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A History of the Moravian Church

by 'Joseph Edmund Hutton'

Book 1 — The Bohemian Brethren. 1457-1673

Chapter 13 — The Letter of Majesty, 1603-1609

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OF all the members of the Brethren's Church, the most powerful and the most discontented was Baron Wenzel von Budowa. He was now fifty-six years of age. He had travelled in Germany, Denmark, Holland, England, France and Italy. He had studied at several famous universities. He had made the acquaintance of many learned men. He had entered the Imperial service, and served as ambassador at Constantinople. He had mastered Turkish and Arabic, had studied the Mohammedan religion, had published the Alcoran in Bohemian, and had written a treatise denouncing the creed and practice of Islam as Satanic in origin and character. He belonged to the Emperor's Privy Council, and also to the Imperial Court of Appeal. He took part in theological controversies, and preached sermons to his tenants. He was the bosom friend of Baron Charles von Zerotin, the leading Brother of Moravia. He corresponded, from time to time, with the struggling Protestants in Hungary, and had now become the recognised leader, not only of the Brethren, but of all evangelicals in Bohemia.

He had one great purpose to attain. As the Brethren had rendered such signal service to the moral welfare of the land, it seemed to him absurd and unfair that they should still be under the ban of the law and still be denounced in Catholic pulpits as children of the devil. He resolved to remedy the evil. The Emperor, Rudolph II., paved the way. He was just the man that Budowa required. He was weak in body and in mind. He had ruined his health, said popular scandal, by indulging in dissolute pleasures. His face was shrivelled, his hair bleached, his back bent, his step tottering. He was too much interested in astrology, gems, pictures, horses, antique relics and similar curiosities to take much interest in government; he suffered from religious mania, and was constantly afraid of being murdered; and his daily hope and prayer was that he might be spared all needless trouble in this vexatious world and have absolutely nothing to do. And now he committed an act of astounding folly. He first revived the Edict of St. James, ordered the nobles throughout the land to turn out all Protestant pastors {1602—3.}, and sent a body of armed men to close the Brethren's Houses at Jungbunzlau; and then, having disgusted two-thirds of his loyal subjects, he summoned a Diet, and asked for money for a crusade against the Turks. But this was more than Wenzel could endure. He attended the Diet, and made a brilliant speech. He had nothing, he said, to say against the Emperor. He would not blame him for reviving the musty Edict. For that he blamed some secret disturbers of the peace. If the Emperor needed money and men, the loyal knights and nobles of Bohemia would support him. But that support would be given on certain conditions. If the Emperor wished his subjects to be loyal, he must first obey the law of the land himself. "We stand," he said, "one and all by the Confession of 1575, and we do not know a single person who is prepared to submit to the Consistory at Prague." He finished, wept, prepared a petition, and sent it in to the poor invisible Rudolph. And Rudolph replied as Emperors sometimes do. He replied by closing the Diet.

Again, however, six years later, Budowa returned to the attack {1609.}. He was acting, not merely on behalf of the Brethren, but on behalf of all Protestants in the country. And this fact is the key to the situation. As we follow the dramatic story to its sad and tragic close, we must remember that from this time onward the Brethren, for all intents and purposes, had almost abandoned their position as a separate Church, and had cast in their lot, for good or evil, with the other Protestants in Bohemia. They were striving now for the recognition, not of their own Confession of Faith, but of the general Bohemian Protestant Confession presented to the Emperor, Maximilian II. And thus Budowa became a national hero. He called a meeting of Lutherans and Brethren in the historic "Green Saloon," prepared a resolution demanding that the Protestant Confession be inscribed in the Statute Book, and, followed by a crowd of nobles and knights, was admitted to the sacred presence of the Emperor.

Again the Diet was summoned. The hall was crammed, and knights and nobles jostled each other in the corridors and in the square outside {Jan. 28th, 1609.}. For some weeks the Emperor, secluded in his cabinet, held to his point like a hero. The debate was conducted in somewhat marvellous fashion. There, in the Green Saloon, sat the Protestants, preparing proposals and petitions. There, in the Archbishop's palace, sat the Catholics, rather few in number, and wondering what to do. And there, in his chamber, sat the grizzly, rickety, imperial Lion, consulting with his councillors, Martinic and Slawata, and dictating his replies. And then, when the king had his answer ready, the Diet met in the Council Chamber to hear it read aloud. His first reply was now as sharp as ever. He declared that the faith of the Church of Rome was the only lawful faith in Bohemia. "And as for these Brethren," he said, "whose teaching has been so often forbidden by royal decrees and decisions of the Diet, I order them, like my predecessors, to fall in with the Utraquists or Catholics, and declare that their meetings shall not be permitted on any pretence whatever."

In vain the Protestants, by way of reply, drew up a monster petition, and set forth their grievances in detail. They suffered, they said, not from actual persecution, but from nasty insults and petty annoyances. They were still described in Catholic pulpits as heretics and children of the devil. They were still forbidden to honour the memory of Hus. They were still forbidden to print books without the consent of the Archbishop. But

the King snapped them short. He told the estates to end their babble, and again closed the Diet {March 31st.}.

The blood of Budowa was up. The debate, thought he, was fast becoming a farce. The King was fooling his subjects. The King must be taught a lesson. As the Diet broke up, he stood at the door, and shouted out in ringing tones: "Let all who love the King and the land, let all who care for unity and love, let all who remember the zeal of our fathers, meet here at six to-morrow morn."

He spent the night with some trusty allies, prepared another declaration, met his friends in the morning, and informed the King, in language clear, that the Protestants had now determined to win their rights by force. And Budowa was soon true to his word. He sent envoys asking for help to the King's brother Matthias, to the Elector of Saxony, to the Duke of Brunswick, and to other Protestant leaders. He called a meeting of nobles and knights in the courtyard of the castle, and there, with heads bared and right hands upraised, they swore to be true to each other and to win their liberty at any price, even at the price of blood. He arranged for an independent meeting in the town hall of the New Town. The King forbade the meeting. What better place, replied Budowa, would His Majesty like to suggest? As he led his men across the long Prague bridge, he was followed by thousands of supporters. He arrived in due time at the square in front of the hall. The Royal Captain appeared and ordered him off. The crowd jeered and whistled the Captain away.

And yet Budowa was no vulgar rebel. He insisted that every session in the hall should be begun and ended with prayer. He informed the King, again and again, that all he wished was liberty of worship for Protestants. He did his best to put an end to the street rows, the drunken brawls, that now disgraced the city.

For the third time the King summoned the Diet {May 25th.}. The last round in the terrible combat now began. He ordered the estates to appear in civilian's dress. They arrived armed to the teeth. He ordered them to open the proceedings by attending Mass in the Cathedral. The Catholics alone obeyed; the Protestants held a service of their own; and yet, despite these danger signals, the King was as stubborn as ever, and again he sent a message to say that he held to his first decision. The Diet was thunderstruck, furious, desperate.

"We have had enough of useless talk," said Count Matthias Thurn; "it is time to take to arms." The long fight was drawing to a finish. As the King refused to listen to reason, the members of the Diet, one and all, Protestants and Catholics alike, prepared an ultimatum demanding that all evangelical nobles, knights, citizens and peasants should have full and perfect liberty to worship God in their own way, and to build schools and churches on all Royal estates; and, in order that the King might realise the facts of the case, Budowa formed a Board of thirty directors, of whom fourteen were Brethren, raised an army in Prague, and sent the nobles flying through the land to levy money and troops. The country, in fact, was now in open revolt. And thus, at length compelled by brute force, the poor old King gave way, and made his name famous in history by signing the Letter of Majesty and granting full religious liberty to all adherents of the Bohemian National Protestant Confession. All adherents of the Confession could worship as they pleased, and all classes, except the peasantry, could build schools and churches on Royal estates {July 9th.}. "No decree of any kind," ran one sweeping clause, "shall be issued either by us or by our heirs and succeeding kings against the above established religious peace."

The delight in Prague was boundless. The Letter of Majesty was carried through the streets in grand triumphal procession. The walls were adorned with flaming posters. The bells of the churches were rung. The people met in the Church of the Holy Cross, and there sang jubilant psalms of thanksgiving and praise. The King's couriers posted through the land to tell the gladsome news; the letter was hailed as the heavenly herald of peace and goodwill to men; and Budowa was adored as a national hero, and the redresser of his people's wrongs.

But the work of the Diet was not yet complete. As the Brethren, led by the brave Budowa, had borne the brunt of the battle, we naturally expect to find that now the victory was won, they would have the lion's share of the spoils. But they really occupied a rather modest position. The next duty of the Diet was to make quite sure that the Letter of Majesty would not be broken. For this purpose they elected a Board of Twenty-four Defenders, and of these Defenders only eight were Brethren. Again, the Brethren had now to submit to the rule of a New National Protestant Consistory. Of that Consistory the Administrator was a Utraquist Priest; the next in rank was a Brethren's Bishop; the total number of members was twelve; and of these twelve only three were Brethren. If the Brethren, therefore, were fairly represented, they must have constituted at this time about one-quarter or one-third of the Protestants in Bohemia.50 They were now a part, in the eyes of the law, of the National Protestant Church. They were known as Utraquist Christians. They accepted the National Confession as their own standard of faith, and though they could still ordain their own priests, their candidates for the priesthood had first to be examined by the national Administrator.

And, further, the Brethren had now weakened their union with the Moravian and

Polish branches. No longer did the three parts of the Church stand upon the same footing. In Poland the Brethren were still the leading body; in Moravia they were still independent; in Bohemia alone they bowed to the rule of others. And yet, in some important respects, they were still as independent as ever. They could still hold their own Synods and practise their own ceremonies; they still retained their own Confession of faith; they could still conduct their own schools and teach their Catechism; and they could still, above all, enforce as of old their system of moral discipline. And this they guarded as the apple of their eye.

As soon as the above arrangements were complete they addressed themselves to the important task of defining their own position. And for this purpose they met at a General Synod at Zerawic, and prepared a comprehensive descriptive work, entitled "Ratio Disciplinæ" — i.e., Account of Discipline.51 It was a thorough, exhaustive, orderly code of rules and regulations. It was meant as a guide and a manifesto. It proved to be an epitaph. In the second place, the Brethren now issued (1615) a new edition of their Catechism, with the questions and answers in four parallel columns — Greek, Bohemian, German and Latin;52 and thus, once more, they shewed their desire to play their part in national education.

Thus, at last, had the Brethren gained their freedom. They had crossed the Red Sea, had traversed the wilderness, had smitten the Midianites hip and thigh, and could now settle down in the land of freedom flowing with milk and honey.

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Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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