A history of the moravian church



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For this purpose Sigismund, King of the Romans and of Hungary, persuaded Pope John XXIII. to summon a general Church Council at Constance; and at the same time he invited Hus to attend the Council in person, and there expound his views. John Hus set out for Constance. As soon as he arrived in the city, he received from Sigismund that famous letter of “safe conduct” on which whole volumes have been written. The King’s promise was as clear as day. He promised Hus, in the plainest terms, three things: first, that he should come unharmed to the city; second, that he should have a free hearing; and third, that if he did not submit to the decision of the Council he should be allowed to go home. Of those promises only the first was ever fulfilled. John Hus soon found himself caught in a trap. He was imprisoned by order of the Pope. He was placed in a dungeon on an island in the Rhine, and lay next to a sewer; and Sigismund either would not or could not lift a finger to help him. For three and a-half mouths he lay in his dungeon; and then he was removed to the draughty tower of a castle on Lake Geneva. His opinions were examined and condemned by the Council; and at last, when he was called to appear in person, he found that he had been condemned as a heretic already. As soon as he opened his month to speak he was interrupted; and when he closed it they roared, “He has admitted his guilt.” He had one chance of life, and one chance only. He must recant his heretical Wycliffite opinions, especially those set forth in his treatise on the “Church.” What need, said the Council, could there be of any further trial? The man was a heretic. His own books convicted him, and justice must be done.
And now, on the last day of the trial, John Hus stood before the great Council. The scene was appalling. For some weeks this gallant son of the morning had been tormented by neuralgia. The marks of suffering were on his brow. His face was pale; his cheeks were sunken; his limbs were weak and trembling. But his eye flashed with a holy fire, and his words rang clear and true. Around him gleamed the purple and gold and the scarlet robes. Before him sat King Sigismund on the throne. The two men looked each other in the face. As the articles were rapidly read out against him, John Hus endeavoured to speak in his own defence. He was told to hold his tongue. Let him answer the charges all at once at the close.
“How can I do that,” said Hus, “when I cannot even bear them all in mind?”
He made another attempt.
“Hold your tongue,” said Cardinal Zabarella; “we have already given you a sufficient hearing.”
With clasped hands, and in ringing tones, Hus begged in vain for a hearing. Again he was told to hold his peace, and silently he raised his eyes to heaven in prayer. He was accused of denying the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. He sprang to his feet in anger. Zabarella tried to shout him down. The voice of Hus rang out above the babel.
“I have never held, taught or preached,” he cried, “that in the sacrament of the altar material bread remains after consecration.”
The trial was short and sharp. The verdict had been given beforehand. He was now accused of another horrible crime. He had actually described himself as the fourth person in the Godhead! The charge was monstrous.
“Let that doctor be named,” said Hus, “who has given this evidence against me.”
But the name of his false accuser was never given. He was now accused of a still more dangerous error. He had appealed to God instead of appealing to the Church.
“O Lord God,” he exclaimed, “this Council now condemns Thy action and law as an error! I affirm that there is no safer appeal than that to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
With those brave words he signed his own death warrant. For all his orthodoxy on certain points, he made it clearer now than ever that he set the authority of his own conscience above the authority of the Council; and, therefore, according to the standard of the day, he had to be treated as a heretic.
“Moreover,” he said, with his eye on the King, “I came here freely to this Council, with a safe-conduct from my Lord the King here present, with the desire to prove my innocence and to explain my beliefs.”
At those words, said the story in later years, King Sigismund blushed. If he did, the blush is the most famous in the annals of history; if he did not, some think he ought to have done. For Hus the last ordeal had now arrived; and the Bishop of Concordia, in solemn tones, read out the dreadful articles of condemnation. For heretics the Church had then but little mercy. His books were all to be burned; his priestly office must be taken from him; and he himself, expelled from the Church, must be handed over to the civil power. In vain, with a last appeal for justice, he protested that he had never been obstinate in error. In vain he contended that his proud accusers had not even taken the trouble to read some of his books. As the sentence against himself was read, and the vision of death rose up before him, he fell once more on his knees and prayed, not for himself, but for his enemies.
“Lord Jesus Christ,” he said, “pardon all my enemies, I pray thee, for the sake of Thy great mercy! Thou knowest that they have falsely accused me, brought forward false witnesses and false articles against me. O! pardon them for Thine infinite mercies’ sake.”
At this beautiful prayer the priests and bishops jeered. He was ordered now to mount the scaffold, to put on the priestly garments, and to recant his heretical opinions. The first two commands he obeyed; the third he treated with scorn. As he drew the alb over his shoulders, he appealed once more to Christ.
“My Lord Jesus Christ,” he said, “was mocked in a white robe, when led from Herod to Pilate.”
There on the scaffold he stood, with his long white robe upon him and the Communion Cup in his hand; and there, in immortal burning words, he refused to recant a single word that he had written.
“Behold,” he cried, “these Bishops demand that I recant and abjure. I dare not do it. If I did, I should be false to God, and sin against my conscience and Divine truth.”
The Bishops were furious. They swarmed around him. They snatched the Cup from his hand.
“Thou cursed Judas!” they roared. “Thou hast forsaken the council of peace. Thou hast become one of the Jews. We take from thee this Cup of Salvation.”
“But I trust,” replied Hus, “in God Almighty, and shall drink this Cup this day in His Kingdom.”
The ceremony of degradation now took place. As soon as his robes had been taken from him, the Bishops began a hot discussion about the proper way of cutting his hair. Some clamoured for a razor, others were all for scissors.
“See,” said Hus to the King, “these Bishops cannot agree in their blasphemy.”
At last the scissors won the victory. His tonsure was cut in four directions, and a fool’s cap, a yard high, with a picture of devils tearing his soul, was placed upon that hero’s head.
“So,” said the Bishops, “we deliver your soul to the devil.”
“Most joyfully,” said Hus, “will I wear this crown of shame for thy sake, O Jesus! who for me didst wear a crown of thorns.”
“Go, take him,” said the King. And Hus was led to his death. As he passed along he saw the bonfire in which his books were being burned. He smiled. Along the streets of the city he strode, with fetters clanking on his feet, a thousand soldiers for his escort, and crowds of admirers surging on every hand. Full soon the fatal spot was reached. It was a quiet meadow among the gardens, outside the city gates. At the stake he knelt once more in prayer, and the fool’s cap fell from his head. Again he smiled. It ought to be burned along with him, said a watcher, that he and the devils might be together. He was bound to the stake with seven moist thongs and an old rusty chain, and faggots of wood and straw were piled round him to the chin. For the last time the Marshal approached to give him a fair chance of abjuring.
“What errors,” he retorted, “shall I renounce? I know myself guilty of none. I call God to witness that all that I have written and preached has been with the view of rescuing souls from sin and perdition, and therefore most joyfully will I confirm with my blood the truth I have written and preached.”
As the flame arose and the wood crackled, he chanted the Catholic burial prayer, “Jesu, Son of David, have mercy upon me.” From the west a gentle breeze was blowing, and a gust dashed the smoke and sparks in his face. At the words “Who was born of the Virgin Mary” he ceased; his lips moved faintly in silent prayer; and a few moments later the martyr breathed no more. At last the cruel fire died down, and the soldiers wrenched his remains from the post, hacked his skull in pieces, and ground his bones to powder. As they prodded about among the glowing embers to see how much of Hus was left, they found, to their surprise, that his heart was still unburned. One fixed it on the point of his spear, thrust it back into the fire, and watched it frizzle away; and finally, by the Marshal’s orders, they gathered all the ashes together, and tossed them into the Rhine.
He had died, says a Catholic writer, for the noblest of all causes. He had died for the faith which he believed to be true.

CHAPTER III.


THE WELTER, 1415-1434.
THE excitement in Bohemia was intense. As the ashes of Hus floated down the Rhine, the news of his death spread over the civilized world, and in every Bohemian town and hamlet the people felt that their greatest man had been unjustly murdered. He had become the national hero and the national saint, and now the people swore to avenge his death. A Hussite League was formed by his followers, a Catholic League was formed by his enemies. The Hussite Wars began. It is important to note with exactness what took place. As we study the history of men and nations, we are apt to fancy that the rank and file of a country can easily be united in one by common adherence to a common cause. It is not so. For one man who will steadily follow a principle, there are hundreds who would rather follow a leader. As long as Hus was alive in the flesh, he was able to command the loyalty of the people; but now that his tongue was silent for ever, his followers split into many contending factions. For all his eloquence he had never been able to strike one clear commanding note. In some of his views he was a Catholic, in others a Protestant. To some he was merely the fiery patriot, to others the champion of Church Reform, to others the high-souled moral teacher, to others the enemy of the Pope. If the people had only been united they might now have gained their long-lost freedom. But unity was the very quality they lacked the most. They had no clear notion of what they wanted; they had no definite scheme of church reform; they had no great leader to show them the way through the jungle, and thus, instead of closing their ranks against the common foe, they split up into jangling sects and parties, and made the confusion worse confounded.
First in rank and first in power came the Utraquists or Calixtines.2 For some reason these men laid all the stress on a doctrine taught by Hus in his later years. As he lay in his gloomy dungeon near Constance, he had written letters contending that laymen should be permitted to take the wine at the Communion. For this doctrine the Utraquists now fought tooth and nail. They emblazoned the Cup on their banners. They were the aristocrats of the movement; they were led by the University dons; they were political rather than religious in their aims; they regarded Hus as a patriot; and, on the whole, they did not care much for moral and spiritual reforms.
Next came the Taborites, the red-hot Radicals, with Socialist ideas of property and loose ideals of morals. They built themselves a fort on Mount Tabor, and held great open-air meetings. They rejected purgatory, masses and the worship of saints. They condemned incense, images, bells, relics and fasting. They declared that priests were an unnecessary nuisance. They celebrated the Holy Communion in barns, and baptized their babies in ponds and brooks. They held that every man had the right to his own interpretation of the Bible; they despised learning and art; and they revelled in pulling churches down and burning monks to death.
Next came the Chiliasts, who fondly believed that the end of all things was at hand, that the millennial reign of Christ would soon begin, and that all the righteous--that is, they themselves--would have to hold the world at bay in Five Cities of Refuge. For some years these mad fanatics regarded themselves as the chosen instruments of the Divine displeasure, and only awaited a signal from heaven to commence a general massacre of their fellow men. As that signal never came, however, they were grievously disappointed.
Next in folly came the Adamites, so called because, in shameless wise, they dressed like Adam and Eve before the fall. They made their head-quarters on an island on the River Nesarka, and survived even after Ziska had destroyed their camp.
But of all the heretical bodies in Bohemia the most influential were the Waldenses. As the history of the Waldenses is still obscure, we cannot say for certain what views they held when they first came from Italy some fifty or sixty years before. At first they seem to have been almost Catholics, but as the Hussite Wars went on they fell, it is said, under the influence of the Taborites, and adopted many radical Taborite opinions. They held that prayer should be addressed, not to the Virgin Mary and the Saints, but to God alone, and spoke with scorn of the popular doctrine that the Virgin in heaven showed her breast when interceding for sinners. As they did not wish to create a disturbance, they attended the public services of the Church of Rome; but they did not believe in those services themselves, and are said to have employed their time at Church in picking holes in the logic of the speaker. They believed neither in building churches, nor in saying masses, nor in the adoration of pictures, nor in the singing of hymns at public worship. For all practical intents and purposes they rejected entirely the orthodox Catholic distinction between things secular and things sacred, and held that a man could worship God just as well in a field as in a church, and that it did not matter in the least whether a man’s body was buried in consecrated or unconsecrated ground. What use, they asked, were holy water, holy oil, holy palms, roots, crosses, holy splinters from the Cross of Christ? They rejected the doctrine of purgatory, and said that all men must go either to heaven or to hell. They rejected the doctrine of Transubstantiation, and said that the wine and bread remained wine and bread. For us, however, the chief point of interest lies in the attitude they adopted towards the priests of the Church of Rome. At that time there was spread all over Europe a legend that the Emperor, Constantine the Great, had made a so-called “Donation” to Pope Sylvester; and the Waldenses held that the Church of Rome, by thus consenting to be endowed by the State, had become morally corrupt, and no longer possessed the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. For this reason they utterly despised the Roman priests; and contended that, being worldly men of bad character, they were qualified neither to administer the sacraments nor to hear confessions. At this point we lay our finger on the principle which led to the foundation of the Moravian Church. What ideal, we ask, did the Waldenses now set before them? We can answer the question in a sentence. The whole object the Waldenses had now in view was to return to the simple teaching of Christ and the Apostles. They wished to revive what they regarded as true primitive Christianity. For this reason they brushed aside with scorn the bulls of Popes and the decrees of Councils, and appealed to the command of the New Testament Scriptures. For them the law of Christ was supreme and final; and, appealing to His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, they declared that oaths were wicked, and that war was no better than murder. If the law of Christ were obeyed, said they, what need would there be of government? How long they had held these views we do not know. Some think they had held them for centuries; some think they had learned them recently from the Taborites. If scholars insist on this latter view, we are forced back on the further question: Where did the Taborites get their advanced opinions? If the Taborites taught the Waldenses, who taught the Taborites? We do not know. For the present all we call say is that the Waldenses in a quiet way were fast becoming a mighty force in the country. They addressed each other as brother and sister; they are said to have had their own translations of the Bible; they claimed a descent from the Apostles; and they are even held by some (though here we tread on very thin ice) to have possessed their own episcopal succession.
But the method of the Taborites was different. If the Kingdom of God was to come at all, it must come, they held, by force, by fire, by the sword, by pillage and by famine. What need to tell here the blood-curdling story of the Hussite Wars? What need to tell here how Pope Martin V. summoned the whole Catholic world to a grand crusade against the Bohemian people? What need to tell how the people of Prague attacked the Town Hall, and pitched the burgomaster and several aldermen out of the windows? For twenty years the whole land was one boiling welter of confusion; and John Ziska, the famous blind general, took the lead of the Taborite army, and, standing on a wagon, with the banner above him emblazoned with the Hussite Cup, he swept the country from end to end like a devouring prairie fire. It is held now by military experts that Ziska was the greatest military genius of the age. If military genius could have saved Bohemia, Bohemia would now have been saved. For some years he managed to hold at bay the finest chivalry of Europe; and he certainly saved the Hussite cause from being crushed in its birth. For faith and freedom he fought--the faith of Hus and the freedom of Bohemia. He formed the rough Bohemian peasantry into a disciplined army. He armed his men with lances, slings, iron-pointed flails and clubs. He formed his barricades of iron-clad wagons, and whirled them in murderous mazes round the field. He made a special study of gunpowder, and taught his men the art of shooting straight. He has often been compared to Oliver Cromwell, and like our Oliver he was in many ways. He was stern in dealing with his enemies, and once had fifty Adamites burned to death. He was sure that God was on his side in the war. “Be it known,” he wrote to his supporters, “that we are collecting men from all parts of the country against these enemies of God and devastators of our Bohemian land.” He composed a stirring battle song, and taught his men to sing it in chorus when they marched to meet the foe.
Therefore, manfully cry out:

At them! rush at them.”



Wield bravely your arms!

Pray to your Lord God.

Strike and kill! spare none!
What a combination of piety and fury! It was all in vain. The great general died of a fever. The thunderbolt fell. At a meeting in Prague the Utraquists and Catholics at last came to terms, and drew up a compromise known as the “Compactata of Basle” (1433). For nearly two hundred years after this these “Compactata” were regarded as the law of the land; and the Utraquist Church was recognised by the Pope as the national self-governing Church of Bohemia. The terms of the Compactata were four in number. The Communion was to be given to laymen in both kinds; all mortal sins were to be punished by the proper authorities; the Word of God was to be freely preached by faithful priests and deacons; and no priests were to have any worldly possessions. For practical purposes this agreement meant the defeat of the advanced reforming movement. One point the Utraquists had gained, and one alone; they were allowed to take the wine at the Communion. For the rest these Utraquist followers of Hus were as Catholic as the Pope himself. They adored the Host, read the masses, kept the fasts, and said the prayers as their fathers had done before them. From that moment the fate of the Taborite party was sealed. At the battle of Lipan they were defeated, routed, crushed out of existence. {1434}. The battle became a massacre. The slaughter continued all the night and part of the following day, and hundreds were burned to death in their huts.
Was this to be the end of Hus’s strivings? What was it in Hus that was destined to survive? What was it that worked like a silent leaven amid the clamours of war? We shall see. Amid these charred and smoking ruins the Moravian Church arose.

CHAPTER IV.


PETER OF CHELCIC, 1419-1450.
MEANWHILE a mighty prophet had arisen, with a clear and startling message. His name was Peter, and he lived down south, in the little village of Chelcic.3 As the historian rummages among the ancient records, he discovers to his sorrow that scarcely anything is known of the life of this great man; but, on the other hand, it is a joy to know that while his story is wrapped in mystery, his teaching has been preserved, and that some of the wonderful books he wrote are treasured still in his native land as gems of Bohemian literature. In later years it was commonly said that he began life as a cobbler; but that story, at least, may be dismissed as a legend. He enlisted, we are told, in the army. He then discovered that a soldier’s life was wicked; he then thought of entering a monastery, but was shocked by what he heard of the immoralities committed within the holy walls; and finally, having some means of his own, retired to his little estate at Chelcic, and spent his time in writing pamphlets about the troubles of his country. He had picked up a smattering of education in Prague. He had studied the writings of Wycliffe and of Hus, and often appealed to Wycliffe in his works. He could quote, when he liked, from the great Church Fathers. He had a fair working knowledge of the Bible; and, above all, he had the teaching of Christ and the Apostles engraved upon his conscience and his heart. As he was not a priest, he could afford to be independent; as he knew but little Latin, he wrote in Bohemian; and thus, like Stitny and Hus before him, he appealed to the people in language they could all understand. Of all the leaders of men in Bohemia, this Peter was the most original and daring. As he pondered on the woes of his native land, he came to the firm but sad conclusion that the whole system of religion and politics was rotten to the core. Not one of the jangling sects was in the right. Not one was true to the spirit of Christ. Not one was free from the dark red stain of murder. His chief works were his Net of Faith, his Reply to Nicholas of Pilgram, his Reply to Rockycana, his Image of the Beast, his theological treatise On the Body of Christ, his tract The Foundation of Worldly Laws, his devotional commentary, Exposition of the Passion according to St. John, and, last, though not least, his volume of discourses on the Gospel lessons for the year, entitled Postillia. Of these works the most famous was his masterly Net of Faith. He explained the title himself. “Through His disciples,” said Peter, “Christ caught the world in the net of His faith, but the bigger fishes, breaking the net, escaped. Then others followed through these same holes made by the big fishes, and the net was left almost empty.” His meaning was clear to all. The net was the true Church of Christ; the two whales who broke it were the Emperor and the Pope; the big fishes were the mighty “learned persons, heretics and offenders”; and the little fishes were the true followers of Christ.
He opened his bold campaign in dramatic style. When John Ziska and Nicholas of Husinec declared at Prague that the time had come for the faithful to take up arms in their own defence, Peter was present at the debate, and contended that for Christians war was a crime. {1419.}


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