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A History of the Moravian Church

by 'Joseph Edmund Hutton'

Book 1 — The Bohemian Brethren. 1457-1673

Chapter 5 — Gregory the Patriarch and the Society at Kunwald, 1457-1473

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A BRILLIANT idea is an excellent thing. A man to work it out is still better. At the very time when Peter's followers were marshalling their forces, John Rockycana,5 Archbishop-elect of Prague (since 1448), was making a mighty stir in that drunken city. What Peter had done with his pen, Rockycana was doing with his tongue. He preached Peter's doctrines in the great Thein Church; he corresponded with him on the burning topics of the day; he went to see him at his estate; he recommended his works to his hearers; and week by week, in fiery language, he denounced the Church of Rome as Babylon, and the Pope as Antichrist himself. His style was vivid and picturesque, his language cutting and clear. One day he compared the Church of Rome to a burned and ruined city, wherein the beasts of the forests made their lairs; and, again, he compared her to a storm-tossed ship, which sank beneath the howling waves because the sailors were fighting each other. "It is better," he said, "to tie a dog to a pulpit than allow a priest to defile it. It is better, oh, women! for your sons to be hangmen than to be priests; for the hangman only kills the body, while the priest kills the soul. Look there," he suddenly exclaimed one Sunday, pointing to a picture of St. Peter on the wall, "there is as much difference between the priests of to-day and the twelve apostles as there is between that old painting and the living St. Peter in heaven.6 For the priests have put the devil into the sacraments themselves, and are leading you straight to the fires of Hell."

If an eloquent speaker attacks the clergy, he is sure to draw a crowd. No wonder the Thein Church was crammed. No wonder the people listened with delight as he backed up his hot attack with texts from the prophet Jeremiah. No wonder they cried in their simple zeal: "Behold, a second John Hus has arisen."

But John Rockycana was no second John Hus. For all his fire in the pulpit, he was only a craven at heart. "If a true Christian," said he to a friend, "were to turn up now in Prague, he would be gaped at like a stag with golden horns." But he was not a stag with golden horns himself. As he thundered against the Church of Rome, he was seeking, not the Kingdom of God, but his own fame and glory. His followers soon discovered his weakness. Among those who thronged to hear his sermons were certain quiet men of action, who were not content to paw the ground for ever. They were followers of Peter of Chelcic; they passed his pamphlets in secret from hand to hand; they took down notes of Rockycana's sermons; and now they resolved to practise what they heard. If Peter had taught them nothing else, he had at least convinced them all that the first duty of Christian men was to quit the Church of Rome. Again and again they appealed to Rockycana to be their head, to act up to his words, and to lead them out to the promised land. The great orator hemmed and hawed, put them off with excuses, and told them, after the manner of cowards, that they were too hasty and reckless. "I know you are right," said he, "but if I joined your ranks I should be reviled on every hand."7 But these listeners were not to be cowed. The more they studied Peter's writings, the more they lost faith in Rockycana. As Rockycana refused to lead them, they left his church in a body, and found a braver leader among themselves. His name was Gregory; he was known as Gregory the Patriarch; and in due time, as we shall see, he became the founder of the Church of the Brethren. He was already a middle-aged man. He was the son of a Bohemian knight, and was nephew to Rockycana himself. He had spent his youth in the Slaven cloister at Prague as a bare-footed monk, had found the cloister not so moral as he had expected, had left it in disgust, and was now well known in Bohemia as a man of sterling character, pious and sensible, humble and strict, active and spirited, a good writer and a good speaker. He was a personal friend of Peter, had studied his works with care, and is said to have been particularly fond of a little essay entitled "The Image of the Beast," which he had borrowed from a blacksmith in Wachovia. As time went on he lost patience with Rockycana, came into touch with the little societies at Wilenow and Divischau, visited Peter on his estate, and gradually formed the plan of founding an independent society, and thus doing himself what Rockycana was afraid to do. As soldiers desert a cowardly general and rally round the standard of a brave one, so these listeners in the old Thein Church fell away from halting Rockycana, and rallied round Gregory the Patriarch. From all parts of Bohemia, from all ranks of society, from all whom Peter's writings had touched, from all who were disgusted with the Church of Rome, and who wished to see the True Church of the Apostles bloom in purity and beauty again, from all especially who desired the ministration of priests of moral character — from all these was his little band recruited. How it all happened we know not; but slowly the numbers swelled. At last the terrible question arose: How and where must they live? The question was one of life and death. Not always could they worship in secret; not always be scattered in little groups. It was time, they said, to close their ranks and form an army that should last. "After us," Rockycana had said in a sermon, "shall a people come well-pleasing unto God and right healthy for men; they

shall follow the Scriptures, and the example of Christ and the footsteps of the Apostles." And these stern men felt called to the holy task.

In the year 1457, Uladislaus Postumus, King of Bohemia, died, and George Podiebrad reigned in his stead; and about the same time it came to the ears of Gregory the Patriarch that in the barony of Senftenberg, on the north-east border of Bohemia, there lay a village that would serve as a home for him and his trusty followers. And the village was called Kunwald, and the old castle hard by was called Lititz. The village was almost deserted, and only a few simple folk, of the same mind as Gregory, lived there now. What better refuge could be found? Gregory the Patriarch laid the scheme before his uncle Rockycana; Rockycana, who sympathized with their views and wished to help them, brought the matter before King George; the King, who owned the estate, gave his gracious permission; and Gregory and his faithful friends wended their way to Kunwald, and there began to form the first settlement of the Church of the Brethren. And now many others from far and wide came to make Kunwald their home. Some came from the Thein Church in Prague, some across the Glatz Hills from Moravia, some from Wilenow, Divischau and Chelcic, some from the Utraquist Church at Königgratz,8 some, clothed and in their right minds, from those queer folk, the Adamites, and some from little Waldensian groups that lay dotted here and there about the land. There were citizens from Prague and other cities. There were bachelors and masters from the great University. There were peasants and nobles, learned and simple, rich and poor, with their wives and children; and thus did many, who longed to be pure and follow the Master and Him alone, find a Bethany of Peace in the smiling little valley of Kunwald.

Here, then, in the valley of Kunwald, did these pioneers lay the foundation stones of the Moravian Church {1457 or 1458.}.9 They were all of one heart and one mind. They honoured Christ alone as King; they confessed His laws alone as binding. They were not driven from the Church of Rome; they left of their own free will. They were men of deep religious experience. As they mustered their forces in that quiet dale, they knew that they were parting company from Church and State alike. They had sought the guidance of God in prayer, and declared that their prayers were answered. They had met to seek the truth of God, not from priests, but from God Himself. "As we knew not where to turn," they wrote to Rockycana, "we turned in prayer to God Himself, and besought Him to reveal to us His gracious will in all things. We wanted to walk in His ways; we wanted instruction in His wisdom; and in His mercy He answered our prayers." They would rather, they said, spend weeks in gaol than take the oath as councillors. They built cottages, tilled the land, opened workshops, and passed their time in peace and quietness. For a law and a testimony they had the Bible and the writings of Peter of Chelcic. In Michael Bradacius, a Utraquist priest, they found a faithful pastor. They made their own laws and appointed a body of twenty-eight elders to enforce them. They divided themselves into three classes, the Beginners, the Learners and the Perfect;10 and the Perfect gave up their private property for the good of the common cause. They had overseers to care for the poor. They had priests to administer the sacraments, They had godly laymen to teach the Scriptures. They had visitors to see to the purity of family life. They were shut off from the madding crowd by a narrow gorge, with the Glatz Mountains towering on the one side and the hoary old castle of Lititz, a few miles off, on the other; and there in that fruitful valley, where orchards smiled and gardens bloomed, and neat little cottages peeped out from the woodland, they plied their trades and read their Bibles, and kept themselves pure and unspotted from the world under the eye of God Almighty.11

But it was not long before these Brethren had to show of what metal they were made. With each other they were at peace, but in Bohemia the sea still rolled from the storm. It is curious how people reasoned in those days. As the Brethren used bread instead of wafer at the Holy Communion, a rumour reached the ears of the King that they were dangerous conspirators, and held secret meetings of a mysterious and unholy nature. And King George held himself an orthodox King, and had sworn to allow no heretics in his kingdom. As soon therefore, as he heard that Gregory the Patriarch had come on a visit to Prague, and was actually holding a meeting of University students in the New Town, he came down upon them like a wolf on the fold, and gave orders to arrest them on the spot. He was sure they were hatching a villainous plot of some kind. In vain some friends sent warning to the students. They resolved, with a few exceptions, to await their fate and stand to their guns. "Come what may," said they, in their fiery zeal, "let the rack be our breakfast and the funeral pile our dinner!" The door of the room flew open. The magistrate and his bailiffs appeared. "All," said the magistrate, as he stood at the threshold, "who wish to live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution. Follow me to prison." They followed him, and were at once stretched upon the rack. As soon as the students felt the pain of torture their courage melted like April snow. After they had tasted the breakfast they had no appetite for the dinner. They went in a body to the Thein Church, mounted the pulpit

one by one, pleaded guilty to the charges brought against them, and confessed, before an admiring crowd, their full belief in all the dogmas of the Holy Church of Rome. But for Gregory the Patriarch, who was now growing old, the pain was too severe. His wrists cracked; he swooned, and was thought to be dead, and in his swoon he dreamed a dream which seemed to him like the dreams of the prophets of old. He saw, in a lovely meadow, a tree laden with fruit; the fruit was being plucked by birds; the flights of the birds were guided by a youth of heavenly beauty, and the tree was guarded by three men whose faces he seemed to know. What meant that dream to Gregory and his Brethren? It was a vision of the good time coming. The tree was the Church of the Brethren. The fruit was her Bible teaching. The birds were her ministers and helpers. The youth of radiant beauty was the Divine Master Himself. And the three men who stood on guard were the three men who were afterwards chosen as the first three Elders of the Brethren's Church.

While Gregory lay in his swoon, his old teacher, his uncle, his sometime friend, John Rockycana, hearing that he was dying, came to see him. His conscience was stricken, his heart bled, and, wringing his hands in agony, he moaned: "Oh, my Gregory, my Gregory, would I were where thou art." When Gregory recovered, Rockycana pleaded for him, and the King allowed the good old Patriarch to return in peace to Kunwald.

Meanwhile, the first persecution of the Brethren had begun in deadly earnest {1461.}. King George Podiebrad was furious. He issued an order that all his subjects were to join either the Utraquist or the Roman Catholic Church. He issued another order that all priests who conducted the Communion in the blasphemous manner of the Brethren should forthwith be put to death. The priest, old Michael, was cast into a dungeon; four leading Brethren were burned alive; the peaceful home in Kunwald was broken; and the Brethren fled to the woods and mountains. For two full years they lived the life of hunted deer in the forest. As they durst not light a fire by day, they cooked their meals by night; and then, while the enemy dreamed and slept, they read their Bibles by the watch-fires' glare, and prayed till the blood was dripping from their knees. If provisions ran short, they formed a procession, and marched in single file to the nearest village; and when the snow lay on the ground they trailed behind them a pine-tree branch, so that folk would think a wild beast had been prowling around. We can see them gathering in those Bohemian glades. As the sentinel stars set their watch in the sky, and the night wind kissed the pine trees, they read to each other the golden promise that where two or three were gathered together in His name He would be in the midst of them;Matthew xviii. 19, 20; Jeremiah iii. 15; John xx. 23; Revelation xviii. 4, 5; Luke vi. 12—16; Acts iv. 32.">12 and rejoiced that they, the chosen of God, had been called to suffer for the truth and the Church that was yet to be.

In vain they appealed to Rockycana; he had done with them for ever. "Thou art of the world," they wrote, "and wilt perish with the world." They were said to have made a covenant with the devil, and were commonly dubbed "Pitmen" because they lived in pits and caves. Yet not for a moment did they lose hope. At the very time when the king in his folly thought they were crushed beneath his foot, they were in reality increasing in numbers every day. As their watch-fires shone in the darkness of the forests, so their pure lives shone among a darkened people. No weapon did they use except the pen. They never retaliated, never rebelled, never took up arms in their own defence, never even appealed to the arm of justice. When smitten on one cheek, they turned the other; and from ill-report they went to good report, till the King for very shame had to let them be. Well aware was he that brutal force could never stamp out spiritual life. "I advise you," said a certain Bishop, "to shed no more blood. Martyrdom is somewhat like a half-roasted joint of meat, apt to breed maggots."

And now the time drew near for Gregory's dream to come true. When the Brethren settled in the valley of Kunwald they had only done half their work. They had quitted the "benighted" Church of Rome; they had not yet put a better Church in her place. They had settled on a Utraquist estate; they were under the protection of a Utraquist King; they attended services conducted by Utraquist priests. But this black-and-white policy could not last for ever. If they wished to be godly men themselves, they must have godly men in the pulpits. What right had they, the chosen of God (as they called themselves) to listen to sermons from men in league with the State? What right had they to take the Holy Bread and Wine from the tainted hands of Utraquist priests? What right had they to confess their sins to men with the brand of Rome upon their foreheads? If they were to have any priests at all, those priests, like Caesar's wife, must be above suspicion. They must be pastors after God's own heart, who should feed the people with knowledge and understanding (Jer. iii. 15). They must be clear of any connection with the State. They must be descended from the twelve Apostles. They must be innocent of the crime of simony. They must work with their hands for their living, and be willing to spend their money on the poor. But where could such clean

vessels of the Lord be found? For a while the Brethren were almost in despair; for a while they were even half inclined to do without priests at all. In vain they searched the country round; in vain they inquired about priests in foreign lands. When they asked about the pure Nestorian Church supposed to exist in India, they received the answer that that Church was now as corrupt as the Romish. When they asked about the Greek Church in Russia, they received the answer that the Russian Bishops were willing to consecrate any man, good or bad, so long as he paid the fees. The question was pressing. If they did without good priests much longer, they would lose their standing in the country. "You must," said Brother Martin Lupac, a Utraquist priest, who had joined their ranks, "you must establish a proper order of priests from among yourselves. If you don't, the whole cause will be ruined. To do without priests is no sin against God; but it is a sin against your fellow-men." As they pondered on the fateful question, the very light of Heaven itself seemed to flash upon their souls. It was they who possessed the unity of the spirit; and therefore it was they who were called to renew the Church of the Apostles. They had now become a powerful body; they were founding settlements all over the land; they stood, they said, for the truth as it was in Jesus; they had all one faith, one hope, one aim, one sense of the Spirit leading them onward; and they perceived that if they were to weather the gale in those stormy times they must cut the chains that bound them to Rome, and fly their own colours in the breeze.

And so, in 1467, about ten years after the foundation of Kunwald, there met at Lhota a Synod of the Brethren to settle the momentous question {1467.}, "Is it God's will that we separate entirely from the power of the Papacy, and hence from its priesthood? Is it God's will that we institute, according to the model of the Primitive Church, a ministerial order of our own?" For weeks they had prayed and fasted day and night. About sixty Brethren arrived. The Synod was held in a tanner's cottage, under a cedar tree; and the guiding spirit Gregory the Patriarch, for his dream was haunting him still. The cottage has long since gone; but the tree is living yet.

The fateful day arrived. As the morning broke, those sixty men were all on their knees in prayer. If that prayer had been omitted the whole proceedings would have been invalid. As the Master, said they, had prayed on the Mount before he chose His twelve disciples, so they must spend the night in prayer before they chose the elders of the Church. And strange, indeed, their manner of choosing was. First the Synod nominated by ballot nine men of blameless life, from whom were to be chosen, should God so will, the first Pastors of the New Church. Next twelve slips of paper were folded and put into a vase. Of these slips nine were blank, and three were marked "Jest," the Bohemian for "is." Then a boy named Procop entered the room, drew out nine slips, and handed them round to the nine nominated Brethren.

There was a hush, a deep hush, in that humble room. All waited for God to speak. The fate of the infant Church seemed to hang in the balance. For the moment the whole great issue at stake depended on the three papers left in the vase. It had been agreed that the three Brethren who received the three inscribed papers should be ordained to the ministry. The situation was curious. As the Brethren rose from their knees that morning they were all as sure as men could be that God desired them to have Pastors of their own; and yet they deliberately ran the risk that the lot might decide against them.13 What slips were those now lying in the vase? Perhaps the three inscribed ones. But it turned out otherwise. All three were drawn, and Matthias of Kunwald, Thomas of Prelouic, and Elias of Chrenouic, are known to history as the first three ministers of the Brethren's Church. And then Gregory the Patriarch stepped forward, and announced with trembling voice that these three men were the very three that he had seen in his trance in the torture-chamber at Prague. Not a man in the room was surprised; not a man doubted that here again their prayers had been plainly answered. Together the members of the Synod arose and saluted the chosen three. Together, next day, they sang in a hymn written for the occasion: —

We needed faithful men, and He

Granted us such. Most earnestly,

We Pray, Lord, let Thy gifts descend,

That blessing may Thy work attend.14

But the battle was not won even yet. If these three good men, now chosen by Christ, were to be acknowledged as priests in Bohemia, they must be ordained in the orthodox way by a Bishop of pure descent from the Apostles. For this purpose they applied to Stephen, a Bishop of the Waldenses. He was just the man they needed. He was a man of noble character. He was a man whose word could be trusted. He had often given them information about the Waldensian line of Bishops. He had told them how that line ran back to the days of the early Church. He had told them how the Waldensian Bishops had kept the ancient faith unsullied, and had never broken the law of Christ by uniting with the wicked State. To that line of Bishops he himself belonged. He had no connection with the Church of Rome, and no connection with the State. What purer orders, thought the Brethren, could they desire?

They believed his statements; they trusted his honour; they admired his personal character; and now they sent old Michael Bradacius to see him in South Moravia and to lay their case before him. The old Bishop shed tears of joy. "He laid his hand on my head," says Michael, "and consecrated me a Bishop." Forthwith the new Bishop returned to Lhota, ordained the chosen three as Priests, and consecrated Matthias of Kunwald a Bishop. And thus arose those Episcopal Orders which have been maintained in the Church of the Brethren down to the present day.

The goal was reached; the Church was founded; the work of Gregory was done. For twenty years he had taught his Brethren to study the mind of Christ in the Scriptures and to seek the guidance of God in united prayer, and now he saw them joined as one to face the rising storm.

"Henceforth," he wrote gladly to King George Podiebrad, "we have done with the Church of Rome." As he saw the evening of life draw near, he urged his Brethren more and more to hold fast the teaching of Peter of Chelcic, and to regulate their daily conduct by the law of Christ; and by that law of Christ he probably meant the "Six Commandments" of the Sermon on the Mount.   1. The "Six Commandments" are as follows: — (1) Matthew v. 22: Thou shalt not be angry with thy brother. (2) Matthew v. 28: Thou shalt not look upon a woman to lust after her. (3) Matthew v. 32: Thou shalt not commit adultery, or divorce thy wife. (4) Matthew v. 34: Thou shalt not take an oath. (5) Matthew v. 39, 40: Thou shalt not go to law. (6) Matthew v. 44: Thou shalt love thine enemy.">15
   2. Moravian Episcopal Orders. — For the benefit of those, if such there be, who like a abstruse historical problems, and who, therefore, are hungering for further information about the origin, maintenance and validity of Moravian Episcopal Orders, I here append a brief statement of the case: — (1) Origin. — On this point three opinions have been held: (a) For many years it was stoutly maintained by Palacky, the famous Bohemian historian, by Anton Gindely, the Roman Catholic author of the "Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder," and also Bishop Edmund de Schweinitz in his "History of the Unitas Fratrum," that Stephen, the Waldensian, was made a Bishop at the Catholic Council of Basle, and that thus Moravian Episcopal Orders have a Roman Catholic origin. But this view is now generally abandoned. It is not supported by adequate evidence, and is, on the face of it, entirely improbable. If Stephen had been a Romanist or Utraquist Bishop the Brethren would never have gone near him. (b) In recent years it has been contended by J. Müller and J. Koestlin that Stephen was consecrated by the Taborite Bishop, Nicholas von Pilgram. But this view is as improbable as the first. For Nicholas von Pilgram and his rough disciples the Brethren had little more respect than they had for the Church of Rome. Is it likely that they would take their orders from a source which they regarded as corrupt? (c) The third view — the oldest and the latest — is that held by the Brethren themselves. They did not believe that Bishop Stephen had any connection, direct or indirect, with the Church of Rome. They believed that he represented an episcopate which had come down as an office of the Church from the earliest Christian days. They could not prove, of course, up to the hilt, that the Waldensian succession was unbroken; but, as far as they understood such questions, they believed the succession to be at least as good as that which came through Rome. And to that extent they were probably right. There is no such thing on the field of history as a proved Apostolic succession; but if any line of mediæval Bishops has high claims to historical validity it is, as Dr. Döllinger has shown (in his Beiträge zur Sektengeschichte des Mittelalters), the line to which Waldensian Stephen belonged.

   (2) Maintenance. — We now come to another question: Has the Church of the Brethren maintained the succession from the time of Stephen to the present day? Here again the historian has a very tight knot to untie. At one point (if not two) in the history of the Brethren's Church, 1500 and 1554, there is certainly the possibility that her Episcopal succession was broken. For the long period of eleven years the Brethren had only one Bishop, John Augusta; and Augusta was a prisoner in Purglitz Castle, and could not, therefore, consecrate a successor. What, then, were the Brethren to do? If John Augusta were to die in prison the line of Bishops would end. Meanwhile the Brethren did the best they could. As they did not wish the office to cease, they elected Bishops to perform Episcopal functions for the time being. Now comes the critical question: Did John August, some years later, consecrate these elected Bishops or did he not? There is no direct evidence either way. But we know enough to show us the probabilities. It is certain that in 1564 John Augusta came out of prison; it is certain that in 1571 two Bishops-elect, Israel and Blahoslav, consecrated three successors; it is certain that Augusta was a stickler for his own authority as a Bishop; it is not certain that he raised an objection to the conduct of Israel and Blahoslav; and, therefore, it is possible that he had consecrated them himself. If he did, the Moravian succession is unbroken; and, at any rate, it is without a flaw from that day to this.

   (3) Validity. — Is the Moravian Episcopacy valid? The answer depends on the meaning of the word "Validity." If the only valid Bishops in the Church of Christ are those who can prove an unbroken descent from the Apostles, then the

Brethren's Bishops are no more valid than the Bishops of any other Church; and all historians must honestly admit that, in this sense of the word "Valid," there is no such thing as a valid Bishop in existence. But the word "Validity" may have a broader meaning. It may mean the desire to adhere to New Testament sanctions; it may mean the honest and loyal endeavour to preserve the "intention" of the Christian ministry as instituted by Christ; and if this is what "Validity" means the Moravian Episcopate is just as valid as that of any other communion. Meanwhile, at any rate, the reader may rest content with the following conclusions: — (1) That Gregory the Patriarch and his fellow Brethren were satisfied with Bishop Stephen's statement. (2) That they acted honestly according to their light, and desired to be true successors of the Primitive Church. (3) That the Waldensian Episcopate was of ancient order. (4) That no break in the Brethren's Episcopal succession has ever been absolutely proved. (5) That, during the whole course of their history the Brethren have always endeavoured to preserve the Episcopal office intact.
   For a further discussion of the whole question see "The Report of the Committee appointed by the Synod of the Moravian Church in Great Britain for the purpose of inquiring into the possibility of more friendly relations on the part of this Church with the Anglican Church"; see also, in German, Müller's "Bischoftum," where the whole evidence is critically handled.
He took these Commandments literally, and enforced them with a rod of iron. No Brother could be a judge or magistrate or councillor. No Brother could take an oath or keep an inn, or trade beyond the barest needs of life. No noble, unless he laid down his rank, could become a Brother at all. No peasant could render military service or act as a bailiff on a farm. No Brother could ever divorce his wife or take an action at law. As long as Gregory remained in their midst, the Brethren held true to him as their leader. He had not, says Gindely, a single trace of personal ambition in his nature; and, though he might have become a Bishop, he remained a layman to the end. Full of years he died, and his bones repose in a cleft where tufts of forget-me-not grow, at Brandeis-on-the-Adler, hard by the Moravian frontier {Sept.13th, 1473.}.

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Friday, October 30th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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