A history of the moravian church

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While Gregory lay in his swoon, his old teacher, his uncle, his sometime friend, John Rockycana, hearing that he was dying, came to see him. His conscience was stricken, his heart bled, and, wringing his hands in agony, he moaned: “Oh, my Gregory, my Gregory, would I were where thou art.” When Gregory recovered, Rockycana pleaded for him, and the King allowed the good old Patriarch to return in peace to Kunwald.
Meanwhile, the first persecution of the Brethren had begun in deadly earnest {1461.}. King George Podiebrad was furious. He issued an order that all his subjects were to join either the Utraquist or the Roman Catholic Church. He issued another order that all priests who conducted the Communion in the blasphemous manner of the Brethren should forthwith be put to death. The priest, old Michael, was cast into a dungeon; four leading Brethren were burned alive; the peaceful home in Kunwald was broken; and the Brethren fled to the woods and mountains. For two full years they lived the life of hunted deer in the forest. As they durst not light a fire by day, they cooked their meals by night; and then, while the enemy dreamed and slept, they read their Bibles by the watch-fires’ glare, and prayed till the blood was dripping from their knees. If provisions ran short, they formed a procession, and marched in single file to the nearest village; and when the snow lay on the ground they trailed behind them a pine-tree branch, so that folk would think a wild beast had been prowling around. We can see them gathering in those Bohemian glades. As the sentinel stars set their watch in the sky, and the night wind kissed the pine trees, they read to each other the golden promise that where two or three were gathered together in His name He would be in the midst of them;12 and rejoiced that they, the chosen of God, had been called to suffer for the truth and the Church that was yet to be.
In vain they appealed to Rockycana; he had done with them for ever. “Thou art of the world,” they wrote, “and wilt perish with the world.” They were said to have made a covenant with the devil, and were commonly dubbed “Pitmen” because they lived in pits and caves. Yet not for a moment did they lose hope. At the very time when the king in his folly thought they were crushed beneath his foot, they were in reality increasing in numbers every day. As their watch-fires shone in the darkness of the forests, so their pure lives shone among a darkened people. No weapon did they use except the pen. They never retaliated, never rebelled, never took up arms in their own defence, never even appealed to the arm of justice. When smitten on one cheek, they turned the other; and from ill-report they went to good report, till the King for very shame had to let them be. Well aware was he that brutal force could never stamp out spiritual life. “I advise you,” said a certain Bishop, “to shed no more blood. Martyrdom is somewhat like a half-roasted joint of meat, apt to breed maggots.”
And now the time drew near for Gregory’s dream to come true. When the Brethren settled in the valley of Kunwald they had only done half their work. They had quitted the “benighted” Church of Rome; they had not yet put a better Church in her place. They had settled on a Utraquist estate; they were under the protection of a Utraquist King; they attended services conducted by Utraquist priests. But this black-and-white policy could not last for ever. If they wished to be godly men themselves, they must have godly men in the pulpits. What right had they, the chosen of God (as they called themselves) to listen to sermons from men in league with the State? What right had they to take the Holy Bread and Wine from the tainted hands of Utraquist priests? What right had they to confess their sins to men with the brand of Rome upon their foreheads? If they were to have any priests at all, those priests, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion. They must be pastors after God’s own heart, who should feed the people with knowledge and understanding (Jer. iii. 15). They must be clear of any connection with the State. They must be descended from the twelve Apostles. They must be innocent of the crime of simony. They must work with their hands for their living, and be willing to spend their money on the poor. But where could such clean vessels of the Lord be found? For a while the Brethren were almost in despair; for a while they were even half inclined to do without priests at all. In vain they searched the country round; in vain they inquired about priests in foreign lands. When they asked about the pure Nestorian Church supposed to exist in India, they received the answer that that Church was now as corrupt as the Romish. When they asked about the Greek Church in Russia, they received the answer that the Russian Bishops were willing to consecrate any man, good or bad, so long as he paid the fees. The question was pressing. If they did without good priests much longer, they would lose their standing in the country. “You must,” said Brother Martin Lupac, a Utraquist priest, who had joined their ranks, “you must establish a proper order of priests from among yourselves. If you don’t, the whole cause will be ruined. To do without priests is no sin against God; but it is a sin against your fellow-men.” As they pondered on the fateful question, the very light of Heaven itself seemed to flash upon their souls. It was they who possessed the unity of the spirit; and therefore it was they who were called to renew the Church of the Apostles. They had now become a powerful body; they were founding settlements all over the land; they stood, they said, for the truth as it was in Jesus; they had all one faith, one hope, one aim, one sense of the Spirit leading them onward; and they perceived that if they were to weather the gale in those stormy times they must cut the chains that bound them to Rome, and fly their own colours in the breeze.
And so, in 1467, about ten years after the foundation of Kunwald, there met at Lhota a Synod of the Brethren to settle the momentous question {1467.}, “Is it God’s will that we separate entirely from the power of the Papacy, and hence from its priesthood? Is it God’s will that we institute, according to the model of the Primitive Church, a ministerial order of our own?” For weeks they had prayed and fasted day and night. About sixty Brethren arrived. The Synod was held in a tanner’s cottage, under a cedar tree; and the guiding spirit Gregory the Patriarch, for his dream was haunting him still. The cottage has long since gone; but the tree is living yet.
The fateful day arrived. As the morning broke, those sixty men were all on their knees in prayer. If that prayer had been omitted the whole proceedings would have been invalid. As the Master, said they, had prayed on the Mount before he chose His twelve disciples, so they must spend the night in prayer before they chose the elders of the Church. And strange, indeed, their manner of choosing was. First the Synod nominated by ballot nine men of blameless life, from whom were to be chosen, should God so will, the first Pastors of the New Church. Next twelve slips of paper were folded and put into a vase. Of these slips nine were blank, and three were marked “Jest,” the Bohemian for “is.” Then a boy named Procop entered the room, drew out nine slips, and handed them round to the nine nominated Brethren.
There was a hush, a deep hush, in that humble room. All waited for God to speak. The fate of the infant Church seemed to hang in the balance. For the moment the whole great issue at stake depended on the three papers left in the vase. It had been agreed that the three Brethren who received the three inscribed papers should be ordained to the ministry. The situation was curious. As the Brethren rose from their knees that morning they were all as sure as men could be that God desired them to have Pastors of their own; and yet they deliberately ran the risk that the lot might decide against them.13 What slips were those now lying in the vase? Perhaps the three inscribed ones. But it turned out otherwise. All three were drawn, and Matthias of Kunwald, Thomas of Prelouic, and Elias of Chrenouic, are known to history as the first three ministers of the Brethren’s Church. And then Gregory the Patriarch stepped forward, and announced with trembling voice that these three men were the very three that he had seen in his trance in the torture-chamber at Prague. Not a man in the room was surprised; not a man doubted that here again their prayers had been plainly answered. Together the members of the Synod arose and saluted the chosen three. Together, next day, they sang in a hymn written for the occasion:--
We needed faithful men, and He

Granted us such. Most earnestly,

We Pray, Lord, let Thy gifts descend,

That blessing may Thy work attend.14
But the battle was not won even yet. If these three good men, now chosen by Christ, were to be acknowledged as priests in Bohemia, they must be ordained in the orthodox way by a Bishop of pure descent from the Apostles. For this purpose they applied to Stephen, a Bishop of the Waldenses. He was just the man they needed. He was a man of noble character. He was a man whose word could be trusted. He had often given them information about the Waldensian line of Bishops. He had told them how that line ran back to the days of the early Church. He had told them how the Waldensian Bishops had kept the ancient faith unsullied, and had never broken the law of Christ by uniting with the wicked State. To that line of Bishops he himself belonged. He had no connection with the Church of Rome, and no connection with the State. What purer orders, thought the Brethren, could they desire? They believed his statements; they trusted his honour; they admired his personal character; and now they sent old Michael Bradacius to see him in South Moravia and to lay their case before him. The old Bishop shed tears of joy. “He laid his hand on my head,” says Michael, “and consecrated me a Bishop.” Forthwith the new Bishop returned to Lhota, ordained the chosen three as Priests, and consecrated Matthias of Kunwald a Bishop. And thus arose those Episcopal Orders which have been maintained in the Church of the Brethren down to the present day.
The goal was reached; the Church was founded; the work of Gregory was done. For twenty years he had taught his Brethren to study the mind of Christ in the Scriptures and to seek the guidance of God in united prayer, and now he saw them joined as one to face the rising storm.
“Henceforth,” he wrote gladly to King George Podiebrad, “we have done with the Church of Rome.” As he saw the evening of life draw near, he urged his Brethren more and more to hold fast the teaching of Peter of Chelcic, and to regulate their daily conduct by the law of Christ; and by that law of Christ he probably meant the “Six Commandments” of the Sermon on the Mount.15 He took these Commandments literally, and enforced them with a rod of iron. No Brother could be a judge or magistrate or councillor. No Brother could take an oath or keep an inn, or trade beyond the barest needs of life. No noble, unless he laid down his rank, could become a Brother at all. No peasant could render military service or act as a bailiff on a farm. No Brother could ever divorce his wife or take an action at law. As long as Gregory remained in their midst, the Brethren held true to him as their leader. He had not, says Gindely, a single trace of personal ambition in his nature; and, though he might have become a Bishop, he remained a layman to the end. Full of years he died, and his bones repose in a cleft where tufts of forget-me-not grow, at Brandeis-on-the-Adler, hard by the Moravian frontier {Sept.13th, 1473.}.


OF the Brethren who settled in the valley of Kunwald the greater number were country peasants and tradesmen of humble rank. But already the noble and mighty were pressing in. As the eyes of Gregory closed in death, a new party was rising to power. Already the Brethren were strong in numbers, and already they were longing to snap the fetters that Gregory had placed upon their feet. From Neustadt in the North to Skutch in the South, and from Chlumec in the West to Kunwald in the East, they now lay thickly sprinkled; and in all the principal towns of that district, an area of nine hundred square miles, they were winning rich and influential members. In came the University dons; in came the aldermen and knights. In came, above all, a large colony of Waldenses, who had immigrated from the Margravate of Brandenburg {1480.}. Some settled at Fulneck, in Moravia, others at Landskron, in Bohemia; and now, by their own request, they were admitted to the Brethren’s Church.16 For a while the Brethren held to the rule that if a nobleman joined their Church he must first lay down his rank. But now that rule was beginning to gall and chafe. They were winning golden opinions on every hand; they were becoming known as the best men for positions of trust in the State; they were just the men to make the best magistrates and aldermen; and thus they felt forced by their very virtues to renounce the narrow ideas of Peter and to play their part in national and city life.
At this moment, when new ideas were budding, there entered the service of the Church a young man who is known as Luke of Prague. He was born about 1460, was a Bachelor of Prague University, was a well-read theological scholar, and for fifty years was the trusted leader of the Brethren. Forthwith he read the signs of the times, and took the tide at the flood. In Procop of Neuhaus, another graduate, he found a warm supporter. The two scholars led the van of the new movement. The struggle was fierce. On the one side was the “great party” of culture, led by Luke of Prague and Procop of Neuhaus; on the other the so-called “little party,” the old-fashioned rigid Radicals, led by two farmers, Amos and Jacob. “Ah, Matthias,” said Gregory the Patriarch, on his death-bed, “beware of the educated Brethren!” But, despite this warning, the educated Brethren won the day. For once and for ever the Brethren resolved that the writings of Peter and Gregory should no longer be regarded as binding. At a Synod held at Reichenau they rejected the authority of Peter entirely {1494.}. They agreed that nobles might join the Church without laying down their rank; they agreed that if a man’s business were honest he might make profits therein; they agreed that Brethren might enter the service of the State; and they even agreed that oaths might be taken in cases of special need.17 And then, next year, they made their position still clearer {1495.}. Instead of taking Peter as their guide, they now took the Bible and the Bible alone. “We content ourselves,” they solemnly declared, at another Synod held at Reichenau, “with those sacred books which have been accepted from of old by all Christians, and are found in the Bible”; and thus, forty years before John Calvin, and eighty years before the Lutherans, they declared that the words of Holy Scripture, apart from any disputed interpretation, should be their only standard of faith and practice. No longer did they honour the memory of Peter; no longer did they appeal to him in their writings; no longer, in a word, can we call the Brethren the true followers of Peter of Chelcic. Instead, henceforward, of regarding Peter as the founder of their Church, they began now to regard themselves as the disciples of Hus. In days gone by they had spoken of Hus as a “causer of war.” Now they held his name and memory sacred; and from this time onward the real followers of Peter were, not the Brethren, but the “little party” led by Amos and Jacob.18
But the scholars led the Brethren further still. If the reader will kindly refer to the chapter on Peter, he will see that that racy pamphleteer had far more to say about good works than about the merits of saving faith; but now, after years of keen discussion, Procop of Neuhaus put to the Council of Elders the momentous question: “By what is a man justified?” The answer given was clear: “By the merits of Jesus Christ.” The great doctrine of justification by grace was taught; the old doctrine of justification by works was modified; and thus the Brethren’s Church became the first organized Evangelical Church in Europe.19
And Luke designed to make her the strongest, too. His energy never seemed to flag. As he wished to establish the ministry more firmly, he had the number of Bishops enlarged, and became a Bishop himself. He enlarged the governing Council, with his friend Procop of Neuhaus as Ecclesiastical Judge. He beautified the Church Services, and made the ritual more ornate. He introduced golden communion cups and delicately embroidered corporals, and some of the Brethren actually thought that he was leading them back to Rome. He gave an impulse to Church music, encouraged reading both in Priests and in people, and made a use of the printing press which in those days was astounding. Of the five printing presses in all Bohemia, three belonged to the Brethren; of sixty printed works that appeared between 1500 and 1510, no fewer than fifty were published by the Brethren; and of all the scribes of the sixteenth century, Luke was the most prolific. He wrote a “Catechism for Children.” He edited the first Brethren’s hymn book (1501), the first Church hymnal in history. He published a commentary on the Psalms, another on the Gospel of St. John, and another on the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians; he drew up “Confessions of Faith,” and sent them to the King; and thus, for the first time in the history of Bohemia, he made the newly invented press a mighty power in the land.
And even with this the good Bishop was not content {1491.}. If the Brethren, thought he, were true to their name, they must surely long for fellowship with others of like mind with themselves. For this purpose Luke and his friends set off to search for Brethren in other lands. Away went one to find the pure Nestorian Church that was said to exist in India, got as far as Antioch, Jerusalem and Egypt, and, being misled somehow by a Jew, returned home with the wonderful notion that the River Nile flowed from the Garden of Eden, but with no more knowledge of the Church in India than when he first set out. Another explored the South of Russia, and the third sought Christians in Turkey. And Luke himself had little more success. He explored a number of Monasteries in Greece, came on to Rome {1498.}, saw the streets of the city littered with corpses of men murdered by Cæsar Borgia, picked up some useful information about the private character of the Pope, saw Savonarola put to death in Florence, fell in with a few Waldenses in the Savoy, and then, having sought for pearls in vain, returned home in a state of disgust, and convinced that, besides the Brethren, there was not to be found a true Christian Church on the face of God’s fair earth. He even found fault with the Waldenses.
It was time, indeed, for Luke to return, for trouble was brewing at home. For some years there dwelt in the town of Jungbunzlau, the headquarters of the Brethren’s Church, a smart young man, by name John Lezek. He began life as a brewer’s apprentice; he then entered the service of a Brother, and learned a good deal of the Brethren’s manners and customs; and now he saw the chance of turning his knowledge to good account. If only he told a good tale against the Brethren, he would be sure to be a popular hero. For this purpose he visited the parish priest, and confessed to a number of abominations committed by him while among the wicked Brethren. The parish priest was delighted; the penitent was taken to the Church; and there he told the assembled crowd the story of his guilty past. Of all the bad men in the country, he said, these Brethren were the worst. He had even robbed his own father with their consent and approval. They blasphemed. They took the Communion bread to their houses, and there hacked it in pieces. They were thieves, and he himself had committed many a burglary for them. They murdered men and kidnapped their wives. They had tried to blow up Rockycana in the Thein Church with gunpowder. They swarmed naked up pillars like Adam and Eve, and handed each other apples. They prepared poisonous drinks, and put poisonous smelling powders in their letters. They were skilled in witchcraft, worshipped Beelzebub, and were wont irreverently to say that the way to Hell was paved with the bald heads of priests. As this story was both alarming and lively, the parish priest had it taken down, sealed and signed by witnesses, copied out, and scattered broadcast through the land. In vain John Lezek confessed soon after, when brought by the Brethren before a Magistrate, that his whole story was a vile invention. If a man tells a falsehood and then denies it, he does not thereby prevent the falsehood from spreading.
For now a more powerful foe than Lezek made himself felt in the land. Of all the Popes that ever donned the tiara, Alexander VI. is said to have presented the most successful image of the devil.20 He was the father of the prince of poisoners, Caesar Borgia; he was greedy, immoral, fond of ease and pleasure; he was even said to be a poisoner himself. If a well-known man died suddenly in Rome, the common people took it for granted that the Pope had poisoned his supper. For all that he was pious enough in a way of his own; and now, in his zeal for the Catholic cause, he took stern measures against the Church of the Brethren. He had heard some terrible tales about them. He heard that Peter’s pamphlet, “The Antichrist,”21 was read all over the country. He heard that the number of the Brethren now was over 100,000. He resolved to crush them to powder {Papal Bull, Feb. 4th, 1500.}. He sent an agent, the Dominican, Dr. Henry Institoris, as censor of the press. As soon as Institoris arrived on the scene, he heard, to his horror, that most of the Brethren could read; and thereupon he informed the Pope that they had learned this art from the devil. He revived the stories of Lezek, the popular feeling was fanned to fury, and wire-pullers worked on the tender heart of the King.
“Hunt out and destroy these shameless vagabonds,” wrote Dr. Augustin Käsebrot to King Uladislaus, “they are not even good enough to be burnt at the stake. They ought to have their bodies torn by wild beasts and their blood licked up by dogs.” For the last five years there had grown in the land a small sect known as Amosites. They were followers of old Farmer Amos; they had once belonged to the Brethren; they had broken off when the scholars had won the day, and now they sent word to the King to say that the Brethren were planning to defend their cause with the sword. “What!” said the King, “do they mean to play Ziska? Well, well! We know how to stop that!” They were worse than Turks, he declared; they believed neither in God nor in the Communion; they were a set of lazy vagabonds. He would soon pay them out for their devilish craft, and sweep them off the face of the earth. And to this end he summoned the Diet, and, by the consent of all three Estates, issued the famous Edict of St. James {July 25th, 1508.}.22 The decree was sweeping and thorough. The meetings of the Brethren, public and private, were forbidden. The books and writings of the Brethren must be burnt. All in Bohemia who refused to join the Utraquist or Roman Catholic Church were to be expelled from the country; all nobles harbouring Brethren were to be fined, and all their priests and teachers were to be imprisoned.
The persecution began. In the village of Kuttenburg lived a brother, by name Andrew Poliwka. As Kuttenburg was a Romanist village, he fled for refuge to the Brethren’s settlement at Leitomischl. But his wife betrayed him. He returned to the village, and, desiring to please her, he attended the parish Church.
The occasion was an installation service. As the sermon ended and the host was raised, he could hold his tongue no longer. “Silence, Parson Jacob,” he cried to the priest, “you have babbled enough! Mine hour is come; I will speak. Dear friends,” he continued, turning to the people, “what are you doing? What are you adoring? An idol made of bread! Oh! Adore the living God in heaven! He is blessed for evermore!” The priest ordered him to hold his peace. He only shrieked the louder. He was seized, his head was dashed against the pillar, and he was dragged bleeding to prison. Next day he was tried, and asked to explain why he had interrupted the service.

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