'"^

This position of the early Brethren with regard to the
doctrine of the Lord's Supper is still maintained by their
latest descendants. These accept as their fathers did, in simple
laith, the words of Christ, without attempting to explain them ;
and can look back upon the centuries of their past with the
consciousness of having contributed nothing to those eucha-
ristic controversies which form one of the strangest and saddest
chapters in the history of Protestantism.^^

There was another subject which engaged the serious atten-
tion of the Synod. The disputes about the Lord's Supper
had, to a great extent, been originated by the polemical works
of the day, especially by so-called Tracts of the Taborites.
Such writings were consequently deemed to be unprofitable
and injurious, and a formal declaration was adopted that the
Brethren " should be satisfied with God's Word and simply
believe what it taught, avoiding all Tracts; and that even
such as seemed to approximate to the Truth ought not to be
read until they had been examined and approved by the
Elders."^" This resolution was carried into effect. In a
letter written to Rokycana in 1468, the Brethren say: " For
more than eight years we have set aside all (theological)
writings and Tracts, and avoid them, especially those of

^^ Waldensia B. Lydii, Part II. pp. 295 and 296, in the Apology of the
Bohemian Brethren presented to the Elector of Brandenburg in 1532 and
revised in 1538, where is given the resolution of the Synod of 1459.

^^ Bishop Spangenberg's Exposition of Christian Doctrine, a modern
standard of the Church says, § 146, p. 245 : " The Holy Communion is a
mysterious enjoyment of the body and blood of Christ; that is, the enjoy-
ment of the bread and wine is connected with the enjoyment of the body
and blood of Jesus in a manner incomprehensible to us, and therefore
inexpressible, whenever the Holy Supper of the Lord is enjoyed according
to the mind of Jesus Christ."

20 Blahoslaw's MS. Boh. Hist., quoted by Palacky, VII. p. 487 and
Note 396.


Martinek and Biskupec."^^ It thus appears that, from the
very beginning of their Church, the Brethren insisted upon
reo-ulatinsr Christian life according to the biblical standard
alone, and endeavored in this way to avoid the confusion, the
inconsistencies and the fanaticism into which the Taborites
had fallen.

After the adjournment of the Synod Michael Bradacius
began to simplify public worship and, in particular, the cere-
monies at the administration of the Lord's Supper. This
,vas the first step in the direction of a Protestant ritual.

In 1460 a large body of Taborites from Moravia, after
having suffered severe persecutions both in that country and
in Bohemia, were led, through the instrumentality of Gregory,
vho visited them in their seats near Klattau and whom they
received " as an angel of God," to unite with the Brethreu.^^

^^ The name by which Nicholas Pilgram, the Taborite Bishop, was

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 11 of 64)