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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on the MS. diary of the Bohemian settlement at Rixdorf, near Berlin, and
especially on the reports of travelers and merchants who visited the Mora-
vian settlement of Sarepta, in Asiatic Russia. In 1768 an exploring tour
was undertaken by Kutschera and Becher, from Sarepta, to find this rem-
nant, but proved unsuccessful; in 1781 a second attempt was made by
Grabsch and Gruhl, which was also fruitless. Briider-Bote, 1877, pp.
197-208; Glitsch's Geschichte von Sarepta, pp. 100-107 and 208-226.



Dissensions and a Schism. A. D. 1490-1496.

Gregory's extreme Views. — Reaction after his Death— Two Parties. —
Writings on both Sides.— Luke of Prague.— The Council Divided. —
Writings of Prokop. — Compromise at the Synod of 1490 —Jacob and
Amos inveigh against the Compromise. — Bishop Matthias and his
arbitrary Course. — Exploratory Tours to the East in search of an
Apostolic Church.— Prokop and Luke laboring to restore Harmony. —
Luke's Writings.— Synod of 1495.— Bishop Matthias acknowledges the
Errors of his Course.— Victory of the Liberal Party.— Gregory's
Writings no longer authoritative.— Amos and Jacob cause a Schism.
— Sect of the Amosites.

Extreme views always lead to evil. However conscien-
tiously entertained they are, in the very nature of the case,
one-sided, and prevent those large conceptions and catholic
tendencies out of w^hich alone grows real strength.

Peter Chelcicky will ever be honored for originating the
ideas which eventually led to the organization of the Unitas
Fratrura. But the contracted principles which he implanted
in the minds of its founders, were of such a character as to
either make of the Brethren a short lived and bigoted sect, or
plunge them into dissensions as soon as a more liberal Chris-
tianity would begin to assert itself.

Such principles had been incorporated with the very being
of Gregory in particular. They related both to doctrine and
discipline. He gave undue prominence to the efficacy of
works; he introduced a system of the most rigorous kind.
No member of the Church was allowed to testify in court, to
take an oath, to fill a civil office, to keep an inn or carry on
a mercantile business involving the sale of anything except


the bare necessaries of life ; and no nobleman could join the
Unity without laying aside the prerogatives of his rank and
resigning any position of trust which he might hold.

As long as Gregory lived these principles remained unques-
tioned and were strictly upheld, but after his death a reaction
slowly set in.^ Prokop of Neuhaus was the first to express
doubts with regard to the doctrinal points. The discipline
was put to a severe test. About 1479, two barons and several
knights applied for admission to the Unity. It was the first
application of the kind, and the adherents of Gregory, alarmed
by manifestations of a more liberal tendency, demanded that
the conditions which the case involved should either be
literally carried out, or the overture of the nobles rejected.
The former course was pursued. Some of the applicants
submitted, the rest withdrew.

This occurrence, together with growing discussions through-
out the Church on doctrine and discipline, led to the formation
of two parties, the one advocating the system of Gregory in
all its rigor, the other proposing a modification of some of its
principles. To the first belonged the illiterate leaders and
members, the second comprised the well educated and the
learned. Each faction seized the pen in order to urge its
views. Among the writings which appeared may be men-
tioned as especially noteworthy, Gregor of Wotic's treatise on
" The civil Power," conceived from an ultra rigorous point of
view, and the answer to it, being an explanation of the words
of the Apostle, " If we say that we have no sin, we deceive
ourselves and the truth is not in us " (1 John 1 : 8).

About the time that this controversy grew to be serious, an
ardent young Utraquist, indignant with the course which the
King pursued in expelling from his capital several priests
whose zeal had become offensive, left that city and joined the
Unity. His name was Luke of Prague. He was a Bachelor

' Sources for the account of the controversy and schism as given in this
chapter are: Jaffet's Goliath's Schwerdt, and the documents of L. F., IV.
which trtat almost exclusively of this subject, cited in Reichel's Zusatze,
pp. 132-181, compared with Gindely, I. pp. 62-76.


of its University and a learned man, familiar with the classics,
patristic literature, and the scholastic writings of the Middle
Ages. Of untiring activity, endowed with 9, rare executive
talent, devoted, from conviction, to the Brethren's Church
and serving it with enthusiasm, he was, for many years, the
most prominent rigure in its history, and shaped its course with
a firm hand. The controversy excited his deepest interest.
In spite of his youth he began to exercise, supported by
Prokop and Lawrence Krasonicky, a wide influence on the
side of the liberal party.

Prokop brought the points in dispute before the Executive
Council. In this body a very great difference of opinion
appeared, some advocating, faith almost to the exclusion of
works, others works almost to the exclusion of faith. Such
discord among the leaders reacted unfavorably upon the piety
of the members. In order to correct this evil, Prokop, in a
treatise on " The Good Will " and a " Commentary on the
Sermon on the Mount," endeavored to set forth a middle
course, and induced the Synod, that met at Brandeis on the
Adler, in 1490, to take up the entire subject out of which
the controversy had grown. The result was a compromise.
Gregory's views should not be relinquished, but they should
be modified.

In point of doctrine it was established that both grace and
the human will, both faith and works, are necessary to salva-
tion. As regarded the discipline the following rules were
adopted for the guidance of the Executive Council :

Men of rank may join the Unity without laying aside their
prerogatives or resigning their offices, but the danger to which
their position subjects them shall be carefully pointed out ; in
case of absolute necessity members may testify under oath in
court; under certain restrictions they may keep inns and
engage in mercantile pursuits which are not confined to the
necessaries of life ; if a case is clearly just and requires such a
step, the aid of the civil tribunals may be invoked.

But this compromise did not put an end to the controversy.
Two members of the Synod who had been most violent in


defending Gregory's system, Jacob of Wodnan and Amos of
Stekna, disregarding the acts of the majority, began to stir up
the parishes in their vicinity against the compromise, asserting
that it was of the devil, who had taken possession of the
Unity, and speaking and writing, in other respects also, with
great bitterness. The controversy broke out afresh and
assumed a most unbrotherly and acrimonious character.

In such a juncture Bishop Matthias, who was a disciple of
Gregory's school, imagined that prompt measures, even though
they might be arbitrary, could alone save the Church. He
convoked another Synod which was numerously attended by
his own party; caused the compromise of Brandeis to be
annulled ; ejected, by an episcopal mandate, the liberal mem-
bers from the Executive Council; filled their places with
extremists, and had a resolution adopted directing the prin-
ciples of Gregory to be carried out in all their strictness.
The expelled members of the Council submitted, without a
word, to the dictatorial act of their Bishop, and the party which
they represented quietly accepted the decision of the Synod.

But an arbitrary exercise of power does not change men's
convictions; hence the course which Matthias had pursued
could not restore harmony to the Church. This was keenly
realized by both sides. A feeling of uneasiness and depression
prevailed. It would almost seem as if doubts began to rise,
at least in some minds, whether the Brethren had acted wisely
in separating from the National Church ; it is certain that a
general longing manifested itself for fellowship with believers
outside of their own communion. Accordingly the project
was revived of trying to find, somewhere on earth, a body of
Christians free from the contaminations of the papacy and
uncorrupted by the sins of the age. At the same time the
idea was probably entertained, that such Christians, if dis-
covered, might advise the Brethren as to the best way of
settling their disputes.^

^ Both Gindely, I. p. 67 and Cerwenka, II. pp. 68 and 69, assert that the
above reason was the only one for the exploratory tours. This view of the
case appears to us to be an utter misconception.


Four men, Luke of Prague, Mares Kokovec, a knight,
Martin Kabatnik, a citizen of Leitomischl, and Caspar,
from the Mark Brandenburg, originally a Waldensian, were
appointed by a Synod to explore the East in search of an
apostolic church. Bohuslav Kostka von Postupic, the first
baron who became a member of the Unity, furnished the
money and cared for passports as well as letters of introduc-
tion. The party set out in March, of the year 1491,
traveling through Moravia and Silesia to Cracow, thence to
Lemberg, and thence down the Southern Danube, through
Wallachia, to Constantinople. There they separated. Luke
visited Turkey in Asia and Greece; Mares, Russia; Caspar,
Turkey in Europe ; Kabatnik, in company of a Jew, Antioch,
Damascus and Jerusalem. From Jerusalem Kabatnik pro-
ceeded alone to Cairo and then returned to the former city.
Having met again at Constantinople the travelers took
their homeward way to Bohemia, where they arrived after an
absence of a year. Their report was discouraging. They had not
found an apostolic church, but false doctrines, corrupt morals,
open licentiousness prevailing among Christians of every name.^
As these explorers of the East, where they had vainly
searched for a pure type of Christianity, came back to their
native land, Christopher Columbus was preparing to leave his
adopted country on that bold voyage to the West which con-
stituted an epoch in the world's history and gave a continent
to Christ's religion for its freest, most aggressive and successful
developments. To the aborigines of this continent, of whose
existence the returning fathers had no conception, their spir-
itual seed was ordained to bring the gospel and show forth its
glorious power in a way that has never been surpassed in any
quarter of the earth.

3 Blahoslaw's Summa, Goll, Appendix, p. 123; Comenii Hist., ^66;
Camerarius, p. 119, etc. Plitt, Reichel and Croeger put these journeys in
1481, which is undoubtedly an error. After his return Kabatnik dictated
an account of his tour to a friend, which narrative was published and is
still extant. He was a.stonished at the vastness of the Nile, and imagined
that its source must be the Garden of Eden. Gindely, I. p. 68.


The Brethren continued to be cast clown. That inner
liarmonv which binds hearts tog-ether was wanting;. A blight
had fallen upon the joyous life of the Church. Both Prokop
and Luke labored to bring about a change; at first from
divergent points of view, but after a while in full accord.
The latter composed an "Allegory" in which he compared
the Unity to a ship, and wrote treatises on " Judicial Oaths,"
on "Admission to Church-fellowship," and " Civil and Eccle-
siastical Courts of Justice." These works were laid before
the Council ; while ways and means of restoring peace to the
Church were anxiously discussed in every parish. The
result was a gradual change in the vieAvs of many of the

]\Ieantime Bishop JNIatthias had become a prey to poignant
self-reproach. In 1495 he convened a Synod at Reichenau
and acknowledged, in presence of the entire body, that he had
grievously erred, at the same time resigning his seat in the
Executive Council and declaring himself unworthy of admin-
istering the episcopate. His adherents likewise retired from
the Council.

An investigation of his course was at once begun. It
appeared that he had acted from a sense of duty, however
mistaken, and that his motives had been sincere. Hence his
resignation was not accepted and he was allowed to continue
in the discharge of his episcoj^al functions ; but the j)residency
of the Council, as also the position of Ecclesiastical Judge,
was taken from him and conferred upon Prokop of Neuhaus.
The places made vacant by the retirement of his adherents
were filled with those liberal men whom he had ejected and
with others of like mind, among them Luke of Prague.
Lawrence Krasonicky was assigned to the Bishop as his
special adviser, and the work of superintending the Unity
was divided among the other members. In order to remove
all irritating memorials of the controversy, the new Council
met, in the evening of the day on which these changes were
carried out, and rescinded the acts of the Synod of Brandeis.
A carefully worded report was drawn up. It spared the


feelings of the defeated party, and aimed at the complete
pacification of the Church.

Before adjourning, the Synod formally declared the writings
ot Gregory to be no longer authoritative. " We content our-
selves," were the closing words of this declaration, "with
those sacred books which have been accepted, from of old, by
all Christians, and are found in the Bible."*

The satisfaction which the proceedings of this Synod
awakened among the majority of the Brethren, found no
response in the hearts of Amos and Jacob. They refused to
be conciliated. Hastening to their homes in the Circuit of
Prachin, they roused all its parishes to an open revolt.
Bishop Matthias and Luke of Prague, who came to restore
order, could eifect nothing. Their authority was defied.
The disaifected organized, and as there were no priests among
them, elected ministers of their own and had them ordained
by laymen.

These schismatics received the name of Amosites. They
constituted a small minority of the membership, but they
claimed to be the true Unity and formally excommunicated
all such Brethren as held to the acts of the Synod of

An effort was made to put an end to this schism. On
Whit-Monday, of 1496, Bishop Matthias, Prokop, Luke and
two other members of the Council, met Amos and eleven of
his followers at Chlumec ; but this conference only served to
widen the breach. The Amosites began to attack the Church
in publications of the most rancorous character, and grew to
be, more and more, a bigoted, contentious and fanatical sect.
After an existence of about forty-six years they died out.

* Dekrete d. Briider Synoden, quoted by Cerwenka, II. p. 72.





A. D. 1497-1528.


Increase of the Church in Spite of the Persecutions inaugu-
rated by Uladislaus. A. D. 1497-1506.

The Work of the Church .carried on according to new Principles. — Its
rapid Growth and Development. — Luke of Prague and Thomas visit
Italy and France. — Their Intercourse with the Waldenses. — Conse-
cration of new Bishops. — Death of Bishop Matthias. — Election of
Luke and Ambrose to the Episcopacy. — Luke's leading Position. — The
Pope and the Unitas Fratrum. — Mission of Doctor Henry Institoris. —
Colloquy at Olmiitz. — Death of Michael Bradacius. — Coalition against
the Brethren.— Accusation of the Amosites.— The King persecutes the
Church. — The Utraquists and Catholics.— Diet of St. Jerome.— Activity
of the Executive Council. — Colloquy appointed at Prague. — Its
Failure. — Martyrdom at Bor. — Confessions of Faith. — End of the

In some essential particulars the Brethren had broken with
the past. A new system began ; a new and promising future
opened. The question whether they were to' constitute a
short-lived sect or a historic Church was decided. Illiterate
men, however godly, and narrow-minded views, however ven-
erable their source, were no longer to hamper their progress.^

* The Brethren of a later day expressed very decided opinions with
regard to the influence of unlearned leaders and took a position wholly
diflferent from that of Gregory. This is evident trom the annotations


The Brethren shook off the yoke of legality and assumed
that position of biblical Protestantism to which the Reformers
of Germany subsequently attained. While therefore the con-
troversy, as long as it lasted, was unfortunate, in the end it
bore good fruits.

These showed themselves in the rapid growth of the Church,
both outwardly and inwardly. It spread into nearly every
part of Bohemia and Moravia ; at the same time, its constitu-
tion was developed, its discipline regulated and its ritual
amplified. There gradually rose a spiritual building which
was firmly founded and symmetrical in its proportions.

In order to gain information which might be useful in
completing it, Luke of Prague and Thomas of Landskron
were sent, in 1497, to Italy and France. At Rome they
were appalled by the wickedness which they everywhere
beheld and to which Alexander the Sixth, one of the most
notorious of the popes, gave tone ; at Florence, standing in
the great square, amidst the fickle multitude that was wont to
do him honor, they witnessed the cruel execution of Savonarola
(May the twenty-third, 1498), whose reformatory efforts, what-
ever may be said of his fanaticism, were noble as their own.^
They saw Roman Catholicism in its native splendor also.
But they found nothing that attracted them ; only new proofs
of the correctness of the protest with which their own Church
had cut itself loose from anti-Scriptural dogmas and idolatrous

Longing for manifestations of the pure Gospel and for
fellowship with God's true people, Luke and Thomas turned
their steps to the Waldenses of North Italy. These gave

appended, in 1567, to a letter of Luke {vide Note 7) in the L. F., which
annotations say, that the Church was almost ruined tlirough its illiterate
leaders. " But God had mercy on His people and saved them from de-
struction. Through whom, do you ask ? Through learned and pious men.
Therefore we must not be afraid of scholars and of their enlightened knowl-
edge, but of those who are wise in their own conceits, and yet in their
ignorance blindly trample on the true, the good and the useful." Reichel's
Zusiitze, pp. 99 and 200.
'^ Comenii Hist., § 68.


them a cordial welcome. Not less warm was their reception
among the Waklenses of France. Their hearts were refreshed,
and they spent many days in fraternal intercourse with these
fellow Christians, interchanging doctrinal views and consulting
on the things of the kingdom of God. At the same time they
did not fail to reprove them for that want of courage in con-
fessing the truth for which they had rebuked their brethren
in Bohemia.

As an acknowledgment of this visit the Waldenses sent a
letter to the Executive Council of the Unity and also wrote
to King Uladislaus and to the Utraquist Consistory, defending
the Brethren against the accusations of their enemies. There
followed between the two churches a further correspondence
Avhich led to an intimate literary intercourse.^

After Luke's return, the tirst measure which the Synod
adopted in the way of a further development of the Church,
related to the episcopate. For thirty-two years Matthias had
been the sole Bishop. Now it was deemed important to intrust
this office to more than one man. Hence Matthias was
directed to consecrate to the episcopacy Thomas of Prelouc and
Elias of Chrenovic. This consecration took place in 1499.^
The Council thus consisted of three Bishops, an Ecclesiastical
Judge and nine other members, thirteen in all.

In the very next year (1500), however, while on his way to
the Synod of Prerau, Bishop Matthias was taken fatally ill at
Leipnik. Several members of the Council hastened to his
bedside. To one of them he dictated his last will and testa-

* Luke and Thomas brought to Bohemia a fourth letter from the Walden-
ses, but to whom it was addressed is not known. An instance of the literary
intercourse which took place is the famous Waldensian work " Ayczo es la
causa del departiment de la gleysa Romana." This is nothing else than a
translation of the work of the Brethren found in L. F., III., " Von den
Ursachen der Trennung." Schaff's Cyclopaedia, I. p. 308. Authorities for
the visit to the Waldenses are : Blahoslaw's Summa, GoU, p. 123 ; Lasitius,
III. p. 40, etc., quoted by Plitt, who following Camerarius, pp. 120 and 121,
incorrectly puts this visit in 1489; Comenii Hist., § 68; Regenvolscius, I.
pp. 36 and 37 ; Zezchwitz Katechismen, p. 164, etc.

* Dekrete d. Unitiit, p. 36, quoted by Cerwenka, II. p. 75; Jaffet's Goliath's
Schwerdt, I. p. 15, in Reichel's Zusatze, p. 192.


ment, in whicli document he accused himself of many faults ;
warned his brethren against similar acts of weakness; and
exhorted them to avoid schisms and to keep ^^ ' unity of the
Spirit in the bonds of peace. He died, in the fifty-eighth
year of his age, on the Thursday prior to the day of St. Paul's
Conversion (January twenty-fifth), and was buried at Prerau
in a newly built chapel. His remains were the first interred
within its consecrated walls. Although uneducated and not
gifted with executive talents, he possessed a sound judgment,
led a life of exemplary piety from childhood, and found ac-
ceptance with God and man.^

In consequence of his decease the Synod met again, before
the close of the year, at Reichenau, and determined that, in
future, four Bishops should stand at the head of the Church.
Accordingly Luke of Prague and Ambrose of Skuc were
chosen, and consecrated by Bishops Thomas and Elias (1500).®
Thomas ranked first, as the presiding Bishop, next to him
stood Elias, then Luke and, last of all, Ambrose.

But Luke was the leading spirit and shaped the course of
the Church not only in spiritual things, but also in external
appointments. He gave to its worship more form and dignity.
He introduced silver and gilt communion vessels and beauti-
fully embroidered corporals. He developed the liturgical part
of its religious services. He maintained that, while it rejected
the evils of Romanism and Utraquism, it need not, on that
account, set aside usages which were hallowed by age and
which were proper and edifying. Many priests, Sautor and
Gall us in particular, and not a few of the laity, pronounced
his course to be dangerous and his measures contrary to the
spirit of the Unity. But he was sustained by the Council
and the Synod, and his views prevailed. That they helped to
spread the Church soon became evident. To Gall us he wrote
a friendly but firm letter, admonishing him to obey the regula-
tions of the Synod, whatever might be his private opinions.^

^ This is the testimony given him in the Todtenbnch, p. 3.
« Dekrete d. Unitat, p. 42, etc., quoted by Cerwenka, II. p. 86 ; Gindely,
I p. 91.

' Leiier in L. F., IX. p. 101, etc., Reichel's Zusiitze. p. 196, etc.


The continued prosperity of the Unitas Fratrum was odious
to its enemies. Up to this time, whenever it had been per-
secuted, the Utraquists alone had been active ; but now the
Catholics too began to give unwelcome signs of animosity.
Pope Alexander himself took the initiative. In February,
of 1 500, he commissioned Doctor Henry Institoris, a Domini-
can friar and the Inquisitor of Germany, to undertake the
conversion of the Brethren. If necessary, he was to invoke
the aid of the secular arm ; in any case, their publications,
especially Peter Chelcicky's " Picture of Antichrist," were to
be burned. Doctor Henry began his mission by offering the
Church a Colloquy. This offer was accepted, and Bishop
Thomas and Lawrence Krasonicky appeared at Olmiitz as
the representatives of the Unity. But the discussions led to
no result. Hence the Inquisitor began to travel through
Moravia, preaching and writing against the Picards and their
pernicious ways. These labors too were unsuccessful.^

On the day after Easter, in 1501, ]\Iichael Bradacius finished
his earthly course. His name will ever be illustrious. He
was one of the most prominent and faithful characters in

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 17 of 64)