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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at Brieg ; By thner deemed this impracticable on account of
the war. As soon, however, as the Peace of Oliva had been
proclaimed, the negotiations were resumed. Among the
points discussed, was the question whether an episcopal con-
secration performed by one bishop would be valid. Comenius
decided that it would be valid, although not canonical.
" For," he wrote, " the canons require, as you well know,
that a bishop must be ordained by three, or at least by two
bishops."^ Accordingly, being too infirm to undertake a
journey to Poland, he proposed to send Daniel Vetter, his
Assistant Bishop, and let him act in his stead.

To this plan Bythner objected. He urged, that at an
episcopal consecration a mere Assistant Bishop would not
command the proper consideration ; that the act would be far
more impressive, if Comenius himself, in some way even
though indirectly, would take part in it ; that this could be
done by sending to the Synod a document formally sanction-
ing the consecration ; that such a course would be in accordance
with the Constituiio7ies Apostolicce,* which provided that if, on
account of persecutions or other causes, several bishops could
not meet in order to unite in an episcopal consecration, they
were to send written commissions to one bishop and authorize
him to perform the act alone.^ This proposition Comenius

'■* Rieger, VI. 740 ; Gindely's Comenius, p. 534.

^ Letter of September the twenty-eighth, 1660, Rieger, VI. p. 741.

* The reference which he gives is to Lib. 8, Cap. 27.

* Letter of Bythner, dated November the fourth, 1661, Rieger, VI. pp.
742 and 743.


not only accepted, but in his reply showed its correctness by
citing; additional testimony.

The two Bishops having thus agreed upon the mode of
consecration, Bythner called a meeting of the Synod. It
opened on the second of November, 1662, at Milenczyn, in
Poland, now ]\lieltschin in the Province of Posen, about
fifteen miles south-east of Guesen. After a full discussion of
the case it was resolved to elect two bishops ; one for the
Polish branch, the other for the Bohemian-lNIoravian in spem
contra spem, as the phrase ran, that is, " in hope against hope"
of a resuscitation of this latter branch.

For the former the choice of the Synod fell u])on the
Assistant Bishop Nicholas Gertich, a nephew of Bishop
Martin Gertich and a grandson of Bishop Martin Gratian

Nicholas Gertich was born at Lassw^itz, on the seventeenth
of December, 1624, and educated at the gymnasia of Lissa
and Beuthen, and at the University of Frankfort-on-the-
Oder. After his ordination to the priesthood, in 1647, he
labored at Lissa until the destruction of that town, when he
fled to Silesia. There he was offered the position of second
chaplain to George the Third, Duke of Brieg, who, although
his subjects were Lutherans, had embraced the Reformed
faith and established what may be called a small court-church.
This position Gertich accepted.''

^ The list of bishops given by Regenvolscius and Gindely, ends with
Bythner and Martin Gertich (1644); the subsequent succession to the
transfer of the episcopacy to the Renewed Unitas Fratrum is set forth by
Bishop Daniel Ernst Jablonsky in a document sent, in 1717, to Dr.
William Wake, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at this prelate's special
request. This document, entitled " De Ordine et Successione episcopali in
Unitate Fratrum conservato," was subsequently published as an Appendix
to his "Jus Ecclesiasticum," by Chancellor Pfaff; a copy of it, furnished by
Jablonsky, is in the Herrnhut Archives, and the substance of it is found in
the Acta Fratrum in Anglia, p. 112-115. Comp. Koelbing's Nachricht,
p. 26.

' Fischer, II. p. 345 ; Biography in Herrnhut, No. 52, 1884, which
Biography says that Gerticli was born about 1610, at Lissa. The date
given above is found in Fischer on the authority of Lukaszewicz.


For the Bohemiau-Moravian branch, as the eventual suc-
cessor of Comenius, was chosen Peter Figulus, or Jablonsky,
by birth a Moravian. In 1628, when still a little boy, ho
accompanied Erastus, Cyrill and Comenius on their flight
from Slaupna to Lissa. Comenius took a deep interest in
him, and gave him his daughter Elizabeth in marriage, on
the nineteenth of October, 1649. In the- same year he Avas
ordained to the priesthood. He accompanied his father-in-
law on several of his journeys and transacted literary business
for him in Sweden. In 1654 the Countess DonhofF von
Pomerelien, at Dantzic, appointed Figulus her chaplain ;
three years later he took charge of the neighboring church
of Nassenhuben. During his ministry at that place the entire
parish united with the Brethren. In 1658 he joined
Comenius at Amsterdam, where he spent two years, and then
returned to Nassenhuben. At the Synod of Milenczyn, the
day before his elevation to the episcopacy, Bythner ordained
him an Assistant Bishop.^

The fifth of November was set apart for the solemn rite of
consecration. Ifc took place in the presence of the whole
Synod. First of all, the following document, sent by
Comenius, was read :

■" Grace be with you through the Holy Ghost.

Dearly Beloved Brethren in the Lord : — With all my heart do
I wish that it might have pleased Divine goodness to grant unto
the Church in our time and in this country such tranquillity as
it enjoyed in the days of our fathers ; so that each of us, with the
flock intrusted to him, could live in security and serve the Lord.
But since these are times not of refreshing but of chastening, it
becomes our duty to manifest faith and patience toward God,
however heavy the cross which He may see fit to lay upon us.
Nor is it proper that I and the brethren of my Bohemian people
should be envious of you in Poland, because the Father of

^ Fischer, II. p. 345 ; Lissaer Gymnasium, p. XXXV. From this latter
authority it appears, that Jablonsky was the original name of the family,
but that Peter Jablonsky, in the course of his exile, adopted the name of
Figulus. This latter his older son, John Theodore, and his descendants,
retained ; his younger son, Daniel Ernst, the Bishop, and his descendants,
resumed the former.


spirits chastens you more g;ently than us. We will rather bear
witness to the fellowship of joy which pervades our hearts, that
you are allowed to abide with your churches in your fatherland
and to set them an example in doctrine and life ; while we see
neither the end of our dispersion nor a limit to our exile.
Nevertheless we will do what we can in commending each other,
through diligent intercessions, to God and in performing works
meet for repentance.

" Beloved brethren, when by God's permission you will assem-
ble in His name, how gladly would I be with you in the flesh,
beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in
Christ! Most especially would I rejoice to be present at that
solemn rite whereby new pillars will be erected to support the
ministerial office in your churches which still remain, and in
ours which are scattered. This must be done, so that the order
which we have received from our fathers may not become
extinct with us, your two surviving Bishops, and that the suc-
cession which our ancestors so highly esteemed and which they
recured with so much trouble and maintained with so much
labor, may not be interrupted. I remember those happy days
when our churches were governed by four, five, or even six
bishops ; now, amidst the decline of all our affairs, the number
of your overseers has been reduced to two. If these last pillars
were to fall in death, everything else would fall with them. This
must be prevented.

" Therefore proceed in the name of the Lord, and choose men
to whom may be publicly committed the care of the churches.
In what way this can and must be done, in order that it may
tend to edification, is, I take for granted, well known to you.
Nevertheless I will inform you, that I have recently published
the sacred canons and usages of our Church, so that the divine
gifts granted to us may not perish with us.^ Now in as much as
this book has been well received, — the Latin edition having been
republished at Geneva and an English translation having
appeared— you may rest assured that the eyes of the Churches
will be directed toward the remnant of our Unity, in order to see
whether we are true descendants of forefathers so distinguished.
Therefore let us give diligence that we may never leave the
right road of good order and holy fellowship.

" The question arises, in what manner those whom you will
lawfully choose, can receive a valid ordination ; for according to
ancient ecclesiastical statutes a bishop must be consecrated by
three, or at least by two bishops, whereas there is but one among
you. This question I answer as follows : The object of that
ecclesiastical statute is to prevent the doing of anything ' by
partiality.' If it were left to one man alone to fill ministerial

® Comenius refers to his new edition of the B<atio Disciplinse.


offices, especially the episcopal, he might ' prefer one before
another,' and if he were not tenderly conscientious, be a ' re-
specter of persons.' This evil, however, does not threaten us ;
because among us a bishop is not appointed by one man, but
chosen by many. Now if a bishop has been lawfully elected by
all (the accredited members of the Synod), why should he not
afterward, in the name and presence of all, be consecrated by
one bishop? It is from the Church that the consecrator has
received the authority to ordain; and it is in the presence of the
Church as a witness that he fiiithfully exercises this authority.
Such a position holds good, in particular, when other bishops
are absent, by reason of persecutions, illness, or other hindrances,
and yet in the spirit are present, giving their sanction and
imparting their benediction. In the ancient Church there are
wanting neither canons in regard to such a proceeding nor ex-
amples of it ; as my beloved brother and colleague will, if
necessary, explain to you.

" Standing upon this ground, why should I not appropriate to
myself the words of the Apostle, in the fifth chapter of his first
Epistle to the Corinthians, although they were originally used
in a different connection, and say : 'I verily, as absent in body,
but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were
present,' concerning those men whom Christ will lead you
unanimously to elect to the episcopal office, that in your presence
and by your overseer who is with you, my colleague in the
episcopate, they shall be consecrated according to apostolic usage,
with the laying on of hands and prayer, in the name and by the
power of Jesus Christ our Lord ? I also herewith send to them
a consecratory blessing, according to the authority which Christ
and His Church have given to me. But especially do Thou,
Oh Thou Chief Shepherd and Bishop of the Bishops, Jesus
Christ, own and consecrate these Thy servants, grant unto them
the gift of the Holy Ghost, that they may go and bring forth
fruit, and that their fruit may remain !

Amen. Amen. Amen.

" In the way of a conclusion and seal to this my letter, let
there be read aloud the last part of the Apostolic Epistle to the
Hebrews, even the seventeenth verse of the thirteenth chapter:

' Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves :
for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account ;
that they may do it with joy, and not with grief; for that is un-
profitable for you !'

"Also what is said in the twenty-first verse of the brethren from
Italy : ' They of Italy salute you.'

" For while I write, there are visiting me two of those ancient
saints (the Waldenses) from whom our forefathers received not
only an edifying example of faith and patience, but also the
authority of the apostolic succession ; thus kindling their light at


the light which that people had," At the present time the Lord
is chastening them even more severely than He chastens us. He
has permitted a cruel persecution and dispersion to come upon
them. Therefore, dear brethren, cry most fervently to God on
their behalf; then may we hope that we will be included in their
intercessions rising from the midst of the blood, the sweat and the
sighs of martyrdom.

May God graciously hear the fiery aspirations, the prayers and
supplications of all His saints !

Amen. Amen. Amen.

Farewell ! Pray for me in my old age and poor service of
Christ, even as I daily intercede with the Lord on your behalf.

Given at Amsterdam, with a weak hand, this second day of
April, 1662, in the seventy-first year of my age.

John Amos Comenius."

When this document had been read, Bythner consecrated
Gertich and Figulus to be Bishops of the Unitas Fratrum.
The Synod adjourned with praise and thanksgiving to God.

Two years later, in 1664, Bythner transferred his seat from
Brieg to Schocken. But there he met with so much enmity
on the part of the Catholics, that he removed to Lissa (1667).

Gertich continued to labor at Brieg until 1664, when his
patron, George the Third, died, and the dukedoms of Brieg
and Liegnitz having been united, he was transferred to Lieg-
nitz where he subsequently rose to be first chaplain. In addi-
tion to the duties of this position he attended to his episcopal

Figulus carried on hLs pastorate at Nassenhuben for two
years longer, and then accepted the office of court-preacher at
Memel, in which town he also ministered, it would seem, to a
congregation of Bohemian Brethren."

Comenius remained at Amsterdam, laboring not only for
his brethren, but likewise for mankind in general. At that
time Amsterdam was noted as the centre of religious toleration.

'^° One of the Waldenses visiting Comenius was the celebrated Jean Leger,
the historian of his people. The above letter of Comenius is found in
Eieger, VI. p. 743-749.

11 Lissaer Gymnasium, p. XXXV ; Lukaszewicz, quoted by Fisclier, II. p.
345, who, however, doubts the correctness of Lukaszewicz's statement.
Memel is a Prussian seaport at the north end of the Kurische HaflF, where
the Dange flows into the Baltic Sea.


Nothing equal to it could be found anywhere else in Europe.
Protestants and Catholics, Arminians and Calvinists, Unita-
rians, Cartesians, and followers of other philosophical systems,
went their several ways unhindered. Although Comenius
showed himself to be outspoken in his faith and firm in his
adherence to the Holy Scriptures, he enjoyed general esteem
and was venerated as a benefactor of his race/^ A circle of
literary friends gathered around him. It was commonly said,
that his residence in Amsterdam conferred honor upon the
city ; and as a token that this honor was appreciated the City
Council adopted a formal resolution asking him to republish
his didactic works. So flattering a request he hastened to
fulfill. In 1657 appeared his Opera Didadica Omnia, in
four folio volumes, dedicated to the magistrates of Amsterdam.

Comenius was not exempt from the experience which all
great men make. His fame provoked envy ; and envy
watched for an opportunity to traduce and vilify.

Such an opportunity now presented itself. Amidst the
mental conflicts into which he was plunged by the destruction
of Lissa and his own exile, the tempter drew near and induced
him to commit the mistake of his life. He received a letter
from Nicholas Drabik demanding that he should translate his
prophecies into Latin and publish them to the world. Come-
nius hesitated ; but Drabik threatened him with the judgments
of God if he should refuse to comply. At last, after consult-
ing some of his friends who encouraged him to undertake the
work, he reluctantly consented and, in 1657, issued a volume
entitled Lux in Tenebris, or " Light in Darkness," embracing
not only the prophecies of Drabik, but also those of Christo-
pher Kotter and Christiana Poniatowski, both of whom wore

'^ In 1660 and 1661 he published several energetic treatises against
Zwicker, a Socinian, who had the audacity to say publicly of him that he
was in sympathy witli the belief of the Socinians.

" The first edition came out in 1657, with additions published in 1659 ;
a new and smaller edition appeared in 1663 ; and a large and complete one
in 1665, with the portraits of the seers. All these editions are in the Malin
Library. Others appeared at various times. The work is very rare.


Kotter was a fanatic who claimed to have visions relatinor
to the fall and restoration of Bohemia. He lived at Sprottau,
in Silesia. Comenius became acquainted with him in 1626
and wrote down his prophecies, which the divines of Branden-
burg accepted as supernatural.^*

Christiana Pouiatowski, the daughter of Julian Poniatow-
ski and ward of Comenius, was a godly and simple-hearted
woman, subject to attacks of illness that threw her into a mes-
meric state, in which her diseased imagination developed what
she honestly believed to be revelations from God.'^

The appearance of the Lux in Tenehris was the signal for
pouring upon Comenius a torrent of ridicule and reproach.
In this ignoble effort two Dutch Professors, Arnauld and Des
Marets, took the lead, and were joined by all his enemies and
opponents. His own clergy in Hungary were deeply mortified
and implored him to break off his connection with Drabik.
And indeed a public examination to which they subjected this
imposter, and at which he grossly contradicted himself, shook
the confidence of Comenius not a little ; nevertheless he could
not persuade himself that Drabik was an intentional deceiver.^^
If the circumstances of the age in which Comenius lived,
the startling events of the Thirty Years' War, the fearful

" Kotter was imprisoned in 1627 and finally banished. He died in
Lusatia, in 1647.

^* Her revelations related to political events and a speedy restoration of the
Protestants to Bohemia. She wrote to Wallenstein and foretold his violent
death, at which prediction he scoffed. In 1629 she fell into a cataleptic
state, was supposed to be dead, and laid out for burial. The next morning
she awoke. After that her visions ceased. She continued to believe in their
reality, but did not speak of them, in order to avoid offence. In 1632 she
married Daniel Vetter, became a faithful wife, the mother of five children,
and died of the consumption in 1644.

'^ Of the examination instituted by the ministers at Skalic, Lednic and
Pucho, a full report was given to Bishop Bythner by Felin, in July, 1660, the
MS. of which is now in the Bohemian Museum and has been reproduced by
Gindelyin his article on Comenius, pp. 519-529. in 1671 Drabik was
arrested as a traitor to the imperial government, and after having confessed
that his revelations were a gross imposture, burned alive, amidst slow tor-
ments, at Pressburg. He was eighty-three years of age. (Jomenius did not
live to see this fearful issue.


plagues which added to its horrors, the upheaval of social
order, and the convulsions that shook kingdoms, be taken into
account ; if the profound impression be remembered which
the Camisard prophets of both sexes produced in France;
if the perplexity be weighed into which learned theologians
were brought by the men in other parts of Europe who claimed
to be seers ; if to all this be added a mystical bent of mind
and a constant swaying between hopes and fears, in the case
of Comenius himself ; — his " amiable fanaticism," as John
George Miiller aptly calls it, excites, at the bar of an unpre-
judiced judgment, neither wonder, ridicule, nor blame. We
regret the error, but revere the man.

Moreover for the harm which may have been done by the
publication of the Lux in Tenebris, there was made full com-
pensation in the last work which he issued and which brought
his literary career to a beautiful close. This work is entitled :
Unum Necessarium, or " The One Thing Needful, namely, to
know what Man needs in Life, in Death, and after Death :
all of which John Amos Comenius, a Sire, in his seventy-
seventh year, exhausted by the Unnecessary Things of Earth,
and striving for the One Thing Needful, sets forth for the
Consideration of the World." ^^ This treatise delineates his
real character, gives expression to his sterling faith, makes
transparent the purity of his heart, and burns with that enthu-
siasm for the good and the true which warmed his whole life.
He has left no richer legacy. It is a solemn farewell spoken
to the world by a grand old man ; it is an aged saint's antici-
pation of coming glory.

" The Unum Necessarium appeared in 1668, and was dedicated to Eupert
the Palatine of the Rhine. Various subsequent editions have appeared.
A part of the work was translated into Bohemian and published in 1765.
In 1690 a German translation was issued at Liineburg, and another, in
1755, at Frankfurt and Leipzig. In the tenth chapter of this work Comenius
speaks of the sorrow and trouble which the Lux in Tenebris caused him.
He says that he was led into an unusual labyrinth ; that it was, and is, not
easy to escape from it ; that all he can do, is to commit this whole matter
into the keeping of God ; that as often as he sees God do, or hears Him say,
what he does not understand, he must be permitted to exclaim with David :
" I was dumb ; I opened not my mouth."


Two years after the publication of this work, while engaged
in preparing for the press his Pansophic manuscript, which
he had reproduced, the hoary exile was called to his heavenly
fatherland, where he found a solution for all the enigmas of
his earthly wanderings, and now sees no longer through a
glass darkly, but face to face.

Comenius died on the fifteenth of November, 1670, in the
seventy-ninth year or his age ; on the twenty-second his re-
mains were buried in the French Reformed church of Naar-
den. The figure 8, designating the number of the grave,
which was near the chancel-railing a little to the left of the
pulpit, constituted the only epitaph on his tombstone. That
church now forms a part of the military barracks of Naarden.
No memorial of any kind marks the tomb of one of the great-
est men of the seventeenth century. His mortal dust sleeps
beneath the floor of a room used for making cartridges and
filling shells.i^

^^ For many years, the day on which Comenius died, the church in which
he was buried, and the grave inclosing his remains, remained unknown.
About 1872, Mr. de Eoeper, a lawyer of Naarden, since deceased, found
among his father's papers the church-register, the sexton's account book, and
other documents relating to the French Keformed parish. That register
contained a record of the burial of Comenius and the number of his grave.
After a very long search Mr., de Eoeper at last met with an aged woman
who remembered the church. It proved to be a part of the barracks. By
permission and with the aid of the commanding officer he instituted a care-
ful examination and finally discovered the tombstone marked 8, correspond-
ing with the number given in the record, which reads as follows : " No. 8.
Johannes Amos Commenius. C'est apparement le fameux Autheur du
Janua Linguarum ; enterre le 22 November, 1670." The tombstone was
removed and is now in the possession of Madame de Eoeper. In 1879 we
visited this lady, who still takes a deep interest in the investigations com-
menced by her late husband ; saw the stone, which is a large square slab of
slate ; and were admitted to the barracks where her secretary and a Mora-
vian clergyman of Zeist, both well acquainted with the locality, pointed out
the part of the floor beneath which is the grave of Comenius. A rough,
unpainted table, with benches on both sides, stands on the spot. In 1742
Matthaeus Brouveridus Van Nidett, the author of several learned works,
and in 1750 Mons. Louis Guerre, Capitaine des Invalides, and an Elder
of the French Eeformed Church, were buried in the same grave with Come-
nius. From the sexton's account book we learned, that he received from


It is sad to think of such a grave. And yet, in the hearts
of every generation since his death, have the works which he
performed in the interests of education, science, phih)sophy
and religion, built a more enduring monument than bronze or
marble can produce and given him a name that is immortal.
He could look back upon his life with the glorious conviction,
that he never undertook anything which had not the good of

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 55 of 64)