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A History of the Moravian Church

by 'Joseph Edmund Hutton'

Book 1 — The Bohemian Brethren. 1457-1673

Chapter 3 — The Welter, 1415-1434

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THE excitement in Bohemia was intense. As the ashes of Hus floated down the Rhine, the news of his death spread over the civilized world, and in every Bohemian town and hamlet the people felt that their greatest man had been unjustly murdered. He had become the national hero and the national saint, and now the people swore to avenge his death. A Hussite League was formed by his followers, a Catholic League was formed by his enemies. The Hussite Wars began. It is important to note with exactness what took place. As we study the history of men and nations, we are apt to fancy that the rank and file of a country can easily be united in one by common adherence to a common cause. It is not so. For one man who will steadily follow a principle, there are hundreds who would rather follow a leader. As long as Hus was alive in the flesh, he was able to command the loyalty of the people; but now that his tongue was silent for ever, his followers split into many contending factions. For all his eloquence he had never been able to strike one clear commanding note. In some of his views he was a Catholic, in others a Protestant. To some he was merely the fiery patriot, to others the champion of Church Reform, to others the high-souled moral teacher, to others the enemy of the Pope. If the people had only been united they might now have gained their long-lost freedom. But unity was the very quality they lacked the most. They had no clear notion of what they wanted; they had no definite scheme of church reform; they had no great leader to show them the way through the jungle, and thus, instead of closing their ranks against the common foe, they split up into jangling sects and parties, and made the confusion worse confounded.

First in rank and first in power came the Utraquists or Calixtines.2 For some reason these men laid all the stress on a doctrine taught by Hus in his later years. As he lay in his gloomy dungeon near Constance, he had written letters contending that laymen should be permitted to take the wine at the Communion. For this doctrine the Utraquists now fought tooth and nail. They emblazoned the Cup on their banners. They were the aristocrats of the movement; they were led by the University dons; they were political rather than religious in their aims; they regarded Hus as a patriot; and, on the whole, they did not care much for moral and spiritual reforms.

Next came the Taborites, the red-hot Radicals, with Socialist ideas of property and loose ideals of morals. They built themselves a fort on Mount Tabor, and held great open-air meetings. They rejected purgatory, masses and the worship of saints. They condemned incense, images, bells, relics and fasting. They declared that priests were an unnecessary nuisance. They celebrated the Holy Communion in barns, and baptized their babies in ponds and brooks. They held that every man had the right to his own interpretation of the Bible; they despised learning and art; and they revelled in pulling churches down and burning monks to death.

Next came the Chiliasts, who fondly believed that the end of all things was at hand, that the millennial reign of Christ would soon begin, and that all the righteous — that is, they themselves — would have to hold the world at bay in Five Cities of Refuge. For some years these mad fanatics regarded themselves as the chosen instruments of the Divine displeasure, and only awaited a signal from heaven to commence a general massacre of their fellow men. As that signal never came, however, they were grievously disappointed.

Next in folly came the Adamites, so called because, in shameless wise, they dressed like Adam and Eve before the fall. They made their head-quarters on an island on the River Nesarka, and survived even after Ziska had destroyed their camp.

But of all the heretical bodies in Bohemia the most influential were the Waldenses. As the history of the Waldenses is still obscure, we cannot say for certain what views they held when they first came from Italy some fifty or sixty years before. At first they seem to have been almost Catholics, but as the Hussite Wars went on they fell, it is said, under the influence of the Taborites, and adopted many radical Taborite opinions. They held that prayer should be addressed, not to the Virgin Mary and the Saints, but to God alone, and spoke with scorn of the popular doctrine that the Virgin in heaven showed her breast when interceding for sinners. As they did not wish to create a disturbance, they attended the public services of the Church of Rome; but they did not believe in those services themselves, and are said to have employed their time at Church in picking holes in the logic of the speaker. They believed neither in building churches, nor in saying masses, nor in the adoration of pictures, nor in the singing of hymns at public worship. For all practical intents and purposes they rejected entirely the orthodox Catholic distinction between things secular and things sacred, and held that a man could worship God just as well in a field as in a church, and that it did not matter in the least whether a man's body was buried in consecrated or unconsecrated ground. What use, they asked, were holy water, holy oil, holy palms, roots, crosses, holy splinters from the Cross of Christ? They rejected the doctrine of purgatory, and said that all men must go either to heaven or to hell. They rejected the doctrine of Transubstantiation, and said that the wine and bread remained wine and bread. For us, however, the chief point of interest lies in the attitude they adopted towards the priests of the Church of Rome. At

that time there was spread all over Europe a legend that the Emperor, Constantine the Great, had made a so-called "Donation" to Pope Sylvester; and the Waldenses held that the Church of Rome, by thus consenting to be endowed by the State, had become morally corrupt, and no longer possessed the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. For this reason they utterly despised the Roman priests; and contended that, being worldly men of bad character, they were qualified neither to administer the sacraments nor to hear confessions. At this point we lay our finger on the principle which led to the foundation of the Moravian Church. What ideal, we ask, did the Waldenses now set before them? We can answer the question in a sentence. The whole object the Waldenses had now in view was to return to the simple teaching of Christ and the Apostles. They wished to revive what they regarded as true primitive Christianity. For this reason they brushed aside with scorn the bulls of Popes and the decrees of Councils, and appealed to the command of the New Testament Scriptures. For them the law of Christ was supreme and final; and, appealing to His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, they declared that oaths were wicked, and that war was no better than murder. If the law of Christ were obeyed, said they, what need would there be of government? How long they had held these views we do not know. Some think they had held them for centuries; some think they had learned them recently from the Taborites. If scholars insist on this latter view, we are forced back on the further question: Where did the Taborites get their advanced opinions? If the Taborites taught the Waldenses, who taught the Taborites? We do not know. For the present all we call say is that the Waldenses in a quiet way were fast becoming a mighty force in the country. They addressed each other as brother and sister; they are said to have had their own translations of the Bible; they claimed a descent from the Apostles; and they are even held by some (though here we tread on very thin ice) to have possessed their own episcopal succession.

But the method of the Taborites was different. If the Kingdom of God was to come at all, it must come, they held, by force, by fire, by the sword, by pillage and by famine. What need to tell here the blood-curdling story of the Hussite Wars? What need to tell here how Pope Martin V. summoned the whole Catholic world to a grand crusade against the Bohemian people? What need to tell how the people of Prague attacked the Town Hall, and pitched the burgomaster and several aldermen out of the windows? For twenty years the whole land was one boiling welter of confusion; and John Ziska, the famous blind general, took the lead of the Taborite army, and, standing on a wagon, with the banner above him emblazoned with the Hussite Cup, he swept the country from end to end like a devouring prairie fire. It is held now by military experts that Ziska was the greatest military genius of the age. If military genius could have saved Bohemia, Bohemia would now have been saved. For some years he managed to hold at bay the finest chivalry of Europe; and he certainly saved the Hussite cause from being crushed in its birth. For faith and freedom he fought — the faith of Hus and the freedom of Bohemia. He formed the rough Bohemian peasantry into a disciplined army. He armed his men with lances, slings, iron-pointed flails and clubs. He formed his barricades of iron-clad wagons, and whirled them in murderous mazes round the field. He made a special study of gunpowder, and taught his men the art of shooting straight. He has often been compared to Oliver Cromwell, and like our Oliver he was in many ways. He was stern in dealing with his enemies, and once had fifty Adamites burned to death. He was sure that God was on his side in the war. "Be it known," he wrote to his supporters, "that we are collecting men from all parts of the country against these enemies of God and devastators of our Bohemian land." He composed a stirring battle song, and taught his men to sing it in chorus when they marched to meet the foe.

Therefore, manfully cry out:

"At them! rush at them."

Wield bravely your arms!

Pray to your Lord God.

Strike and kill! spare none!

What a combination of piety and fury! It was all in vain. The great general died of a fever. The thunderbolt fell. At a meeting in Prague the Utraquists and Catholics at last came to terms, and drew up a compromise known as the "Compactata of Basle" (1433). For nearly two hundred years after this these "Compactata" were regarded as the law of the land; and the Utraquist Church was recognised by the Pope as the national self-governing Church of Bohemia. The terms of the Compactata were four in number. The Communion was to be given to laymen in both kinds; all mortal sins were to be punished by the proper authorities; the Word of God was to be freely preached by faithful priests and deacons; and no priests were to have any worldly possessions. For practical purposes this agreement meant the defeat of the advanced reforming movement. One point the Utraquists had gained, and one alone; they were allowed to take the wine at the Communion. For the rest these Utraquist followers of Hus were as Catholic as the Pope himself. They adored the Host, read the masses, kept the fasts, and said the prayers as their fathers had done before them. From that moment the fate of the Taborite party was sealed. At the battle of Lipan they were defeated, routed,

crushed out of existence. {1434}. The battle became a massacre. The slaughter continued all the night and part of the following day, and hundreds were burned to death in their huts.

Was this to be the end of Hus's strivings? What was it in Hus that was destined to survive? What was it that worked like a silent leaven amid the clamours of war? We shall see. Amid these charred and smoking ruins the Moravian Church arose.


Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, September 22nd, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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