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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Piirglitz, one of the oldest and grandest castles known to
Bohemian chroniclers. Crowning a huge conical rock, from
Avhose base radiate three valleys, it lifts its hoary towers
proudly to the sky. Hills, covered with dense forests, are
round about it on every side. They stand like giants
guarding the stronghold of a king.^^ Through one of the
valleys, and the wildest and most romantic of them all, rush
the dark waters of the Beraun, along whose course has been
built a railroad to Rakonitz. Here and there ancient iron-
works belch forth their flames and smoke; while sunny
meadows and fields of golden grain form a brilliant hem to
the dark green mantle of the forests.

Toward this castle Augusta and Bilek, guarded by twenty
men at arras, set out in the night of the twenty-fifth to the
twenty-sixth of May. AVeak, covered with painful wounds —
for which nothing whatever had been done — the two prisoners
lay, each in a separate wagon, unable to comfort one another,
alone with their thoughts and their God. At last Piirglitz
was reached. Slowly the wagons, with the horsemen close
about them, moved up the steep and winding road that led to
the outer gate. Here they crossed the draw-bridge to the
main entrance, ornamented with the royal coat of arms, and
came into a large triangular court-yard. Passing along its
northern side and turning into a very ancient and narrow
gate-way, with a curiously constructed guard-house on the
left, they reached a second and smaller yard, known as the
king's courtyard. At one end rose a round keep, overtopping
all the other towers and connected by a gallery with the royal
dwellings ;^^ at the other end was seen a balcony from which

" Tradition says, that in the Hussite War, when Zizka came with his
army in order to make himself master of Piirglitz, he could not find the
castle, so completely was it surrounded by hills and so dense were tlieir forests.

'^ These dwellings no longer exist.


the sentence of prisoners was read to them before they were

In this courtyard the wagons hahed. On all sides were
dungeons. Two massive doors, on the left, were opened ;
through one of these Augusta was led into a vaulted cellar,
through the other, Bilek passed into a second cellar similarly
constructed. It was a long farewell which they were forced
to bid to the world without. For sixteen years the Bishop,
and for thirteen years his Deacon, lay immured within these
gloomy walls. ^^

While, in some respects, their situation was less painful than
at Prague, there were other experiences which proved to be
hard and distressing. They were left in almost total darkness.
Exceedingly narrow though the cellar windows were, they had
been blocked up with double shutters. The only light the
prisoners had, came through an opening four inches square.
While taking their meals, which were served twice a day, they
were allowed a taper ; but it was removed as soon as they had
finished eating. Nor were they permitted to communicate
with each other. Neither of them set foot outside of his cellar.
Nor were visitors admitted. They saw no one, except the

^^ Augusta passed through a square oaken door, Bilek through an arched
one. Both these doors are still to be seen. The first led into a cellar
adjoining that in which the Bishop was confined ; the second straight into
Bilek's prison. Augusta's cellar had no outer door. The interior of the
cellars, which were not subterranean, but on a level with the ground, has
been entirely changed. They are used by the inhabitants of the castle, who
occupy the buildings surrounding the large courtyard. One of these build-
ings is a brewery ; another, a tax-office ; a third, the seat of the imperial
district-court; in the rest live stewards and servants. The Castle of
Piirglitz, to which belong wide domains, whose forests abound in deer and
other game, is now the property of the Prince of Fiirstenberg. In the
Middle Ages it was a royal domain and a favorite hunting place of the
Bohemian Kings. In the dungeons of the Castle many distinguished pris-
oners were at various times confined, among them Duke Henry, the brother
of Frederick the Third, both of whom were captured in the battle of
Ampfing, in 1322. At the north end of the first courtyard stands a large
tower, called Huderka, into whose subterranean vaults criminals were let
down and allowed to starve to death. Nitsche's Burg Piirglitz, Wien, 1876.
In 1879 we visited the Castle and, guided by a warder, explored it thoroughly.


keeper when he brought their food, and the guards when they
cleaned the prisons. Day and night were alike — silence and
solitude and gloom.^ The wounds which had been inflicted
through the torture, were not looked after until they grew so
offensive that the services of a surgeon became absolutely

Of the other ministers who fell into Ferdinand's power, the
experiences of three are on record.

George Israel was the priest of the parish at Turnau.^^
Cited to Prague on pain of a fine of one thousand ducats, his
people begged him to disregard the summons and offered to
pay the money. " No !" was his answer, " I have been pur-
chased, once for all, with the blood of Christ and will not
consent to be ransomed with the gold and silver of my people.
Keep what you have, for you will need it on your flight ;
and pray for me, that I may be stedfast in suffering for Jesus."
With unwavering fortitude he bade farewell to his brethren,
presented himself at Prague, confessed his faith, and was
imprisoned in the White Tower, in the same dungeon which
Augusta had occupied (May the thirtieth). The treatment
which he received was, however, not rigorous ; and so loosely
was he guarded that escape became possible. But he was too
conscientious to embrace, on the strength of his own judgment,
the opportunities which offered. He sent a letter to Bishop
Mach Sionsky, asking his advice. The Bishop assured him
that it would be right to flee from his prison, if he could. Ac-
cordingly (July the twenty-eighth), disguised as a scrivener,
a quill behind his ear, paper and ink-horn in his hand, he

^^ Twenty men, probably those who had brought Augusta and Bilek to
Piirglitz, were detailed to guard them. Germans had been purposely chosen,
of whom only three could speak Bohemian. Over these men was set a
captain who reported to John Zdarsky von Zdar, the Governor of the Castle.

^' G. Israel, whose name has several times been mentioned in connection
with the missions to Luther, was born in Bohmishbrod, in 1508. He was the
son of a smith, but well educated. His father reluctantly consented to his
entering the ministry of the Brethren's Church. He was ordained priest
in 1540, and subsequently became one of the most influential leaders of the
Unity and its father in Poland.


passed, in broad day, out of the tower and through the midst
of the guards, leaving behind a letter to the Governor of the
Castle and a copy of one of the Confessions of the Brethren.
He proceeded to Prussia.

Another minister confined at Prague was Paul Bossak, a
Deacon. He, too, was loosely guarded. Often and earnestly
he prayed that God might deliver him. Dreaming, one night,
that in a certain cellar — it was the one in which Augusta had
been tortured — there was an opening in the wall, he made
his way to the place and found his dream fulfilled. Through
this opening he reached the ground and escaped to Prussia.

John Rokita, one of Augusta's acolytes, was set free at the
intercession of certain young men. Catholics, who had formerly
been his fellow-students. They spoke so highly of his extra-
ordinary gifts as a linguist that he received the offer of a
secretaryship in the Chancellor's office. But he refused this
position and followed his brethren into exile.^^

A large part of the ministers who escaped imprisonment,
fled to Moravia ; some ventured to remain in Bohemia, where
they hid themselves, but at night, in secret places, preached
and administered the sacraments.

While such events were transpiring in Bohemia, the
Augsburg Interim and, at a later time, the Leipzig Interim,
which were to unite the Protestants and the Catholics until
the Council of Trent could be reopened,^^ brought about the
utmost dissatisfaction in Germany, and led, in some of its
states, to persecutions on the part of the Emperor. At the
same time these Interims widened the breach between the
Philippists, or liberal Lutherans, and those who upheld the
Lutheran system in all its details and with an iron bigotry.
Nothing more disgraceful occurred, on the Protestant side of
the Reformation, than the disputes between these two factions.

"Authorities for tlie above incidents: Regenvolscius, pp. 197-199;
Lasitius, VI. 17, cited by Plitt.

'^^ The Council of Trent was opened on the thirteenth of December, 1545,
and protracted for eijjfhteen years, until 1563 ; during which period it was
in session only twenty-five times.



The Unitas Fratrum established in Prussia and Poland.
A. D. 1548-1553.

The Brethren on the confiscated Estates banished. — Their memorable Jour-
ney to Poland. — Religious State of that Country. — The Exiles at Posen.
— Expelled by royal Mandate. — Sionsky and Israel sent by the Synod
of Zerawicto lead the Exiles to East Prussia. — Account of this Country.
— Negotiations with Duke Albert. — Stay at Thorn. — The first Polish
Brethren's Church. — Arrival in East Prussia. — Hard Terms. — The
Prussian Parishes. — A Church at Posen. — George Israel Missionary in
Poland. — His escape at Thorn. — Prosperity and Persecutions. — Israel
and Count Ostrorog. — Ostrorog's Domain the Polish Centre of the

The measures of the King against the Unity were not yet
exhausted. By his command the Regent, on the fifth and
twelfth of May, 1548, issued two decrees banishing the
Brethren of Leitomischl, Bidsow, Chluraetz, Turnau and
Brandeis on the Elbe. But six weeks were granted them in
which to prepare for their emigration ; the earnest plea of the
parish at Leitomischl for a longer respite, met with a stern

If these Brethren had denied their faith and united with
the Utraquist or Catholic Church, they w^ould have been saved
from exile. That they would take such a step, Ferdinand
confidently expected. But he knew not the power of that
spirit which suffers the loss of all things for Christ's sake. In

* Authorities for the i:ccount of the emigration to Prussia are L. F. VII.,
cited by Gindely, and numerous original documents given in his Quellen,
Partll. pp. 72-124.


spite of the enormous sacrifices they were obliged to make in
selling their property or leaving it unsold and confiscated,
they were ready to depart when the appointed time came.

They traveled in three bodies. The first, which numbered
about five hundred souls and was provided with sixty wagons,
proceeded by way of Frankenstein, Glatz and Breslau, to Posen,
arriving on the twenty -fifth of June. This body comprised
the Brethren from Leitomischl, Bidsow, Chlumetz and Solnic,
and was led by four priests, Matthias Aquila, Urban Hermon,
John Korytan and Matthias Paterkulus.^ At a later time
they were joined by the second body, which consisted of the
Brethren from Turnau and a part of those from Brandeis,
numbering three hundred souls and fifty wagons. Under the
leadership of Barons Biberstein and Krajek, this body crossed
the Riesengebirge and passed through Lower Silesia. The
third body, composed of the remaining Brethren from Brandeis,
followed the same route.

It was a memorable journey which these exiles undertook.
The only adequate description of it is the saying of one of
their own number : " We were borne on eagles' wings."^
Driven out of their country as obstinate heretics, stigmatized
by the edicts of their King, their name a by- word and reproach
among their neighbors, they nevertheless met with kindness
and hospitality and honor wherever they came. Their de-
parture was not the hurried flight of cowering fugitives ; it

^ The domains from which the Brethren were driven, belonged, with the
exception of Solnic, to the number of those which Ferdinand had confis-
cated. Solnic was the property of Baron Pernstein and therefore not
affected by the decree of banishment. This nobleman, however, of his
own accord, ordered those of its inhabitants who belonged to the Unity to
leave his estate. Hence they joined the exiles. The four priests named
above are not mentioned in the Todtenbuch.

* Croeger, I. p. 255, who says there is extant an original account of the
journey, written by one of the exiles but, as usual, does not adduce the title
of the document. It is undoubtedly contained in L. F. VII. p. 186, etc.,
which authority Gindeh'; I. p. 331, adduces. This account descrilies the
journey of the first body of exiles ; but the other bodies met with the same
kind treatment.


was the solemn inarch of an army of the Lord. Many of
their own faith, from parishes not affected by the decree of
banishment, as well as many Catholics and Utraquists, came
to protect them while passing through forests and defiles where
robber-bands were wont to lurk. The captain of Potteustein,
which domain belonged to Baron Perustein, a bitter foe of the
Unity, sent an additional guard of horsemen and foot soldiers.
Several hundred men accompanied them across the Silesian
Mountains, as far as Frankenstein. Tolls and duty were
remitted ; provisions, in great abundance, were gratuitously
supplied ; the very roads were improved that their wagons
might pass in safety. In Silesia other protectors offered
themselves. At Glatz the burgomaster and the council enter-
tained the exiles ; the city-captain, with sixteen knights, gave
them an honorable escort through the town and beyond its
walls ; one hundred and fifty armed men formed their guard
to Breslau. The last part of their journey — from Breslau to
Posen — was distinguished by similar tokens of kindness and

In Poland the Unitas Fratrum found a second home.

To this country the seed of Christianity had been brought,
in the ninth century, from Moravia, by Greek-Slavonian
missionaries. The harvest came in the next century, when
Christianity was universally accepted. Its development
involved a repetition of the experiences made by Bohemia
and Moravia. Amidst that antagonism between the Slavonian
and the German races which continually reappears in history,
the Greek liturgy and a national Church struggled against the
Latin ritual and the Romish Hierarchy. In this case, too,
Rome gained the victory. But a deep-seated prejudice
against her pretensions and clergy continued to exist in the
minds of the peo]:)le and especially of the nobility.* The life
of the Church did not flow with a smooth current. From

* The law establislied by the first Christian Duke, that the tenth sheaf of
every kind of grain must be given for tlie support of the bishops and their
clergy, was the original cause of this prejudice. Lukaszewicz, p. 1.


time to time it was violently agitated. The Flagellants caused
a wild commotion ; the Fratricelli and Beghards, with their
united strength, denounced the Pope as Antichrist and the
Romish Church as the Church of Satan ; Milicz, having a
higher aim in view, spread the Gospel with holy zeal. No
one, however, prior to the sixteenth century, moved Poland
more profoundly than John Hus. He had a multitude of
adherents in that country. His coadjutoi', Jerome of Prague,
organized and taught in the University of Cracow (1410).
Queen Hedwig favored the new doctrines and caused the
Bible to be translated into the vernacular. The execution of
Hus created almost as great a storm as in his own country.
Hussite preachers came swarming into Poland and labored,
openly or in secret, with indefatigable perseverance. The
Romish bishops and their clergy, aided by the iron arm of
the Inquisition, were no less active in suppressing such
movements; nevertheless, when the Reformation began, a
large part of Poland was ripe for its sweeping innovations.
Lutheranism set the Poles free from the bonds of the Romish
Church, but did not gain them, in large numbers, as its
adherents. It was a German system and encountered the
national prejudices of the people. Calvinism met with more
favor and won many more followers. Both confessions
established churches at an early day.

Three months prior to the coming of the Brethren, Sigis-
mund the Second Augustus, the last scion of the house of
Jagello, had ascended the throne. At heart he was not disin-
clined to Protestantism. His kingdom consisted of four
provinces : Great Poland, Little Poland, Lithuania and Polish
Prussia.^ The royal seat was at Cracow, in Little Poland.

Posen received the Brethren with open arms. They were
exiles, persecuted and afflicted, without a country or a home.
They were the true followers of Hus, whose work had never
been forgotten by the Poles. They belonged to a nation with

* Polish Prussia, or West Prussia, was ceded to Poland by the Teutonic
Knights in 1466.


which Poland had always been united in a close bond of
friendship." Such considerations incited the people of Posen
to words of welcome and works of love.

Posen was the capital of Great Poland and the seat of Count
Andrew Gorka, its Governor. He was an open advocate of
the Reformation, and allowed the Brethren to take up their
abode in the suburbs of the city and on several of his own
estates. Other noblemen followed his example. Public
worship was instituted according to the forms of the Unity.
The priests preached the Gospel with boldness and fervency
of heart. Many Poles accepted the truth as it is in Christ

Such a blooming of the heretical plant which had been
rooted out of Bohemia was odious in the sight of Benedict
Jzbinski, the Bishop of Posen. He appealed to Sigismund
Augustus and secured a royal decree, ordering the Brethren
to leave Great Poland (August the fourth, 1548).

While they were preparing to resume their journey, Bishop
Mach Sionsky and George Israel arrived (August the six-
teenth) and put themselves at their head. The Synod, which
had recently met at Zerawic, in Moravia, had sent these two
men to lead them to East Prussia.''

This country was forcibly converted to Christianity by the
Teutonic Knights (1283). They established an ecclesiastical
state which flourished until 1525, when it was changed into a
civil dukedom, with their Grand Master, Albert, as its duke,
under the suzerainty of the King of Poland. Albert intro-
duced the Reformation and strove to further its interests. But
the Lutheran clergy exercised an undue influence over him,
and the University of Konigsberg, which he founded for the
promotion of evangelical truth (1544), became a notorious
centre of theological controversies.

® Turnovius (of whom more hereafter,) says in his Defence of the Con-
sensus Sendomiriensis : " From of old the Poles looked upon the Bohemians
as their brethren." Lukaszewicz, p. 8, note 4, whose work is a principal
authority for the history of the Brethren in Poland.

' Dektete d. B. U., p. 165, etc., cited by Czerwenka.


In the dominions of this prince the banished Brethren
hoped to find a retreat. Their fellow-exile, Baron Krinecky,
advocated their cause f but Mitmanek, who had been driven
from Bohemia in 1543, spread such malignant calumnies
with regard to their faith, that Albert grew suspicious and
the negotiations were broken off.

At a later time, however, in reply to a written petition, he
promised to receive them.^

On the twenty-fourth of August they left Posen and
proceeded to Thorn.^'^ Here they spent several months,
preaching Christ and winning souls, until, at the instigation
of the Catholic clergy, the royal decree which had ordered
them to leave Great Poland, was made to include Polish
Prussia also.

Again were these Brethren forced to depart. But their
testimony did not pass away. A church was organized at
Thorn and supplied with a resident priest." This was the
first Brethren's church in Poland. In speaking of it Lasitius
says : " I owe King Ferdinand many thanks, that, without
intending to do so, he sent such evangelical men to my native
country .^^

Christmas was close at hand when the immigrants reached
Konigsberg, the capital of East Prussia. They came into a
Lutheran camp which flaunted the standard of bigotry.
Although the Duke, in his reply to their j)etition, had in-
formed them that they would be expected to submit to his
clergy, they did not anticipate conditions as severe as those
which were actually imposed. In the first place, a confer-
ence was appointed, at which nine of their priests were sub-

* Baron Krinecky was living in East Prussia in such distress that tlie
Duke, at one time, sent him one hundred florins. He died in that country,
and his widow, with her children, returned to Bohemia. See documents in
Quellen, pp. 90, 106, 121, etc.

^ Quellen, pp. 85-89, gives the petition and the Duke's answer, dated
July the sixth, 1548.

'° Thorn was the principal city of Polish Prussia.

^^ Lukaszewicz, p. 24.

12 Lasitius, VI. p. 25, cited by Plitt.


jected, by a commission of Lutheran divines, to a searching
examination with regard to the doctrine and ritual of the
Brethren (December twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth) ;^^ in
the next place, when this commission had reported favorably,
Paul Speratus, the Superintendent of the East Prussian
Church, who bore the title of Bishop of Pomesania, presented
twenty articles setting forth the terms on which they would
be received. These terms were hard, illiberal and uncharita-
ble. They practically put an end to the independent existence
of the Brethren. They rendered their situation, in so far as
the free exercise of their own faith was concerned, not much
better than it had been in Bohemia. At a time when the
Reformation was still struggling to reach firm ground and
when its adherents, of every name, ought to have assisted and
upheld each other, Protestants gave their fellow Protestants a
reception in which not a single trait of catholicity or large-
heartedness appeared. But what could the banished Brethren
do except submit?^* At Whitsuntide, 1549, in the presence
of a number of Lutheran ministers, Speratus formally ac-
knowledged them, by the authority of the Duke, as a part of
the evangelical Church of East Prussia.

They took up their abode at Marienwerder and Garnsee,
which parishes were in charge of George Israel, at Soldau,
where Aquila was stationed, at Neidenburg, Bolstein, Baldow
and Gilgenburg, in which town Bishop Sionsky had his seat.
The whole number of Brethren who gradually settled in East
Prussia was about fifteen hundred.^^

'^ A report of this conference, which took place at Konigsberg, is given
in Quellen, pp. 92-97.

'* The twenty articles are given in full in Quellen, pp. 97-106, and taken
from Lasitius. As a specimen we present the following: The Brethren
must accept the Augsburg Confession ; their bishops are not to ordain their
priests, these must be ordained by the Lutheran bishop ; the priests of the
Brethren stand under the Lutheran parish ministers; the Brethren are
forbidden, with a few unimportant exceptions, to retain any usages or cere-
monies of their own ; they must support their own priests ; they must help
to support the Lutheran ministers, etc.

'^ Quellen, p. 72. Comenii Hist., | 86, gives the number at nine hundreil.
In course of time Bishop Sionsky won the favor of the Duke and was


In the course of the first year of their abode in that
country, Bishop Sionsky was taken ill and went to Posen to
consult its physicians, who occupied the foremost rank of their
profession. He was entertained by Andrew Lipczynski. At
the house of this nobleman he began religious meetings.
They were held in secret and generally at midnight. God
blessed the Word as it was expounded and taught by the
Bishop. Lipczynski, his wife, and a number of other hearers,
were converted to the true faith, and admitted into the Unity
of the Brethren. Thus was established their first church in
Great Poland. In the following year the work was continued
by Israel, Aquila and Cerwenka, who stopped at Posen on
their way from Prussia to Moravia. The number of converts
increased; and in 1551 they applied to Bishop Sionsky for a

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 26 of 64)