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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have been Sturm's scholar," In dealing with such an
antagonist, it is not likely that Jaffet would have brought
forward the narrative if he had not been sure of his ground.
In considering the occurrence itself we must, first, carefully
distinguish between the position of the Moravian Waldenses
in the fifteenth century and the Waldenses of the Piedmont
Valleys in the seventeenth ; the former being recognized and
honored by their Utraquist neighbors, the latter hated and
oppressed by their Romish foes. And then we must take
into consideration the peculiar circumstances of the time.
Unparalleled confusion reigned in the Roman Catholic
Church and among the religious parties of Bohemia. The
Council of Basle had openly broken with the Pope and was
continuing its work in defiance of his decree of dissolution.
That work included the pacification of the Hussites. They
were flattered and cajoled. They were allowed to dispute, in
open session, with the Fathers, and to defend the principles
for which Hus had been put to death. They were assured
that their demands would be granted. They were incited
against each other, so that even if the Taborites would not
agree to a pacification the Utraquists might be won. That in
such a period two Waldensians, previously ordained to the
priesthood by a Roman Catholic Bishop and representing a
body which fraternized with the Utraquists, should, at their
request, be consecrated to the episcopacy, not in accordance
with an act of the Council, but by Bishops who were mem-
bers of it^ — for there undoubtedly were several consecrators,
even if only one be mentioned — is not less credible than the
many other unusual events which were transpiring at Basle.
" Such an act, just at that time," writes Palacky, " may have
been meant as an example and encouragement for the Bohe-
mians, that they might be the more ready to agree to the
Compactata of Basle."'*

i» Palacky, VII. p. 492. It would be a misconception of the whole
narrative, to 'suppose that the Acts of the Council of Basle ought to contain
a record of the consecration of Nemez and Wlach. The Council, as such.
had nothing to do with the transaction. Gindely, like Palacky, practically


Goll doubts the narrative and attempts, in a note, to explain
it by saying that Frederick Nemez was a certain Frederick
Reiser, who was arrested and executed at Strassburo;, and
claimed, in the course of his trial, to have been ordained by
the Taborite Bishop, Nicholas Pilgram. But in giving this
explanation Goll falls into a strange inconsistency. For if
his note is correct, then the record found in the " Book of
the Masters " must be absolutely rejected ; and yet, in the
text, he says merely, that their narrative " must be received
with caution."^^ It is, moreover, extremely improbable that
the Waldenses, the friends of the Utraquists, would apply to
the Taborites for ordination just at the time when their power
was fast waning. Such an ordination, even in the period of
their greatest prosperity, would not, as Goll's note makes
Pilgram himself say, have been acknowledged by the Utra-
quists. Nor are these the only objections to GoU's conjecture.
Two others present themselves which are insurmountable.
In the first place, Reiser was no Waldensian ; in the second,
Goll wholly fails to account for the consecration at Basle. It
would be absurd to suppose that Nicholas Pilgram had been
connected with that act ; for it took place not long after the
battle of Lipan, when he and the whole remnant of Taborite
leaders were hiding behind the strong walls of Tabor.

But the historic character of the episcopate of the Unitas
Fratrum does not stand or fall with the above account of
the origin of the Waldensian episcopate. That character
depends rather upon the question whether the deputies of
the Synod of Lhota were actually consecrated Bishops by
the Waldensian Bishops. If this is conceded, then these
bishops must have had a legitimate episcopate even if the
way in which they obtained it can not be satisfactorily
explained. For it has been shown, and is confessed by Goll,
that one of the chief reasons why the Brethren sought the
episcopacy was the desire to establish a ministry which would

endorses the narrative, and says that the Utraquists maintained it to be
correct. I. p. 37.
^» Goll, p. 27.


be acknowledged by the Roman Catholics and Utraquists.
It is plain, therefore, that the deputies who negotiated with
the Waldenses and the Synod which sent them, must have
been fully satisfied with regard to the validity of the Wal-
densian episcopate, and must have known that this validity
would not be called in question by the Roman Catholics and
Utraquists. If Stephen and his colleague were not lawful
Bishops, they could confer nothing more than what the
deputies had already received. And yet these deputies joy-
fully accepted the laying on of their hands; and, upon
returning to Bohemia, re-ordained Matthias, Thomas and
Elias, who had received presbyterial ordination at the Synod
of Lhota. Hence the Brethren must have been convinced
that they were securing a valid episcopacy. If such were not
their convictions, we must suppose an order of events utterly
absurd and preposterous.

Three priests, ordained in the Roman Catholic and Wal-
densiau Churches, ordain the first three candidates for an
independent ministry of the Unitas Fratrum. Having done
this, these priests are sent to two ministers who are not
Bishops, hence priests and their equals, and accept from them
a new ordination, although it is nothing more than what they
had before, and although one of their number had already,
in all probability, been ordained by those very ministers.
Thereupon, having thus been re-ordained by priests, these
three priests go home and, as priests, re-ordain the same men
to whom they had before imparted a presbyterial ordination.

Is it not more reasonable to believe that the Waldenses had
a valid episcopate, the origin of which can not be explained,
than to suppose that the Brethren would so stultify themselves?
Now, even Goll, who is a Roman Catholic Professor at
Prague, and has carefully studied' the original documents in
the Herrnhut Archives, although he presses his criticisms to
extremes, and finds, as he says, many obscurities and contra-
dictions in the sources, and draws conclusions with which we
do not agree, is nevertheless obliged to confess that Michael
Bradacius was consecrated a Bishop by Bishop Stephen of the


Waldenses.^ But if our argument be correct, the validity of
the Waldeusian episcopate follows, whatever its origin.

That obscurity prevails, not only with regard to the insti-
tution of the ministry of the Brethren but also in connection
witli other points in their early history, is undeniable. Such
obscurity, however, can easily be explained.

In the first period of the Church, many occurrences, from
prudential motives, were intentionally concealed. The letters
to Rokycana, for example, do not mention the episcopal con-
secration received from the Waldeuses. For, as Reichel well
says, " it would have been gross ingratitude if the Brethren,
by forthwith publishing the source of their episcopacy, had
drawn the attention of their enemies to the Waldenses. How
much cause they had for such caution, is shown by the perse-
cution of the Waldenses which broke out when it became
known what they had done for the Brethren."^^ The His-

^^ Goll's work, " Quellen und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der Boh-
mischen Briider," is very valuable, in spite of its hypercritical tendencies ;
and the Appendix, with its translations of original documents from the
L. F., is invaluable. Not a few of his deductions, however, to use his
own words, "must be accepted with caution." For example, he praises
some of Jaffet's historical works, says that he used sources now lost to
us, that he gave tone to the historical literature of the seventeenth
century, and yet, when it suits him, coolly rejects Jaffet's statements.
Again, in one place, he says that Jaffet constructed, without authority,
lists of the early Bishops, and yet, in another, that Bishop Cerny, the
first Archivist of the Unitas Fratrum, wrote a work which is now lost,
but which Jaffet used, on "The Succession of the Bishops from 1467
to 1559." The views of Lechler, in his " Wiclif u. die Vorgeschichte der
Ref.," II. p. 507, antagonistical to the validity of the episcopate of the
Unitas Fratrum, as also those of Zeschwitz, in " Herzog's Encyklopsedie,"
are sufficiently refuted by what has been said above. Moreover, neither of
these writers, although we do not otherwise question the distinction of
Lechler as a historian, had access to the original sources, and could not
have understood them even if they had been open. Their views are based
on works which we have noticed in this chapter and in other connections.
Compare the author's "Moravian Episcopate,'' London, 1877.

^^ Zusatze, p. 89. Jaffet, Schwerdt Goliath's, p. 11, etc., in Keichel's
Zusiitze, pp. 81 and 82, speaks of this caution and prudence of the early
Brethren, and says the knowledge of several important occurrences was
intentionally conveyed to posterity by tradition only.


toria Persecutionum adds: "There was a time when, con-
strained by existing circumstances, the Brethren, very prop-
erly, were silent with regard to the ordination received from
the Waldenses."^^ As soon as that time had passed by, they
made known their claim.

The records of the Church were subjected to unusual
accidents. The earliest archives, kept at Senftenberg, were
destroyed at the end of the fifteenth century f the second
collection of documents mostly perished, in 1546, in a con-
flagration at Leitomischl; and the great mass of their
publications, issued at a later time, fell a prey to the fury of
the Anti-reformation. If these records and works were still
in existence, light would be thrown upon points that will
ever remain obscure. And yet, taking into consideration
both the disasters which befell the records, and the persistent
efforts that were made to blot them from existence, it is sur-
prising that, at this late date, so much is known of the origin,
episcopate and earliest history of the Brethren.

The claim of the Unitas Fratrum to a valid episcopacy is
important as a historic and not as an essential question. It is
not based upon the idea that episcopal ordination is alone
legitimate. The Church still occupies the catholic standpoint
of the fathers, upholding fellowship with evangelical Chris-
tians of every name ; the prayer which was fervently uttered,
four and a quarter centuries ago, amidst the mountains of
Reichenau and in the hamlet of Lhota, is still repeated:
"Unite all the children of God in one spirit."^

Taking up again the thread of our History, we find that,
after the return of Michael Bradacius and his two com-
panions, another Synod was convened at Lhota, to which body
they rendered a full report of their consecration. ^^ This
report occasioned general satisfaction and deep joy, and, by
direction of the Synod, Michael proceeded, first of all, in

^2 Cap. II. 6.

« Palacky, IX. p. 192, Note 143.
^* Litany of the Moravian Church-
'■'^ Reichel's Geschichte, p. 2l.


virtue of his new episcopal office, to re-ordain Matthias,
Thomas and Elias to the priesthood. Thereupon it was
resolved to appoint by lot one of these three priests to the
episcopacy. The lot designated Matthias of Kunwald, who
was consecrated by Michael and his two associate Bishops.^®

In order to assist the Bishops in the government of the
Church, the Synod furthermore instituted an Executive
Council, to which were elected the following members :
Thomas, Elias, Gregory, John Chelcicky, Lawrence Kras-
onicky, Prokop, Luke, John Taborsky, John Klenowsky and

And now an idea was broached — whether at this Synod or
at a subsequent convocation can not be determined — which
took by surprise the three Bishops who had received conse-
cration at the hands of the AYaldensians. These three
Bishops, the Brethren said, had been appointed merely in
order to transfer the episcopacy from the Waldenses to the
Unitas Fratrum, not in order to stand at its head : the head
of the Church must be Matthias, who was its Bishop in a
different sense from what they were : moreover, two of their
number had come originally from the Roman Catholic
Church, and no element of this kind ought to be found in
the government of the Unity, whose very existence was a
solemn protest against Rome.

Michael Bradacius at once yielded to the wishes of his
brethren and resigned the position of presiding Bishop in
favor of Matthias ; the second Bishop, who had been origin-
ally a Waldensian priest, died about this time ; but the third,
whose priesthood, like Michael's, was of Romish origin,
indignantly protested, and when he could not gain his point.

^® M. Bradacius in Koranda's Letter previously quoted, Palacky, IX. p.
192; Book of the Masters, Goll, Appendix, p. 105; Jaffet's Schwerdt
Goliath, p. 11, etc., in Reichel's Zusiitze, p. 80; Gindely I. p. 37, etc.

" Jaffet's Goliath's Schwerdt, p. 11, etc., in Keichel's Zusatze, pp. 82
and 83 ; Gindely, I. p. 38. It is uncertain whether all these men were
elected at this Synod ; some of them may have been appointed at a later
time ; but the above ten members constituted the first Council.


left the Church in great anger. Such a manifestation of the
spirit of Rome made so unfavorable an impression upon
Michael, that he resigned his episcopacy altogether, declaring
that he was unworthy of this office and would again be a mere
priest. At the same time he pronounced his Romish priest-
hood to be corrupt, and had himself re-ordained by Bishop
Matthias.^ Although he acted conscientiously in this matter,
yet his course was strange, inconsistent and improper.

•■'^ Ob die Trennung von Gott sei, L. F., V. p. 23, etc., in Reichel's Zusiitee,
p. 51; Koranda's Letter, previously quoted; Luke's Erneuerung d. h.
Kirche, MS., University Prague, GoU, Appendix, pp. 109 and 110. The
fact that one of Michael's associates was dead and that the other had left
the Church, constitutes the reason that he speaks, in the sources elsewhere
quoted, only of himself as consecrated by the Waldenses to the episcopacy.



The /Second Persecution of the Brethren. 1468-1471.

Bishop Matthias and his Council. — Union with the Waldenses proposed. —
Prevented by the Utraquists. — Treachery of one of the Bishops. —
Persecution of Waldenses. — Bishop Stephen's Martyrdom. — Rokycana
inaugurates a Persecution of the Brethren. — Edict of the Diet. — The
seven Letters of the Brethren to Rokycana.— Their First Confession
of Faith. — Summary of their Doctrines. — Other Letters of the Brethren^
— Their Sufferings during the Persecution. — Zeal and Activity of the
Council. — War with Hungary prevents a general Persecution. — Last
Letter to Rokycana. — His Death. — Death of King George.

Bishop Matthias and his Council, whose seat was at
Lhota, began their work with hope and zeal. There had been
committed to him, in some respects, absolute power; but it
was overshadowed by the superior education and intellectual
strength of several of his associates. Gregory continued to be
the leading spirit. Next to him stood Lawrence Krasonicky,
who faithfully strove to keep the Church in the paths of
simplicity marked out by its founders. He was a Bachelor
of Arts, a learned man and the author of numerous works.
Other prominent members of the Council were Prokop, whose
distinguished labors will be set forth in the sequel; John
Taborsky, erudite, of sound judgment, free of speech, "famous
in his time ;" and John Klenowsky, a finished scholar and
noted for his sagacity. Bishop Borek, of Olmiitz, used to say,
that he, Ctibor Towacowsky — the Governor of Moravia — and
Klenowsky, could together rule the whole world. But more
honorable is the testimony of his brethren. He was true in
all his ways ; faithful and untiring in his work. Loving the


Church with his whole heart he reliuquished considerable
estates in order to devote himself to its interests, spent the
rest of his fortune mostly for its benefit, and grew to be a
venerable father in its service/

One of the first projects inaugurated by the Council had in
view a union with the Waldenses. The overture, however,
was conditional. In point of doctrine and in their efforts to
lead Christian lives they were a shining light, but its bright-
ness was, to some extent, marred by inconsistency. They did
not confess their faith boldly before men; they fraternized
with the Utraquists at the mass ; their ministers manifested
a tendency to accumulate wealth. To these things the deputies
sent by the Council were instructed to draw their attention in
brotherly kindness and love. The Waldenses received this
reproof in the same spirit, acknowledged that they had erred,
and promised to return to the way of their fathers. A joint
convention was agreed on, at which the terms of the union
should be settled. The joy of the Brethren, when informed
of the success of these negotiations, proved to be premature.
Contrary to the stipulations into which the Waldenses had
entered, they consulted their Utraquist friends, who persuaded
them to relinquish the project as useless and dangerous.^

And yet there came upon them the very peril which they
sought to avoid. " Like another Doeg," the faithless Bishop
who had deserted the Unitas Fratrum sought out Rokycana
and betrayed the proceedings at Lhota as well as the act of
the Waldensian Bishops. Rokycana burned with anger.
Casting to the winds his friendship, he inaugurated a merciless

' Letter of Luke of Prague to the Brethren at Tumau, written after the
death of Klenowsky, which took place at Leitomischl, on the Friday before
St. Martin's Day (November 11th), 1498. L. F., V. p. 329, Reichel's
Zusazte, pp. 192 and 193 ; also Todtenbuch, p. 3. Taborsky died at the
same place, on the second Wednesday after Easter, 1495, and was buried in
the church. Todtenbuch, p. 2. Krasonicky died at the same place,
January 25, 1532. Todtenbuch, p. 12. His writings, seventeen in number,
are mostly lost; GoU, Appendix, p. 138, gives his Treatise on the Lord's
Supper against Cahera, the MS. being in the City Library of Gorlitz.

^ Blahoslaw's Summa, Goll, Appendix, pp. 118 and 119.


persecution. The Waldenses were dispersed. Some wan-
dered homeless through the country ; the majority fled to the
Mark Brandenburg ; Bishop Stephen, while secretly officiating
among the Germans, was arrested, taken to Vienna, and
executed at the stake (1469).^

No less violent was Rokycana's indignation against the
Brethren. He could not forgive them for the bold step which
they had taken, although it was the result of his own instruc-
tions. It militated against his interests and those of the
National Church. However unwilling he may have been to
take part in the first persecution, now he was foremost in
stirring up the King, the clergy and the people. At his
instigation, Podiebrad brought the secession of the Brethren to
the notice of the Diet of Beneschau (1468), and this body
decreed that they should be arrested and punished. Nothing
short of an absolute recantation was to save them from such a

Under these circumstances they appealed to their persecutor.
The letters which they sent him, written mostly by Gregory,
manifested a deep religious feeling, honesty of conviction,
strong faith in God and fearlessness in confessing the truth.

At the same time glimpses were occasionally given of the
hope, still entertained by the Brethren, that Rokycana might,
in the end, break the worldly bonds by which he was held
and come out openly on the side of the Uuitas Fratrum.

The first epistle, dated May the second, 1468, reminded him
of what he had himself taught its founders ; of the advice
which he had given them to consult Peter Chelcicky; of
his own memorable words, " I know very well that you are
right, but I can not join you without disgrace." Why then
should he now malign and persecute them ? It closed as
follows : " We have separated from you for no trivial
reasons, but because we could not possibly find any spiritual
food in your communion, where faith and love are perishing.
Hence we have turned away from you to the Gospel."

' Jaffet's Goliath's Schwerdt, Reichel's Ziisatze. p 93.
* Cauaerarius, p. 114; Comenii Hist, et R. D., ^ 64,


Rokycana told the messenger who brought this letter, and
who was instructed to give him an oral report of recent
occurrences, that only a divine revelation could justify the
founding of an independent Church. " If you have received
such a revelation," he added, "why do you not make it
known? Should it prove to be true, we also will accept it,"^

This remark induced the Brethren to send him a full
account of their secession, of the way in which they had,
through the lot, ascertained the will of God, and of the
doctrines which they held. They had previously received, in
reply to a brief letter of inquiry, his written assurance that
he would not make use of such information to their disad-

The exposition of their doctrines as given to Rokycana,
constituted the first formal Confession issued by the

The Bible is their norm of faith and rule of practice ; they
follow the example of the primitive Church ; they accept the
Apostles' Creed. Living faith gives power to resist sin. By
appropriating the merits of Christ a man receives, through
Him, the forgiveness of sins and the efficacy of His resurrec-
tion, so that he loves Him, abides in Him and becomes a new
creature born of the seed of the Word of God. Outward
righteousness and good works, performed with a carnal mind,
bear no fruit unto salvation, for the spirit of adoption is
wanting. There are seven sacraments, but their efficacy is not

5 The first letter to Rokycana is found in L. F., I, p. 1, etc.; Plitt, chapter
27 ; Gindely, I. pp. 39 and 40.

^ The letter of inquiry is marked in the L. F. as the second of the series ;
the account of their secession and doctrines is contained in the third and
fourth (L. F., I. Reichel's Zusatze, p. 96-109), both delivered on the Friday
after St. James' Day (July 25),* 1468. The third is of an explanatory
character ; the fourth embraces first a history of the Synods of Reichenau
and Lhota and then a Confession of Faith. In giving the history of the
Synod at Lhota the fact that the episcopacy had been secured from the
Waldenses is omitted, for the reasons assigned in the last chapter.

' The Unitas Fratrum issued, from time to time, a number of Confessions
(thirty-four according to Gindely). For our list of them see Appendix.


objective ; it depends upon the faith of the recipient and the
religious character of the officiating priest. Judicial oaths
and military service are inadmissible. The civil power has
no right to interfere in religious matters. Converts from the
Roman Catholic Church must be rebaptized.

There follows a detailed account of the seven sacraments.
As regards the Lord's Supper, the position of the Synod of
1459 is maintained, with the following additional comment :
"It has often been asked, in how far this sacrament' is the
body of Christ, We reply, that for the sake of our conscience,
we dare not discuss, or try to understand this point. For
neither our Lord Jesus Christ, nor His Apostles, have told us
how this thing is. We simply believe what He says, and
receive the sacrament for the purpose for which it was
instituted by Him,"

A letter which the Brethren addressed to the King (1468),
contained substantially the same Confession. They wrote also
to the Masters of the University.^

But all these communications availed nothing. The King
remained hostile. Rokycana's answer to their appeals was
publicly given, in the form of epistles to the clergy and
people, warning them against the Brethren, against their
hypocrisy and dark ways.^

Thereupon, in 1469, they sent him their sixth letter con-
taining a refutation of his charges and, in the next year,
followed it up with a public reply .^"^

The confidence which the Brethren express in the justness
of their cause, can not but excite admiration ; and their words

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 15 of 64)