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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Cap. XXVI.


Two years later an act of frightful cruelty was perpetrated
at Strakonic, the seat of Baron John von Rosenberg, Grand-
prior of the knights of Malta. This nobleman had a
dependent, George Wolinsky by name. He was a member
of the Unity and a man of unusual intelligence, whom the
Baron determined to convert and therefore ordered to join
eitlier the Catholics or the Utraquists. Wolinsky manifesting
no inclination to obey, the prior of Strakonic was summoned.
This prior was a just man, and said to Rosenberg : " No one
must be tortured to accept the true faith ; reasonable argu-
ments alone are allowable. Innocent blood cries to heaven,
'Lord, Lord, when wilt thou avenge me?'" But several
noblemen, who happened to be present, advised the Baron
not to give heed to such sentiments. All that the prior could
gain was a week's time granted Wolinsky for consideration.
By the advice of friends he Avent to Krumau, and appealed
to Peter von Rosenberg, one of the most powerful barons of
the realm. On the sixth of July, he returned to Strakonic.
The respite was at an end ; but he remained unmolested until
the seventeenth. On that day Rosenberg's cruel purpose was
unfolded. Wolinsky, having declared that he would not
deny his faith, was thrust into the deepest dungeon of the
castle and left to perish of hunger. A piece of bread and a
slice of meat, which he had secreted, were taken from him ;
across the two doors of his prison were fastened heavy bars of
iron ; nothing was left within except a heap of straw on which
to die. The next day the prior came to one of the doors,
called to Wolinsky and said : " Dear brother, what are you
doing to yourself? You will perish of cold and hunger.
Think of your children.; think of your wife who has so
recently been confined. The Baron means to put her into
the cell above yours, that she may bewail your fate. There-
fore have mercy on her, or she will die ! Yea, have mercy on
yourself!" But Wolinsky remained firm. On the following
morning (July the nineteenth), Rosenberg drove to Horazdowic,
where he had an appointment with certain nobles. Among
them was Peter von Rosenberg who pleaded with him in


Wolinsky's behalf. On a sudden the Baron's conscience
awoke. Ordering his carriage he hastened back to Strakonic,
where he arrived on the twenty-first, and immediately caused
the dungeon to be opened. Within its gloomy walls his
prisoner had been famishing for five days. He was carried
out in the last extremity of weakness, bereft of speech, gasp-
ing for breath. At this sight the Baron burst into tears,
exclaiming : " That he is still living rejoices me more than
if I had received twenty Schock .'^*' I will be kind to him !"
Restoratives were administered and he was conveyed to
Rosenberg's own apartments in the castle, where he gradu-
ally regained his strength. " Now that you are well again,"
said the Baron, " I command you to abjure the Picards and
join the Church." Wolinsky's answer was as firm as ever.
He solemnly asseverated that nothing could induce him to
deny his faith. Rosenberg said no more, but set him at

In contrast with such afflictions endured by members of the
Unity, there occurred a series of casualties among its enemies
which were so remarkable that they excited general attention,
and were looked upon, within its communion, as judgments
of God. The death of the Queen and the miserable end of
the Bishop of Grosswardein, which have been mentioned in
another connection, stand first on the list. Next is recorded
the fate of Chancellor von Kolowrat. On his return from
the Diet of Kuttenberg he stopped at the house of Baron
Colditz, and informed him, with malignant joy, of the renewal
of the Edict of St. James. Colditz turned to his servant,
Simon, a member of the Unity who was standing by, and
asked him what he thought of such intelligence. " Not every
one concerned has consented to the edict," was his answer.
Kolowrat inquired of him what he meant. Pointing upward
Simon said : " There is one in heaven who will bring your

'°A Schock Groslien contained sixty Groschen, or about nine dollars and
twenty cents; hence twenty Schock were equivalent to about one hundred
and eighty-four dollars.

» Gindely, I. pp. 146-148.


enactments to nought, if they are not in accordance with His
holy purpose." " You miserable knave," exclaimed the
Chancellor, " your turn will come in good time !" Leaving
the castle in great anger he hastened to Graupen, one of his
towns. But scarcely had he reached it when there apj)eared
on his foot a malignant carbuncle of which he died, in spite
of the eiforts of the most skilful physicians. A still more
sudden stop was put to Doctor Kasebrot's persecutions.
While at dinner he fell dead from his chair, Henry von
Neuhaus who, as we have shown, was one of the first to
oppress the Brethren, drove, one morning, in a sleigh to the
chase. . The sleigh upset, he fell on his hunting knife and
was killed. Puta von Swihow, another bitter enemy of the
Church, frightened by a storm which swept over his castle,
retreated to its cellar for safety. He was found dead.

In view of such occurrences it is not surprising that the
saying went abroad, " Is any one weary of life, let him lay
his hand upon the Picards." '^

But the persecution did not, on that account, cease. It
continued, with more or less severity, throughout Bohemia.
In Moravia, on the contrary, the churches had peace, and the
Executive Council, which had transferred its seat to that
country, carried on its work unhindered. This diiference in
the experiences of the two sections of the Unity was unfor-
tunate. For nearly four years most of the Bohemian parishes
had been without pastors. Not a few of the members began
to despond. They compared the sufferings which they were
bearing with the prosperity of their Moravian brethren. A
spirit manifested itself not in accord with that steadfastness,
patience and endurance which had rendered the Unitas
Fratrum illustrious in the midst of its former trials.

This state of affairs induced Bishop Luke to undertake a
secret visit to Bohemia. At Janowic, however, he fell into
the hands of Peter Suda, a notorious robber-knight, "the
prince and master of all thieves" (1515). The unfortunate

'^ The above casualties are all narrated in the Hist. Persecutionum,
Cap. XXV.


Bishop was loaded with chains, cast into a dungeon and
repeatedly threatened with torture and the stake. To add to
his sufferings came a severe attack of illness. Through
the intervention of Baron Krajek, who applied to the
National Court for his release on the plea that Luke was one
of his dependents, he was at last set free, after giving bail
for his appearance, within six months, at Prague, where his
trial was to take place.

In the following year (1516), on the thirteenth of March,
Uladislaus died. The legacy which he left the Unitas
Fratrum was a solemn charge to its enemies to destroy it
utterly. This charge was set forth in his last testamerit and
given " for the sake of his soul's salvation and of the true
faith." But it was not carried out. His son and successor
being only ten years old the government fell into the hands
of prominent nobles. Disturbances broke out ; bloody feuds
were frequent between robber-knights and powerful cities;
the disputes of the Utraquists with the Catholics grew un-
ceasino; and bitter. Under such circumstances the Edict of
St. James became a dead letter. The Unity revived. Its
fugitive priests returned to their parishes ; the chapels were
opened and public services held as of old.

Two prominent members of the Executive Council, Bishop
Elias, and Prokop, the Ecclesiastical Judge, had finished
their course prior to the breaking out of the persecution.
The former died on the twenty-third of March, 1503, at
Prossnitz; the latter, on the thirteenth of September, 1507,
at Brandeis on the Adler.^^ In consequence, no doubt, of
the tribulations which came upon the Church soon after the
decease of Elias, the election of his successor was postponed ;
and now that peace was restored the Synod determined,
instead of choosing a new bishop, to appoint two assistant
bishops. They were to have power, when commissioned by
a bishop, to ordain ministers and to assist at consecrations to

1^ Todtenbuch, pp. 4 and 6. This necrology says that Elias was faithful
in his work, very friendly in his ways and found favor with God and man.


the episcopacy ; in the Council they were to rank next after
the bishops. To this new office Wenzel Wroutecky and
Daniel Hranicky were elected (1516).^^ They received con-
secration at the hands of Bishops Thomas, Luke and

" JafFet's Goliath's Schwerdt, p. 15 ; Beichel's Zusatze, pp. 230, etc.;
Gindely, I. p. 186.



Doctrine and Life of the Unitas Fratrum at the Beginning of
Luther's Reformation. A. D. 1517.

General Principles.— Three Categories of Faith.— The Trinity.— The
Church.— Seven Sacraments. — The Communion of Saints. — The Re-
mission of Sin.— The Virgin Mary and the Saints, — Purgatory. —
Remarks on the Doctrinal System of the Brethren. — Their Religious

We have reached the year which saw the beginning of
Luther's Reformation and which constitutes the boundary
line between the Middle Ages and modern history. A brief
survey of the doctrine and life, of the ministry, of the consti-
tution and ritual and discipline, of the growth and enterprises
of the Unitas Fratrum will therefore be in place. Such a
survey will show how bright was its light shining amidst the
darkness of Romanism, and establish its position as a church
of Reformers before the Reformation.

The Confessions presented to Uladislaus, the Apology of
1503 found in a Lissa Folio, the answer to Kasebrot's
attacks and the Statutes of the Unity, give a full account
both of its doctrine and life in this period.^

From these sources we derive, in the first place, some
general principles.

1 The Confessions are : 1. Oratio excusatoria atque satisfactiva Fratrum
Waldensium Regi Wladislao ad Ungariam missa, 1503 ; Lydius, Part II.
pp. 1-21; Freheri Rerum Boh., p. 238, etc.; Brown's Fasciculus, II. pp.
162-169. Lydius has confounded the titles of the Confessions of 1503 and
1504; and Freherus and Brown have followed him. Dr. H. Plitt, in his
" Lehrwise," doubts this ; but the evidence in favor of the interchange is
clear and strong : comp. Czerwenka, II. 93, Note. In this and the other


The Brethren have seceded from the Roman Catholic
Church because of its doctrinal errors and idolatrous worship,
and have founded the Unity. This Unity is of God, for it
stands on faith in the Trinity and is built upon the foundation
of the prophets, of Jesus Christ and of His apostles, Christ
being its only Redeemer. In it have been instituted, according
to the teachings of the New Testament and the example of the
primitive church, an independent ministry, an order of public
worship and a system of discipline. Its members strive to lay
aside sin, to lead pure and holy lives, to exhort one another
daily. And in as much as they see the confusion prevailing
throughout the church generally and perceive that no dis-
tinction is made between what is necessary and what is less
so, they maintain that in Christianity some things are " essen-
tial " (essentialia), some things " auxiliary " {mmisterialia),
and somethings "accidental" {accidentilia). Essential things
relate to the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, com-
prising, on God's part, the grace of God the Father, the
merit of Christ and the gift of the Holy Ghost; and on
man's part, faith, love and hope. Auxiliary things are those
by which the essential are made known, conferred and appro-
priated ; hence the word of God, the power of the keys and
the sacraments. Accidental things refer to the time, place
and mode of exercising the auxiliary, and therefore constitute
the ceremonies and external rites of religion.

Turning from such general principles to the individual
doctrines of the Brethren, we find that they accept the

Confession the Brethren adopt the name of Waldenses simply for con-
venience' sake, in order that the King may at once know what body of
Christians is addressing him, Waldenses being the name which the
Brethren generally bore. 2. Confessio Fidei Fratrum Waldensium regi
Wladislao at Hungariam missa, 1504, Lydius, II. pp. 21-34; Freherus,
p. 245, etc.; Brown, II. pp. 162-189. 3. Confession of 1507, in Bohemian,
Metropolitan Lib. at Prague. 4. Excusatio Fratrum Waldensium contra
binas litteras Doctoris Augustini datas ad Regem. Lydius, II. pp. 34-91 ;
Freherus, p. 249, etc.; Brown. II. pp. 162-189. 5. Apology of 1503, MS.,
L. F., III. The Statutes of the Unity are found in the " Dekreten " and have
been used by us in so far as they are reproduced in German by Czerwenka.


Apostles', the Nicean and the Athanasian Creeds, and in the
Confession of 1503, introduce their own articles with the
following words : " Living faith is the viniversal foundation
of human salvation ; it is imparted by the gift of the Holy
Spirit and through the merit of Christ's grace."^ But such
faith, they further say, is to be understood and defined in a
threefold manner. In so far as it relates to the truth of
God's being, it is to "believe concerning God" {credere de
Deo); in so far as it involves the truth of His revelation
through His word, it is to " Ijelieve God " (credere Deo); and
in so far as it implies the intent of this revelation — man's
appropriating to himself that which God bestows and conse-
crating his heart and life to Him and His service — it is to
" believe in God " (credere in Deum)? In this three-fold
sense the Brethren confess their faith in the Trinity.

I. The Trinity. — The dispenser of salvation is the Almighty
God, one in His being but triune in His person, the Father, the
Son and the Holy Ghost.

The Father. — The Brethren believe concerning God the Father
{de Deo Patre): that He begot His only Son from all eternity,
gave Him for the redemption of the world, and works salvation
through His merits, according to the purpose of His own
election ; they believe God the Father (Deo Patri), in that they
accept His testimony of Christ delivered from heaven, " This is
my beloved Son, hear ye Him ;" and they believe in God the
Father {in Deum Patrem), in that they love and obey Him with
all their heart.

The Son. — Concerning Christ (de Christo) they believe : that
He is the true God, in being, power and wisdom equal with the
Father and the Holy Ghost, proceeding by an eternal generation
from the Father ; that by Him the worlds were made ; that in
Him is eternal life ; that in order to bring salvation to the
human race He became man ; that He ascended to heaven and
sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for those who
are hereafter to share His glory ; that He will return and put
all things under His feet. They believe Christ (Christo) in as

2 Lydius, II. p. 3.

* Such a distinction of the categories of faith was made by Augustine,
Beda and Peter Lombard, adopted by Hus, and derived from him by the
Brethren. Luther approved of this distinction. See " Vom anbeten des
Sacraments," 1522, fol. 15.


much as they acknowledge all His commandments to be true.
They believe in Christ (In Christum) when they recognize in
Him their God and Saviour, accept His woi'ds with full con-
fidence, love Him with a perfect love and are united with His
faithful members in faith and love.

The Holy Ghost. — They believe concerning the Holy Ghost
(de Spiritu Sancto): that He is the true God with the Father
and the Only Begotten Word and proceeds from both ; that in
as much as He vivifies, renews and changes men through faith,
they attain to a share in Christ's meritorious grace — in other
words, they attain to justification, truth, strength and salvation
to the uttermost ;* that the Holy Ghost keeps the Church upon
the foundation of faith in Christ; that through the Holy Ghost
the Scriptures are inspired, the members of the Church united,
the gifts necessary for its government and for obtaining eternal
life in glory dispensed. They believe the Holy Ghost (Spiritui
Sancto) when fully assenting to the divine Scriptures; and they
believe in Him (hi iSpiritum Sanctum), in as far as with full
knowledge and faith unfeigned they love Him, and together
with the members upon whom He has breathed, keep all His
revelations unto eternal glory.

With regard to other cardinal points of doctrine the
Brethren teach as follows :

n. The Holy Catholic Church. — The Holy Catholic
Church is the entire body of the elect (iiumerus omnium
e/ectorum), from the beginning to the end of the world, whom
God in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, elects, justifies, and calls
to the glory of salvation, out of which body there is no salvation.
In its visible form, however, the Church is a mixed body and
comprises wicked men also. The Brethren do not claim to be
the only true Church, but strive to be members of the only true
Church. They have chosen the narrow, sad and despised way
which Christ the Redeemer took, and on which the Church, His
Bride, condemned and rejected by the world, follows in His

III. The Sacraments. — The seven sacraments, together with
the preaching of the Gospel, are means of grace.

1. Baptism. — Those who have attained, in mature years, to
faith and been renewed in heart, are to be baptized in the name
of the Triune God, the external "washing of water" being a sign
of the internal cleansing through faith and of a union with the

* " Cujus munere fidei vivificantis, renovantis et reforraantis ad Christi
participationem meritoriae gratiae, justificationis, veritatis, fortudinis,
perfectaeque salutis, unusqiaisque pervenit." Lydius, II. p. 6.


Church.^ Baptism is to be administered to children also, in
order that, guided by their sponsors, they may be incited and
accustomed to a life of faith {ad vitam fidei invitandos esse,
assuescendosque) .

2. Confirmation. — Children are to be brought to the bishop or
to a jiriest, who catechizes them with regard to the truths of
religion and, when they have promised to lead righteous lives,
confirms them with prayer and the laying on of hands.

3. The Lord's Supper. — In the Lord's Supper the body of
Christ is present in the bread, and the blood of Christ in the
wine. Such presence is sacramental or mysterious. The words
with which Christ instituted this sacrament must be accepted in
simplicity and faith, and all explanations of them avoided, except
with regard to the doctrine of transubstantiation and the belief
that bread and wine constitute mere symbols. The Scriptures
teach neither the one nor the other view ; and, furthermore,
give no authority whatever for the adoration of the host. The
sacrament is to be enjoyed, not adored.

4. Ordination to the Priesthood. — The priesthood was instituted
by Christ himself, the chief Bishop and High Priest of the
Church. He is its Head, not the Pope ; therefore the priesthood
does not proceed from the Pope, and his authority must not be
acknowledged. Three things are necessary in order to render
ordination a sacrament : a holy life, fasting and prayer, and the
laying on of hands.

5. Marriage. — Marriage is a union, formed in Christ, between
a man and a woman, and at the same time a type of Christ's
union with a believing soul and with the whole Church,

6. Penance. — When confession is made with a humble and
contrite heart, in true faith and sincerity of mind, and when the
priest, in Christ's stead and by authority of the Chui'ch, repre-
sents to the penitent the magnitude of his guilt, and the penitent
humbly subjects himself to the power of the keys, —then penance
is a sacrament. But if these conditions are not fulfilled, penance
is an empty work devoid of Christ's grace.

7. Extreme Unction. — In this sacrament, which is based upon
the teaching of St. James (V: 14 and 15), the unction is a sign
of the forgiveness of sins ; yet the assurance that they are
forgiven does not depend upon the pouring of the oil but wholly
upon the faith of the sick.

* The rebaptism of such as joined the Brethren's Church was still prac-
ticed, although voices, within its communion, were raised against this


IV. The Communion of Saints. — All those members of the
Church who, in living faith, make use of God's gifts of grace and
of the means of grace which He has instituted, laboring together
for the general good — constitute the communion of saints. Only
the elect can have part in true faith, in divine grace and in
Christ's righteousness; the impenitent and wicked, even though
they receive the word and the sacraments, do not belong to the
communion of the saints. Such as do belong to it, however far
they may be led astray, are not lost but eventually reclaimed.

V. The Remission of Sin. — Whoever truly repents and be-
lieves, receives the remission of sin ; and by partaking, in living
faith, of the Lord's Supper, is assured of such forgiveness.

VI. — The Virgin Mary. — To praise God that the Incarnate
Son was born of the Virgin Mary ; to call her blessed and to
celebrate the days sacred to her — is right. But to worship her,
or to pray to her, or to bend the knee before her, or to expect
help from her — is not right. Christians must follow her example,
in so far particularly as, at Cana, she said of her Son : " What-
soever He saith unto you, do it."

VII. The Saints. — The saints are those who, in life, received
the grace of God through the merits of Christ, and the gift of
the Holy Ghost. In their footsteps men must walk ; but they
must not pray to them or adore them.

VIII. Purgatory. — The Bible knows nothing of a place
where, after death, men are purged from sin and prepared for
heaven. After death comes the judgment. When treating of
the other world the Scriptures speak only of hell and of
Abraham's bosom.

From this survey of the doctrinal system of the Brethren
it appears, that they occupied a biblical standpoint and upheld
an evangelical faith. The only remnant of Romanism was
their teaching seven sacraments ; but instead of explaining
these in a Romish way — that a mere outward participation in
them is of avail — they made their efficacy to depend wholly
upon the faith of the recipient.

Gindely maintains that their view with regard to justifi-
cation was in full accord with that of the Roman Catholic
Church.^ This is a grave error. The faith by which a man
is justified they 'did not understand in a Romish sense,
although they taught that it must work by love ; and what is

Gindely, I. p. 122, and Dogm. Ansichten, pp. 361-370.


more, the doctrinal reasons which they assigned for separating
from the Catholics cannot be reconciled with Gindely's

It may rather be said that the essential features of the
system of the Reformers were practically contained in that of
the Brethren before the Reformation. The difference between
the two was this: the Reformers gained, from a scientific
point of view, a deeper insight into theology than the
Brethren, and hence defined dogmatical tenets more clearly
and systematically. But from the standpoint of practical
religion, the question " What must I do to be saved ?" —
would have received the same answer from a minister of the
Brethren's Church as from a minister in the time of the
Reformation. Yet the former would have set forth, more earn-
estly than the latter, holy living as a result and sign of saving
faith, and in doing this, would have had the Bible on his side.^

In the period of which we are treating the Brethren were
distinguished by their high standard of spirituality. The
walk and conversation of all classes were made to conform, as
far as possible, to rules laid down by the Synod and the
Executive Council.^

The ministers set the example. Their labors were earnest,
their prayers unceasing, their lives holy. Such sins as dis-
graced the Catholic and Utraquist priesthood, rarely occurred.
The nobility, whatever their prerogatives in the eye of the

' The Brethren say, as recorded in the " Dekreten," that the R. C.
Church reverses the plan of salvation; sets aside the merits of Christ;
changes the work of the Holy Ghost into a work of man; and teaches

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 19 of 64)