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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was an obscure, imperfect and unintelligible work, a well of
heresies, the refuge of heretics, a book which no layman
should think of reading. To such extremes did their
fanaticism carry them, that they gave to it the nickname of
WyblUa, or "Vomit." »

In this war upon books no one of their whole order had a
record equal to that of Anthony Koniasch, who labored for
thirty-seven years as a missionary in Bohemia and Moravia.
He often went out alone on a hunt for heretical literature.
Hardships and dangers did not quench his zeal. On one
occasion he was penned up in a pig-sty, for three days, by an
indignant peasant ; more than once he was severely beaten.
But when he had found a trail, he could as little be turned
back as a blood-hound that has scented the prey. With
honest pride his biographer relates that, in the course of his
long career, he destroyed more than sixty thousand volumes,
besides expurgating, with his own hands, several thousand
more ; thus assigning to him a distinguished place by the
side of Caliph Omer in the popular legend.^"

The next expedient called forth by the Anti-Reformation
bore a peculiar character. At Innsbruck, on the third of
February, 1622, the day after his marriage to Elenora of
Mantua, his second wife, Ferdinand signed a General Pardon,
which had long been promised and for which Bohemia was
anxiously waiting. To all those Protestant nobles and
burghers who would come forward and freely confess what-
ever misdeeds they had committed against the Emperor by

9 Holyk, cited by Pescheck, II. p. 93.

10 "Eorumque ultra 60 facile inillia Vulcano in prsedam dedit." Cited in
Pelzel's Jesuiten, pp. 184 and 185.


abetting the rebellion, were offered life and liberty, on condi-
tion of their presenting an exact statement of their property,
both real and personal, which his Imperial Majesty would
thereupon proceed to seize. Whoever failed to appear must
expect no mercy.

Under the euphonious title of a General Pardon this docu-
ment, therefore, inaugurated a sweeping confiscation. More
than seven hundred nobles and a large number of burghers
obeyed the summons; the former appearing before a Commis-
sion at Prague, the latter before the royal judges of their
several cities. The confessions which these unfortunate men
made were barely listened to ; but the statements which
they brought excited the "closest attention. Domains, bonds,
mortgages, and other securities, were at once appropriated.
The promissory notes which the owners occasionally received
in exchange were never paid. It was an unjustifiable pro-
ceeding and particularly hard upon the nobility. By one
swoop the representatives of ancient and honorable lines were
reduced to poverty. Their ancestral estates were parceled
out among imperial generals, favorites, and adventurers who
had risen to power, or among churches and monasteries ; they
themselves remained as stewards of the new proprietors, or
lived in scanty lodgings in towns and maintained themselves
as best they could, or accepted a home in the castles of their
Catholic relatives. Against such an unparalleled confiscation
the German princes protested ; but the Emperor's answer was,
that not a single baron, knight, or citizen, had been punished
who had not freely and fully confessed his guilt.

Ernst von Harrach, the new Archbishop of Prague, was
constrained to acknowledge that the majority of the Prot-
estants still tenaciously held to their faith. Such a state of
affairs was humiliating. He besought the Emperor to adopt
severer measures. The response was prompt and determined.
A number of edicts appeared, in the course of the years 1623
and 1624, having in view the absolute conversion of Bohe-
mia and Moravia to the Catholic religion. Among other
points these decrees contained the following :


Protestant worship, iu every form, was forbidden under
heavy penalties ; in royal or free towns Catholics only were
permitted to enjoy the rights of citizenship and carry on
business ; none but Catholics were allowed to marry ; Prot-
estants were not to be buried on consecrated ground ; the last
will and testament of a Protestant was to be invalid ;
Protestant inmates of hospitals were to be expelled unless
they promised to become Catholics; refusal to attend mass
was to be severely punished.

In August of 1624 and July of 1625 two additional edicts
were issued in relation to such Protestant clergy as had not
been driven away by the Commission. The first banished
them forever as corrupters of the people; allowing them six
weeks in which to prepare for their departure. The second,
which was published after it had become known that a
number had not left Bohemia, or had returned, and "were
holding religious worship in secret, ordered : that diligent
search should be made for them; that they should be
expelled without mercy ; that whoever harbored them was to
be deprived of his property and suffer death ; that informers
who would point out their hiding places were to be liberally

About this time the currency of the country was depreciated
by a deliberate act of the Emperor. He caused new money —
copper with a little admixture of silver — to be coined in large
quantities. This currency spread and was welcomed by the
common people. Meanwhile gold and silver rose to an
enormous premium. Suddenly, in 1 624, the new money was
reduced by an imperial mandate to one-tenth of its nominal
value. There resulted, throughout Bohemia and Moravia,
financial distress which can scarcely be described. Paul
Michna, the originator of this scheme, boasted that it had
broken the power of the two countries more thoroughly than
if they had been subjected to the oppressions of an army for
ten years.

The grand eiFort began in 1624. A Reform-Commission
was sent through the country and instructed to force its


inhabitants into the Roman Catholic Church. Of this Com-
mission George Michna and Don Martin von Huerta, noted
for their cruelty, rapacity and wickedness, were leading mem-
bers. The latter was a native of Spain, originally a tailor,
who had seduced a young countess and amassed an enormous
fortune by robbing Protestants, but had made himself indis-
pensable to Ferdinand and had been raised to the rank of a

The Commission began its work at Prague, and then pro-
ceeded to Kuttenberg, Jungbuuzlau, Leitmeritz, Koniggriitz,
Bidschow, Saaz, Prachatitz, Dobrzisch, Kossenberg, and
many other towns. Its path was marked by wrongs, brutality
and outrages. Thousands of the best citizens went into exile ;
other thousands were constrained to submit, at least out-
w^ardly, to the Romish yoke. The formula of recantation
read as follows :

"I, N. N., confess in the presence of God and the holy Virgin
Mary and all the Saints, that I have, this day, come, without
constraint or compulsion, but of my own free will and with a
sincere conviction of heart, to the only saving ancient Roman
Catholic Church ; and with uplifted finger I affirm, vow and
swear, that I will abide by this Church faithfully unto my latter
end. So help me God, the holy Virgin Mary, and all the Saints !"

The Commission was assisted, on the one hand, by several
canons of Prague, by Dominican and Franciscan friars, and
especially by the Jesuits; on the other, by dragoons, cuiras-
siers, and infantry, notoriously known as " Leichtensteiu's

Into parts of the country where little opposition was ex-
pected, were sent either the canons, or the Dominicans and
Franciscans ; the towns noted for their faithfulness in
upholding the Gospel were assigned to the Jesuits. These
Fathers labored with a zeal worthy of a better cause. Some-
times they traversed the country alone ; again they accom-
panied the Commission. Here they were friendly, ready to
argue, anxious to persuade ; thei-e they showed themselves
curt, rude, imperious. If they failed, the soldiers were sum-


That they subsequently took to themselves the chief credit
of having ronianized Bohemia and Moravia, is evident from
the writings of Balbin, one of their own order and an eye-
witness of the Anti-Reformation. " I could name," he says,
"more than three hundred of our Fathers each of whom
converted several thousand heretics; one of them sixteen
thousand."" The most glowing tribute he pays to Adam
Krawarsky, telling with a full heart of his untiring labors,
his burning zeal, his unbounded success. In order to show
that there is good ground for such laudation Balbiu adds, that
Krawarsky, shortly prior to his death, wrote " with a trem-
bling hand," by order of his superiors, a summary of those
conversions which constituted the immediate outcome of his
mission in Bohemia and Moravia, and behold their number
was thirty-three thousand one hundred and forty !

The unreal character of such conversions was forcibly

shown, in the presence of the Pope himself, by Valefianus

Magnus, the famous Capuchin, while listening to the boastful

language of certain Jesuits who asserted that the credit of

reforming Bohemia and Moravia belonged to their order.

"Holy Father," he exclaimed, "give me soldiers, as they

were given to the Jesuits, and I will convert the whole world
to the Catholic faith!" 12

Leichtenstein's troops were mostly foreigners, selected not
for their bravery in the field, but for their skill in harassing
unarmed citizens, tormenting defenceless serfs, terrifying
women and children. Permitted to indulge in all manner of
licentiousness they vied with each other in everything that
was low, brutal and disgusting. The peasants, when it be-
came evident that in spite of the banishment of their pastors
they meant to be true to the Gospel, suffered more than any
other class. They were driven to mass by the soldiers with
drawn sabres; imprisoned in dungeons, stables and foul
places; exposed to the inclemency of the weather and left

" Balbin's Bohemia Sancta, cited by Pescheck, I. p. 107.
12 Pelzel, I. p. 788.


without food. Many died; many were prevented from
emigrating. In some regions their sufferings were so great
that they rose against their persecutors. But such insurrec-
tions were speedily quelled and frightful was the vengeance
which followed. The work of the Commission continued
until 1626.

In the following year, on the twenty-ninth of May,
Ferdinand issued a proclamation announcing that almost the
entire kingdom and margraviate had returned to the bosom
of the only saving Church. Many thousands of his subjects
had, indeed, emigrated, but he chose to construe this as a
proof "of their continued loyalty, in that they preferred to
leave their fatherland rather than oppose their King."*^
Others took a different view of the case, denouncing such
emigrations as an instance of unparalleled obstinacy. The
real motive, faithfulness to Christ and His Gospel, few
Catholics could be brought to acknowledge.

On the thirty-first of July an edict appeared, setting forth,
that in order to further the salvation of his people, perpetuate
peace, and satisfy his own conscience, the Emperor required
all Protestants still in the country, either to become Catholics
or emigrate. To this end a new Reform-Commission, with
unlimited power, was appointed, consisting of the Archbishop,
the Abbot of Strahow, Valerianus Magnus, Martinic, Mitrowic
and Thalemberg.

A few mouths later Ferdinand came to Prague, convened
the Diet, and announced that the Bohemian Charter was
revoked ; that the crown was no longer to be elective ; that
his son Ferdinand was to be his successor ; that the use of
the Bohemian language in the public courts was abolished ;
that the Archbishop, the abbots and prelates were to consti-
tute a fourth estate and outrank the three others. In abject
submission the Diet, once so proud and free, now thinned out
and powerless, listened to these arbitrary deliverances. The
dissatisfaction caused among the old Catholic aristocracy by
the creation of the third estate did not venture to make itself

'' Czerwenka, II. p. 644, on the authority of Kutzmanv's Urkundenbuch.


heard ; the fact that the Emperor again graciously acknowl-
edged Bohemia as a kingdom and promised to maintain its
rights according to a new code, was no equivalent for the
ancient privileges which he had taken away. On the twenty-
fourth of November Ferdinand the Third was crowned.

Meanwhile the Commission directed its attention chiefly to
the Protestant states — the barons, knights and representatives
of the royal cities. A term originally of six months, after-
ward by a new edict (December the sixth) extended to one
year, was set apart as the period in which they were to
come forward in order to be instructed in the Catholic faith.
If they declined " accommodating themselves," they were
required to sell to Catholics whatever real estate had been
left them and go into exile. No exception was made even in
the case of widows, who, moreover, were not allowed to take
their children with them. The consequences of this final
stroke of tyranny were various. Some wavered; others
denied their faith and became Catholics ; others feigned sub-
mission ; still others suffered the loss of all things for Christ's
sake. Of these the number was very large. In 1628 a
general exodus took place. According to the testimony of
Slawata, more than thirty-six thousand families left Bohemia
and Moravia. Among them were sturdy husbandmen, skilled
mechanics, able artists, learned scholars, rich merchants, and
no less than one hundred and eighty-five noble houses of
which many counted twenty or even fifty male representatives
alone.^* Both countries suffered fearfully; and were still
further depleted by subsequent emigrations which continued,
more or less, until 1652, long after Ferdinand's death. The
population of Bohemia dwindled to less than one-third of its
former number; from about three millions to about eight
hundred thousand.^^ Indeed Balbin expresses his astonish-
ment that it retained any inhabitants at all; while Pelzel
mournfully writes : " History scarcely presents another

" Schlesinger, p. 546.

'* Ibid. p. 629. Tins does not mean that more than two miliions actually
emigrated, hut that Bohemia lost that numher through the Thirty Years'
War, the Anti-Reformation and the exodus of its peoTile. Upon what


instance of a nation's being changed and snbverted in the
short space of fifteen years, in the way in which Bohemia was
during the reign of Ferdinand the Second." ^^ In some parts
it resembled a country through which the pestilence has
walked, leaving entire villages desolate ; in others, old land-
marks and venerable memorials had passed away, and in their
stead were seen the symbols of Rome's final triumph. A
returning exile would hardly have recognized his native land.
Aliens trod ancestral halls that knew them not. Industry
was blighted. It seemed as though the whole nation were
struffo-ling for breath.

The scars left by the wounds which Bohemia received in
the Anti-Reformation are seen even at the present day ; the
idolatrous emblems of the religion which it was forced to
accept still appear. In this latter reapect no contrast can be
greater than that oifered the traveler as soon as he crosses the
boundary from Saxony. Groves, hills, and valleys, but
especially the villages, abound with crosses and shrines, with
rudely painted pictures of the Saints and gaudy images of the
Virgin. It appears scarcely credible that Bohemia, at one
time, was a Protestant country.

Its affiliated provinces Lusatia and Silesia, escaped the
Anti -Reformation : the former altogether, because it was
mortgaged to the Elector of Saxony, in order to repay him
for his assistance in the war; the latter for a season, because
he had exacted a promise from the Emperor that religion
should there be free. Hence the exiles flocked to both these
countries, as also to Saxony, Prussia, Holland, Poland, Hun-
gary and Transylvania. At a later time, the Emperor broke
his pledge in relation to Silesia, and sent the Reform-Com-
mission and Leichtenstein's troops into that country likewise.

authority Gindely, in his Comenius, p. 483, asserts that the number of
exiles amounted to scarcely one hundred thousand, we fail to understand.
This assertion is contradicted by Slawata's official figures and by every other
source that we know of. Talvi, p. 195, says : " In 1617 Bohemia had 732
cities and 34,700 villages; when Ferdinand the Second died in 1637, there
remained 130 cities and 6,000 villages ; and its three millions of inhabitants
were reduced to 780,000."
16 Pelzel, II. p. 788.

548 thp: history of


The Overthroiv of the Unitas Fratrum in Bohemia and
Moravia. A. D. 1621-1628.

Churches taken from the Brethren. — Cemeteries profaned. — Literature
destroyed.— Schools closed.— Experiences of the Bishops and other
Ministers. — Zerotin's Efforts on their behalf. — Experiences of Amos
Comenius. — Final Departure of Nobles and Clergy. — The Prayer on
the Mountain Top. — The Membership.— Unhistoric Views respecting
a Spiritual Decline. — Albert von Wallenstein.

In its original seats the Unitas Fratrum was overthrown
by the storms of the Anti-Reformation. Although the
account of this calamity is included in the general history
given in the last chapter, we here present a few details of the
experiences made by the Brethren in particular.^

Their churches at Prague were among the first to be seized;
the Bethlehem Chapel immediately after the capture of the
city, the Jesuit church at a later time. A thorough purifica-
tion of these edifices took place. The floors were strewed
with gunpowder which was ignited, so that smoke and flame
might counteract " the horrible heresy" of the Picards. Of
the many other churches and chapels the majority, no doubt,
were appropriated by the Catholics, while some were torn
down, or allowed to fall into ruins.^

1 Sources are: Hist. Persecutionum, and Pescheck, passim; Benham's
Comenius; Gindely's Comenius; Eegenvolscius, Lib. II. cap. IL;
Criegern's Comenius.

2 The church which the Catholics are still using at Zauchtenthal, in
Moravia, is said to be one of those which were taken from the Brethren in
the Anti-Reformation. It is a large stone building painted white, with a
tower in front and a small belfry at the rear end of the roof.


Zerotin himself caused the church which he had built at
Braudeis, to be destroyed, so that it might not be desecrated
by Romish worship,^

To profane the cemeteries of the Brethren was an outrage
in which the Catholics seemed to take particular delight. On
a domain of the Barons von Swihow, at Horazdowic, stood an
old convent which had been in the possession of the Unity for
many years and formed the burial place of several of its
ministers. In 1621 this convent was seized and given to a
monastic order. Like ghouls the friars pressed around the
graves. First were unearthed the remains of Jacob Weliky,
an influential and honored priest who had died in 1600.
Seizing an iron rod Severin Dudek, the warden, with loud
maledictions, beat them in pieces. They were then burned
together with the bones of John Popel, John Japhet, and
Matthias Chobar. In the baronial vault lay the body of
Theobald von Swihow, who had been one of the Defenders.
It was torn from its leaden coffin, thrust into a box and cast
into a hole, which workmen who were repairing the convent
filled up with rubbish. From the same vault were carried
off gorgets, rings and other valuables.^

The rich literature of the Brethren perished almost entirely.
Their Kralitz Bibles, their Hymnals and Confessions and
Catechisms, the many other works which they had issued,
were cast into the flames by thousands. When Spanish
mercenaries sacked Fulneck in 1620, the library and manu-
scripts of Amos Comenius were burned in the public square.
At the present day some of the most famous writings of the
Brethren exist only as antiquarian relics. Upon this point
Gindely expresses himself as follows :

" Nearly all the memorials, whether printed or in manuscript,
which belong to the period stretching from the beginning of the
fifteenth to the second half of the seventeenth centuries and treat

' Two portions of the walls of this church are still to be seen ; the one
forming a section of the rear end of a modern house built on its site, the
other, a section of the garden-wall.

* Hist. Persecutionuni. cap. CV. 5.


of, or refer to, the history of the Brethren, may well be esteemed
as the most i:)recious literary relics of former times. * * *
The writings of the Brethren in particular seem to have been
devoted to annihilation. We are not astonished that, as a
general thing, but one or two copies of works in manuscript have
come down to us ; but that printed works, circulating by hundreds
and thousands scarcely two and a half centuries ago, have in
part altogether disappeared and in part are extant in not more
copies than if they were manuscripts ; — this is so remarkable a
fact that it becomes credible only because it cannot possibly be
denied." ^

The schools which gave to the Unity so wide-spread a repu-
tation, its College at Eibenschutz, its theological institutes, its
recently established Gymnasium Rosarum, with forty to fifty
free scholarships and a throng of students, all came to an end.^

Interesting particulars concerning the ministers have been
preserved. Amidst the outrages perpetrated by the Catholic
troops, several of them lost their lives. In Moravia, Wenzel
Wotic, an aged priest at Bistritz, and Paul Capito, of Napagedl,
were murdered by Polish soldiers on their march to Austria
(February, 1620). Into the hands of the wild hordes that
ravaged the country after the capture of Prague, fell Elias
Severin, of Przibitz, who was fearfully tormented so that for
two years he lingered in constant and often excruciating pain
until death came to his relief ; John Beranek, of Zdanitz, a
man aged more than seventy years, who was burned alive
(March the seventeenth, 1622); and Gallus Celech, of
Czerochow, who died in consequence of the cruelties practiced
upon him. The treatment which Adam Pisek received, was
particularly shocking. He had charge of the parish of
Bitesch, on one of Zerotin's Moravian domains. Deeming
the well-known loyalty of that Baron to be a sufficient safe-
guard, he made no attempt to flee when a body of mercenaries
arrived in the village, but showed them hospitality. No

* Gindely in his Preface to the Quellen. p. VI.

« This Gymnasium was founded by Peter Wok von Eosenberg, at Sobies-
law, soon after religious Uberty had been granted. Michael Gehler, of
Gorlitz, was its Eector. Pescheck, II. p. 92. (Ger.), on the authority of
Otto's Oberlaus, Schriftstellerlexicon.


sooner, however, did they discover that he was a preacher,
than they began to beat him, and when he escaped to the
vestibule of the chapel hastened after and killed him.
Stripping his body they left it lying stark naked and pre-
vented his parishioners from burying or even covering it.
The parsonage they plundered and its library, which filled
three apartments, they set on fire. Not until they had gone to
another part of the country were Pisek's remains committed
to the grave.

The first to be banished were the three assessors of the
Consistory, Bishop John Cyrill, John Corvinus, and Paul
Fabricius, and the incumbent of the Bethlehem Chapel,
Adam Hartmann. None of them left Bohemia. Cyrill con-
cealed himself at Slaupna, an estate of Baron Sadowsky,
among the Giant Mountains ; Corvinus and Fabricius proba-
bly did the same ; while Hartmann found some other retreat.
Soon after Hartmann's departure from the capital his wife
was cast into prison where she languished for three-quarters
of a year. She had with her an infant son but two months
old, Adam Samuel, who subsequently became a celebrated
bishop. On being released she set out to join her husband,
not knowing that in his anxiety on her account he had ven-
tured back to the vicinity of Prague. They met accidentally
in a village near the city and fled to Thorn.''

In 1622 a general persecution of the clergy began. Besides
Cyrill there were three Bishops in Bohemia and Moravia:
Jacob Lanetius, the President of the Council, Matthias
Koneczny, and Gregory Erastus. God himself delivered
Koneczny. He died at Brand eis on the Adler, on the eighth

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 49 of 64)