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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rogated both as to the obligations which they had assumed
and as to the degree of faithfulness manifested by the pastor ;
the female elders were asked to give a report of what they had
accomplished ; and finally, in conjunction with the elders and
sediles, the buildings and other property belonging to the
parish were inspected. The bishop, moreover, preached,
took occasion to instruct and admonish the different classes of
the membership, and always administered the Holy Com-
munion. If a new pastor had been appointed, he installed
him with great solemnity ; if new elders had been elected,
he formally inducted them into their office; and if a new
chapel had been built, he dedicated it to the worship of God.
The Day of the Lord was kept holy throughout the parish.
In summer five public services were held; in winter four.
The first and 'second took place in the forenoon. At both,
after singing and prayer, sermons were preached. Prior to
the sixteenth century the text was restricted to the Gospel or
Epistle appointed for the day, and the most of the prayers
were intoned by the priest; subsequent to that period liberty
was given to select a text — although the old order was com-
monly observed — and the intoning fell into disuse. In
prayer both priest and congregation kneeled. At noon, after
an early repast, the children, in the j^resence of their parents
and sponsors, were instructed by the deacons in the catechism.
This was the service which took place in summer only. At
"the time of vespers" a third sermon was delivered, gen-
erally on the Epistle for the day ; and at sunset followed a
service of song and prayer. When this had been concluded
the congregation, expressing, each to the other, good wishes
for the night — " May you rest in peace and in God ! " —
returned to their homes, joyful and glad of heart.^

^ According to the Ratio Disciplinae, p. 31, it became customary, in
course of time, to select the text of the first forenoon sermon from the


Divine service was held in the course of the week also.
Moreover, as opportunity offered, not only the three classes of
Beginners and Proficients and the Perfect, but likewise the
married members, the single men, and the single women, met
separately and were addressed by the pastor on topics suitable
to their respective circumstances. In the season of Lent on
Wednesday and Friday evenings, the so-called Salva took
place,^^ at which meetings the mystery of redemption was
" diligently inculcated, especially upon the young."

Children were baptized a few days after their birth. The
service was impressive. First of all, the parents and sponsors
were taught their respective duties from the Scriptures ; then,
in answer to questions put by the officiating minister, the
parents authorized the sponsors to take part in the religious
training of the child, and the sponsors accepted this responsi-
bility, both parties pledging their right hands in token of
their mutual promise. All kneeling, a fervent prayer by
the minister followed. He besought God to grant to the
child, through the Holy Ghost, the new birth in Christ Jesus
and a part in the covenant of His Church ; parents and
sponsors reverently responding Amen! Thereupon the
minister baptized the child with pure water, in the name of
the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. A brief
exhortation closed the service.

The baptismal covenant was renewed in the rite of con-
firmation which, as a rule, took place on the occasion of an
episcopal visit, but was not necessarily administered by a
bishop. The young people having come forward, were ques-
tioned in relation to the sincerity of their purpose and their
faith in Christ. They renounced the world, the flesh and
the devil; professed their faith by reciting, in concert, the
Apostles' Creed; and kneeling, repeated after the officiating
minister a prayer for pardon and grace to lead holy lives.

Prophets ; of the second, from the Gospels ; of the sermon at vespers from
the Epistles, and to combine with the evening song the reading of the
entire Bible in order, as also brief comments on the portions read.

^^ The name Salvn was derived from the hymn Salva nos Jesu, rtx cceli,
'• Save us, .Jesus, heavenly King."


He then imparted absolution, and confirmed them with the
imposition of hands and an invocation to God.

No service was conducted with greater solemnity than that
of the Holy Communion. We will, in imagination, visit a
parish at such a season.

The day for the celebration of this sacrament is, we find,
appointed two or three weeks previously, and with the
appointment the priest combines earnest exhortations, ad-
dressed to the communicants, to "prove their ownselves."
At a subsequent time he delivers a special discourse on the
meaning of the Lord's Supper and on the duty of further
preparing for it in the most prayerful way and with the most
searching self-examination. Then confession takes place,
either in public or in private, followed by a solemn charge
on the part of the priest to repent and do the first works. He
imparts absolution with the imposition of hands.^^ Entering
the chapel on the appointed day, we find it filled with
reverent worshipers. A hymn is sung, prayer offered and a
sermon preached; after which, while another hymn swells
through the sanctuary, the priest and his assisting deacons
approach the communion table which is covered with a white
linen cloth and on which stand the sacred vessels — the flagon,
the chalice and the paten with common bread. '^ Turning to
the communicants the priest exhorts them to call upon God
for the pardon of their sins. All fall on their knees ; the
priest leads in a fervent prayer, closing with the Lord's
Prayer, and the people respond Amen! Still kneeling they
sing a short hymn. Then all rise and the priest, having
admonished them to believe implicitly that their prayers
have been heard and that their sins have been forgiven,

** In a later period of the Church the communicants, according to the
Ratio Disciplinre, called at the parsonage, either by families, or masters
with their servants, and were carefully examined by the priest with regard
to their spiritual state. Such as proved unworthy were forbidden to partici-
pate in the Lord's Supper, unless they promised a thorough amendment.

^^ In accordance with a resolution of the General Synod, adopted in
1534, wafers were thereafter substituted and lighted candles were permitted
on the communion table.


pronounces a general absolution. And now he consecrates
the elements with the words of institution — prior to the
sixteenth century these words were always chanted — and
invites the congregation to draAV near to the table of the
Lord. First the priest and the deacons partake ; then the
people come forward with all reverence and in regular order.
The manor-lords, in their capacity of magistrates, take the
lead ; next the elders approach ; then the men, and last the
women — in each case according to age — and receive, kneeling,
both the bread and the cup from the hands of the officiating
ministers.^^ Meanwhile hymns, treating of the sufferings and
death of Christ, are sung in sweet harmony. When all the
communicants have partaken, the priest offers a prayer of
thanksgiving, to which he adds intercessions for the Church
universal, for rulers and lords of domains, for friend and foe,
for the fallen and the penitent and the sick, for all states and
conditions of men. In conclusion, without making the sign
of the cross, he pronounces the benediction, all the people
saying Amen ! Before leaving God's house they engage in
silent prayer.

Neither at the Holy Communion nor on any other occasion
were priestly vestments used.

The marriage ceremony was performed in the chapel and
accompanied with the reading of the Scriptures and a dis-
course. At funerals an address was delivered and, on the
way to the grave, the school children, led by the minister,
sang hymns. The festivals of the Christian Church, as also
the days of the Apostles and of some of the martyrs, were
duly celebrated. Four times in the year, Wednesday and
Friday were observed as days of solemn supplication to God,
both in public and in private. All work ceased ; the people
assembled in their chapels ; discourses were delivered ; con-
fession of sin was made and fervent prayer offered. Prayer

" In the fifteenth century the Brethren received the elements standing,
as a protest against the adoration of the host ; but this practice gave such
offence and caused such fierce perseciitions, that they were obliged to
relinquish it. R. D., pp. 37 and 38.


was continued, in the closet and the family circle, as far as
possible, throughout the whole day. On such occasions the
Brethren fasted, as also at the approach of danger from
persecutions, war or pestilence, and whenever ordinations t(j
the ministry were about to take place.

The discipline exercised within the Unitas Fratrum, con-
stituted one of its brightest jewels. Carefully regulated
according to the Scriptures, this discipline embraced three
degrees. The first consisted of private admonition and
reproof; the second of public reproof and exposure ; the third
of excommunication and entire exclusion from the Church.

If a brother saw his brother sin, it was his duty and
privilege, in all kindness, to point out the offense. In case
the reproof remained without effect, the offender was cited
before the elders, or the pastor, and admonished by them.
Did he acknowledge his fault, he was dismissed in peace ; did
he continue refractory, he was suspended from the Holy
Communion until he had given evidence of true repentance.
In serious cases a condition was fixed. If his offence had
remained unknown to the church, he was required to ask
pardon of the elders privately ; but if it had been made
public, he was obliged publicly to seek forgiveness of the
assembled congregation. In the event of his remaining con-
tumacious, or of a gross transgression, he was formally and
publicly excommunicated, the people setting, as it were, their
seals to the sentence, in that they exclaimed Amen ! Amen !

To such discipline, in its three degrees, all the members of
the Unity were subject, " from the child," says the Ratio
DueipLince, " to the old man, from the serf to the lord, from
the acolyte to the bishop." It was enforced "neither in a
hypocritical, nor in a violent and tyrannical manner, but as
the Apostle has advised, in the spirit of meekness, with deep
compassion, in the name and by the authority of Christ, to
edification and not to destruction." "

" R. D., pp. 53 and 55. Seifferth's Ch. Con., p. 172. The review given
in the above chapter shows in how many points of constitution, of worship
and of discipline the Unitas Fratrum of the present day resembles the Unity
which existed at the time of the Reformation.



The Growth and Enterprises of the Unitas Fratrum at the
Beginning of Luther's Reformation. A. D. 1517.

The principal Churches of the Brethren in Bohemia. — The Establishments
of Carmel and the !Mount of Olives at Jungbunzlau and Leitomischl.
— The principal Churches in Moravia. — The number of Members. —
Noble Families, belonging to the Unity. — Its Schools. — Its Publication
Offices. — The first Catechism. — The lirst Hymnal. — Other Publications.

The Uuitas Fratrum was no longer a small body of obscure
believers, but a flourishing, influential and numerous church.
While accurate statistics are wanting, an approximately correct
idea of its growth may be given.

In Bohemia it had three principal centres.^ The first may
be called the Reichenau-Kunwald, or the Jungbunzlau-
Leitomischl centre. It stretched from the eastern end of
Bohemia westward to Jungbunzlau and Brandeis on the
Elbe, and from Vilimow and Kuttenberg in the South to
Turnau and Braunau in the North. Within these limits
there was scarcely a town of any importance in which the
Brethren had not established themselves, so that the number
of churches reached about one hundred and fifty. The most
noteworthy were those at Skuc, Richenburg, Landskron,
Brandeis on the Adler, Hohenmaut, Chrudin and Chotzen,
in the circuit of Pardubitz ; Senftenberg, Kunwald, Reich-
enau, Pottenstein, Kosteletz, K5niggratz, Neustadt on the
Mettau, Krcin and Jaromir, in the circuit of Koniggratz;
Jungbunzlau, Bidschow, Nimburg, Brandeis on the Elbe,
Turnau, and Weisswasser, in the circuit of Jicin.

^ The chief authority for this chapter is Gindely, I. pp. 92-94, 96, 108,
109, 121, 122, 12-4 and 12G, who assigns the centres given above.


The second centime may be named the Stekna centre, in the
southwestern part of Bohemia. It was connected with the
first by churches scattered in the line of Vilimow, Beneschau,
Wotitz, Tabor and Frauenberg, near Budweis, and its most
important seats were those at Stekna, Wodnan, Wolin,
Klosterle, Strakoniz, Mirovic, Klattau, Schliisselberg, Taus,
Aujezd and Haid.

The third centre may be designated the Saaz-Lenesic centre,
in the western section of the country. This centre flourished
in the early period of the Unity ; in later times it suffered
greatly from persecutions. Its prominent churches were at
Saaz, Lenesic, Ploscha, Laun, Bilin, Briix and Teplitz.

The chief seat of the Brethren remained, for the most part,
within the first centre. Originally it was at Kunwald, then
at Reichenau, later at Brandeis on the Adler, and in the time
of Bishop Luke, at Jungbunzlau. In this town stood a large
edifice — once a Franciscan convent — which was renovated and
given to the Unity by Baron Krajek. It contained a chapel,
a school and the residence of the principal members of the
Council. This structure was called " Mount Carmel." A
similar establishment at Leitomischl was known as " Mount
of Olives." Jungbunzlau, Pardubitz and Leitomischl con-
stituted the three domains on which the Brethren were most
thickly settled.

jNIoravia comprised two centres, of which the one may be
named Prerau-Prossnitz and the other Eibenschiitz. In the
first the leading churches were at Prerau, which always
remained the chief Moravian seat of the Brethren, Prossnitz,
Wischau, Eywanowitz, Tobitschau, Chropin, Kajetan, Krem-
sier, Straznic, Ungarisch-Brod, Walachisch-Meseritsch, Weiss-
kirchen, Neutitschein, Kunewalde and Fulneck; in the
second, at Eibenschiitz, Kauitz, Mahrisch-Kromau, Bitesch,
Trebitsch and Datschitz.

According to the Historia Persecutionum the number of
chapels and therefore of parishes, in 1500, both in Bohemia
and Moravia, was about two hundred.^ But this is too low

^ Hist. Persecutionum, Cap. XX. 8.


an estimate. The researches of Gindely have shown that
there were between three hundred and four hundred cliurches
in Bohemia alone, and that the number of members amounted
to between seventy-seven thousand and one hundred thousand.
At the same time, there were, according to one account, about
seventy thousand, according to another, about one hundred
thousand members in Moravia. Hence, taking the low^est
estimates, it appears that at the beginning of the Reformation
the Brethren had, in Bohemia and Moravia, more than four
hundred churches and a membership of at least one hundred
and fifty thousand, and probably of two hundred thousand

Some of the prominent noble families connected with the
Unity were tiiose of Kostka, Pernstein, Krajek, Waldstein,
Sternberg, Zcrotin, Bozkowic and Kaunitz. Particularly
zealous on its behalf were sevei'al women of ancient lines:
Joanna von Krajek, Crescencia Zmrzlik, Anna von Ostrowic
and her daughter, Martha von Bozkowic, as also a daughter
of Baron von Schellenberg, ^\'ho was a Catholic and one of
the most powerful supporters of the Catholic church. Gindely
says: "The Brethren hung together like an unbroken chain,
from the royal palace to the humblest cottage."*

The enterprises of the Unity were its schools and publica-
tion offices. Of the former there existed, in addition to the
parochial schools found in every parish, several higher ones,
especially at Jungbuuzlau and Leitomischl, attended by young
people not connected with the Unity, among whom Avere not

^ From a conversation between George Volinsky and Baron Rosenberg
(Gindely I. p. 94, Vide p.'195 of this History), it appears that in 1513, the
Brethren had about eleven thousand full grown men in Bohemia. Reckon-
ing the men as the one-seventh of tlie whole, number, this must have
amounted to seventy-seven thousand. From Dr. Henry Institoris Sancte
Romane ecc. fidei defensionis, (Vide p. 183 of this History,) we gather that
there were said to be, in 1500, about one hundred thousand Brethren in
Moravia; but Gindely claims tliat the number in Bohemia was larger
than in Moravia. Consequently our estimate in the text is not too high,
but perhaps too low.

* Gindely, I. p. 126.


a few young nobles. We know nothing with regard to the
course of study or the system of education in this early period.

In 1517 the Unity had two publication offices. The one
was at Jungbunzlau, estal)lished in 1500; the other at Leito-
mischl, established in 1507. In 1519 a third was opened at
Weisswasser.^ The superintendent of the office at Jung-
bunzlau was Nicholas Claudianus, a distinguished physician
and learned man." All the three offices were supplied with
printing presses of their own, and sent forth numerous works.

In 1505 appeared the first Catechism of the Brethren
entitled Detinske otazky — " Questions to the children " —
written by Bishop Luke, and the first Hymnal, edited by the
same author, containing paraphrases and translations of old
Latin hymns together with many original compositions.
Both these works are lost. Other publications were the
Confessions of Faith, mentioned in previous chapters;
numerous polemical writings by Luke and Krasonicky;
Luke's answer to an attack, by Catholic priests, upon the
Catechism ; his Treatise on the Incarnation, his Commentaries
on the Psalms, on the Gospels and Epistles of the Ecclesias-
tical Year, on the Third, Fourth and Sixth chapters of St.
John's Gospel, and on the Eleventh chapter of St. Paul's first
Epistle to the Corinthians ; several monographs against re-
baptism, written by his brother, John, a distinguished physi-
cian ; and a map of Bohemia drawn by Claudianus and issued
under his supervision.''

These are only a few instances of the literary activity of the
Brethren. Between the years 1500 and 1510, sixty works
appeared in Bohemia, of which not less than fifty were

* At this time there were only two other presses in Bohemia, the one at
Pilsen (1468) in the hands of the Catholics, the otlier at Prague (1488), in
the hands of the Utraquists.

* He was one of the deputies sent by the Church to Erasmus of
Eotterdam, and under his supervision the Apohigy of 1507 was printed at
Nuremberg. He died in 1526. Goll, p. 124, Note 23.

^ This map was printed at Nuremberg, as were also several of tlie Con-
fessions of Faith.


published by tlie Brethren. The press was a power in their
hands. They used it conscientiously to the spread of the
true faith and the glory of God.

The Bohemian version of the Bible, translated from the
Vulgate and published at Venice, in 1506, was not, as has
been generally supposed by Moravian writers, a work of the
Brethren. It originated in the Utraquist Church.*

^ This has been clearly shown by William G. Malin in his Treatise on the
Bohemian Bible, published in liis Catalogue, p. 135, etc., and also in the
Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society, I. p. 143, etc.



Intercourse of the Brethren with Erasmus and L/uther ; and
other Events to the Death of Luke. A. D. 1517-1528.

Death of Bishop Tliomas. — Skoda elected to the Episcopacy. — Pacification
of St. Wenzel. — Erasmus of Eotterdam and the Brethren. — His letter
and Introduction to the New Testament. — Bohemia and Germany
from the Point of View of their Reformations. — Lutheran Movement
in Bohemia. — Luke and Luther. — Deputation to Luther. — Luke's and
Luther's Controversial Writings. — Second Mission to Luther. — Its
Object and Failure. — Estrangement between the Leader of the Ee-
formation and the Head of the LTnity. — Luke and the Zwinglian
System. — Strifes in the National Church. — Gallus Cahera. — Utraquist
Reaction. — The Brethren appeal to the King. — Battle of Mohacs and
Death of the King. — Luke and the Amosites, the Habrowanites and
the Anabaptists. — Death of Bishop Luke.

At the beginning of the memorable year which constituted
the dawn of a new era in the world's history, there lingered
among the Brethren their aged Bishop Thomas, the last of the
founders of their Church and the only representative of its
primitive ways and pristine simplicity. But the approaching
revival of the pure Gospel was not to gladden his heart. He
died at Prerau, on the twenty-third of February, 1517.
Humble, forbearing, ready to yield for the sake of peace, he
allowed Luke to follow a course which he could not always
approve, and beheld, without a murmur, his position as pre-
siding Bishop overshadowed through the commanding influ-
ence of his colleague. "Lord," he was sometimes heard to
pray, " if I am standing in the way of Thy work, take me
hence ! " ^ Although not as learned a man as Luke, he was

' Todtenbuch, pp. 6 and 7, wliich incorrectly assigns the year 1518 as the
date of his death. Comp. the Boh. Hist. Frat., cited by Gindely, I. p. 166.


well educatecl and displayed considerable literary ability.^ At
Prerau there was a burial-place which the Barons of Slavkov
subsequently purchased and shared with the Brethren. On
that ground Thomas was interred ; and in course of time
many other bishops were there laid to rest.

Martin Skoda was now elected to the episcopacy and con-
secrated by Bishops Luke and Ambrose, and the Assistant
Bishops Daniel and Wenzel (1517). Luke became the pre-
siding Bishop. He assigned the second place to Skoda, thus
interfering with the rights of Ambrose.^

Meanwhile the disturbances, caused by the death of Uladis-
laus, were brought to an end through the so-called Pacification
of St. Wenzel (September the twenty-eighth, 1517). The
states acknowledged the Emperor Maximilian and King
Sigismund of Poland, whom the late monarch had appointed,
as the guardians of young Lewis, and chose six directors to
administer the government.

This adjustment of national affairs did not affect the con-
dition of the Brethren. They continued to enjoy tranquillity.
In order to establish their position still more fully, the
Council determined to enlist the aid of Erasmus of Rotterdam
— that illustrious, liberal-minded and yet faint-hearted scholar
who, after having done more than any other man to bring on
the Reformation, trembled when it came and abandoned it
at the threatening beck of Rome. He had several corre-
spondents in Bohemia. Among them was John Slechta von
Wsehrd, whose bitter animosity to the Brethren has been
mentioned in another connection. In one of his letters this
man gave Erasmus an account of the religious parties in
Bohemia and spoke in a disparaging tone of the Unity. The
aus^ver of Erasmus was strongly in its favor. He wrote :

^ The Third L. F., p. 202, etc., contains one of his treatises (Eeichel's
Znsiitze, pp. 232-244), addressed, in the form of a letter, to the K. C. Baron
Albert von Sternberg and showing that the U. F. was a work of God. It is
a treatise of great merit.

^ Jaffet's Sword of Goliath, I. p. 16, in Keicliel's Znsiitze, p. 245 ; Gindely,
I. p. 186.


" That the Brethren elect their own teachers is not contrary to
the custom of the Ancient Church, for in this manner St.
Nicholas and St. Ambrose were elected. That they choose men
who have not received a thorough education and who are
unlearned, is excusable, because the piety of their lives may well
be considered as a substitute for learning. That they call them-
selves brethren and sisters, I can not recognize as wrong, but
wish to God that this mode of address might become common
among all Christians. That they have less faith in the teachers
of the Church than in the Holy Scriptures, is right. That
Christ and His Apostles, when they consecrated the elements,
wore their ordinary dress, is extremely probable ; although I

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 21 of 64)