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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the earliest history of the Brethren, manifesting a rare single-
ness of purpose and transparent sincerity of heart. Had he,
in 1467, declined to yield to the wishes of his brethren and
taken sides with the protesting Bishop, the consequences would
have been disastrous. Hence he well merits the record which
we find of him : " He was a great man and performed great
works. He was faithful to God, denied himself and patiently
bore much enmity."^

The attempt made by the papal see to destroy the Unitas
Fratrum was followed by a far more formidable assault.

^ A work against the Brethren which he published in 1501 is still extant,
"Institoris Sancte Romane ecc. fidei defensionis," etc., 1501, Olomucz, xx
die Aprilis. Malin Library, No, 40.

" Todtenbuch, p. 4. Gindely, I, p. 91, asserts that, at one time, Michael
was saspended from the ministry on account of drunkenness ; but in citing
his authority for this assertion, namely, (Note 6, p. 499,) "Michael," he is
so obscure as to be unintelligible. It is certain that the Todtenbuch, which
spares no one deserving of censure, says not a word to corroborate Gindely.


Three distinguished and influential Catholics, Boluislav
Hassenstein von Lobkowitz, whose fame as a scholar and
poet was widely spread through Europe, John, Bishop of
Grosswardein, the Chancellor of Hungary,^" and Doctor
Augustine Kasebrot, a learned Canon of Olraiitz, began
conjointly to importune Uladislaus to suppress the Brethren
and thus purge away that shameful heresy by which the
kingdom had been so long disgraced (1502). They found an
ardent supporter in his private secretary, John Slechta von
Wsehrd, and their plot was furthered, on the one hand, by the
negotiations, which began at the time, to bring back the Utra-
quists to the fellowship of Rome, and, on the other, by an
accusation which Baron von Beckowic, in the name of the
Amosites, formally laid before the King (1503), that the
Brethren had resolved to take up arms in defence of their
Church. This charge, although it was basely false, excited
him to such a degree that he exclaimed: "Do they mean to
play Zizka? Well, well, well, we will know how to stop
that! "11

On the fifth of July, 1503, he accordingly sent from Ofen
to the Administrator of the Utraquist Consistory, to the
Catholic Chapter at Prague, to the magistrates of that city
and to Albert von Leskowec, who was set over the royal
towns, an edict forbidding the religious services of the Unity,
ordering its priests to be arrested and commanding its lay
members, on pain of severe punishment, to join either the
Catholic or the Utraquist Church. This edict was to be
enforced in the capital, on all royal domains and in all royal
cities. It could not be made general without the consent of
the Diet. The Administrator of the Utraquist Consistory
and his clergy were, furthermore, directed to preach against

^° This is the same Bishop whom the Todtenbuch calls Borek and desig-
nates as Bishop of Olraiitz, because, for about fifteen years, he administered
that diocese also. In the last period of his life he joined the Franciscans,
without entering one of their convents, and received the name of Barfiisser.
He and Lawrence Krasonicky were schoolmates. See p. 155 of this History.

'^ Jaffet's Entstehung d. B. U., p. 67, in Reichel's Zusatze, pp. 195 and


the Picards who "were worse than the Turks, because,
entangled in the toils of the devil, they believed neither in
God nor in the Lord's Supper." '^

There was no hesitation manifested bj those who received
the Kinar's commands. Before the Brethren discerned its
gathering clouds, the storm burst upon them. The pulpits of
Prague rang with denunciations of their Church ; in the
towns under his jurisdiction Leskowec imprisoned its mem-
bers ; at Kuttenberg they were barbarously treated ; two
barons, Nicholas von Lichtenberg and Henry von Neuhaus,
by voluntarily inaugurating persecutions on their estates, filled
the heart of their monarch with such satisfaction that he sent
one of them a letter of thanks. " Many Brethren became
martyrs of the truth ; many perished, of hunger and cold, in
deep and unwholesome dungeons." ^^

Meantime the negotiations with regard to a union of the
Utraquists and Catholics were going on at Pilsen. On the
occasion of the Diet of St. Jerome (September the thirtieth,
1503), such negotiations were renewed at Prague. They
failed in consequence of the deep-rooted prejudices of the
Utraquists. The two parties held separate meetings. At
both the question was discussed whether the royal edict
should be accepted and made general throughout the king-
dom. Schellenberg and Pernstein, because they were known
to favor the Brethren whose parishes clustered thickly on
their domains, had not been asked to attend the council of
their Catholic peers.'^ When the Utraquist States heard of
this they invited these two nobles to their conference. The
invitation was accepted, and both the barons spoke in defence
of the Unity. Baron Kostka, too, manfully advocated its
cause. After stormy debates it was agreed that the Brethren
should not be condemned unheard, but that a Colloquy with

12 L. F., VI. p. 1, etc , quoted by Gindely, I. p. 106.

1* L. F., VI. p. 8, etc., in Reichel's Zustitze, p. 201.

'* Schellenberg had recently married Catharine von Krajek, the widow
of a zealous member of the Church and herself probably a member. She
had inherited her husband's large estates and held them in her own right.


some of their principal men, at which the errors of their
Church were to be pointed out to them, should take place on
the first of January, 1 504. A commission was appointed to
superintend this Colloquy.

Amidst the troubles which were anew trying the I'aith of
the Unity, its Executive Council did not lose heart. Special
prayers for God's aid were ordained ; Wednesdays and Fri-
days were set apart as fast-days ; pastoral letters frequently
appeared exhorting the members to remain steadfast ; and a
resolution was adopted requiring of every one, on pain of
excommunication, an open acknowledgment of his member-
ship.^^ To the King was sent a new Confession of Faith
(1503). But he accepted it uugraciously, expressed his dis-
pleasure with the lenient course which the Utraquist States
had pursued, and sent, by Nicholas Trcka, further instructions
to Prague.

On the thirtieth of December eight representatives of the
Unity, Bishop Luke, Krasonicky, Jacob of Turnau, John
Kasala, Wenzel, Viktorin, Philip and Kapra, reached that
city.'^ It was commonly supposed that the approaching
Colloquy would decide the fate of the Church. Its foes
looked forward to the occasion with triumphant anticipations;
its friends with deep anxiety. Schellenberg, Pernstein, and
Kostka each sent a retainer to advise with and protect the
deputies ; Kostka wrote to Krasonicky and exhorted him to
stand fast even if it should cost him his life f two members
of the Unity, who happened to be at Prague, joined their
brethren and insisted on sharing their fate. And yet it was
not martyrdom or even imprisonment that awaited them, but
a ridiculous farce. Owing to the death of the Eector of the
University, who was to have conducted the proceedings, to
the threatening attitude of the populace which crowded the

>^ Dekrete d. U., I. p. 204, quoted by Gindely, I. p. 111.

'^ L. F., VI. p. 8, etc., contains a very full account of all that transpired
at Prague on this occasion. Reichel's Zusiitze, pp. 201-206.

" Letter given in part in Hist. Persecut., Cap. XXIII, 2. Comenius says
it was addressed to Philip.


streets of the city denouncing the heretics, to differences of
opinion among the members of the commission, to the fear
which they entertained that Trcka was charged with an order
for the arrest of the deputies, and to other causes, the Colloquy
did not take place. Instead of having an opportunity to con-
fess their faith before the entire commission and the assembled
Masters, Luke and his companions were led, through by-ways
and alleys, to a private house, where they found the lay com-
missioners and the city magistrates, who dismissed them with
the assurance that they had fulfilled their obligations by
merely appearing at Prague and that they were now free to
return. When the next morning dawned the delegation was
far on its homeward way. This failure of the Colloquy was
generally regarded as a triumph for the Brethren.

A correspondence, partly bitter in its tone, followed between
Luke and the Utraquist Consistory. He declined another
Colloquy ; the Consistory rejected his proposal to hold a
private conference with the INIasters.

Meantime persecutions continued to rage on the domains
and in the cities belonging to the King, as also, occasionally,
on other estates. Baron Schwamberg's name, in particular, is
stained with infamy. In his village of Aujezd, near Taus,
lived John and Nicholas Nadrzibka, two brothers, John Her-
bek, Bartholomew Hranowitz, John Simonowitz, and Matthias
Prokop, all humble members of the Unity. They were
arrested and brought to trial. The village priest asked them
Avhether they would obey him as the shepherd of their souls.
" Christ is the Shepherd of our souls," w^as their answer.
They were condemned to the stake. Astonished at the forti-
tude with which they received this sentence, Schwamberg
inquired the reason. "It is Christ," they said; "He is our
hope. Given of God as a sacrifice for the world He abides
the refuge of all those who put their trust in Him." On the
way to their execution, which was to take place at Bor, the
chief magistrate of this town told Nicholas Nadrzibka, with
whom he was well acquainted, to ask for time, and even if it
should be a whole year, to consider the demands of the priest,


suggesting that in this way he might save his life. Nicholas
stood still for a moment, as though he were pondering the
suggestion, then exclaimed, " The respite is too long ; while
considering I might lose my brethren," and calmly followed
them to death. They suffered on the Monday preceding the
Day of All Saints (November the first, 1504).^^

In view of the closing of many of the chapels, a Synod
ordained that, wherever public worship was impossible,
religious services should be held in private houses. The
details of these services were carefully regulated. General
gatherings, in the depths of the forests, also took place, on
which occasions the Lord's Supper was administered. At the
same time the Council continued to exert itself on behalf of
the oppressed parishes. Letters were sent both to the Cath-
olic and Utraquist States, circumstantially setting forth the
reasons of the secession of the Brethren from the established
churches, and another Confession of Faith, a supplement to
that of 1503, was presented to the King (1504).

Whether these documents effected their purpose is not
evident; but, in 1505, the persecution gradually came to an
end and peace again gladdened the hearts of the Brethren.
In the following year the Queen, their most implacable foe,
who had never ceased to incite Uladislaus against them, died
in giving birth to a sou. Her persistent animosity had not
availed. The Unity, which she meant to destroy, came forth
from the persecution purified and strengthened.

'8 Boh. Hist. Frat., I. p. 132; Hist. Persecut., XXIV. 7 ; Todtenbuch,
pp. 4 and 5. Strange to say, Gindely asserts (I. p. 119) that "in the his-
tory of the Brethren this was the last execution on account of their faith !"



The Edict of St. James and the General Persecution which it
brought about. A. D. 1507-1516.

New Machinations. — Kiisebrot's Letters. — Chancellor Kolowrat and
another Edict against the Brethren. — The King's Letter to Martha von
Bozkowic. — New Confessions. — Efibrts to bring about a general Perse-
cution. — The Edict of St. James adopted by the Bohemian Diet. — Posi-
tion of the Moravian Diet. — Terrible Death of the Bishop of Gross,
wardein. — Persecution in Bohemia. — Lewis crowned King. — Diets at
Prague and Kuttenberg. — Edict renewed. — The Martyr Poliwka. —
Wolinsky's Sufferings. — Noted Persecutors of the Brethren die sud-
denly. — Continued Persecution in Bohemia. — The Unity in Moravia
enjoys Peace. — Secret Visit of Bishop Luke to Bohemia. — Seized and
imprisoned. — Death of Uladislaus. — End of the Persecution. — Death of
Bishop Elias and of Prokop. — Election of two Assistant Bishops.

The machinations of the men who had persuaded Uladis-
laus to begin a persecution of the Church were not yet at an
end. In 1507 they incited him to new measures of severity.
Kiisebrot had published, in the previous year, a letter against
the Brethren ; now he issued another of the same character.
Both were presented to the King and both denounced them in
inhuman terms. They were, said the writer, not worthy even
of death at the stake ; fire was too pure an element for them
to perish in ; they ought to be torn to pieces by wild beasts
and have dogs to lick up their blood.^

Albert von Kolowrat, the chancellor of the kingdom,
proved to be a powerful confederate in this new assault upon
the Unity. His position had become one of great influence ;
and taking advantage of the King's residence at Ofen, in
Hungary, he demeaned himself as though he were regent of

^ MS. Letter of Kiisebrot, quoted by Gindely, I. p. 130.


Bohemia. It was he that published, with the consent of
Uladislaus, another edict against the Brethren. It cited their
bishops to an examination at Prague, on the Day of St. John
(December the twenty-seventh). It proclaimed that their
Church was to be suppressed throughout the realm. It threat-
ened such nobles as atibrded them protection.^

This edict offended William von Bernstein and other barons.
The former wrote to the King, reminding him of their terri-
torial rights and the serious consequences which would ensue
if these were infringed upon.^ The Baroness Martha von
Bozkowic, an ardent member of the Church, also sent him a
letter in its defence. She inclosed a communication from the
Council asking permission to present a new Confession of
Faith. The answer of Uladislaus, addressed to the Baroness,
was as follows:

" My dear well-born one !

You write to us of the Picard rascals, as though our purpose
to destroy them, which we have announced to all the States of
our kingdom, were improper and unduly severe.

Know that what we do, we do more out of mercy than severity.
For while we intend; as is proper and required both by divine
and human law, to burn and destroy these miserable and mis-
taken heretics, we, at the same time, have compassion on them in
that we show them a way of escape by permittiug them to join
either the Catholics or the Utraquists.

It is our wnll that what we have published shall strictly be
carried out. If this is not done, be assured that we will not any
longer suffer the presence of such heretical rascals, but will chase
them out of our kingdom without mercy.

Of this inform your brethren who have written to us."*

In consequence of this communication, in which were in-
closed Kasebrot's abusive letters, Luke and his colleagues did
not present their Confession, but had it printed at Nuremberg.
They also published Kasebrot's productions, appending criti-
cisms of their own which were equivalent to a new and
detailed exposition of their faith (1507). A Latin version of
this latter work, omitting the letters, appeared in the following

2 Gindely, I. p. 126 ; Palacky, X. p. 137, etc.

=* Palacky, X. pp. 137 and 138.

* L. F, VI, p. 30, quoted by Gindely, I. pp. 127 and 128.


year (1508). To tlie hearing appointed at Prague, they sent
several common members of the Church, who were dismissed
as unfit for a theological examination.

The Council did this in self-defence, convinced that any
representatives of its own body Avould have been arrested.
But the step was denounced as an insult to the majesty of the
King. Urgent protestations were made to him not only by
those confederates who had, for the past five years, been per-
sistently plotting against the Brethren, but also by the Bishop
of Olmiitz, by the Masters of the University and the Utraquist
Consistory. All these authorities were unanimous in saying
that the time had come for crushing the Picards in a body.
The measures previously adopted had proved insufficient be-
cause they had been local in their character. A general
persecution, throughout the whole kingdom and the Moravian
margraviate, must be inaugurated. Under such a stroke the
Unity would succumb at last.

There is an extremely improbable tradition recorded by the
later Brethren.^ They say, that Uladislaus, ere consenting to
this merciless step, passed through so severe a mental conflict
that he fell upon his knees and besought God to hold him
innocent of the blood which was to be shed.

On the Day of St. James (July the twenty-fifth), 1508, a

royal edict was laid before the Diet at Prague and adopted

both by the Catholic and Utraquist States. Its chief points

were the following:

1. The religious services of the Unity, whether public or pri-
vate, are forbidden ; 2. The sale of its publications is to cease
and they are to be destroyed ; 3. Its priests are no longer to
administer the sacraments and solemnize marriages ; 4. Its priests
are, furthermore, to be cited for recantation before the ecclesias-
tical tribunals ; if they refuse, they are to be punished by the
civil courts ; 5. All barons, knights and magistrates of Prague
as also of other cities and towns are commanded to carry out
this act, on pain of an official warning from the chief burgrave
of the kingdom, and if this does not avail, of trial by the national
court ; 6. Any one harboring a Picard and refusing to deliver
him to his manor-lord is to be fined ; 7. The members of the

* Hist. Persecutionum, Cap. XXIV. 1 and 2.


Unity are to be instructed in the true faith by Catholic and
Utraquist priests, into whose hands the Picard' parishes and
their revenues are, without exception, to be given.®

This edict, known as the Edict of St. James, was published
on the tenth of August. Prior to its adoption Bishop John
of Grosswardein and Baron von Rosenberg were sent to
Briinn, where the Moravian Diet was assembled, in order to
induce this body to enact a statute against the Unity. But
their efforts failed, mainly through the influence of Baron von
Zerotin, one of the most powerful nobles of the margraviate
and a warm friend of the Brethren.^ No sooner, however,
had tlie Bohemian Diet accepted the Edict of St. James, than
Bishop John hastened to Olmiitz, where another meeting of
the Moravian States was to take place. He came flushed with
triumph, commissioned and determined to persuade them to
follow the example of their Bohemian peers. But w^hen only
a quarter of an hour's drive from the city, while in the act
of alighting at the monastery of Hradish, he fell on a sharp
nail which projected from his carriage and which pierced the
lower part of his abdomen, so that his bowels were torn out
and he miserably perished:^ No further attempt was made to
influence the Moravian Diet.

In Bohemia the Edict of St. James was rigidly enforced.
Persecution no longer remained optional wath the nobles ; it
was a registered law of the kingdom. The chapels of the
Brethren were closed ; religious services ceased altogether or
were held, at night, in forests and among mountains; the
priests were forced to conceal themselves. It is true that the
domains of members of the Church afforded retreats which
proved comparatively secure. But even there painful caution
became necessary, and the joyous liberty of other days was at

6 Gindely, I. pp. 132-135.

' Whether he was, at this time, a member of the Church is not quite cer-
tain ; his descendants, however, belonged to it and were among its warmest
upholders and most generous benefactors.

8 Boh. Hist. Fr. I. 264, quoted by Gindely, I. p. 137; Hist. Persecu-
tionum, Cap. XXV. 3.


an end. Several Moravian nobles, too, were induced to
oppress the Brethren, although not with the same severity as
in Bohemia.

In early Spring of 1509 Uladislaus came to Prague, where
he caused his son Lewis, who was not yet three years old, to
be crowned King of Bohemia (March the eleventh). The
royal family spent an entire year in the capital, so that
Uladislaus had an opportunity of attending the Diet which
met in November. From reports laid before this -body it
appeared that the Edict of St. James had not been universally
observed. A resolution to enforce it Avith the utmost strict-
ness did not prevail ; on the contrary the Diet determined to
repeal it temporarily, until another Colloquy had been held.
With this end in view the Bishops of the Church were
summoned to appear at Prague, on the twenty-seventh of
December. But they declined to obey the summons, and
Luke wrote a sharp letter to the Administrator of the Con-
sistory, pointing out the gross injustice of expecting the
Brethren to submit to doctrinal instructions on the part of the
Utraquists. Would the Utraquists, he asked, be willing to
submit to such instructions on the part of the Catholics ? On
the appointed day appeared instead of the Bishops, eleven com-
mon members of the Church, peasants and mechanics. Luke
wrote, that they had been sent by their manor-lords, not by the
Executive Council. They were dismissed without a hearing.

In February of the following year (1510), the Diet, which
met at Kuttenberg, renewed the Edict of St. James. The
persecution broke out afresh. Luke's retreat, hitherto safe,,
at Jungbunzlau, became insecure ; but he ceased not to labor
for his afflicted people. Fleeing from place to place, he held
religious services in secret and sent consolatory letters to
parishes which he could not visit in person. The other
members of the Council displayed the same activity.

The sufferings which this persecution brought about are
illustrated by tAvo cases in particular.

Soon after it had begun Andrew Poliwka, a citizen of
Kuttenberg, which town, true to its antecedents, raged Avith


great fury against the Brethren, sought safety at Leitomischl.
His wife, who was a Utraquist, refused to accompany him,
and subsequently, on the occasion of a visit which he paid her,
betrayed him to the priests. He was arrested and worried
until he consented to acknowledge their authority and remain
at Kuttenberg. But his conscience was ill at ease. One day,
while attending his wife's church, where a new priest was to
be installed, the sight of the congregation adoring the host
roused him to such a pitch that he could no longer restrain
his indignation. In a loud voice he exclaimed, addressing
the officiating priest : " Silence, blasphemer, I will speak !"
Then turning to the people he said : " Dear friends, what
are you doing ? What are you adoring ? An idol made of
bread ! O adore the living God in heaven ! He is blessed
forevermore !" The priest ordered Poliwka to be seized.
But a strange awe had fallen upon the congregation, and for
a time no one stirred. At last several of the rudest laid their
hands upon him, dashed his head against a pillar and dragged
him bleeding to prison. The next day his trial took place.
He persistently reiterated what he had said in the church.
Upon being asked by whom he had been instigated to act in
so scandalous a manner, he replied : " Who instigated Abrara
to forsake his idolatry and adore the living God ?" The
question being repeated more urgently, he said: "Who
induced Daniel to flee from idols?" These answers were
deemed insufficient, and he was stretched on the rack. But
the rack did not shake his fortitude, and the stake, to which
he was condemned, had no terrors. He approached it praying
silently ; the magistrates, at the instigation of the priests,
having forbidden him to address the people. In the midst
of the flames, as they began to lick his face and encircle his
head, he uttered aloud one fervent petition : " Jesus, Thou
Son of the living God, have mercy upon me, miserable
sinner !" " Behold," cried the priests exultingly, " now that
he is dying he invokes Jesus, in whom he would not believe,
and whose sacraments he refused to reverence !"^

^ Boh. Hist. Fratrum, I. p. 300, quoted by Gindely ; Hist. Persecution um,

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 18 of 64)