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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mian and Bohemian-Latin Thesaurus, or Dictionary, which
he had projected in early manhood and at which he had been
laboring for more than forty years, were destroyed.^^

^^ Comenius says in his letter to Montanus : " The loss of this work I
shall cease to lament only when I cease to breathe. Nothing of it remains
except the first rudiments of the work, which were preserved elsewhere — a
collection of all the roots of the Bohemian language, with a large selection
of derivatives and compounds." Benham's Comenius, p. 102. The Archives
of the Unity were saved and conveyed to Ursk.



The Resuscitation of the Church in Poland. Further
Labors of Comenius. A.D. 1657-1662.

Return of the fugitive Ministers. — Discouraging Condition of the Parishes.
— Lissa rebuilt. — A general Resuscitation in Poland and yet a Decline
of the Unity in general. — Meeting of the Bishops. — Death of Bishop
Gertich. — The Government of the Church. — Contributions from Eng-
land and elsewhere. — Polish and Bohemian Bibles printed. — What
Comenius did for the Church of the Future. — Confession of Faith. —
Biblical Manual. — Hymnals. — Enlarged Edition of the Ratio Dis-
ciplinse. — Comenius commends the future Unitas Fratrum to the
Church of England. — His Parsenesis addressed to the same Church.

As soon as the storm that swept over Poland had somewhat
abated, the devotion with which the Brethren clung to their
Church again became apparent. Their Polish parishes had
now met with the same fate as those in Bohemia and Moravia ;
while a large part of their Bohemian exiles had, a second
time, been made homeless. Everything "was against the
Brethren. They might well have given up all hope of reor-
ganizing. But instead, they shook themselves from the dust
with the manly determination to "build the old waste-places
and to raise up the foundation of many generations." In
1657 their fugitive nobles returned; in 1658 some of their
clergy. Two years later, in 1660, when the Peace of Oliva
had been concluded, the rest came back, longing to resume
their appointed work,^ *

Nothing could have been more discouraging than the condi-
tion of things as they found them. In some places the

' Lukaszewicz, p. 179.


churches were half ruined ; in others, totally destroyed. The
membership remaining in Poland had greatly decreased ; not
a few had been killed during the war ; many,Jn sheer despair
of better times, had become perverts to Rome ; while those
who had continued faithful were impoverished. Here was a
parish whose church the Catholics seized on the plea that it
had originally belonged to them ; there was another in which
they forcibly prevented reorganization. More distressing than
all this, however, was the fact that they refused to acknowledge
the returning Poles as their countrymen and proscribed them
as traitors who had made common cause with the Swedes.^

In spite of such discouragments the Bishops and ministers
labored patiently to restore the Unity. Lissa rose from its
ashes and grew more prosperous than before the war. Aided
by contributions from England, Prussia, and other Protestant
countries, the Brethren's church was rebuilt and dedicated on
the eighteenth of September, 1658.^ The influences proceed-
ing from this centre made themselves felt throughout the
country. Many parishes were reorganized. In some cases
several were combined under one pastor; in others, public
worship was held occasionally by visiting ministers.* The
prospect began to brighten. In Hungary, Transylvania,
Silesia and Prussia the Brethren had remained undisturbed ;
in Poland, to some extent at least, they renewed their days as
of old. Their membership in that country still numbered
thousands;^ their Synod frequently met; their College at
Lissa was rebuilt and, on the nineteenth of February, 1663,
publicly reopened with Adam Samuel Hartmann as its Rector;^

" Lukaszewicz, pp. 179 and 180.

'* Fischer, II. p. 291. The tower of this church was finished nine years
later, in 1667. Lissaer Geschichte, p. 14.

■* Lukaszewicz, p. 180.

^ Statistics are, as a matter of course, wanting ; but from Fischer, II. p.
334 it appears that up to 1690, there were connected with Kurcewo, which
seems to have been the centre of a net-work of parishes, several thousand
members. And yet this was but one centre, whereas we know of a number
of others.

^ Fischer, II. p. 350 ; Lissaer Geschichte, p. 15 ; Lissaer Gymnasium, p.
XV. Hartmann had been the Rector prior to the destruction of the town.


SO greatly did their prosperity revive that Coraeniiis in a letter
to Nicholas Gertich could speak of 'Hhe halcyon days" which
the Polish parishes were enjoying/

And yet the Unitas Fratrum as such had received a fatal
shock. It began to decline and lose its independent character.
In 1627 the Reformed of Cujavia had united with the Breth-
ren : now the Brethren leaned, more and more, upon the Re-
formed of Lithuania and Little Poland. The result was a
process of assimilation which, little by little, deprived the
Unity of essential characteristics."^ Such a process, however,
developed very slowly. The history of the Unitas Fratrum
in its ancient and, to some extent, independent form, may be
said to stretch down to its renewal at Herruhut.

It would appear that, soon after the destruction of Lissa,
the three Bishoj)s, Coraeuius, Bythner and Gertich, had a
consultation at Breslau, in Silesia.^ Thereupon, as narrated in
a former chapter, Comenius went to Hamburg and eventually
to Amsterdam. Bythner seems to have taken up his abode at
Brieg, twenty-seven miles south-east of Breslau, where a large
colony of fugitive Brethren gradually gathered.'" Gertich's
place of residence is not known. He died on the tenth of
December, 1657. Comenius and Bythner thus became the
sole survivors of the episcopacy. Associated with them were
Assistant Bishops : Daniel Vetter with Comenius at Amster-

He reentered upon the duties of his office in the autumn of 1662, probably
about the time that the Synod, at its convocation at Parcice, determined to
reopen the College. With this purpose in view collections were instituted.
There are few seats of learning which have outlived as many calamities as
the College at Lissa. It still flourishes after a most checkered existence of
more than two centuries and a half.

' Letter, dated November the sixteenth, 1666, to Bishop Nicholas Gertich.
Gindely's Comenius, pp. 549 and 550 ; Benham, pp. 112 and 113.

* The Brethren, from this time on, were often called " Reformed," or " the
Reformed of the Bohemian Confession."

^ Biography of Nicholas Gertich, in Herrnhut, No. 52, 1884 ; Lissaer
Gymnasium, p. XI.

^•'Herrnhut, ihid ; Gindely's Comenius, pp.534 and 538; Benham, p.
108. In his financial statement, adduced by Gindely, Comenius says:
" Brieg is now the principal seat of the dispersed Brethren."


dam ; Nicholas Gerticli with Bythuer in Silesia. Although
the Executive Council could not conduct its business as of old ;
yet Comenius, as its President, kept up a regular correspond-
ence with Bythner, and these two Bishops statedly consulted
with their Assistants. In this way the government of the
Church was carried on as best it could.

Nothing affected the venerable Presiding Bishop more
deeply than the impoverished state of the churches. At the
consultation with his colleagues at Breslau, he proposed to ask
aid of England. This suggestion was accepted, and in 1657
he sent Adam Samuel Hartmann and Paul Cyrill to that
country. They met with a cordial reception. The Privy
Council, with which body they had an interview, sanctioned
their undertaking; the Faculties of the Universities at Oxford
and Cambridge warmly recommended it. In 1658 and 1659
five thousand nine hundred pounds sterling were sent to Co-
menius. The only condition attached to this generous gift
was — a condition which he had undoubtedly himself sug-
gested — that one thousand pounds should be reserved for the
publication of Bohemian and Polish Bibles, "and of other
wholesome books required specially at the present time."
The remainder was applied as follows : three thousand nine
hundred and twenty pounds, or about nineteen thousand six
hundred dollars, were distributed among the Polish and Bo-
hemian Brethren ; nine hundred and eighty pounds, or about
four thousand nine hundred dollars, among the Bohemian
exiles in general. '^ Aid came from other sources also. Law-
rence de Geer, Stephen de Geer, the Board of Marine at Am-
sterdam, and the Earl of Pembroke — a mystic and a great
admirer of Comenius — all sent their offerings; so that, in 1666,
the Bisho]) again had in hand six thousand Thaler. This
amount also he distributed among the impoverished Brethren
of Poland and the exiles from Bohemia, allowing the former

" Gindely's Comenius, p. 530, etc., and Beylagen, I. pp. 537-540 ; Ben-
ham's translation, pp. 107-111. Gindely gives from an original MS. in the
Bohemian Museum a detailed statement, written by Comenius himself, of
the distribution of the money.


seven-twelfths, and the latter five-twelfths of the sum total. ^^
It is evident that the distribution of such gifts served to
cement the bond of sympathy and love by which the Brethren
were held together.^^

The amount reserved for publications Comenius applied so
judiciously that he was enabled to send to Poland two thou-
sand copies of the Polish, and to scatter broadcast among the
Bohemian exiles three thousand copies of the Kralitz Bible.
There remained a balance sufficient to pay for the printing of
several other works." In 1661 he caused the Unity's press,
which, after the destruction of Lissa, had been set up at Brieg,
to be transferred to Amsterdam. This press became an im-
portant agency in furthering the interests of the Church. ^^

While Comenius cared for the Brethren of the present, he
kept in view the Church of the future also. That such a
Church would appear, either in the homes of his fathers, or
in a strange land, he confidently hoped ; and in order to pre-
pare for its coming, published several works which were to
preserve the doctrines, ritual and constitution of the ancient

The first was a Confession of Faith ; the second a Biblical
Manual in Bohemian for the use of the exiles, "as a shield of
faith for their defence and a staif of hope for their support.'"^
Both these works were issued in 1658. In the following year
he republished the Bohemian, and in 1661, the German
Hymnal ; in order, so he says in the preface to the latter,
"that pious Christians of our Church, whether they sit at

^^ Letter of Comenius, in Gindely's Comenius, p. 550.

'^ It appears, however, from the letter written to Nicholas Gertich by
Comenius, that he was not pleased with the large claims which the Polish
Brethren occasionally made.

'* Gindely's Comenius, Beylagen, p. 530.

^^ Gindely's Comenius, p. 539, where Comenius says: "As our printing
office was destroyed in the dreadful warfares in our native land, we set up
one for the use of the Church, which cost 886 imperials." Also Criegern's
Comenius, p. 54.

^® Benham's Comenius, p. 43. Of the Biblical Manual (Manualjk), which
work has become very scarce, there is a copy in the Malin Library, No. 841.


home or wander in foreign lands, remembering the words of
the Psalmist (119: 54), ' Thy statutes have been my songs in
the house of my pilgrimage,' may hold fast to God and rejoice
in the Lord." >^

The most important of such publications was an enlarged
edition of the Ratio Discipllnce (1660). This work comprised,
first, a Dedication to the Church of England ; second, a con-
cise History of the Unitas Fratrum ; third, the Batio Disci-
pllnce ; fourth, copious Explanatory Notes; and fifth, a
Parsenesis, or Exhortation, "to the Churches, in particular
the Anglican, piously solicitous about the best form of ecclesi-
astical government." '^ Both the Dedication and the Exhorta-
tion deserve special notice. In the former Coraenius speaks
"as a prophet;" in the latter as "a Church -father."^"

The Dedication is addressed " To the Anglican Church
heretofore driven about by manifold storm-winds, but now
seeing before her a haven of rest." After showing from his-
tory, that the tribulations and judgments of the past were all
overruled for the good of Christ's Church, he goes on to say :

" In these our days we see that God permits nations to clash
against nations, and kingdoms to fall upon kingdoms ; so that
the whole earth trembles for fear, and cities, churches, schools,
yea all public and private afiairs, are in a state of destructive
confusion, over which the pious mourn. Nevertheless the same
God who brought the world in all its beauty out of a shapeless
mass, and for the sake of His Church has thus far preserved it
with such power and ruled it with such wisdom, will know how
to draw out of the existing tribulations something better than we
can conceive. For, according to His own promise, the Gospel
will be brought, by those Christians who have been justly chas-
tened, to the remaining peoples of the earth ; and thus, as of old,

" Comenius gave the following title to the German Hymnal : " Kirchen-,
Haus-, und Herzens-Musika, oder der Heiligen Gottes auf Erden Erlustig-
ungs-Kunst in Singen und Gott lobend bestehend." Malin Library, No. 461.

^^ From Zoubek it would appear that the Exhortation was originally
published separately, in 1660, entitled " Parsenesis Ecclesise Bohemicse ad
Anglicanam de Bono Unitatis et Ordinis," and dedicated to Charles the
Second. The copy in the Malin Library, No. 806, issued in the same year,
1660, combines the History, the Ratio, and the Partenesis in one volume.

19 Reichel's Geschichte, pp. 107 and 108.


our fall will be the riches of the world, and our diminishing the
riches of the gentiles (Romans 11 : 12). Such meditations upon
the wonderful counsels of Eternal Providence alleviate the pain
which I feel at the destruction of the Church of my people, whose
discipline and laws are here described."

In a subsequent paragraph he says :

" I do not wish to be understood as meaning that, because of
my loneliness and speedy departure, I am announcing to the
Church of my people that its end is come. I know that the Church
universal, founded on the Rock of Eternity, can not be over-
whelmed. But experience clearly teaches, that particular
Churches are sometimes destroyed by the hand of God stretched
out in wrath ; yet does this come to pass in such a way, that, ac-
cording to His good pleasure, other Churches are either planted
in their stead, or the same Churches rise in other places. . . .
We must not suppose that Elijah sinned when he gave utterance
to his lamentation that he, he only, was left of the prophets of
the Lord ; for in the midst of his loneliness and sorrow he was
divinely encouraged and dii-ected to substitute and appoint a
successor in his room (1 Kings 19: 14-16). The same consola-
tion I confidently expect of the Divine Goodness ; and even
though the Lord should let me go out of the world without such
comfort, I will nevertheless, with the last of the seven martyred
Maccabean brethren, beseech Him : ' That in me and my brethren
the wrath of the Almighty, which is justly brought upon all our
nation, may cease,' (2 Maccabees, 7 : 38). But should this wish
also, namely, that in me the wrath of God may cease, not be ful-
filled, and ' last of all, after the sons, our mother die also ' (2 Mac-
cabees 7 : 41), what shall I do then?"

In answer to this question Comenius goes on to explain that
it is usual for such as have no direct heirs to leave their pos-
sessions to others, and that he now proposes to do this. Hence
he continues :

" To whom shall I leave our possessions ? And have we any
possessions, when everything seems to be lost ? Yes, through
God's gift and grace we still own some things that may be willed
to others ; nor are friends and enemies wanting to whom such
things may be left.

To our enemies we leave what they have taken from us, or may
yet deprive us of — our earthly goods, churches, lands, schools, and
the like, and last, if the Lord of all things should see fit, the lives
of our remaining brethren ; even as it pleased the Crucified Christ
to allow his garments to be divided among the soldiers and him-
self to be robbed of life.


But to you, our friends (the Church of England), we leave and
commit, according to the example of the same Divine Master,
that which is far better, our dear mother, the Church herself.
AVhether God will deem her worthy to be revived in her native
seats, or let her die there and resuscitate her elsewhere, in either
case do you, in our stead, care for her. Even in her death, which
now seems to be approaching, you ought to love her, because in
her life she has gone on before you, for more than two centuries,

with examples of faith and patience When the Lord

allowed the country, city and temple of his ungrateful people to
be laid waste, it was nevertheless His will that the base of the
altar should remain in its place, so that their repenting and re-
turning posterity might be able to build on the same spot (Ezra
3 : 3). Now if we have received from God anything true, pre-
cious, just, pure, lovely and good, any virtue or any praise — wise
and pious men, as will appear, have said that our possessions are
of this sort— we certainly ought to take care that such gifts may
not perish with us, and that amidst disorder and confusion as
these now exist, the foundations of our Unity may not be so en-
tirely ruined as to make it impossible for our posterity to find
them. Hence we herewith leave the gifts which we have received,
to you and deposit them with you." ^°

These extracts beautifully show that Comenius entertained
an almost prophetic hope of the renewal of the Unitas Fra-
trum ; that he commended this Church of the future to the
Anglican Church ; and that, like a seer inspired to utter what
he does not himself understand, he unconsciously indicated
the spread of the Gospel in heathen lands as the great work
which would be intrusted to the renewed Unity.

In the Exhortation, with which the work closes and which
is again addressed to the Anglican Church particularly, he
holds up the principles of the Unitas Fratrum for imitation.
As a brief summary of his argument we give the following :

The constitution of the Church of the Brethren is not schis-
matic, but apostolic ; not a mere outward form, but animated by
an inner spirit which streams forth on all sides ; not disturbing the
State, but accommodating itself to the State, without thereby re-
linquishing the independence of the Church. That constitution
comprises something of every form of government : the mon-
archical, in the Episcopate ; the aristocratic, in the Executive
Council ; the democratic, in the Synod. The second of these

20 Dedicatiorium alloqvium, gg 13, 16, 17, 19, 20 and 21.


forms Calvin instituted through the Presbyteries ; the first, the
Episcopate, Bucer adopted in England. Whether it was wise to
separate these three forms, the disputes which arose through the
separation, will shovv. Perhaps if Solomon's words had been
heeded, " A threefold cord is not easily broken," such ruptures
would not have taken place.

The Church of the Brethren possesses a remedy for possible
evils. This remedy is her discipline, by which simony, avarice,
pride, contentions, false doctrines, are suppressed, and godliness
is furthered. She is an example of Christian simplicity, in that
she avoids doctrinal disputes, and controversies of every kind,
works for peace, or labors for a reformation of the Church uni-

Four characteristics will distinguish the Church universal, when
it will have been so thoroughly reformed, as to represent the
Kingdom of Christ upon earth — a kingdom in which all its
people will take part in the blessings of salvation, all its teachers
be guides to Jesus, and all its rulers watch over the order estab-
lished by God. These four characteristics are : The unity of the
Spirit; a well regulated ecclesiastical government; good disci-
pline ; and being filled with the Spirit of Christ.

Comenius then proceeds, at considerable length, to develop
these characteristics, illustrating them by examples taken from
his History of the Unitas Fratrum, to which work he contin-
ually refers. ^^

That which he aimed at in I'epublishing the Ratio DiscipliTwe,
came to pass. It was this work, in the form in which it pro-
ceeded from his pen, that incited Count Zinzendorf to devote
himself to the resuscitation of the Unitas Fratrum and made
him familiar with its constitution and principles.^^

^* Parasnesis, passim.

^^ Zinzendorf liimself says, Biidingische Sammhmg I, pp. 640 and 641 :
" I could not peruse the lamentations of old Comenius, addressed to the
Anglican Church — lamentations called forth by the idea that the Church of
the Brethren was come to an end, and that he was locking its door — I could
not read his mournful prayer, ' Turn Thou us unto Thee, O Lord, and we
shall be turned, renew our days as of old,' (Lament. 5 : 21,) — without adopt-
ing the resolution : I will, as far as I can, help to bring about this renewal.
And though I have to sacrifice my earthly possessions, my honors, and my
life, as long as I live, and as far as I will be able to provide, even after my
death for such a consummation, this little company of the Lord's disciples
shall be preserved for Him until He comes."


The last publication brought out by Comenius in the hope
of such a renewal, was a Catechism, dedicated ''To the godly
sheep of Christ, scattered here and there, in particular to those
at F. G. G. K. K. S. S. and Z." These initials designate Ful-
neck, Gersdorf, Gedersdorf, Kl5ten, Klandorf, Stechwalde,
Seitendorf, and Zauchtenthal, towns and villages of Moravia,
from all of which descendants of the Brethren came to Herrn-
hut and took part in building up the Renewed Unity .^'*

^^ The title of this Catechism is : Die Uralte Christliche Catholisohe Reli-
gion, in kurtze Frasr nnd Antwort verfasset." Amsterdam, 1661. It is
found in Ehwalt, p. 441, etc.



Perpetuation of the Episcopacy. Death of Comenius. The

Hidden Seed in Bohemia and Moravia.

A. D. 1662-1670.

Correspondence between Bythner and Comenius about the Episcopacy. —
Synod of Milenczyn. — Nicholas Gertich and Peter Figulus. — Document
from Comenius. — Consecration of the new Bishops. — Furtlier Labors of
Comenius at Amsterdam. — Lux in Tenebris. — LTnum Necessariuni. —
Death of Comenius. — His Work and Character. — Hidden Seed in
Bohemia and Moravia.

The perpetuation of the episcopacy engaged the serious

attention of both the surviving Bishops. On the fifteenth

of January, 1658, Bythner wrote to Comenius and informed

him that Martin Gertich had died in Silesia. In the course

of his letter he said :

" I beg you to consider the propriety, or rather, the necessity
of appointing a third bishop, in place of the deceased, selecting
for this office either a Bohemian or a Pole ; so that our order
may be maintained and the succession which has been uninter-
ruptedly kept up in our Church for two centuries, may not,
when we die, cease and become extinct." ^

This succession lay near to the heart of Comenius and,

under date of August the twenty-third, he warmly endorsed

what his colleague had written.

" We certainly will not allow that good thing which our
Church has enjoyed, to die with us. We will rather pray and
labor that it may be revived through the power of Him who

alone can awake from the dead See, my beloved

brother, how far we have declined. Of yours (the Polish

1 Rieger, VI. pp. 739 and 740.


Bishops), you alone are left ; of mine (the Bohemian-Moravian
Bishops) I alone remain. Nevertheless as long as there is a
possibility of preventing the fall of our order, we must do what
we can. Let it not appear as though we tempted God, who, in
ways that are wonderful, kills and makes alive, lays us in the
lowest pit and delivers from it." ^

Although the two Bishops were in such accord, their pur-
pose could not at once be carried out, Comenius having in
view a speedy election, urged the convocation of the Syuod

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 54 of 64)