A history of the moravian church

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The Brethren’s rules struck deeper still. For law and order the Brethren had a passion. Each congregation was divided into three classes: the Beginners, those who were learning the “Questions” and the first elements of religion; the Proficients, the steady members of the Church; and the Perfect, those so established in faith, hope and love as to be able to enlighten others. For each class a separate Catechism was prepared. At the head, too, of each congregation was a body of civil Elders. They were elected by the congregation from the Perfect. They assisted the pastor in his parochial duties. They looked after his support in case he were in special need. They acted as poor-law guardians, lawyers, magistrates and umpires, and thus they tried to keep the people at peace and prevent them from going to law. Every three months they visited the houses of the Brethren, and inquired whether business were honestly conducted, whether family worship were held, whether the children were properly trained. For example, it was one of the duties of a father to talk with his children at the Sunday dinner-table on what they had heard at the morning service; and when the Elder paid his quarterly visit he soon discovered, by examining the children, how far this duty had been fulfilled.
The Brethren’s rules struck deeper still. For the labourer in the field, for the artizan in the workshop, for the tradesman with his wares, for the baron and his tenants, for the master and his servants, there were laws and codes to suit each case, and make every trade and walk in life serve in some way to the glory of God. Among the Brethren all work was sacred. If a man was not able to show that his trade was according to the law of Christ and of direct service to His holy cause, he was not allowed to carry it on at all. He must either change his calling or leave the Church. In the Brethren’s Church there were no dice makers, no actors, no painters, no professional musicians, no wizards or seers, no alchemists, no astrologers, no courtezans or panderers. The whole tone was stern and puritanic. For art, for music, for letters and for pleasure the Brethren had only contempt, and the fathers were warned against staying out at night and frequenting the card-room and the liquor-saloon. And yet, withal, these stern Brethren were kind and tender-hearted. If the accounts handed down are to be believed, the villages where the Brethren settled were the homes of happiness and peace. As the Brethren had no definite social policy, they did not, of course, make any attempt to break down the distinctions of rank; and yet, in their own way, they endeavoured to teach all classes to respect each other. They enjoined the barons to allow their servants to worship with them round the family altar. They urged the rich to spend their money on the poor instead of on dainties and fine clothes. They forbade the poor to wear silk, urged them to be patient, cheerful and industrious, and reminded them that in the better land their troubles would vanish like dew before the rising sun. For the poorest of all, those in actual need, they had special collections several times a year. The fund was called the Korbona, and was managed by three officials. The first kept the box, the second the key, the third the accounts. And the rich and poor had all to bow to the same system of discipline. There were three degrees of punishment. For the first offence the sinner was privately admonished. For the second he was rebuked before the Elders, and excluded from the Holy Communion until he repented. For the third he was denounced in the Church before the whole congregation, and the loud “Amen” of the assembled members proclaimed his banishment from the Brethren’s Church.
The system of government was Presbyterian. At the head of the whole Brethren’s Church was a board, called the “Inner Council,” elected by the Synod. Next came the Bishops, elected also by the Synod. The supreme authority was this General Synod. It consisted of all the ministers. As long as the Inner Council held office they were, of course, empowered to enforce their will; but the final court of appeal was the Synod, and by the Synod all questions of doctrine and policy were settled.
The doctrine was simple and broad. As the Brethren never had a formal creed, and never used their “Confessions of Faith” as tests, it may seem a rather vain endeavour to inquire too closely into their theological beliefs. And yet, on the other hand, we know enough to enable the historian to paint a life-like picture. For us the important question is, what did the Brethren teach their children? If we know what the Brethren taught their children we know what they valued most; and this we have set before us in the Catechism drawn up by Luke of Prague and used as an authorised manual of instruction in the private homes of the Brethren. It contained no fewer than seventy-six questions. The answers are remarkably full, and therefore we may safely conclude that, though it was not an exhaustive treatise, it gives us a wonderfully clear idea of the doctrines which the Brethren prized most highly. It is remarkable both for what it contains and for what it does not contain. It has no distinct and definite reference to St. Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. It is Johannine rather than Pauline in its tone. It contains a great deal of the teaching of Christ and a very little of the teaching of St. Paul. It has more to say about the Sermon on the Mount than about any system of dogmatic theology. For one sentence out of St. Paul’s Epistles it has ten out of the Gospel of St. Matthew. As we read the answers in this popular treatise, we are able to see in what way the Brethren differed from the Lutheran Protestants in Germany. They approached the whole subject of Christian life from a different point of view. They were less dogmatic, less theological, less concerned about accurate definition, and they used their theological terms in a broader and freer way. For example, take their definition of faith. We all know the definition given by Luther. “There are,” said Luther, “two kinds of believing: first, a believing about God which means that I believe that what is said of God is true. This faith is rather a form of knowledge than a faith. There is, secondly, a believing in God which means that I put my trust in Him, give myself up to thinking that I can have dealings with Him, and believe without any doubt that He will be and do to me according to the things said of Him. Such faith, which throws itself upon God, whether in life or in death, alone makes a Christian man.” But the Brethren gave the word faith a richer meaning. They made it signify more than trust in God. They made it include both hope and love. They made it include obedience to the Law of Christ.
“What is faith in the Lord God?” was one question in the Catechism.
“It is to know God, to know His word; above all, to love Him, to do His commandments, and to submit to His will.”
“What is faith in Christ?”
“It is to listen to His word, to know Him, to honour Him, to love Him and to join the company of His followers.”31
And this is the tone all through the Catechism and in all the early writings of the Brethren. As a ship, said Luke, is not made of one plank, so a Christian cannot live on one religious doctrine. The Brethren had no pet doctrines whatever. They had none of the distinctive marks of a sect. They taught their children the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Eight Beatitudes, and the “Six Commandments” of the Sermon on the Mount. They taught the orthodox Catholic doctrines of the Holy Trinity and the Virgin Birth. They held, they said, the universal Christian faith. They enjoined the children to honour, but not worship, the Virgin Mary and the Saints, and they warned them against the adoration of pictures. If the Brethren had any peculiarity at all, it was not any distinctive doctrine, but rather their insistence on the practical duties of the believer. With Luther, St. Paul’s theology was foremost; with the Brethren (though not denied) it fell into the background. With Luther the favourite court of appeal was St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians; with the Brethren it was rather the Sermon on the Mount and the tender Epistles of St. John.
Again the Brethren differed from Luther in their doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. As this subject was then the fruitful source of much discussion and bloodshed, the Brethren at first endeavoured to avoid the issue at stake by siding with neither of the two great parties and falling back on the simple words of Scripture. “Some say,” they said, “it is only a memorial feast, that Christ simply gave the bread as a memorial. Others say that the bread is really the body of Christ, who is seated at the right hand of God. We reject both these views; they were not taught by Christ Himself. And if anyone asks us to say in what way Christ is present in the sacrament, we reply that we have nothing to say on the subject. We simply believe what He Himself said, and enjoy what He has given.”32
But this attitude could not last for ever. As the storms of persecution raged against them, the Brethren grew more and more radical in their views. They denied the doctrine of Transubstantiation; they denied also the Lutheran doctrine of Consubstantiation; they denied that the words in St. John’s Gospel about eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ had any reference to the Lord’s Supper. They took the whole passage in a purely spiritual sense. If those words, said Bishop Luke, referred to the Sacrament, then all Catholics, except the priests, would be lost; for Catholics only ate the flesh and did not drink the blood, and could, therefore, not possess eternal life. They denied, in a word, that the Holy Communion had any value apart from the faith of the believer; they denounced the adoration of the host as idolatry; and thus they adopted much the same position as Wycliffe in England nearly two hundred years before. The Lord Christ, they said, had three modes of existence. He was present bodily at the right hand of God; He was present spiritually in the heart of every believer; He was present sacramentally, but not personally, in the bread and wine; and, therefore, when the believer knelt in prayer, he must kneel, not to the bread and wine, but only to the exalted Lord in Heaven.
Again, the Brethren differed from Luther in their doctrine of Infant Baptism. If a child, said Luther, was prayed for by the Church, he was thereby cleansed from his unbelief, delivered from the power of the devil, and endowed with faith; and therefore the child was baptised as a believer.33 The Brethren rejected this teaching. They called it Romish. They held that no child could be a believer until he had been instructed in the faith. They had no belief in baptismal regeneration. With them Infant Baptism had quite a different meaning. It was simply the outward and visible sign of admission to the Church. As soon as the child had been baptised, he belonged to the class of the Beginners, and then, when he was twelve years old, he was taken by his godfather to the minister, examined in his “Questions,” and asked if he would hold true to the faith he had been taught. If he said “Yes!” the minister struck him in the face, to teach him that he would have to suffer for Christ; and then, after further instruction, he was confirmed by the minister, admitted to the communion, and entered the ranks of the Proficient.
Such, then, was the life, and such were the views, of the Bohemian Brethren. What sort of picture does all this bring before us? It is the picture of a body of earnest men, united, not by a common creed, but rather by a common devotion to Christ, a common reverence for Holy Scripture, and a common desire to revive the customs of the early Christian Church.34 In some of their views they were narrow, in others remarkably broad. In some points they had still much to learn; in others they were far in advance of their times, and anticipated the charitable teaching of the present day.


AS the great Bishop Luke lay dying at Jungbunzlau, there was rising to fame among the Brethren the most brilliant and powerful leader they had ever known. Again we turn to the old Thein Church; again the preacher is denouncing the priests; and again in the pew is an eager listener with soul aflame with zeal. His name was John Augusta. He was born, in 1500, at Prague. His father was a hatter, and in all probability he learned the trade himself. He was brought up in the Utraquist Faith; he took the sacrament every Sunday in the famous old Thein Church; and there he heard the preacher declare that the priests in Prague cared for nothing but comfort, and that the average Christians of the day were no better than crack-brained heathen sprinkled with holy water. The young man was staggered; he consulted other priests, and the others told him the same dismal tale. One lent him a pamphlet, entitled “The Antichrist”; another lent him a treatise by Hus; and a third said solemnly: “My son, I see that God has more in store for you than I can understand.” But the strangest event of all was still to come. As he rode one day in a covered waggon with two priests of high rank, it so happened that one of them turned to Augusta and urged him to leave the Utraquist Church and join the ranks of the Brethren at Jungbunzlau. Augusta was horrified.
Again he consulted the learned priest; again he received the same strange counsel; and one day the priest ran after him, called him back, and said: “Listen, dear brother! I beseech you, leave us. You will get no good among us. Go to the Brethren at Bunzlau, and there your soul will find rest.” Augusta was shocked beyond measure. He hated the Brethren, regarded them as beasts, and had often warned others against them. But now he went to see them himself, and found to his joy that they followed the Scriptures, obeyed the Gospel and enforced their rules without respect of persons. For a while he was in a quandary. His conscience drew him to the Brethren, his honour held him to the Utraquists, and finally his own father confessor settled the question for him.
“Dear friend,” said the holy man, “entrust your soul to the Brethren. Never mind if some of them are hypocrites, who do not obey their own rules. It is your business to obey the rules yourself. What more do you want? If you return to us in Prague, you will meet with none but sinners and sodomites.”
And so, by the advice of Utraquist priests, this ardent young man joined the ranks of the Brethren, was probably trained in the Brethren’s House at Jungbunzlau, and was soon ordained as a minister. Forthwith he rose to fame and power in the pulpit. His manner was dignified and noble. His brow was lofty, his eye flashing, his bearing the bearing of a commanding king. He was a splendid speaker, a ready debater, a ruler of men, an inspirer of action; he was known ere long as the Bohemian Luther; and he spread the fame of the Brethren’s Church throughout the Protestant world. Full soon, in truth, he began his great campaign. As he entered on his work as a preacher of the Gospel, he found that among the younger Brethren there were quite a number who did not feel at all disposed to be bound by the warning words of Luke of Prague. They had been to the great Wittenberg University; they had mingled with Luther’s students; they had listened to the talk of Michael Weiss, who had been a monk at Breslau, and had brought Lutheran opinions with him; they admired both Luther and Melancthon; and they now resolved, with one consent, that if the candlestick of the Brethren’s Church was not to be moved from out its place, they must step shoulder to shoulder with Luther, become a regiment in the conquering Protestant army, and march with him to the goodly land where the flower of the glad free Gospel bloomed in purity and sweet perfume. At the first opportunity Augusta, their leader, brought forward their views. At a Synod held at Brandeis-on-the-Adler, summoned by Augusta’s friend, John Horn, the senior Bishop of the Church, for the purpose of electing some new Bishops, Augusta rose to address the assembly. He spoke in the name of the younger clergy, and immediately commenced an attack upon the old Executive Council. He accused them of listlessness and sloth; he said that they could not understand the spirit of the age, and he ended his speech by proposing himself and four other broad-minded men as members of the Council. The old men were shocked; the young were entranced; and Augusta was elected and consecrated a Bishop, and thus, at the age of thirty-two, became the leader of the Brethren’s Church. He had three great schemes in view; first, friendly relations with Protestants in other countries; second, legal recognition of the Brethren in Bohemia; third, the union of all Bohemian Protestants.
First, then, with Augusta to lead them on, the Brethren enlisted in the Protestant army, and held the banner of their faith aloft that all the world might see. As the Protestants in Germany had issued the Confession of Augsburg, and had it read in solemn style before the face of the Emperor, Charles V., so now the Brethren issued a new and full “Confession of Faith,” to be sent first to George, Margrave of Brandenburg, and then laid in due time before Ferdinand, King of Bohemia. It was a characteristic Brethren’s production.35 It is perfectly clear from this Confession that the Brethren had separated from Rome for practical rather than dogmatic reasons. It is true the Brethren realised the value of faith; it is true the Confession contained the sentence, “He is the Lamb that taketh away the sins of the world; and whosoever believeth in Him and calleth on His name shall be saved”; but even now the Brethren did not, like Luther, lay stress on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. And yet Luther had no fault to find with this Confession. It was addressed to him, was printed at Wittenberg, was issued with his consent and approval, and was praised by him in a preface. It was read and approved by John Calvin, by Martin Bucer, by Philip Melancthon, by pious old George, Margrave of Brandenburg, and by John Frederick, Elector of Saxony. Again and again the Brethren sent deputies to see the great Protestant leaders. At Wittenberg, Augusta discussed good morals with Luther and Melancthon; and at Strasburg, Cerwenka, the Brethren’s historian, held friendly counsel with Martin Bucer and Calvin. Never had the Brethren been so widely known, and never had they received so many compliments. Formerly Luther, who liked plain speech, had called the Brethren “sour-looking hypocrites and self-grown saints, who believe in nothing but what they themselves teach.” But now he was all good humour. “There never have been any Christians,” he said, in a lecture to his students, “so like the apostles in doctrine and constitution as these Bohemian Brethren.”
“Tell your Brethren,” he said to their deputies, “to hold fast what God has given them, and never give up their constitution and discipline. Let them take no heed of revilements. The world will behave foolishly. If you in Bohemia were to live as we do, what is said of us would be said of you, and if we were to live as you do, what is said of you would be said of us.” “We have never,” he added, in a letter to the Brethren, “attained to such a discipline and holy life as is found among you, but in the future we shall make it our aim to attain it.”
The other great Reformers were just as enthusiastic. “How shall I,” said Bucer, “instruct those whom God Himself has instructed! You alone, in all the world, combine a wholesome discipline with a pure faith.” “We,” said Calvin, “have long since recognised the value of such a system, but cannot, in any way, attain to it.” “I am pleased,” said Melancthon, “with the strict discipline enforced in your congregations. I wish we could have a stricter discipline in ours.” It is clear what all this means. It means that the Brethren, in their humble way, had taught the famous Protestant leaders the value of a system of Church discipline and the need of good works as the proper fruit of faith.
Meanwhile Augusta pushed his second plan. The task before him was gigantic. A great event had taken place in Bohemia. At the battle of Mohacz, in a war with the Turks, Louis, King of Bohemia, fell from his horse when crossing a stream, and was drowned {1526.}. The old line of Bohemian Kings had come to an end. The crown fell into the hands of the Hapsburgs; the Hapsburgs were the mightiest supporters of the Church of Rome; and the King of Bohemia, Ferdinand I., was likewise King of Hungary, Archduke of Austria, King of the Romans, and brother of the Emperor Charles V., the head of the Holy Roman Empire.
For the Brethren the situation was momentous. As Augusta scanned the widening view, he saw that the time was coming fast when the Brethren, whether they would or no, would be called to play their part like men in a vast European conflict. Already the Emperor Charles V. had threatened to crush the Reformation by force; already (1530) the Protestant princes in Germany had formed the Smalkald League; and Augusta, scenting the battle from afar, resolved to build a fortress for the Brethren. His policy was clear and simple. If the King of Bohemia joined forces with the Emperor, the days of the Brethren’s Church would soon be over. He would make the King of Bohemia their friend, and thus save the Brethren from the horrors of war. For this purpose Augusta now instructed the powerful Baron, Conrad Krajek, the richest member of the Brethren’s Church, to present the Brethren’s Confession of Faith to King Ferdinand. The Baron undertook the task. He was the leader of a group of Barons who had recently joined the Church; he had built the great Zbor of the Brethren in Jungbunzlau, known as “Mount Carmel”; he had been the first to suggest a Confession of Faith, and now, having signed the Confession himself, he sought out the King at Vienna, and was admitted to a private interview {Nov. 11th, 1535.}. The scene was stormy. “We would like to know,” said the King, “how you Brethren came to adopt this faith. The devil has persuaded you.”
“Not the devil, gracious liege,” replied the Baron, “but Christ the Lord through the Holy Scriptures. If Christ was a Picard, then I am one too.”
The King was beside himself with rage.
“What business,” he shouted, “have you to meddle with such things? You are neither Pope, nor Emperor, nor King. Believe what you will! We shall not prevent you! If you really want to go to hell, go by all means!”
The Baron was silent. The King paused.
“Yes, yes,” he continued, “you may believe what you like and we shall not prevent you; but all the same, I give you warning that we shall put a stop to your meetings, where you carry on your hocus-pocus.”
The Baron was almost weeping.
“Your Majesty,” he protested, “should not be so hard on me and my noble friends. We are the most loyal subjects in your kingdom.”
The King softened, spoke more gently, but still held to his point.
“I swore,” he said, “at my coronation to give justice to the Utraquists and Catholics, and I know what the statute says.”
As the King spoke those ominous words, he was referring, as the Baron knew full well, to the terrible Edict of St. James. The interview ended; the Baron withdrew; the issue still hung doubtful.
And yet the Baron had not spoken in vain. For three days the King was left undisturbed; and then two other Barons appeared and presented the Confession, signed by twelve nobles and thirty-three knights, in due form {Nov. 14th}.
“Do you really think,” they humbly said, “that it helps the unity of the kingdom when priests are allowed to say in the pulpit that it is less sinful to kill a Picard than it is to kill a dog.”
The King was touched; his anger was gone, and a week later he promised the Barons that as long as the Brethren were loyal subjects he would allow them to worship as they pleased. For some years the new policy worked very well, and the King kept his promise. The Brethren were extending on every hand. They had now at least four hundred churches and two hundred thousand members. They printed and published translations of Luther’s works. They had a church in the city of Prague itself. They enjoyed the favour of the leading nobles in the land; and Augusta, in a famous sermon, expressed the hope that before very long the Brethren and Utraquists would be united and form one National Protestant Church.36

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