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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the author and rich source of all comfort and peace, who has
snatched us and our churches from the thick darkness of the
papacy and given them the pure and holy light of His truth, to
bless the peace, the Consensus and the union which we have


established, to the glory of His name and the building up of His
Church. Amen.

There are appended twenty-two signatures, to which those
of Bishop George Israel and John Lorenz were added, on the
occasion of the Synod at Posen ; then follows a passage of
Scripture, thus :

Psalm 133.
"Behold hoiv good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell
together in unity /"

This document and the confederate union of which it was
the pledge, excited universal attention but by no means
common approval. While the Polish Protestants rejoiced
and the Brethren of Bohemia shared their joy and the Re-
formed of Switzerland were satisfied, the German Lutherans
expressed indignation and the Roman Catholics gave full
scope to their ridicule.^^

It is true that the results of the alliance were not, in all
respects, those which had been anticipated. The King of
Poland did not join the Protestants; the power of the
Catholics was not broken; it rather increased through the
Jesuits who were called to the rescue and who, in course of
time, subjected the evangelical party to oppressions so constant
and severe that they were equivalent to a counter-reformation.
It is true, too, that political motives, at least on the part of
the magnates, had much to do with the union ; that it was
not permanent ; that it saved the Polish nation neither from
internal nor from external ruin. But in spite of all this,
the Sendomirian alliance will ever be memorable and excite
the admiration of Christians in so far as they reach forth
beyond the narrow bounds of denominational exclusivism and
pray and labor for " the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of
peace." It formed a green spot in that desert of the religious
world which the hot winds of controversy had produced. It

'® There were exceptions among the Lutherans. Major, in a letter to
John Lorenz, written on 'the sixth of May, 1571, speaks in the highest
terms of the Consensus.


exercised an influence even after the most of its supporters
had fallen off, and continued to operate indirectly even when
it had ceased to exists It showed, especially by its Con-
signatio adopted at Posen, in what way Protestants may retain
their several creeds and peculiarities, and yet be practically
united. It was far more than the Evangelical Alliance of
our day. It constituted, we venture to hope, a presage of
what is yet to come.

^"^ " Unsern Theils," says Fischer, " sind wir der Ansicht, diese polnische
Confession sei ein herrliclies Denkmal des iichten, christlichen heiligen
Geistes, und wurde sicher reichen Segen gebracht haben, wenn man sie eine
lebendige Wahrheit hiitte werden lassen." (I. p. 180.) Schaff says : " The
spirit of union which produced it (the Consensus) passed into the three
Brandenburg Confessions of the seventeenth century, and revived in the
Evangelical Union of Prussia." Creeds of Christendom, I. p. 588.



The Bohemian and Moravian Branch of the Unitas Fratrum

in the Reign of Maximilian the Second.

A. D. 1564-1576.

The political and religious condition of Bohemia and Moravia. — Maxi-
milian's Course. — Doctor Crato.^Petitions presented to Maximilian. —
His vacillating Course. — Abrogation of the Compactata. — ^Relation of
the Unity to the Augustana. — Change in the Executive Council. —
Edict against the Brethren. — Augusta's Dispute with the Council. — His
Plan of a Union with the Lutheran Utraquists. — Petition for tlie
Eecognition of the Augustana. — Crato and the Confession of the
Brethren. — Bishops appointed. — Death of Blahoslaw and Augusta. —
A new Confession of Faith. — Discipline urged by the Synod. — The
Bohemian Confession of 1575. — Death of Maximilian.

The sceptre as inherited by Maximilian the Second was
the badge of a more real authority than at the time when it
was put into the hands of his father. Ferdinand's life-long
purpose to rescue it from that insignificance into which the
House of Jagellon had allowed it to shrink, was in part
successful. The power of the nobles, excej)t in comparatively
unimportant respects, continued the same; but the cities were
shorn of their independence and their wealth enriched the
royal coffers. Moreover the right to convene the Diet now
belonged exclusively to the King, upon whose good will the
Lower House depended, and thus became a means in his
hands to counteract the influence of the Upper.^ Legislation,

' There were three estates in the Diet — the barons, the knights and the
cities. The barons and knights formed the Upper House, which held its
sittings in the Castle ; the representatives of the cities the Lower House,
which convened in the Council-House of the Altstadt.


too, was in the main confined to such business as the Govern-
ment brought forward ; but no act could become a law until
it had been accepted by a majority of the three estates. At
joint meetings of the Houses, each estate voted separately.
The condition of the peasants remained unchanged. They
groaned helplessly under the increasing burdens of their
serfdom and the tyranny practiced by their overseers.

In a religious aspect Bohemia and Moravia reaped no
benefits from the reign of Ferdinand. He left his own
church in a state of confusion. Its membership, at the time
of his death, embraced but one-third of the population. The
new Archbishop of Prague, who had been appointed through
his agency, soon found that a hard task had been given him.^
He was to rebuild that structure whose walls had, for years,
been crumbling ; and yet his priests were insubordinate, their
number was insufficient, they were driven from their parishes
by unfriendly lords, and wandered through the country idle
and homeless. Nor could he expect aid from the monasteries.
These were rapidly declining. Some of them numbered only
two or three monks. Here and there a convent could be
found in which lingered but a single recluse. Nor did the
freedom of the cup, granted by Pius the Fourth, shortly prior
to Ferdinand's decease, strengthen the hands of the Arch-
bishop. He was dismayed to see that this concession but
increased the number of Catholics who became unfaithful to
their Church.^ The only hopeful sign to which he could
point was the work of the Jesuits.

The National Church, embracing another third of the
population, had not changed its character. It was Utraquist
in name only. The Compactata had become an antiquarian

^ Anton Bruss von Miiglitz, appointed January the twelfth, 1562, after
the archiepiscopal see had been vacant for one hundred and forty years.

' Ferdinand imagining that the freedom of the cup would help to restore
the power of the Roman Catholic Church, strenuously urged the Council
of Trent to make this concession. The Council left the decision to the
Pope who granted the cup to Bohemia and Moravia and to several other
dioceses (1564).


relic. For every genuine Utraquist priest there were twenty
who, openly or in secret, professed what they called Luther-
anism. Many of them were married ; no longer celebrated
mass ; refused to institute religious processions ; and dropped
other ceremonies. But there existed no common basis of
doctrine or practice among those who had thus broken with
the past. They were unfit to administer their holy office.
They lived as they pleased, taught what they pleased, and
emancipated themselves from all authority except that of
their patrons.^ The relations of the Utraquist Consistory to
the Archbishop increased the prevailing disorder.

The Anabaptists, in spite of frequent persecutions, were
prospering. Their industrial pursuits, for which they became
celebrated, won the good will of powerful families among the
nobility; and when Maximilian, expressing his surprise that
they had not been extirpated in his father's time and casting
his tolerance to the winds, proposed to drive them out of the
country, the Upper House of the Diet protested against such
a measure as destructive to the interests of the kingdom.
Hence they were allowed to remain, but loaded with taxes.*

The only Church that brought Bohemia and Moravia the
Gospel in the fullness of its promises, was the Brethren's
Unity which Ferdinand had persistently endeavored to sup-

* In L. F., IX. p. 108, cited by Gindely, Blahoslaw gives the following
account of such priests : " They lay hold of Luther's books and boast of the
Gospel which they preach, but they are wholly godless men and do all
possible things for the sake of gain. There is no order among them, they
lead unworthy lives, and resemble the genuine Lutherans only in this, that
they take unto themselves wives." In a letter to Hubert Lanquetus, Saxon
ambassador at the court of Vienna, written in 1570, he expresses himself in
a similar way, adding that it is hard to find only a small number holding
the same doctrines, and that criminals sometimes have themselves ordained
to escape punishment. Letter in Quellen, pp. 292 and 293.

* This sect, which numbered seventy communities in Moravia, was
divided into three factions ; the Communists, who kept up a community of
goods, the Gabrielites, and the Sabbatarians. It is said of the Anabaptists,
that they were the best farmers, raised the best cattle, had the best vine-
yards, brewed the best beer, owned the best flour mills, and engaged, on a
large scale, in almost every kind of trade known in their day.


press. But it had again outlived in Bohemia every blow
aimed at its existence; while in Moravia its peace and pros-
perity had remained unbroken. The complete organization
of the Brethren, their scriptural discipline, the close fellow-
ship which existed among them, their simple doctrines, and
especially their independent government, gave them power
and a peculiar influence. In no wise was their Church
connected with the state. Its government was wholly eccle-
siastical. Nobles took no official part in the direction of its
affairs, and did not, in the capacity of patrons, appoint priests
to parishes on their domains, as was the case both among the
Catholics and Utraquists. Such an absolute separation of
the church from the. state was unknown even among other
Protestants. It constituted the first exemplification of that
polity which has been crowned with the greatest success in
our own country, producing a religious development almost

The accession of Maximilian to the throne awakened the
liveliest interest both among Protestants and Catholics.
Would he fulfill the hopes which many entertained and come
out openly on the side of the former ? The Elector Frederick
the Third of the Palatinate ^vrote to him and urged him to
take this step ; a codicil in his father's will solemnly warned
him against it. Maximilian adopted a course of his own. He
remained a Catholic, but tolerated the Protestants. It was his
aim to stand above both these religious parties. To rule over
the consciences of men, he said, was attempting to ascend the
throne of God.'^ At the same time he soon found that it was

* How clearly enlightened theologians recognized the prerogative which
the Unitas Fratrum, in this respect, enjoyed, is evident from a letter
written, in 1574, by Caspar Olevianus to Bishop Stephan. Quellen, pp.
398 and 399, taken from L. F., XII. It is a remarkable fact that in its
Bohemian missionary work the Unitas Fratrum still enjoys this prerogative.
It has recently been acknowledged by the Austrian Government, but is
wholly independent ; whereas the two other recognized Protestant
Churches, the Lutheran and Reformed, stand under a Church Council
appointed by the Emperor and receive assistance from the state.

' Schlesinger, p. 453. Hist. Persecutionum, Cap. XXXIX. 2.


easier for a Roman Catholic monarch to be tolerant in theory
than in practice. He could not disregard the Pope or set
aside his connection with the Spanish court.® Hence his
policy vacillated and he exposed himself to the charge of
gross inconsistencies. Such was especially the case in his
treatment of the Brethren. During the life-time of his
father he had made them fair promises ; whether these would
now be fulfilled, time would show.

The Brethren were not slow in giving him an opportunity
to redeem his word. A petition, praying for protection, was
drawn up, together with a revised German version of the
Confession of 1535. This latter work was prepared by Peter
Herbert and corrected by Doctor Crato.^

John Crato von Crafftheim, born at Breslau, on the
twentieth of November, 1519, belonged to the celebrities of
his age. While a student at the Univ^ersity of Wittenberg
he lodged in Luther's house and daily sat at his table.^*^
Luther esteemed him very highly and tried to induce him to
study theology ; but he preferred the medical profession for
which he prepared at Leipzig and Padua. In this profession
he became so distinguished that he was appointed physician
to the Emperor Ferdinand and, after his death, continued to
serve Maximilian in the same capacity. Crato took a deep
and active interest in the affairs of the Protestant Church.
For the Brethren he conceived a hio;h regard."

Barons Wenzel Slusky von Chlum and Joachim Prosti-
borsky were appointed to present to Maximilian the papers
which had been prepared. Accompanied by Peter Herbert these
noblemen proceeded to Vienna and were granted an audience

^ Maximilian's wife was the sister of Philip the Second, of Spain, and
Philip's wife, Maximilian's daughter.

9 L. F., p. 217, and XII. p. 272, cited by Gindely, II. p. 465, Note 37.

'" Crato committed to writing the conversations which Luther carried
on at table, and this MS. became the basis of John Goldschmidt's, or
Aurifaber's, well-known work entitled " Luther's Tischreden."

" Of his connection with the Brethren numerous letters in the L. F.,
reproduced in Quellen, pp. 388, etc., give ample evidence.


(1564). Prostiborsky after having briefly recited its contents,
delivered the petition. The Emperor expressed his regret that
not all the nobles of the Unity had signed the document ;
Prostiborsky replied, that they would present themselves, in a
body, whenever his Majesty would come to the Diet at Prague.
Thereupon he delivered the Confession. Maximilian accepted
both these papers and promised to answer the petition in due
time. For the fulfillment of this promise the Brethren
anxiously waited, but waited in vain. No answer was given.
That their effort to gain the goodwill of the new monarch
had thus failed, they ascribed to the timidity of those nobles
who had excused themselves from signing the petition. The
Church, it was said, had not confessed tlie Lord ; therefore
the Lord had not confessed the Church .^^

In the following year (1565), when Vienna was full of
prominent dignitaries in church and state, who had come to
grace the removal of Ferdinand's remains to Bohemia,
and many of whom were enemies of the Brethren, another
deputation, contrary to the earnest advice of Blahoslaw,
appeared before Maximilian, reminded him of his promise
and presented a new petition, asking that that status of the
Unity which had existed prior to 1547, might be restored.
Four days after the presentation of this paper, the deputies
received, through the Chancellor, a reply pointing them to the
decrees which were on record against their Church, which the
lafe Emperor had issued and which the Diet had sanctioned.
This reply was as ominous as it was unexpected. But no perse-
cution followed, and the alarm of the Brethren soon subsided.

Maximilian's course, however, continued to be inexplicable.
In 1566, in response to the appeal of seventy Brethren of
Pardubitz, exiled by the Archduke Ferdinand for reintro-
ducing public worship in their chapel, he annulled the decree
of banishment and permitted them to return to their homes.
But in the following September, when Bishop Augusta, in
conjunction with several nobles, sent him a new petition,

12 Czerwenka, on the strength of a Bohemian MS., in L. F., IX, cited by

Gindely in his Notes.


praying that all enactments against the Unity might be
revoked, he caused the decision issued by the Chancellor, in
the previous year, to be affirmed. And yet, only two mouths
later, in November, he accepted with great good-will a copy
of the new German Hymual which, by the advice of Crato,
had been dedicated to him ; assuring the barons who
presented it, that if the Brethren would continue in their
allegiance, he would be their gracious king.^^ And it seemed.
indeed as if his policy with regard both to them and his
Protestant subjects generally were settled. For at the Diet
which convened at Prague, on the third of March, 1567, he
sanctioned the abrogation of the Compactata, which had so
long been an obstacle in the way of a legal recognition of the
evangelical faith, and interposed no objections when the states
resolved that, while heretical sects should be suppressed,
religious liberty should be granted to all Christians whose
belief centered in the Bible.

One of the Moravian parishes of the Brethren was on the
domain of Letowic, recently purchased by the Counts
Hardegg. These Counts were Lutherans and unwilling to
tolerate any confession except their own. Serious difficulties
thus arose, in consequence of which the Executive Council,
in 1565, defined the relation of the Unity to the Augustana.
There are, it was said, differences between the Augustana and
the Confession of the Brethren ; the Brethren will therefore
hold to their own doctrinal standards, but at the same time
acknowledge the many truly evangelical points which the
Lutheran Confession sets forth.^* And now, on the occasion

" In the dedication the Brethren expressed their hope and the hope of
all the godly, that Maximilian would bring about a general reformation of
the Church ; that he would take courage from the example set by David,
Jehoshaphat, Josiah, Constantine, and Theodosius; and that he would
apply to such an end the talents given him of Grod.

1* Dekrete d. B. U., p. 217, etc., cited by Czerwenka. The Brethren were
eventually forced to relinquish their parish at Letowic to the Lutherans.
The Counts appealed to the University of Wittenberg and caused the
Brethren no little trouble. It was the old cry: if they acknowledge the
Augustana, why do they keep up a separate organization ?


of the Synod which, as we have said in another connection,
regulated the course of the Unity in regard to the Protestants
of Poland, it was resolved to render the form of government
among the Brethren more intelligible to other churches.
These misunderstood the character of the Executive Council :
inimically disposed persons even said that the Brethren were
ruled by "a many-headed monster." Hence, instead of the
official signature — "The Seniors, or Bishops, in conjunction
with the Executive Council" — appended to the canons and
other documents, the following new signature was agreed on :
"The Seniors (Bishops) of the Unity," (June, 1567). In
consequence of this change the members of the Council re-
ceived the title of Conseniors, that is, Assistant Bishops, and
their ordination as such was, in all probability, now

In the Spring of 1568 Nikodem brought from Vienna
news which strengthened the Brethren in the hope that they
had permanently won the Emperor's favor ; for he had said
to Crato, who was advocating their cause : " The Waldensian
Brethren may enjoy their faith in peace; let them be patient ;
all will be well." ^^ But on the twenty-ninth of October, of
the same year, they were confounded by the publication of an
imperial decree — which, however, remained a dead letter —
ordering their chapels to be closed in accordance with the
edict of St. James.^^

'^ That the members of the Council were formally ordained Assistant
Bishops, we have shown in Chap. XXIII, p. 214, in accordance with that
section of the Katio Discipline which treats of their ordination (R. D. p.
28) ; and that all priests who were elected to this body subsequent to the
Synod of 1567, received such ordination is implied by Jaffet, S. G., II. p.
21, etc. It does not appear, however, that any were actually ordained at
that Synod ; we rather suppose that the Synod merely resolved to introduce
such an ordination.

1® Nikodem went to Vienna in order to consult Doctor Crato with regard
to Blahoslaw's failing health.

" The Hist. Persecutionum, Cap. XXXIX, 4, relates that, in 1565,
Maximilian, much against his will, was persuaded by Joachim von
Neuhaus, the Chancellor of Bohemia, to renew the edict of St. James in all
its parts, but that this nobleman, togetlier with the greater part of his


No less mysterious was the Emperor's course toward the
Catholics. When the Archbishop, agreeably to an enactment
of the Council of Trent, was about calling together a
Bohemian Synod, Maximilian interfered and forbade the

After his reconciliation with his colleagues Bishop Augusta
devoted himself to official visits in the Moravian and Bohe-
mian parishes, and on one occasion proceeded as far as Poland.
About the year 1569 he was again involved in differences
with the Executive Council. He proposed to give up the old
pericopes and to substitute the articles of the Apostles' Creed
as the basis of the Sunday sermons. With such an end in
view he rewrote the work which he had composed in prison,
and produced a series of discourses for the whole ecclesiastical
year. This book, which he called Sumovnik, or Summarium,
was to serve the parish priests as a manual. Instead of
accepting it, the Synod of 1567 resolved to retain the peri-
copes. Augusta was greatly disappointed; and when the
Council, to which his work had been referred, took no further
notice of it, he determined to publish it on his own responsi-
bility. Such an undertaking was contrary to the rules of the
Unity. On the first of September, 1570, the Council held a
special meeting at Jungbunzlau and adopted a paper formally
remonstrating with the aged Bishop. This paper, while
assuring him that his colleagues regarded him as children
regard a father, besought him to relinquish his purpose and
come to an understanding with them ; warned him that, if he

retinue, was drowned in the Danube, bv the breaking of the bridge at
Vienna, as he was about returning to Bohemia, and the decree of renewal
lost. This narrative lacks authority. Cotnp. Czerwenka, II, p. 401, Note.
'^ Maximilian did not prevent the meeting of such a Synod in Moravia.
It was convened by the Bishop of Olmutz, on the tenth of May, 1568, in
spite of the opposition of many Moravian nobles, and held its sittings, which
were public, in the cathedral of that town. Nikodem was present and
refused to kneel at the elevation of the host. He was commended for his
fearlessness by some of the Bishop's own retinue. We agree with Gindely
in saying, that he did not deserve commendation. He should have left the
church when the celebration of the mass beeran.


persisted- in his course of action, he alone would have to bear
the consequences; and entreated him to be more careful in
his conduct over against the Government/^ Although the
result is not known, it is more than probable that he listened
to these expostulations ; for no such work as the Summarium
is extant, and no further complaints were made by the Council.
In the same year Augusta wrote another treatise, called
"The Reformation." It set forth the idea which he had
conceived of a union between the Brethren and the Lutheran
Utraquists, under a common church-government. For reasons
of his own, Martin von Melnik, the Administrator of the
Consistory,^'' entered upon this project in so far as to begin
negotiations with Augusta. The Bishop ardently responded
to this overture and, in imagination, saw himself occupying
a seat in the body which was to govern the united Church.
But no sooner did Martin recognize the impossibility of
carrying out his own plans than he dropped all further
connection with Augusta. That the Bishop's inborn ambi-
tion, which even old age could not quench, was again aroused,
is no doubt correct ; but that he was also incited by higher

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 33 of 64)