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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deem it improper to despise what the Fathers, for good reasons,
have introduced. If, as you say, they take such great delight in
the Lord's Prayer, we must not forget that this Prayer con-
stitutes a part of our own mass ; and in regard to ecclesiastical
feasts, their view seems to me to be not very different from that
of Jerome's age, whereas in our day such feasts have enormously
multiplied and, more than anything else, afford the common
people occasions for vice of every kind, forcing them to be idle
and preventing them from earning the daily bread which they
and their families need." *

In reliance upon this letter the Executive Council, in 1519,
sent Nicholas Claudianus and Lawrence Wotic to Erasmus,
at Antwerp. The two deputies presented the Latin Confes-
sion of 1508, begging him to examine this document and if
he approved of it, to furnish a favorable testimony for pub-
lication. In due time they received his cautious answer.
He had found, he said, no errors in the Confession, but a
public testimonial would be dangerous to himself and useless
to the Brethren. This was the reply which the deputies
brought back to Bohemia, where the disappointed heads of
the Church comforted themselves with Christ's words : " But
I receive not testimony from man." ^

And yet Erasmus was so impressed with the character of
the Unity that, in the introduction to the second edition of
his Greek Testament, which appeared in the same year, he

* Comenii Hist. Fr. § 72, p. 22; Plitt, Sect. 36; Regenvolscius, Cap. XI.
pp. 54 and 55.
5 John 5 : 34.


referred to the Brethren, without mentiouing them by name,
m the following appreciatory terms :"

" I call that man a true theologian who teaches not artificially
and through forced deductions of reason, but with fervency of
spirit, by his actions, his eyes, his whole life, that earthly things
are nothing ; that the Christian must not depend upon the world's
protection, but must trust wholly in God , that he is not to requite
evil with evil, but to bless them who curse him, to do good to
them who despitefully use him, to love with his whole heart and
to aid all the godly as members of one body, at the same time
bearing patiently with the wicked who will not be converted ;
that those who are deprived of their possessions and driven from
their hearths and homes, those who mourn and are persecuted,
may be called blessed ; that in their case death is but the
transition to immortality. Whoever, constrained by the spirit of
Christ, preaches, urges, enforces, invites and encourages to such
doctrines, is, I say, a true theologian, even though he be only a
digger of the soil or a weaver of linen ; and whoever, through
his walk and conversation, testifies to the truth of such doctrines,
is a great doctor." '

But this commendation, while gratifying in spite of its
veiled form, did not induce the Brethren to make new over-
tures to Erasmus. Their attention was absorbed by his
greater and more heroic cotemporary at Wittenberg.

The religious development of Bohemia, after the close of
the Hussite wars, attracted comparatively little notice in

® This introduction was entitled : Eatio sen Methodus comnendio per-
veniendi ad veram Theologiam; and was also published separately in 1522.
Herzog's Encyklop., IV. p. 115.

' "Is denique luagnus est doctor." Comenii Hist Fr., ? 71, p. 21. The
visit to Erasmus is described by Blahoslaw in his Summa (Goll, pp. 124
and 125), Lasitius, III. pp. 87-89, cited by Plitt, Camerarius, pp. 125 and
126, Kegenvolscius, Cap. VIII. p. 37. Coraenius and Regenvolscius assign
tlie year 1511 as the time of the visit, which date is adopted by Gindely
and Czerwenka. We have followed Goll, p. 1 24, Note 22, who shows from
the date of Slechta's letter to Erasmus, October the tenth, 1519, based
upon Erasmi Ep. Opus. Bar., 1538, that the visit could not have been paid
until that year. Plitt, Section 35, knows of the date of this letter, but says
that it had nothing to do witli the sending of the deputies, and that the
great fame of Erasmus and the wish to secure a testimonial were the sole
cause of this mission. In as much, however, as Blahoslaw brings it into
connection with Slechta's letter we have followed Goll, although we are not
prepared to say that his jjosition is not assailable.


Germany. It was a development which that country could
not understand. Not only did the difference in language and
that mutual antipathy which was deeply grounded in the
Teutonic and Slavonian races stand in the way, but the Ger-
mans were not ripe for a change, and continued patiently
to bear the Romish yoke.^ It was only at times that preachers
of the Hussite faith, like Hans Boheim and Frederick Reiser,
appeared among them; and in but a few countries — Suabia,
Bavaria and Franconia — were converts found." Even the
Church of the Brethren, although it was the goodliest and
most fruitful tree which grew out of the Bohemian Reforma-
tion, neither won admiration nor took root on German soil.

Luther's Reformation, on the contrary, awakened immediate
and general interest in B(j]iemia and Moravia. The members
of the Unity recognized in his doctrines that which they
had been maintainino; for more than half a centurv ; the
Utraquists looked upon him as a champion of their cause,
in so far as he attacked the papacy with which they had
broken, while not a few of the more enlightened among them
lon<j;ed for better thin2;s than their Church could furnish, and
were horrified by the immorality of tlieir priests, which was
growing to be a national scandal ; the German settlers, whose
number was large, could not but give heed to a work which
so powerfully affected their mother-country

Thus it came to pass that, in 1519, a Lutheran movement
began at Prague, inspired, in part, by the startling sermons
of Matthias the Hermit, who suddenly apjicared in its streets,
preaching against the degeneracy of the times; renewed
through those denunciations of the Utraquist Church which
fell from the lips of the subsequently notorious Thomas
Miinzer, when he came to the capital in 1521 ; and greatly

^ In Germany anl other countries, "Bohemian" and "Hussite" were
terms of reproach. Henry t'le Eiglith and Dr. E;^k used tliem in their
controversies with Luther.

"Reiser sufiered martyrdom at Strasburg in 1458 (Ftcfe p. 149 of this
History). His interesting biography may be found in Boehm's V. Reiser's
Ref. des K. Sigmuml, Chap. IV, pp. 78-93


stren2:thened by letters from Luther himself (1522), addressed
to the Utraquist states and to Count Schlick who had intro-
duced a radical reform at Elbogen, exhorting both to remain
true to the Gospel and not to forget the innocent blood of
Hus and Jerome.

Bishop Luke watched these developments with an eagle
eye. At first his heart yearned toward the German Reformer ;
but when young Bohemians, who had studied at Wittenberg,
brought back wild notions of evangelical liberty and began to
denounce the Brethren as a "degenerate monastical sect,"
whose discipline was contrary to the Gospel,"^ he experienced
a revulsion of feeling and looked upon Luther's work with
suspicion and alarm. In this frame of mind he wTote, in
1520, a violent treatise arainst o-enuflectious at the sacrament,
and in 1521 another, hotly defending rebaptism.

In the same year Luther appeared before the Diet of
Worms as the hero of his age, manfully declining to retract
what, by the Holy Spirit, he knew to be eternally true.
His abduction to the Wartburg followed. In early spring
of 1522 he left this castle, passed through the gloomy forest
by which it was surrounded and which had witnessed his
silent reveries and heard his ejaculatory prayers, and boldly
made his way back to Wittenberg. When the news of his
return reached Luke, he was moved to open direct communi-
cation with the intrepid Reformer. Whether his wonderful
courage, which showed how supremely confident he was in the
justness of his cause, had dissipated the Bishop's scruples, or
w^iether he was constrained by other motives, is not clear.
In any case his proposition met with favor on the part of the
Council. Two deputies, John Horn and Michael Weiss, were
sent to Wittenberg, where they arrived in May." Thus, for
the first time, representatives of the Reformers before the
Reformation met its illustrious leader. He gave them a
cordial welcome, and they congratulated him, in the name of

10 Gindely, I. p. 187.

" Blahoslaw's Summa, Goll, p. 125 ; Comenii Hist. Fr., | 74, p. 22 ;
Regenvolscius, Cap. XI. p. 55.


their Church, on having recognized the light of truth, and
expressed the hope that it would spread and illumine the
earth. ^^ A conversation followed on the faith of the Brethren
as taught in their new catechism, which had recently appeared
in Bohemian and German. Luther begged the deputies to
have the doctrine of the Lord's Supper set forth more
explicitly and in a separate treatise. In this connection they
delivered a letter from Paul Speratus, containing certain ques-
tions in relation to the same subject. These questions had
been drawn up by Benedict Optatus, after reading the Con-
fessions and catechism of the Unity, and sent to Speratus,
who referred them to Luther, Optatus and Speratus were
tAvo of his most enthusiastic admirers. They had come to
Moravia in 1522, and were zealously spreading his tenets.

In June of the same year Luther sent an answer to the
questions which had been laid before him. This answer was
published, so that Luke made use of it when writing the
treatise for which the Reformer had asked. It bore the title
of "Faith Victorious" and was composed in Bohemian; but
a Latin translation was forwarded to Wittenberg. In the
beginning of the next year (1523) Luther transmitted his
reply, together with a copy of Melancthon's Loci Communes.
Luther's work was written in German, entitled Vom Anbeten
des Sacraments des heyligen leychnams Christi, and addressed
to Meynen liehen herzen und freunden den Brildern genant
Valdenses in Behmen und MehrenP

While it set forth, with much candor, the points in which
the Brethren seemed to him to err, its tone was kind and con-
ciliatory. But it roused Luke, who seized his pen and wrote

^^ Qui ipsi gratularentur lumen agnitse veritatis, et apprecarentur, ut ea
sese ipsius opera, in orbem terraruni quern latissime effunderet. Regen-
volscius, p. 55.

^* " Concerning the Adoration of the sacred body of Christ, To my dear
hearts and friends, the Brethren, called Waldenses, in Bohemia and Mo-
ravia." Printed at Wittenberg, anno 1523. It is a quarto pamphlet of 32
pages. In July of the same year the Brethren published, under a title of
their own, a Bohemian translation at Leitomischl.


a rejoinder (June, 1523), defending the seven sacraments and
the doctrine of the Lord's Supper as taught by the Brethren,
and adding his views on celibacy and justification. In regard
to the last point these views were extreme. He spoke of a
righteousness existing in the believer, through the grace of
God and for the sake of Christ, which righteousness belonged,
in a certain sense, to the believer and rendered a daily appro-
priation of the merits of the Saviour unnecessary. This was
clearly a polemical position for which the Unity was not
responsible. He was driven to it by the fear that evangelical
liberty would degenerate into licentiousness. Luther remained
silent ; but Luke continued to write until he had produced
three more works which were all polemical in their character.
The first treated of Repentance ; the second of Marriage ; the
third of Love.

That he was actuated by pure motives and not by the desire
of controversy becomes clear from the second mission to
Wittenberg (1524).^^ Horn and Weiss were again the
deputies. They received instructions to confer with Luther
not only on the Lord's Supper, but also on the constitution
and especially the discipline of the Unitas Fratrum. Luke
and his colleagues remembered those enactments of the Synod
of 1486 which spoke of reformers whom God might raise up,
and imagined that, through the agency of the new movement,
that development might perhaps be made general which had
been going on for sixty-seven years within their own com-
munion. In other words, they hoped to impress the disci-
plinary character of the Church of the Brethren upon the
churches that would grow out of the German Reformation.^^
But they were disappointed. The second visit to Luther
instead of producing such a result, brought about an estrange-
ment between him and Luke. For eight years the Unitas

'* Regenvolscius, p. 56 ; Comenii Hist. Fr., § 75.

'^ Tliis is the view ot John Plitt (Section 39), based upon intimations
found in the writings of the Brethren. It is undoubtedly correct. Gindely
is unable to appreciate the Brethren in their relations to the Reformers ;
whenever he writes on this subject his words are flat and his views pointless.


Fratrum stood aloof from the Reformation. One cause of
this rupture was the dissatisfaction which the two deputies
expressed with the free way of living at Wittenberg, especially
aniono; the students i^" but there must have existed other causes
also which have not been put on record. In his Tischreden
Luther subsequently took occasion to censure the discipline of
the Brethren with great severity.

Luke's opposition to the Zwinglian system was still more
decided. He met with it in 1525. Three of its ardent fol-
lowers, who had belonged to a monastic order at Breslau —
Michael Weiss, John the Monk and John Cizek — applied
for admission to the Unity, without letting their real views
become known. As they could preach in the German
lano-uao-e, and German preachers were needed, the Council
gladly accepted their services. Weiss was appointed to the
parish at Landskron; but no sooner had he established an
influence than he began to spread Zwinglian principles and,
as he said, to reform the Unity. He was warmly supported
by John the Monk and Cizek, and the peace of not a few
churches was marred. Luke warned the promoters of this
discord to forbear ; and the Council, at a special convocation,
reaffirmed, with great solemnity, the doctrine of the Lord's
Supper as taught by the Brethren. But while Weiss died
and John the Monk disappeared, Cizek remained contuma-
cious. Hence he was excommunicated.'''

Meantime the National Church had been gradually divided
into a conservative party, which leaned toward Rome, and a
liberal faction, which identified itself with the Lutheran
movement. This latter wing, however, was composed of
discordant elements, and the preaching of its priests presented
an incongruous mixture of opinions. In 1523 Gallus Cahera
became prominent. He Avas a graduate of the University of
Prague who, after quarreling with his parish at Leitmeritz,

'6 Lasitius, V. 39, cited by Plitt.

" Gindely I. pp. 191, 192. The above Michael Weiss must not be
confounded with the hymnologist and deputy to Wittenberg, who bore the
same name.


had spent several months at Wittenberg, blinding the eyes of
Luther and winning his friendship under insincere pretences.
Ambitious, fickle and false-hearted, he now appeared at Prague,
presented a letter from the Reformer, and thrust himself
forward as his champion. Through the most persistent
intrigues he succeeded in gaining the administratorshii) of the
Utraquist Consistory. He labored iu the interests of the
Reformation ; Martin Luther's nam© was continuallv on his
lips; he caused articles of faith to be adopted that were
almost wholly evangelical in their character (1524). But
when a reaction set in he instantly became its ardent
supporter, turned his back upon the Reformation, abandoned
Luther, banished from Prague all priests of evangelical views
and helped to restore Utraquism in its most conservative
form. To this reaction the Diet set its seal by recommending
a union of the Utraquists and Roman Catholics and adopting
measures against the Brethren (January, 1525).

As soon as this became known, the Executive Council drew
up a letter to the King, praying for his protection and boldly
declaring, that "no disgrace, no sufferings, not the loss of
their freedom, not the sacrifice of their lives or of their
possessions would induce the Brethren to deny the truth." ^*
This letter was sent to Ofen but, at the instigation of Arch-
bishop Salkan and Cardinal Campeggio, withheld from the
King (1525). These prelates were afraid that such a docu-
ment might interfere with the negotiations which were about
to begin between the Utraquists and the Catholics. It soon
appeared, however, that the suspicions of the former were as
great, and the demands of the latter as intolerant, as on all
former occasions of the kind. No union was effected . On
the contrary the King tried to curb the reactionary zeal
of Cahera, but without success. At Prague and throughout
the kingdom religious disturbances increased, until they were

'^ This letter was written in Bohemian. The original is lost, bnt a
German translation exists. It ought not to be counted as one of the Con-
fessions of the Brethren. It was, as the German translation says, a Sende
Brief. Malin Library, No. 882.


hushed, for a time, by a suddeu and fearful shock. On the
twenty-ninth of August, 1526, Solynian the Magniticent, with
his fierce host of three hundred thousand Turks, totally
defeated I^ewis, at Mohacs, in Hungary. While fleeing from
the field of carnage the young King fell from his horse and
was killed.

The last years of Bishop Luke's life were troubled by
sectarian animosities. His ancient enemies, the Amosites,
bestirred themselves. At their head stood John Kalenec.
This man wrote with intense bitterness against the Brethren
and against Luke personally (1525). Luke replied and the
controversy Avas prolonged until 1527, when, owing to the
cruel persecutions of Cahera, the Amosites disappeared from
Prague, which was their chief seat.

But now the Habrowanites, or the Lultschian Brethren, a
fanatical sect organized, in 1527, on his estate in Moravia, by
Baron John Dubcansky von Habrowan, with the assistance
of Matthias the Hermit and Wenzel of Lultsch, began to
pester the Unity. Dubcansky made overtures to Luke and
proposed a conference. These overtures were declined.
Although Dubcansky became very indignant, he did not
relinquish his project, but was silenced merely for a time.^^

In Moravia there were many Anabaptists. Might not
these enter into a fraternal fellowship with the Unity ? So
thought some of their friends among the nobility who urged
the holding of a conference. Luke and the Council yielded
to such persuasions. Three conferences took place, but
resulted in bitter denunciations of the Brethren, not in a
brotherly union with them. They were, said the Ana-
baptists, gross idolaters.'^'^ Such a result was inevitable.
There could be no affinity between the Unitas Fratrum and
a fanatical sect.

And yet these negotiations were not absolutely fruitless;
for they opened the eyes of Luke to the impropriety of

*' L. F., IV. contains the correspondence. Reichel's Zusiitze, pp. 240-248.
20 L. F., V. cited by Gindely I. pp. 124, 125.


rebaptism. In a letter to a friend he said, that he no longer
considered it essential and that it would be well to abolish
this practice in course of time.

And now the career of this illustrious Bishop was drawing
to a close. For many years he had been afflicted with stone.
This disease became aggravated as he grew older and brought
on his end. He died on Friday, the eleventh of December,
1528, at Jungbunzlau, aged seventy years, and was buried
the next day in Mount Carmel. He left an elaborate will
addressed to the ministers of the Church.^^ In this document
he commends his soul to God, asks his brethren to forgive his
faults, suggests in what way the government of the Church
shall be carried on, leaves his writings in its hands, gives
some account of its property, recommends the poor to its
special care, and solemnly declares that he dies with unchang-
ing loyalty to the Unity of the Brethren.

Luke was a great man, " mighty in word and deed." ^^
He gave to the Unitas Fratrum a new and better form.
Gregory was its founder, Luke its renovator. Without him
it would have gradually petrified and become incapable of
inward development or of outward growth.

His literary activity never flagged, resulting in the pro-
duction of eighty-five works.^ They are written, however,
in a style that is obscure, inelegant and perverted with a
multitude of Latinisms and Germanisms. As a historian he
is not only without authority but he also not unfrequently, by
reason of his strong polemical bias, misleads his readers.

Luke's colleague. Bishop Ambrose, died eight years earlier,
in 1 520, at Jungbunzlau, and was buried in Mount Carmel.

" Todtenbuch, pp. 8-11.

22 Todtenbuch, p. 8.

23 Gindely in Bohm. Muscal-Zeitschr., 1861, p. 278.



VELOPMENT. A. D. 1529-1580.


Further Intercourse, between the Unitas Fratrum and Luther;
new Confessions of Faith. A. D. 1529-1539.

Finding and Burial of the Body of Lewis. — Ferdinand the First elected
King of Bohemia and Hungary. — His Polity. — Tlie Unitas Fratrum
undisturbed. — Election of Bishops. — Ciklowsky, Bily and Horn. —
Synod of 1532. — John Augusta and his bold Course. — Election of
Bishops. — Augusta, Baworinsky and Veit. — The Unitas Fratrum
assumes a new Position. — A Confession of Faith presented to the
Elector of Brandenburg.— Published by Luther at Wittenberg with a
Preface of his own. — Rebaptism relinquished. — Persecution in royal
Cities. — The Presentation of a Confession of Faith to Ferdinand the
First. — He promises the Brethren Peace. — The Elector of Saxony and
their Confession. — Missions to Luther and Negotiations with regard to
the Publication of their Confession and of their Apology.

For more than six weeks the body of the unfortunate
young king lay buried in a rude grave, dug by unknown
hands, on the bank of the Danube, near the spot where he
had perished. Thither came Ub'ich Zettritz and other nobles,
sent by the Queen to search for the corpse, found this grave,
disinterred the remains, and conveyed them to Stuhlweissen-
burg, in Hungary, where amidst solemn chants and imposing
ceremonies, they were deposited in the royal vault. Lewis
was the last of the Jagellons. In consequence of his death,
Bohemia fell to the House of Hapsburg. On the twenty-


third of October, 1526, one of its representatives, the Austrian
Archduke Ferdinand, a brother of the Emperor Charles the
Fifth, was chosen king by the Diet. After having promised
to maintain the constitution, to uphold the Compactata, and
to respect the prerogatives of the nobility, and after having
given a written declaration that he had no inherited claim to
the kingdom, but was its sovereign merely by election, his
coronation took place at Prague, on the twenty-fourth ot
February, 1527/ Soon after he was chosen king of Hun-
gary, and in 1531, Roman king.

The policy which Ferdinand set on foot exerted a lasting
influence upon the Unitas Fratrum. This policy may be
designated as Spanish-Austrian in its character. He had
been educated in Spain and was a bigoted Romanist. While
his religious convictions were sincere and he meant to be just,
his mind was warped by its one-sided training, he gave no
heed to the solemn calls of his age and failed to comprehend
that the world had been turned into a new current which no
human hand could arrest. To restore, at all hazards, the
Roman Catholic Church to its former supremacy throughout
Bohemia and Moravia ; and to re-establish the royal authority
which had been overshadowed by the power of the nobles; —
such was his purpose. But he was too prudent to let it be-
come i^rematurely known ; nor had the time arrived for
carrying it into execution. Hungary and the Turks absorbed
his attention. John Zapolya, the Prince of Transylvania, had
set up a rival claim to the Hungarian crown and had invoked
the aid of Solyman, w^hose hordes anew invaded the country,
advanced into Austria and besieged Vienna. Under such
circumstances Ferdinand did not interfere in the relig-ious
affairs of Bohemia and Moravia, except that he began severe

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 22 of 64)