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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 19 — Protestantism in Poland and Bohemia

Chapter 10 — Suppression of Protestantish in Bohemia

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Policy of Ferdinand II — Murder of Ministers by the Troops — New Plan of Persecution — Kindness and its Effects — Expulsion of Anabaptists from Moravia — The Pastors Banished — Sorrowful Partings — Exile of Pastors of Kuttenberg — The Lutherans "Graciously Dismissed" — The Churches Razed — The New Clergy — Purification of the Churches — The Schoolmasters Banished — Bibles and Religious Books Burned — Spanish Jesuits and Lichtenstein's Dragoons — Emigration of the Nobles — Reign of Terror in the Towns — Oppressive Edicts — Ransom-Money — Unprotestantizing of Villages and Rural Parts — Protestantism Trampled out — Bohemia a Desert — Testimony of a Popish Writer.

THE sufferings of that cruel time were not confined to the nobles of Bohemia. The pastors were their companions in the horrors of the persecution. After the first few months, during which the conqueror lured back by fair promises all who had fled into exile, or had hidden themselves in secret places, the policy of Ferdinand II and his advisers was to crush at once the chief men whether of the nobility or of the ministry, and afterwards to dear with the common people as they might find it expedient, either by the rude violence of the hangman or the subtle craft of the Jesuit. This astute policy was pursued with the most unflinching resolution, and the issue was the almost entire trampling out of the Protestantism of Bohemia and Moravia. In closing this sad story we must briefly narrate the tortures and death which were inflicted on the Bohemian pastors, and the manifold woes that befell the unhappy country.

Even before the victory of the Weissenberg, the ministers in various parts of Bohemia suffered dreadfully from the license of the troops. No sooner had the Austrian army crossed the frontier, than the soldiers began to plunder and kill as they had a mind. Pastors found preaching to their flocks were murdered in the pulpit; the sick were shot in their beds; some were hanged on trees, others were tied to posts, and their extremities scorched with fire, while others were tortured in various cruel ways to compel them to disclose facts which they did not know, and give up treasure which they did not possess. To the barbarous murder of the father or the husband was sometimes added the brutal outrage of his family.

But when the victory of the Weissenberg gave Bohemia and its capital into the power of Ferdinand, the persecution was taken out of the hands of the soldiers, and committed to those who knew how to conduct it, if not more humanely, yet more systematically. It was the settled purpose of the emperor to bring the whole of Bohemia back to Rome. He was terrified at the spirit of liberty and patriotism which he saw rising in the nation; he ascribed that spirit entirely to the new religion of which John Muss had been the great apostle, since, all down from the martyr's day, he could trace the popular convulsions to which it had given rise; and he despaired of restoring quiet and order to Bohemia till it should again be of one religion, and that religion the Roman. Thus political were blended with religious motives in the terrible persecution which Ferdinand now commenced.

It was nearly a year till the plan of persecution was arranged; and when at last the plain was settled, it was resolved to baptize it by the name of "Reformation." To restore the altars and images which the preachers of the new faith had east out, and again plant the old faith in the deformed churches, was, they affirmed, to effect a real Reformation. They had a perfect right to the word. They appointed a Commission of Reformers, having at its head the Archbishop of Prague and several of the Bohemian grandees, and united with them was a numerous body of Jesuits, who bore the chief burden of this new Reformation. After the executions, which we have described, were over, it was resolved to proceed by kindness and persuasion. If the Reformation could not be completed without the axe and the halter, these would not be wanting; meanwhile, mild measures, it was thought, would best succeed. The monks who dispersed themselves among the people assured them of the emperor's favor should they embrace the emperor's religion. The times were hard, and such as had fallen into straits were assisted with money or with seed-corn. The Protestant poor were, on the other hand, refused alms, and at times could not even buy bread with money. Husbands were separated from their wives, and children from their parents. Disfranchisement, expulsion from corporations and offices, the denial of burial, and similar oppressions were inflicted on those who evinced a disposition to remain steadfast in their Protestant profession. If any one declared that he would exile himself rather than apostatize, he was laughed at for his folly. "To what land will you go," he was asked, "where you shall find the liberty you desire? Everywhere you shall find heresy proscribed. One's native soil is sweet, and you will be glad to return to yours, only, it may be, to find the door of the emperor's clemency closed." Numerous conversions were effected before the adoption of a single harsh measure; but wherever the Scriptural knowledge of Huss's Reformation had taken root, there the monks found the work much more difficult.

The first great tentative measure was the expulsion of the Anabaptists from Moravia. The most unbefriended, they were selected as the first victims. The Anabaptists were gathered into some forty-five communities or colleges, where they had all things in common, and were much respected by their neighbors for their quiet and orderly lives. Their lands were skillfully cultivated, and their taxes duly paid, but these qualities could procure them no favor in the eyes of their sovereign. The order for their banishment arrived in the beginning of autumn, 1622, and

was all the more severe that it inferred the loss of the labors of the year. Leaving their fields unreaped and their grapes to rot upon the bough, they arose, and quitted house and lands and vineyards. The children and aged they placed in carts, and setting forward in long and sorrowful troops, they held on their way across the Moravian plains to Hungary and Transylvania, where they found new habitations. They were happy in being the first to be compelled to go away; greater severities awaited those whom they left behind.

Stop the fountains, and the streams will dry up of themselves. Acting on this maxim, it was resolved to banish the pastors, to shut up the churches, and to burn the books of the Protestants.

In pursuance of this program of persecution, the ministers of Prague had six articles laid before them, to which their submission was demanded, as the condition of their remaining in the country. The first called on them to collect among themselves a sum of several thousand pounds, and give it as a loan to the emperor for the payment of the troops employed in suppressing the rebellion. The remaining five articles amounted to an abandonment of the Protestant faith. The ministers replied unanimously that "they would do nothing against their consciences." The decree of banishment was not long deferred. To pave the way for it, an edict was issued, which threw the whole blame of the war upon the ministers. They were stigmatized as "turbulent, rash, and seditious men," who had "made a new king," and who even now "were plotting pernicious confederacies," and preparing new insurrections against the emperor. They must therefore, said the edict, be driven from a kingdom which could know neither quiet nor safety so long as they were in it. Accordingly on the 13th of December, 1621, [1] the decree of banishment was given forth, ordering all the ministers in Prague within three days, and all others throughout Bohemia and the United Provinces within eight days, to remove themselves beyond the bounds of the kingdom, "and that for ever." If any of the proscribed should presume to remain in the country, or should return to it, they were to suffer death, and the same fate was adjudged to all who should dare to harbor them, or who should in the least favor or help them. [2]

But, says Comenius, "the scene of their departure cannot be described," it was so overwhelmingly sorrowful. The pastors were followed by their loving flocks, bathed in tears, and so stricken with anguish of spirit, that they gave vent to their grief in sighs and groans. Bitter, thrice bitter, were their farewells, for they knew they should see each other no more on earth. The churches of the banished ministers were given to the Jesuits.

The same sorrowful scenes were repeated in all the other towns of Bohemia where there were Protestant ministers to be driven away; and what town was it that had not its Protestant pastor? Commissaries of Reformation went from town to town with a troop of horse, enforcing the edict. Many of the Romanists sympathized with the exiled pastors, and condemned the cruelty of the Government; the populations generally were friendly to the ministers, and their departure took place amid public tokens of mourning on the part of those among whom they had lived. The crowds on the streets were often so great that the wagons that bore away their little ones could with difficulty move forward, while sad and tearful faces looked down upon the departing troop from the windows. On the 27th of July, 1623, the ministers of Kuttenberg were commanded to leave the city before break of day, and remove beyond the bounds of the kingdom within eight days. Twenty-one ministers passed out at the gates at early morning, followed by some hundreds of citizens. After they had gone a little way the assembly halted, and drawing aside from the highway, one of the ministers, John Matthiades, preached a farewell sermon to the multitude, from the words, "They shall cast you out of the synagogues."

Earnestly did the preacher exhort them to constancy. The whole assembly was drowned in tears. When the sermon had ended, "the heavens rang again," says the chronicler, "with their songs and their lamentations, and with mutual embraces and kisses they commended each other to the grace of God." [3] The flocks returned to the city, and their exiled shepherds went on their way.

The first edict of proscription fell mainly upon the Calvinistic clergy and the ministers of the United Brethren. The Lutheran pastors were left unmolested as yet. Ferdinand II hesitated to give offense to the Elector of Saxony by driving his co-religionists out of his dominions. But the Jesuits took the alarm when they saw the Calvinists, who had been deprived of their own pastors, flocking to the churches of the Lutheran clergy. They complained to the monarch that the work was only half done, that the pestilence could not be arrested till every Protestant minister had been banished from the hind, and the urgencies of the Fathers at length prevailed over the fears of the king. Ferdinand issued an order that the Lutheran ministers should follow their brethren of the Calvinistic and Moravian Communion into exile. The Elector of Saxony remonstrated against this violence, and was politely told that it was very far indeed from being the fact that the Lutheran clergy had been banished — they had only received a "gracious dismissal." [4]

The razing of the churches in many places was consequent on the expulsion of the pastors. Better that they should be ruinous heaps than that they should remain to be occupied by the men who were now brought to fill them. The lowest of the priests were drafted from other places to enjoy the vacant livings, and fleece, not feed, the desolate flocks. There could not be found so

many curates as there were now empty churches in Bohemia; and two, six, nay, ten or a dozen parishes were committed to the care of one man. Under these hirelings the people learned the value of that Gospel which they had, perhaps too easily, permitted to be taken from them, in the persons of their banished pastors. Some churches remained without a priest for years; "but the people," says Comenius, "found it a less affliction to lack wholesome instruction than to resort to poisoned pastures, and become the prey of wolves." [5]

A number of monks were imported from Poland, that country being near, and the language similar, but their dissolute lives were the scandal of that Christianity which they were brought to teach. On the testimony of all historians, Popish as well as Protestant, they were riotous livers, insatiably greedy, and so shamelessly profligate that abominable crimes, unknown in Bohemia till then, and not fit to be named, say the chroniclers, began to pollute the land. Even the Popish historian Pelzel says, "they led vicious lives." Many of them had to return to Poland faster than they had come, to escape the popular vengeance which their misdeeds had awakened against them. Bohemia was doubly scourged: it had lost its pious ministers, and it had received in their room men who were fitter to occupy the culprit's cell than the teacher's chair.

The cleansing of the churches which had been occupied by the Protestant ministers, before being again taken possession of by the Romish clergy, presents us with many things not only foolish, but droll. The pulpit was first whipped, next sprinkled with holy water, then a priest was made to enter it, and speaking for the pulpit to say, "I have sinned." The altars at which the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper had been dispensed were dealt with much in the same way. When the Jesuits took possession of the church in Prague which had been occupied by the United Brethren, they first strewed gunpowder over its flora-, and then set fire to it, to disinfect the building by flame and smoke from the poison of heresy. The "cup," the well-known Bohemian symbol, erected over church portals and city gates, was pulled down, and a statue of the Virgin put up fit its stead. If a church was not to be used, because it was not needed, or because it was inconveniently situated, it was either razed or shut up. If only shut up it was left unconsecrated, and in that dreadful condition the Romanists were afraid to enter it. The churchyards shared the fate of the churches. The monumental tablets of the Protestant (lead were broken in pieces, the inscriptions were effaced, and the bones of the dead in many instances were dug up and burned. [6]

After the pastors, the iron hand of persecution fell upon the schoolmasters. All teachers who refused to conform to the Church of Rome, and teach the new catechism of the Jesuit Canisius, were banished. The destruction of the Protestant University of Prague followed. The non-Catholic professors were exiled, and the building was delivered over to the Jesuits. The third great measure adopted for the overthrow of Protestantism was the destruction of all religious books. A commission traveled from town to town, which, assembling the people by the tolling of the bells, explained to them the cause of their visit, and "exhorted them," says George Holyk, "in kind, sweet, and gentle words, to bring all their books." If gentle words failed to draw out the peccant volumes, threats and a strict inquisition in every house followed. The books thus collected were examined by the Jesuits who accompanied the commissioners, and while immoral works escaped, all in which was detected the slightest taint of heresy were condemned. They were carried away in baskets and carts, piled up in the market-place, or under the gallows, or outside the city gates, and there burned. Many thousands of Bohemian Bibles, and countless volumes of general literature, were thus destroyed. Since that time a Bohemian book and a scarce book have been synonymous. The past of Bohemia was blotted out; the great writers and the illustrious warriors who had flourished in it were forgotten; the noble memories of early times were buried in the ashes of these fires; and the Jestuits found it easy to make their pupils believe that, previous to their arrival, the country had been immersed in darkness, and that with them came the first streaks of light in its sky. [7]

The Jesuits who were so helpful in this "Reformation" were Spaniards. They had brought with them the new order of the Brethren of Mercy, who proved their most efficient coadjutors. Of these Brethren of Mercy, Jacobeus gives the following graphic but not agreeable picture: — "They were saints abroad, but furies at home; their dress was that of paupers, but their tables were those of gluttons; they had the maxims of the ascetic, but the morals of the rake." Other allies, perhaps even more efficient in promoting conversions to the Roman Church, came to the aid of the Jesuits. These were the well-known Lichtenstein dragoons. These men had never faced an enemy, or learned on the battle-field to be at once brave and merciful. They were a set of vicious and cowardly ruffians, who delighted in terrifying, torturing, and murdering the pious peasants. They drove them like cattle to church with the saber. When billeted on Protestant families, they conducted themselves like incarnate demons; the members of the household had either to declare themselves Romanists, or flee to the woods, to be out of the reach of their violence and the hearing of their oaths. As the Jesuits were boasting at Rome in presence of the Pope of having converted Bohemia, the famous Capuchin, Valerianus Magnus, who was present, said, "Holy Father, give me soldiers as they were given to the Jesuits, and I will convert the whole world

to the Catholic faith." [8]

We have already narrated the executions of the most illustrious of the Bohemian nobles. Those whose lives were spared were overwhelmed by burdensome taxes, and reiterated demands for stuns of money, on various pretexts. After they had been tolerably fleeced, it was resolved to banish them from the kingdom. On Ignatius Loyola's day, the 31st of July, in the year 1627, an edict appeared, in which the emperor declared that, having "a fatherly care for the salvation of his kingdom," he would permit none but Catholics to live in it, and he commanded all who refused to return to the Church of Rome, to sell their estates within six months, and depart from Bohemia. Some there were who parted with "the treasure of a good conscience" that they might remain in their native land; but the greater part, more steadfastly-minded, sold their estates for a nominal price in almost every instance, and went forth into exile. [9] The, decree of banishment was extended to widows. Their sons and daughters, being minors, were taken forcible possession of by the Jesuits, and were shut up in colleges and convents, and their goods managed by tutors appointed by the priests. About a hundred noble families, forsaking their ancestral domains, were dispersed throughout the neighboring countries, and among these was the gray-headed baron, Charles Zierotin, a man highly respected throughout all Bohemia for :his piety and courage.

The places of the banished grandees were filled by persons of low degree, to whom the emperor could give a patent of nobility, but to whom he could give neither elevation of soul, nor dignity of character, nor grace of manners. The free cities were placed under a reign of terrorism. New governors and imperial judges were appointed to rule them; but from what class of the population were these officials drawn? The first were selected from the new nobility; the second, says Comenius — and his statement was not denied by his contemporaries — were taken from "banished Italians or Germans, or apostate Bohemians, gluttons who had squandered their fortunes, notorious murderers, bastards, cheats, fiddlers, stage-players, mutineers, even men who were unable to read, without property, without home, without conscience." [10] Such were the judges to whom the goods, the liberties, and the lives of the citizens were committed. The less infamous of the new officials, the governors namely, were soon removed, and the "gluttons, murderers, fiddlers, and stage-players" were left to tyrannize at pleasure. No complaint was listened to; extortionate demands were enforced by the military; marriage was forbidden except to Roman Catholics; funeral rites were prohibited at Protestant burials; to harbor any of the banished ministers was to incur fine and imprisonment; to work on a Popish holiday was punishable with imprisonment and a fine of ten florins; to laugh at a priest, or at his sermon, inferred banishment and confiscation of goods; to eat flesh on prohibited (lays, without an indulgence from the Pope, was to incur a fine of ten florins; to be absent from Church on Sunday, or ca festival-mass days, to send one's son to a non-Catholic school, or to educate one's family at home, was forbidden under heavy penalties; non-Catholics were not permitted to make a will; if nevertheless they did so, it was null and void; none were to be admitted into arts or trades unless they first embraced the Popish faith. If any should speak unbecomingly of the "Blessed Virgin the Mother of God," or of the "illustrious House of Austria," "he shall lose his head, without the least favor or pardon." The poor in the hospitals were to be converted to the Roman Catholic faith before the feast of All Saints, otherwise they were to be turned out, and not again admitted till they had entered the Church of Rome. So was it enacted in July, 1624, by Charles, Prince of Lichtenstein, as "the constant and unalterable will of His Sacred Majesty Ferdinand II." [11]

In the same year (1624) all the citizens of Prague who had not renounced their Protestant faith, and entered the Roman communion, were informed by public edict that they had forfeited their estates by rebellion.

Nevertheless, their gracious monarch was willing to admit them to pardon. Each citizen was required to declare on oath the amount of goods which he possessed, and his pardon-money was fixed accordingly. The "ransom" varied from 100 up to 6,000 guilders. The next "thunderbolt" that fell on the non-Catholics was the deprivation of the rights of citizenship. No one, if not in communion with the Church of Rome, could carry on a trade or business in Prague. Hundreds were sunk at once by this decree into poverty. It was next resolved to banish the more considerable of those citizens who still remained "unconverted." First four leading men had sentence of exile recorded against them; then seventy others were expatriated. Soon thereafter, several hundreds were sent into banishment; and the crafty persecutors now paused to mark the effect of these severities upon the common people. Terrified, ground down into poverty, suffering from imprisonment and other inflictions, and deprived of their leaders, they found the people, as they had hoped, very pliant. A small number, who voluntarily exiled themselves, excepted, the citizens conformed. Thus the populous and once Protestant Prague bowed its neck to the Papal yoke. [12] In a similar way, and with a like success, did the "Commissioners of the Reformation" carry out their instructions in all the chief cities of Bohemia.

After the same fashion were the villages and rural parts "unprotestantized." The Emperor Matthias, in 1610, had guaranteed the peasantry of Bohemia in the free exercise of the Protestant religion. This privilege was now abolished, beginning was made in the villages, where the flocks were deprived of their shepherds. Their Bibles and other religious books were next taken from them and destroyed, that the flame might go out when the fuel was withdrawn. The

ministers and Bibles out of the way, the monks appeared on the scene. They entered with soft words and smiling faces. They confidently promised lighter burdens and happier times if the people would only forsake their heresy. They even showed them the beginning of this golden age, by bestowing upon the more necessitous a few small benefactions. When the conversions did not answer the fond expectations of the Fathers, they changed their first bland utterances into rough words, and even threats. The peasantry were commanded to go to mass. A list of the parishioners was given to the clerk, that the absentees from church might be marked, and visited with fine. If one was detected at a secret Protestant conventicle, he was punished with flagellation and imprisonment. Marriage and baptism were next forbidden to Protestants. The peasants were summoned to the towns to be examined and, it might be, punished. If they failed to obey the citation they were surprised overnight by the soldiers, taken from their beds, and driven into the towns like herds of cattle, where they were thrust into prisons, towers, cellars, and stables; many perishing through the hunger, thirst, cold, and stench which they there endured. Other tortures, still more horrible and disgusting, were invented, and put in practice upon these miserable creatures. Many renounced their faith.

Some, unwilling to abjure, and yet unable to bear their prolonged tortures, earnestly begged their persecutors to kill them outright. "No," would their tormentors reply, "the emperor does not thirst for your blood, but for your salvation." This sufficiently accounts for the paucity of martyrs unto blood in Bohemia, notwithstanding the lengthened and cruel persecution to which it was subject. There were not wanting many who would have braved death for their faith; but the Jesuits studiously avoided setting up the stake, and preferred rather to wear out the disciples of the Gospel by tedious and cruel tortures. Those only whose condemnation they could color with some political pretext, as was the case with the noblemen whose martyrdoms we have recorded, did they bring to the scaffold. Thus they were able to suppress the Protestantism of Bohemia, and yet they could say, with some little plausibility, that no one had died for his religion.

But in trampling out its Protestantism the persecutor trampled out the Bohemian nation. First of all, the flower of the nobles perished on the scaffold. Of the great families that remained 185 sold their castles and hinds and left the kingdom. Hundreds of the aristocratic families followed the nobles into exile. Of the common people not fewer than 36,000 families emigrated. There was hardly a kingdom in Europe where the exiles of Bohemia were not to be met with. Scholars, merchants, traders, fled from a land which was given over as a prey to the disciples of Loyola, and the dragoons of Ferdinand. Of the 4,000,000 who inhabited Bohemia in 1620, a miserable remnant, amounting not even to a fifth, were all that remained in 1648. [13] Its fanatical sovereign is reported to have said that he would rather reign over a desert than over a kingdom peopled by heretics. Bohemia was now a desert.

This is not our opinion only, it is that of Popish historians also. "Until that time," says Pelzel, "the Bohemians appeared on the field of battle as a separate' nation, and they not infrequently earned glory. They were now thrust among other nations, and their flame has never since resounded on the field of battle…. Till that time, the Bohemians, taken as a nation, had been brave, dauntless, passionate for glory, and enterprising; but now they lost all courage, all national pride, all spirit of enterprise. They fled into forests like sheep before the Swedes, or suffered themselves to be trampled under foot…. The Bohemian language, which was used in all public transactions, and of which the nobles were proud, fell into contempt…. As high as the Bohemians had risen in science, literature, and arts, in the reigns of Maximilian and Rudolph, so low did they now sink in all these respects. I do not know of any scholar who, after the expulsion of the Protestants, distinguished himself in any learning…. With that period the history of the Bohemians ends, and that of other nations in Bohemia begins." [14]

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