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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 19 — Protestantism in Poland and Bohemia

Chapter 7 — Bohemia — Entrance of reformation

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Darkness Concealing Bohemian Martyrs — John Huss — First Preachers of the Reformed Doctrine in Bohemia — False Brethren — Zahera — Passek — They Excite to Persecutions — Martyrs-Nicolas Wrzetenarz-The Hostess Clara — Martha von Porzicz — The Potter and Girdler — Fate of the Persecutors — Ferdinand I. Invades Bohemia — Persecutions and Emigrations — Flight of the Pastors — John Augusta, etc. — A Heroic Sufferer — The Jesuits brought into Bohemia — Maximilian II. — Persecution Stopped — Bohemian Confession — Rudolph — The Majestats-Brief — Full Liberty given to the Protestants.

IN resuming the story of Bohemia we re-enter a tragic field. Our rehearsal of its conflicts and sufferings will in one sense be a sorrowful, in another a truly triumphant task. What we are about to witness is not the victorious march of a nation out of bondage, with banners unfurled, and singing the song of a recovered Gospel; on the contrary, it is a crowd of sufferers and martyrs that is to pass before us; and when the long procession begins to draw to an end, we shall have to confess that these are but a few of that great army of confessors who in this land gave their lives for the truth. Where are the rest, and why are not their deaths here recorded? They still abide under that darkness with which their martyrdoms were on purpose covered, and which as yet has been only partially dispelled. Their names and sufferings are the locked up in the imperial archives of Vienna, in the archiepiscopal archives of Prague, in the libraries of Leitmeritz, Koniggratz, Wittingau, and other places. For a full revelation we must wait the coming of that day when, in the emphatic language of Scripture,

"The earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain."(Isaiah 26:21.) [1]

In a former book [2] we brought down the history of the Bohemian Church [3] a century beyond the stake of Huss. Speaking from the midst of the flames, as we have already seen, the martyr said, "A hundred years and there will arise a swan whose singing you shall not be able to silence." [4] The century had revolved, and Luther, with a voice that was rolling from east to west of Christendom, loud as the thunder but melodious as the music of heaven, was preaching the doctrine of justification by faith alone. We resume our history of the Bohemian Church at the point where we broke it off.

Though fire and sword had been wasting the Bohemian confessors during the greater part of the century, there were about 200 of their congregations in existence when the Reformation broke. Imperfect as was their knowledge of Divine truth, their presence on the soil of Bohemia helped powerfully toward the reception of the doctrines of Luther in that country. Many hailed his appearance as sent to resume the work of their martyred countryman, and recognised in his preaching the "song" for which Huss had bidden them wait. As early as the year 1519, Matthias, a hermit, arriving at Prague, preached to great crowds, which assembled round him in the streets and market-place, though he mingled with the doctrines of the Reformation. certain opinions of his own. The Calixtines, who were now Romanists in all save the Eucharistic rite, which they received in both kinds, said, "It were better to have our pastors ordained at Wittemberg than at Rome." Many Bohemian youths were setting out to sit at Luther's feet, and those who were debarred the journey, and could not benefit by the living voice of the great doctor, eagerly possessed themselves, most commonly by way of Nuremberg, of his tracts and books; and those accounted themselves happiest of all who could secure a Bible, for then they could drink of the Water of Life at its fountainhead. In January, 1523, we find the Estates of Bohemia and Moravia assembling at Prague, and having summoned several orthodox pastors to assist at their deliberations, they promulgated twenty articles — "the forerunners of the Reformation," as Comenius calls them — of which the following was one: "If any man shall teach the Gospel without the additions of men, he shall neither be reproved nor condemned for a heretic." [5] Thus from the banks of the Moldau was coming an echo to the voice at Wittemberg.

"False brethren" were the first to raise the cry of heresy against John Huss, and also the most zealous in dragging him to the stake. So was it again. A curate, newly returned from Wittemberg, where he had daily taken his place in the crowd of students of all nations who assembled around the chair of Luther, was the first in Prague to call for the punishment of the disciples of that very doctrine which he professed to have embraced. His name was Gallus Zahera, Calixtine pastor in the Church of Laeta Curia, Old Prague. Zahera joined himself to John Passek, Burgomaster of Prague, "a deceitful, cruel, and superstitious man," who headed a powerful faction in the Council, which had for its object to crush the new opinions. The Papal legate had just arrived in Bohemia, and he wrote in bland terms to Zahera, holding out the prospect of a union between Rome and the Calixtines. The Calixtine pastor, forgetting all he had learned at Wittemberg, instantly replied that he had "no dearer wish than to be found constant in the body of the Church by the unity of the faith;" and he went on to speak of Bohemia in a style that must have done credit, in the eyes of the legate, at once to his rhetoric and his orthodoxy.

"For truly," says he, "our Bohemia, supporting itself on the most sure foundation of the most sure rock of the Catholic faith, has sustained the fury and broken

the force of all those waves of error wherewith the neighboring countries of Germany have been shaken, and as a beacon placed in the midst of a tempestuous sea, it has held forth a dear light to every voyager, and shown him a safe harbor into which he may retreat from shipwreck; " and he concluded by promising to send forthwith deputies to expedite the business of a union between the Roman and Calixtine Churches. [6] When asked how he could thus oppose a faith he had lately so zealously professed, Zahera replied that he had placed himself at the feet of Luther that he might be the better able to confute him: "An excuse," observes Comerflus, "that might have become the mouth of Judas."

Zahera and Passek were not the men to stop at half-measures. To pave the way for a union with the Roman Church they framed a set of articles, which, having obtained the consent of the king, they required the clergy and citizens to subscribe. Those who refused were to be banished from Prague. Six pastors declined the test, and were driven from the city. The pastors were followed into exile by sixty-five of the leading citizens, including the Chancellor of Prague and the former burgomaster. A pretext being sought for severer measures, the malicious invention was spread abroad that the Lutherans had conspired to massacre all the Calixtines, and three of the citizens were put to the rack to extort from them a confession of a conspiracy which had never existed. They bore the torment [7] rather than witness to a falsehood. An agreement was next concluded by the influence of Zahera and Passek, that no Lutheran should be taken into a workshop, or admitted to citizenship. If one owed adebt, and was unwilling to pay it, he had only to say the other was a Lutheran, and the banishment of the creditor gave him riddance from his importunities. [8]

Branding on the forehead, and other marks of ignominy, were now added to exile. One day Louis Victor, a disciple of the Gospel, happened to be among the hearers of a certain Barbarite who was entertaining his audience with ribald stories. At the close of his sermon Louis addressed the monk, saying to him that it were "better to instruct the people out of the Gospel than to detain them with such fables." Straightway the preacher raised such a clamor that the excited crowd laid hold on the too courageous Lutheran, and haled him to prison. Next day the city sergeant conducted him out of Prague. A certain cutler, in whose possession a little book on the Sacrament had been found, was scourged in the market-place. The same punishment was inflicted upon John Kalentz, with the addition of being branded on the forehead, because it was said that though a layman he had administered the Eucharist to himself and his family. John Lapatsky, who had returned from banishment, under the impression that the king had published an amnesty to the exiles, was apprehended, thrown into prison, and murdered. [9]

The tragic fate of Nicolas Wrzetenarz deserves a more circumstantial detail. Wrzetenarz was a learned man, well stricken in years. He was accused of Picardism, a name by which Protestant sentiments were at times designated. He was summoned to answer before the Senate. When the old man appeared, Zahera, who presided on the tribunal, asked him what he believed concerning the Sacrament of the altar. "I believe," he replied, "what the Evangelists and St. Paul teach me to believe." "Do you believe," asked the other, "that Christ is present in it, having flesh and blood?" "I believe," replied Wrzetenarz, "that when a pious minister of God's Word declares to a faithful congregation the benefits which are received by the death of Christ, the bread and wine are made to them the Supper of the Lord, wherein they are made partakers of the body and blood of Christ, and the benefits received by his death." After a few more questions touching the mass, praying to the saints, and similar matters, he was condemned as a heretic to the fire. His hostess, Clara, a widow of threescore years, whom he had instructed in the truth, and who refused to deny the faith she had received into her heart, was condemned to be burned along with him.

They were led out to die. Being come to the place of execution they were commanded to adore the sign of the cross, which had been elevated in the east. They refused, saying, "The law of God permits us not to worship the likeness of anything either in heaven or in earth; we will worship only the living God, Lord of heaven and earth, who inhabiteth alike the south, the west, the north, the east; " and turning their backs upon the crucifix, and prostrating themselves toward the west, with their eyes and hands lifted up to heaven, they invoked with great ardor the name of Christ.

Having taken leave of their children, Nicolas, with great cheerfulness, mounted the pile, and standing on the faggots, repeated the Articles of the Creed, and having finished, looked up to heaven and prayed, saying with a loud voice, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who was born of a pure Virgin, and didst vouchsafe to undergo the shameful death of the cross for me a vile sinner, thee alone do I worship — to thee I commend my soul. Be merciful unto me, and blot out all mine iniquities." He then repeated in Latin the Psalm, "In thee, O Lord, have I put my trust."

Meanwhile the executioner having brought forward Clara, and laid her on the pile, now tied down both of them upon the wood, and heaping over them the books that had been found in their house, he lighted the faggots, and soon the martyrs were enveloped in the flames. So died this venerable scholar

and aged matron at Prague, on the 19th December, 1526. [10]

In the following year Martha von Porzicz was burned. She was a woman heroic beyond even the heroism of her sex. Interrogated by the doctors of the university as well as by the councillors, she answered intrepidly, giving a reason of the faith she had embraced, and upbraiding the Hussites themselves for their stupid adulation of the Pope. The presiding judge hinted that it was time she was getting ready her garment for the fire. "My petticoat and cloak are both ready," she replied; "you may order me to be led away when you please." [11] She was straightway sentenced to the fire.

The town-crier walked before her, proclaiming that she was to die for blaspheming the holy Sacrament. Raising her voice to be heard by the crowd she said, "It is not so; I am condemned because I will not confess to please the priests that Christ, with his bones, hairs, sinews, and veins, is contained in the Sacrament." [12] And raising her voice yet higher, she warned the people not to believe the priests, who had abandoned themselves to hypocrisy and every vice. Being come to the place where she was to die, they importuned her to adore the crucifix. Turning her back upon it, and elevating her eyes to heaven, "It is there," she said, "that our God dwells: thither must we direct our looks." She now made haste to mount the pile, and endured the torment of the flames with invincible courage. She was burned on the 4th of December, 1527.

On the 28th of August of the following year, two German artificers — one a potter, the other a girdler — accused of Lutheranism by the monks, were condemned by the judges of Prague to be burned. As they walked to the stake, they talked so sweetly together, reciting passages from Scripture, that tears flowed from the eyes of many of the spectators. Being come to the pile, they bravely encouraged one another. "Since our Lord Jesus Christ," said the girdler, "hath for us suffered so grievous things, let us arm ourselves to suffer this death, and let us rejoice that we have found so great favor with him as to be accounted worthy to die for his Gospel;" to whom the potter made answer, "I, truly, on my marriage-day was not so glad of heart as I am at this moment." Having ascended the pyre, they prayed with a clear voice, "Lord Jesus, who in thy sufferings didst pray for thine enemies, we also pray, forgive the king, and the men of Prague, and the clergy, for they know not what they do, and their hands are full of blood." And then addressing the people, they said, "Dearly beloved, pray for your king, that God would give him the knowledge of the truth, for he is misled by the bishops and clergy." "Having ended this most penitent exhortation," says the chronicler, "they therewith ended their lives."

After this the fury of the, persecution for a little while subsided. The knot of cruel and bloodthirsty men who had urged it on was broken up. One of the band fell into debt, and hanged himself in despair. Zahera was caught in a political intrigue, into which his ambitious spirit had drawn him, and, being banished, ended his life miserably in Franconia. The cruel burgomaster, Passek, was about the same time sent into perpetual exile, after he had in vain thrown himself at the king's feet for mercy. Ferdinand, who had now ascended the throne, changed the Council of Prague, and gave the exiles liberty to return. The year 1530 was to them a time of restitution; their churches multiplied; they corresponded with their brethren in Germany and Switzerland, and were thereby strengthened against those days of yet greater trial that awaited them. [13]

These days came in 1547. Charles V., having overcome the German Protestants in the battle of Muhlberg, sent his brother, Ferdinand I., with an army of Germans and Hungarians to chastise the Bohemians for refusing to assist him in the war just ended. Ferdinand entered Prague like a city taken by siege. The magistrates and chief barons he imprisoned; some he beheaded, others he scourged and sent into exile, while others, impelled by terror, fled from the city. "See," observed some, "what calamities the Lutherans have brought upon us." The Bohemian Protestants were accused of disloyalty, and Ferdinand, opening his ear to these malicious charges, issued an order for the shutting up of all their churches. In the five districts inhabited mainly by the "Brethren," all who refused to enter the Church of Rome, or at least meet her more than half-way by joining the Calixtines, were driven away, and their landlords, on various pretexts, were arrested.

This calamity fell upon them like a thunder-bolt. Not a few, yielding to the violence of the persecution, fell back into Rome; but the great body, unalterably fixed on maintaining the faith for which Huss had died, chose rather to leave the soil of Bohemia for ever than apostatise. In a previous chapter we have recorded the march of these exiles, in three divisions, to their new settlements in Prussia, and the halt they made on their journey at Posen, where they kindled the light of truth in the midst of a population sunk ill darkness, and laid the foundations of that prosperity which their Church at a subsequent period enjoyed in Poland.

The untilled fields and empty dwellings of the expatriated Bohemians awakened no doubts in the king's mind as to the expediency of the course he was pursuing. Instead of pausing, there came a third edict from Ferdinand, commanding the arrest and imprisonment of the pastors. All except three saved themselves by a speedy flight. The greater part escaped to Moravia; but many remained near the frontier, lying hid in woods and caves, and venturing forth at night

to visit their former flocks and to dispense the Sacrament in private houses, and so to keep the sacred flame from going out in Bohemia.

The three ministers who failed to make their escape were John Augusta, James Bilke, and George Israel, all men of note. Augusta had learned his theology at the feet of Luther. Courageous and eloquent, he was the terror of the Calixtines, whom he had often vanquished in debate, and "they rejoiced," says Comenins, "when they learned his arrest, as the Philistines did when Samson was delivered bound into their hands." He and his colleague Bilke were thrown into a deep dungeon in the Castle of Prague, and, being accused of conspiring to dispose Ferdinand, and place John, Elector of Saxony, on the throne of Bohemia, they were put to the torture, but without eliciting anything which their persecutors could construe into treason. Seventeen solitary and sorrowful years passed over them in prison. Nor was it till the death of Ferdinand, in 1564, opened their prison doors that they were restored to liberty. George Israel, by a marvellous providence, escaped from the dungeon of the castle, and fleeing into Prussia, he afterwards preached with great success the Gospel in Poland, where he established not fewer than twenty churches. [14]

Many of the nobles shared with the ministers in these sufferings. John Prostiborsky, a man of great learning, beautiful life, and heroic spirit, was put to a cruel death. On the rack he bit out his tongue and cast it at his tormentors, that he might not, as he afterwards declared in writing, be led by the torture falsely to accuse either himself or his brethren. He cited the king and his councillors to answer for their tyranny at the tribunal of God. Ferdinand, desirous if possible to save his life, sent him a physician; but he sank under his tortures, and died in prison. [15]

Finding that, in spite of the banishment of pastors, and the execution of nobles, Protestantism was still extending, Ferdinand called the Jesuits to his aid. The first to arrive was Wenzel Sturm, who had been trained by Ignatius Loyola himself. Sturm was learned, courteous, adroit, and soon made himself popular in Prague, where he labored, with a success equal to his zeal, to revive the decaying cause of Rome. He was soon joined by a yet more celebrated member of the order, Canisius, and a large and sumptuous edifice having been assigned them as a college, they began to train priests who might be able to take their place in the pulpit as well as at the altar; "for at that time," says Pessina, a Romish writer, "there were so few orthodox priests that, had it not been for the Jesuits, the Catholic religion would have been suppressed in Bohemia." [16] The Jesuits grew powerful in Prague. They eschewed public disputations; they affected great zeal. for the instruction of youth in the sciences; and their fame for learning drew crowds of pupils around them. When they had filled all their existing schools, they erected others; and thus their seminaries rapidly multiplied, "so that the Catholic verity," in the words of the author last quoted, "which in Bohemia was on the point of breathing its last, appeared to revive again, and rise publicly."

Toward the close of his reign, Ferdinand became somewhat less zealous in the cause of Rome. Having succeeded to the imperial crown on the abdication of his brother, Charles V., he had wider interests to care for, and less time, as well as less inclination, to concentrate his attention on Bohemia. It is even said that before his death he expressed his sincere regret for his acts of oppression against his Bohemian subjects; and to do the monarch justice, these severities were the outcome, not of a naturally cruel disposition, but rather of his Spanish education, which had been conducted under the superintendence of the stern Cardinal Ximenes. [17]

Under his son and successor, Maximilian II., the sword of persecution was sheathed. This prince had for his instructor John Fauser, a man of decided piety, and a lover of the Protestant doctrine, the principles of which he took care to instil into the mind of his royal pupil. For this Fauser had nearly paid the penalty of his life. One day Ferdinand, in a fit of rage, burst into his chamber, and seizing him by the throat, and putting a drawn sword to his breast, upbraided him for seducing his son from the true faith.

The king forbore, however, from murdering him, and was content with commanding his son no further to receive his instructions. Maximilian was equally fortunate in his physician, Crato. He also loved the Gospel, and, enjoying the friendship of the monarch, he was able at times to do service to the "Brethren." Under this gentle and upright prince the Bohemian Protestants were accorded full liberty, and their Churches flourished. The historian Thaunus relates a striking incident that occurred in the third year of his reign. The enemies of the Bohemians, having concocted a new plot, sent the Chancellor of Bohemia, Joachim Neuhaus, to Vienna, to persuade the emperor to renew the old edicts against the Protestants. The artful insinuations of the chancellor prevailed over the easy temper of the monarch, and Maximilian, although with great distress of mind, put his hand to the hostile mandate. "But," says the old chronicler, "God had a watchful eye over his own, and would not permit so good and innocent a prince to have a hand in blood, or be burdened with the cries of the oppressed." [18] Joachim, overjoyed, set out on his journey homeward, the fatal missives that were to lay waste the Bohemian Church carefully deposited in his chest. He was crossing the bridge of the Danube when the oxen broke loose from his carriage, and the bridge breaking at the same instant, the chancellor and his suite were precipitated into

the river. Six knights struck out and swam ashore; the rest of the attendants were drowned. The chancellor was seized hold of by his gold chain as he was floating on the current of the Danube, and was kept partially above water till some fishermen, who were near the scene of the accident, had time to come to the rescue. He was drawn from the water into their boat, but found to be dead. The box containing the letters patent sank in the deep floods of the Danube, and was never seen more — nor, indeed, was it ever sought for. Thaunus says that this catastrophe happened on the fourth of the Ides of December, 1565.

In Maximilian's reign, a measure was passed that helped to consolidate the Protestantism of Bohemia. In 1575, the king assembled a Parliament at Prague, which enacted that all the Churches in the kingdom which received the Sacrament under both kinds — that is, the Utraquists or Calixtines, the Bohemian Brethren, the Lutherans, and the Calvinists or Picardines — were at liberty to draw up a common Confession of their faith, and unite into one Church. In spite of the efforts of the Jesuits, the leading pastors of the four communions consulted together and, animated by a spirit of moderation and wisdom, they compiled a common creed, in the Bohemian language, which, although never rendered into Latin, nor printed till 1619, and therefore not to be found in the "Harmony of Confessions," was ratified by the king, who promised his protection to the subscribers, had this Confession been universally signed, it would have been a bulwark of strength to the Bohemian Protestants. [19]

The reign of the Emperor Maximilian came all too soon to an end. He died in 1576, leaving a name dear to the Protestants and venerated by all parties.

Entirely different in disposition and character was his son, the Emperor Rudolph II., by whom he was succeeded. Educated at the court of his cousin Philip II., Rudolph brought back to his native dominions the gloomy superstitions and the tyrannical maxims that prevailed in the Escorial. Nevertheless, the Bohemian Churches were left in peace. Their sleepless foes were ever and anon intriguing to procure some new and hostile edict from the king; but Rudolph was too much engrossed in the study of astrology and alchemy to pursue steadily any one line of policy, and so these edicts slept. His brother Matthias was threatening his throne; this made it necessary to conciliate all classes of his subjects; hence originated the famous Majestats-Brief, one object of which was to empower the Protestants in Bohemia to open churches and schools wherever they pleased. This "Royal Charter," moreover, made over to them [20] the University of Prague, and permitted them to appoint a public administrator of their affairs. It was in virtue of this last very important concession that the Protestant Church of Bohemia now attained more nearly than ever, before or since, to a perfect union and a settled government.

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