A history of the moravian church

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“Ah,” said one of them, “a country peasant does not use a handkerchief like this.”
The game was up. Augusta stood revealed, and Schöneich, hearing the glorious news, came prancing up on his horse.
“My lord,” said Augusta, “is this what you call faith?”
“Did you never hear,” said Schöneich, “that promises made in the night are never binding? Did you never hear of a certain Jew with his red beard and yellow bag? Did you never hear of the mighty power of money? And where have you come from this morning? I hear you have plenty of money in your possession. Where is that money now?”
As they rode next day in a covered waggon on their way to the city of Prague, the Captain pestered Augusta with many questions.
“My dear Johannes,” said the jovial wag, “where have you been? With whom? Where are your letters and your clothes? Whose is this cap? Where did you get it? Who lent it to you? What do they call him? Where does he live? Where is your horse? Where is your money? Where are your companions?”
“Why do you ask so many questions?” asked Augusta.
“Because,” replied Schöneich, letting out the murder, “I want to be able to give information about you. I don’t want to be called a donkey or a calf.”
And now began for John Augusta a time of terrible testing. As the Captain rapped his questions out he was playing his part in a deadly game that involved the fate, not only of the Brethren’s Church, but of all evangelicals in the land.
For months King Ferdinand had longed to capture Augusta. He regarded him as the author of the Smalkald League; he regarded him as the deadliest foe of the Catholic faith in Europe; he regarded the peaceful Brethren as rebels of the vilest kind; and now that he had Augusta in his power he determined to make him confess the plot, and then, with the proof he desired in his hands, he would stamp out the Brethren’s Church for once and all.
For this purpose Augusta was now imprisoned in the White Tower at Prague. He was placed in the wine vaults below the castle, had heavy fetters on his hands and feet, and sat for days in a crunched position. The historic contest began. For two hours at a stretch the King’s examiners riddled Augusta with questions. “Who sent the letter to the King?”41 they asked. “Where do the Brethren keep their papers and money? To whom did the Brethren turn for help when the King called on his subjects to support him? Who went with you to Wittenberg? For what and for whom did the Brethren pray.”
“They prayed,” said Augusta, “that God would incline the heart of the King to be gracious to us.”
“By what means did the Brethren defend themselves?”
“By patience,” replied Augusta.
“To whom did they apply for help?”
Augusta pointed to heaven.
As Augusta’s answers to all these questions were not considered satisfactory, they next endeavoured to sharpen his wits by torturing a German coiner in his presence; and when this mode of persuasion failed, they tortured Augusta himself. They stripped him naked. They stretched him face downwards on a ladder. They smeared his hips with boiling pitch. They set the spluttering mess on fire, and drew it off, skin and all, with a pair of tongs. They screwed him tightly in the stocks. They hung him up to the ceiling by a hook, with the point run through his flesh. They laid him flat upon his back and pressed great stones on his stomach. It was all in vain. Again they urged him to confess the part that he and the Brethren had played in the great revolt, and again Augusta bravely replied that the Brethren had taken no such part at all.
At this the King himself intervened. For some months he had been busy enough at Augsburg, assisting the Emperor in his work; but now he sent a letter to Prague, with full instructions how to deal with Augusta. If gentle measures did not succeed, then sterner measures, said he, must be employed. He had three new tortures to suggest. First, he said, let Augusta be watched and deprived of sleep for five or six days. Next, he must be strapped to a shutter, with his head hanging over one end; he must have vinegar rubbed into his nostrils; he must have a beetle fastened on to his stomach; and in this position, with his neck aching, his nostrils smarting, and the beetle working its way to his vitals, he must be kept for two days and two nights. And, third, if these measures did not act, he must be fed with highly seasoned food and allowed nothing to drink.
But these suggestions were never carried out. As the messenger hastened with the King’s billet-doux, and the Brethren on the northern frontier were setting out for Poland, Augusta and Bilek were on their way to the famous old castle of Pürglitz. For ages that castle, built on a rock, and hidden away in darkling woods, had been renowned in Bohemian lore. There the mother of Charles IV. had heard the nightingales sing; there the faithful, ran the story, had held John Ziska at bay; there had many a rebel suffered in the terrible “torture-tower”; and there Augusta and his faithful friend were to lie for many a long and weary day.
They were taken to Pürglitz in two separate waggons. They travelled by night and arrived about mid-day; they were placed in two separate cells, and for sixteen years the fortunes of the Brethren centred round Pürglitz Castle.
If the Bishop had been the vilest criminal, he could not have been more grossly insulted. For two years he had to share his cell with a vulgar German coiner; and the coiner, in facetious pastime, often smote him on the head.
His cell was almost pitch-dark. The window was shuttered within and without, and the merest glimmer from the cell next door struggled in through a chink four inches broad. At meals alone he was permitted half a candle. For bedding he had a leather bolster, a coverlet and what Germans call a “bed-sack.” For food he was allowed two rations of meat, two hunches of bread, and two jugs of barley-beer a day. His shirt was washed about once a fortnight, his face and hands twice a week, his head twice a year, and the rest of his body never. He was not allowed the use of a knife and fork. He was not allowed to speak to the prison attendants. He had no books, no papers, no ink, no news of the world without; and there for three years he sat in the dark, as lonely as the famous prisoner of Chillon. Again, by the King’s command, he was tortured, with a gag in his mouth to stifle his screams and a threat that if he would not confess he should have an interview with the hangman; and again he refused to deny his Brethren, and was flung back into his corner.
The delivering angel came in humble guise. Among the warders who guarded his cell was a daring youth who had lived at Leitomischl. He had been brought up among the Brethren. He regarded the Bishop as a martyr. His wife lived in a cottage near the castle; and now, drunken rascal though he was, he risked his life for Augusta’s sake, used his cottage as a secret post office, and handed in to the suffering Bishop letters, books, ink, paper, pens, money and candles.
The Brethren stationed a priest in Pürglitz village. The great Bishop was soon as bright and active as ever. By day he buried his tools in the ground; by night he plugged every chink and cranny, and applied himself to his labours. Not yet was his spirit broken; not yet was his mind unhinged. As his candle burned in that gloomy dungeon in the silent watches of the night, so the fire of his genius shone anew in those darksome days of trial and persecution; and still he urged his afflicted Brethren to be true to the faith of their fathers, to hold fast the Apostles’ Creed, and to look onward to the brighter day when once again their pathway would shine as the wings of a dove that are covered with silver and her feathers with yellow gold. He comforted Bilek in his affliction; he published a volume of sermons for the elders to read in secret; he composed a number of stirring and triumphant hymns; and there he penned the noble words still sung in the Brethren’s Church:--
Praise God for ever.

Boundless is his favour,

To his Church and chosen flock,

Founded on Christ the Rock.
As he lay in his cell he pondered much on the sad fate of his Brethren. At one time he heard a rumour that the Church was almost extinct. Some, he knew, had fled to Poland. Some had settled in Moravia. Some, robbed of lands and houses, were roaming the country as pedlars or earning a scanty living as farm labourers. And some, alas! had lowered the flag and joined the Church of Rome.
And yet Augusta had never abandoned hope. For ten years, despite a few interruptions, he kept in almost constant touch, not only with his own Brethren, but also with the Protestant world at large. He was still, he thought, the loved and honoured leader; he was still the mightiest religious force in the land; and now, in his dungeon, he sketched a plan to heal his country’s woes and form the true disciples of Christ into one grand national Protestant army against which both Pope and Emperor would for ever contend in vain.


TO Augusta the prospect seemed hopeful. Great changes had taken place in the Protestant world. The Lutherans in Germany had triumphed. The religious peace of Augsburg had been consummated, The German Protestants had now a legal standing. The great Emperor, Charles V., had resigned his throne. His successor was his brother Ferdinand, the late King of Bohemia. The new King of Bohemia was Ferdinand’s eldest son, Maximilian I. Maximilian was well disposed towards Protestants, and persecution in Bohemia died away.
And now the Brethren plucked up heart again. They rebuilt their chapel at their headquarters, Jungbunzlau. They presented a copy of their Hymn-book to the King. They divided the Church into three provinces--Bohemia, Moravia and Poland. They appointed George Israel First Senior in Poland, John Czerny First Senior in Bohemia and Moravia, and Cerwenka secretary to the whole Church.
But the Brethren had gone further still. As Augusta was the sole surviving Bishop in the Church, the Brethren were in a difficulty. They must not be without Bishops. But what were they to do? Were they to wait till Augusta was set at liberty, or were they to elect new Bishops without his authority? They chose the latter course, and Augusta was deeply offended. They elected Czerny and Cerwenka to the office of Bishops; they had them consecrated as Bishops by two Brethren in priests’ orders; and they actually allowed the two new Bishops to consecrate two further Bishops, George Israel and Blahoslaw, the Church Historian.
And even this was not the worst of the story. As he lay in his dungeon forming plans for the Church he loved so well, it slowly dawned upon Augusta that his Brethren were ceasing to trust him, and that the sun of his power, which had shone so brightly, was now sloping slowly to its setting. He heard of one change after another taking place without his consent. He heard that the Council had condemned his sermons as too learned and dry for the common people, and that they had altered them to suit their own opinions. He heard that his hymns, which he had desired to see in the new Hymn-book, had been mangled in a similar manner. His Brethren did not even tell him what they were doing. They simply left him out in the cold. What he himself heard he heard by chance, and that was the “most unkind cut of all.” His authority was gone; his position was lost; his hopes were blasted; and his early guidance, his entreaties, his services, his sufferings were all, he thought, forgotten by an ungrateful Church.
As Augusta heard of all these changes, a glorious vision rose before his mind. At first he was offended, quarrelled with the Brethren, and declared the new Bishops invalid. But at last his better feelings gained the mastery. He would not sulk like a petted child; he would render his Brethren the greatest service in his power. He would fight his way to liberty; he would resume his place on the bridge, and before long he would make the Church the national Church of Bohemia.
The door was opened by a duke. The Archduke Ferdinand, brother of the King, came to reside at Pürglitz {1560.}. Augusta appealed for liberty to Ferdinand; the Archduke referred the matter to the King; the King referred the matter to the clergy; and the clergy drew up for Augusta’s benefit a form of recantation. The issue before him was now perfectly clear. There was one road to freedom and one only. He must sign the form of recantation in full. The form was drastic. He must renounce all his previous religious opinions. He must acknowledge the Holy Catholic Church and submit to her in all things. He must eschew the gatherings of Waldenses, Picards and all other apostates, denounce their teaching as depraved, and recognise the Church of Rome as the one true Church of Christ. He must labour for the unity of the Church and endeavour to bring his Brethren into the fold. He must never again interpret the Scriptures according to his own understanding, but submit rather to the exposition and authority of the Holy Roman Church, which alone was fit to decide on questions of doctrine. He must do his duty by the King, obey him and serve him with zeal as a loyal subject. And finally he must write out the whole recantation with his own hand, take a public oath to keep it, and have it signed and sealed by witnesses. Augusta refused point blank. His hopes of liberty vanished. His heart sank in despair. “They might as well,” said Bilek, his friend, “have asked him to walk on his head.”
But here Lord Sternberg, Governor of the Castle, suggested another path. If Augusta, said he, would not join the Church of Rome, perhaps he would at least join the Utraquists. He had been a Utraquist in his youth; the Brethren were Utraquists under another name; and all that Augusta had to do was to give himself his proper name, and his dungeon door would fly open. Of all the devices to entrap Augusta, this well-meant trick was the most enticing. The argument was a shameless logical juggle. The Utraquists celebrated the communion in both kinds; the Brethren celebrated the communion in both kinds; therefore the Brethren were Utraquists.42 At first Augusta himself appeared to be caught.
“I, John Augusta,” he wrote, “confess myself a member of the whole Evangelical Church, which, wherever it may be, receives the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ in both kinds. I swear that, along with the Holy Catholic Church, I will maintain true submission and obedience to her chief Head, Jesus Christ. I will order my life according to God’s holy word and the truth of his pure Gospel. I will be led by Him, obey Him alone, and by no other human thoughts and inventions. I renounce all erroneous and wicked opinions against the holy universal Christian apostolic faith. I will never take any part in the meetings of Picards or other heretics.”
If Augusta thought that by language like this he would catch his examiners napping, he was falling into a very grievous error. He had chosen his words with care. He never said what he meant by the Utraquists. He never said whether he would include the Brethren among the Utraquists or among the Picards and heretics. And he had never made any reference to the Pope.
His examiners were far too clever to be deceived. Instead of recommending that Augusta be now set at liberty, they contended that his recantation was no recantation at all. He had shown no inclination, they said, towards either Rome or Utraquism. His principles were remarkably like those of Martin Luther. He had not acknowledged the supremacy of the Pope, and when he said he would not be led by any human inventions he was plainly repudiating the Church of Rome. What is the good, they asked, of Augusta’s promising to resist heretics when he does not acknowledge the Brethren to be heretics? “It is,” they said, “as clear as day that John Augusta has no real intention of renouncing his errors.” Let the man say straight out to which party he belonged.
Again Augusta tried to fence, and again he met his match. Instead of saying in plain language to which party he belonged, he persisted in his first assertion that he belonged to the Catholic Evangelical Church, which was now split into various sects. But as the old man warmed to his work he threw caution aside.
“I have never,” he said, “had anything to do with Waldenses or Picards. I belong to the general Evangelical Church, which enjoys the Communion in both kinds. I renounce entirely the Popish sect known as the Holy Roman Church. I deny that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ. I deny that the Church of Rome alone has authority to interpret the Scriptures. If the Church of Rome claims such authority, she must first show that she is free from the spirit of the world, and possesses the spirit of charity, and until that is done I refuse to bow to her decrees.”
He defended the Church of the Brethren with all his might. It was, he said, truly evangelical. It was Catholic. It was apostolic. It was recognised and praised by Luther, Calvin, Melancthon, Bucer, Bullinger and other saints. As long as the moral life of the Church of Rome remained at such a low ebb, so long would there be need for the Brethren’s Church.
“If the Church of Rome will mend her ways, the Brethren,” said he, “will return to her fold; but till that blessed change takes place they will remain where they are.”
He denied being a traitor. “If any one says that I have been disloyal to the Emperor, I denounce that person as a liar. If his Majesty knew how loyal I have been, he would not keep me here another hour. I know why I am suffering. I am suffering, not as an evil-doer, but as a Christian.”
The first skirmish was over. The clergy were firm, and Augusta sank back exhausted in his cell. But the kindly Governor was still resolved to smooth the way for his prisoners. “I will not rest,” he said, “till I see them at liberty.” He suggested that Augusta should have an interview with the Jesuits!
“What would be the good of that?” said Augusta. “I should be like a little dog in the midst of a pack of lions. I pray you, let these negotiations cease. I would rather stay where I am. It is clear there is no escape for me unless I am false to my honour and my conscience. I will never recant nor act against my conscience. May God help me to keep true till death.”
At last, however, Augusta gave way, attended Mass, with Bilek, in the castle chapel, and consented to an interview with the Jesuits, on condition that Bilek should go with him, and that he should also be allowed another interview with the Utraquists {1561.}. The day for the duel arrived. The chosen spot was the new Jesuit College at Prague. As they drove to the city both Augusta and Bilek were allowed to stretch their limbs and even get out of sight of their guards. At Prague they were allowed a dip in the Royal Bath. It was the first bath they had had for fourteen years, and the people came from far and near to gaze upon their scars.
And now, being fresh and clean in body, Augusta, the stubborn heretical Picard, was to be made clean in soul. As the Jesuits were determined to do their work well, they laid down the strict condition that no one but themselves must be allowed to speak with the prisoners. For the rest the prisoners were treated kindly. The bedroom was neat; the food was good; the large, bright dining-room had seven windows. They had wine to dinner, and were waited on by a discreet and silent butler. Not a word did that solemn functionary utter. If the Brethren made a remark to him, he laid his fingers on his lips like the witches in Macbeth.
The great debate began. The Jesuit spokesman was Dr. Henry Blissem. He opened by making a clean breast of the whole purpose of the interview.
“It is well known to you both,” said he, “for what purpose you have been handed over to our care, that we, if possible, may help you to a right understanding of the Christian faith.”
If the Jesuits could have had their way, they would have had Augusta’s answers set down in writing. But here Augusta stood firm as a rock. He knew the game the Jesuits were playing. The interview was of national importance. If his answers were considered satisfactory, the Jesuits would have them printed, sow them broadcast, and boast of his conversion; and if, on the other hand, they were unsatisfactory, they would send them to the Emperor as proof that Augusta was a rebel, demand his instant execution, and start another persecution of the Brethren.
Dr. Henry, made the first pass.
“The Holy Universal Church,” he said, “is the true bride of Christ and the true mother of all Christians.”
Augusta politely agreed.
“On this is question,” he said, “our own party thinks and believes exactly as you do.”
“No one,” continued the doctor suavely, “can believe in God who does not think correctly of the Holy Church, and regard her as his mother; and without the Church there is no salvation.”
Again Augusta politely agreed, and again the learned Jesuit beamed with pleasure. Now came the tug of war.
“This Holy Christian Church,” said Blissem, “has never erred and cannot err.”
Augusta met this with a flat denial. If he surrendered here he surrendered all, and would be untrue to his Brethren. If he once agreed that the Church was infallible he was swallowing the whole Roman pill. In vain the doctor argued. Augusta held his ground. The Jesuits reported him hard in the head, and had him sent back to his cell.
For two more years he waited in despair, and then he was brought to the White Tower again, and visited by two Utraquist Priests, Mystopol and Martin. His last chance, they told him, had now arrived. They had come as messengers from the Archduke Ferdinand and from the Emperor himself.
“I know,” said one of them, “on what you are relying and how you console yourself, but I warn you it will avail you nothing.”
“You know no secrets,” said Augusta.
“What secrets?” queried Mystopol.
“Neither divine nor mine. My dear administrators, your visit is quite a surprise! With regard to the recantation, however, let me say at once, I shall not sign it! I have never been guilty of any errors, and have nothing to recant. I made my public confession of faith before the lords and knights of Bohemia twenty-eight years ago. It was shown to the Emperor at Vienna, and no one has ever found anything wrong with it.”
“How is it,” said Mystopol, “you cannot see your error? You know it says in our confession, ‘I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.’ You Brethren have fallen away from that Church. You are not true members of the body. You are an ulcer. You are a scab. You have no sacraments. You have written bloodthirsty pamphlets against us. We have a whole box full of your productions.”
“We never wrote any tracts,” said Augusta, “except to show why we separated from you, but you urged on the Government against us. You likened me to a bastard and to Goliath the Philistine. Your petition read as if it had been written in a brothel.”
And now the character of John Augusta shone forth in all its grandeur. The old man was on his mettle.
“Of all Christians known to me,” he said, “the Brethren stick closest to Holy Writ. Next to them come the Lutherans; next to the Lutherans the Utraquists; and next to the Utraquists the---!”
But there in common honesty he had to stop. And then he turned the tables on Mystopol, and came out boldly with his scheme. It was no new idea of his. He had already, in 1547, advocated a National Protestant Church composed of Utraquists and Brethren. Instead of the Brethren joining the Utraquists, it was, said Augusta, the plain duty of the Utraquists to break from the Church of Rome and join the Brethren. For the last forty years the Utraquists had been really Lutherans at heart. He wanted them now to be true to their own convictions. He wanted them to carry out in practice the teaching of most of their preachers. He wanted them to run the risk of offending the Emperor and the Pope. He wanted them to ally themselves with the Brethren; and he believed that if they would only do so nearly every soul in Bohemia would join the new Evangelical movement. De Schweinitz says that Augusta betrayed his Brethren, and that when he called himself a Utraquist he was playing with words. I cannot accept this verdict. He explained clearly and precisely what he meant; he was a Utraquist in the same sense as Luther; and the castle he had built in the air was nothing less than a grand international union of all the Evangelical Christians in Europe.

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