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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 19 — Protestantism in Poland and Bohemia

Chapter 9 — An army of martyrs

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Count Schlik — His Cruel Sentence — The Baron of Budowa — His Last Hours — Argues with the Jesuits — His Execution — Christopher Harant — His Travels — His Death — Baron Kaplirz — His Dream — Attires himself for the Scaffold — Procopius Dworschezky — His Martyrdom — Otto Losz — His Sleep and Execution — Dionysius Czernin — His Behaviour on the Scaffold — Kochan — Steffek — Jessenius — His Learning — His Interview with the Jesuits — Cruel Death — Khobr — Schulz — Kutnauer — His great Courage — His Death — Talents and Rank of these Martyrs — Their Execution the Obsequies of their Country.

JOACHIM ANDREAS SCHLIK, Count of Passau, and chief justice under Frederick, comes first in the glorious host that is to march past us. He was descended of an ancient and illustrious family. A man of magnanimous spirit, and excellent piety, he united an admirable modesty with great business capacity. When he heard his sentence, giving his body to be quartered, and his limbs to be exposed at a cross-road, he said, "The loss of a sepulchre is a small matter." On hearing the gun in the morning fired to announce the executions, "This," said he, "is the signal; let me go first."

He walked to the scaffold, dressed in a robe of black silk, holding a prayer-book in his hands, and attended by four German clergymen. [1] He mounted the scaffold, and then marking the great brightness of the sun, he broke out, "Christ, thou Sun of righteousness, grant that through the darkness of death I may pass into the eternal light." He paced to and fro a little while upon the scaffold, evidently meditating, but with a serene and dignified countenance, so that the judges could scarce refrain from weeping. Having prayed, his page assisted him to undress, and then he kneeled down on a black cloth laid there for the purpose, and which was removed after each execution, that the next to die might not see the blood of the victim who had preceded him. While engaged in silent prayer, the executioner struck, and the head of Bohemia's greatest son rolled on the scaffold. His right hand was then struck off and, together with his head, 'was fixed on a spear, and set up on the tower of the Bridge of Prague. His body, untouched by the executioner, was wrapped in a cloth, and carried from the scaffold by four men in black masks.

Scarcely inferior in weight of character, and superior in the variety of his mental accomplishments to Count Schlik, was the second who was called to die — Wenceslaus, Baron of Budown. He was a man of incomparable talents and great learning, which he had further improved by travelling through all the kingdoms of Western and Southern Europe. He had filled the highest offices of the State under several monarchs. Protestant writers speak of him as "the glory of his country, and the bright shining star of the Church, and as rather the father than the lord of his dependents." The Romanist historian, Pelzel, equally extols his uprightness of character and his renown in learning. When urged in prison to beg the clemency of Ferdinand, he replied, "I will rather die than see the ruin of my country."

When one told him that it was rumored of him that he had died of grief, he exclaimed, "Died of grief ! I never experienced such happiness as now. See here," said he, pointing to his Bible, "this is my paradise; never did it regale me with such store of delicious fruits as now. Here I daily stray, eating the manna of heaven, and drinking the water of life." On the third day before receiving his sentence he dreamed that he was walking in a pleasant meadow, and musing on the issue that might be awaiting his affairs, when lo! one came to him, and gave him a book, which when he had opened, he found the leaves were of silk, white as snow, with nothing written upon them save the fifth verse of the thirty-seventh Psalm:

"Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass." While he was pondering over these words there came yet another, carrying a white robe, which he cast over him. When he awoke in the morning he told his dream to his servant. Some days after, when he mounted the scaffold, "Now," said he, "I attire myself in the white robe of my Savior's righteousness."

Early on the morning of his execution there came two Jesuits to him, who, complimenting him on his great learning, said that they desired to do him a work of mercy by gaining his soul. "Would," he said, "you were as sure of your salvation as I am of mine, through the blood of the Lamb." "Good, my lord," said they, "but do not presume too much; for doth not the Scripture say, 'No man knoweth whether he deserves grace or wrath'?"

"Where find you that written?" he asked; "here is the Bible, show me the words." "If I be not deceived," said one of them, "in the Epistle of Paul to Timothy." "You would teach me the way of salvation," said the baron somewhat angrily, "thou who knowest thy Bible so in. But that the believer may be sure of his salvation is proved by the words of St. Paul, 'I know whom I have believed,' and also, 'there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.'" "But," rejoined the Jesuit, "Paul says this of himself, not of others." "Thou art mistaken," said Budowa, "for it continues, 'not for me only, but for all them who love his appearing.' Depart, and leave me in peace."

He ascended the scaffold with undaunted look, and stroking his long white beard — for he was a man of seventy — he said,

"Behold! my gray hairs, what honor awaits you; this day you shall be crowned with martyrdom." After this he directed his speech to God, praying for the Church, for his country, for his enemies, and having commended his soul to Christ he yielded his head to the executioner's sword. That head was exposed by the side of that of his fellow patriot and martyr, Schlik, on the tower of the Bridge of Prague.

The third who was called to ascend the scaffold was Christopher Harant, descended from the ancient and noble family of the Harants of Polzicz and Bezdruzicz. He had traveled in Europe, Asia, and Africa, visiting Jerusalem and Egypt, and publishing in his native tongue his travels in these various lands. He cultivated the sciences, wrote Greek and Latin verses, and had filled high office under several emperors. Neither his many accomplishments nor his great services could redeem his life from the block. When called to die he said, "I have traveled in many countries, and among many barbarous nations, I have undergone dangers manifold by land and sea, and now I suffer, though innocent, in my own country, and by the hands of those for whose good both my ancestors and myself have spent our fortunes and our lives. Father, forgive them." When he went forth, he prayed, "In thee, O Lord, have I put my trust; let me not be confounded."

When he stepped upon the scaffold he lifted up his eyes, and said, "Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit." Taking off his doublet, he stepped upon the fatal doth, and kneeling down, again prayed. The executioner from some cause delaying to strike, he again broke out into supplication, "Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy upon me, and receive my spirit." The sword now fell, and his prayer and life ended together. [2]

The fourth to offer up his life was Gaspar, Baron Kaplirz of Sulowitz, a knight of eighty-six years of age. He had faithfully served four emperors. Before going to the scaffold he called for Rosacius, and said, "How often have I entreated that God would be pleased to take me out of this life, but instead of granting my wish, he has reserved me as a sacrifice for himself. Let God's will be done." "Yesterday," said he, continuing his speech, "I was told that if I would petition Prince Lichtenstein for pardon my life would be spared. I never offended the prince: I will desire pardon of Him against whom I have committed many sins. I have lived long enough. When I cannot distinguish the taste of meats, or relish the sweetness of drinks; when it is tedious to sit long, and irksome to lie; when I cannot walk unless I lean on a staff, or be assisted by others, what profit would such a life be to me? God forbid that I should be pulled from this holy company of martyrs."

On the day of execution, when the minister who was to attend him to the scaffold came to him, he said, "I laid this miserable body on a bed, but what sleep could so old a man have? Yet I did sleep, and saw two angels coming to me, who wiped my face with fine linen, and bade me make ready to go along with them. But I trust in my God that I have these angels present with me, not by a dream, but in truth, who minister to me while I live, and shall carry my soul from the scaffold to the bosom of Abraham. For although I am a sinner, yet am I purged by the blood of my Redeemer, who was made a propitiation for our sins."

Having put on his usual attire, he made a robe of the finest linen be thrown over him, covering his entire person. "Behold, I put on my wedding garment," he said. Being called, he arose, put on a velvet cloak, bade adieu to all, and went forth at a slow pace by reason of his great age. Fearing lest in mounting the scaffold he should fall, and his enemies flout him, he craved permission of the minister to lean upon him when ascending the steps. Being come to the fatal spot, he had much ado to kneel down, and his head hung so low that the executioner feared to do his office. "My lord," said Pastor Rosacius, "as you have commended your soul to Christ, do you now lift up yourself toward heaven." he raised himself up, saying, "Lord Jesus, into thy hands I commend my spirit." The executioner now gave his stroke, his gray head sank, and his body lay prostrate on the scaffold. [3]

The fifth to fall beneath the executioner's sword was Procopius Dworschezky, of Olbramowitz On receiving his sentence he said, "If the emperor promises himself anything when my head is off, let it be so." On passing before the judges he said, "Tell the emperor, as I now stand at his tribunal, the day comes when he shall stand before the judgment-seat of God." He was proceeding in his address, when the drums beat and drowned his words. When he had undressed for the executioner, he took out his purse containing a Hungarian ducat, and gave it to the minister who attended him, saying, "Behold my last riches! these are unprofitable to me, I resign them to you." A gold medal of Frederick's coronation, that hung round his neck, he gave to a bystander, saying, "When my dear King Frederick shall sit again upon his throne, give it to him, and tell him that I wore it on my breast till the day of my death." He kneeled down, and the sword falling as he was praying, his spirit ascended with his last words to God. [4]

Otto Losz, Lord of Komarow, came next. A man of great parts, he had traveled much, and discharged many important offices.

When he received his sentence he said, "I have seen barbarous nations, but what cruelty is this! Well, let them send one part of me to Rome, another to Spain, another to Turkey, and throw the fourth into the sea, yet will my Redeemer bring my body together, and cause me to see him with these eyes, praise him with this mouth, and love him with this heart." When Rosacius entered to tell him that he was called to the scaffold, "he rose hastily out of his seat," says Comenius, "like one in an ecstasy, saying, 'O, how I rejoice to see you, that I may tell you what has happened to me! As I sat here grieving that I had not one of my own communion [the United Brethren] to dispense the Eucharist to me, I fell asleep, and behold my Savior appeared unto me, and said, 'I purify thee with my blood,' and then infused a drop of his blood into my heart; at the feeling of this I awaked, and leaped for joy: now I understand what that is, Believe, and thou hast eaten. I fear death no longer."

As he went on his way to the scaffold, Rosacius said to him, "That Jesus who appeared to you in your sleep, will now appear to you in his glory." "Yes," replied the martyr, "he will meet me with his angels, and conduct me into the banqueting-chamber of an everlasting marriage." Being come to the scaffold, he fell on his face, and prayed in silence. Then rising up, he yielded himself to the executioner.

He was followed on the scaffold by Dionysius Czernin, of Chudenitz. This sufferer was a Romanist, but his counsels not pleasing the Jesuits, he fell under the suspicion of heresy; and it is probable that the Fathers were not sorry to see hint condemned, for his death served as a pretext for affirming that these executions were for political, not religious causes.

When the other prisoners were declaring their faith, Czernin protested that this was his faith also, and that in this faith did he die. When the others received the Lord's Supper, he stood by dissolved in tears, praying most fervently, he was offered the Eucharistic cup; but smiting on his breast, and sighing deeply, he said, "I rest in that grace which hath come unto me." He was led to the scaffold by a canon and a Jesuit, but gave small heed to their exhortations. Declining the "kiss of peace," and turning his back upon the crucifix, he fell on his face, and prayed softly. Then raising himself, and looking up into the heavens, he said, "They can kill the body, they cannot kill the soul; that, O Lord Jesus, I commend to thee," and died.

There followed other noblemen, whose behavior on the scaffold was equally courageous, and whose dying words were equally impressive, but to record them all would unnecessarily prolong our narration. We take a few examples from among the citizens whose blood was mingled with that of the nobles in defense of the religion and liberty of their native land. Valentine Kochan, a learned man, a Governor of the University, and Secretary of Prague, protested, when Ferdinand II was thrust upon them, that no king should be elected without the consent of Moravia and Silesia. This caused him to be marked out for vengeance. In his last hours he bewailed the divisions that had prevailed among the Protestants of Bohemia, and which had opened a door for their calamities. "O!" said he, "if all the States had employed more thought and diligence in maintaining union; if there had not been so much hatred on both sides; if one had not sought preference before another, and had not given way to mutual suspicions; moreover, if the clergy and the laity had assisted each other with counsel and action, in love, unity, and peace, we should never have been thus far misled." [5] On the scaffold he sang the last verse of the sixteenth: Psalm: "Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fullness of joy, at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore;" and then yielded his head to the executioner.

Tobias Steffek was a man of equal modesty and piety. He had been chosen to fill important trusts by his fellow-citizens. "Many a cup of blessing," said he, "have I received from the hand of the Lord, and shall I not accept this cup of affliction? I am going by a narrow path to the heavenly kingdom." His time in prison was mostly passed in sighs and teals. When called to go to the scaffold, he looked up with eyes suffused with weeping, yet with the hope shining through his tears that the same stroke that should sever his head from his body would wipe them away for ever. In this hope he died.

John Jessenius, professor of medicine, and Chancellor of! the University of Prague, was the next whose blood was spilt. He was famed for his medical skill all over Europe. tie was the intimate friend of the illustrious Tycho Brahe, and Physician in Ordinary to two emperors — Rudolph and Matthias. He it was, it is said, who introduced the study of anatomy into Prague. Being a man of eloquent address, he was employed on an important embassy to Hungary, and this made him a marked object of the vengeance of Ferdinand II.

His sentence was a cruel one. He was first to have his tongue cut out, then he was to be beheaded, and afterwards quartered. His head was to be affixed to the Bridge-tower, and his limbs were to be exposed on stakes in the four quarters of Plague. On hearing this sentence, he said, "You use us too cruelly; but know that there will not be wanting some who will take down the heads you thus ignominiously expose, and lay them in the grave." [6]

The

Jesuits evinced a most lively desire to bring this learned man over to their side. Jessenius listened as they enlarged on the efficacy of good works. "Alas!" replied he, "my time is so short that I fear I shall not be able to lay up such a stock of merits as will suffice for my salvation." The Fathers, thinking the victory as good as won, exclaimed, "My dear Jessenius, though you should die this very moment, we promise you that you shall go straight to heaven." "Is it so?" replied the confessor; "then where is your Purgatory for those who are not able to fill up the number of their good deeds here?" Finding themselves but befooled, they departed from him.

On mounting the scaffold, the executioner approached him, and demanded his tongue. He at once gave it — that tongue which had pleaded the cause of his country before princes and States. It was drawn out with a pair of tongs. He then dropped on his knees, his hands tied behind his back, and began to pray, "not speaking, but stuttering," says Comenius. His head was struck off, and affixed to the Bridge-tower, and his body was taken below the gallows, and dealt with according to the sentence. One of the lights, not of Bohemia only, but of Europe, had been put out.

Christopher Khobr was the next whose life was demanded. He was a man of heroic mind. Speaking to his fellow-sufferers, he said, "How glorious is the memory of Huss and Jerome! And why? because they laid down their lives for the truth." He cited the words of Ignatius — "I am the corn of God, and shall be ground with the teeth of beasts." "We also," he added, "are the corn of God, sown in the field of the Church. Be of good cheer, God is able to raise up a thousand witnesses from every drop of our blood." He went with firm step, and face elate, to the place where he was to die. Standing on the scaffold, he said, "Must I die here? No! I shall live, and declare the works of the Lord in the land of the living." Kneeling down, he gave his head to the executioner and his spirit to God. He was followed by John Schulz, Burgomaster of Kuttenberg. On being led out to die, he sent a message to his friends, saying, "The bitterness of this parting will make our reunion sweet indeed." On mounting the scaffold, he quoted the words of the Psalm, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul?" When he had gone a few paces forward, he continued, "Trust in God, for I shall yet praise him." Advancing to the spot where he was to die, he threw himself on his face, and spread forth his hands in prayer. Then, rising up, he received that stroke which gave him at once temporal death and eternal life.

In this procession of kingly and glorious spirits who travel by the crimson road of the scaffold to the everlasting gates, there are others whom we must permit to pass on in silence. One other martyr only shall we notice; he is the youngest of them all, and we have seen him before. He is John Kutnauer, senator of Old Prague, the same whom we saw praying that there might be given some "token" to the martyrs, and who, when the bow appeared a little after sunrise spanning the heavens above Prague, accepted it as the answer to his prayer. [7] No one of all that heroic company was more courageous than Kutnauer. When the Jesuits came round him, he said, "Depart, gentlemen; why should you persist in labor so unprofitable to yourselves, and so troublesome to us?" One of the Fathers observed, "These men are as hard as rocks." "We are so, indeed," said the senator, "for we are joined to that rock which is Christ."

When summoned to the scaffold, his friends threw themselves upon him, overwhelming him with their embraces and tears. He alone did not weep. "Refrain," he said, "let us be men; a little while, and we shall meet in the heavenly glory." And then, says the chronicler, "with the face of a lion, as if going to battle, he set forward, singing in his own tongue the German hymn: 'Behold the hour draws near,' etc."

Kutnauer was sentenced to die by the rope, not by the sword. On the scaffold he gave his purse to the executioner, and then placed himself beneath the beam from which he was to be suspended. He cried, or rather, says the chronicler, "roared," if haply he might be heard above the noise of the drums and trumpets, placed around the scaffold on purpose to drown the last words of the sufferers. "I have plotted no treason," he said; "I have committed no murder; I have done no deed worthy of death. I die because I have been faithful to the Gospel and my country. O God, pardon my enemies, for they know not what they do. Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." He was then thrown off the ladder, and gave up the ghost. [8]

We close this grand procession of kings, this march of palm-bearers. As they pass on to the axe and the halter there is no pallor on their countenances. Their step is firm, and their eye is bright. They are the men of the greatest talents and the most resplendent virtues in their nation. They belong to the most illustrious families of their country. They had filled the greatest offices and they wore the highest honors of the State; yet we see them led out to die the death of felons. The day that saw these men expire on the scaffold may be said to have witnessed the obsequies of Bohemia.


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Tuesday, June 19th, 2018
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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