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A History of the Moravian Church

by 'Joseph Edmund Hutton'

Book 1 — The Bohemian Brethren. 1457-1673

Chapter 6 — Luke of Prague and the High Church Reaction. 1473-1530

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OF the Brethren who settled in the valley of Kunwald the greater number were country peasants and tradesmen of humble rank. But already the noble and mighty were pressing in. As the eyes of Gregory closed in death, a new party was rising to power. Already the Brethren were strong in numbers, and already they were longing to snap the fetters that Gregory had placed upon their feet. From Neustadt in the North to Skutch in the South, and from Chlumec in the West to Kunwald in the East, they now lay thickly sprinkled; and in all the principal towns of that district, an area of nine hundred square miles, they were winning rich and influential members. In came the University dons; in came the aldermen and knights. In came, above all, a large colony of Waldenses, who had immigrated from the Margravate of Brandenburg {1480.}. Some settled at Fulneck, in Moravia, others at Landskron, in Bohemia; and now, by their own request, they were admitted to the Brethren's Church.16 For a while the Brethren held to the rule that if a nobleman joined their Church he must first lay down his rank. But now that rule was beginning to gall and chafe. They were winning golden opinions on every hand; they were becoming known as the best men for positions of trust in the State; they were just the men to make the best magistrates and aldermen; and thus they felt forced by their very virtues to renounce the narrow ideas of Peter and to play their part in national and city life.

At this moment, when new ideas were budding, there entered the service of the Church a young man who is known as Luke of Prague. He was born about 1460, was a Bachelor of Prague University, was a well-read theological scholar, and for fifty years was the trusted leader of the Brethren. Forthwith he read the signs of the times, and took the tide at the flood. In Procop of Neuhaus, another graduate, he found a warm supporter. The two scholars led the van of the new movement. The struggle was fierce. On the one side was the "great party" of culture, led by Luke of Prague and Procop of Neuhaus; on the other the so-called "little party," the old-fashioned rigid Radicals, led by two farmers, Amos and Jacob. "Ah, Matthias," said Gregory the Patriarch, on his death-bed, "beware of the educated Brethren!" But, despite this warning, the educated Brethren won the day. For once and for ever the Brethren resolved that the writings of Peter and Gregory should no longer be regarded as binding. At a Synod held at Reichenau they rejected the authority of Peter entirely {1494.}. They agreed that nobles might join the Church without laying down their rank; they agreed that if a man's business were honest he might make profits therein; they agreed that Brethren might enter the service of the State; and they even agreed that oaths might be taken in cases of special need.17 And then, next year, they made their position still clearer {1495.}. Instead of taking Peter as their guide, they now took the Bible and the Bible alone. "We content ourselves," they solemnly declared, at another Synod held at Reichenau, "with those sacred books which have been accepted from of old by all Christians, and are found in the Bible"; and thus, forty years before John Calvin, and eighty years before the Lutherans, they declared that the words of Holy Scripture, apart from any disputed interpretation, should be their only standard of faith and practice. No longer did they honour the memory of Peter; no longer did they appeal to him in their writings; no longer, in a word, can we call the Brethren the true followers of Peter of Chelcic. Instead, henceforward, of regarding Peter as the founder of their Church, they began now to regard themselves as the disciples of Hus. In days gone by they had spoken of Hus as a "causer of war." Now they held his name and memory sacred; and from this time onward the real followers of Peter were, not the Brethren, but the "little party" led by Amos and Jacob.1818

But the scholars led the Brethren further still. If the reader will kindly refer to the chapter on Peter, he will see that that racy pamphleteer had far more to say about good works than about the merits of saving faith; but now, after years of keen discussion, Procop of Neuhaus put to the Council of Elders the momentous question: "By what is a man justified?" The answer given was clear: "By the merits of Jesus Christ." The great doctrine of justification by grace was taught; the old doctrine of justification by works was modified; and thus the Brethren's Church became the first organized Evangelical Church in Europe.19

And Luke designed to make her the strongest, too. His energy never seemed to flag. As he wished to establish the ministry more firmly, he had the number of Bishops enlarged, and became a Bishop himself. He enlarged the governing Council, with his friend Procop of Neuhaus as Ecclesiastical Judge. He beautified the Church Services, and made the ritual more ornate. He introduced golden communion cups and delicately embroidered corporals, and some of the Brethren actually thought that he was leading them back to Rome. He gave an impulse to Church music, encouraged reading both in Priests and in people, and made a use of the printing press which in those days was astounding. Of the five printing presses in all Bohemia, three belonged to the Brethren; of sixty printed works that appeared between 1500 and 1510, no fewer than fifty were published by the Brethren; and of all the scribes of the sixteenth century, Luke was the most prolific. He wrote a "Catechism for Children." He edited the first Brethren's hymn book (1501), the first Church hymnal in history. He published a commentary on the Psalms,

another on the Gospel of St. John, and another on the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians; he drew up "Confessions of Faith," and sent them to the King; and thus, for the first time in the history of Bohemia, he made the newly invented press a mighty power in the land.

And even with this the good Bishop was not content {1491.}. If the Brethren, thought he, were true to their name, they must surely long for fellowship with others of like mind with themselves. For this purpose Luke and his friends set off to search for Brethren in other lands. Away went one to find the pure Nestorian Church that was said to exist in India, got as far as Antioch, Jerusalem and Egypt, and, being misled somehow by a Jew, returned home with the wonderful notion that the River Nile flowed from the Garden of Eden, but with no more knowledge of the Church in India than when he first set out. Another explored the South of Russia, and the third sought Christians in Turkey. And Luke himself had little more success. He explored a number of Monasteries in Greece, came on to Rome {1498.}, saw the streets of the city littered with corpses of men murdered by Cæsar Borgia, picked up some useful information about the private character of the Pope, saw Savonarola put to death in Florence, fell in with a few Waldenses in the Savoy, and then, having sought for pearls in vain, returned home in a state of disgust, and convinced that, besides the Brethren, there was not to be found a true Christian Church on the face of God's fair earth. He even found fault with the Waldenses.

It was time, indeed, for Luke to return, for trouble was brewing at home. For some years there dwelt in the town of Jungbunzlau, the headquarters of the Brethren's Church, a smart young man, by name John Lezek. He began life as a brewer's apprentice; he then entered the service of a Brother, and learned a good deal of the Brethren's manners and customs; and now he saw the chance of turning his knowledge to good account. If only he told a good tale against the Brethren, he would be sure to be a popular hero. For this purpose he visited the parish priest, and confessed to a number of abominations committed by him while among the wicked Brethren. The parish priest was delighted; the penitent was taken to the Church; and there he told the assembled crowd the story of his guilty past. Of all the bad men in the country, he said, these Brethren were the worst. He had even robbed his own father with their consent and approval. They blasphemed. They took the Communion bread to their houses, and there hacked it in pieces. They were thieves, and he himself had committed many a burglary for them. They murdered men and kidnapped their wives. They had tried to blow up Rockycana in the Thein Church with gunpowder. They swarmed naked up pillars like Adam and Eve, and handed each other apples. They prepared poisonous drinks, and put poisonous smelling powders in their letters. They were skilled in witchcraft, worshipped Beelzebub, and were wont irreverently to say that the way to Hell was paved with the bald heads of priests. As this story was both alarming and lively, the parish priest had it taken down, sealed and signed by witnesses, copied out, and scattered broadcast through the land. In vain John Lezek confessed soon after, when brought by the Brethren before a Magistrate, that his whole story was a vile invention. If a man tells a falsehood and then denies it, he does not thereby prevent the falsehood from spreading.

For now a more powerful foe than Lezek made himself felt in the land. Of all the Popes that ever donned the tiara, Alexander VI. is said to have presented the most successful image of the devil.20 He was the father of the prince of poisoners, Caesar Borgia; he was greedy, immoral, fond of ease and pleasure; he was even said to be a poisoner himself. If a well-known man died suddenly in Rome, the common people took it for granted that the Pope had poisoned his supper. For all that he was pious enough in a way of his own; and now, in his zeal for the Catholic cause, he took stern measures against the Church of the Brethren. He had heard some terrible tales about them. He heard that Peter's pamphlet, "The Antichrist,"21 was read all over the country. He heard that the number of the Brethren now was over 100,000. He resolved to crush them to powder {Papal Bull, Feb. 4th, 1500.}. He sent an agent, the Dominican, Dr. Henry Institoris, as censor of the press. As soon as Institoris arrived on the scene, he heard, to his horror, that most of the Brethren could read; and thereupon he informed the Pope that they had learned this art from the devil. He revived the stories of Lezek, the popular feeling was fanned to fury, and wire-pullers worked on the tender heart of the King.

"Hunt out and destroy these shameless vagabonds," wrote Dr. Augustin Käsebrot to King Uladislaus, "they are not even good enough to be burnt at the stake. They ought to have their bodies torn by wild beasts and their blood licked up by dogs." For the last five years there had grown in the land a small sect known as Amosites. They were followers of old Farmer Amos; they had once belonged to the Brethren; they had broken off when the scholars had won the day, and now they sent word to the King to say that the Brethren were planning to defend their cause with the sword. "What!" said the King, "do they mean to play Ziska? Well, well! We know how to stop that!" They were worse than Turks, he declared;

they believed neither in God nor in the Communion; they were a set of lazy vagabonds. He would soon pay them out for their devilish craft, and sweep them off the face of the earth. And to this end he summoned the Diet, and, by the consent of all three Estates, issued the famous Edict of St. James {July 25th, 1508.}.22 The decree was sweeping and thorough. The meetings of the Brethren, public and private, were forbidden. The books and writings of the Brethren must be burnt. All in Bohemia who refused to join the Utraquist or Roman Catholic Church were to be expelled from the country; all nobles harbouring Brethren were to be fined, and all their priests and teachers were to be imprisoned.

The persecution began. In the village of Kuttenburg lived a brother, by name Andrew Poliwka. As Kuttenburg was a Romanist village, he fled for refuge to the Brethren's settlement at Leitomischl. But his wife betrayed him. He returned to the village, and, desiring to please her, he attended the parish Church.

The occasion was an installation service. As the sermon ended and the host was raised, he could hold his tongue no longer. "Silence, Parson Jacob," he cried to the priest, "you have babbled enough! Mine hour is come; I will speak. Dear friends," he continued, turning to the people, "what are you doing? What are you adoring? An idol made of bread! Oh! Adore the living God in heaven! He is blessed for evermore!" The priest ordered him to hold his peace. He only shrieked the louder. He was seized, his head was dashed against the pillar, and he was dragged bleeding to prison. Next day he was tried, and asked to explain why he had interrupted the service.

"Who caused Abram," he answered, "to forsake his idolatry and adore the living God? Who induced Daniel to flee from idols?" In vain was he stretched upon the rack. No further answer would he give. He was burnt to death at the stake. As the flames began to lick his face, he prayed aloud: "Jesus, Thou Son of the living God, have mercy upon me, miserable sinner."

At Strakonic dwelt the Brother George Wolinsky, a dependent of Baron John of Rosenberg {1509.}. The Baron was a mighty man. He was Grand Prior of the Knights of Malta; he was an orthodox subject of the King, and he determined that on his estate no villainous Picards23 should live. "See," he said one day to George, "I have made you a servant in the Church. You must go to Church. You are a Picard, and I have received instructions from Prague that all men on my estate must be either Utraquists or Catholics."

The Brother refused; the Baron insisted; and the Prior of Strakonic was brought to convert the heretic. "No one," said the Prior, "should ever be tortured into faith. The right method is reasonable instruction, and innocent blood always cries to Heaven, ‘Lord, Lord, when wilt Thou avenge me.'"

But this common sense was lost on the furious Baron. As Brother George refused to yield, the Baron cast him into the deepest dungeon of his castle. The bread and meat he had secreted in his pockets were removed. The door of the dungeon was barred, and all that was left for the comfort of his soul was a heap of straw whereon to die and a comb to do his hair. For five days he lay in the dark, and then the Baron came to see him. The prisoner was almost dead. His teeth were closed; his mouth was rigid; the last spark of life was feebly glimmering. The Baron was aghast. The mouth was forced open, hot soup was poured in, the prisoner revived, and the Baron burst into tears.

"Ah," he exclaimed, "I am glad he is living"; and allowed George to return to his Brethren.

Amid scenes like this, Bishop Luke was a tower of strength to his Brethren. For six years the manses were closed, the Churches empty, the Pastors homeless, the people scattered; and the Bishop hurried from glen to glen, held services in the woods and gorges, sent letters to the parishes he could not visit, and pleaded the cause of his Brethren in woe in letter after letter to the King. As the storm of persecution raged, he found time to write a stirring treatise, entitled, "The Renewal of the Church," and thus by pen and by cheery word he revived the flagging hope of all.

For a while the Brethren were robbed of this morsel of comfort. As the Bishop was hastening on a pastoral visit, he was captured by Peter von Suda, the brigand, "the prince and master of all thieves," was loaded with chains, cast into a dungeon, and threatened with torture and the stake. At that moment destruction complete and final seemed to threaten the Brethren. Never had the billows rolled so high; never had the breakers roared so loud; and bitterly the hiding Brethren complained that their leaders had steered them on the rocks.

Yet sunshine gleamed amid the gathering clouds. For some time there had been spreading among the common people a conviction that the Brethren were under the special protection of God, and that any man who tried to harm them would come to a tragic end. It was just while the Brethren were sunk in despair that several of their enemies suddenly died, and people said that God Himself had struck a blow for the persecuted "Pitmen." The great Dr. Augustin, their fiercest foe, fell dead from his chair at dinner. Baron Colditz, the Chancellor, fell ill of a carbuncle in his foot, and died. Baron Henry von Neuhaus, who had boasted to the King how many Brethren he had starved to death, went driving in his sleigh, was upset, and was skewered on his own hunting knife. Baron Puta

von Swihow was found dead in his cellar. Bishop John of Grosswardein fell from his carriage, was caught on a sharp nail, had his bowels torn out, and miserably perished. And the people, struck with awe, exclaimed: "Let him that is tired of life persecute the Brethren, for he is sure not to live another year."

Thus the Brethren possessed their souls in patience till the persecution ended. The King of Bohemia, Uladislaus II., died {March 13th, 1516.}. His successor was only a boy. The Utraquists and Catholics began to quarrel with each other. The robber, von Suda, set Luke at liberty. The great Bishop became chief Elder of the Church. The whole land was soon in a state of disorder. The barons and knights were fighting each other, and, in the general stress and storm, the quiet Brethren were almost forgotten and allowed to live in peace.

And just at this juncture came news from afar that seemed to the Brethren like glad tidings from Heaven {1517.}. No longer were the Brethren to be alone, no longer to be a solitary voice crying in the wilderness. As the Brethren returned from the woods and mountains, and worshipped once again by the light of day, they heard, with amazement and joy, how Martin Luther, on Hallows Eve, had pinned his famous ninety-five Theses to the Church door at Wittenberg. The excitement in Bohemia was intense. For a while it seemed as though Martin Luther would wield as great an influence there as ever he had in Germany. For a while the Utraquist priests themselves, like Rockycana of yore, thundered in a hundred pulpits against the Church of Rome; and Luther, taking the keenest interest in the growing movement, wrote a letter to the Bohemian Diet, and urged the ecclesiastical leaders in Prague to break the last fetters that bound them to Rome.

For a while his agent, Gallus Cahera, a butcher's son, who had studied at Wittenberg, was actually pastor of the Thein Church {1523—9.}, referred in his sermons to the "celebrated Dr. Martin Luther," and openly urged the people to pray for that "great man of God." For a while even a preacher of the Brethren, named Martin, was allowed to stand where Hus had stood, and preach in the Bethlehem Church. For a while, in a word, it seemed to the Brethren that the Reformation now spreading in Germany would conquer Bohemia at a rush. The great Luther was loved by many classes. He was loved by the Utraquists because he had burned the Pope's Bull. He was loved by the young because he favoured learning. He was loved by the Brethren because he upheld the Bible as the standard of faith {1522.}. As soon as Luther had left the Wartburg, the Brethren boldly held out to him the right hand of fellowship; sent two German Brethren, John Horn and Michael Weiss, to see him; presented him with a copy of their Confession and Catechism; began a friendly correspondence on various points of doctrine and discipline, and thus opened their hearts to hear with respect what the great Reformer had to say.

Amid these bright prospects Luke of Prague breathed his last {Dec. 11th, 1528.}. As Gregory the Patriarch had gone to his rest when a new party was rising among the Brethren, so Luke of Prague crossed the cold river of death when new ideas from Germany were stirring the hearts of his friends. He was never quite easy in his mind about Martin Luther. He still believed in the Seven Sacraments. He still believed in the Brethren's system of stern moral discipline. He still believed, for practical reasons, in the celibacy of the clergy. "This eating," he wrote, "this drinking, this self-indulgence, this marrying, this living to the world — what a poor preparation it is for men who are leaving Babylon. If a man does this he is yoking himself with strangers. Marriage never made anyone holy yet. It is a hindrance to the higher life, and causes endless trouble." Above all, he objected to Luther's way of teaching the great doctrine of justification by faith.

"Never, never," he said, in a letter to Luther, "can you ascribe a man's salvation to faith alone. The Scriptures are against you. You think that in this you are doing a good work, but you are really fighting against Christ Himself and clinging to an error." He regarded Luther's teaching as extreme and one-sided. He was shocked by what he heard of the jovial life led by Luther's students at Wittenberg, and could never understand how a rollicking youth could be a preparation for a holy ministry. As Gregory the Patriarch had warned Matthias against "the learned Brethren," so Luke, in his turn, now warned the Brethren against the loose lives of Luther's merry-hearted students; and, in order to preserve the Brethren's discipline, he now issued a comprehensive treatise, divided into two parts — the first entitled "Instructions for Priests," and the second "Instructions and Admonitions for all occupations, all ages in life, all ranks and all sorts of characters." As he lay on his death-bed at Jungbunzlau, his heart was stirred by mingled feelings. There was land in sight — ah, yes! — but what grew upon the enchanting island? He would rather see his Church alone and pure than swept away in the Protestant current. Happy was he in the day of his death. So far he had steered the Church safely. He must now resign his post to another pilot who knew well the coming waters.

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Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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