A history of the moravian church

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At this point a beautiful incident occurred. As the Brethren were now so friendly with Luther, there was a danger that they would abandon their discipline, become ashamed of their own little Church, and try to imitate the teaching and practice of their powerful Protestant friends. For some years after Luke’s death they actually gave way to this temptation, and Luke’s last treatise, “Regulations for Priests,” was scornfully cast aside. But the Brethren soon returned to their senses. As John Augusta and John Horn travelled in Germany, they made the strange and startling discovery that, after all, the Brethren’s Church was the best Church they knew. For a while they were dazzled by the brilliance of the Lutheran preachers; but in the end they came to the conclusion that though these preachers were clever men they had not so firm a grip on Divine truth as the Brethren. At last, in 1546, the Brethren met in a Synod at Jungbunzlau to discuss the whole situation. With tears in his eyes John Horn addressed the assembly. “I have never understood till now,” he said, “what a costly treasure our Church is. I have been blinded by the reading of German books! I have never found any thing so good in those books as we have in the books of the Brethren. You have no need, beloved Brethren, to seek for instruction from others. You have enough at home. I exhort you to study what you have already; you will find there all you need.” Again the discipline was revived in all its vigour; again, by Augusta’s advice, the Catechism of Luke was put into common use, and the Brethren began to open schools and teach their principles to others.
But now their fondest hopes were doomed to be blasted. For the last time Augusta went to Wittenberg to discuss the value of discipline with Luther, and as his stay drew to a close he warned the great man that if the German theologians spent so much time in spinning doctrines and so little time in teaching morals, there was danger brewing ahead. The warning soon came true. The Reformer died. The gathering clouds in Germany burst, and the Smalkald War broke out. The storm swept on to Bohemia. As the Emperor gathered his forces in Germany to crush the Protestant Princes to powder, so Ferdinand in Bohemia summoned his subjects to rally round his standard at Leitmeritz and defend the kingdom and the throne against the Protestant rebels. For the first time in their history the Bohemian Brethren were ordered to take sides in a civil war. The situation was delicate. If they fought for Ferdinand they would be untrue to their faith; if they fought against him they would be disloyal to their country. In this dilemma they did the best they could.
As soon as they could possibly do so, the Elders issued a form of prayer to be used in all their churches. It was a prayer for the kingdom and the throne.37 But meanwhile others were taking definite sides. At Leitmeritz the Catholics and old-fashioned Utraquists mustered to fight for the King; and at Prague the Protestant nobles met to defend the cause of religious liberty. They met in secret at a Brother’s House; they formed a Committee of Safety of eight, and of those eight four were Brethren; and they passed a resolution to defy the King, and send help to the German Protestant leader, John Frederick, Elector of Saxony.
And then the retribution fell like a bolt from the blue. The great battle of Mühlberg was fought {April 24th, 1547.}; the Protestant troops were routed; the Elector of Saxony was captured; the Emperor was master of Germany, and Ferdinand returned to Prague with vengeance written on his brow. He called a council at Prague Castle, summoned the nobles and knights before him, ordered them to deliver up their treasonable papers, came down on many with heavy fines, and condemned the ringleaders to death.
At eight in the morning, August 22nd, four Barons were led out to execution in Prague, and the scaffold was erected in a public place that all the people might see and learn a lesson. Among the Barons was Wenzel Petipesky, a member of the Brethren’s Church. He was to be the first to die. As he was led from his cell by the executioner, he called out in a loud voice, which could be heard far and wide: “My dear Brethren, we go happy in the name of the Lord, for we go in the narrow way.” He walked to the scaffold with his hands bound before him, and two boys played his dead march on drums. As he reached the scaffold the drums ceased, and the executioner announced that the prisoner was dying because he had tried to dethrone King Ferdinand and put another King in his place.
“That,” said Petipesky, “was never the case.”
“Never mind, my Lord,” roared the executioner, “it will not help you now.”
“My God,” said Petipesky, “I leave all to Thee;” and his head rolled on the ground.
But the worst was still to come. As Ferdinand came out of the castle church on Sunday morning, September 18th, he was met by a deputation of Utraquists and Catholics, who besought him to protect them against the cruelties inflicted on them by the Picards. The King soon eased their minds. He had heard a rumour that John Augusta was the real leader of the revolt; he regarded the Brethren as traitors; he no longer felt bound by his promise to spare them; and, therefore, reviving the Edict of St. James, he issued an order that all their meetings should be suppressed, all their property be confiscated, all their churches be purified and transformed into Romanist Chapels, and all their priests be captured and brought to the castle in Prague {Oct. 8th, 1547.}. The Brethren pleaded not guilty.38 They had not, as a body, taken any part in the conspiracy against the King. Instead of plotting against him, in fact, they had prayed and fasted in every parish for the kingdom and the throne. If the King, they protested, desired to punish the few guilty Brethren, by all means let him do so; but let him not crush the innocent many for the sake of a guilty few. “My word,” replied the King, “is final.” The Brethren continued to protest. And the King retorted by issuing an order that all Brethren who lived on Royal estates must either accept the Catholic Faith or leave the country before six weeks were over {May, 1548.}.
And never was King more astounded and staggered than Ferdinand at the result of this decree.


IT is easy to see what Ferdinand expected. He had no desire to shed more blood; he wished to see Bohemia at peace; he knew that the Brethren, with all their skill, could never sell out in six weeks; and therefore he hoped that, like sensible men, they would abandon their Satanic follies, consider the comfort of their wives and children, and nestle snugly in the bosom of the Church of Rome. But the Brethren had never learned the art of dancing to Ferdinand’s piping. As the King would not extend the time, they took him at his word. The rich came to the help of the poor,39 and before the six weeks had flown away a large band of Brethren had bidden a sad farewell to their old familiar haunts and homes, and started on their journey north across the pine-clad hills. From Leitomischl, Chlumitz and Solnic, by way of Frankenstein and Breslau, and from Turnau and Brandeis-on-the-Adler across the Giant Mountains, they marched in two main bodies from Bohemia to Poland. The time was the leafy month of June, and the first part of the journey was pleasant. “We were borne,” says one, “on eagles’ wings.” As they tramped along the country roads, with wagons for the women, old men and children, they made the air ring with the gladsome music of old Brethren’s hymns and their march was more like a triumphal procession than the flight of persecuted refugees. They were nearly two thousand in number. They had hundreds with them, both Catholic and Protestant, to protect them against the mountain brigands. They had guards of infantry and cavalry. They were freed from toll at the turn-pikes. They were supplied with meat, bread, milk and eggs by the simple country peasants. They were publicly welcomed and entertained by the Mayor and Council of Glatz. As the news of their approach ran on before, the good folk in the various towns and villages would sweep the streets and clear the road to let them pass with speed and safety to their desired haven far away. For two months they enjoyed themselves at Posen, and the Polish nobles welcomed them as Brothers; but the Bishop regarded them as wolves in the flock, and had them ordered away. From Posen they marched to Polish Prussia, and were ordered away again; and not till the autumn leaves had fallen and the dark long nights had come did they find a home in the town of Königsberg, in the Lutheran Duchy of East Prussia.
And even there they were almost worried to death. As they settled down as peaceful citizens in this Protestant land of light and liberty, they found, to their horror and dismay, that Lutherans, when it suited their purpose, could be as bigoted as Catholics. They were forced to accept the Confession of Augsburg. They were forbidden to ordain their own priests or practise their own peculiar customs. They were treated, not as Protestant brothers, but as highly suspicious foreigners; and a priest of the Brethren was not allowed to visit a member of his flock unless he took a Lutheran pastor with him. “If you stay with us,” said Speratus, the Superintendent of the East Prussian Lutheran Church, “you must accommodate yourselves to our ways. Nobody sent for you; nobody asked you to come.” If the Brethren, in a word, were to stay in East Prussia, they must cease to be Brethren at all, and allow themselves to be absorbed by the conquering Lutherans of the land.
Meanwhile, however, they had a Moses to lead them out of the desert. George Israel is a type of the ancient Brethren. He was the son of a blacksmith, was a close friend of Augusta, had been with him at Wittenberg, and was now the second great leader of the Brethren. When Ferdinand issued his decree, Israel, like many of the Brethren’s Ministers, was summoned to Prague to answer for his faith and conduct on pain of a fine of one thousand ducats; and when some of his friends advised him to disobey the summons, and even offered to pay the money, he gave one of those sublime answers which light up the gloom of the time. “No,” he replied, “I have been purchased once and for all with the blood of Christ, and will not consent to be ransomed with the gold and silver of my people. Keep what you have, for you will need it in your flight, and pray for me that I may be steadfast in suffering for Jesus.” He went to Prague, confessed his faith, and was thrown into the White Tower. But he was loosely guarded, and one day, disguised as a clerk, with a pen behind his ear, and paper and ink-horn in his hand, he walked out of the Tower in broad daylight through the midst of his guards, and joined the Brethren in Prussia. He was just the man to guide the wandering band, and the Council appointed him leader of the emigrants. He was energetic and brave. He could speak the Polish tongue. He had a clear head and strong limbs. For him a cold lodging in Prussia was not enough. He would lead his Brethren to a better land, and give them nobler work to do.
As the Brethren had already been driven from Poland, the task which Israel now undertook appeared an act of folly. But George Israel knew better. For a hundred years the people of Poland had sympathised to some extent with the reforming movement in Bohemia. There Jerome of Prague had taught. There the teaching of Hus had spread. There the people hated the Church of Rome. There the nobles sent their sons to study under Luther at Wittenberg. There the works of Luther and Calvin had been printed and spread in secret. There, above all, the Queen herself had been privately taught the Protestant faith by her own father-confessor. And there, thought Israel, the Brethren in time would find a hearty welcome. And so, while still retaining the oversight of a few parishes in East Prussia, George Israel, by commission of the Council, set out to conduct a mission in Poland {1551.}. Alone and on horseback, by bad roads and swollen streams, he went on his dangerous journey; and on the fourth Sunday in Lent arrived at the town of Thorn, and rested for the day. Here occurred the famous incident on the ice which made his name remembered in Thorn for many a year to come. As he was walking on the frozen river to try whether the ice was strong enough to bear his horse, the ice broke up with a crash. George Israel was left on a solitary lump, and was swept whirling down the river; and then, as the ice blocks cracked and banged and splintered into thousands of fragments, he sprang like a deer from block to block, and sang with loud exulting voice: “Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons and all deeps; fire and hail, snow and vapour, stormy wind fulfilling his word.” There was a great crowd on the bank. The people watched the thrilling sight with awe, and when at last he reached firm ground they welcomed him with shouts of joy. We marvel not that such a man was like the sword of Gideon in the conflict. He rode on to Posen, the capital of Great Poland, began holding secret meetings, and established the first evangelical church in the country. The Roman Catholic Bishop heard of his arrival, and put forty assassins on his track. But Israel was a man of many wiles as well as a man of God. He assumed disguises, and changed his clothes so as to baffle pursuit, appearing now as an officer, now as a coachman, now as a cook. He presented himself at the castle of the noble family of the Ostrorogs, was warmly welcomed by the Countess, and held a service in her rooms. The Count was absent, heard the news, and came in a state of fury. He seized a whip. “I will drag my wife out of this conventicle,” he exclaimed; and burst into the room while the service was proceeding, his eyes flashing fire and the whip swinging in his hand. The preacher, Cerwenka, calmly went on preaching. “Sir,” said George Israel, pointing to an empty seat “sit down there.” The Count of Ostrorog meekly obeyed, listened quietly to the discourse, became a convert that very day, turned out his own Lutheran Court Chaplain, installed George Israel in his place, and made a present to the Brethren of his great estate on the outskirts of the town.
For the Brethren the gain was enormous. As the news of the Count’s conversion spread, other nobles quickly followed suit. The town of Ostrorog became the centre of a swiftly growing movement; the poor Brethren in Prussia returned to Poland, and found churches ready for their use; and before seven years had passed away the Brethren had founded forty congregations in this their first land of exile.
They had, however, another great mission to fulfil. As the Brethren spread from town to town, they discovered that the other Protestant bodies--the Lutherans, Zwinglians and Calvinists--were almost as fond of fighting with each other as of denouncing the Church of Rome; and therefore the people, longing for peace, were disgusted more or less with them all. But the Brethren stood on a rather different footing. They were cousins to the Poles in blood; they had no fixed and definite creed; they thought far more of brotherly love than of orthodoxy in doctrine; and therefore the idea was early broached that the Church of the Brethren should be established as the National Church of Poland. The idea grew. The Lutherans, Zwinglians, Calvinists and Brethren drew closer and closer together. They exchanged confessions, discussed each other’s doctrines, met in learned consultations, and held united synods again and again. For fifteen years the glorious vision of a union of all the Protestants in Poland hung like glittering fruit just out of reach. There were many walls in the way. Each church wanted to be the leading church in Poland; each wanted its own confession to be the bond of union; each wanted its own form of service, its own form of government, to be accepted by all. But soon one and all began to see that the time had come for wranglings to cease. The Jesuits were gaining ground in Poland. The Protestant Kingdom must no longer be divided against itself.
At last the Brethren, the real movers of the scheme, persuaded all to assemble in the great United Synod of Sendomir, and all Protestants in Poland felt that the fate of the country depended on the issue of the meeting {1570.}. It was the greatest Synod that had ever been held in Poland. It was an attempt to start a new movement in the history of the Reformation, an attempt to fling out the apple of discord and unite all Protestants in one grand army which should carry the enemy’s forts by storm. At first the goal seemed further off than ever. As the Calvinists were the strongest body, they confidently demanded that their Confession should be accepted, and put forward the telling argument that it was already in use in the country. As the Lutherans were the next strongest body, they offered the Augsburg Confession, and both parties turned round upon the Brethren, and accused them of having so many Confessions that no one knew which to take. And then young Turnovius, the representative of the Brethren, rose to speak. The Brethren, he said, had only one Confession in Poland. They had presented that Confession to the King; they believed that it was suited best to the special needs of the country, and yet they would accept the Calvinists’ Confession as long as they might keep their own as well.
There was a deadlock. What was to be done? The Brethren’s work seemed about to come to nought. Debates and speeches were in vain. Each party remained firm as a rock. And then, in wondrous mystic wise, the tone of the gathering softened.
“For God’s sake, for God’s sake,” said the Palatine of Sendomir in his speech, “remember what depends upon the result of our deliberations, and incline your hearts to that harmony and love which the Lord has commanded us to follow above all things.”
As the Palatine ended his speech he burst into tears. His friend, the Palatine of Cracow, sobbed aloud. Forthwith the angry clouds disparted and revealed the bow of peace, the obstacles to union vanished, and the members of the Synod agreed to draw up a new Confession, which should give expression to the united faith of all. The Confession was prepared {April 14th.}. It is needless to trouble about the doctrinal details. For us the important point to notice is the spirit of union displayed. For the first, but not for the last, time in the history of Poland the Evangelical Protestants agreed to sink their differences on points of dispute, and unite their forces in common action against alike the power of Rome and the Unitarian40 sects of the day. The joy was universal. The scene in the hall at Sendomir was inspiring. When the Committee laid the Confession before the Synod all the members arose and sang the Ambrosian Te Deum. With outstretched hands the Lutherans advanced to meet the Brethren, and with outstretched hands the Brethren advanced to meet the Lutherans. The next step was to make the union public. For this purpose the Brethren, a few weeks later, formed a procession one Sunday morning and attended service at the Lutheran Church; and then, in the afternoon, the Lutherans attended service in the Church of the Brethren {May 28th, 1570.}. It is hard to believe that all this was empty show. And yet the truth must be confessed that this “Union of Sendomir” was by no means the beautiful thing that some writers have imagined. It was the result, to a very large extent, not of any true desire for unity, but rather of an attempt on the part of the Polish nobles to undermine the influence and power of the clergy. It led to no permanent union of the Protestants in Poland. Its interest is sentimental rather than historic. For the time--but for a very short time only--the Brethren had succeeded in teaching others a little charity of spirit, and had thus shown their desire to hasten the day when the Churches of Christ, no longer asunder, shall know “how good and how pleasant it is for Brethren to dwell together in unity.”
And all this--this attempt at unity, this second home for the Brethren, this new Evangelical movement in Poland--was the strange result of the edict issued by Ferdinand, King of Bohemia.


MEANWHILE, John Augusta, the great leader of the Brethren, was passing through the furnace of affliction.
Of all the tools employed by Ferdinand, the most crafty, active and ambitious was a certain officer named Sebastian Schöneich, who, in the words of the great historian, Gindely, was one of those men fitted by nature for the post of hangman.
For some months this man had distinguished himself by his zeal in the cause of the King. He had seized sixteen heads of families for singing hymns at a baker’s funeral, had thrown them into the drain-vaults of the White Tower at Prague, and had left them there to mend their ways in the midst of filth and horrible stenches. And now he occupied the proud position of town-captain of Leitomischl. Never yet had he known such a golden chance of covering himself with glory. For some time Augusta, who was now First Senior of the Church, had been hiding in the neighbouring woods, and only two or three Brethren knew his exact abode. But already persecution had done her work, and treachery now did hers.
Among the inhabitants of Leitomischl were certain renegade Brethren, and these now said to the Royal Commissioners: “If the King could only capture and torture Augusta, he could unearth the whole conspiracy.”
“Where is Augusta?” asked the Commissioners.
“He is not at home,” replied the traitors, “but if you will ask his friend, Jacob Bilek, he will tell you all you want to know.”
The wily Schöneich laid his plot. If only he could capture Augusta, he would win the favour of the King and fill his own pockets with money. As he strolled one day through the streets of Leitomischl he met a certain innocent Brother Henry, and there and then began his deadly work.
“If you know,” he said, “where Augusta is, tell him I desire an interview with him. I will meet him wherever he likes. I have something special to say to him, something good, not only for him, but for the whole Brethren’s Church. But breathe not a word of this to anyone else. Not a soul--not even yourself--must know about the matter.”
The message to Augusta was sent. He replied that he would grant the interview on condition that Schöneich would guarantee his personal safety.
“That,” replied Schöneich, “is quite impossible. I cannot give any security whatever. The whole business must be perfectly secret. Not a soul must be present but Augusta and myself. I wouldn’t have the King know about this for a thousand groschen. Tell Augusta not to be afraid of me. I have no instructions concerning him. He can come with an easy mind to Leitomischl. If he will not trust me as far as that, let him name the place himself, and I will go though it be a dozen miles away.”
But Augusta still returned the same answer, and Schöneich had to strengthen his plea. Again he met the guileless Brother Henry, and again he stormed him with his eloquent tongue.
“Have you no better answer from Augusta?” he asked.
“No,” replied Brother Henry.
“My dear, my only Henry,” pleaded Schöneich, “I do so long for a little chat with Augusta. My heart bleeds with sympathy for you. I am expecting the King’s Commissioners. They may be here any moment. It will go hard with you poor folk when they come. If only I could have a talk with Augusta, it would be so much better for you all. But do tell him not to be afraid of me. I have no instructions concerning him. I will wager my neck for that,” he said, putting his finger to his throat. “I am willing to give my life for you poor Brethren.”
The shot went home. As Augusta lay in his safe retreat he had written stirring letters to the Brethren urging them to be true to their colours; and now, he heard from his friends in Leitomischl that Schöneich was an evangelical saint, and that if he would only confer with the saint he might render his Brethren signal service, and deliver them from their distresses. He responded nobly to the appeal. For the sake of the Church he had led so long, he would risk his liberty and his life. In vain the voice of prudence said “Stay!”; the voice of love said “Go!”; and Augusta agreed to meet the Captain in a wood three miles from the town. The Captain chuckled. The time was fixed, and, the night before, the artful plotter sent three of his trusty friends to lie in wait. As the morning broke of the fateful day {April 25th, 1548.}, Augusta, still suspecting a trap, sent his secretary, Jacob Bilek, in advance to spy the land; and the three brave men sprang out upon him and carried him off to Schöneich. And then, at the appointed hour, came John Augusta himself. He had dressed himself as a country peasant, carried a hoe in is hand, and strolled in the woodland whistling a merry tune. For the moment the hirelings were baffled. They seized him and let him go; they seized him again and let him go again; they seized him, for the third time, searched him, and found a fine handkerchief in his bosom.

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