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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No one was better qualified for this position than George
Israel. He spoke the Polish language. He possessed that
energy of character without which evangelistic labors in a
new field cannot be a success. His faith never faltered and
his courage could not be shaken. Accordingly he was
appointed missionary to Poland, retaining, however, his
parishes in Prussia.

It was spring when he set out for his new field of labor.
He traveled on horseback. The roads were bad and the
streams swollen. Reaching Thorn on the fourth Sunday in
Lent, he rested for the day. Thorn is situated on the
Vistula, which was covered with ice, and, in anticipation of a
flood, the floating bridge had been removed. On Monday
morning Israel walked to the river in order to see whether
the ice was strong enough to allow him to cross on horseback.
He found and followed a track leading to an island and
beyond to the farther bank. Convinced that he might

highly esteemed by Speratus. Anton Bodenstein, the Lutheran Minister
at Kwizina, became an enthusiastic admirer of the Brethren, especially on
account of their discipline, and wrote a letter to John Brenz, the Suabian
Reformer, in which he gave full flow to his feelings. Comenii Hist. § 85,
taken from.Lasitius.


venture the passage, he turned back. As he was going from
the island toward the city, suddenly, with a loud crash the
ice gave way, breaking into a mass of fragments, on one of
which he was swept down the river. Death seemed inevit-
able. But in that awful moment his trust in God put on its
strength. Invoking His holy name and raising the one
hundred and forty-eighth Psalm, he sprang from one ice-
block to another, singing as he pursued his perilous way —
" Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps :
fire and hail ; snow and vapor ; stormy wind fulfilling His
word" — until he reached the shore in safety. There a great
multitude had gathered to see the marvellous spectacle.
They received Israel with a shout — " To us ! Hither to us !"
— and escorted him to Thorn. For years afterward his
escape was spoken of as one of the most wonderful events in
the history of the city.^^

When the waters had subsided, he continued his journey
and reached Posen in safety. The work which he began bore
immediate fruits. In the course of the Passion Week, Luke
Jankowski and his wife, who was a sister of the powerful
Counts Ostrorog, the Countess Catharine Ostrorog — another
sister of these magnates — and several others, were admitted
to the fellowship of the Church. Israel accompanied by
John Korytan, paid a second visit which was crowned with
similar success.

But now a time of trial began. The Protestant Governor
of Great Poland, Count Gorka, died and his Catholic suc-
cessor, Janus Koscielecki, in conjunction with Bishop
Jzbinski persecuted the Brethren; so that they were con-
strained to hold their religious meetings in secret and with
the utmost caution. Israel was in constant danger. It is
said that Jzbinski, stumbling at no means to rid his diocese
of the presence of so fearless a preacher, put forty assassins
on his track. By continually assuming new disguises, and
appearing sometimes in the garb of an officer and again in

^^ Eegenvolscius, pp. 101, 102.


the dress of a coachman or a cook, he escaped their hands and
carried on his missionary work/'^ The death of the Bishop
brought no relief. His successor, Andrew Czarnkowski,
continued to pursue the Brethren, several of whom were
arrested. Israel was summoned before the Governor, who,
however, merely advised him to leave the city, which advice
he did not follow ; but Paul, one of Israel's converts, was
taken to the Bishop's country-seat and condemned as a heretic.

Occurrences like these excited the magnates. Their
inherited jealousy of the power of the clergy was roused.
They delivered the prisoners who were confined at Posen.
A body of nearly one hundred nobles rode to Czarnkowski's
country-seat and carried ofP Paul in triumph. In consequence
of this bold course the persecution waned and the Brethren
began to lift up their heads.

Meanwhile George Israel had been released from his
Prussian parishes and devoted himself, with the assistance of
other priests, to his work in Poland. He lived at Posen, in
a house rented for him by Jankowski, where he preached
every day, until an outbreak of the plague drove him from
the city. Relying upon the good offices of Catharine Ostrorog,
he established himself in the outskirts, on one of her brother
Jacob's estates.

The ancestral seat of this magnate was Ostrorog, where
lived Felix Cruciger,^® his chaplain, and Francis Stancarus,
an Italian Professor. ^^ These two men were jealous of

" Regenvolscius, p. 218.

^^ Cruciger had been a Eoman Catholic priest in a village near Cracow.
Having embraced the evangelical faith he first joined the Lutherans but
subsequently the Eeformed, whose Superintendent he became in Little

'^ Stancarus came to Poland from Mantua, where he had imbibed the
principles of the Eeformation, and filled the position of Professor of
Hebrew at Cracow. He subsequently taught at Konigsberg and Frank-
furt-on-the-Main, but returned to Poland at a later time. He is famous on
accoimt of his controversies with Osiander. His own views became
heterodox. He excluded from the atonement the Lord's divine nature.
His system was eventually absorbed by Socinianism.


Israel's influence and feared that the Count, who had with-
drawn from the Catholic Church but not yet united with a
Protestant body, might be induced to join the Brethren.
Hence they suggested to him, that inasmuch as Israel had
been exposed to the plague, he should not be permitted to
visit Ostrorog. The Count gave his steward an order to
this effect. But in spite of it, Israel appeared at the castle
and was courteously received. He invited Ostrorog and
Cruciger to witness, at Posen, the celebration of the Lord's
Supper, according to the ritual of the Unity. The Count
was impressed but still wavered. Soon after, his wife
requested the priests of the Brethren to hold a religious
meeting in the castle at Ostrorog. While this service was in
progress several Catholic nobles called on the Count ; and
when they heard of it, ridiculed it as a conventicle. One of
them said, that if his wife were to introduce heretics into his
castle, he would beat her into subjection. Such remarks
excited Ostrorog and he persuaded himself that his authority
had been grossly insulted. Seizing a whip and exclaiming,
" I will drag my wife out of this conventicle and bring her
here !" — he hurried off and burst into the meeting. But
when he beheld the devout and solemn assembly, and saw
that Cerwenka, who was preaching, manifested no alarm but
■calmly continued his discourse, giving it a turn that reproved
the Count's unseemly anger, he was overcome by a sudden
fear, stood humbled and remained speechless. In that
moment Israel rose and pointing to a vacant seat, said, " Sir,
sit down there !" The Count obeyed and by the time
Cerwenka had finished his sermon, believed in Christ, rejoiced
in God, and was fully persuaded in his own mind to join
the Unity .^^ Cruciger and Stancarus left Ostrorog; Israel
took up his abode in its parsonage; its parish church, the
churches on all the other domains of the Count, and large
buildings at Posen, were given to the Brethren. Ostrorog
became their Polish centre and its noble proprietor their most

*° Kegenvolscius, pp. 107, 108.


faithful patron. In a short time additional parishes were
established at Kozminek, under Albert Serpentinus, who was
followed by John Rokita, at Marszevia, under Peter Scalnicus,
at Lobsenia, under George Philippensis, and at Barcin, under
John Rybinius.21 Moreover the example of so powerful and
well-known a magnate as Ostrorog, induced a number of
other noble families to join the Unity. It greatly prospered
in Poland ; its churches walked in the fear of the Lord, and
in the comfort of the Holy Ghost.

*^ Lochner, p. 95.



The Brethren and the Reformed in Poland. A. D. 1554-1557.

The Unitas Fratrum a Centre of Union for the Polish Protestants. —
Negotiations with the Reformed. — An unsuccessful Persecution. —
Union Synod of Kozminek. — Articles of Agreement between the
Brethren and the Reformed. — Lismanin and the Swiss Reformers. —
The Union of the Reformed with the Brethren does not prosper. — John
von Laski. — Vergerius. — Further negotiations with the Reformed.

The Protestants of Poland were attracted by the Unitas
Fratrum. Its Confession of Faith found favor among their
clergy and nobility ; its discipline excited general admiration ;
it had a well-ordered constitution, a simple but sufficient
ritual, and presented, in all other respects, a completed
organization. The other evangelical churches, and particu-
larly the Reformed, recognizing their lack of unity and want
of a proper system, began to look around for a rallying-point.^
In the beginning of 1555 the idea was broached that the
Brethren's Church might, perhaps, afford such a centre.

This idea gained ground in Little Poland, in consequence
of a visit which George Israel and Count Ostrorog paid to
Cracow. They met with Jerome Philipowski, an influential
magnate and adherent of the Reformed faith. He was so
charmed with their account of the Unitas Fratrum, that he
induced Cruciger to invite its Executive Council to send
delegates to a Reformed Synod, which was soon to meet at

^ Authorities for this chapter are Lukaszewicz, and especially L. F.. X.
which contains George Israel's narrative of the negotiations of the Re-
formed with the Brethren. R's Z., pp. 282-303. Gindely, I. p. 392, etc.
Lukaszewicz' s narrative is incomplete and sometimes incorrect.


Chrecice. This Synod, Cruciger added, would consider the
question of a union of the Reformed with the Brethren.

The Council would not have been true to its antecedents if
it had not cordially accepted such an overture. From of old
the Church of the Brethren had sought to promote unity
among God's children. Accordingly Israel and John Rokita
were appointed delegates to the proposed Synod. It took
place on the fourteenth of March, 1555.^ Israel gave a short
account of the origin, progress and sufferings of the Brethren,
and explained the fundamental principles of their system.
It was agreed to hold another meeting at Goluchow, on the
twenty-fifth of March. On this occasion Israel met ten
representatives of the Calvinistic faith, who discussed, article
by article, the Confession of the Brethren. A fraternal spirit
prevailed ; but it became evident that the Reformed were
not yet of one mind with regard to the proposed union. A
report of the proceedings was sent to the Council, together
with an invitation to appoint delegates to a Union Synod at

Meantime the Bishop of Posen induced the King to issue
an order to the Governor of Great Poland, closing the
churches and forbidding the religious assemblies of the
Protestants (1555). This order was carried out in the royal
cities, but remained a dead letter on the domains of the
nobles. Before long it was disregarded in the royal cities
also. Moreover the Diet of Petrikau (1555) resolved to
convene a national council in order to settle the religious
affairs of the country, and the King consented to ask im-
portant concessions of the Pope : such as the mass in the
vernacular, the Lord's Supper under both kinds, and the

2 Lukaszewicz says the Synod met on the twenty-fourth of May. The
date we have given is taken from the L. F. Rokita, who has been several
times mentioned, was ordained to the priesthood in 1555, at Prossnitz, and
subsequently elected to the Council. He is famous on account of his
interview with the Eussian Czar, of which more hereafter. His abilities
as a linguist have been mentioned. He died on the tw.enty-fifth of
January, 1591. Todtenbuch, p. 85.


marriage of priests. Thus the persecution by which the
Bishop meant to suppress Protestantism proved abortive, and
the synod at Kozminek could be held in peace.

It was the first Union Synod of the Polish Protestants, and
convened on the Day of St. Bartholomew, the twenty-fourth
of August, 1555. There were in attendance, on the part of
the Reformed, Felix Cruciger and Andrew Prazraowski, the
two Superintendents — the latter of Kujavia^ — together with
seven other clerical and lay deputies : on the part of the
Bohemian Brethren, Jacob Ostrorog, John Krotowski, John
Tomicki, Adalbert Marschewski and Peter Grudzinski —
Polish nobles and lay deputies ; John Czerny, from Moravia,
George Israel, of Ostrorog, Matthias Rybinius, of Kaminiec,
Adalbert Serpen tin us, of Kozminek, all from Poland, and
John George, from East Prussia^ — clerical deputies : on the
part of the Lutherans of East Prussia, John Funk, the court-
preacher of Duke Albert, Jerome Malecki and William
Krinecky, the exiled Bohemian Baron who was, however, a
member of the Brethren's Church. A large number of the
magnates of Great Poland were present as spectators.

The Synod was opened at eleven o'clock by John Czerny,
who delivered the following brief address :

" Having gathered here with great, important and very
necessary objects in view, it is proper that we should turn to the
Lord our God, seek refuge with Him, and call upon His most
holy name ; so that He may enlighten us with His holy Spirit
and prepare our hearts to obey His holy will."^

^ Kujavia was originally an independent principality on the Vistula, but
in course of time incorporated with Poland. It contained the cities of
Jnowraclaw, Brzesc and Dobrzyn.

* John George, or Jirek, born at Swidnitz (Schweidnitz), was a Bachelor
of Arts, taught in the Brethren's school at Leitomischl, was their mes-
senger to the King in 1547, (Vide p. 268 of this History), and emigrated
to Prussia, where he was ordained to the priesthood. In 1557 lie was
elected to the Council and became a sort of superintendent of the Prussian
chiirches, in which capacity he Avas subjected to much enmity on the part
of the flatterers of the Duke. He died March the first, 1562. He was a
pious and upright man and a diligent scholar. Todtenbuch, pp. 34, 35.

* Lukaszewicz, p. 31.


Thereupon all rose and sang, with great enthusiasm, the
Polish hymn : Diichu S. przyjdz k'nam (Come, Holy Spirit,
visit us). This hymn was followed by an address from
Cruciger, who showed the necessity of uniting against the
'* Romish Antichrist," and admonished the Synod to exercise
moderation and to strive for peace. The Confession of the
Brethren formed the basis of the discussions, which were pro-
tracted for several days. At first the most conflicting views
appeared, and heated disputes took place; finally, however,
the Synod came to the unanimous conclusion that this Con-
fession might be adopted by all the Protestants of Poland.
Thereupon the Brethren and the Reformed of Little Poland
mutually agreed upon the following six articles :

1. The Reformed of Little Poland accept the Confession of the
Brethren ; acknowledge their doctrines as pure ; and pledge
themselves to remain faithful to this Confession.

2. The Reformed promise to introduce into their churches the
liturgy of the Brethren, who, on their part, agree to give them
their liturgical forms and to send some of their ministers to
explain and establish the same.

3. The Reformed promise to undertake nothing in the afiairs
of their church, without consulting the Brethren.

4. The Reformed are, however, to retain their own superin-
tendents, who will be independent of the bishops of the Brethren.

5. Some of the usages of their church will also be retained by
the Reformed.

6. But they will renounce the tithes which they have been
drawing according to Roman Catholic custom.®

A similar agreement, excepting the introduction of the
liturgy, was entered into between the Brethren and Praz-
mowski, as the representative of the Calvinists of Kujavia.
On Sunday, the first of September, a common celebration of
the Lord's Supper set a seal to the union which was thus
established. The next day the Synod adjourned. No
influence seems to have been exercised upon its transactions
by the Lutheran representatives, and they stood aloof from
the union.

At that time there lived in Switzerland a man who had
helped to establish Protestantism in Poland. His name was

® Lukaszewicz, pp. 32, 33.


Francis Lismanin. By birth a Greek, from Corfu, he became
a Franciscan monk and, in course of time, the confessor of
Queen Bona, the mother of Sigismund Augustus. Having
imbibed evangelical views he established an association which
secretly studied the writings of the Reformers. Upon the
King he exercised a great influence and, twice a week, gave
him private instruction in the doctrinal system of Calvin. In
1553 Sigismund sent him on a journey through Europe,
ostensibly in order to buy books for the royal library, but in
reality with the view to examine into the state of Protest-
antism. He went, first of all, to Moravia, where he spent a
long time at Prerau, among the Brethren, with whose system
he made himself familiar; then he proceeded to Italy,
Switzerland and France. From France he returned to
Switzerland and formed the acquaintance of Calvin, Beza,
Musculus and other Reformers. The result was, that he
openly renounced Catholicism, joined the Protestants and
married. This step offended King Sigismund, who forbade
him to return to Poland.

Soon after the Synod of Kozmiuek, Cruciger reported to
Lismanin the union which had been established with the
Brethren, and begged him to ask the Swiss Reformers for
their opinion. This opinion proved to be, in the highest
degree, favorable. Calvin said: "Let the union continually
grow closer." Musculus wrote: "I joyfully praise the
counsel of God, that He has transplanted the Brethren from
Bohemia to Poland in order to assist you in acquiring and
spreading the knowledge of the Truth." A number of other
letters were received all pervaded by the same spirit.

And yet the union so auspiciously inaugurated and warmly
commended, did not prosper. At the very next Synod, held
at Pinczow, in 1556, the Reformed began to find fault with
the Confession of the Brethren and to manifest a singular
indecision ; although they still said that they desired the
introduction of the liturgy.

In order to bring this about the Executive Council sent
Israel and Rokita to Little Poland. At Krticic they had a


meeting with Cruciger and other Reformed ministers. Israel
told them, in plain terms, that they must declare, without
further equivocation, whether they intended to abide by the
agreement of Kozminek. Their answers were so confused
and unsatisfactory that this conference led to no results. A
second meeting, held after Israel's return from a short visit
to Cracow, was equally fruitless. This was owing to the
arrival of John von Laski at the neighboring Castle of

John von Laski, born at Warsaw in 1499, the scion of an
ancient Polish family, was a distinguished Reformer and an
illustrious servant of God. Educated for the Roman Catholic
priesthood, in part at foreign universities, where he made the
acquaintance of Erasmus and of Protestant divines, he
attempted to reform Poland without cutting himself loose
from the established Church. After eleven years of fruitless
labors, he relinquished this effort, espoused Protestantism,
went to Belgium, where he married, and, in 1540, settled in
East Friesland. In that country he became the founder of
the Reformed Church. Nine years later he organized, in
England, a flourishing church of refugees from France and
the Netherlands. This enterprise came to an end in 1553, in
consequence of the persecutions of Bloody Mary. With a
part of his flock he now wandered through Denmark, Fries-
land and Germany, driven from place to place by Roman
Catholics and bigoted Lutherans, until 1556, when, in
response to pressing invitations, he returned to his native

The arrival of their distinguished countryman had pro-
duced such excitement among the ministers gathered at
Krticic, that they seemed unable to speak of anything else.
Israel, who was preparing to depart, reluctantly yielded to
their persuasions and accompanied them to Rabstein. Laski
gave him a cordial reception, but soon began to find fault
with the Confession of the Brethren. Without enterintj
upon this subject Israel bade him farewell and went to
Cracow, where he spent Christmas, and had an interview


with Lismanin, who had secretly returned to Poland (1556)7
On his further journey he met, at Jaldow, soon after
Epi])hany, 1557, with another distinguished personage.

This was Peter Paul Vergerius, at one time the nuncio at
the imperial court and subsequently Bishop of Capo d'Istria,
in Dalmatia, where he was born in 1498. He stood high
and had every prospect of being appointed a cardinal. While
studying the Protestant system with a view to its complete
refutation, he became convinced of its truth, resigned his
episcopal office, gave up all his flattering prospects, and
professed the evangelical faith. After laboring in Switzer-
land he accepted a position as councilor of the Duke of
Wiirtemberg and, in conjunction with Baron von Ungnad,
established a printing press for the publication of Slavonian
bibles. At the same time he traveled to various countries in
order to make himself acquainted with the progress of Prot-
estantism. To Poland he came in 1556, simultaneously with
Aloysius Lipomanus, the Bishop of Verona, who was sent by
Paul the Fourth to subdue Protestantism. This pontiff had
indignantly refused to grant the concessions asked for by
Sigismund Augustus. That the presence of Vergerius helped
to counteract the influence of Lipomanus, is more than likely.
In any event, the Diet of Warsaw disregarded his vehement
and dictatorial demand to uproot heresy, and induced
Sigismund to grant the nobles religious liberty on their

This triumph for Protestantism had been won when Israel
met Vergerius. Their interview led to important results.
Vergerius became one of the most enthusiastic admirers and
faithful advocates of the Unitas Fratrum. He declared that
it bore a truly apostolic character. He maintained that its
Confession embraced a kernel which all Protestants ought to
accept. He published this document anew at Tubingen, in

' Lismanin, who began to incline toward Socinianisra, did not remain in
Poland, but secured a position from Duke Albert of East Prussia. About
1563, in consequence of domestic troubles caused by the dissolute manners
of his wife, he became insane and committed suicide.


the following year (1558), together with testimonials of
Luther, Melanchton, Bucer and Musculus.^

Laski was of a different mind. He asked the Swiss lie-
formers for a new exposition of their views with regard to
the Confession of the Brethren, and subjected it to a searching
criticism of his own. Lismanin, with the same object in
view, also wrote to Switzerland and expressed himself in an
unfriendly way. Before any answers were received to these
communications, the Reformed and the Brethren asain met
in Synod, at Wladislaw, June the seventeenth, 1557. Both
Cruciger and Laski, influenced, no doubt, by the Protestant
nobles, advocated the union of Kozminek, and said that it
should be carried out at a later Synod.

To this Synod, which was to meet at Goluchow, Laski, on
the twenty-fifth of July, invited the Executive Council to
send accredited delegates. Cruciger and another Reformed
minister gave a similar invitation.^ Cerwenka replied that
it would be laid before the approaching General Synod of the
Unitas Fratrum.

* It was a republication of the Latin Confession printed at Wittenberg in
1538. A German translation of the preface written by Vergerius is given
in Comenii Kirehen Historie, etc., Schwabucli, 1739, p. 453.

* The three letters are contained in L. F., X.



The State of the Unity in Bohemia and Moravia during the
continuance of the Persecution. A. D. 1548-1557.

The Unity oppressed in Bohemia.— Augusta and Bilek.— In Moravia the
Brethren enjoy Peace.— Synod of Prerau and Prossnitz. — Augusta's

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 27 of 64)