A history of the moravian church

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“What is war?” he asked. “It is a breach of the laws of God! All soldiers are violent men, murderers, a godless mob!”
He hated war like a Quaker, and soldiers like Tolstoy himself. He regarded the terrible Hussite Wars as a disgrace to both sides. As the fiery Ziska swept the land with his waggons, this Apostle of peace was sick with horror. “Where,” he asked, in his Reply to Rockycana, “has God recalled His commands, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ ‘Thou shalt not take thy neighbour’s goods’? If God has not repealed these commands, they ought still to be obeyed to-day in Prague and Tabor. I have learned from Christ, and by Christ I stand; and if the Apostle Peter himself were to come down from Heaven and say that it was right for us to take up arms to defend the truth, I should not believe him.”
For Peter the teaching of Christ and the Apostles was enough. It was supreme, final, perfect. If a king made a new law, he was spoiling the teaching of Christ. If the Pope issued a bull, he was spoiling the teaching of Christ. If a Council of Bishops drew up a decree, they were spoiling the teaching of Christ. As God, said Peter, had revealed His will to full perfection in Jesus Christ, there was no need for laws made by men. “Is the law of God sufficient, without worldly laws, to guide and direct us in the path of the true Christian religion? With trembling, I answer, it is. It was sufficient for Christ Himself, and it was sufficient for His disciples.” And, therefore, the duty of all true Christians was as clear as the noon-day sun. He never said that Christian people should break the law of the land. He admitted that God might use the law for good purposes; and therefore, as Christ had submitted to Pilate, so Christians must submit to Government. But there their connection with Government must end. For heathens the State was a necessary evil; for Christians it was an unclean thing, and the less they had to do with it the better. They must never allow the State to interfere in matters within the Church. They must never drag each other before the law courts. They must never act as judges or magistrates. They must never take any part whatever in municipal or national government. They must never, if possible, live in a town at all. If Christians, said Peter, lived in a town, and paid the usual rates and taxes, they were simply helping to support a system which existed for the protection of robbers. He regarded towns as the abodes of vice, and citizens as rogues and knaves. The first town, he said, was built by the murderer, Cain. He first murdered his brother Abel; he then gathered his followers together; he then built a city, surrounded by walls; and thus, by robbery and violence, he became a well-to-do man. And modern towns, said Peter, were no whit better. At that time the citizens of some towns in Bohemia enjoyed certain special rights and privileges; and this, to Peter, seemed grossly unfair. He condemned those citizens as thieves. “They are,” he said, “the strength of Anti-Christ; they are adversaries to Christ; they are an evil rabble; they are bold in wickedness; and though they pretend to follow the truth, they will sit at tables with wicked people and knavish followers of Judas.” For true Christians, therefore, there was only one course open. Instead of living in godless towns, they should try to settle in country places, earn their living as farmers or gardeners, and thus keep as clear of the State as possible. They were not to try to support the law at all. If they did, they were supporting a wicked thing, which never tried to make men better, but only crushed them with cruel and useless punishments. They must never try to make big profits in business. If they did, they were simply robbing and cheating their neighbours. They must never take an oath, for oaths were invented by the devil. They must never, in a word, have any connection with that unchristian institution called the State.
And here Peter waxed vigorous and eloquent. He objected, like Wycliffe, to the union of Church and State. Of all the bargains ever struck, the most wicked, ruinous and pernicious was the bargain struck between Church and State, when Constantine the Great first took the Christians under the shadow of his wing. For three hundred years, said Peter, the Church of Christ had remained true to her Master; and then this disgusting heathen Emperor, who had not repented of a single sin, came in with his vile “Donation,” and poisoned all the springs of her life. If the Emperor, said Peter, wanted to be a Christian, he ought first to have laid down his crown. He was a ravenous beast; he was a wolf in the fold; he was a lion squatting at the table; and at that fatal moment in history, when he gave his “Donation” to the Pope, an angel in heaven had spoken the words: “This day has poison entered the blood of the Church.”4
“Since that time,” said Peter, “these two powers, Imperial and Papal, have clung together. They have turned everything to account in Church and in Christendom for their own impious purposes. Theologians, professors, and priests are the satraps of the Emperor. They ask the Emperor to protect them, so that they may sleep as long as possible, and they create war so that they may have everything under their thumb.”
If Peter lashed the Church with whips, he lashed her priests with scorpions. He accused them of various vices. They were immoral; they were superstitious; they were vain, ignorant and empty-headed; and, instead of feeding the Church of God, they had almost starved her to death. He loathed these “honourable men, who sit in great houses, these purple men, with their beautiful mantles, their high caps, their fat stomachs.” He accused them of fawning on the rich and despising the poor. “As for love of pleasure,” he said, “immorality, laziness, greediness, uncharitableness and cruelty--as for these things, the priests do not hold them as sins when committed by princes, nobles and rich commoners. They do not tell them plainly, “You will go to hell if you live on the fat of the poor, and live a bestial life,” although they know that the rich are condemned to eternal death by such behaviour. Oh, no! They prefer to give them a grand funeral. A crowd of priests, clergy, and other folk make a long procession. The bells are rung. There are masses, singings, candles and offerings. The virtues of the dead man are proclaimed from the pulpit. They enter his soul in the books of their cloisters and churches to be continually prayed for, and if what they say be true, that soul cannot possibly perish, for he has been so kind to the Church, and must, indeed, be well cared for.”
He accused them, further, of laziness and gluttony. “They pretend to follow Christ,” he said, “and have plenty to eat every day. They have fish, spices, brawn, herrings, figs, almonds, Greek wine and other luxuries. They generally drink good wine and rich beer in large quantities, and so they go to sleep. When they cannot get luxuries they fill themselves with vulgar puddings till they nearly burst. And this is the way the priests fast.” He wrote in a similar strain of the mendicant friars. He had no belief in their profession of poverty, and accused them of gathering as much money as they could. They pocketed more money by begging, he declared, than honest folk could earn by working; they despised plain beef, fat bacon and peas, and they wagged their tails with joy when they sat down to game and other luxuries. “Many citizens,” said Peter, “would readily welcome this kind of poverty.”
He accused the priests of loose teaching and shameless winking at sin. “They prepare Jesus,” he said, “as a sweet sauce for the world, so that the world may not have to shape its course after Jesus and His heavy Cross, but that Jesus may conform to the world; and they make Him softer than oil, so that every wound may be soothed, and the violent, thieves, murderers and adulterers may have an easy entrance into heaven.”
He accused them of degrading the Seven Sacraments. They baptized sinners, young and old, without demanding repentance. They sold the Communion to rascals and rogues, like a huckstress offering her wares. They abused Confession by pardoning men who never intended to amend their evil ways. They allowed men of the vilest character to be ordained as priests. They degraded marriage by preaching the doctrine that it was less holy than celibacy. They distorted the original design of Extreme Unction, for instead of using it to heal the sick they used it to line their own pockets. And all these blasphemies, sins and follies were the offspring of that adulterous union between the Church and the State, which began in the days of Constantine the Great. For of all the evils under Heaven, the greatest, said Peter, was that contradiction in terms--a State Church.
He attacked the great theologians and scholars. Instead of using their mental powers in the search for truth, these college men, said Peter, had done their best to suppress the truth; and at the two great Councils of Constance and Basle, they had actually obtained the help of the temporal power to crush all who dared to hold different views from theirs. What use, asked Peter, were these learned pundits? They were no use at all. They never instructed anybody. “I do not know,” he said, “a single person whom they have helped with their learning.” Had they instructed Hus? No. Hus had the faith in himself; Hus was instructed by God; and all that these ravens did for Hus was to flock together against him.
Again, Peter denounced the Bohemian nobles. As we read his biting, satirical phrases we can see that he was no respecter of persons and no believer in artificial distinctions of rank. For him the only distinction worth anything was the moral distinction between those who followed the crucified Jesus and those who rioted in selfish pleasures.
He had no belief in blue blood and noble birth. He was almost, though not quite, a Socialist. He had no definite, constructive social policy. He was rather a champion of the rights of the poor, and an apostle of the simple life. “The whole value of noble birth,” he said, “is founded on a wicked invention of the heathen, who obtained coats of arms from emperors or kings as a reward for some deed of valour.” If a man could only buy a coat of arms--a stag, a gate, a wolf’s head, or a sausage--he became thereby a nobleman, boasted of his high descent, and was regarded by the public as a saint. For such “nobility” Peter had a withering contempt. He declared that nobles of this stamp had no right to belong to the Christian Church. They lived, he said, in flat opposition to the spirit of Jesus Christ. They devoured the poor. They were a burden to the country. They did harm to all men. They set their minds on worldly glory, and spent their money on extravagant dress. “The men,” said he, “wear capes reaching down to the ground, and their long hair falls down to their shoulders; and the women wear so many petticoats that they can hardly drag themselves along, and strut about like the Pope’s courtezans, to the surprise and disgust of the whole world.” What right had these selfish fops to call themselves Christians? They did more harm to the cause of Christ than all the Turks and heathens in the world.
Thus Peter, belonging to none of the sects, found grievous faults in them all. As he always mentions the Waldenses with respect, it has been suggested that he was a Waldensian himself. But of that there is no real proof. He had, apparently, no organizing skill; he never attempted to form a new sect or party, and his mission in the world was to throw out hints and leave it to others to carry these hints into practice. He condemned the Utraquists because they used the sword. “If a man,” he said, “eats a black pudding on Friday, you blame him; but if he sheds his brother’s blood on the scaffold or on the field of battle you praise him.” He condemned the Taborites because they made light of the Sacraments. “You have called the Holy Bread,” he said, “a butterfly, a bat, an idol. You have even told the people that it is better to kneel to the devil than to kneel at the altar; and thus you have taught them to despise religion and wallow in unholy lusts.” He condemned the King for being a King at all; for no intelligent man, said Peter, could possibly be a King and a Christian at the same time. And finally he condemned the Pope as Antichrist and the enemy of God.
Yet Peter was something more than a caustic critic. For the terrible ills of his age and country he had one plain and homely remedy, and that for all true Christians to leave the Church of Rome and return to the simple teaching of Christ and His Apostles. If the reader goes to Peter for systematic theology, he will be grievously disappointed; but if he goes for moral vigour, he will find a well-spread table.
He did not reason his positions out like Wycliffe; he was a suggestive essayist rather than a constructive philosopher; and, radical though he was in some of his views, he held firm to what he regarded as the fundamental articles of the Christian faith. He believed in the redemptive value of the death of Christ. He believed that man must build his hopes, not so much on his own good works, but rather on the grace of God. He believed, all the same, that good works were needed and would receive their due reward. He believed, further, in the real bodily presence of Christ in the Sacrament; and on this topic he held a doctrine very similar to Luther’s doctrine of Consubstantiation. But, over and above all these beliefs, he insisted, in season and out of season, that men could partake of spiritual blessings without the aid of Roman priests. Some fruit of his labours he saw. As the fire of the Hussite Wars died down, a few men in different parts of the country--especially at Chelcic, Wilenow and Divischau--began to take Peter as their spiritual guide. They read his pamphlets with delight, became known as the “Brethren of Chelcic,” and wore a distinctive dress, a grey cloak with a cord tied round the waist. The movement spread, the societies multiplied, and thus, in a way no records tell, were laid the foundations of the Church of the Brethren. Did Peter see that Church? We do not know. No one knows when Peter was born, and no one knows when he died. He delivered his message; he showed the way; he flashed his lantern in the darkness; and thus, whether he knew it or not, he was the literary founder of the Brethren’s Church. He fired the hope. He drew the plans. It was left to another man to erect the building.


A BRILLIANT idea is an excellent thing. A man to work it out is still better. At the very time when Peter’s followers were marshalling their forces, John Rockycana,5 Archbishop-elect of Prague (since 1448), was making a mighty stir in that drunken city. What Peter had done with his pen, Rockycana was doing with his tongue. He preached Peter’s doctrines in the great Thein Church; he corresponded with him on the burning topics of the day; he went to see him at his estate; he recommended his works to his hearers; and week by week, in fiery language, he denounced the Church of Rome as Babylon, and the Pope as Antichrist himself. His style was vivid and picturesque, his language cutting and clear. One day he compared the Church of Rome to a burned and ruined city, wherein the beasts of the forests made their lairs; and, again, he compared her to a storm-tossed ship, which sank beneath the howling waves because the sailors were fighting each other. “It is better,” he said, “to tie a dog to a pulpit than allow a priest to defile it. It is better, oh, women! for your sons to be hangmen than to be priests; for the hangman only kills the body, while the priest kills the soul. Look there,” he suddenly exclaimed one Sunday, pointing to a picture of St. Peter on the wall, “there is as much difference between the priests of to-day and the twelve apostles as there is between that old painting and the living St. Peter in heaven.6 For the priests have put the devil into the sacraments themselves, and are leading you straight to the fires of Hell.”
If an eloquent speaker attacks the clergy, he is sure to draw a crowd. No wonder the Thein Church was crammed. No wonder the people listened with delight as he backed up his hot attack with texts from the prophet Jeremiah. No wonder they cried in their simple zeal: “Behold, a second John Hus has arisen.”
But John Rockycana was no second John Hus. For all his fire in the pulpit, he was only a craven at heart. “If a true Christian,” said he to a friend, “were to turn up now in Prague, he would be gaped at like a stag with golden horns.” But he was not a stag with golden horns himself. As he thundered against the Church of Rome, he was seeking, not the Kingdom of God, but his own fame and glory. His followers soon discovered his weakness. Among those who thronged to hear his sermons were certain quiet men of action, who were not content to paw the ground for ever. They were followers of Peter of Chelcic; they passed his pamphlets in secret from hand to hand; they took down notes of Rockycana’s sermons; and now they resolved to practise what they heard. If Peter had taught them nothing else, he had at least convinced them all that the first duty of Christian men was to quit the Church of Rome. Again and again they appealed to Rockycana to be their head, to act up to his words, and to lead them out to the promised land. The great orator hemmed and hawed, put them off with excuses, and told them, after the manner of cowards, that they were too hasty and reckless. “I know you are right,” said he, “but if I joined your ranks I should be reviled on every hand.”7 But these listeners were not to be cowed. The more they studied Peter’s writings, the more they lost faith in Rockycana. As Rockycana refused to lead them, they left his church in a body, and found a braver leader among themselves. His name was Gregory; he was known as Gregory the Patriarch; and in due time, as we shall see, he became the founder of the Church of the Brethren. He was already a middle-aged man. He was the son of a Bohemian knight, and was nephew to Rockycana himself. He had spent his youth in the Slaven cloister at Prague as a bare-footed monk, had found the cloister not so moral as he had expected, had left it in disgust, and was now well known in Bohemia as a man of sterling character, pious and sensible, humble and strict, active and spirited, a good writer and a good speaker. He was a personal friend of Peter, had studied his works with care, and is said to have been particularly fond of a little essay entitled “The Image of the Beast,” which he had borrowed from a blacksmith in Wachovia. As time went on he lost patience with Rockycana, came into touch with the little societies at Wilenow and Divischau, visited Peter on his estate, and gradually formed the plan of founding an independent society, and thus doing himself what Rockycana was afraid to do. As soldiers desert a cowardly general and rally round the standard of a brave one, so these listeners in the old Thein Church fell away from halting Rockycana, and rallied round Gregory the Patriarch. From all parts of Bohemia, from all ranks of society, from all whom Peter’s writings had touched, from all who were disgusted with the Church of Rome, and who wished to see the True Church of the Apostles bloom in purity and beauty again, from all especially who desired the ministration of priests of moral character--from all these was his little band recruited. How it all happened we know not; but slowly the numbers swelled. At last the terrible question arose: How and where must they live? The question was one of life and death. Not always could they worship in secret; not always be scattered in little groups. It was time, they said, to close their ranks and form an army that should last. “After us,” Rockycana had said in a sermon, “shall a people come well-pleasing unto God and right healthy for men; they shall follow the Scriptures, and the example of Christ and the footsteps of the Apostles.” And these stern men felt called to the holy task.
In the year 1457, Uladislaus Postumus, King of Bohemia, died, and George Podiebrad reigned in his stead; and about the same time it came to the ears of Gregory the Patriarch that in the barony of Senftenberg, on the north-east border of Bohemia, there lay a village that would serve as a home for him and his trusty followers. And the village was called Kunwald, and the old castle hard by was called Lititz. The village was almost deserted, and only a few simple folk, of the same mind as Gregory, lived there now. What better refuge could be found? Gregory the Patriarch laid the scheme before his uncle Rockycana; Rockycana, who sympathized with their views and wished to help them, brought the matter before King George; the King, who owned the estate, gave his gracious permission; and Gregory and his faithful friends wended their way to Kunwald, and there began to form the first settlement of the Church of the Brethren. And now many others from far and wide came to make Kunwald their home. Some came from the Thein Church in Prague, some across the Glatz Hills from Moravia, some from Wilenow, Divischau and Chelcic, some from the Utraquist Church at Königgratz,8 some, clothed and in their right minds, from those queer folk, the Adamites, and some from little Waldensian groups that lay dotted here and there about the land. There were citizens from Prague and other cities. There were bachelors and masters from the great University. There were peasants and nobles, learned and simple, rich and poor, with their wives and children; and thus did many, who longed to be pure and follow the Master and Him alone, find a Bethany of Peace in the smiling little valley of Kunwald.
Here, then, in the valley of Kunwald, did these pioneers lay the foundation stones of the Moravian Church {1457 or 1458.}.9 They were all of one heart and one mind. They honoured Christ alone as King; they confessed His laws alone as binding. They were not driven from the Church of Rome; they left of their own free will. They were men of deep religious experience. As they mustered their forces in that quiet dale, they knew that they were parting company from Church and State alike. They had sought the guidance of God in prayer, and declared that their prayers were answered. They had met to seek the truth of God, not from priests, but from God Himself. “As we knew not where to turn,” they wrote to Rockycana, “we turned in prayer to God Himself, and besought Him to reveal to us His gracious will in all things. We wanted to walk in His ways; we wanted instruction in His wisdom; and in His mercy He answered our prayers.” They would rather, they said, spend weeks in gaol than take the oath as councillors. They built cottages, tilled the land, opened workshops, and passed their time in peace and quietness. For a law and a testimony they had the Bible and the writings of Peter of Chelcic. In Michael Bradacius, a Utraquist priest, they found a faithful pastor. They made their own laws and appointed a body of twenty-eight elders to enforce them. They divided themselves into three classes, the Beginners, the Learners and the Perfect;10 and the Perfect gave up their private property for the good of the common cause. They had overseers to care for the poor. They had priests to administer the sacraments, They had godly laymen to teach the Scriptures. They had visitors to see to the purity of family life. They were shut off from the madding crowd by a narrow gorge, with the Glatz Mountains towering on the one side and the hoary old castle of Lititz, a few miles off, on the other; and there in that fruitful valley, where orchards smiled and gardens bloomed, and neat little cottages peeped out from the woodland, they plied their trades and read their Bibles, and kept themselves pure and unspotted from the world under the eye of God Almighty.11
But it was not long before these Brethren had to show of what metal they were made. With each other they were at peace, but in Bohemia the sea still rolled from the storm. It is curious how people reasoned in those days. As the Brethren used bread instead of wafer at the Holy Communion, a rumour reached the ears of the King that they were dangerous conspirators, and held secret meetings of a mysterious and unholy nature. And King George held himself an orthodox King, and had sworn to allow no heretics in his kingdom. As soon therefore, as he heard that Gregory the Patriarch had come on a visit to Prague, and was actually holding a meeting of University students in the New Town, he came down upon them like a wolf on the fold, and gave orders to arrest them on the spot. He was sure they were hatching a villainous plot of some kind. In vain some friends sent warning to the students. They resolved, with a few exceptions, to await their fate and stand to their guns. “Come what may,” said they, in their fiery zeal, “let the rack be our breakfast and the funeral pile our dinner!” The door of the room flew open. The magistrate and his bailiffs appeared. “All,” said the magistrate, as he stood at the threshold, “who wish to live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution. Follow me to prison.” They followed him, and were at once stretched upon the rack. As soon as the students felt the pain of torture their courage melted like April snow. After they had tasted the breakfast they had no appetite for the dinner. They went in a body to the Thein Church, mounted the pulpit one by one, pleaded guilty to the charges brought against them, and confessed, before an admiring crowd, their full belief in all the dogmas of the Holy Church of Rome. But for Gregory the Patriarch, who was now growing old, the pain was too severe. His wrists cracked; he swooned, and was thought to be dead, and in his swoon he dreamed a dream which seemed to him like the dreams of the prophets of old. He saw, in a lovely meadow, a tree laden with fruit; the fruit was being plucked by birds; the flights of the birds were guided by a youth of heavenly beauty, and the tree was guarded by three men whose faces he seemed to know. What meant that dream to Gregory and his Brethren? It was a vision of the good time coming. The tree was the Church of the Brethren. The fruit was her Bible teaching. The birds were her ministers and helpers. The youth of radiant beauty was the Divine Master Himself. And the three men who stood on guard were the three men who were afterwards chosen as the first three Elders of the Brethren’s Church.

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