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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known. The above letter is cited by Palacky, Ibid.

'^'^ These Taborites drew up a full account of their sufferings and subse-
quent union with the Brethren, which chronicle is given by Bishop
Turnovius in his notes to Lasitius* MS. History. Compare Croeger, I.
pp 60-62.



The First Persecution of the Brethren. A. D. 1461-1463.

The Position and ambitious Projects of George Podiebrad — The Cause of
the first Persecution. — Edict against tlie Brethren.— The Meeting at
Prague. — Arrest of a number of Brethren. — Gregory on the Rack. —
His Dream. — Recantations. — Podiebrad disappointed in his Hopes. —
The Persecution continued. — Second Decree against the Brethren. —
Imprisonments and Martyrdom. — Appeal to Rokycana. — What the
Brethren wrote to him. — Third Decree against them. — Hiding in
Forests and Mountains. — End of the Persecution.

It was not the natural disposition of George Podiebrad,
which, as a rule, was liberal and just, but the force of
circumstances, that made him notorious as the first persecutor
of the Brethren. He had been elevated to the Bohemian
throne both by Utraquist and Catholic members of the Diet.
He was pledged by a solemn oath, taken prior to his corona-
tion, to uphold the Roman Catholic Church, to obey the Pope,
and to put an end to all sects and heresies in the realm ; and
by another oath, sworn at his coronation, to maintain the
Compactata as well as the other liberties and privileges of
the kingdom. And for his own part, he was convinced that
he must guard it against all such anarchy as the Hussite con-
flicts had brought about. Hence his reign involved the
difficult problem of satisfying two parties and the necessity of
watching, with the utmost care, the developments which were
going on both in religious and political life. Before long,
moreover, his ambition was roused. Confusion prevailed
throughout the German empire because Frederick, its head,
proved to be the weakest of rulers. Why should not


Podiebrad, whose firm sway was everywhere recognized and
who ah*eady possessed a controlling influence in central
Europe, be elected Roman King, and thus become practically
Regent of the Empire? Such was the suggestion of a
German, Martin Mayr, one of his councilors. In order to
the success of this scheme the aid of Rome was necessary, and
Rome, in the hope of furthering her own interests, was not
unwilling to stretch out her powerful hand. That learned
scholar and astute politician, Aeneas Sylvius, under the title
of Pius the Second, occupied the papal chair.^ He had
visited Bohemia, was well acquainted with its people and
their King, and believed the project could be made a means
to bring them into full subjection to the Hierarchy.

In February of 1461, Podiebrad returned to Prague from
Eger, where he had met a large number of German Princes
and Electors. Although he had not yet openly avowed his
purpose of securing the imperial crown, he knew that the
prospect was brightening. Flushed with high hopes, he
beheld, in imagination, the most powerful sceptre of Europe
in his grasp and himself occupying, although he could boast
of no royal line, the exalted seat of Charles and of Sigismund.

Under such circumstances and while he was in such a frame
of mind, he was told that complaints had been laid before the
Utraquist Consistory against those adherents of Rokycana
M'hom he had permitted to settle at Kunwald. They had
changed the ceremonies usual at the Lord's Supper; they
would not indiscriminately admit the people to this sacrament,
but exercised a strict discipline ; no one knew what they prac-
tised at their secret assemblies. These were the accusations
vehemently urged by the priests of neighboring parishes.
Podiebrad was indignant. Should a handful of obscure
religionists bring the odium of heresy anew upon his king-
dom just at at a time when he wished to conciliate the Pope?
His indignation increased, when he heard of a Taborite
tendency among some of the students at the University of
Prague and of the fanatical sects that were beginning to

^ He was elected August the tenth, 1458.


wander through tlic country. He must hasten to convince
Pius the Second, to whom he was about to send a splendid
embassy, that he meant to be true to his oath and that neither
sects nor heresies would be allowed to exist in Bohemia.
Accordingly he issued an edict commanding all his subjects
to join either the Utraquist or the Roman Catholic Churches,
and Taborites and Picards of every name to leave the country.^

On the strength of this mandate an investigation began in
the University (March the fifteenth, 1461.) A number of its
students, and at a later time, several of its Masters and
Professors, were arrested, cast into prison and eventually

About the time of this investigation Gregory came to
Prague in order to visit the Brethren. A meeting was
appointed in a house of the Neustadt. Among those who
assembled were two Elders, Augustin Halar and George of
Fiinf kirchen, as also two students, George of Sussic and Peter
of Ledec. The King having been informed of this gathering
gave orders, that all present should be arrested and examined
according to the cruel usage of the age.* A friendly magis-
trate warned Gregory of what was impending. Gregory
advised the Brethren to disperse. Some of them followed

^ Picards was the opprobrious name by which the Brethren were com-
monly known among their enemies. It was often applied to all such as
separated from the R. C. and National Churches and denied the doctrine of
transubstantiation. Its derivation is uncertain. Aeneas Sylvius, without
the least authority, derives it from the name of a man, Pilchard, who, he
says, was the founder of the sect of the Picards. Whatever its origin, it
expressed the greatest contempt and implied that those to whom it was
addressed were vile and immoral people. In a document of 1475 the
Brethren themselves say : " Picards was the name given to the worst of
men, who believed neither in Christ nor in the resurrection, and hence,
deeming sin to be no sin, walked openly in licentiousness and the lusts of
the flesh." (Goll, p. 9, Note 1.) The Brethren always indignantly rejected
this name ; and yet even at the present day it is sometimes applied to them
in Bohemia.

3 Palacky, VIII. pp. 185 and 186.

* Palacky, VIII. p. 186, says that everything was done " auf des Konigs
speciellen Befehl."


his counsel, others, and the students in particular, rejected it,
boastfully exclaiming : " The torture shall be our breakfast
and the stake our dinner!"^ Under such circumstances
Gregory also deemed it to be his duty to remain. In a little
while the door was thrown open and the magistrate who had
sent the warning appeared with his bailiffs. He advanced to
the threshold and surveying the assembly said : "All that will
live godly shall suffer persecution.*' You therefore, who are
here gathered, follow me to prison."''

At the prison the rack was immediately applied. But no
sooner were the boastful students stretched on this instrument
of torture, than they offered to recant. Of political intrigues,
which were laid to their charge, they knew nothing, but they
were willing to deny their faith. "After having tasted of
their breakfast, they had no appetite for their dinner.'"^
Gregory alone remained steadfast, and was wrenched so
frightfully, that when the tormentors ceased from their horrid
work, he fell as dead from the rack. Rokycana having been
informed of what had occurred, hastened to the torture
chamber and broke out into tears and loud lamentations,
exclaiming : " O that I were where thou art, my Gregory !"

But Gregory was not dead. He gradually revived and
complained of great pain, but did not, at first, seem to be
conscious of what had happened. After a time he told those
who were standing by that, in his swoon, he had had a vivid
dream. Planted in a pleasant meadow he saw a tree laden
with fruit, of which various birds were eating. Among them,
on a branch, sat a boy with a rod, directing and controlling
them so completely that not a single one ventured to fly away

° Luke of Prague in L. F. IV. p. 118, quoted in Reichel's Zusiitze, p. 29.
In many respects Bishop Luke's account is confused and unreliable. In-
deed, however distinguished a leader he otherwise was, his historical
writings in general are untrustworthy and marred particularly by a polem-
ical bias.

« 2 Tim. 3, 12.

' Hist. Persecutionum, Cap. XIX, 2.

« Plitt, Chap. XXVI.

® Hist. Persecutionum, Cap. XIX, 3.


or leave its place. Near by were stationed three men t-o
guard the tree. Their countenances he particularly notic(^d
and could not forget.^*'

The day after this occurrence Halar, George of Sussic, and
George of Fvinf kirchen, Elders though two of them were,
]niblicly recanted their faith in the Thein Church, accepted
the Utraquist doctrines and abjured aM further connection
with the Brethren." Thereupon they were set at liberty.
Others of those who had been arrested were kept in prison
until 1463. Gregory regained his freedom through the inter-
cessions of his uncle Rokycana, and took up his abode on the
domain of Reichenau, contiguous to that of Senftenberg.^^

The persecution which George Podiebrad thus inaugurated
was not only shameful and unjust in the highest degree, in
spite of all the circumstances which brought it about, but it
also wholly failed to accomplish the end which he had in view.
Instead of furthering his plan to ^ain the imperial crown, it
rendered, in conjunction with the incautious conduct of the
Romish party, that scheme so unpopular, spread the idea so
generally among the Bohemians that their King was forsaking
the Hussite traditions and becoming a German, and roused so
great a commotion, that he hastened to relinquish the project,
dismissed its originator, and gave the Diet a written assurance
that its rights and privileges, and the Compactata in particular,
should be upheld.^^

But the persecution did not, on that account cease, nor was
it confined to Prague. A new edict appeared, soon after the
liberation of Gregory, forbidding every form of public wor-
ship except that of the Utraquists and Catholics and com-
manding all priests who would venture to conduct it according

^° Hist. Persecutionum, Cap. XIX, 3.

" Gindely, I. p. 29, whose authority is L. F., II. pp. 342-344.

'2 Gindely, I. p. 29, says, that it can not be doubted that Gregory also
recanted. He cites Luke in L. F., IV. as authority. We consider this
assertion as contrary to all we know of the character and faith of Gregory,
and follow the Hist. Persecutionum, which is our authority for what is said
in the text. Cap. XIX, 4.

13 Palacky, VIII. p. 187.


to the manner of the Picards to be put to death. ^* Michael
Bradacius was seized and cast into a dungeon of the Castle of
Lititz; other influential Brethren were imprisoned in the
Castle of Podiebrad, where they were kept in constant fear of
execution. At Richenburg, Baron Zdenek Kostka, Lord of
Leitomischl, caused four members of the Church to be burned
alive.^^ On the estates of other zealous Utraquist nobles the
Brethren were cruelly oppressed and their priests expelled.

In this extremity they appealed to Rokycana. Although
he had officially sanctioned the persecution, he did not approve
of it. " Many evil accusations against us," writes Gregory,
"were laid before Rokycana, but, for a long'time, he rejected
them, for he knew us intimately and was well disposed toward
us. But he could not resist the King, whom prominent-clergy-
men incited against us, inducing the Queen, too, to believe the
things which were said, although, as God liveth, they were all
untrue. Hence the King ordered us to be imprisoned and
tortured. Rokycana could not prevent this."'^

Several letters seem to have been addressed to him, in one
of which occurred the following passage :

" Have we deserved the persecutions which you have brought
upon us ?^'' Have we not been your disciples ? Have we not
followed your own words in refusing to remain in connection
with the corrupt Church? Is it right to invoke the civil
power against us? Civil power is intended for the punish-
ment of those who have broken the laws of society and must
be coerced within proper bounds. It arose in the heathen
world. It is absolutely wrong to use it in matters of re-
ligion. "^^

" Comenius Hist. ^ 55, p. 16.

'^ Lasitius, quoted by Gindely, T. p. 30.

i« Palacky, VII. pp. 488 and 489, Note 397.

^' The Brethren refer to his oflBcial sanction.

^* L. F., II. p. 1, etc. In this Folio are found seven oflScial epistles to
Rokycana, all of which were written subsequent to 1467, except the fifth,
from which the above is quoted. This fifth epistle contains the following
endorsement: "This letter was delivered to Master Rokycana when the
Brethren, after having suffered tortures, were freed from prison in the
year 1463."


Whatever the views aud feelings of Rokycana may have
been, he was afraid of the King and did nothing for the relief
of the Brethren. Hence they closed their correspondence with
him in these words : " Thou art of the world and wilt perish
with the world."'^ Now he became angry and took active
steps against tliem, inducing Podiebrad to issue another edict
banishing them from the country. It is said, that the Bishop
of Breslau advised the King to shed no more blood, because
martyrdom \vas like a half-roasted piece of meat, apt to breed
maggots.^'^ In consequence of this new decree many Brethren,
and especially the more prominent, fled to the mountains and
forests round about Brandeis, where they eked out their lives
in great distress and misery .^^

Gradually, however, the persecution died out. This was
owing, in part, to the state of political affairs, which required
the entire attention of Podiebrad. Pius the Second turned
against him and began a series of intrigues to deprive him of
his kingdom. Under such circumstances the Brethren were

1^ Hist. PersecutioDum, Cap. XIX, 4.

^^ Hist. Persecutionum, Cap. XIX, 5.

^' In consequence of their liiding in this way another opprobrious name,
namely, Jamnici, was applied to the Brethren. It means inhabitants of
pits and caves.



The Synod of Reichenau and final Separation of the Brethren
from the Utraquist Church. A. D. 1464-1466.

Results of the Persecution. — Increase of Memberchip. — Desire for a more
complete Organization. — Synod among the Mountains of Reichenau. —
The Statutes adopted by the Synod. — Election of three Directors of the
Church. — The Question of a Separation from the Utraquists. — Martin
Lupac and his Counsel. — Looking for a Church not under the Papacy,
with which Church the Brethren might unite. — Another Synod called.
— The Question of separating from the National Church and instituting
an independent Ministry decided by the Lot.

Persecution for the Gospel's sake invariably defeats
itself. The more God's people are oppressed, the more they
learn to endure, the stronger they grow in faith, the more
rapidly they increase in numbers.

Of this truth the first persecution which came upon the
Brethren was an evidence. A few of them denied their faith
and fell, but as a body they were inspired with new courage
and the firm determination to carry on, while bearing patiently
whatever suiferings might yet await them, the work which
they had begun in the Lord's name and to the Lord's glory.
^ov did an increase of their membership fail to take place.
Attracted by the steadfastness which they had shown there
came both priests and laymen, asking to be admitted to their
communion. Among the former were several Waldenses
from a colony on the confines of Austria, and among the
latter, noblemen who invited the Brethren to settle on their
estates.^ Throughout their whole history, persecutions pro-

^ Keichel's Geschichte, p. 16.


duced similar results. The Brethren were, more or less at all
times, in the language of one of their own writers, " cast
down, oppressed and greatly afflicted ;"^ and yet, until the
Anti-reformation, they continually grew in numbers and

But the first persecution brought al)out other consequences
also, which proved to be of far reaching importance. The
conviction spread that a more complete organization must be
given to the Church and that it must be more absolutely
grounded, in doctrine and practice, on the Holy Scriptures.
To this end the Elders convened a Synod among the moun-
tains of Reichenau.

It took place in 1464 and was held under the open canopy
of heaven.^ Many representatives, from different parts of
Bohemia and Moravia, attended. First of all, the principles
according to which the Church should be governed, were
anew discussed and adopted. These principles have been
preserved and constitute the oldest document extant setting
forth the doctrine and practice of the Brethren. It reads as
follows :*


We are, above all, agreed on the following points :
To coutinue, through grace, sound in the faith of our Lord
Jesus Christ ; to be established in the righteousness which is of
God, to maintain the bond of love among each other, and to
have our hope in the living God. We will shew this both in
word and deed, assist each other in the spirit of love, live hon-
estly, study to be humble, quiet, meek, sober, and patient, and
thus testify to others that we have in truth a sound faith, genuine
love, and a sure and certain hope.

We are moreover agreed, all and each to shew willing obe-
dience in all things, as the inspired Scriptures of our Lord exhort

^ Quellen, p. 278, Blahoslaw's Letter to Lasitius.

^ L. F., V. 260, etc.

* L. F., V. No. 17. A German translation is given in Reichel's Ge-
schichte. Appendix I.; also in Croger, 1., pp. 66-71 ; Benham in his Origin
and Episcopate of the Boh. Brn., Chapt. V., p. 38, furnishes an English
version which we have adopted above.


US to do ; each is to accept in the spirit of mutual good will,
instruction, warning, exhortation, and reproof from his brother,
and withal he will maintain the covenant into which we have
entered with God and His Holy Spirit, through our Lord Jesus

We are unanimously agreed, mutually to strengthen each
other, according to our several abilities in the truth, which by
the grace of God we confess, and to undertake and execute with
cheerfulness whatever may be deemed useful to our edification
and spiritual welfare.

We will, above all, observe Christian obedience, acknowledge
our faults and shortcomings, humble ourselves, and be subject
one to another ; we will have the fear of God before our eyes
when we are exhorted and reproved, try to amend our ways and
confess our sins before God and man. If any one should be
unwilling to abide by the rules and prove unfaithful to the
covenant made with God, and faithful Christian brethren, we
must declare, though with deep regret, that we cannot assure such
an one of his salvation ; but on the other hand, it may possibly
become necessary to exclude him from our church-fellowship.
And if any one is excluded from our communion on account of
some grievous transgression or glaring error in doctrine, we
cannot re-admit him until he has entirely cleared himself, and
given manifest proofs of a changed conduct.

We further agree, that each one abide faithful in his calling,
and have a good conscience in all things, according to the apos-
tolic exhortations. The priests and teachers should, in particular,
set a good example to others, and in word and deed demean
themselves so that they may escape all blame and just reproof.
Those who, of their own accord, have renounced their claims
upon their personal estates for the good of the Church, should
faithfully adhere to their engagement, and not urge any private
or personal claims upon their estates, monies, or other property,
but follow the example of the primitive Christians, willingly
submitting to have all things common, as it is written : " They
had all things common, and parted to all men as every man had
need." This is a very praiseworthy and reasonable thing, espe-
cially from those who become the messengers of the churches, in
order that they may learn while discharging the duties of their
office to be content with a moderate diet and decent clothing,
leaving all the rest to the Lord who cares for them. They
ought, therefore, to abstain from all extravagance, and be content
with the support which the stewards of the common fund are
able to allow them.

Moreover, it is necessary that the priests and teachers should
be freed from all care regarding their temporal support, to enable
them to devote their whole attention to the spiritual duties of
their office. They must patiently bear whatever Divine provi-


dence may appoint for them ; distress, hunger, cold, persecution,
imprisonment, and even death itself, after the example of the
early Christians, who were wholly devoted to God — they must
surrender themselves entirely to His government, which they
must patiently follow, and leave the world.

Whoever possesses this world's goods should remember the
poor, and freely communicate according to the word of God ;
work with his own hands, and do what is just and right. They
ought only to trade with heavenly goods and treasures, preach
the word of God, teach their dear neighbors and pray for them,
that the Lord may grant them grace to grow and increase more
and more in their spiritual lives.

Priests and teachers may, however, engage in domestic labors
in their leisure hours. Whatever they can spare from their own
necessary expenses they should spend in remembering the poor ;
but if they suffer want they are to be supported, with the consent
of their brethren, from the general fund; yet care should always
be taken to avoid giving offence, or causing disharmony and

The same rule obtains among brethren and sisters who are
engaged in handicraft business, or hire themselves out for labor
in order to secure a decent support and maintenance. Whoever
goes on errands, or is employed to do a certain work, shall be
paid a fair remuneration for his labor, unless he can and will do
it gratuitously for the benefit of the congregation.

Orphans and minors must shew at all times due obedience to
the superintendents and elders of the congregation who have
charge of them, and do nothing without their counsel or advice
and consent.

Servants are bound to obey their masters in all things, for they
are their nursing-fathers, counsellors and supporters, who care
for them both in health and sickness.

The sisters who are in service stand in the same relation, and
are under the same obligations to their mistresses. Indeed all
are expected to demean themselves as it becometh Christians, in
order to walk blamelessly before God, and to be useful and
pleasant to their brethren and sisters, whose well-meant counsels
and directions they ought faithfully to follow, preserving a good
conscience and purity of heart, w^alking in simplicity of mind,
and always remembering that the eye of God penetrates their
inmost thoughts. If they are thus walking in truth they may
rejoice in sure and certain hope of salvation.

Every master and mistress of a house must treat their servants
with kindness, encourage them in everything that is pleasing to
God, set them a good example in word and deed, and bear rule
over them in the spirit of meekness, peace, and gentleness,
coupled with a prudent exercise of forbearance such as becometh
a Christian master.


We further agreed on certain points respecting our domestic
relations to each other, certain rules were laid down in harmony
with the word of God, regulating the mutual relationships
between man and wife, and further as to how a husband is to
behave towards his wife with all modesty, how to bring up his
children well, how to superintend his servants and whole house-
hold, how to act towards his neighbor, and likewise how to
regulate his conduct towards his superiors, magistrates, &c., that
in all things the true spirit of the Divine law be obeyed.

Our people are to be supported to the best of our ability.

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 12 of 64)