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A History of the Moravian Church

by 'Joseph Edmund Hutton'

Book 1 — The Bohemian Brethren. 1457-1673

Chapter 12 — The Golden Age, 1572-1603

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AS the Emperor Maximilian II. set out from the Royal Castle in Prague for a drive he met a baron famous in all the land {1575.}. The baron was John von Zerotin, the richest member of the Brethren's Church. He had come to Prague on very important business. His home lay at Namiest, in Moravia. He lived in a stately castle, built on two huge crags, and surrounded by the houses of his retainers and domestics. His estate was twenty-five miles square. He had a lovely park of beeches, pines and old oaks. He held his court in kingly style. He had gentlemen of the chamber of noble birth. He had pages and secretaries, equerries and masters of the chase. He had valets, lackeys, grooms, stable-boys, huntsmen, barbers, watchmen, cooks, tailors, shoemakers, and saddlers. He had sat at the feet of Blahoslaw, the learned Church historian: he kept a Court Chaplain, who was, of course, a pastor of the Brethren's Church; and now he had come to talk things over with the head of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Emperor offered the Baron a seat in his carriage. The Brother and the Emperor drove on side by side.

"I hear," said the Emperor, "that the Picards are giving up their religion and going over to the Utraquists."

The Baron was astounded. He had never, he said, heard the slightest whisper that the Brethren intended to abandon their own Confessions.

"I have heard it," said the Emperor, "as positive fact from Baron Hassenstein himself."

"It is not true," replied Zerotin.

"What, then," said the Emperor, "do the Utraquists mean when they say that they are the true Hussites, and wish me to protect them in their religion?"

"Your gracious Majesty," replied Zerotin, "the Brethren, called Picards, are the true Hussites: they have kept their faith unsullied, as you may see yourself from the Confession they presented to you."44

The Emperor looked puzzled. He was waxing old and feeble, and his memory was failing.

"What!" he said, "have the Picards got a Confession?"

He was soon to hear the real truth of the matter. For some months there had sat in Prague a committee of learned divines, who had met for the purpose of drawing up a National Protestant Bohemian Confession. The dream of Augusta seemed to be coming true. The Brethren took their part in the proceedings. "We are striving," said Slawata, one of their deputies, "for peace, love and unity. We have no desire to be censors of dogmas. We leave such matters to theological experts." The Confession45 was prepared, read out at the Diet, and presented to the Emperor. It was a compromise between the teaching of Luther and the teaching of the Brethren. In its doctrine of justification by faith it followed the teaching of Luther: in its doctrine of the Lord's Supper it inclined to the broader evangelical view of the Brethren. The Emperor attended the Diet in person, and made a notable speech.

"I promise," he said, "on my honour as an Emperor, that I will never oppress or hinder you in the exercise of your religion; and I pledge my word in my own name and also in the name of my successors."

Let us try to grasp the meaning of this performance. As the Edict of St. James was still in force, the Brethren, in the eyes of the law, were still heretics and rebels; they had no legal standing in the country; and at any moment the King in his fury might order them to quit the land once more. But the truth is that the King of Bohemia was now a mere figurehead. The real power lay in the hands of the barons. The barons were Protestant almost to a man.

As the Emperor lay dying a few months later in the castle of Regensburg, he was heard to murmur the words, "The happy time is come." For the Brethren the happy time had come indeed. They knew that the so-called Utraquist Church was Utraquist only in name; they knew that the Bible was read in every village; they knew that Lutheran doctrines were preached in hundreds of Utraquist Churches; they knew that in their own country they had now more friends than foes; and thus, free from the terrors of the law they trod the primrose path of peace and power. We have come to the golden age of the Brethren's Church.

It was the age of material prosperity. As the sun of freedom shone upon their way, the Brethren drifted further still from the old Puritan ascetic ideas of Peter and Gregory the Patriarch. They had now all classes in their ranks. They had seventeen rich and powerful barons, of the stamp of John Zerotin; they had over a hundred and forty knights; they had capitalists, flourishing tradesmen, mayors, and even generals in the Army, and the Lord High Chamberlain now complained that two-thirds of the people in Bohemia were Brethren.46 Nor was this all. For many years the Brethren had been renowned as the most industrious and prosperous people in the country; and were specially famous for their manufacture of knives. They were noted for their integrity of character, and were able to obtain good situations as managers of estates, houses, wine cellars and mills; and in many of the large settlements, such as Jungbunzlau and Leitomischl, they conducted flourishing business concerns for the benefit of the Church at large. They made their settlements the most prosperous places in the country; they built hospitals; they had a fund for the poor called the Korbona; and on many estates they made themselves so useful that the barons, in their gratitude, set them free from the usual tolls and taxes. To the Brethren business was now a sacred duty. They had seen the evils of poverty, and they did their best to end them. They made no

hard and fast distinction between secular and sacred; and the cooks and housemaids in the Brethren's Houses were appointed by the Church, and called from one sphere of service to another, just as much as the presbyters and deacons. The clergy, though still doing manual labour, were now rather better off: the gardens and fields attached to the manses helped to swell their income; and, therefore, we are not surprised to hear that some of them were married.

Again, the Brethren were champions of education. They had seen the evil of their ways. As the exiles banished by Ferdinand I. came into contact with Lutherans in Prussia they heard, rather to their disgust, that they were commonly regarded by the German Protestants as a narrow-minded and benighted set of men; and, therefore, at the special invitation of the Lutheran Bishop Speratus, they began the practice of sending some of their students to foreign universities. It is pathetic to read how the first two students were sent {1549.}. "We granted them," says the record, "their means of support. We gave them £7 10s. a-piece, and sent them off to Basle." We are not informed how long the money was to last. For some years the new policy was fiercely opposed; and the leader of the opposition was John Augusta. He regarded this new policy with horror, condemned it as a falling away from the old simplicity and piety, and predicted that it would bring about the ruin of the Brethren's Church. At the head of the progressive party was John Blahoslaw, the historian. He had been to Wittenberg and Basle himself; he was a master of Greek and Latin; and now he wrote a brilliant philippic, pouring scorn on the fears of the conservative party. "For my part," he said, "I have no fear that learned and pious men will ever ruin the Church. I am far more afraid of the action of those high-minded and stupid schemers, who think more highly of themselves than they ought to think." It is clear to whom these stinging words refer. They are a plain hit at Augusta. "It is absurd," he continued, "to be afraid of learning and culture. As long as our leaders are guided by the Spirit of Christ, all will be well; but when craft and cunning, and worldly prudence creep in, then woe to the Brethren's Church! Let us rather be careful whom we admit to the ministry, and then the Lord will preserve us from destruction." As we read these biting words, we can understand how it came to pass that Augusta, during his last few years, was held in such little honour. The old man was behind the times. The progressive party triumphed. Before long there were forty students at foreign Universities. The whole attitude of the Brethren changed. As the Humanist movement spread in Bohemia, the Brethren began to take an interest in popular education; and now, aided by friendly nobles, they opened a number of free elementary schools. At Eibenschütz, in Moravia, they had a school for the sons of the nobility, with Esrom Rüdinger as headmaster; both Hebrew and Greek were taught; and the school became so famous that many of the pupils came from Germany. At Holleschau, Leitomischl, Landskron, Gross-Bitesch, Austerlitz, Fulneck, Meseretoch, Chropin, Leipnik, Kaunic, Trebitzch, Paskau, Ungarisch-Brod, Jungbunzlau, and Prerau, they had free schools supported by Protestant nobles and manned with Brethren's teachers. As there is no direct evidence to the contrary, we may take it for granted that in these schools the syllabus was much the same as in the other schools of the country. In most the Latin language was taught, and in some dialectics, rhetoric, physics, astronomy and geometry. The education was largely practical. At most of the Bohemian schools in those days the children were taught, by means of conversation books, how to look after a horse, how to reckon with a landlord, how to buy cloth, how to sell a garment, how to write a letter, how to make terms with a pedlar, how, in a word, to get on in the world. But the Brethren laid the chief stress on religion. Instead of separating the secular and the sacred, they combined the two in a wonderful way, and taught both at the same time. For this purpose, they published, in the first place, a school edition of their Catechism in three languages, Bohemian, German, and Latin; and thus the Catechism became the scholar's chief means of instruction. He learned to read from his Catechism; he learned Latin from his Catechism; he learned German from his Catechism; and thus, while mastering foreign tongues, he was being grounded at the same time in the articles of the Christian faith. He lived, in a word, from morning to night in a Christian atmosphere. For the same purpose a Brother named Matthias Martinus prepared a book containing extracts from the Gospels and Epistles. It was printed in six parallel columns. In the first were grammatical notes; in the second the text in Greek; in the third a translation in Bohemian; in the fourth in German; in the fifth in Latin; and in the sixth a brief exposition.

Second, the Brethren used another text-book called the "Book of Morals." It was based, apparently, on Erasmus's "Civilitas Morum." It was a simple, practical guide to daily conduct. It was written in rhyme, and the children learned it by heart. It was divided into three parts. In the first, the child was taught how to behave from morning to night; in the second, how to treat his elders and masters; in the third, how to be polite at table.

Third, the Brethren, in all their schools, made regular use of hymn-books; and the scholar learnt to sing by singing hymns. Sometimes the hymns were in a separate volume; sometimes a selection was bound up with the Catechism. But in either case the grand result was the same. As we

follow the later fortunes of the Brethren we shall find ourselves face to face with a difficult problem. How was it, we ask, that in later years, when their little Church was crushed to powder, these Brethren held the faith for a hundred years? How was it that the "Hidden Seed" had such vitality? How was it that, though forbidden by law, they held the fort till the times of revival came? For answer we turn to their Catechism. They had learned it first in their own homes; they had learned it later at school; they had made it the very marrow of their life; they taught it in turn to their children; and thus in the darkest hours of trial they handed on the torch of faith from one generation to another.

We come now to another secret of their strength. Of all the Protestants in Europe the Bohemian Brethren were the first to publish a Hymn-book; and by this time they had published ten editions. The first three were in Bohemian, and were edited by Luke of Prague, 1501, 1505, 1519; the fourth in German, edited by Michael Weiss, 1531; the fifth in Bohemian, edited by John Horn, 1541; the sixth in German, edited by John Horn, 1544; the seventh in Polish, edited by George Israel, 1554; the eighth in Bohemian, edited by John Blahoslaw, 1561; the ninth in German, 1566; the tenth in Polish, 1569. As they wished here to appeal to all classes, they published hymns both ancient and modern, and tunes both grave and gay. Among the hymn-writers were John Hus, Rockycana, Luke of Prague, Augusta, and Martin Luther; and among the tunes were Gregorian Chants and popular rondels of the day. The hymns and tunes were published in one volume. The chief purpose of the hymns was clear religious instruction. The Brethren had nothing to conceal. They had no mysterious secret doctrines; and no mysterious secret practices. They published their hymn-books, not for themselves only, but for all the people in the country, and for Evangelical Christians in other lands. "It has been our chief aim," they said, "to let everyone fully and clearly understand what our views are with regard to the articles of the Christian faith." And here the hymns were powerful preachers of the faith. They spread the Brethren's creed in all directions. They were clear, orderly, systematic, and Scriptural; and thus they were sung in the family circle, by bands of young men in the Brethren's Houses, by shepherds watching their flocks by night, by sturdy peasants as they trudged to market. And then, on Sunday, in an age when congregational singing was as yet but little known, the Brethren made the rafters ring with the sound of united praise. "Your churches," wrote the learned Esrom Rüdinger, "surpass all others in singing. For where else are songs of praise, of thanksgiving, of prayer and instruction so often heard? Where is there better singing? The newest edition of the Bohemian Hymn-book, with its seven hundred and forty-three hymns, is an evidence of the multitude of your songs. Three hundred and forty-six have been translated into German. In your churches the people can all sing and take part in the worship of God."

But of all the services rendered by the Brethren to the cause of the evangelical faith in Bohemia the noblest and the most enduring was their translation of the Bible into the Bohemian tongue. In the archives of the Brethren's Church at Herrnhut are now to be seen six musty volumes known as the Kralitz Bible (1579—93). The idea was broached by Blahoslaw, the Church historian. The expense was born by Baron John von Zerotin. The actual printing was executed at Zerotin's Castle at Kralitz. The translation was based, not on the Vulgate, but on the original Hebrew and Greek. The work of translating the Old Testament was entrusted to six Hebrew scholars, Aeneas, Cepollo, Streic, Ephraim, Jessen, and Capito. The New Testament was translated by Blahoslaw himself (1565). The work was of national interest. For the first time the Bohemian people possessed the Bible in a translation from the original tongue, with the chapters subdivided into verses, and the Apocrypha separated from the Canonical Books. The work appeared at first in cumbersome form. It was issued in six bulky volumes, with only eight or nine verses to a page, and a running commentary in the margin. The paper was strong, the binding dark brown, the page quarto, the type Latin, the style chaste and idiomatic, and the commentary fairly rich in broad practical theology. But all this was no use to the poor. For the benefit, therefore, of the common people the Brethren published a small thin paper edition in a plain calf binding. It contained an index of quotations from the Old Testament in the New, an index of proper names with their meanings, a lectionary for the Christian Year, references in the margin, and a vignette including the famous Brethren's episcopal seal, "The Lamb and the Flag." The size of the page was only five inches by seven and a half; the number of pages was eleven hundred and sixty; the paper was so remarkably thin that the book was only an inch and a quarter thick;47 and thus it was suited in every way to hold the same place in the affections of the people that the Geneva Bible held in England in the days of our Puritan fathers. The Kralitz Bible was a masterpiece. It helped to fix and purify the language, and thus completed what Stitny and Hus had begun. It became the model of a chaste and simple style; and its beauty of language was praised by the Jesuits. It is a relic that can never be forgotten, a treasure that can never lose its value. It is issued now, word for word, by the British and Foreign Bible Society; it is read by the people in their own homes,

and is used in the Protestant Churches of the country; and thus, as the Catholic, Gindely, says, it will probably endure as long as the Bohemian tongue is spoken.

But even this was not the end of the Brethren's labours. We come to the most amazing fact in their history. On the one hand they were the greatest literary force in the country;48 on the other they took the smallest part in her theological controversies. For example, take the case of John Blahoslaw. He was one of the most brilliant scholars of his day. He was master of a beautiful literary style. He was a member of the Brethren's Inner Council. He wrote a "History of the Brethren." He translated the New Testament into Bohemian. He prepared a standard Bohemian Grammar. He wrote also a treatise on Music, and other works too many to mention here. And yet, learned Bishop though he was, he wrote only one theological treatise, "Election through Grace," and even here he handled his subject from a practical rather than a theological point of view.

Again, take the case of Jacob Bilek, Augusta's companion in prison. If ever a man had just cause to hate the Church of Rome it was surely this humble friend of the great Augusta; and yet he wrote a full account of their dreary years in prison without saying one bitter word against his persecutors and tormentors.49 From this point of view his book is delightful. It is full of piety, of trust in God, of vivid dramatic description; it has not a bitter word from cover to cover; and thus it is a beautiful and precious example of the broad and charitable spirit of the Brethren.

Again, it is surely instructive to note what subject most attracted the Brethren's attention. For religious debate they cared but little; for history they had a consuming passion; and now their leading scholars produced the greatest historical works in the language. Brother Jaffet wrote a work on the Brethren's Episcopal Orders, entitled, "The Sword of Goliath." Wenzel Brezan wrote a history of the "House of Rosenberg," containing much interesting information about Bohemian social life. Baron Charles von Zerotin wrote several volumes of memoirs. The whole interest of the Brethren now was broad and national in character. The more learned they grew the less part they took in theological disputes. They regarded such disputes as waste of time; they had no pet doctrines to defend; they were now in line with the other Protestants of the country; and they held that the soul was greater than the mind and good conduct best of all. No longer did they issue "Confessions of Faith" of their own; no longer did they lay much stress on their points of difference with Luther. We come here to a point of great importance. It has been asserted by some historians that the Brethren never taught the doctrine of Justification by Faith. For answer we turn to their later Catechism prepared (1554) by Jirek Gyrck.

"In what way," ran one question, "can a sinful man obtain salvation?"

"By the pure Grace of God alone, through Faith in Jesus Christ our Lord who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption."

What sort of picture does all this bring before us? It is the picture of a body of men who had made remarkable progress. No longer did they despise education; they fostered it more than any men in the country. No longer did they speak with contempt of marriage; they spoke of it as a symbol of holier things. It was time, thought some, for these broad-minded men to have their due reward. It was time to amend the insulting law, and tear the musty Edict of St. James to tatters.

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