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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8 L. F., 11. Reichel's Ziisiitze, p. 112. Goll, Appendix, p. 94-96.

» In 1465 Hilarius Litomiriensis wrote his " Tractatus contra perfidiam
aliquor. Boli." It was published in 1485, and probably constitutes the
oldest printed work extant against the Unitas Fratrum. A copy of it is
contained in the Malin Library of Moravian Literature, at Bethlehem, and
is a beautiful specimen of the Incunabula. Catalogue, p. 35, No. 137.

1" L. F., II., pp. 62-67, Reichel's Zusatze, p. 113, etc. For the fifth letter
see p. 119 of this History, Note 18. Goll, pp. 15-21, does not follow the
numbering of the letters as given in the L. F. and, in some cases, attaches
different dates from those found in Reichel's Zusatze.


often have a ring which is as clear as it is bold. Thus the
Masters of the University are entreated, since they well know
the corruptness of the Romish Church, to break ofi' all con-
nection with it and openly confess the truth ; the King is
informed that the Brethren are ready to prove, before a
General Council, that it is right to abjure obedience to this
Church, and that the rule of the Popes is an abomination
before God."

Repeated requests were made by the Unity for a public
hearing, but the only notice taken of them was a brief
examination, in 1470, of Martin, one of its imprisoned

Meanwhile the edict of the Diet began to bear bitter fruits.
More than one city expelled every inhabitant who was known
to be a member of the Unity. At Koniggratz numerous
arrests took place, the prisoners being conveyed to Prague and
there incarcerated; at Skuc, Baron Kostka had several
Brethren tortured on the rack and cast into a gloomy dungeon.
Michael Bradacius was seized, by order of the King, and
confined in the Castle of Brux; Matthias Dolansky ex-
perienced the same treatment at Prague. In Moravia, at
Kremsir, Jacob Hulava was burned alive in the presence of
his family. The numerous chapels which the Brethren had
built were all closed. They were forced to meet for worship
on the mountains and in the recesses of the forests. In winter
they walked, in single file, to the appointed places, through
deep snow, the last man dragging after him a rake or the
branch of a tree to obliterate their footprints.

But they remained true to God and to their faith in God.
He was near to them as they called upon Him amidst His
everlasting hills, and when they sang His praises with the
storm-wind for an accompaniment. There was no thought of
yielding to their foes.

This was owing, in no small degree, to the courage, activity
and endurance displayed by Bishop Matthias, Gregory and

" Palacky, VIII. p. 499.


the whole Council. Having transferred their seat from Lhota
to Lenesic, near Laun, they went out in every direction, at
great risk, to comfort the afflicted and the oppressed, or sent
them, by trusty messengers, letters full of encouragement and
hope. Nor did they forget the temporal necessities of the
persecuted flock. Collections were instituted among its
wealthier members and large amounts contributed. A godly
woman, one Catharine, is mentioned by name, as having been
particularly zealous in works of mercy .^^ Had it not been
for the devastating war which Matthias Corvinus, King of
Hungary, in the name of the Emperor, of the Pope and of the
Catholic religion, w^as carrying on with Podiebrad, the perse-
cution might have become general. In such an event the
Unitas Fratrum, in spite of its heroic faith, might have been
overwhelmed. Hence the Brethren of a later day, referring
to this dark time of trouble, wrote : " With David Ave may
confess, ' If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
now may Israel say; if it had not been the Lord who was
on our side, when men rose up against us ; then they had
swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against

In 1471 the Council sent to Rokycana its last letter, ex-
horting him to change his course and solemnly re-iterating
w^hat had been said in the first, that he had risen up against
the lowly and simple of heart who were but carrying out his
own instructions. " Reflect, O Teacher," were the closing
words of this document, '' and die not with such sins upon
your soul ! "^*

Rokycana still remained unmoved. But his power was
drawing to an end. On the twenty-second of February, of
the same year, this ambitious leader of the National Church,
which he had ruled for half a century, was laid low in

'^ The above facts are taken from L. F., I. II. and V., Jaffet's Ursprung
d. B. U. and Lasitius, all quoted by Gindely.
1^ Conf. of 1538, Hist. Introd., De Origine, in Lydius, II. p. 139.
1* L. F., I. p. 34, etc., Reichel's Zusatze, p. 132.


death.'^ A month later, on the twenty-fifth of March, King
George Podiebrad followed him to the grave. Then the
persecution ceased.

15 The statement of the Hist. Persecutionum that Rokycana died wrestling
with despair (Cap. XXI., 1), is unreliable, although a much older record, a
letter of Sigismund, Dean of Bunzlau, says the same thing ; not, however,
in connection with the persecutions of the Brethren. But this letter is so
hostile in tone, calling Rokycana a man "damnatse memorise," and a
'• heresiarch," that it is unworthy of credit. Palacky's Beitriige zur Gesch.
Boll mens im Zeitalter Podiebrad's, pp. 664 and 665.


Increase and Prosperity of the Church. 1471-1490.

State of Bohemia. — Uladislaus elected King. — Increase of the Church. — Its
Friends among the Nobility. — Letters to the Cities. — Queen Joanna's
Animosity. — Edict of the Diet and a Colloquy. — Death of Gregory. —
Publication of the University against the Brethren. — Lezek the false
Witness.— Diet and Colloquy of 1478.— The Waldenses of the Mark
Brandenburg and their Union with the Unitas Fratrum. — Pacification
established by the Diet of Kuttenberg. — The Brethren define their
Position. — The Peasantry reduced to Serfdom and the Influence of
this Measure on the Church. — The Brethren banished from Moravia.
— Their Emigration to Moldavia and Keturn.

George Podiebrad wa.s a great man and a hero. He
saved Bohemia from anarchy. He ruled it with a fatherly-
hand. He was the first European monarch who emancipated
a kingdom from the arrogant supremacy of papal Rome. And
yet he left the country which he loved so well, devastated by
war, stricken with poverty, and shorn of its goodly provinces.
Silesia, Lusatia and one-half of Moravia were in the hands
of Matthias Corvinus, who, not satisfied with these conquests,
had usurped even his rival's title and caused himself to be
proclaimed King of Bohemia. Under such circumstances
Podiebrad's successor, Uladislaus, Prince of Poland — elected
May the twenty-seventh, 1471 — a lad of fifteen years, good-
natured but weak, easily imposed on and indolent, was not the
sovereign to restore the bloom of prosperity, especially as
Matthias, his unsuccessful competitor for the crown, smarting
with disappointment, implacably continued the war.


But the Brethren had reason to rejoice over the election of
Uladislaus. It opened the way for a rapid increase of their
Church. He set its imprisoned ministers and members free ;
public services were again begun in all its chapels ; and large
accessions took place, principally among the peasantry and the
trades-people. Moreover, the exemplary diligence of the
Brethren, the good order which prevailed among them, the
humility which they displayed, and their consistent determina-
tion not to take part in the religious disputes that were going
on throughout the country, w^on the favor and gained the
protection of several powerful nobles. Among these Ctibor
and John Towacowsky von Ciraburg, two brothers and the
chief advisers of the young King, Kostka von Postupic and
William von Pernstein were prominent. Jungbunzlau,
which belonged to John Towacowsky, became a principal
center of the Unity. Other noteworthy seats were at Brandeis
on the Adler, Brandeis on the Elbe, and Leitomischl, in
Bohemia, and at Prerau, Leipnik, Tobitschau and Prossnitz,
in Moravia.^

Encouraged by such prosperity and realizing the important
part which the cities and towns of Bohemia would play in its
future development, the Executive Council made an attempt
to gain their good-will also. Letters were addressed to the
local authorities, setting forth the reasons why the Brethren
had separated from the National Church and giving a brief
account of their ecclesiastical system. The town-council of
Hohenmauth sent a friendly answer and asked for an expo-
sition of their views on the Lord's Supper.^

Bitter animosity, on the contrary, filled the heart of Queen
Joanna, George Podiebrad's widow. She induced the Diet
of Beneschau, which she opened, May the twenty-seventh,
1473, with a long address having for its object the recon-
ciliation of the Utraquists and the Catholics, to adopt an
alarming resolution. Members of the Unity were everywhere

1 Palacky, IX. pp. 49 and 50, 188 and 189.

^ L. F., I. p. 85; Boh. Hist. Frat., I. pp. 60 and 61, quoted by Gindely,
I. p. 49.


to be cited before the civil tribunals and forced to recant. If
Joanna, as is said, took this step with the knowledge and
consent of young Uladislaus,^ he was too good-natured to
decline the request which the Brethren immediately presented,
that they might be allowed to defend their cause at a Colloquy.
It took place at Prague (1473), but brought about no under-
standing. Michael Bradacius and Jerome, the representatives
of the Unity, refused to recant and to accept any instructions
on the part of the Utraquist Masters ; the Masters issued a
letter warning the people against the heresy of the Brethren
and holding them up to ridicule and contempt. Meanwhile
the edict of Beneschau remained a dead letter.^

On the thirteenth of September, of the same year, the
eventful career of Gregory the Patriarch came to an end.
He died in an unostentatious house which he had built near
the Castle, at Brandeis on the Adler. This town is situated
in a plain inclosed, on all sides, by hills. The height to the
east, known as the Klopot Mountain, is wooded and has a
romantic ravine, through which runs a little stream, fresh and
limpid, fringed with tufts of forget-me-nots. In this ravine
Gregory is said to have been buried.^ It is a fit resting-place
for the founder of the Unitas Fratrum, and in its sanctuary
of nature where the soul instinctively rises heavenward, in
the pureness of its flowing water, in the abundance of its
humble flowers, sets forth a beautiful emblem of his life. He
might easily have constituted himself the Bishop of the Unity,
bat he left this honor to another, and labored, day and night,
as its principal writer, its most zealous evangelist, its leading
representative, without an ambitious thought or a self-inter-
ested motive.^ At the same time his views remained legal.

3 Comenii Hist., § 65.

* Gindely, I. pp. 50 and 51.

* Todtenbuch, p. 2, which says that Gregory was buried in an apiary
(Bienenhaus). What kind of an apiary this may have been is hard to say.

^ Eight works of Gregory, all in Bohemian, are known to exist, besides
the Letters to Rokycana. There were a number of other writings from his
pen, but these have been lost. Gindely, I. p. 498, Note 56.


He never fully entered the lofty temple of evangelical liberty,
and died with a solemn warning on his lips against permitting
the government of the Church to fall into the hands of
learned men.

When the Masters of the University perceived that neither
the edict of the Diet nor their own letter was hindering the
spread of the Unitas Fratrum, they issued, in 1475, another
writing which aspersed the moral character of its followers.
This new exhibition of animosity received no little support
through a scandalous plot concocted, in the following year, at
Jungbunzlau. In that town lived a certain John Leschka, or
Lezek, a brewer's apprentice, who, at one time, had been in
the employ of a member of the Brethren's Church, but had
himselt never belonged to its communion. He was a worth-
less fellow, a thief, ready for anything that would bring him
money. This man became a willing tool in the hands of the
Utraquist priest, who bribed him to bear false witness against
the Brethren. In presence of a large congregation — including
Baron Towacowsky and his wife — assembled in the parish
church, he publicly confessed the iniquities which he pretended
to have committed while connected with the Unity and un-
covered the enormities which he ascribed to its adherents.
They blasphemed ; they were guilty of sacrilege, robbery and
murder ; they engaged in witchcraft and the most outrageous
licentiousness. His conscience, he said, would give him no
peace until he had made these things known. He begged the
people to pray for him, that he might be forgiven for the part
which he had taken in the wickedness of the Picards. From
Jungbunzlau he was hurried to Koniggratz. There he re-
acted his part with ever-growing demonstrations of horror and
penitence. A report of his confession, signed and sealed by
a number of witnesses, was scattered broadcast through

Against such shameful charges the Brethren not only pub-
lished protests but also cited Lezek before a magistrate.
When the trial came on, he acknowledged that he had been


bribed, that his confession was false, that he had never been
a member of the Unity/

This occurrence produced, on the one hand, warmer sym-
pathy with the Brethren and even an increase of their
membership, but on the other, greater enmity and renewed
persecutions. Their friends scorned to believe the falsehoods
of Lezek ; their enemies accepted them with avidity.

On the tenth of August, 1478, a Utraquist Diet met at
Prague and re-organized the Consistory of the National
Church.^ The character and growth of the Unitas Fratrum
also constituted a subject for grave discussion. Through the
influence of its friends no harsh measures were adopted, but
another Colloquy was ordered, with the understanding that
the Brethren were to retain any views which they could, from
the Holy Scriptures, prove to be binding, but to lay aside, on
pain of banishment, any errors of which they might be found

In the following year (1479), a correspondence was opened
wdth the Waldenses of the Mark Brandenburg, through Peter
one of their number, who visited Bohemia. Not Ioup; after
they were subjected to severe persecutions. The Executive
Council sent Thomas of Landskron and other deputies in
order to advise with them amidst such distressing circum-
stances. This mission led to the departure from the Mark
of several hundred of them, who immigrated to Moravia and

' A full accouut of Lezek's proceedings is found in L. F., VI. p. 121, etc.,
Reichel's Zusiitze, pp. 181-187, where twenty-two charges are set forth
which he brouglit against the Brethren. Gindely asserts that Lezek him-
self originated the plot, that the priest of Jungbunzlau was duped, but acted
in good faitli. The L. F. distinctly says, that the priest bribed Lezek to play
his part. See also Jaffet's Ursprung, p. 63, etc.; Hist. Persecutionum,
Cap. XXL

^ This Consistory consisted of twelve members, eight clergymen and four
laymen. It was put under the protection of the Utraquist states.

^ Palacky, IX. pp. 190 and 191. Of this Colloquy, which continued for
several days and brought about vehement disputations, as also of the Ten
Articles published by the Masters of the University and the Consistory, we
have given an account on pp. 143, 144 and 147.


joined the Brethren's Church. They settled at Fulneck and
in its vicinity.^"

Ever since the accession of Uladislaiis to the throne the
breach between the Utraquists and Catholics had been
widening. Their respective pulpits, in particular, resounded
with the most vehement polemics. In 1483 bloody tumults
broke out at Prague and terrible excesses were committed.
At the same time disputes, with regard to their several rights,
were going on between the barons on the one side, and the
knights and cities on the other. The best minds of all parties
earnestly desired a pacification. With such an end in view
a General Diet was convened, in 1485, at Kuttenberg. The
labors of this body were crowned with success. Acts were
passed permitting every man to seek salvation in that church
to which his conscience might lead him ; granting religious
liberty on all domains both to the nobles and their serfs ; and
adjusting the difficulties between the barons and knights, after
the latter had been induced to forsake the cause of the cities.

The Brethren were not included in this pacification, and
yet, for a number of years, they enjoyed its benefits. It is
true that they were cited before a commission to give an
account of their faith, and that a resolution was adopted
exhorting them to abjure their errors if they would escape
banishment. But both these measures proved harmless. No
steps were taken to carry them out.'^

In consequence, no doubt, of the transactions of this Diet, a
Synod met, in the following year, and carefully defined the
relation of the Unitas Fratrum to other churches. The fol-
lowing points were adopted :

For pious priests teaching the truth, wherever they may be
found, the Brethren are to thank God, but they are not to
leave their own communion in order to follow such priests or

^° Jaffet's Ursprung, Keichel's Zusiitze, p. 92, and his Stimme des
Wilchters, Goll, Appendix, p. 122 ; Hist. Persecut. XX. 5. An interesting
letter from the Waldenses to the Brethren is found in the Bohemian Hist.
Fratrum and is quoted in full by Goll, Appendix, pp. 121-123, Note 18.

" Palacky, IX. p. 263, 272-274 ; Cerwenka, II. p. 64.


receive the sacraments at their hands ; if a body of Christians
should be met with upholding the Word of God in its purity,
or if He should raise up evangelical teachers and reformers,
the members of the Unity are not indiscriminately to join
such Christians or to go after such reformers, but the
Executive Council is to inquire into the expediency of making
common cause with them ; no one church, however numerous,
constitutes the universal Church embracing the sum total of
believers, but wherever the true faith prevails as set forth in
the Scriptures, there is manifested a part of the holy catholic

In the year 1487, by a formal resolution of the National
Court, the peasantry of Bohemia lost the last trace of their
liberty and Avere reduced to a state of complete serfdom.
Absolute power, including the right of capital punishment,
was now exercised by the nobles on their domains. They
practically became petty sovereigns. At the same time they
extended their prerogatives in other directions. The regular
members of the Diet were barons and knights; representatives
of the cities secured a seat and vote only when questions
affecting their interests were under discussion. In the
National Court [Landesgericht) sat nobles exclusively ; the
National Registry [Landtafel) was maintained solely for their
benefit ; even the rights of the crown were curtailed in their
favor. In this way the legislative, the judicial and, to a great
extent, the executive power passed into the hands of the
aristocracy. While the peasantry passively submitted to this
yoke, the cities, throughout more than a quarter of a century,
maintained a bitter contest for their municipal rights.

Moravia constituted a crownland of Bohemia, but had a
government of its own, with an independent diet and inde-
pendent states. On the domains the same system existed as

'^ Lasitius, III. 38, as developed by Plitt, Chapt. 32 ; Comenius Hist.
I 67 ; Croeger, I. pp. 101 and 102. Why both Gindely and Cerwenka pass
over this important Synod in silence, is hard to understand. Lasitius
evidently quotes its official enactments.


in Bohemia, and their owners asserted an authority which was
even more unrestricted than that of the Bohemian nobles.'^

Both the serfdom of the peasants and the power of the
nobility exercised a lasting influence upon the Unitas Fratrum.

The former served to increase its membership. It is true
that one of its fundamental principles was obedience to the
constituted authorities, as ordained of God ; but it nevertheless
recognized the dignity of man in every station and said to all
who entered its communion, whether they were nobles or
peasants, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, "One is your
Master, even Christ ; and all ye are brethren." Hence, as
Palacky well remarks, the spirit of Slavism, which was
essentially democratic, found its last refuge in the Unitas

On the other hand, the absolute power exercised by the
nobles on their estates, enabled such as were friends of the
Brethren, or members of the Brethren's Church, to protect
them in times of persecution. If this had not been the case,
the Unity would have come to an end long before its over-
throw in the Anti-reformation.

Wenzel Koranda and the Utraquist Consistory were
alarmed by the steady increase of the Brethren, but their
efforts to hinder it proved fruitless. They did not succeed in
even bringing about another Colloquy.

In Moravia the enemies of the Unity were more successful.
At the peace of Ofen (1478), the claim of Matthias Corvinus
to this country had been formally acknowledged, and now,
instigated by Roman Catholic bishops, he banished all such
Brethren as were domiciliated within its bounds. This meas-
ly Palacky, IX. p. 292, etc. ; Schlesinger, pp. 390-401 ; Chlumecky's
Zerotin, Chap. I. The laws securing to the nobility their prerogatives
were published, in 1500, and are known as the " Uladislaus Code" {die
Wladislawische Landesordnung). As regards the other provinces of Bo
hernia we may add, that the constitution of Lusatia was similar to that of
Moravia, while in Silesia there existed sixteen dukedoms, with independent
privileges, but united through a General Diet and National Court. Some
of these dukedoms stood immediately under the Bohemian King, others
remained in the hands of native princes who were his vassals.

" Palacky, IX. p. 305.


lire was meant to terrify them. He did not doubt that they
would abjure their faith rather than leave their homes. But
he little understood the character of that faith and the spirit
which it produced. Several hundred of them, with Nicholas
of Schlan at their head,^^ forsaking houses and lands and all
they had, unhesitatingly emigrated and took their way
through Hungary and Siebenbiirgen to Moldavia (1488). The
Hospidar Stephen gave them a friendly welcome. But they
could not accustom themselves to the barbarism of the country;
and its jiriests, perhaps its nobles also, began to oppress them.
In order to strengthen their faith, the Council sent them, by
the hands of Elias of Chrenovic, a letter full of fraternal
sympathy and godly admonitions.'*'

Meantime yielding to the expostulations ot Ciraburg and
Pernstein, who pointed out the serious loss which. Moravia
would sustain if its best inhabitants were expelled, Matthias
modified his edict of banishment. It was to be enforced only
in cases in which a year's notice to emigrate had been given.
Such notices were never issued ; for the King died in 1490.
His successor on the Hungarian throne was Uladislaus to
whom, in consequence, Moravia, with Lusatia and Silesia,
reverted. These changes induced the exiles in Moldavia to
return to their homes.'"

'* Nicholas was a priest and member of the Executive Council, versed in
proverbs, acquainted with everything relating to the rise of the Unity and
fond, in his old age, of relating to the young the tribulations of early times.
He died at Leitomischl, September the twenty-seventh, 1542. Todtenbuch,
p. 17.

'® This letter is found in full in L. F., V. p. 365, etc., Reichel's Zusiitze,
pp. 188-191, see Croeger, I. p. 98.

1' Palacky, IX. pp. 307 and 308; Blahoslaw's Summa, Goll, Appendix,
p. 123, etc.; Hist. Persecut., Cap. XX. In the last century the idea gained
ground among the Moravians that a remnant of the Bohemian Brethren
had remained in Moldavia and eventually settled among the Caucasian
Mountains, where they kept up their religion and national customs. This
idea was based on several printed sources (compare Cranz, pp. 32 and 33),

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 16 of 64)