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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Duke. If the stone was taken from him, his reign came to an
end. A senate of twelve Kmety, or Elders, constituted his
advisers. Upon important occasions a diet was convened,
embracing, besides the Kmety, the Lesi, who were owners of
large estates, and the Wladyka, who constituted the heads of
the clans into which the freeholders were divided. Prior to
the ninth century serfdom was unknown, although some of
the peasantry rendered service to the Lesi.

The country was laid out in circuits, or counties, each
governed by its own magistrate, with a fortified castle for its
capital. Within the fortifications were temples, built of wood
and enshrining the images of the gods to which they were
dedicated. None but priests were allowed to enter the inner
sanctuary, and they held their breath when approaching an
idol. Sacred groves surrounded the temples. The. principal
temple stood within the Wyssehrad.

The mythology of the Czechs is obscure.' Although the
Slavonians were originally monotheists, a polytheism, rivaling
that of Greece and Rome, had grown up among them and
extended to Bohemia and Moravia. Perun was their Jupiter,
the thunderer, the god of gods. Around him were grouped
Swatowit, the god of war, Radihost, the god of industry,
Weles, the god of cattle-breeding, Lada, the goddess of love,
Ziwa, the goddess of corn, Dewana, the goddess of forests and
the chase, Morana, the goddess of death, and many other
'divinities ; but the relation in which they stood to him, and
the forms under which they were represented, are unknown.
The forces of nature and the affections of the human heart
were set forth as nymphs and demons; while each family
had its own household idols, to which visitors invariably
bowed on entering or leaving a dwelling. Even formal wor-
ship was not restricted to temples. The country was full
of sacred hills and fountains and rivers, where the Czech
brought his offering in the twilight hour, smiting upon his
forehead and singing a hymn of praise.

» Palacky, I. p. 178.


Into the darkness of such superstition shone the light of
Christianity, in the first half of the ninth century. It dawned
in Moravia and came from the Latin Church, through the
agency of the Franks. Everything else touching its intro-
duction remains unknown. Prince Mojmir, whose seat was
at Welehrad,^ on an island of the March, embraced the new
faith, and three churches were dedicated, at Neitra^ (836),
Olmiitz., and Briinn. Nor did the night of paganism continue
unbroken in Bohemia. On New Year's Day, of 845, fourteen
of its nobles, while visiting Louis the German, were baptized
at Regensburg. In both countries, however, the new light
shone feebly. It did not shed its beams upon the nation. A
few spots only were illumined. It was in the East, above the
horizon of the Greek Church, that the Sun of Righteousness
appeared to the Czechs as a people.

In 846, the German Emperor deposed Mojmir, and invested
Rastislaw, his nephew, with the ducal dignity. Rastislaw
shook off the Frankish yoke. In order to be entirely inde-
pendent of German influences, but moved also by higher
motives, he sent to Constantinople for Christian teachers.
His ambassadors found two distinguished Missionaries, Con-
stantine, or Cyrill, and Methodius, at the court of the
Emperor Michael.

Their early history is obscure.^ They were brothers, the
sons of Leo, and born at Thessalonica. Both displayed extra-
ordinary talents and were known for their singular piety.
Cyrill was honored with the title of "The Philosopher;"
Methodius saw the highest political distinctions within his
reach. But both turned their backs upon worldly prospects,
however flattering, and entered a monastery, where they lived
in seclusion until a call for Missionaries to the heathen reached
their ears. Then they came forth full of zeal and courage.
Cyrill took his way to the Khazares, a Hunnic-Tartaric tribe,

' Now Hradist.

* Now in Hungary, twelve miles from Presburg, on the river Neitra.
' Palacky, I. Bk. 2, Chap. 5; Bily's Cyrill u. Method, p. 1. Bily gives
a number of legends concerning their early years.


whose country extended from the Volga and Caspian Sea
across the Caucasian Isthmus and the Peninsula of Taurida
as far as Moldavia and Walachia, and converted the Khan,
together with the greater part of his people. Methodius
brought the Bulgarians to a knowledge of the Gospel, and
made a penitent of their proud king Boris, by painting for
him a startling picture of the last judgment.

The success of these Missions gave to the two brothers a
name which was in all the churches of the East. They had
won to the side of Christianity nations that had long been its
wild and formidable foes. Accordingly, in response to
Rastislaw's application, Michael sent them to Moravia. They
arrived in 863, and made Welehrad the centre of itinerancies
that extended throughout the country. Wherever they came,
they preached repentance and remission of sins.

The principles which guided them in such work were
calculated to open a way for the Gospel into the hearts of the
people. They trained young Czechs as native priests. They
finished that Slavonian version of the Bible which Cyrill had
previously begun, and for which he had invented an alphabet
known as the Oyrilitza} They rendered the liturgy into the
same tongue, and introduced it into every parish. They
caused the reading of the Scriptures, public worship, and
preaching to be conducted in the vernacular. They built up
a national Church, in which the Czechs felt at home. Cyrill
and Methodius, therefore, deserve their title of "Apostles of

^ The Cyrilitza was invented by Cyrill in 855. It consisted of 46 letters,
and was based on the Greek alphabet. According to the latest researches
the Old or Church Slavonian language, into which Cyrill and Methodius
translated the Bible, was not, as writers formerly supposed, the mother of
all the living Slavonian dialects, but a dialect like these, only developed at
an earlier time. It is no longer a living tongue, but the sacred language
of the Slavonian nations, whose common property it has long since become.
Cyrill translated the Gospel lessons, the Epistles, the Psalms, and the Old
Testament lessons ; Methodius the rest of the Bible. That, as some writers
assert, the Cyrilitza was a mere modification of the so-called Glagolitic
letters, whose origin is obscure, cannot be substantiated. Even if such
letters existed in Cyrill's time, it is very doubtful whether he was
acquainted with them.


the Slavonians." Both in its character and results, their
work resembled the Missionary activity of the primitive
Christians, and stood out in bright contrast to the system
which Rome introduced wherever she gained a foothold.

Her priests who had been sent to Bohemia and Moravia
from Germany, used the Latin language in public worship,
impressed upon the minds of the heathens the importance of
tithes far more earnestly than the necessity of a conversion to
God, and set forth doctrines which, even in that early age,
constituted a wide departure from the standard of the Bible.
Cyrill and Methodius, on the contrary, drew their inspiration
from the Greek Church, which taught purer doctrines and
unfolded the Gospel, not as a succession of unintelligible
chants and lessons, but, in the vernacular, as " the power of
God unto salvation to every one that belie veth."

Both the countries in which they labored were, however,
claimed by Rome upon the strength of the original introduc-
tion of Christianity through the Franks. This claim was
urged the more persistently, because the controversy, which
eventuated in their total separation, had begun between the
Latin and Greek Churches. Nicholas the First, with the
triple crown upon his head^ and the forged Isidorian decretals
in his hand, asserted his supremacy over Photius, the Patriarch
of Constantinople, and maintained that Rome must be the
final court of appeal in all important questions. So bitter did
this feud grow, in 867, that Nicholas deposed Photius, and
Photius excommunicated Nicholas.

Informed, by envious German bishops, of what was trans-
piring in Moravia, the Roman pontiff cited Cyrill and Meth-
odius before his tribunal. They obeyed the summons (868),
but Nicholas died before they reached Rome. His successor,
Adrian the Second, received them with great distinction, not
only because they brought with them the reputed bones of
St. Clement,^ discovered by Cyrill in Cherson, but also because

^ Nicholas the First was the first pope who was crowned (858).
^ It is said that St. Clement, who was an illustrious contemporary of the
Apostles, suffered martyrdom about the year 102.


he hoped that the two brothers would aid him in resuscitating
the ancient diocese of Pannonia, which had fallen into decay
amidst the Hunnic wars. This was a favorite project at Rome.
The resuscitated diocese was to be independent both of the
Greek Patriarch and of the German bishops, and to embrace,
along with Moravia and Bohemia, the eastern part of the
archduchies of Austria, the duchies of Styria, Carinthia, and
Carniola, all of Hungary between the Danube and the Save,
Slavonia, and a section of Croatia and Bosnia. In this way
Moravia and Bohemia would remain under papal jurisdiction;
their peculiar privileges were to be recognized merely until an
opportunity would oifer to withdraw them.

With such a purpose hidden in his heart, Adrian sanctioned
the Slavonian Bible and liturgy, allowed the Greek system of
theology to be taught, and appointed Cyrill and Methodius
Bishops of the new diocese.

But Cyrill, whose health was failing, declined the honor.
He preferred the vows of a monk and the solitude of a cloister,
that he might prepare for death. In a few weeks, on the
sixteenth of February, 868, death came and brought his illus-
trious career to a close.^ After his decease, Methodius, satis-
fied with the concessions of the Pope, promised him obedience
and was consecrated Archbishop of Pannonia. He returned
to Moravia in 869.

A few years later, probably in 871, Boriwoj, Duke of
Bohemia, together with his wife, Ludmila, while visiting
Swatopluk, who had ^vrested Moravia from Rastislaw and
married a Bohemian princess, received baptism, at Olmiitz, at
the hands of Methodius. Christianity now spread rapidly
throughout Bohemia. Whether Methodius himself labored
in that country is not known. But his fatherly eye directed
the work, and his pious heart gave to it the same tendency as
in Moravia. A National Church was built up, with the
Slavonian Bible for its light, and the promises of the Gospel,

^ It was as a monk at Rome that he assumed the name of Cyrill, by
which he is now universally known.


proclaimed in the Czechish mother-tongue, for its joy. The
first Christian sanctuary which was erected stood on the left
bank of the Moldau, about seven miles from Prague, near the
Castle of Lewy Hradec.

These new victories over heathenism but intensified the
jealousy of the German bishops, especially those of Salzburg
and Passau, who filled all Rome with their lugubrious com-
plaints. Methodius was cited a second time before the papal
throne. He appeared and triumphantly vindicated his course.
John the Eighth renewed the concessions of Adrian, but
adroitly interwove with them the following stipulations : The
Gospels were to be publicly read first in Latin and then in
Slavonian ; should the Duke desire it, mass was to be cele-
brated in Latin also ; a German suffragan was to be appointed.
Harmless conditions they seemed to be ! And yet they pre-
pared the way on which Bohemia and Moravia were led into
the arms of Rome. The influence of Methodius began, at
once, to wane, while Wiching, the German suffragan, grew in
importance and power. Many bitter experiences saddened
the declining years of the last of the two Apostles of the
Slavonians. He died, according to tradition, on the sixth of
April, 885, and was buried at Welehrad, in the church -of
St. Mary.



The further History of Christianity in Bohemia and Moravia.
A. D. 885-1347.

The German faction in the ascendency. — Persecutions on the part of the
heathen. — Murder of Ludmila and Wenzel. — Suppression of Heathen-
ism. — Increasing influence of the Roman Catholic Church and spread
of her principles. — Gregory the Seventh forbids the Slavonian ritual.
— Final supremacy of the Romish system.

The German party now gained the ascendency. Gorasd,
whom Methodius had appointed as his successor, was set aside
and Wiching became archbishop. Under his administration
the native priests were persecuted. Many of them fled to
Bulgaria, where they introduced the Slavonian Bible and
liturgy, both of which, in a later period, passed into the
keeping of the Russians.

But the German faction did not constitute the only power
which interfered with the progress of Christianity. Heathen-
ism, too, assumed a hostile attitude, and did not hesitate to
dye its hands in blood. Ludmila, who had received the
surname of The Holy, on account of her many pious works,
was peacefully spending the days of her widowhood in the
castle of Tetin. Thither Drahomira, her pagan daughter-in-
law, sent a body of armed men who surrounded the castle,
while two of their officers burst into her apartment. They
found her in the act of prayer and strangled her with her own
veil (927). The next victim was the Duke himself, Wenzel,
Drahomira's older son, illustrious as a promoter of the Gospel
and distinguished by a life of faith and charity. His brother
Boleslaw, surnamed The Cruel, supported by other couspira-


tors, fell upon and killed him as he was about to enter the
church at Altbunzlau, where he had been the assassin's guest
(936). But the fratricide could not murder Wenzel's fame.
It lived from generation to generation. Bohemia crowned
him as a martyr and chose him for her patron saint. Boleslaw
seized the government and maintained his antagonism to the
Christian religion until he was forced by the Emperor Otho
the First to re-establish its rights.^ More than a century
elapsed, however, before heathenism was finally suppressed.
In 1092, Bretislaw the Second banished the remnant of its
priests and soothsayers, and set on fire the last of its sacred

Important events in the history of the national ritual pre-
ceded this forcible triumph of Christianity. Boleslaw the
Cruel was followed by Boleslaw the Pious. He deserved this
surname. A wise ruler and an earnest Christian, he made the
growth of religion to keep pace with the extension of his
realm. While Moravia, Upper and Middle Silesia, and the
southern half of Poland fell to him, numerous churches arose
through his munificence, widows and orphans found in him a
protector, and justice stretched out a firm but gentle hand.
Cosmas, the oldest chronicler of Bohemia, contrasting him
with his father, calls him a rose blooming on a thorn-bush, a
lamb begotten of a wolf.^ He was, however, devoted to the
Roman Catholic Church. The great service which Otho had
rendered Bohemia in the preceding reign, and the alarming
progress of the Magyars, had brought about a close fellowship
with Germany, which formed one of the strongholds of the
Hierarchy. Hence, when a bishopric was established at
Prague (973), as a part of the archbishopric of Mayence, the

^ Palacky represents the murders set forth above as the result of jealousies
in the ducal family and says nothing of their having been instigated by
hostility to the Christian religion. We follow the Hist. Persecutionum,
even if we do not accept all the details of its narrative. (See Chap. III.)
Schlesinger says, p. 31 : "Aber einer Partei im Lande war nichts verhasster
als das Christenthum und der Deutsche Einfluss."

^ Cosmae Chronicon. Scriptores Eerum Boh., I. p. 46.


Emperor persuaded Boleslaw to disregard the wishes of his
subjects and to accept the conditions which the Pope had
fixed. The Latin language, the Romish ritual, the papal
system of doctrines, was introduced, and Dietmar, a German
received the episcopal office. About the same period, monas-
teries were, for the first time, founded in Bohemia.

In this way Romanism began a defiant march through the
country, favored by the court, the nobility, and such of the
inhabitants as traded with Germany, but bitterly opposed by
the common people, who clung to their ancient usages with
all the tenacity of their national character, and conceived a
hatred of the Germans which has never died out. Impor-
tunate calls were heard for a native bishop and the re-intro-
duction of the vernacular in public worship. At last, both
the Pope and the Emperor promised to fulfill these demands.
On the death of Dietmar (982), Adalbert, a Bohemian by
birth and the scion of a noble house, was actually appointed
to the vacant see. But when he attempted to carry out the
wishes of the people, the Emperor as well as the Archbishop
called him to an account. Baffled and perplexed, he twice
relinquished and twice returned to his diocese. On leaving it
a third time, he found a martyr's grave among the Prussians

Romanism now spread unhindered for many years ; while
the Czechish language and Greek ritual fell into disuse more
and more. The accession of Wratislaw the Second to the
throne, in 1061 , brought about a change. This prince enjoyed
the love of his people in an extraordinary degree, and fostered
the national feeling until it burst into new life.

His reign occurred in eventful times. Henry the Fourth
was Emperor, Gregory the Seventh, Pope. The one passionate
and fickle ; the other calm, cold and determined, striving for
a universal theocracy and the elevation of the pontificate to
supreme power upon earth as the one unchanging object of
his life. The result was a protracted conflict between these
two heads of Latin Christendom. In the midst of this
struggle, Wratislaw, who had formed an alliance with Henry


in 1075/ sent a deputation to Gregory and begged him to
sanction the Slavonian ritual (1079). Such a petition could
not have been presented at a less auspicious time and addressed
to a more unyielding pontiif. A chief means by which
Gregory endeavored to render the papacy supreme was a
common ritual for the Christian world. Hence his reply
assumed the form of a bull, dated January the second, 1080,
and directed to the Duke, but without the usual greeting and

" Your Highness," wrote the haughty Pope, "has asked us
that we should allow your people to make use of the Slavonian
tongue in divine worship. We can in no wise sanction this
petition, in as much as a frequent study of the Holy Scriptures
has convinced us, that it has pleased Almighty God, and not
without reason, to allow certain parts of them to remain
hidden, lest, if they were clearly open to all, they might,
perhaps, become of trifling value and be subjected to contempt,
and being incorrectly understood by minds of mediocre
capacity, might lead men into error. Nor does the fact that
certain holy men formerly bore with patience what the people
asked for in simplicity, or let it pass uncorrected, serve as a
precedent. The primitive Church took no notice of many
points which were afterward corrected by the holy fathers, in
consequence of more accurate investigations, when Christianity
had been established and religion had increased. Hence that
which your people imprudently ask for may not be done. We
forbid it, by the authority of the blessed Saint Peter, and
command you to resist such foolish rashness with all your
strength, to the honor of Almighty God."^

' As a reward for the services which Wratislaw rendered in consequence
of this alliance, he was constituted the first king of Bohemia, in 1086.

^ The above letter differs materially from that given by Plitt, Holmes,
Croeger, and others, including even Czerwenka, who have all taken their
version from the Hist. Persecutionum, which got it from Hagek's old but
notoriously unreliable chronicle. Our version is translated from the
original Latin letter as found in Palacky, I. p. 338, Note 143, who took
it from the correspondence of Gregory the Seventh, published in Vol. VI. of
the Acta Conciliorum. Compare also Dobrowsky, pp. 48 and 49. The


This edict was a death-blow to the uewly awakened hopes.
Wratislaw, indeed, in spite of the Pope, continued to favor the
convent on the Sazawa, where the ancient ritual had its prin-
cipal seat; but his successor, Bretislaw the Second, expelled
the Slavonian brethren, owing chiefly to their own unceasing
disputes, and transferred the monastery to Latin monks (1096),
There followed other measures which gave Rome the victory
at last. The vernacular in public worship was prohibited, the
clergy were forbidden to marry, the cup in the Lord's Supper
was withdrawn from the laity. Yet even now the Bohemians
did not wholly yield the ground on which their fathers had
stood. Families and single churches, here and there, could
still be seen maintaining the national worship, and priests
administering the cup. Married priests were found as late
as the reisrn of Charles the Fourth. For the next two cen-
turies and a half religious liberty slumbered but was not dead.
It only needed a bold hand to break its sleep.

Some writers assert that a national Christianity was not
merely kept up but even purified in doctrine and life, through
the agency of the Waldenses.^ Numerous churches arose, it
is said, representing a union of the old Slavonian and Wal-
densian elements, and flourished greatly to the glory of God.
This view was first promulgated by Paul Stransky,^ and
adopted by Plitt.^ Modern researches, however, especially
those instituted by Palacky,"* show that however convenient
it is wholly without foundation. If the Waldenses appeared in
Bohemia at the close of the thirteenth century, which is barely
possible, they were few in number, exercised no influence, and
cannot, from any point of view, be recognized as a power in
its religious development.

Hist. Persecutianum, moreover, as also Plitt, Holmes. Croeger, and Czer-
wenka, gives a wrong date and prefixes the apostolic salutation, which was
intentionally omitted in order to show the Pope's displeasure with the alli-
ance between Wratislaw and the Emperor.

' Cranz, p. 5; Croeger, I. p. 9 ; Holmes, I. p. 14.

2 Stransky, p. 256.

=» Plitt, Chap. I. Sec. 5.

* Palacky's Waldenser, p. 18; Compare also Krummel, p. 51.



The Forerunners of John Hus. A. D. 1347-1369.

Gradual breaking up of the medieval Church-System. — Decline of Scho-
lastic Theology. — The reign of Charles the Fourth, the Golden Age
of Bohemia. — The Archbishopric, the Convent of Emmaus, and the
University of Prague. — The three Forerunners of Hus. — Conrad of
Waldhausen. — Milic of Kremsier. — Matthias von Janow.

About the middle of the fourteenth century signs began
to appear that the medieval church-system was breaking up.
It had held the human mind bound in its icy fetters for ages,
but it could not bind the Spirit whom God had sent. Under
His divine influences a reaction set in and slowly gained
strength, sometimes in silence and again amidst the noise of
storms, until at last it burst forth as an overwhelming flood.
Such a result was rendered inevitable by the abuses of the
papacy and its perversions of the fundamental principles of
the Gospel.

A decline of scholastic theology constituted the beginning
of this movement. Men began to think for themselves, and
not as the Church commanded. An issue was made which
still separates Protestantism from Romanism. The authority
of the Bible as the only source and norm of belief was set up
against the pretensions of the Church to promulgate doctrines
of its own creation. It is true that such an issue did not
become prevalent, but it constrained single reformers to
unsheath the sword of the Spirit, and prepared the way for a
general reformation. Nor did the revival of classical litera-
ture, about the beginning of the fifteenth century, fail to send
the human mind forward on its new course of thought and


John Wycliffe was the first leading representative of such
reformatory movements, and England the realm where they
gained temporary strength ; but they were fully developed in
Bohemia and Moravia. These twin countries had always

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 3 of 64)