A history of the moravian church



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For these evils Comenius saw one remedy only, and that remedy was the cultivation of the simple and beautiful religion of the Brethren. The last part of his book, “The Paradise of the Heart,” is delightful. Comenius was a marvellous writer. He combined the biting satire of Swift with the devotional tenderness of Thomas à Kempis. As we linger over the closing sections of his book, we can see that he then regarded the Brethren as almost ideal Christians. Among them he found no priests in gaudy attire, no flaunting wealth, no grinding poverty; and passing their time in peace and quietness, they cherished Christ in their hearts. “All,” he says, “were in simple attire, and their ways were gentle and kind. I approached one of their preachers, wishing to speak to him. When, as is our custom, I wished to address him according to his rank, he permitted it not, calling such things worldly fooling.” To them ceremonies were matters of little importance. “Thy religion,” said the Master to the Pilgrim--i.e., to the Brethren’s Church--“shall be to serve me in quiet, and not to bind thyself to any ceremonies, for I do not bind thee by them.”
But Comenius did not stay long at Brandeis-on-the-Adler {1628.}. As Zerotin had sided with the House of Hapsburg, he had been allowed, for a few years, to give shelter to about forty Brethren’s ministers; but now commissioners appeared at his Castle, and ordered him to send these ministers away. The last band of exiles now set out for Poland. The leader was Comenius himself. As they bade farewell to their native land they did so in the firm conviction that they themselves should see the day when the Church of the Brethren should stand once more in her ancient home; and as they stood on a spur of the Giant Mountains, and saw the old loved hills and dales, the towns and hamlets, the nestling churches, Comenius raised his eyes to heaven and uttered that historic prayer which was to have so marvellous an answer. He prayed that in the old home God would preserve a “Hidden Seed,” which would one day grow to a tree; and then the whole band struck up a hymn and set out for Poland. Pathetic was the marching song they sang:--
Nought have we taken with us,

All to destruction is hurled,

We have only our Kralitz Bibles,

And our Labyrinth of the World.
Comenius led the Brethren to Lissa, in Poland, and Lissa became the metropolis of the exiles.
What happened to many of the exiles no tongue can tell. We know that some Brethren went to Hungary and held together for thirty or forty years; that some were welcomed by the Elector of Saxony and became Lutherans; that some found their way to Holland and became Reformed Protestants; that some settled in Lusatia, Saxony; that a few, such as the Cennicks, crossed the silver streak and found a home in England; and that, finally, a number remained in Bohemia and Moravia, and gathered in the neighbourhood of Landskron, Leitomischl, Kunewalde and Fulneck. What became of these last, the “Hidden Seed,” we shall see before very long. For the present they buried their Bibles in their gardens, held midnight meetings in garrets and stables, preserved their records in dovecotes and in the thatched roofs of their cottages, and, feasting on the glorious promises of the Book of Revelation--a book which many of them knew by heart--awaited the time when their troubles should blow by and the call to arise should sound.
Meanwhile Comenius had never abandoned hope. He was sure that the Brethren’s Church would revive, and equally sure of the means of her revival. For some years there had flourished in the town of Lissa a famous Grammar School. It was founded by Count Raphael IV. Leszczynski; it had recently become a Higher School, or what Germans call a gymnasium, and now it was entirely in the hands of the Brethren. The patron, Count Raphael V. Leszczynski, was a Brother;57 the director was John Rybinski, a Brethren’s minister; the co-director was another Brethren’s minister, Michael Henrici; and Comenius accepted the post of teacher, and entered on the greatest task of his life. He had two objects before him. He designed to revive the Church of the Brethren and to uplift the whole human race; and for each of these purposes he employed the very same method. The method was education. If the Brethren, said Comenius, were to flourish again, they must pay more attention to the training of the young than ever they had done in days gone by. He issued detailed instructions to his Brethren. They must begin, he said, by teaching the children the pure word of God in their homes. They must bring their children up in habits of piety. They must maintain the ancient discipline of the Brethren. They must live in peace with other Christians, and avoid theological bickerings. They must publish good books in the Bohemian language. They must build new schools wherever possible, and endeavour to obtain the assistance of godly nobles. We have here the key to the whole of Comenius’s career. It is the fashion now with many scholars to divide his life into two distinct parts. On the one hand, they say, he was a Bishop of the Brethren’s Church; on the other hand he was an educational reformer. The distinction is false and artificial. His whole life was of a piece. He never distinguished between his work as a Bishop and his work as an educational reformer. He drew no line between the secular and the sacred. He loved the Brethren’s Church to the end of his days; he regarded her teaching as ideal; he laboured and longed for her revival; and he believed with all the sincerity of his noble and beautiful soul that God would surely enable him to revive that Church by means of education and uplift the world by means of that regenerated Church.
And now for thirteen years, in the Grammar School at Lissa, Comenius devoted the powers of his mind to this tremendous task. What was it, he asked, that had caused the downfall of the Brethren in Bohemia and Moravia? It was their cruel and senseless system of education. He had been to a Brethren’s School himself, and had come to the conclusion that in point of method the schools of the Brethren were no better than the other schools of Europe. “They are,” he declared, “the terror of boys and the slaughter-houses of minds; places where a hatred of literature and books is contracted, where two or more years are spent in learning what might be acquired in one, where what ought to be poured in gently is violently forced and beaten in, and where what ought to be put clearly is presented in a confused and intricate way as if it were a collection of puzzles.” The poor boys, he declared, were almost frightened to death. They needed skins of tin; they were beaten with fists, with canes and with birch-rods till the blood streamed forth; they were covered with scars, stripes, spots and weals; and thus they had learned to hate the schools and all that was taught therein.
He had already tried to introduce a reform. He had learned his new ideas about education, not from the Brethren, but at the University of Herborn. He had studied there the theories of Wolfgang Ratich; he had tried to carry out these theories in the Brethren’s schools at Prerau and Fulneck; and now at Lissa, where he soon became director, he introduced reforms which spread his fame throughout the civilized world. His scheme was grand and comprehensive. He held that if only right methods were employed all things might be taught to all men. “There is,” he said, “nothing in heaven or earth or in the waters, nothing in the abyss under the earth, nothing in the human body, nothing in the soul, nothing in Holy Writ, nothing in the arts, nothing in politics, nothing in the Church, of which the little candidates for wisdom shall be wholly ignorant.” His faith in the power of education was enormous. It was the road, he said, to knowledge, to character, to fellowship with God, to eternal life. He divided the educational course into four stages--the “mother school,” the popular school, the Latin school and the University; and on each of these stages he had something original to say.
For mothers Comenius wrote a book, entitled the “School of Infancy.” In England this book is scarcely known at all: in Bohemia it is a household treasure. Comenius regarded it as a work of first-rate importance. What use, he asked, were schemes of education if a good foundation were not first laid by the mother? For the first six years of his life, said Comenius, the child must be taught by his mother. If she did her work properly she could teach him many marvellous things. He would learn some physics by handling things; some optics by naming colours, light and darkness; some astronomy by studying the twinkling stars; some geography by trudging the neighbouring streets and hills; some chronology by learning the hours, the days and the months; some history by a chat on local events; some geometry by measuring things for himself; some statics by trying to balance his top; some mechanics by building his little toy-house; some dialectics by asking questions; some economics by observing his mother’s skill as a housekeeper; and some music and poetry by singing psalms and hymns. As Comenius penned these ideal instructions, he must surely have known that nine mothers out of ten had neither the patience nor the skill to follow his method; and yet he insisted that, in some things, the mother had a clear course before her. His advice was remarkably sound. At what age, ask mothers, should the education of a child begin? It should begin, said Comenius, before the child is born. At that period in her life the expectant mother must be busy and cheerful, be moderate in her food, avoid all worry, and keep in constant touch with God by prayer; and thus the child will come into the world well equipped for the battle of life. She must, of course, nurse the child herself. She must feed him, when weaned, on plain and simple food. She must provide him with picture books; and, above all, she must teach him to be clean in his habits, to obey his superiors, to be truthful and polite, to bend the knee and fold his hands in prayer, and to remember that the God revealed in Christ was ever near at hand.
Again, Comenius has been justly called the “Father of the Elementary School.” It was here that his ideas had the greatest practical value. His first fundamental principle was that in all elementary schools the scholars must learn in their native language only. He called these schools “Mother tongue schools.” For six or eight years, said Comenius, the scholar must hear no language but his own; and his whole attention must be concentrated, not on learning words like a parrot, but on the direct study of nature. Comenius has been called the great Sense-Realist. He had no belief in learning second-hand. He illustrated his books with pictures. He gave his scholars object lessons. He taught them, not about words, but about things. “The foundation of all learning consists,” he said, “in representing clearly to the senses sensible objects.” He insisted that no boy or girl should ever have to learn by heart anything which he did not understand. He insisted that nature should be studied, not out of books, but by direct contact with nature herself. “Do we not dwell in the garden of nature,” he asked, “as well as the ancients? Why should we not use our eyes, ears and noses as well as they? Why should we not lay open the living book of nature?” He applied these ideas to the teaching of religion and morals. In order to show his scholars the meaning of faith, he wrote a play entitled “Abraham the Patriarch,” and then taught them to act it; and, in order to warn them against shallow views of life, he wrote a comedy, “Diogenes the Cynic, Revived.” He was no vulgar materialist. His whole object was moral and religious. If Comenius had lived in the twentieth century, he would certainly have been disgusted and shocked by the modern demand for a purely secular education. He would have regarded the suggestion as an insult to human nature. All men, he said, were made in the image of God; all men had in them the roots of eternal wisdom; all men were capable of understanding something of the nature of God; and, therefore, the whole object of education was to develop, not only the physical and intellectual, but also the moral and spiritual powers, and thus fit men and women to be, first, useful citizens in the State, and then saints in the Kingdom of Heaven beyond the tomb. From court to court he would lead the students onward, from the first court dealing with nature to the last court dealing with God. “It is,” he said, “our bounden duty to consider the means whereby the whole body of Christian youth may be stirred to vigour of mind and the love of heavenly things.” He believed in caring for the body, because the body was the temple of the Holy Ghost; and, in order to keep the body fit, he laid down the rule that four hours of study a day was as much as any boy or girl could stand. For the same reason he objected to corporal punishment; it was a degrading insult to God’s fair abode. For the same reason he held that at all severe punishment should be reserved for moral offences only. “The whole object of discipline,” he said, “is to form in those committed to our charge a disposition worthy of the children of God.” He believed, in a word, in the teaching of religion in day-schools; he believed in opening school with morning prayers, and he held that all scholars should be taught to say passages of Scripture by heart, to sing psalms, to learn a Catechism and to place their trust in the salvation offered through Jesus Christ. And yet Comenius did not insist on the teaching of any definite religious creed. He belonged himself to a Church that had no creed; he took a broader view of religion than either the Lutherans or the Calvinists; he believed that Christianity could be taught without a formal dogmatic statement; and thus, if I understand him aright, he suggested a solution of a difficult problem which baffles our cleverest politicians to-day.
Again Comenius introduced a new way of learning languages. His great work on this subject was entitled “Janua Linguarum Reserata”--i.e., The Gate of Languages Unlocked. Of all his works this was the most popular. It spread his fame all over Europe. It was translated into fifteen different languages. It became, next to the Bible, the most widely known book on the Continent. For one person who read his delightful “Labyrinth,” there were thousands who nearly knew the “Janua” by heart. The reason was obvious. The “Labyrinth” was a religious book, and was suppressed as dangerous by Catholic authorities; but the “Janua” was only a harmless grammar, and could be admitted with safety anywhere. It is not the works of richest genius that have the largest sale; it is the books that enable men to get on in life; and the “Janua” was popular because, in truth, “it supplied a long-felt want.” It was a Latin grammar of a novel and original kind. For all boys desiring to enter a profession a thorough knowledge of Latin was then an absolute necessity. It was the language in which the learned conversed, the language spoken at all Universities, the language of diplomatists and statesmen, the language of scientific treatises. If a man could make the learning of Latin easier, he was adored as a public benefactor. Comenius’s Grammar was hailed with delight, as a boon and a blessing to men. For years all patient students of Latin had writhed in agonies untold. They had learned long lists of Latin words, with their meanings; they had wrestled in their teens with gerunds, supines, ablative absolutes and distracting rules about the subjunctive mood, and they had tried in vain to take an interest in stately authors far above their understanding. Comenius reversed the whole process. What is the use, he asked, of learning lists of words that have no connection with each other? What is the use of teaching a lad grammar before he has a working knowledge of the language? What is the use of expecting a boy to take an interest in the political arguments of Cicero or the dinner table wisdom of Horace? His method was the conversational. For beginners he prepared an elementary Latin Grammar, containing, besides a few necessary rules, a number of sentences dealing with events and scenes of everyday life. It was divided into seven parts. In the first were nouns and adjectives together; in the second nouns and verbs; in the third adverbs, pronouns, numerals and prepositions; in the fourth remarks about things in the school; in the fifth about things in the house; in the sixth about things in the town; in the seventh some moral maxims. And the scholar went through this book ten times before he passed on to the “Janua” proper. The result can be imagined. At the end of a year the boy’s knowledge of Latin would be of a peculiar kind. Of grammar he would know but little; of words and phrases he would have a goodly store; and thus he was learning to talk the language before he had even heard of its perplexing rules. One example must suffice to illustrate the method. The beginner did not even learn the names of the cases. In a modern English Latin Grammar, the charming sight that meets our gaze is as follows:--
Nom. Mensa.--A table.

Voc. Mensa.--Oh, table!

Acc. Mensam.--A table.

Gen. Mensæ.--Of a table.

Dat. Mensæ.--To or for a table.

Abl. Mensa.--By, with or from a table.


The method of Comenius was different. Instead of mentioning the names of the cases, he showed how the cases were actually used, as follows:--
Ecce, tabula nigra.--Look there, a black board.

O tu tabula nigra.--Oh, you black board!

Video tabulam nigram.--I see a black board.

Pars tabulæ nigræ.--Part of a black board.

Addo partem tabulæ nigræ.--I add a part to a black board.

Vides aliquid in tabula nigra.--I see something on a black board.


With us the method is theory first, practice afterwards; with Comenius the method was practice first, theory afterwards; and the method of Comenius, with modifications, is likely to be the method of the future.
But Comenius’s greatest educational work was undoubtedly his “Great Didactic,” or the “Art of Teaching All Things to All Men.” It was a thorough and comprehensive treatise on the whole science, method, scope and purpose of universal education. As this book has been recently translated into English, I need not here attempt the task of giving an outline of its contents. His ideas were far too grand and noble to put in summary form. For us the point of interest is the fact that while the Thirty Years’ War was raging, and warriors like Wallenstein and Gustavus Adolphus were turning Europe into a desert, this scholar, banished from his native land, was devising sublime and broad-minded schemes for the elevation of the whole human race. It is this that makes Comenius great. He played no part in the disgraceful quarrels of the age; he breathed no complaint against his persecutors. “Comenius,” said the Jesuit historian Balbin, “wrote many works, but none that were directed against the Catholic Church.” As he looked around upon the learned world he saw the great monster Confusion still unslain, and intended to found a Grand Universal College, which would consist of all the learned in Europe, would devote its attention to the pursuit of knowledge in every conceivable branch, and would arrange that knowledge in beautiful order and make the garden of wisdom a trim parterre. He was so sure that his system was right that he compared it to a great clock or mill, which had only to be set going to bring about the desired result. If his scheme could only be carried out, what a change there would be in this dreary earth! What a speedy end to wars and rumours of wars! What a blessed cessation of religious disputes! What a glorious union of all men of all nations about the feet of God!
At last Comenius became so famous that his friend, Samuel Hartlib, invited him to England; and Comenius found upon his arrival that our English Parliament was interested in his scheme {1641.}. His hopes now rose higher than ever. At last, he thought, he had found a spot where he could actually carry out his grand designs. He had a high opinion of English piety. “The ardour,” he wrote, “with which the people crowd to the Churches is incredible. Almost all bring a copy of the Bible with them. Of the youths and men a large number take down the sermons word by word with their pens. Their thirst for the word of God is so great that many of the nobles, citizens also, and matrons study Greek and Hebrew to be able more safely and more sweetly to drink from the very spring of life.” Of all countries England seemed to him the best suited for the accomplishment of his designs. He discussed the project with John Dury, with Samuel Hartlib, with John Evelyn, with the Bishop of Lincoln, and probably with John Milton. He wanted to establish an “Academy of Pansophy” at Chelsea; and there all the wisest men in the world would meet, draw up a new universal language, like the framers of Esperanto to-day, and devise a scheme to keep all the nations at peace. His castle in the air collapsed. At the very time when Comenius was resident in London this country was on the eve of a revolution. The Irish Rebellion broke out, the Civil War trod on its heels, and Comenius left England for ever.
From this moment his life was a series of bitter and cruel disappointments. As the Thirty Years’ War flickered out to its close, Comenius began to look forward to the day when the Brethren would be allowed to return to Bohemia and Moravia {1648.}. But the Peace of Westphalia broke his heart. What provision was made in that famous Peace for the poor exiled Brethren? Absolutely none. Comenius was angry and disgusted. He had spent his life in the service of humanity; he had spent six years preparing school books for the Swedish Government; and now he complained-- perhaps unjustly--that Oxenstierna, the Swedish Chancellor, had never lifted a finger on behalf of the Brethren.
And yet Comenius continued to hope against hope. The more basely the Brethren were deserted by men, the more certain he was that they would be defended by God. He wrote to Oxenstierna on the subject. “If there is no help from man,” he said, “there will be from God, whose aid is wont to commence when that of man ceases.”
For eight years the Brethren, undaunted still, held on together as best they could at Lissa; and Comenius, now their chosen leader, made a brave attempt to revive their schools in Hungary. And then came the final, awful crash. The flames of war burst out afresh. When Charles X. became King of Sweden, John Casimir, King of Poland, set up a claim to the Swedish throne. The two monarchs went to war. Charles X. invaded Poland; John Casimir fled from Lissa; Charles X. occupied the town. What part, it may be asked, did the Brethren play in this war? We do not know. As Charles X. was, of course, a Protestant, it is natural to assume that the Brethren sympathised with his cause and hailed him as a deliverer sent by God; but it is one of the strangest features of their history that we never can tell what part they took in these political conflicts. Comenius was now in Lissa. It is said that he openly sided with Charles X., and urged the Brethren to hold out to the bitter end. I doubt it. For a while the Swedish army triumphed. In that army was an old Bohemian general, who swore to avenge the “Day of Blood”; and the churches and convents were plundered, and monks and priests were murdered. For a moment the Day of Blood was avenged, but for a moment only. As the arm of flesh had failed the Brethren in the days of Budowa, so the arm of flesh failed them now.
The Polish army surrounded the walls of Lissa {1656.}. A panic broke out among the citizens. The Swedish garrison gave way. The Polish soldiers pressed in. Again Comenius’s library was burned, and the grammar school where he had taught was reduced to ashes. The whole town was soon in flames. The fire spread for miles in the surrounding country. As the Brethren fled from their last fond home, with the women and children huddled in waggons, they saw barns and windmills flaring around them, and heard the tramp of the Polish army in hot pursuit. As Pastor John Jacobides and two Acoluths were on their way to Karmin, they were seized, cut down with spades and thrown into a pit to perish. For Samuel Kardus, the last martyr of the fluttering fragment, a more ingenious torture was reserved. He was placed with his head between a door and the door-post, and as the door was gently but firmly closed, his head was slowly crushed to pieces.


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