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A History of the Moravian Church

by 'Joseph Edmund Hutton'

Book 1 — The Bohemian Brethren. 1457-1673

Chapter 8 — John Augusta and His Policy, 1531-1548

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AS the great Bishop Luke lay dying at Jungbunzlau, there was rising to fame among the Brethren the most brilliant and powerful leader they had ever known. Again we turn to the old Thein Church; again the preacher is denouncing the priests; and again in the pew is an eager listener with soul aflame with zeal. His name was John Augusta. He was born, in 1500, at Prague. His father was a hatter, and in all probability he learned the trade himself. He was brought up in the Utraquist Faith; he took the sacrament every Sunday in the famous old Thein Church; and there he heard the preacher declare that the priests in Prague cared for nothing but comfort, and that the average Christians of the day were no better than crack-brained heathen sprinkled with holy water. The young man was staggered; he consulted other priests, and the others told him the same dismal tale. One lent him a pamphlet, entitled "The Antichrist"; another lent him a treatise by Hus; and a third said solemnly: "My son, I see that God has more in store for you than I can understand." But the strangest event of all was still to come. As he rode one day in a covered waggon with two priests of high rank, it so happened that one of them turned to Augusta and urged him to leave the Utraquist Church and join the ranks of the Brethren at Jungbunzlau. Augusta was horrified.

Again he consulted the learned priest; again he received the same strange counsel; and one day the priest ran after him, called him back, and said: "Listen, dear brother! I beseech you, leave us. You will get no good among us. Go to the Brethren at Bunzlau, and there your soul will find rest." Augusta was shocked beyond measure. He hated the Brethren, regarded them as beasts, and had often warned others against them. But now he went to see them himself, and found to his joy that they followed the Scriptures, obeyed the Gospel and enforced their rules without respect of persons. For a while he was in a quandary. His conscience drew him to the Brethren, his honour held him to the Utraquists, and finally his own father confessor settled the question for him.

"Dear friend," said the holy man, "entrust your soul to the Brethren. Never mind if some of them are hypocrites, who do not obey their own rules. It is your business to obey the rules yourself. What more do you want? If you return to us in Prague, you will meet with none but sinners and sodomites."

And so, by the advice of Utraquist priests, this ardent young man joined the ranks of the Brethren, was probably trained in the Brethren's House at Jungbunzlau, and was soon ordained as a minister. Forthwith he rose to fame and power in the pulpit. His manner was dignified and noble. His brow was lofty, his eye flashing, his bearing the bearing of a commanding king. He was a splendid speaker, a ready debater, a ruler of men, an inspirer of action; he was known ere long as the Bohemian Luther; and he spread the fame of the Brethren's Church throughout the Protestant world. Full soon, in truth, he began his great campaign. As he entered on his work as a preacher of the Gospel, he found that among the younger Brethren there were quite a number who did not feel at all disposed to be bound by the warning words of Luke of Prague. They had been to the great Wittenberg University; they had mingled with Luther's students; they had listened to the talk of Michael Weiss, who had been a monk at Breslau, and had brought Lutheran opinions with him; they admired both Luther and Melancthon; and they now resolved, with one consent, that if the candlestick of the Brethren's Church was not to be moved from out its place, they must step shoulder to shoulder with Luther, become a regiment in the conquering Protestant army, and march with him to the goodly land where the flower of the glad free Gospel bloomed in purity and sweet perfume. At the first opportunity Augusta, their leader, brought forward their views. At a Synod held at Brandeis-on-the-Adler, summoned by Augusta's friend, John Horn, the senior Bishop of the Church, for the purpose of electing some new Bishops, Augusta rose to address the assembly. He spoke in the name of the younger clergy, and immediately commenced an attack upon the old Executive Council. He accused them of listlessness and sloth; he said that they could not understand the spirit of the age, and he ended his speech by proposing himself and four other broad-minded men as members of the Council. The old men were shocked; the young were entranced; and Augusta was elected and consecrated a Bishop, and thus, at the age of thirty-two, became the leader of the Brethren's Church. He had three great schemes in view; first, friendly relations with Protestants in other countries; second, legal recognition of the Brethren in Bohemia; third, the union of all Bohemian Protestants.

First, then, with Augusta to lead them on, the Brethren enlisted in the Protestant army, and held the banner of their faith aloft that all the world might see. As the Protestants in Germany had issued the Confession of Augsburg, and had it read in solemn style before the face of the Emperor, Charles V., so now the Brethren issued a new and full "Confession of Faith," to be sent first to George, Margrave of Brandenburg, and then laid in due time before Ferdinand, King of Bohemia. It was a characteristic Brethren's production.35 It is perfectly clear from this Confession that the Brethren had separated from Rome for practical rather than dogmatic reasons. It is true the Brethren realised the value of faith; it is true the Confession contained the sentence, "He is the Lamb that taketh away

the sins of the world; and whosoever believeth in Him and calleth on His name shall be saved"; but even now the Brethren did not, like Luther, lay stress on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. And yet Luther had no fault to find with this Confession. It was addressed to him, was printed at Wittenberg, was issued with his consent and approval, and was praised by him in a preface. It was read and approved by John Calvin, by Martin Bucer, by Philip Melancthon, by pious old George, Margrave of Brandenburg, and by John Frederick, Elector of Saxony. Again and again the Brethren sent deputies to see the great Protestant leaders. At Wittenberg, Augusta discussed good morals with Luther and Melancthon; and at Strasburg, Cerwenka, the Brethren's historian, held friendly counsel with Martin Bucer and Calvin. Never had the Brethren been so widely known, and never had they received so many compliments. Formerly Luther, who liked plain speech, had called the Brethren "sour-looking hypocrites and self-grown saints, who believe in nothing but what they themselves teach." But now he was all good humour. "There never have been any Christians," he said, in a lecture to his students, "so like the apostles in doctrine and constitution as these Bohemian Brethren."

"Tell your Brethren," he said to their deputies, "to hold fast what God has given them, and never give up their constitution and discipline. Let them take no heed of revilements. The world will behave foolishly. If you in Bohemia were to live as we do, what is said of us would be said of you, and if we were to live as you do, what is said of you would be said of us." "We have never," he added, in a letter to the Brethren, "attained to such a discipline and holy life as is found among you, but in the future we shall make it our aim to attain it."

The other great Reformers were just as enthusiastic. "How shall I," said Bucer, "instruct those whom God Himself has instructed! You alone, in all the world, combine a wholesome discipline with a pure faith." "We," said Calvin, "have long since recognised the value of such a system, but cannot, in any way, attain to it." "I am pleased," said Melancthon, "with the strict discipline enforced in your congregations. I wish we could have a stricter discipline in ours." It is clear what all this means. It means that the Brethren, in their humble way, had taught the famous Protestant leaders the value of a system of Church discipline and the need of good works as the proper fruit of faith.

Meanwhile Augusta pushed his second plan. The task before him was gigantic. A great event had taken place in Bohemia. At the battle of Mohacz, in a war with the Turks, Louis, King of Bohemia, fell from his horse when crossing a stream, and was drowned {1526.}. The old line of Bohemian Kings had come to an end. The crown fell into the hands of the Hapsburgs; the Hapsburgs were the mightiest supporters of the Church of Rome; and the King of Bohemia, Ferdinand I., was likewise King of Hungary, Archduke of Austria, King of the Romans, and brother of the Emperor Charles V., the head of the Holy Roman Empire.

For the Brethren the situation was momentous. As Augusta scanned the widening view, he saw that the time was coming fast when the Brethren, whether they would or no, would be called to play their part like men in a vast European conflict. Already the Emperor Charles V. had threatened to crush the Reformation by force; already (1530) the Protestant princes in Germany had formed the Smalkald League; and Augusta, scenting the battle from afar, resolved to build a fortress for the Brethren. His policy was clear and simple. If the King of Bohemia joined forces with the Emperor, the days of the Brethren's Church would soon be over. He would make the King of Bohemia their friend, and thus save the Brethren from the horrors of war. For this purpose Augusta now instructed the powerful Baron, Conrad Krajek, the richest member of the Brethren's Church, to present the Brethren's Confession of Faith to King Ferdinand. The Baron undertook the task. He was the leader of a group of Barons who had recently joined the Church; he had built the great Zbor of the Brethren in Jungbunzlau, known as "Mount Carmel"; he had been the first to suggest a Confession of Faith, and now, having signed the Confession himself, he sought out the King at Vienna, and was admitted to a private interview {Nov. 11th, 1535.}. The scene was stormy. "We would like to know," said the King, "how you Brethren came to adopt this faith. The devil has persuaded you."

"Not the devil, gracious liege," replied the Baron, "but Christ the Lord through the Holy Scriptures. If Christ was a Picard, then I am one too."

The King was beside himself with rage.

"What business," he shouted, "have you to meddle with such things? You are neither Pope, nor Emperor, nor King. Believe what you will! We shall not prevent you! If you really want to go to hell, go by all means!"

The Baron was silent. The King paused.

"Yes, yes," he continued, "you may believe what you like and we shall not prevent you; but all the same, I give you warning that we shall put a stop to your meetings, where you carry on your hocus-pocus."

The Baron was almost weeping.

"Your Majesty," he protested, "should not be so hard on me and my noble friends. We are the most loyal subjects in your kingdom."

The King softened, spoke more gently, but still held to his point.

"I swore," he said, "at my coronation to give justice to the Utraquists and Catholics, and I know what the statute says."

As the King spoke those ominous words, he was referring, as the Baron knew full well, to the terrible Edict of St. James. The interview ended; the Baron withdrew; the issue still hung doubtful.

And yet the Baron had not spoken in vain. For three days the King was left undisturbed; and then two other Barons appeared and presented the Confession, signed by twelve nobles and thirty-three knights, in due form {Nov. 14th}.

"Do you really think," they humbly said, "that it helps the unity of the kingdom when priests are allowed to say in the pulpit that it is less sinful to kill a Picard than it is to kill a dog."

The King was touched; his anger was gone, and a week later he promised the Barons that as long as the Brethren were loyal subjects he would allow them to worship as they pleased. For some years the new policy worked very well, and the King kept his promise. The Brethren were extending on every hand. They had now at least four hundred churches and two hundred thousand members. They printed and published translations of Luther's works. They had a church in the city of Prague itself. They enjoyed the favour of the leading nobles in the land; and Augusta, in a famous sermon, expressed the hope that before very long the Brethren and Utraquists would be united and form one National Protestant Church.36

At this point a beautiful incident occurred. As the Brethren were now so friendly with Luther, there was a danger that they would abandon their discipline, become ashamed of their own little Church, and try to imitate the teaching and practice of their powerful Protestant friends. For some years after Luke's death they actually gave way to this temptation, and Luke's last treatise, "Regulations for Priests," was scornfully cast aside. But the Brethren soon returned to their senses. As John Augusta and John Horn travelled in Germany, they made the strange and startling discovery that, after all, the Brethren's Church was the best Church they knew. For a while they were dazzled by the brilliance of the Lutheran preachers; but in the end they came to the conclusion that though these preachers were clever men they had not so firm a grip on Divine truth as the Brethren. At last, in 1546, the Brethren met in a Synod at Jungbunzlau to discuss the whole situation. With tears in his eyes John Horn addressed the assembly. "I have never understood till now," he said, "what a costly treasure our Church is. I have been blinded by the reading of German books! I have never found any thing so good in those books as we have in the books of the Brethren. You have no need, beloved Brethren, to seek for instruction from others. You have enough at home. I exhort you to study what you have already; you will find there all you need." Again the discipline was revived in all its vigour; again, by Augusta's advice, the Catechism of Luke was put into common use, and the Brethren began to open schools and teach their principles to others.

But now their fondest hopes were doomed to be blasted. For the last time Augusta went to Wittenberg to discuss the value of discipline with Luther, and as his stay drew to a close he warned the great man that if the German theologians spent so much time in spinning doctrines and so little time in teaching morals, there was danger brewing ahead. The warning soon came true. The Reformer died. The gathering clouds in Germany burst, and the Smalkald War broke out. The storm swept on to Bohemia. As the Emperor gathered his forces in Germany to crush the Protestant Princes to powder, so Ferdinand in Bohemia summoned his subjects to rally round his standard at Leitmeritz and defend the kingdom and the throne against the Protestant rebels. For the first time in their history the Bohemian Brethren were ordered to take sides in a civil war. The situation was delicate. If they fought for Ferdinand they would be untrue to their faith; if they fought against him they would be disloyal to their country. In this dilemma they did the best they could.

As soon as they could possibly do so, the Elders issued a form of prayer to be used in all their churches. It was a prayer for the kingdom and the throne.37 But meanwhile others were taking definite sides. At Leitmeritz the Catholics and old-fashioned Utraquists mustered to fight for the King; and at Prague the Protestant nobles met to defend the cause of religious liberty. They met in secret at a Brother's House; they formed a Committee of Safety of eight, and of those eight four were Brethren; and they passed a resolution to defy the King, and send help to the German Protestant leader, John Frederick, Elector of Saxony.

And then the retribution fell like a bolt from the blue. The great battle of Mühlberg was fought {April 24th, 1547.}; the Protestant troops were routed; the Elector of Saxony was captured; the Emperor was master of Germany, and Ferdinand returned to Prague with vengeance written on his brow. He called a council at Prague Castle, summoned the nobles and knights before him, ordered them to deliver up their treasonable papers, came down on many with heavy fines, and condemned the ringleaders to death.

At eight in the morning, August 22nd, four Barons were led out to execution in Prague, and the scaffold was erected in a public place that all the people might see and learn a lesson. Among the Barons was Wenzel Petipesky, a member of the Brethren's Church. He was to be the first to die. As he was led from his cell by the executioner, he called out in a loud voice, which could be heard far and wide: "My dear Brethren, we go happy in

the name of the Lord, for we go in the narrow way." He walked to the scaffold with his hands bound before him, and two boys played his dead march on drums. As he reached the scaffold the drums ceased, and the executioner announced that the prisoner was dying because he had tried to dethrone King Ferdinand and put another King in his place.

"That," said Petipesky, "was never the case."

"Never mind, my Lord," roared the executioner, "it will not help you now."

"My God," said Petipesky, "I leave all to Thee;" and his head rolled on the ground.

But the worst was still to come. As Ferdinand came out of the castle church on Sunday morning, September 18th, he was met by a deputation of Utraquists and Catholics, who besought him to protect them against the cruelties inflicted on them by the Picards. The King soon eased their minds. He had heard a rumour that John Augusta was the real leader of the revolt; he regarded the Brethren as traitors; he no longer felt bound by his promise to spare them; and, therefore, reviving the Edict of St. James, he issued an order that all their meetings should be suppressed, all their property be confiscated, all their churches be purified and transformed into Romanist Chapels, and all their priests be captured and brought to the castle in Prague {Oct. 8th, 1547.}. The Brethren pleaded not guilty.38 They had not, as a body, taken any part in the conspiracy against the King. Instead of plotting against him, in fact, they had prayed and fasted in every parish for the kingdom and the throne. If the King, they protested, desired to punish the few guilty Brethren, by all means let him do so; but let him not crush the innocent many for the sake of a guilty few. "My word," replied the King, "is final." The Brethren continued to protest. And the King retorted by issuing an order that all Brethren who lived on Royal estates must either accept the Catholic Faith or leave the country before six weeks were over {May, 1548.}.

And never was King more astounded and staggered than Ferdinand at the result of this decree.


Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 19th, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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