A history of the moravian church



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“Who caused Abram,” he answered, “to forsake his idolatry and adore the living God? Who induced Daniel to flee from idols?” In vain was he stretched upon the rack. No further answer would he give. He was burnt to death at the stake. As the flames began to lick his face, he prayed aloud: “Jesus, Thou Son of the living God, have mercy upon me, miserable sinner.”
At Strakonic dwelt the Brother George Wolinsky, a dependent of Baron John of Rosenberg {1509.}. The Baron was a mighty man. He was Grand Prior of the Knights of Malta; he was an orthodox subject of the King, and he determined that on his estate no villainous Picards23 should live. “See,” he said one day to George, “I have made you a servant in the Church. You must go to Church. You are a Picard, and I have received instructions from Prague that all men on my estate must be either Utraquists or Catholics.”
The Brother refused; the Baron insisted; and the Prior of Strakonic was brought to convert the heretic. “No one,” said the Prior, “should ever be tortured into faith. The right method is reasonable instruction, and innocent blood always cries to Heaven, ‘Lord, Lord, when wilt Thou avenge me.’”
But this common sense was lost on the furious Baron. As Brother George refused to yield, the Baron cast him into the deepest dungeon of his castle. The bread and meat he had secreted in his pockets were removed. The door of the dungeon was barred, and all that was left for the comfort of his soul was a heap of straw whereon to die and a comb to do his hair. For five days he lay in the dark, and then the Baron came to see him. The prisoner was almost dead. His teeth were closed; his mouth was rigid; the last spark of life was feebly glimmering. The Baron was aghast. The mouth was forced open, hot soup was poured in, the prisoner revived, and the Baron burst into tears.
“Ah,” he exclaimed, “I am glad he is living”; and allowed George to return to his Brethren.
Amid scenes like this, Bishop Luke was a tower of strength to his Brethren. For six years the manses were closed, the Churches empty, the Pastors homeless, the people scattered; and the Bishop hurried from glen to glen, held services in the woods and gorges, sent letters to the parishes he could not visit, and pleaded the cause of his Brethren in woe in letter after letter to the King. As the storm of persecution raged, he found time to write a stirring treatise, entitled, “The Renewal of the Church,” and thus by pen and by cheery word he revived the flagging hope of all.
For a while the Brethren were robbed of this morsel of comfort. As the Bishop was hastening on a pastoral visit, he was captured by Peter von Suda, the brigand, “the prince and master of all thieves,” was loaded with chains, cast into a dungeon, and threatened with torture and the stake. At that moment destruction complete and final seemed to threaten the Brethren. Never had the billows rolled so high; never had the breakers roared so loud; and bitterly the hiding Brethren complained that their leaders had steered them on the rocks.
Yet sunshine gleamed amid the gathering clouds. For some time there had been spreading among the common people a conviction that the Brethren were under the special protection of God, and that any man who tried to harm them would come to a tragic end. It was just while the Brethren were sunk in despair that several of their enemies suddenly died, and people said that God Himself had struck a blow for the persecuted “Pitmen.” The great Dr. Augustin, their fiercest foe, fell dead from his chair at dinner. Baron Colditz, the Chancellor, fell ill of a carbuncle in his foot, and died. Baron Henry von Neuhaus, who had boasted to the King how many Brethren he had starved to death, went driving in his sleigh, was upset, and was skewered on his own hunting knife. Baron Puta von Swihow was found dead in his cellar. Bishop John of Grosswardein fell from his carriage, was caught on a sharp nail, had his bowels torn out, and miserably perished. And the people, struck with awe, exclaimed: “Let him that is tired of life persecute the Brethren, for he is sure not to live another year.”
Thus the Brethren possessed their souls in patience till the persecution ended. The King of Bohemia, Uladislaus II., died {March 13th, 1516.}. His successor was only a boy. The Utraquists and Catholics began to quarrel with each other. The robber, von Suda, set Luke at liberty. The great Bishop became chief Elder of the Church. The whole land was soon in a state of disorder. The barons and knights were fighting each other, and, in the general stress and storm, the quiet Brethren were almost forgotten and allowed to live in peace.
And just at this juncture came news from afar that seemed to the Brethren like glad tidings from Heaven {1517.}. No longer were the Brethren to be alone, no longer to be a solitary voice crying in the wilderness. As the Brethren returned from the woods and mountains, and worshipped once again by the light of day, they heard, with amazement and joy, how Martin Luther, on Hallows Eve, had pinned his famous ninety-five Theses to the Church door at Wittenberg. The excitement in Bohemia was intense. For a while it seemed as though Martin Luther would wield as great an influence there as ever he had in Germany. For a while the Utraquist priests themselves, like Rockycana of yore, thundered in a hundred pulpits against the Church of Rome; and Luther, taking the keenest interest in the growing movement, wrote a letter to the Bohemian Diet, and urged the ecclesiastical leaders in Prague to break the last fetters that bound them to Rome.
For a while his agent, Gallus Cahera, a butcher’s son, who had studied at Wittenberg, was actually pastor of the Thein Church {1523-9.}, referred in his sermons to the “celebrated Dr. Martin Luther,” and openly urged the people to pray for that “great man of God.” For a while even a preacher of the Brethren, named Martin, was allowed to stand where Hus had stood, and preach in the Bethlehem Church. For a while, in a word, it seemed to the Brethren that the Reformation now spreading in Germany would conquer Bohemia at a rush. The great Luther was loved by many classes. He was loved by the Utraquists because he had burned the Pope’s Bull. He was loved by the young because he favoured learning. He was loved by the Brethren because he upheld the Bible as the standard of faith {1522.}. As soon as Luther had left the Wartburg, the Brethren boldly held out to him the right hand of fellowship; sent two German Brethren, John Horn and Michael Weiss, to see him; presented him with a copy of their Confession and Catechism; began a friendly correspondence on various points of doctrine and discipline, and thus opened their hearts to hear with respect what the great Reformer had to say.
Amid these bright prospects Luke of Prague breathed his last {Dec. 11th, 1528.}. As Gregory the Patriarch had gone to his rest when a new party was rising among the Brethren, so Luke of Prague crossed the cold river of death when new ideas from Germany were stirring the hearts of his friends. He was never quite easy in his mind about Martin Luther. He still believed in the Seven Sacraments. He still believed in the Brethren’s system of stern moral discipline. He still believed, for practical reasons, in the celibacy of the clergy. “This eating,” he wrote, “this drinking, this self-indulgence, this marrying, this living to the world--what a poor preparation it is for men who are leaving Babylon. If a man does this he is yoking himself with strangers. Marriage never made anyone holy yet. It is a hindrance to the higher life, and causes endless trouble.” Above all, he objected to Luther’s way of teaching the great doctrine of justification by faith.
“Never, never,” he said, in a letter to Luther, “can you ascribe a man’s salvation to faith alone. The Scriptures are against you. You think that in this you are doing a good work, but you are really fighting against Christ Himself and clinging to an error.” He regarded Luther’s teaching as extreme and one-sided. He was shocked by what he heard of the jovial life led by Luther’s students at Wittenberg, and could never understand how a rollicking youth could be a preparation for a holy ministry. As Gregory the Patriarch had warned Matthias against “the learned Brethren,” so Luke, in his turn, now warned the Brethren against the loose lives of Luther’s merry-hearted students; and, in order to preserve the Brethren’s discipline, he now issued a comprehensive treatise, divided into two parts--the first entitled “Instructions for Priests,” and the second “Instructions and Admonitions for all occupations, all ages in life, all ranks and all sorts of characters.” As he lay on his death-bed at Jungbunzlau, his heart was stirred by mingled feelings. There was land in sight--ah, yes!--but what grew upon the enchanting island? He would rather see his Church alone and pure than swept away in the Protestant current. Happy was he in the day of his death. So far he had steered the Church safely. He must now resign his post to another pilot who knew well the coming waters.

CHAPTER VII.


THE BRETHREN AT HOME.
AS we have now arrived at that bend in the lane, when the Brethren, no longer marching alone, became a regiment in the conquering Protestant army, it will be convenient to halt in our story and look at the Brethren a little more closely--at their homes, their trades, their principles, their doctrines, their forms of service, and their life from day to day. After all, what were these Brethren, and how did they live?
They called themselves Jednota Bratrska--i.e., the Church of the Brethren. As this word “Jednota” means union, and is used in this sense in Bohemia at the present day, it is possible that the reader may think that instead of calling the Brethren a Church, we ought rather to call them the Union or Unity of the Brethren. If he does, however, he will be mistaken. We have no right to call the Brethren a mere Brotherhood or Unity. They regarded themselves as a true apostolic Church. They believed that their episcopal orders were valid. They called the Church of Rome a Jednota;24 they called the Lutheran Church a Jednota;25 they called themselves a Jednota; and, therefore, if the word Jednota means Church when applied to Lutherans and Roman Catholics, it must also mean Church when applied to the Bohemian Brethren. It is not correct to call them the Unitas Fratrum. The term is misleading. It suggests a Brotherhood rather than an organized Church. We have no right to call them a sect; the term is a needless insult to their memory.26 As the Brethren settled in the Valley of Kunwald, the great object which they set before them was to recall to vigorous life the true Catholic Church of the Apostles; and as soon as they were challenged by their enemies to justify their existence, they replied in good set terms.
“Above all things,” declared the Brethren, at a Synod held in 1464, “we are one in this purpose. We hold fast the faith of the Lord Christ. We will abide in the righteousness and love of God. We will trust in the living God. We will do good works. We will serve each other in the spirit of love. We will lead a virtuous, humble, gentle, sober, patient and pure life; and thereby shall we know that we hold the faith in truth, and that a home is prepared for us in heaven. We will show obedience to one another, as the Holy Scriptures command. We will take from each other instruction, reproof and punishment, and thus shall we keep the covenant established by God through the Lord Christ.”27 To this purpose the Brethren held firm. In every detail of their lives--in business, in pleasure, in civil duties--they took the Sermon on the Mount as the lamp unto their feet. From the child to the old man, from the serf to the lord, from the acoluth to the bishop, the same strict law held good. What made the Brethren’s Church shine so brightly in Bohemia before Luther’s days was not their doctrine, but their lives; not their theory, but their practice; not their opinions, but their discipline. Without that discipline they would have been a shell without a kernel. It called forth the admiration of Calvin, and drove Luther to despair. It was, in truth, the jewel of the Church, her charm against foes within and without; and so great a part did it play in their lives that in later years they were known to some as “Brethren of the Law of Christ.”
No portion of the Church was more carefully watched than the ministers. As the chief object which the Brethren set before them was obedience to the Law of Christ, it followed, as the night the day, that the chief quality required in a minister was not theological learning, but personal character. When a man came forward as a candidate for the ministry he knew that he would have to stand a most searching examination. His character and conduct were thoroughly sifted. He must have a working knowledge of the Bible, a blameless record, and a living faith in God. For classical learning the Brethren had an honest contempt. It smacked too much of Rome and monkery. As long as the candidate was a holy man, and could teach the people the plain truths of the Christian faith, they felt that nothing more was required, and did not expect him to know Greek and Hebrew. In vain Luther, in a friendly letter, urged them to cultivate more knowledge. “We have no need,” they replied, “of teachers who understand other tongues, such as Greek and Hebrew. It is not our custom to appoint ministers who have been trained at advanced schools in languages and fine arts. We prefer Bohemians and Germans who have come to a knowledge of the truth through personal experience and practical service, and who are therefore qualified to impart to others the piety they have first acquired themselves. And here we are true to the law of God and the practice of the early Church.”28 Instead of regarding learning as an aid to faith, they regarded it as an hindrance and a snare. It led, they declared, to wordy battles, to quarrels, to splits, to uncertainties, to doubts, to corruptions. As long, they said, as the ministers of the Church of Christ were simple and unlettered men, so long was the Church a united body of believers; but as soon as the parsons began to be scholars, all sorts of evils arose. What good, they argued, had learning done in the past? It had caused the translation of the Bible into Latin, and had thus hidden its truths from the common people. “And therefore,” they insisted, “we despise the learning of tongues.”
For this narrow attitude they had also another reason. In order to be true to the practice of the early Christian Church, they laid down the strict rule that all ministers should earn their living by manual labour; and the result was that even if a minister wished to study he could not find time to do so. For his work as a minister he never received a penny. If a man among the Brethren entered the ministry, he did so for the pure love of the work. He had no chance of becoming rich. He was not allowed to engage in a business that brought in large profits. If he earned any more in the sweat of his brow than he needed to make ends meet, he was compelled to hand the surplus over to the general funds of the Church; and if some one kindly left him some money, that money was treated in the same way. He was to be as moderate as possible in eating and drinking; he was to avoid all gaudy show in dress and house; he was not to go to fairs and banquets; and, above all, he was not to marry except with the consent and approval of the Elders. Of marriage the Brethren had rather a poor opinion. They clung still to the old Catholic view that it was less holy than celibacy. “It is,” they said, “a good thing if two people find that they cannot live continent without it.” If a minister married he was not regarded with favour; he was supposed to have been guilty of a fleshly weakness; and it is rather sarcastically recorded in the old “Book of the Dead” that in every case in which a minister failed in his duties, or was convicted of immorality, the culprit was a married man.
And yet, for all his humble style, the minister was held in honour. As the solemn time of ordination drew near there were consultations of ministers with closed doors, and days set apart for fasting and prayer throughout the whole Church. His duties were many and various. He was commonly spoken of, not as a priest, but as the “servant” of the Church. He was not a priest in the Romish sense of the word. He had no distinctive sacerdotal powers. He had no more power to consecrate the Sacrament than any godly layman. Of priests as a separate class the Brethren knew nothing. All true believers in Christ, said they, were priests. We can see this from one of their regulations. As the times were stormy, and persecution might break out at any moment, the Brethren (at a Synod in 1504) laid down the rule that when their meetings at Church were forbidden they should be held in private houses, and then, if a minister was not available, any godly layman was authorised to conduct the Holy Communion.29 And thus the minister was simply a useful “servant.” He gave instruction in Christian doctrine. He heard confessions. He expelled sinners. He welcomed penitents. He administered the Sacraments. He trained theological students. If he had the needful gift, he preached; if not, he read printed sermons. He was not a ruler lording it over the flock; he was rather a “servant” bound by rigid rules. He was not allowed to select his own topics for sermons; he had to preach from the Scripture lesson appointed for the day. He was bound to visit every member of his congregation at least once a quarter; he was bound to undertake any journey or mission, however dangerous, at the command of the Elders; and he was bound, for a fairly obvious reason, to take a companion with him when he called at the houses of the sick. If he went alone he might practise as a doctor, and give dangerous medical advice; and that, said the Brethren, was not his proper business. He was not allowed to visit single women or widows. If he did, there might be scandals about him, as there were about the Catholic priests. For the spiritual needs of all unmarried women the Brethren made special provision. They were visited by a special “Committee of Women,” and the minister was not allowed to interfere.
The good man did not even possess a home of his own. Instead of living in a private manse he occupied a set of rooms in a large building known as the Brethren’s House; and the minister, as the name implies, was not the only Brother in it. “As Eli had trained Samuel, as Elijah had trained Elisha, as Christ had trained His disciples, as St. Paul trained Timothy and Titus,” so a minister of the Brethren had young men under his charge. There, under the minister’s eye, the candidates for service in the Church were trained. Neither now nor at any period of their history had the Bohemian Brethren any theological colleges. If a boy desired to become a minister he entered the Brethren’s House at an early age, and was there taught a useful trade. Let us look at the inmates of the House.
First in order, next to the Priest himself, were the Deacons. They occupied a double position. They were in the first stage of priesthood, and in the last stage of preparation for it. Their duties were manifold. They supplied the out-preaching places. They repeated the pastor’s sermon to those who had not been able to attend the Sunday service. They assisted at the Holy Communion in the distribution of the bread and wine. They preached now and then in the village Church to give their superior an opportunity for criticism and correction. They managed the domestic affairs of the house. They acted as sacristans or churchwardens. They assisted in the distribution of alms, and took their share with the minister in manual labour; and then, in the intervals between these trifling duties, they devoted their time to Bible study and preparation for the ministry proper. No wonder they never became very scholarly pundits; and no wonder that when they went off to preach their sermons had first to be submitted to the head of the house for approval.
Next to the Deacons came the Acoluths, young men or boys living in the same building and preparing to be Deacons. They were trained by the minister, very often from childhood upwards. They rang the bell and lighted the candles in the Church, helped the Deacons in household arrangements, and took turns in conducting the household worship. Occasionally they were allowed to deliver a short address in the Church, and the congregation “listened with kindly forbearance.” When they were accepted by the Synod as Acoluths they generally received some Biblical name, which was intended to express some feature in the character. It is thus that we account for such names as Jacob Bilek and Amos Comenius.
Inside this busy industrial hive the rules were rigid. The whole place was like a boarding-school or college. At the sound of a bell all rose, and then came united prayer and Scripture reading; an hour later a service, and then morning study. As the afternoon was not considered a good time for brain work, the Brethren employed it in manual labour, such as weaving, gardening and tailoring. In the evening there was sacred music and singing. At meal times the Acoluths recited passages of Scripture, or read discourses, or took part in theological discussions.
No one could leave the house without the pastor’s permission, and the pastor himself could not leave his parish without the Bishop’s permission. If he travelled at all he did so on official business, and then he lodged at other Brethren’s Houses, when the Acoluths washed his feet and attended to his personal comforts.
The Brethren’s rules struck deeper still. As the Brethren despised University education, it is natural to draw the plain conclusion that among them the common people were the most benighted and ignorant in the land. The very opposite was the case. Among them the common people were the most enlightened in the country. Of the Bohemian people, in those days, there were few who could read or write; of the Brethren there was scarcely one who could not. If the Brethren taught the people nothing else, they at least taught them to read their native tongue; and their object in this was to spread the knowledge of the Bible, and thus make the people good Protestants. But in those days a man who could read was regarded as a prodigy of learning. The result was widespread alarm. As the report gained ground that among the Brethren the humblest people could read as well as the priest, the good folk in Bohemia felt compelled to concoct some explanation, and the only explanation they could imagine was that the Brethren had the special assistance of the devil.30 If a man, said they, joined the ranks of the Brethren, the devil immediately taught him the art of reading, and if, on the other hand, he deserted the Brethren, the devil promptly robbed him of the power, and reduced him again to a wholesome benighted condition. “Is it really true,” said Baron Rosenberg to his dependant George Wolinsky, “that the devil teaches all who become Picards to read, and that if a peasant leaves the Brethren he is able to read no longer?”
In this instance, however, the devil was innocent. The real culprit was Bishop Luke of Prague. Of all the services rendered by Luke to the cause of popular education and moral and spiritual instruction, the greatest was his publication of his “Catechism for Children,” commonly known as “The Children’s Questions.” It was a masterly and comprehensive treatise. It was published first, of course, in the Bohemian language {1502.}. It was published again in a German edition for the benefit of the German members of the Church {1522.}. It was published again, with some alterations, by a Lutheran at Magdeburg {1524.}. It was published again, with more alterations, by another Lutheran, at Wittenberg {1525.}. It was published again, in abridged form, at Zürich, and was recommended as a manual of instruction for the children at St. Gallen {1527.}. And thus it exercised a profound influence on the whole course of the Reformation, both in Germany and in Switzerland. For us, however, the point of interest is its influence in Bohemia and Moravia. It was not a book for the priests. It was a book for the fathers of families. It was a book found in every Brother’s home. It was the children’s “Reader.” As the boys and girls grew up in the Brethren’s Church, they learned to read, not in national schools, but in their own homes; and thus the Brethren did for the children what ought to have been done by the State. Among them the duties of a father were clearly defined. He was both a schoolmaster and a religious instructor. He was the priest in his own family. He was to bring his children up in the Christian faith. He was not to allow them to roam at pleasure, or play with the wicked children of the world. He was to see that they were devout at prayers, respectful in speech, and noble and upright in conduct. He was not to allow brothers and sisters to sleep in the same room, or boys and girls to roam the daisied fields together. He was not to strike his children with a stick or with his fists. If he struck them at all, he must do so with a cane. Above all, he had to teach his children the Catechism. They were taught by their parents until they were twelve years old; they were then taken in hand by their sponsors; and thus they were prepared for Confirmation, not as in the Anglican Church, by a clergyman only, but partly by their own parents and friends.


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