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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tion until 1648, when Bishop Justinus, the President of the
Council, died at the advanced age of seventy-eight years.
Comenius was appointed his successor and removed to Lissa.

In 1635 the Elector of Saxony, true to his ignoble policy,
had withdrawn from the Thirty Years' War, given up the
idea of reestablishing Protestantism in any of the Austrian
dominions, and concluded a separate treaty with Ferdinand
the Second ; and now, in the same year in which Comenius
returned to Lissa, the general Peace of Westphalia brought
that war to a close (October the twenty-fourth). Ferdinand
the Second no longer figured in its eventful history f^ but if
he had still been on earth and swayed the negotiations at

^'^ He died Februuiy 15, 1637.


Osiiabriick, the Peace could not have been more disastrous to
Bohemia and Moravia. These two countries were uncondi-
tionally left in the power of his successor, Ferdinand the
Third, as bigoted a Romanist as himself. There was not
made a single stipulation in favor of their exiled sons and
daughters. The claims of the Brethren were neglected ; the
promises given to Comenius, that Sweden would care for the
restoration of the Unitas Fratrum to its native seats, were
broken. His heart was almost crushed. The whole Church
lamented with him.

The feelings by which Comenius was agitated in this dark
period of his life, are forcibly expressed in several of his
writings. At the close of his History he says :

" Will those be able to justify their actions before God, who
forgot the Evangelical cause and the ancient compacts, failed to
help the oppressed, and even incited the enemy against their
own brethren and neighbors, saying, as the children of Edom
said of Jerusalem, 'Rase it, rase* it, even to the foundation
thereof?' " '^^ — He refers to the course of the Elector of Saxony in
1635. — "Others" — the Swedes, French and Protestant Germans
— " when they concluded peace, forgot that the Bohemians, who
first fought so manfully against Antichrist and continued the
struggle for centuries, deserved to have Protestants contend for
them, in so far at least, as to prevent the light of the Gospel from
being utterly extinguished, as it now is, in those very places
where it was first kindled and put upon a candlestick."^*

As soon as Comenius heard of the conditions of the pro-
posed Peace, he wrote, either to Oxenstierna or Bishop
Matthiii — the letter has no address — in the following pointed
words :

" The oppressed of my people and of our neighbors entertained
the hope that you were instruments raised up by God to make
an end of our spiritual slaughterers. In regard to this point
they received numberless promises from those who exercise
influence among you. It was said, that either by the power of
the sword, or through peaceable negotiations at the end of the
war, we would be remembered and together with all the exiles

•^5 Psalm 137,7.

^* Comenii Hist., § 127, p. 45. In his Introduction to the 8th Book of
Lasitius, p. 5, he also speaks, in bitter terms, of the Peace of Westphalia.


restored to our former state and condition. Now, however,
we see that we and they have been forsaken. What can the
unfortunate exiles now expect of you? Where are all your
solemn promises ? What has become of your protestations that
you were seeking nothing except the liberty of the oppressed ?
Are a few casks of gold a worthy reward of such efforts, while so
many thousands, yea myriads, of souls are left in the claws of
Antichrist ? Where among you is the zeal of Moses who, when
Pharaoh was willing to let the people go but wanted to keep
their flocks and herds, said : ' Our cattle also shall go with us ;
there shall not an hoof be left behind ? " '^^

Again, on the eleventh of October, a fortnight prior to
the signing of the Articles of Peace, he addressed a letter
to Oxenstierna in which he said :

" As pleasant as it formerly was for my countrymen, who are
persecuted for the Gospel's sake, to hear what your Excellency
commissioned me and others to make known to them, namely,
that we would never be forgotten — so discouraging it now is to
learn, that we have been forsaken and sacrificed in the negotia-
tions at Osnabriick. Of what use is it to us, deprived as we now
are of the fruits of the Peace, that next to God we looked upon
you as our liberators, that you won the victory by the help of
our tears, if, although it lay in your power to deliver us from
our captivity, you surrender us anew into the hands of our
oppressors ? Of what use is it that we have been admonished
by you concerning the sacred Evangelical compacts which our
forefathers made and which were consecrated with the holy
blood of martyrs, when you manifest no anxiety that our
Kingdom should be reopened to the Gospel ?....! write in
the name of many, and constrained by their lamentations, I kneel
at your feet, at the feet of your Queen and of the Directory, and
adjure you, by the wounds of Christ, not utterly to forsake us
who are persecuted for Christ's sake."^®

^ Gindely's Comenius, p. 506.

'■^^ Gindely's Comenius, pp. 506, 507 and 5il.



The Unifas Fratrum from the Peace of Westphalia

to the Destruction of Lissa.

A.n. 1648-1656.

Comenius publishes the Eighth Book of Lasitius. — Writes the Testament
of the Dying Mother. — His hibors as Presiding Bishop. — The Condi-
tion of Poland. — Comenius in Transylvania. — Nicholas Drabik, the
false Prophet. — Loss of the Church at Lissa. — The Russians come to
the Aid of the Cossacks. — War with Sweden. — Destruction of Lissa. —
Czarniecki's Army in Great Poland. — The Sufferings of the Brethren.
— Their martyred Ministers. — The Membership scattered — Retreats
in Silesia. — Experiences of Comenius.

Amidst the sorrows of the present Comenius sought com-
fort in the past. He had found in Zerotin's library at Breslau,
the manuscript History written by Lasitius. This work he
began to study; and in 1649 published its Eighth Book, as
also extracts frorh the other Books together with a summary
of their contents. He prefixed an Introduction and added a.
lengthy Conclusion. The entire publication was to be a
memorial of the life and works of the fathers.^

' The title of the work is : Lasitii Historiae De Origine et Rebus gestis
Frat. Boh. Liber Octavus. (Lissa.) 1649. This Eighth Book contains an
account of the constitution, discipline and usages of the Brethren. A
second abbreviated edition appeared in 1660 at Amsterdam. In 1869 the
Bohemian translation which came out at Lissa simultaneously with the
Latin, was republished at Prague by the Amos Comenius Association. A
German translation of the Introduction and Conclusion was published at
Frankfort and Leipzig, in 1743, under the title : J. A. Comenii Erste Liebe.
Tliis work omits whole paragraphs of the original and is quite unreliable.


Under date of November the first, 1649, Coraenius had
written to Oxenstierna and condoled with him on the death
of his wife ; at the same time, as his letters in relation to the
Peace had given great offence to the Chancellor, he had begged
him to excuse their severe language because it had come from
an agonized heart. Now he sent him copies of his new work,
in the hope of arousing the sympathies of the Swedish court
on behalf of the Brethren. Gifts, to a very moderate amount,
for distribution among the exiles, were, however, the only re-
sult. "From that time," says Gindely, "a tone of lamenta-
tion makes itself heard throughout all the correspondence of
Comeuius." ^

Nothing renders more transparent, the depth of his sorrow
and the fullness of his faith, than a short work which he
issued in the following year (1650). Jt is entitled : " The
last Testament of the dying Mother, the Brethren's Unity,
who, seeing that her trunk and branches are decaying, divides
among her sous and daughters the treasures which have been
intrusted to her by God." He represents the Unity as a
mother, who calls her children and sisters — the other Protest-
ant Churches — around her death-bed in order to speak to
them words of affectionate admonition. Kee])ing up this
image he addresses the Brethren's Church ; the Romish, the
Lutheran and the Reformed Churches; all the Churches con-
jointly ; and finally the Bohemian nation. His words are
instinct with love and set forth in rich colors the beauty of his
catholic spirit.'^

Comenius did not allow his feelings to interfere with his
work. It was of the most laborious character. Laying aside
his literary activity he devoted himself to the interests of the
Unity and of the Bohemian exiles. He faithfully discharged

The extravagant assertions contained in the Introduction and Conclusion re-
garding a spiritual decline among the Brethren, led to that unhistoric
view of which we have spoken in a previous chapter.

'^ Gindely's Comenius, p. 507.

^ Published in Bohemian at Lissa, 1651. Reichel's Geschichte, p. 124-
144, and Cro-ger II, p. 395-412, give the German translation in full.


the duties of his episcopal office ; brought about a close fel-
lowship between the Polish and Hungarian parishes ; secured
for the exiles financial aid from England, Sweden and Hol-
land ; cared for the impoverished nobles who were unable to
support themselves ; secured positions, especially as teachers,
for young Bohemians ; and induced the University of Oxford,
where the sufferings of his countrymen had excited the deep-
est sympathy, to create stipends for Bohemian students.
There were few European countries in which exiles could not
be found in the capacity of private tutors, public teachers,
artists, or clergymen.^

About this time the condition of Poland was alarming.
The last days of Vladislaus the Fourth, who died in 1648,
were distracted by a revolt among the Cossacks, under Chmiel-
nicki, which spread from the Ukraine over the entire south-
eastern section of the kingdom, and grew more terrible the
farther it progressed. In the autumn John Casimir, a brother
of Vladislaus, was elected to the throne. But he showed
himself incompetent and became extremely unpopular. His
bigotry filled the Protestants with suspicion, irritated as they
were by the failure of their attempt, both at the Diet of Con-
vocation and the Diet of Election, to establish their rights
through additional guarantees. His scandalous relations to
the wife of his Vice-Chancellor, Radziejowski, turned this
powerful noble into a bitter foe. His foolish aspirations after
the Swedish crown brought war and misery upon Poland.

In spring of 1650 Comenius accepted an invitation from
the widow of Prince Rakoczy and her son Sigismund to re-
organize the schools of Transylvania. On the way to that
country he visited the Hungarian churches, spending the
Easter festival at Skalic. Their ministers earnestly warned
him against Nicholas Drabik. This man had cast off the
restraints of the ministry and given himself out as a prophet.
Since 1643 he had been forecasting the future; dethroning

* Gindely's Comenius, p. 508. A number of Bohemians settled perma-
nently in England, and their descendants, often with anglicized names, are
still to be found.


monarchs ; raising up new dynasties ; distributing kingdoms ;
and readjusting the political systems of Europe. He was an
impostor and a knave. And yet he had gained an unfortunate
influence over Comenius whose mystical bent of mind, inten-
sified by his sorrows and hopes, led him to believe that in so
extraordinary an age God might see fit to restore the gift of
prophecy. The expostulations of the Hungarian clergy were
of no avail. He remained firm in his convictions that Drabik
might be inspired from on high.

Comenius spent but a short time in Transylvania. Soon
after his return to Lissa, however, the Princess Rakoczy wrote
to the Executive Council and begged that he might be allowed
to come back, as she wished to establish a college. She offered
inducements which inclined the Council to grant her request.
In the autumn Comenius took up his residence at Saros Patak.
There he remained for nearly four years, organizing the col-
lege which proved only a partial success, discharging his duties
as presiding Bishop, and engaged in literary labors. The most
celebrated work which he wrote in this period, was his Oi'bis
P ictus. ^

While he was residing in Transylvania his brethren at Lissa
passed through trying experiences. Raphael the Fifth Lesz-
cynski was succeeded, as lord of that town, by his third son,
Boguslaw, who was pursued with representations on the part
of his Catholic friends, that his political advancement was im-
possible if he remained a Protestant. At last, about 1652, in
order to gain the important offices of Hereditary Treasurer
and General of Great Poland, he joined the Romish Church.
The Catholics rejoiced. To them Lissa, which place had been
growing and thriving until, in the language of Comenius, "its
marvelous prosperity left all other towns of Poland far be-
hind," was a perpetual eye-sore.^ It constituted the strong-

^ The Orbis Pictus, or the Pictured World, was a work of the same char-
acter as the Janua, but improved and profusely illustrated with wood-cuts.
It was published at Nurnberg in 1658, and met Avith great success, passing
through many editions, some of which are of recent date.

•* Lissaer Geschichte, p. 9.


hold of the hated Unity and the most influential centre of
Polish Protestantism. For years it had excited their envy ;
now they already saw it within their grasp. Great therefore
was their indiffuation when Count Boaruslaw renewed the re-
ligious privileges granted by his fathers. But the Pomanists
were not to be foiled. They fell back upon an expedient
which had often proved successful. The Bishop of Posen
laid claim to the church-edifice owned by the Brethren, on
the plea that it had originally been Catholic property. This
was false and Leszcynski resisted his claim. But the tribunal
before which the case was brought, decided against the Count.
The Brethren were forced to give up their sanctuary. By his
permission, however, they immediately began to build another.
Its corner-stone was laid in 1652 and the edifice was finished
in 1654.7

In the latter year two events of political importance took
place. The Czar of Russia came to the aid of the revolted
Cossacks ; and Queen Christina resigned the Swedish crown
in favor of her cousin, Charles the Tenth Gustavus, and re-
tired to Rome after having joined the Catholic Church.

Against such a transfer of the crown, John Casimir pro-
tested, asserting that he was the rightful successor because
his father had, at one time, been King of Sweden. The result
was a declaration of war on • the part of Charles the Tenth
(1655), and the invasion of Great Poland by an army of seven-
teen thousand men under Fieldmarshal Wittenberg. With
these invaders the Palatines of Kalisch and Posen made com-
mon cause. This was owing to the intrigues of Radziejowski.'*
Soon after a second Swedish army appeared. At its head was
Charles himself, and in a very short time he conquered the

^ Lissaer Geschichte, p. 11. This building occupied the site of the church
of St. John, now belonging to one of those Reformed parishes which are
known as the Unitdtsgemeinden, or " Congregations of the Unity," of which
we will speak in a later chapter. According to the Lissaer Geschichte, the
Brethren had a second church-edifice at Lissa, but we have found no furtlier
account of it in any of the sources.

^ Krasinski, II. p. 276, shows that the accusation of Lukaszewicz, that the
Protestants mainly caused the defection, is incorrect.


eutire kingdom, excepting Polish Prnssia and the parts over-
run by the Cossacks and Russians. John Casimir fled to

Such marvelous success demoralized the Swedish troops,
who beo-an to plunder churches, convents and nunneries ; to
murder priests and monks ; and to commit other outrages.
The course pursued by General Wrzesowitz, a native of Bohe-
mia, was particularly barbarous. He avenged upon the Polish
Catholics the sufferings of his countrymen in the Anti-Refor-
mation. That these enormities were instigated by the Evan-
gelical party, as Roman Catholic writers assert, is false ; that,
on the contrary, the Protestants espoused the cause of Charles
the Tenth, can not be denied and in view of the wrongs which
they had, for years, been suffering, was but natural. They
knew that if he became King of Poland, their privileges would
be secured. It is probable, too, that the Brethren, and espe-
cially the exiles from Bohemia, were among his most ardent
adherents. From one point of view such conduct may be re-
garded as treasonable ; but from another it was the necessary
outcome of unjustifiable persecutions and of a latent hope that
Sweden would, in the end, be instrumental in restoring the
Brethren to their homes.

It was not long before the Poles awoke from their disloyal
lethargy. The haughty bearing of Charles offended them.
The outrages committed by his army roused their indignation.
The reverses of Casimir excited their sympathy. Toward the
end of 1655, at Tyszowce, a little town in the palatinate of
Lublin, several nobles entered into a confederation against the
Swedes. This confederation John Casimir was invited to join.
He did so, with a vow to the Virgin, that if prospered, he
would, as a thank-offering, convert, in other words, persecute
the heretics.^ The magnates immediately began to raise troops
in order to drive the invaders out of the country.

Amidst such a crisis — Poland overrun by foreign foes and
divided ao-ainst itself— that blow was struck from which the

9 Krasinski II. p. 279.


Unitas Fratrum never recovered. God's ways are past find-
ing out ; His footsteps are not known.

Ojie of the places garrisoned by the Swedes was Lissa.
They were no doubt admitted — it is said by the advice of
Comenius — while Count Leszcynski was absent in Polish
Prussia, whither he had gone to see Charles the Tenth, in the
interests of the town and state. In the beginning of April,
1656, he returned, but found that his well-meant course had
evoked no little indignation among his fellow nobles. He was
decried as an enemy of his country and told that he could re-
trieve his character only by leaving Lissa. On the twenty-
third, he accordingly j)roceeded to Breslau. Four days later,
on the twenty-seventh, being Saturday after the Easter Festi-
val, a body of confederate troops, under Opalinski, approached
and demanded admittance. This was refused; again, it is said,
upon the advice of Comenius. The Poles attacked the town,
but were repulsed by the Swedes with the assistance of the
citizens. In a little while the assault was renewed. The
Swedes were drawn into an ambush, driven back in confusion,
and pursued to the very gates. Forty citizens fell. The
Poles, whose loss was about one hundred, retired to Storchnest;
setting fire on their retreat to several barns and wind-mills.

The next morning found the inhabitants strangely discour-
aged. The burial of their dead depressed them still more.
Many began to speak of leaving the town. Three hundred
wagons, in part crowded with women and children and in part
laden with goods, were actually sent away. About two o'clock
the report spread, that a body of infantry was marching upon
Lissa. An unaccountable panic immediately broke out. The
whole population grew wild with fright. Casting away their
arms the citizens gathered their families around them, snatched
up their valuables, and fled in hot haste. The Swedish garri-
son, which consisted of several hundred horse, made no at-
tempt to quell this panic, but evacuated the town and pro-
ceeded to Fraustadt. By six o'clock in the evening Lissa
was deserted. The Polish troops took possession of it, ate
and drank their fill, and then retired. The next day, April


the twenty-ninth, they appeared again and were accompanied
by thousands of peasants, with carts and wagons, from the
neighboring villages. In a short time the whole place was
sacked ; and while the peasants hastened away, their carts and
wagons groaning under the weight of their plunder, the troops
set fire to the town. For three days the conflagration raged,
sweeping away the Town Hall, the College, every church, in-
cluding the new sanctuary of the Brethren, and with a few
exceptions, every private dwelling. Seventy windmills, in the
immediate neighborhood, were laid in ashes. It was a fearful
destruction; an appalling catastrophe; the beginning of the
end of the ancient Brethren's Unity.

Meantime the Polish troops pursued the fugitives. Many
were robbed; others mutilated in the most horrible manner;
still others murdered ; many women were ravished.^''

But the afflictions of the Brethren did not end with the loss
of their ecclesiastical centre ; still heavier trials awaited them.
There came into Great Poland, at the head of an army made
up principally of Wallachians and other foreigners, the cele-
brated General Czarniecki. He \\'as a Pole defending his
country against the invader, and did not intend to oppress
the inhabitants. But his soldiers, who had as yet received no
pay, fell upon them without mercy, plundering towns, villages
and domains ; and treating the Protestants, especially the
Brethren, with the greatest barbarity. The whole country was
thrown into confusion. Law grew powerless ; licentiousness
reigned supreme. Thousands fled before the storm. Many
fell victims to the ferocity of the soldiers or the hate of their
Romish neighbors. A number of Brethren were put to death

1" Lissaer Geschichte, pp. 12 and 13; Lukaszewicz, pp. 177 and 178 ; Ben-
ham's Comenius, pp. 100 and 101. These sources do not agree in all parti-
culars. Our narrative is based upon all of them, but especially upon a con-
temporaneous record, in Latin, given by Lukaszewicz in a note. This we
suppose to be an extract of the account written by Comenius himself and
entitled Excidium Lesnense anno 1656 factum fide historica narratum, the
manuscript of which Miiller recently discovered at Lissa. The narrative
was published, but is no longer extant in print.


at Shocken. The ministers suffered the worst cruelties. Two
instances are on record.

At Little Lubin John Jacobides, the priest of the parish
Debnica, and two of his acolytes, Alexander Wartenski and
Valerian Zduncyk, while on their way to Karmin in order to
look after Bishop By timer, were seized, cut down with spades,
and thrown into a hole, where they miserably perished ; at
Swiercznek, the head of Samuel Kardus was forced between a
door and the door-post, and slowly crushed amidst excruciating
torments." The clergy that escaped, among them Bishops
Bythner and Gertich, fled to Silesia; many of their people
scattered, some going to the same province, others to Saxony,
Brandenburg and Holland. For two whole years the Breth-
ren did not venture to hold public worship in Poland. Their
churches were either closed, or destroyed. In Silesia the ref-
ugees met with a hospitable reception at Carolath, a domain
of Baron Schoneich, at Ursk, the estate of Baron Kaunitz, and
at Militsch.'^

When Lissa fell, Comenius, having hastily buried some of
his manuscripts, took refuge in the house of a nobleman on the
confines of Silesia. Thence, after a brief rest, he proceeded to
Breslau and from Breslau to Frankfoi;t-on-the-Oder, where
he arrived, to use his own words, " almost in a state of
nudity." Not deeming himself safe at Frankfort, he pushed
on to Stettin and Hamburg. In this latter city he was pros-
trated, for two months, by a severe illness. Meantime he re-
ceived an invitation from Lawrence de Geer, a son of his
former patron and a resident of Amsterdam, to come to that
city, where all his wants should be cared for. This invitation
Comenius accepted as soon as his health was restored. He
reached Amsterdam in August, utterly impoverished. The
conflagration at Lissa had devoured his whole property, includ-
ing his library and most important manuscripts. Those which
he had buried, he subsequently recovered ; but they seem to

" Fischer, II. pp. 285 and 286.
^'^ Lukaszewicz, pp. 178 and 179.


have been of little value in comparison with what he lost.
His entire Pansophia, nearly completed, and a Latin-Bohe-

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 53 of 64)