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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paper of his own, setting forth his doctrinal position. This
paper could be understood in two ways and was pronounced
insufficient both by the Catholic and Utraquist Consistories.
The theological discussions which Augusta had with the
Arch-duke's chaplain John, led to no better results.

But now, through the Baroness Sternberg, Philippine
Welser's sympathy was aroused. In April of the year 1561,
on the day prior to her departure for Prague, where she
intended to spend the Passion Week and Easter Festival with
her husband who had preceded her to that city, she came,
accompanied by her retinue, into Augusta's dungeon and told
him to ask for a boon which, if within her power, she prom-
ised to fulfill. In response to this gracious offer the Bishop
begged that he and Bilek might be permitted to spend the
approaching Easter festival in fellowship and freedom ; remind-
ing her that, in the days of Christ, the Koman governor was
wont, at the Passover Feast, to release a prisoner unto the
people. Having assured Augusta that his wish should be
granted, she entered Bilek's dungeon and inquired what favor
she should secure for him. Great was her astonishment and
deeply was she moved, when he asked for the very same boon
and almost in the same words as Augusta. On reaching:
Prague she informed her husband of what she had done, and
besought him to comply Avith the request of the prisoners.
His chaplain, whose sympathy had been enlisted by a Catholic
noble — a friend of the Brethren — came to her aid. In the
confessional, on Maundy Thursday, he urged the Regent to
consent. Against such persuasions the Archduke could not
hold out. He wrote to Sternberg and directed him to accord
to the two prisoners, during the three days of the Easter
Festival, the freedom of the Castle. This letter reached
Piirglitz on Good Friday. The Baroness Sternberg ran to
the dungeons to tell the good news. While conversing with
Bilek, her husband came and communicated the Regent's letter.
Then he asked Bilek : '' How long is it since you have seen
Augusta ?" " It is eight years," was the reply, " since we
have seen each other." On hearing this the Baron told Bilek


to come into the court-yard, sending, at the same time, for
Augusta. In great but joyful agitation Bilek obeyed, and sat
down on one of the chairs which had been brought by order
of the Governor. " Will you recognize Augusta ?" said he.
Before Bilek could answer, Augusta appeared. With a gush
of tears the two men fell into each other's arms. The Baron
and his wife wept with them. And now, sitting in the
courtyard, under the open canopy of heaven, which had for
so long a time been hidden from their eyes, they spent two
hours in happy converse. Then each returned to his dungeon.
One of the most spacious and beautiful rooms in the Castle
was the Knights' Hall, constructed in the Gothic style, with
eight grand windows and a splendidly decorated ceiling. In
this apartment, on the next day, Augusta and Bilek, in the
presence of all the inmates of Piirglitz, gave their parole to
the Governor. " See, dear son," said the Bishop to his Deacon,
" now we can rejoice ; now men have faith again in our
honor !" Easter-Day, together with Monday and Tuesday of
Easter Week, constituted the brief period of their liberty.
They bore themselves with dignified propriety, manifested
the utmost cheerfulness, and thanked God for His mercy. On
Easter Day, of their own accord, they came to the chapel and
were present both at the service of the mass and during the
preaching of the sermon. ^^ Baron Sternberg was completely
won by their conduct, invited them to dine with him every day,
and failed not to give the Regent, on his return, a most favor-
able report of all that had occurred. Indeed the Governor
openly said, that he believed that God had sent him to Piirglitz
in order to bring; about Aug-usta's and Bilek's liberation.

^ 2 The castle-chapel is situated next to the large round keep, and consti-
tutes one of the most interesting parts of Piirglitz. It is Gothic in style,
with light, bold arches ; its walls are decorated with carvings in Avood ;
the door leading into the sacristy is a master-piece of such carving ; and the
altar, whose exterior is adorned wath pictures, can be opened and displays
in the interior a magnificent group, carved in wood and representing the
crowning of the Virgin Mary. At the present day divine worship is gen-
erally held in the Knights' Hall, the chapel being considered unsafe.


Hence he urged the Regent to set them free. Philippine
did the same, with loving words and tender caresses.

The Archduke interposed no further objections; but,
believing that his father would never consent unless the
two prisoners recanted, suggested that they should be sent
to Prao;ue and receive instruction at the hands of the Jesuits.
To this proposal Augusta strenuously objected. On receiving
a promise that no coercion should be used, he at last gave
way. This was another and a fatal step in the downward
course of the Bishop.

On the third of May he and Bilek were taken to Prague
by William von Hradesin, who hired lodgings for them in a
private house and put no restraint upon their movements ; but
so many people came to visit them, and whenever they showed
themselves in the streets such a sensation ensued, that they
were removed to the Jesuit College (May the sixth). There
they spent fifty-one days. They were well treated but not
allowed to receive their friends.^^ Their religious instruction
was undertaken by the Rector, Doctor Henry Blissem. He
met with no success. A report of the discussions — which had
been carried on with Augusta alone and in the Latin language
— was sent to the Utraquist Consistory. But this body de-
clined to express an opinion, and instead, transmitted fifteen
articles recently agreed upon by the Utraquist states. These
articles Augusta accepted, and wrote to the Regent for per-
mission to leave the Jesuit College and confer with the
Utraquist Consistory. At this request the Regent took oifence
and replied, in very sharp words : that Augusta, having
been born among the Utraquists, was well acquainted with
their doctrines and needed no instruction in them ; that the
time had now come for him simply to declare which faith,
the Utraquist or the Catholic, he would in future confess.
Augusta's unhappy rejoinder was given on the twenty-fourth

'^ Augusta and Bilek daily came out on the balcony of the College to
breathe the fresh air. At such times their friends and many other people
assembled in the street below ; conversation was, however, strictly for-


of June. He said that he and Bilek would hold to the Utra-
quist Church. As soon as the Jesuits heard of this they
refused to have any further dealings with them. On the
twenty-sixth they were removed to Sternberg's house, and
informed that Bilek was to remain at Prague but Augusta to
return to Piirglitz. In vain were Bilek's entreaties to be
allowed to share the Bishop's fate. The Jesuits had advised
this separation. On the twenty-seventh, Augusta was carried
back to his dungeon.

This was a hard blow for the fallen Bishop. He had taken
the last step in his downward career. He had denied the
faith, brought shame upon the Brethren, and given his
adhesion to that Church whose gross corruptions no hand had
more unsparingly laid bare than his own. All this he had
done that he might be free ; but alas, instead of liberty came
the dreariness, the dismal solitude, the now doubly irksome
durance of his old prison !

While the course which Bishop Augusta pursued was wrong,
it may be explained, if not extenuated. For thirteen years
he had been a staunch confessor of the truth. It was not his
intention to deny it even now. He persuaded himself that
with it could be reconciled the step which he was taking.^*
That he quieted his conscience with such quibbles was the
rock on which he stranded. But even this rock he would
have avoided, had it not been for his estrangement from the
Council. Through this unfortunate rupture feelings were
engendered which, intensified by his pride, his haughty spirit,
his inordinate desire to rule, carried him away headlong.

'* This is evident from a passage in the letter sent to by him the Councib
in 1561 — of which letter more hereafter. "When it was left to your
choice," says this document, " to join either the Romish or the Utraquist
Church, you gave your adhesion to the latter, because, as you say in your
communication to Baron Sternberg, you were born in this Church.
Further on in your letter you turn about, and add that you cannot forsake
the Unity. In saying this you shift from side to side in a most remarkable
manner, and set forth the position of the Utraquist party in a very different
way from the well-known one, in order to keep a back door open through
which you can go." Gindely, I. pp. 456, 457.


Augusta's fall presents an illustration, as sad as it is notable,
of the words of the Lord : " If thine eye be evil, thy whole
body shall be full of darkness." ^^

Bilek spent a mouth in the White Tower at Prague. On
the twenty-fifth of July he was examined by several members
of the Utraquist Consistory, and answered their questions
satisfactorily. Thereupon — much to his dismay — he was
required to accept the sacrament of the Lord's Supper at the
hands of a Utraquist priest, and to sign a bond denying the
Brethren and promising to adhere to the Utraquist Church.^*'
On the fourth of August, 1561, after an imprisonment of
thirteen years, fourteen weeks and two days, he was set at
liberty. He hurried to Piirglitz, entered the service of
Sternberg and, in this way, gained opportunities to minister
to his Bishop, to whom he continued to cling with touching
faithfulness. He was eventually reinstated in the ministry,
and died on the first Sunday in Advent, 1581, as the priest of
the parish at Napagedl.^^

In spite of his breach with Czerny and the other Bishops,
Augusta did not cease to write to them ; and while he was
staying at the Jesuit College sent them a very severe letter,
demanding a renewal of their allegiance to him as the head
of the Unity. On the other hand, these Bishops had been
fully informed of all that had occurred at Prague, and had
even received, probably through Augusta himself, a copy of
the paper in which he declared his adhesion to the Utraquist
Church. Under such circumstances they convened the Ex-
ecutive Council at Prerau and laid before this body the facts
and documents of the case. A resolution was unanimously
adopted, to send Augusta a final and decisive answer. This

'5 Matthew 6 : 23.

^^ The questions put to him by his examiners were such as he could con-
scientiously answer ; the priest whom he selected to administer the sacra-
ment belonged to the Lutheran wing of the Utraquists and did not require
him to recant any of the doctrines of the Unity ; but no excuse can be
found for his signing the bond.

" Todtenbuch, p. 69.


paper has been preserved. ^^ It is dignified but severe ; rejects
his claims ; denounces his overture to the Utraquists as a base
act ; declares that, as long as he remains obdurate and mani-
fests the implacable spirit by which he is animated, he is to
have no farther part in the government and guidance of the
Unity ; and appeals to the Lord to judge between him and
the Council.

At this same meeting a very different question came up for
decision. Toward the end of 1560 Vergerius had addressed
a letter to the Bishops, begging to be received into the
fellowship of their Church. He reminded them of what he
had done to further its cause, and asked that the Brethren
should provide for him during the remainder of his life, as
also for a servant, two secretaries, a coachman and a pair of
horses. He said that he would give an equivalent by laboring
for the Unity still more zealously, and assured them that he
made this overture not because he was in need, but because
their discipline, their life, their Church in every other respect
had captivated his heart. This lettter the Bishops had not
answered. In March, 1561, he wrote again, to Rokita by
name, and begged for a speedy reply. And now the Council
was asked for its opinion. The service which Vergerius had
rendered was fully acknowledged ; his admission to the
Unity did not appear desirable, yet could not well be
avoided. A reply was accordingly framed, informing him
that the Brethren would receive and care for him ; but asking
whether he had fully considered the step he proposed to take
and realized all that it involved. This hint Vergerius under-
stood, and dropped the negotiations. "After receiving our
answer," write the Brethren, " he left us in peace." ^^

The liberation of Bilek led the Bishops and Council to
believe that Augusta would soon be set free. They still
feared his influence ; in any case it was desirable to define his

18 Dekrete d. B. U., p. 203, etc. Gindely, I. pp. 454-458 gives it in full,
in a German translation.

i« L. F., IX. pp. 297-300, cited by Gindely ; Quellen, pp. 255-258, giving
the letters of Vergerius in full ; Comenii Hist., ^^ 96, 97.


relation to the Unity. On the thirteenth of April, 1 562, the
Synod met at Prerau. First of all a statute was framed and
signed, committing the government of the Church anew to its
four Bishops, in conjunction with the Council ; and defining
explicitly the duties both of the former and of the latter. In
the next place it was determined, that if Augusta and Bilek
should come among the Brethren, their temporal wants should
be cared for, but they should not be allowed to perform
ministerial functions ; in case they demanded a hearing, they
should be referred to the Council. At the same time, in
guarded language, an act of exclusion was adopted.^" Such
was the reception which awaited the fallen Bishop.

The paper sent by the Council in 1561 had plunged him
into a pitiful state. That extraordinary energy of character
which had upheld him amidst former trials, seemed to be
gone. He murmured hopelessly and ceased not to complain
that, after all his sufferings, the Unity had cast him off. One
end, however, he steadily kept in view. He would be free.
At the intercession of Sternberg, the Regent sent for the
Utraquist priest who had given Bilek the Communion.
This priest came to Piirglitz, had an interview with the
Bishop, and reported to the Consistory that he was willing to
receive the sacrament. Mistopol, however, raised objections,
and drew up a formula of recantation. This Augusta refused
to sign.

But now Maximilian — who had been crowned King of
Bohemia on the twentieth of September, 1562, at Prague, by
Anton Brus, its new Archbishop — interested himself in the
case, begging his father to set Augusta free. With this end
in view he was once more removed to Prague (April the
ninth, 1563) and confined in the White Tower. There
Mistopol visited him, and promised him liberty if he would
recant. Augusta declined, saying that he had taught no

20 « -y^g i^g^yg jjQj. condemned Augusta and Bilek ; their acts have
excluded them from our communion and deprived them of the priestly
office in the Unity." Dekrete d. B. U., p. 213, cited by Czerwenka, and in
full by Gindely, I. pp. 462, 463.


errors. Other attempts to elicit a formal recantation were
equally fruitless. The Regent became angry, not only on
this account but also because Augusta, in accordance with the
truth, denied having recently written letters, and on the
twenty-fourth of May, ordered him to be taken back to
Piirglitz. Again therefore the unfortunate Bishop entered
his dismal cellar and resumed its weary life. In the
beginning of the next year (1564), however, once more
through the intervention of Maximilian, he was, for the third
time, sent to Prague, where lodgings were provided for him
at the house of John von Waldstein. Neither the Utraquist
nor the Catholic clergy took any notice of him ; but his
friends were instant in appealing both to the Emperor and
to Maximilian for his release. In spring Ferdinand fell ill.
Deeming his end at hand, he gave orders to liberate Augusta
unconditionally, except that he was forbidden to preach.
The day on which he regained his liberty is not known ; his
imprisonment lasted a few weeks less than sixteen years.
Accompanied by Bilek he immediately betook himself to
Jungbunzlau, where they spent Easter in fellowship with the

In the following summer, on the twenty-fifth of July,
1564, the Emperor Ferdinand died. He had failed to reach
the goal of his long reign. Protestantism was not suppressed ;
the Unitas Fratrum was not destroyed ; every victory that he
gained in his life-long conflict with evangelical truth, eventu-
ally resulted to its advantage. Whether he deserves the
praise which even many Protestant writers give him, let that
history tell which these pages have set forth !



The Polish BranGh of the Unitas Fratrum ; its Relation to
the Reformed and I/utherans ; and renewed Corre-
spondence with the Swiss Divines.
A. D. 1557-1564.

A Delegation to Goluchow. — John Lorenz. — Conference at Leipnik. —
Lismanin sends the Confession of the Brethren to the Swiss Eeformers.
— Their unfavorable Opinion. — Mission to Switzerland of Rokita and
Herbert. — Interference of Vergerius and Duke Christopher of Wiirtem-
berg. — Herbert and the Swiss Theologians. — Synods of Xionz, Posen
and Buzenin. — Polish Confession of the Brethren. — Colloquy with the
Antitrinitarians. — Edict against foreign Heretics. — The Polish Con-
fession presented to the King.

The invitation which the Executive Council received from
Laski and his coadjutors, to send representatives to a convo-
cation of the Reformed at Goluchow, was laid before the
General Synod of Slezan and accepted. George Israel, John
Rokita, Gallus Drewinek and John Lorenz were appointed
delegates (October, 1557).^

Of these men John Lorenz deserves special notice. He
fills one of the most prominent places in the history of the
Polish branch of the Church. Born at Kijow, in Moravia,
in 1519, he studied under Trotzendorf at Goldberg, under

^ Sources for this chapter are : Lukaszewicz, p. 36, etc.; Dekrete d. B. U.,
pp. 188-201, cited by Czerwenka ; and L. F., X. cited by Gindely. Gallus
Drewinek, or Drzewjnek, was born at Pilgram. He was a Bachelor of the
University of Prague and originally a Utraquist priest. After having
joined the Brethren, in 1543, he had charge of various parishes, was elected
to the Council in 1553, and died at Prostegow, in October, 1563. He was a
learned, diligent and pious man. Todtenbuch, p. 36.


Luther and Melanchthon at Wittenberg, and at the University
of Konigsberg. Having declined a brilliant offer to enter
the service of the Bishop of Olmiitz as his chancellor, he
devoted himself to the ministry of the Brethren, was ordained
a priest in 1555, took charge of the parish of Kozminek, and
subsequently of that of Tumaszovv, in his native country.
There he labored until his appointment as Israel's assistant
at Ostrorog. While yet a student he fell into the hands of
robbers who would have killed him, if he had not escaped
throus^h the aid of one of their own number whose heart
relented ; on another occasion God himself delivered him, in
a wonderful way, as he was passing through a forest, from
the jaws of a hungry wolf.^

There was not a single Reformed minister at Goluchow
when the delegates arrived. After some days a tardy mes-
senger brought a letter informing them that the Synod had
been postponed on account of the illness of Laski. Justly
displeased that they had not been notified, before leaving
home, of this postponement, they proceeded to visit several of
the churches of Great Poland. At Tomice they met
Lismanin, with whom they had a protracted doctrinal

In the following year Laski, after having failed, through
the interference of the Konigsberg divines, in inducing Duke
Albert to co-operate with him in preparing, upon the basis
of the Augustana, a Confession for Poland, turned once more
to the Brethren, and proposed a conference at any place which
the Council might designate in Bohemia or Moravia. Always
ready to promote unity among Christ's followers, the Council,
in spite of what had occurred at Goluchow, accepted this new
overture. At Leipnik, in Moravia, on the twentieth of
October, 1558, the Bishops gave a fraternal welcome to
distinguished representatives of the Reformed Church, and
discussed with them private confession, justification, the
Lord's Supper, fast days and other similar subjects. In no

2 Fischer, I. p. 246 ; Croeger, II. pp. 17, 18.


particular did the Bishops recede from their position ; and
when the Calvinists brought out a Polish version of the
Unity's Confession of 1535, with fifteen emendations by
Laski, and urged that this document should be mutually
accepted and conjointly published, Cerwenka, in the name of
his colleagues, rejected the proposal. He promised, however,
to send Laski, who was not present, a paper setting forth,
more at length than in their Confession, the views of the
Brethren with regard to the Lord's Supper. On the twenty-
seventh of October the delegates returned to Poland.^

In due time such an exposition was furnished. Lismanin
forwarded it, together with the Confession of 1535, to Calvin,
Musculus, Viret and Bullinger, asking these divines for their
opinion (1560). The letters which they wTote in reply and
to which Lismanin failed not to give the greatest possible
publicity, confounded the Brethren like a thunderbolt from a
clear sky. The Swiss theologians who, in 1 540, had put into
their hands glowing testimonials, now disapproved of their
doctrinal standards. Their good name and influence were at
stake in Poland. Something must be done, and done at once,
to counteract the bad impression which had been made.
Accordingly in May, 1560, the Council commissioned John
Rokita and Peter Herbert to go to Switzerland and ask for
an explanation of the singular change in the sentiments of its

The two deputies stopped at Goppingen, in Wiirtemberg^
and delivered to Vergerius a letter from the Bishops, asking
his advice. This was an unfortunate step. Vergerius tried
to prevent the mission to Switzerland ; introduced the depu-
ties to Duke Christopher and his guest, Wolfgang the
Palatine of the Rhine; and persuaded them to present to

* After the holding of this conference Laski no longer opposed the
Brethren. He died two years later (1560).

* Peter Herbert was ordained to the priesthood in 1562, two years after
this mission to Switzerland. He was a distinguished man, faithful and
learned. In course of time he was elected to the Council, and died at
Eibenschiitz, October the first, 1571. Todtenbuch p. 47.


the former an unauthorized paper appealing to him for aid
and protection in case the Brethren should be driven from
their homes.^ In reply the Duke advised the deputies to
relinquish their mission, but expressed his satisfaction that
the Brethren held to the true faith. '' Cautious and wise man
that he was," says Blahoslaw, " he put them off in a way
characteristic of the Suabian." Rokita yielded and instead
of going to Switzerland, returned to Bohemia with the Duke's
letter. The interference of Vergerius and Rokita's unfaith-
fulness to his commission, excited in a high degree the
displeasure of the Council.^

Meanwhile Herbert proceeded to Switzerland. The first
divine with whom he had an interview was Bullinger, at
Zurich, who said that he could not remember having
expressed sentiments unfavorable to the Brethren, and gave
Herbert a very fraternal letter addressed to the Council. On
the twenty-fourth of June Herbert arrived at Bern, where
he had a protracted conference with Musculus. He told
him that the Council hoped he would retract the unfavorable
opinion which he had sent to Bohemia. This Musculus
declined doing, but cheerfully consented to explain, in
writing, what he had meant by his criticisms. They related,
he said, merely to those points in the Confession which
seemed to him to be defective, without intending to call in
question the many other excellent points that had, on a former
occasion, elicited his praise. "As regards myself," he added,
"I entertain toward you and your Churches those feelings

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 30 of 64)