The Ongoing Reformation In Bohemia
This section comprises chapters 19 through 21 of Volume II. They are listed below. To go directly to any particular chapter click on the link to that chapter. Otherwise you can scroll down as you read chapter by chapter.
- Chapter 19 – The Taborites and Moravians
- Chapter 20 – The Reformation in Germany, The Brethren
- Chapter 21 – Protestantism in Bohemia Down to the Thirty Years War
The Taborites and Moravians
The early history of the Moravian church abounds in scenes of deep and thrilling interest. For nearly three hundred years before John Wesley was the admiring witness of their calm faith amid ocean perils, they had exhibited to the world the most sublime illustrations of heroic constancy, under the severest hardships and persecutions. There might seem but little congeniality between the warlike Taborites who followed the invincible Zisca to the field, and the humble, peaceful, and peace-loving brethren, whose gentle manners, honest industry, and simpleminded devotion made Hernhut the radiating center of missionary influences, that have extended from Greenland to the islands of tropic seas, from the Eastern to the Western continent; but in tile faith of the former, who bowed with implicit submission to the sole authority of the word of God, we recognize that living germ of the church of the United Brethren, which more than two centuries of protracted persecution was unable to suppress. Through a tedious but far from fruitless discipline, they were brought to the exercise of those rare graces of the spiritual life which have commended them to the sympathy and respect of the Christian world. Like the Israelites of old, they had their Red Sea and desert to pass through; but the first was red with the blood of martyrs, and the last was bitter with the pains of plundered want and weary exile.
The attempts made through successive years, after the close of the council of Constance, to crush out the Bohemian heresy and subdue the followers of Huss, had proved futile. Milder measures, as we have already seen, were at last found necessary, and the council of Basle (1431) listened patiently, for fifty days, to discussions conducted by the Bohemians, on the one side, and the representatives of the Romish church on the other. Through the influence of the able but intriguing Rokyzan, a compromise was at last effected. The Bohemians were to retain the use of the cup, but in other respects were to conform to the rites and doctrines of the church, promising obedience to the Papal See. These articles—soon confirmed by the Emperor Sigismund at Iglau, and afterward known as the Compactata of Iglau—failed to satisfy the demands of the more zealous portion of the Hussites: but they were now in the minority; and when their opposition had been effectually crushed in a new appeal to arms (1434), they found themselves constrained either to acquiesce in the prevalent policy of the Utraquists, or enjoy their proscribed worship in solitudes or secret retreats.
But the compromise measures were scarcely more acceptable to the papal party than they had been to the Taborites. They had been carried by the influence of Rokyzan, who aspired to become Archbishop of Prague. The object of his ambition seemed just within his grasp. At the diet of 1435, he was elected to the post, and his election was confirmed by the emperor. But the papal party refused to acknowledge him, and he was denied investiture unless he would abandon the doctrine of the cup. Indignant at being thus foiled in his purpose, and having the object, whose pursuit must have cost him many a reproof of conscience, snatched from his grasp, Rokyzan threatened to break entirely with the Roman Catholic church. His hearers urged him on. In the diet of 1450 he succeeded in procuring the appointment of an embassy to Constantinople, to seek a union with the Greek church. The Patriarch Nicomedis promised to ordain the Bohemian bishops, but the Turkish conquest (1453) defeated the execution of the design. Rokyzan became now more timid. Hitherto he had not hesitated to denounce the Compactata which he had been so largely instrumental in procuring. He publicly taught that the forms of religion should be established according to the law of Christ alone. He introduced hymns, in the vulgar tongue, into the churches and schools of Bohemia.
But at length he began to draw back. He was too hesitating to take a decided step, or countenance the measures of the Taborites. The Regent, George Podiebrad (1450), was moreover inclined to adopt a temporizing policy, and Rokyzan henceforth stood more aloof from the “Brethren.” His convictions were in their favor, but his ambition would not allow him to act upon them. When their assemblies were broken up, he replied to their complaints by advising them to maintain communion among themselves, and seek their mutual edification by the reading of the Bible and of good books. They had hoped for his sanction, but could not obtain it. Severe cruelties were inflicted upon them, through the influence of papal emissaries; and even Gregory—although a nephew of Rokyzan—was, as one of their number, cast into prison.
In 1451, Peter Maldoniewitz, the faithful notary of John de Chlum, and the friend of Huss at Constance, who had for many years been a Hussite preacher, engaged with others in zealous efforts to disseminate the knowledge of the gospel throughout Bohemia. But their efforts were met by violent opposition. Persecution was more bitterly revived. Three deacons of the Hussites were compelled to sacrifice their lives for their creed. One of them, John, was burnt at Sobieslau; Wenzel was beheaded at Horzowitz, and the third, Vitus, not improbably the friend of Jerome at Constance, curate of Hulonuz, was killed with several of his hearers in the church itself, for having administered the communion under both forms.
But the zeal of their enemies went yet further. People of all ages and both sexes were made the victims of cruel intolerance. The pope sent to Bohemia bands of crusaders, warriors with the sign of the cross, who volunteered to attack the heretics, and who performed their task in the spirit of brigands. Many of them were students from Erfurth and Leipsig, in whom the ancient spirit of animosity against Prague had been revived. For years they ravaged Bohemia, encouraged by allies in the country itself. Many towns were plundered and burnt. The pursuits of agriculture were suspended, and hundreds perished of famine. To murder children was a mere amusement to the brutal invaders. But the popular vengeance, thus bitterly provoked, overtook them at last. Near Klattau 3,000 were left dead on the field of battle.
It was at this period that the first band of exiles left Bohemia (1453). Composed in part of Taborites, with Calixtine priests and even nobles among them, they retired in a numerous body to the neighborhood of Lititz not far from the Silesian mountains. Their avowed object was the enjoyment of the freedom of a purer worship. The Compactata of Iglau were pronounced by them unsatisfactory. The superfluous ceremonies which had been retained hitherto by the Calixtines, were rejected by the exiles. None were admitted to their communion except upon an examination as to their personal piety. Gregory—already mentioned as the nephew of Rokyzan—a man of knightly rank, once a monk of Prague, joined them, and became afterward consenior of the church of the Brethren. In 1457, a band under Michael Bradazius, drew off to Kunewald, founding their church on what they considered gospel principles, and calling themselves “Brethren of the Rule of Christ.” As others joined them, they took the name which they ever after retained, of the “United Brethren.” Multitudes throughout Bohemia, who were not yet prepared to become exiles from their native land, found in them the organization toward which their own sympathies were peculiarly drawn.
Already the time had arrived that would put their principles to the test. Taught by the errors and experience of the Taborites, as well as by the lessons of the word of God, that carnal weapons belong not to the armor of the Christian soldier, they foreswore all appeal save to prayer, reason, and the word of God. Yet if anything might have provoked them to a departure from their principles, it was the treatment to which they were subjected, by Calixtines as well as Romanists. By both alike they were charged with being heretics and anarchists. They were summoned before the consistory of Prague, and were accused of schism, even by Rokyzan, though they claimed to have acted by his advice.
The regent (George Podiebrad), although inclined to lenient measures, dared not venture so far to disregard his oath “to root out heretics,” as to interpose in their behalf. Outrage of almost every kind was heaped upon them. They were known by the hated name of Picards. Notwithstanding their “apologies,” stringent laws were enacted against them. They were denied civil rights. In the cold of winter they were driven from city and village, and their goods were plundered. Their character was assailed with malicious slanders. They were accused of blasphemy, murder, and witchcraft. Some were apprehended and thrown into prison. The sick were forced to leave their homes, and perished in the fields. To perform worship without Catholic ceremonies was forbidden absolutely, under pain of death. The members of the church of the Brethren, in Bohemia and Moravia, were forbidden to assemble together. Some of their persecutors proposed imprisonment, and some recommended the punishment of death. The Bishop of Breslau opposed the last on the ground that martyrdom multiplied the numbers of the Brethren. He advised their expulsion, with the hope that, sooner than leave their native land, they would rejoin the Romish church.
Upon this many took refuge in the forests. They lived in pits and caves, and thus obtained the nickname of Pit-dwellers (Grubenheimer). In the daytime they dared not kindle a fire, lest the smoke should betray them. At night they studied the scriptures by the light of their blazing fagots. Lest the traces of their footsteps should be detected in the snow, they trod all in the same line, the last of the party obliterating their tracks with the branch of a tree, to give their path the appearance of having been made by a peasant dragging his brushwood after him. Sometime, notwithstanding their precautions, they were arrested, and forced by cold, hunger, chains, and torture, to confess their revolutionary projects, or betray the names of their associates. If nothing could be extorted from them, they were cruelly maimed. Sometimes their hands and feet were cut off. Sometimes they were hung, or quartered, or buried alive. Many perished, and multitudes were reduced to the extreme of wretchedness.
The Brethren at Lititz did not fail to send encouraging counsels to those whom they had left behind. They were admonished that “such as would live godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer persecution.” Gregory, the nephew of Rokyzan, who bore the message, was reported to be in a dying state in the prison where he had been cast. He was visited by his uncle, who was constrained, by the anguish of a guilty conscience, to exclaim as he saw him, “Nephew, I would that I were where you are now!” His language excited hope in the Brethren, that all good had not died out of the primate’s heart. They were encouraged to apply to him as the ecclesiastical head (summus theologus) of the kingdom, to urge forward the cause of evangelical reform, and relieve them from the accusation of schism. He answered them kindly, confessed his high estimate of their religious character, but told them that, in attempting to aid them he could accomplish nothing of any account, and should only injure himself.
The Brethren were disappointed. Rokyzan was a trimmer and time-server. In taking leave of him they could not suppress the expression of their mingled grief and disgust. “Thou art of the world and wilt perish with the world,” said they. The language, however honest, truthful, or well meant, was at least impolitic. Rokyzan was provoked to renew the persecution against them. At his instance the diet of 1468 issued what have justly been called “the bloody decrees.”
The hope of church reform by means of the ecclesiastical authorities was thus extinguished. The Brethren found that they must provide for their own government. Their number, increased by accessions from the ranks of the more conscientious Calixtines, had made this a necessity. To the New Testament they looked for their model of church order and discipline. If here they were in some respects at fault, it was from no intentional departure from their acknowledged standard, but because their peculiar circumstances modified the application of their principles. A high testimony to their conscientious fidelity in framing their form of church government is found in the language of Luther, who declared its greater accordance with scriptural simplicity than his own. First of all, they elected elders of their own number, by a majority of voices, and to the discretion of those who were thus elected, the rule of the churches was committed. At their summons the most eminent of the Bohemian and Moravian Brethren were convoked, to form such regulations as the interest of the churches required. General rules for the conducting of their worship, the observance of fast days, the doctrines and government of the church, were subjects of discussion, and these were definitely settled.
Their system of church order occasioned them some anxiety. A growing repugnance to the Romanizing tendencies of the Calixtines, from whom, moreover, they were repelled by persecution, forbade them to seek ordination at their hands. Even had they sought it, their application would doubtless have been rejected. The subject therefore was carefully considered in a synod held at Lhota in 1467. They resolved to choose their own teachers, from among themselves. It shows their discreet caution that first of all they elected twenty persons as candidates. These twenty were to elect nine of their number, to whom the definitive choice of three was to be committed.
At another synod the question arose whether presbyters might be ordained without a bishop. It was answered in the affirmative. Both orders, it was said, were originally equal. Still, to avoid all occasion for scandal, it was deemed best to secure episcopal ordination. The three who had been elected as preachers were therefore sent for this purpose to the Waldensian church—the only one which they could recognize as pure and scriptural. These, after their ordination, returned to the Brethren and ordained others, as the necessities of the church required.
The circumstances of the Brethren—persecuted by the Romanists, and disowned by the Calixtines, who were apprehensive a of the result if they should become in the least identified with them—led them to look abroad for sympathy. Might there not be, they asked, in other lands those whose views and doctrines accorded with their own? Only among the Waldenses could such be found. But even of them, it was said that they did not confess the whole truth. Persecution had made them shrink from a bold and fearless avowal of all their convictions. Notwithstanding this, it was resolved that communion with them should be proposed, while they should be admonished of what the Brethren regarded as errors. The admonition was kindly received. The proposal of communion was accepted. The common faith which they held was endeared to them the more by the common hardships which a persecuting spirit inflicted on both. The result was most disastrous to the Waldenses. The fact of their communion with the Brethren (Picards) was betrayed. Their leader, Bishop Stephen, along with several others, was burned. Some were scattered abroad in other lands. Some fled to the march of Brandenburg, and others joined the Brethren. This year (1480) was marked by quite an accession to the church of the exile, from this as well as other sources.
Meanwhile the Utraquists were not left unmolested. George Podiebrad, who from Regent had become king, was unwilling to favor the Brethren, or restrain their persecutors, lest the infamy of the hated “Picards” should attach to himself. Calixtine in sentiment, he held by the Compactata of Iglau. But this came far short of the standard of papal orthodoxy. Pius II, who had long pretended friendship for the king, at last won over to himself Matthias of Hungary, and in separating him from George, threw off the mask. The articles of Prague, allowing toleration to the Calixtines, were revoked, and George was put under interdict.
Paul II (1465) was even more violent than his predecessor. In his zeal against the Bohemian heretics, he dispatched a legate, Rudolf, Bishop of Lavant, to Silesia, Saxony, and Bohemia, to preach up a crusade. The ambassadors of the king were driven out of Rome with rods. A murderous war sprang up on the frontiers of Bohemia between Catholics and Calixtines, each party branding its prisoners with the cup or the cross. The invading hosts were manfully resisted, but at this juncture (1471) the king died. Ladislaus of Poland, whom the excommunicated monarch recommended on his deathbed as his successor, adopted another policy. He persecuted the Calixtines in order to conciliate the pope. A revolt took place. The exasperated citizens threw the Burgomaster out of the window of the council-house, and beheaded some of the town councilors. Their most furious attack, however, were directed against the priests and monks. Tranquility was at last restored by the sons of the late king and Ladislaus consenting to treat the Utraquists with less rigor.
The pope moreover found violent measures impolitic. He determined to try what kindness could effect. He withdrew therefore the excommunication and crusade, and, agreeably to theCompactata declared the Bohemians, the Utraquists included, good sons of the church.
All this however was but a temporary expedient, demanded by the emergency. The oppressive measures were only deferred to a time more favorable to their execution. A short interval only elapsed before the administrators of the Utraquistic consistory, and several other ministers, were arrested and imprisoned. Some were put to the rack, or treated with such severity that they did not long survive.
On the twenty-first of August, 1480, Michael Pollack, curate of St. Giles in Old Prague, a man of irreproachable character and distinguished for his eloquence, and three other curates, were seized, because they had called the pope Antichrist, and conveyed to the royal castle (Karlstein), where Pollack perished of hunger and hardship, and the others were scarcely released at the intercession of the states. Other persons were banished, or, apprehensive of danger, fled the city. Among the latter were Lucas of Prague—subsequently a bishop of the Brethren—and his friend John Nix, a man of learning. The king moreover prohibited the singing of certain Hussite hymns, and when the prohibition was disregarded, the transgressors were committed to prison, and some were put to death by torture.
The monks, who had become more bold and even extravagant in their rage, “condemned the Hussites to hell.” It was in vain that the people murmured. The magistrates of Prague conspired with the nobility opposed to reform, to exterminate the Calixtines. Various royal edicts of a persecuting nature were issued, and the night of the twenty-fourth of September, 1483, was long remembered as one that threatened to become almost as memorable for wholesale massacre as the French St. Bartholomew’s of the succeeding century.
The plot, however, was discovered. A great uproar took place among the people. Three public halls, and all the monasteries were plundered, and several monks and senators were killed. Ladislaus, at first indignant, refused to interfere when he learned how great had been the provocation offered to the Utraquists.
In the public diet of 1485, the king, who seems to have become disgusted with the harsh measures of the persecutors, ordered a treaty to be confirmed between the opposing parties. They were required to promise mutual toleration and friendship. But in spite of this, mutual hatred still continued. The Calixtines as well as the Brethren were for many years subjected to vexatious and harassing modes of persecution. Some of the more yielding among them joined the Catholic church. Others steadfastly adhered to their peculiar views, and refused to accept the ordination of the Romish bishops. Some of their preachers were sent to Armenia, with commendatory letters from the University of Prague (1499). As reports of the Bohemian heresy had already reached that country, they were closely examined. But their general agreement of doctrine with the Armenian church, especially in the use of the vulgar tongue in church service, secured their approval, and they were consequently ordained. Among them were Martin of Tabor and his deacon, who were afterwards burned by their persecutors at Raudnitz. At length, after the appearance of Luther, the Utraquists—many of them—preferred the ordination of the reformers of Wittenberg to that of the Catholics.
The Brethren, meanwhile, notwithstanding the harshness of their treatment, were increasing in numbers. To the false accusations brought against them before the king, they replied by presenting him a confession of their faith (1493), and a refutation of the crimes laid to their charge. No one can read their “Agreement,” drawn up by the Brethren in the mountains of Richenau, and “given forth by the seniors,” as their bishops were called, without an admiration of its kindly, Christian, and Evangelical spirit. “Before all other things,” it proceeds to say, “we have agreed among ourselves, that we will preserve to ourselves the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ in purity, and confirm it in righteousness which is of God, abiding together in love, and putting our trust in the living God. This we are faithfully to manifest, in word and deed. One is to assist another faithfully in love, to lead a blameless life, and be exercised in humility, submission, meekness, continence, and patience, in order to prove thereby that we have a true faith, real love, and sure hope, which is laid up for us. We have also agreed together that we will unanimously observe a willing and perfect obedience, even as the scriptures, given of God, enjoin upon us. One is to receive of another, instruction, warning, exhortation, and correction in the way of brotherly kindness, thereby to keep the covenant which we have made with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, in spirit. We have also unanimously agreed to strengthen one another in the truth which we confess, by the grace of the Lord, according to the measure which is given to each of us, and willing to do and undertake everything which shall be judged conducive to edification and improvement; but especially to observe Christian obedience, to acknowledge one another in want and poverty, to be humble and in subjection, to have the fear of God always before our eyes, to improve after exhortation or correction, and acknowledge our guilt before God and man. But if one be found not to abide in all these, and refuse to keep the covenant made with God, and likewise with faithful Christian brethren, we declare with sorrow that we cannot ensure such a one of his salvation; but the result may be, that we shall withdraw from him, and be under the necessity of excluding him from our communion in divine service. And if one be overtaken in a grievous sin, or in a decided heresy, for which he ought to be put away, we cannot readmit him, until he has entirely purged himself from it, and evidently amended his life. It has been moreover determined, that everyone is to abide faithfully in his calling, and in all things to keep a good conscience, according to the apostolic injunction. The priests and teachers in particular are to set a good example, and in word and deed so to behave toward others that punishment and reproof may be avoided.”
Faithful to the principles and rules thus clearly announced, the lives of the Brethren extorted praise even from their persecutors. The constancy of their faith and the purity of their morals were exemplary. One wretch, who had been a main instrument of their persecution by the slanders to which he testified, refused longer to perjure himself, and confessed that he knew no ill of the Brethren. His testimony had been accounted so important, that he had been taken by the persecuting party from village to village, and city to city, that he might retail his calumnies in the audience of the people. Copies of his confession were sent where he could not be taken in person. In this manner it was sought to overwhelm the Brethren with odium. But the conscience of the wretch smote him for his perjury, and he was terrified by the apprehension of the mischief which he was bringing down, in the basest manner, upon the heads of the innocent.
This event tended much to the furtherance of their cause. Many were led, from curiosity or other motives, to frequent the meetings of the Brethren. Some began to do it privately and in disguise; but what they saw won their approval, and at last led them openly to join the calumniated and persecuted disciples. Among the accessions to their ranks were several of the nobility of Bohemia and Moravia, who, in various districts, erected for them churches and houses of prayer. The king, moreover, was favorably impressed by a perusal of their confession and apologies, and mitigated the severity of his persecuting edicts. He even received with favor to his Bohemian kingdom a portion of the church of the Brethren who had been driven from Hungary, and for several years had dwelt in Moldavia.
A favorable influence upon the condition of the Brethren was also exerted by the political events of the time. Ladislaus, upon his accession to the throne of Bohemia (1471), had succeeded to the position and duties of George de Podiebrad, as the enemy of Matthias of Hungary. Eleven years later (1482) the common interests of Ladislaus and the emperor in opposing him, cemented between them an alliance which resulted in the defeat of Matthias near Bruck on the Leytra. But, the latter, regaining strength, laid siege to Vienna, whose inhabitants vainly employed help of the emperor. The city fell into the hands of Matthias (1485), but by the generous aid of Albert of Saxony, he was soon after defeated. In 1493, Maximilian succeeded his father Frederic on the imperial throne. A milder policy for a time prevailed. The daughter of Ladislaus was married to the Archduke Ferdinand, son of Maximilian, and Bohemia was thus again brought under the control of the house of Hapsburg. During most of this period the external dangers of Bohemia and the empire, whose interests were one, withdrew attention from the Taborites and Calixtines. These might be regarded as well-nigh subjected, while the Turk, thundering at the gates of Christendom, excited papal anxiety and more general apprehension.
Strange as it may seem, the Calixtines were now more disposed to persecute the Brethren, than were the party avowedly papal. Their aim was to retain the cup, and yet be allowed the name of Catholic. They wished to have their bishops consecrated at Rome. To recommend themselves, it seemed politic to appear as distinct as possible from the maligned and hated “Picards.” Hence they were jealous of their reputation, and willingly adopted even persecuting measures to vindicate it from the reproach of common sympathy with the Brethren. One result of this course however, was, to drive the more honest and conscientious of the Calixtines over to the persecuted body. The closing period of the fifteenth century witnessed the slow but sure increase of the churches of the Brethren. Although far from being unmolested, they yet enjoyed comparative rest. At the commencement of the sixteenth century, their churches numbered two hundred in Bohemia and Moravia. Almost all their communities possessed each their own house of prayer. The scriptural simplicity of their rites and the purity of their doctrines were confirmed by their familiarity with the sacred writings. They procured the printing of two editions of the Bohemian Bible, the first at Venice, and the second at Nuremberg. But these were insufficient to supply the demand, and three presses were procured, and employed in Bohemia for the printing of Bibles alone. The version used was a translation of the Vulgate, and answered its purpose for a hundred years.
The short peace of the Brethren was soon disturbed by fresh troubles. Some of them had gone so far in the zealous defense of their non-resistance tenets, as to declare that a Christian could not with a good conscience hold civil office or bear arms. These propositions were represented to the king as of dangerous tendency, and in the diet of 1503, he was urged to extirpate them from the kingdom. Several of the states protested against these insinuations, asserted the innocence of the Brethren, and opposed the cruel measures which were contemplated. But when the friends of the Brethren had withdrawn from the assembly, their enemies prevailed upon the king to sign a persecuting decree.
Against this the Brethren entered their remonstrance. The king changed his mind, and sought to bring about a union between them and the Calixtines. With this view he directed that some of their principal preachers should visit Prague, and confer with the professors of the university and the Calixtine consistory. Though apprehensive of a plot against them, the Brethren complied with the command (December, 1503). But on the very day on which the conference was to have been opened, their most bitter enemy, the rector of the university, died. None of the rest dared to meet them in a public discussion. They were afraid of being confounded in argument in the presence of the citizens. The conference was deferred from day to day, till under various pretexts it was altogether abandoned.
From time to time, however, the work of persecution was revived. The views of the Brethren, as maintained in their apologies, were studiously misrepresented. Their non-resistance principles especially were so perverted by their enemies as to make them objects of odium and contempt. In 1508 this malice threatened to break out in a more violent manner. The Roman Catholic bishops succeeded by flattery in obtaining from Ladislaus several severe decrees against the Brethren. These were met by a presentation to the king of their confession. This, with their apologies, was all the resistance they could offer to the measures of their persecutors. Yet if anything could have justified a departure from their principles by the use of physical force, it was the decree of August 10, 1508. In this it was commanded that “all Picardines, without distinction of sex or age, should be punished with death.” An anecdote in this connection illustrates the fearless spirit of the Brethren, notwithstanding their view of non-resistance. The chancellor, Albert, on his return from the diet where the decree had been ratified, paid a visit to the Baron of Coldicium, and reported to him what all had agreed upon. The baron turned to his servant Simon, one of the Brethren, and asked him how he liked it. “All have not agreed to it,” was his reply. “Who are they,” asked the chancellor, “who dare oppose all the states of the kingdom?” “There is in heaven,” replied the servant, lifting up his hand, “One, who if he were not present at your counsels, you have taken counsel in vain.”
The murderous character of the edict disgusted some of the principal nobility. Through their opposition its execution was deferred. But in 1510 it received the second assent of the states, and to some extent was enforced. Many of the Brethren became its victims. Numerous were the cases of imprisonment. Some were mutilated, some burned, and some put to death by drowning. All varieties of torture were employed to subdue the constancy of the martyrs. So far did the power of persecution prevail, that divine service could only be performed in secret, save in the district of Baron Schwamberg.
Already, as we have seen, the Brethren had sought to discover in other lands Christian organizations to which they could extend their sympathy and communion. These they had found among the Waldenses alone. Their effort was now (1486) renewed. Previous to this they had made the matter a subject of deliberation. But in the synod of that year they gave evidence of their large views and liberal spirit. They declared that the Catholic church of God was not limited to any visible society of believers, but was to be found in any part of Christendom, wherever the holy Catholic faith, agreeable to the truth of God, prevailed. Again they sent forth brethren to Rome, Italy, France, and the Waldenses, to search out those whom they might recognize as their spiritual kindred. They longed to enjoy the assurance that somewhere in the world there were those whose doctrines and worship were mainly identical with their own; that in their isolation, they were not altogether separate from spiritual kindred who in other scenes and other lands were bearing testimony to a pure gospel.
Some whom they sent out on this novel errand of searching for Christian brethren, went to Greece, to Russia, to Scythia, to Egypt, to Constantinople, and to Thrace. Others visited France, Rome, and various parts of Italy. Their report is indeed striking and significant. They found, they said, sighing souls, but no organized church with which they could unite. Hence, at a synod at which the report was made (1489), it was resolved: “If God anywhere in the world should stir up righteous teachers and reformers of the church, they would make common cause with them.” Such was the truly catholic spirit by which they were animated.
The fame of Erasmus had already reached Bohemia. The Brethren looked to him—a Biblical scholar—with some degree of hope. In 1511 they presented to him their confession of faith—the same which had been exhibited to Ladislaus in 1480. They asked him to point out its errors, or show them in what respects it could be improved. True to his nature, the timid scholar gave it his secret approval, but advised them to keep quiet. He excused himself from coming out openly in their favor, as it would only injure himself and do them no good. In some of his writings, however, he expressed himself favorably in regard to them.
The interval between this and the appearance of Luther as a reformer, was one of sore trial to the Brethren. They were rarely left unmolested in the enjoyment of religious worship. They grew weary of their state of isolation, separated from the rest of the religious world. Their condition was, with many at least, that of seeming, if not actual, schism from the Christian body. Some proposed that they should reunite with the Calixtines, in the hope of peace and larger usefulness. The subject was brought before one of their synods. Here it was decided, that if in another church than their own a priest of pure doctrine and holy life was to be found, it was a subject for gratitude to God; but this was no sufficient reason for reunion or communion with a church which had been left because of its errors. The successor of the priest might be a man of a totally different character. Even though one might not enjoy the membership of a properly organized church, all might keep the unity of the spirit and of the body of Christ. Nor was it without danger for believers to forsake privileges accompanied by divine grace among themselves, to seek them among strangers. In case there should be found many priests of another church united together in the work of a faithful ministration of the word of God, and properly constituted, they were not to be despised; but the elders of the churches of the Brethren were to see whether, in some way, a union might not be effected with them. In case they were found to hold the fundamental articles of the Christian faith, they were to be obeyed and listened to as teachers. If in this respect they did not agree with the Brethren, they were not to be contemned, but treated with kindness, both that the purity of faith might be preserved, and themselves brought to the enjoyment of clearer light. “Finally,” say they, “we recognize no multitude or assembly, however numerous, as the church catholic, that is, as containing the entire number of believers, so that outside of it are none of God’s elect; but wherever the sole catholic Christian faith is kept in truth, according to God’s word, in whatever part of Christendom, there is the holy catholic church, out of whose communion there is no hope of salvation.”
Reformation in Germany The Brethren
For a whole century the Taborites and the United Brethren—as the followers of Huss—had borne their testimony against the apostasy and errors of the Roman Catholic church. Their enemies had persecuted them with calumny and violence. Pen and sword had been employed against them without scruple. The harshest measures had been adopted to shake their constancy. Beyond their own neighborhoods they were known by the odious name of Picards. In all Germany there was scarcely to be found an individual who had any proper acquaintance with their character or doctrines.
But their revolt against the dominant hierarchy was now to be justified in a most striking manner. They were to find whole nations unconsciously arraying themselves upon their side. Germany, from the days of the council of Constance, had been indignantly demanding reform, but her cry had been smothered. Instead of meeting the demand, the hierarchy only became more hopelessly corrupt, until the evil was no longer to be borne. An earlier reformation might have been less radical, but ecclesiastical authority and interested opposition had resisted and turned back the current of popular feeling, until now, become resistless, it broke over all restraint. Luther came forward, the exponent of long suppressed convictions, the champion of a purer Christianity, the leader in the cause of reform; and the Brethren, who had long waited and watched for the appearance of one to whom they could extend the hand of fellowship, greeted him, ere yet his prejudices against them had given way, as a fellow laborer in their own great work.
Tardily, but surely, the career of Huss and the bold views he had put forth were vindicated from that very direction from which the bitterest hostility against him had proceeded. Germany had been taxed and plundered and abused, till her patience was exhausted. As the noble gave up his broad forests to the tramp of beasts, that he might himself enjoy the pleasures of the chase, so papal avarice seemed to hold Germany in reserve as the hunting ground of ecclesiastical extortion.
The Germans had been a patient people. They had borne the yoke of Rome long and well. They had complained and submitted, till it seemed their habit. The grossest impositions, the most absurd dogmas, and the coolest impudence of ecclesiastical assumption, had failed to produce revolt. Rome felt that she might venture further. There was yet “in the lowest deep” of her avarice, “a lower deep” of unscrupulous and unblushing audacity. Alexander VI, whose unnatural vices and monstrous crimes had so eclipsed those of John XXIII that the latter appeared almost as a saint by his side, had done all it was possible to do to make the Papal See odious to Christendom. His successor, Leo X, while patronizing ancient and modern art, surrounded himself with the splendors of the old Roman mythology, with heathen deities, and all the forms of polished licentiousness. The immense expense occasioned by the erection of St. Peter’s at Rome, drained Germany and even Europe of its wealth, and an avaricious ingenuity was set at work to invent new methods of extortion, or wring new tribute from exhausted provinces. Novel taxes were imposed. Forms of penance were multiplied. The periodical recurrence of the jubilee at Rome was reduced successively from one hundred, to fifty, thirty-three, and finally twenty-five years. Millions of money were poured into the papal treasury, but the cry was still heard, “Give, give.”
The system of indulgences was subjected to a new process of development. It was elaborately drawn out, and shaped by chancery rules. Absolution was made a matter of traffic. Bills of exchange on the court of heaven might be had on demand, for the premium in money. Scarce a sin could be imagined—scarce a crime ever known in the realm of the actual or ideal—but had its price. In political intrigue and treachery, papal artifice won the palm over every competitor. The difference between the papal and secular courts seemed to be merely that the latter could not dissolve the obligation of their own oaths.
The depravity of the church was such that good men shuddered to think of it. Everywhere it was to be met. The heart was diseased, and the whole body suffered. When the pope was a devil incarnate, it is not strange that prelates and priests copied from the model. Hypocrites and idlers abounded. Nobles were elevated to bishoprics, and used the vast revenues of the church to revel in wanton luxury. The priests were proverbially ignorant, brutal, and drunken. But one in ten—by a concession of the popes—was required to study. The obligations of celibacy were unscrupulously eluded. The wealthy priests had poor vicars in their pay, who for the merest pittance discharged the drudgery of visitation, preaching, and clerical duty. The disorders of the monasteries and convents equaled those which had provoked in Bohemia the vengeance of Zisca. The wealthy abbots vied with the powerful secular lords.
As to the monks, John of Goch said at Mechlin, that “they did what the devil was ashamed to think.” The abuses of the church in respect to relics were in some instances so ridiculous as to disarm indignation. Many a saint had several genuine bodies and innumerable limbs. A collection of the curiosities of ecclesiastical resources for revenue would have formed a rare museum for inspection. It would have had the chemise of the virgin, six feet long; the drum on which the march of the Jews was beaten as they crossed the Red Sea dry-shod; a piece of the head of Tobias’ fish; at least five hoofs of the ass on which Christ rode into Jerusalem, and numerous other treasures, well known alike in Germany and in England, and long before made familiar by Erasmus’ wit and by Chaucer’s rhymes.
To all these things are to be added the burlesque sermons, the Ass’ and Fools’ festivals,’ the buffooneries in the churches, and the sacrilegious traffic in indulgences, which finally exhausted even German patience, and placed the northern portion of the empire in an attitude of revolt against Rome.
In a way not unlike that by which Huss was led to take the position he did, Luther was trained for his work. The cause to which he devoted himself was the same—the vindication of a pure Christianity from corrupting innovations of past centuries. His fundamental position, moreover, was that that of Huss—the supreme authority of the word of God. As the tones of his clarion voice rang out over Germany, hosts of friends rallied to his side. In the printing press he found an ally which Huss never had. His sermons and invectives were printed and circulated—hawked abroad by colporteurs through the cities and villages of the laud. The pulpit of Wittenberg had a thousand sounding-boards—awoke a thousand echoes. Rome was boldly impeached, before the tribunal of the public opinion of Christendom, of high crimes and misdemeanors. Consternation was excited among the advocates of the old abuses. There was alarm at the court of Rome. The eyes of Europe were directed toward the fearless monk who had dared to burn the papal bulls, and fling forth his challenge against the world.
We cannot be surprised, therefore, that, among a people holding such views as those of the Brethren, the appearance of Luther, as the German reformer, was heartily welcomed. Nowhere did his labors excite more hope and attention than in Bohemia. Many of the Utraquists or Calixtines, as well as of the Brethren, preferred the ordination of the reformers of Wittenberg to that of the Roman Catholic church. Two years after the publication of Luther’s celebrated theses (1519), his principles had found their way to Prague. Matthias the hermit, arriving there as a pilgrim, publicly preached the doctrines of the Reformation, in connection however with peculiar opinions of his own. Many were won over to his views, but were subjected in consequence to repeated imprisonments.
The celebrated Thomas Munzer followed Matthias (1521). The sympathies of the Brethren were already strongly enlisted on the side of Luther. In 1523 they sent two of their number to congratulate him, and render an account of their doctrine and discipline. So satisfactory did these appear, and so gratified was he upon a perusal of their writings, that he publicly declared that the prejudice which he had hitherto entertained against them was unfounded. Some questions of church order for a time interrupted the friendliness of their intercourse, but in 1532 Luther printed their confession at his own press, and testified to the futility of his own suspicions in regard to the Brethren, declaring that, notwithstanding diversities of discipline and ceremony, they must be acknowledged, with all true believers, to belong to the one fold of Christ. “Although I cannot accept,” he says, “the Brethren’s forms of expression, I will neither urge nor force them to adopt mine, so long as in fact there subsists a real unity between us.” In 1535 he wrote to Melanchthon on the subject: “While we are agreed in the main articles of Christian doctrine, let us accept one another in love, nor let the dissimilarity of usages and ceremonies separate our hearts.” Another deputation, in the following year (1536), again urged a stricter church order; but Luther excused himself from compliance, on the ground that things were not ripe for it, nor had he leisure to attend to it amid the many tasks imposed upon him by his opponents in controversy.
In 1540 still another deputation was sent to Wittenberg, with the same request. It was headed by John Augusta, senior or bishop of the Brethren, who in 1524 had studied at Wittenberg, and whom Luther highly esteemed. After his return to Bohemia—under a compulsory decree of the emperor, who wished to prevent the further spread of the Reformation in his dominions, and to this end commanded all his subjects under pain of severe penalties to leave Wittenberg—he still kept up a correspondence with the German reformer. Luther received his former pupil with the utmost kindness, and promised that so soon as sufficient quiet was restored he would act upon the subject. As Augusta took leave, he extended to him, in the presence of the other professors, the right hand of fellowship, exclaiming, “Be ye the apostles of the Bohemians; I and mine will be the apostles of the Germans.” “I admonish you in the Lord,” so he wrote Augusta afterward, “that ye persevere with us to the end in the communion of the spirit and of doctrine.”
At Prague, meanwhile, the different parties became more divergent and alienated from one another. In 1523, under the impulse and encouragement of the Lutheran reformation, the influence of which had powerfully extended to Bohemia, it was proposed in a meeting of the states to adopt articles looking to the promotion of the cause of reform. These articles were of a moderately Protestant character; but they were strenuously opposed by Gallus Zahera, curate of Tein church in Old Prague. Zahera had resided at Wittenberg, and had been reputed a friend of Luther. But his time-serving policy led him to abandon his former principles, and he became an intolerant Calixtine.
It was at this juncture that the pope, apprehensive of the spread of the reformation in Bohemia, sent his legate to Prague. The latter, upon his arrival, wrote to several persons of influence, among others to Zahera, insinuating with much flattery the idea of a union of the churches. The party of John Passack of Wrat, elected chief magistrate of the city, was now in the ascendant, and to this Zahera joined himself.
This new party, in the name of the consistory, extended a favorable reply to the legate. Articles were drawn up which looked toward a union of the Calixtines with the papal party, and the influence of the king and pope, of Passek and Zahera, was employed to enforce them. They were imposed upon the laity as well as the clergy, and whoever refused to subscribe to them was banished from the city. Six preachers, including Martin of the Bethlehem church, were driven from their posts. Sixty-five of the principal citizens shared the same fate. The Evangelicals were charged with conspiring to destroy their enemies. Three citizens were put to the rack to extort a confession. Others were scourged, others branded, and still others cast into prison. The progress of the cause of reform was checked by these measures of cruelty and violence.
For several years this harsh policy prevailed. Scenes of horrid barbarity were not infrequent. The hermit Matthias, the earliest preacher of Lutheran doctrines in Bohemia, whose unassuming manners and irreproachable life had secured him universal respect, was no longer suffered to speak, as he had been wont, in the streets and in the marketplaces. He had admonished Zahera for his apostasy and evil-doings, and had thus invited the vengeance of the persecutor. Invited to a conference, he was seized and cast into prison, and subsequently banished. The fate of Nicolas Wrzetenarz was still more cruel. He, with his aged housekeeper, who shared his faith, was condemned to the flames. Both met with a cheerful and heroic spirit their terrible fate. From time to time the funeral pile was lighted, but brighter than its flames glowed the faith of its victims.
Meanwhile the influence of the reformation had extended into the Austrian dominions. The doctrines of Luther were preached at Vienna by Paul von Spretten (Speratus), and were widely disseminated in the whole country around. In spite of violence, the new opinions made progress. Speratus was banished, and his successor, Tauler, was condemned to the stake. Hubmaier of Waldshut was also burnt. But fresh preachers, patronized by the nobility, arose to disseminate their views, and the emperor, engaged in a contest with the Turk, was constrained to leave them for the most part unmolested. In 1528 he found that almost the entire Austrian nobility had embraced Lutheranism. In 1532 the estates demanded religious liberty, and in 1541 they repeated their demand with new emphasis. For ten years, previous to 1538, not a single student in the University of Vienna had turned monk.
During this period Bohemia had fallen, by the death of Louis, to the Archduke Ferdinand, who, to distance his rivals and win the Calixtines, initiated a milder policy. There was good reason for it. Persecution might well by this time have grown weary in its task. The people became disgusted with such scenes of intolerance. Several who had been foremost in the cruel work, were overtaken by sudden and startling calamity, which was regarded in the light of divine vengeance for their crimes. One hung himself in his own house, and was secretly buried. Zahera was banished, and ended his life miserably in Franconia. The king, Ferdinand, on his accession to the throne, changed the city council, and the year 1530 was a season of jubilee to the exiles, who were allowed to return.
Better prospects now opened before the Brethren. As the reformation spread, they found new sympathizers, and a deeper interest was taken in their condition and doctrines. Their fame went abroad. At Strasbourg, Capito and Bucer heard of them. They wrote to inquire more carefully in regard to their views and usages. They even sent one of their number, Matthias Erythreus, to obtain fuller information. So satisfactory was the report, and so grateful to the feelings of Bucer, that at the assembly of the Strasbourg theologians he could not restrain himself from tears. “I believe,” so he wrote to the Brethren, “that at this present time ye are the only ones among whom not only a pure doctrine, but a becoming, gentle, and useful church order prevails.”
Calvin was present at the time at Strasbourg. He was deeply interested in the accounts which he received of the Brethren, and, in the church constitution which he afterward framed at Geneva, adopted several of their peculiar principles. Thus the influence of the Brethren reached both the leading reformers of the sixteenth century. Without becoming involved in any of their peculiar controversies, they had the sympathy, friendship, and respect of both, extending to each the hand of Christian fellowship.
From this period, their cause is identified with that of the Reformation generally. In the hopes and fears of the German protestants, they likewise shared. The merciless resolve of Charles V to crush out the reformers from every part of his dominions excited in their behalf the ardent sympathy, not only of the Brethren, but to a great extent of the Bohemian Calixtines.
At the time of the celebrated league of Smalcald, the authority of Ferdinand over his subjects was insufficient to enable him to procure levies from Bohemia to aid the imperial arms. The object of the war was to crush what the Brethren regarded as their own cause. Here they were sustained by a large portion even of the Calixtines. So strong were the feelings of repugnance and disgust at the demand of Ferdinand for auxiliary troops, that the states and free towns, one and all, excused themselves from compliance. On the ground of their common faith, as well as that of their ancient confederacy with the house of Saxony, they declined acceding to the demand.
This provocation was not forgotten by Ferdinand. When the triumph of the emperor’s arms had laid Germany at his feet, the crime of the Bohemians was recalled, and they were charged with rebellion. Ferdinand entered Bohemia with his victorious army, and seized the city of Prague (1547). The “bloody diet” was convened. Many of the nobles, barons, and citizens were thrown into prison. Some were scourged, others beheaded. Some were almost beggared by the heavy fines imposed; others were utterly despoiled of their estates. Prague was deprived of its arsenal and all its privileges. Many of the inhabitants were banished, and more went into voluntary exile.
But while the rage of the king was directed against the Calixtines generally, the Brethren were especially pointed at as the authors of rebellion. Every effort was made to draw down upon them the hatred of the king. The calumnies against them were poured into willing ears, and the churches of the Brethren were first ordered to be closed. All who professed their doctrines were then commanded to leave the country, unless they would connect themselves with the Roman Catholics or the Utraquists. Six weeks only were allowed them to make their choice. The test was a severe one, but the Brethren met it in the spirit of martyrdom. Dear as their native land was to them, those who were able to remove preferred exile to a violation of their conscientious convictions.
Some, however, were not allowed to escape unmolested. The senior of the Brethren, John Augusta, was thrice tortured to extort from him a confession of his guilt, and when these measures failed, was cast into prison, where he remained for sixteen years. Many other teachers were arrested, and subjected to similar treatment. There was no safety but in flight.
The exiles emigrated for the most part in three divisions. The first, gathered from parts about Leitomischel, Bidschow, and Chlumer, amounting to five hundred souls, passed with above sixty wagons through the country of Glatz and upper Silesia. The second band, consisting of three hundred, proceeded by the way of lower Silesia. The third, like the second, from Brandeis and Turnau, took the same route. Some of their deliverances upon their journey were remarkable. Several bands of robbers attempted to plunder them of their scant treasures. Their course led them through Poland, at that time entirely papal; yet a kind Providence carried them safe to their common destination at Posen, not without a large experience of sympathy and kindness from those who were of the same faith with their royal persecutor.
At Posen they were courteously and hospitably entertained, but even here they were not allowed to rest. An order was received from the king for their expulsion. They were thus forced to proceed, and directed their steps to the confines of Prussia. To Duke Albert of Brandenburg they sent a deputation, asking leave to settle in his dominions. At Königsberg they were examined by the Lutheran theologians, and by them were acknowledged as brethren. Seven towns, among them Soldau and Guidzin, were assigned them for their residence. The bishop, Paul Spretten (Speratus), a former pupil of Luther, who was well acquainted with their ritual and doctrine, showed them many tokens of Christian kindness.
One by one, as they were able to make good their escape, their teachers followed them. George Israel, pastor of the church of Turnau, who afterward became the apostle of the Poles, refused to allow his friends to pay the penalty of his non-appearance before the magistrate. Thanking them for their kindness, he appeared at the castle of Prague and surrendered himself. “It is enough,” said he, “to have been once redeemed fully by the blood of Christ, and there is no need of being bought again by the gold of man.” He was thrown into prison, but in the course of a few weeks made good his escape and followed his fellow exiles to Prussia.
Such of the Brethren as remained in Bohemia were subjected to the most cruel hardships. The Baron of Schanow was put to the rack to extort a confession of his having opposed the king. In the midst of his tortures, with heroic indignation, he bit off his tongue. When asked the reason of his conduct, he wrote, “If I tell the truth according to my conscience, you will not believe me; and that I might not be induced by pain to declare what is false against myself and others, I have disabled myself from speaking at all.”
The baron died of the tortures that had been inflicted. He was a distinguished victim, and counted worthy of a distinguished fate. The humbler classes of the Brethren were subjected to vexations scarcely less cruel. It was decreed at Prague, that no one of suspected faith should be admitted to the workshops of the mechanics, or should be allowed the rights of citizenship. The act was confirmed by the king, and almost every kind of outrage against the hated “Picards” was perpetrated with impunity. If anyone was unwilling to pay his creditor, he only needed to accuse him of “Picardism,” and all was settled by the banishment of the creditor. One man, for having in his possession a book of one of the reformers on the sacraments, was scourged in the market-place, and then banished. Another was branded on the forehead. Another was thrown into a dungeon and there murdered.
A chapter of thrilling interest would be afforded by the history of the martyrdoms of this period. Never was the heroism of Christian faith more nobly illustrated. The victims met their fate with a constancy and a cheerfulness that showed the strength of their convictions and the fervor of their devotion. “Thither, where our God is, must I look,” said one, lifting her eyes to heaven, as the image of the cross was presented to her at the stake. They counted it “a grace given them to suffer for the law of God.” “On my wedding day,” said one, “I did not feel so happy as I do now.”
The churches of the Brethren were now closed, and their ministers were persecuted wherever they could be met. Some found temporary rest and security in Moravia; others hid themselves in the daytime, but crept forth from their holes and hiding places by night to comfort and instruct their suffering brethren.
The Calixtines, moreover, were not left unmolested. In 1538 the communion of the cup was prohibited by Ferdinand, in an order issued by him at Vienna. He did indeed at one time solicit the pope for a grant of the cup, but his object was merely to procure peace and prevent any further defection from the papacy.
In the years 1554-5, emissaries of the newly founded order of the Jesuits had found their way to Prague. They had been sent for the purpose of “manufacturing genuine Catholic priests.” It was a timely movement on the part of Rome. “There were so few orthodox priests in Bohemia,” says Pessina, “that had it not been for the Jesuits, the Catholic religion would have been suppressed.” At first they spoke in the mildest tone. They assumed the most bland and winning manners. All that cunning, zeal, perseverance, and genius could accomplish, they effected. They laid hold of the court. They condescended to the masses. At the confessional, in the pulpit, in the lecturer’s chair, their power was felt. Among them “were saints, equaling in faith the martyrs of old; poets, overflowing with philanthropy; bold and unflinching despots; smooth-tongued divines, versed in the art of lying.” While the popes negotiated, they acted. They discerned the problem to be solved, and set themselves to the task with fearless energy and unscrupulous policy. Nothing seemed to them too desperate that might enlarge the authority of the Papal See.
With the arts of the Jesuits, the feebleness of the king, as he advanced in years, contributed to produce a relaxation of the severity employed against the Protestants. The council of Trent disappointed the hopes and refused the demands of Ferdinand, and his previous zeal for orthodoxy was sensibly diminished. The closing years of the sixteenth century were years of comparative security and repose to the Brethren. Some of them screened themselves under the name of the Utraquists, to whom an almost complete toleration was allowed.
In 1562 Maximilian II succeeded to the throne, and soon after was elected emperor. His policy was more lenient. The Brethren were allowed, for the most part, freedom from molestation. A dangerous attempt against their privileges met with a signal failure. In 1563 the Arch-chancellor of Bohemia repaired to Vienna, and by continued importunity prevailed on the emperor to sign a persecuting decree against them. But on his return, exultant in his success, he was arrested in the execution of his designs. He had scarcely left the gates of Vienna and reached the bridge over the Danube, when the part upon which he stood sunk under him, and he himself, with his suit and baggage, was plunged into the stream. Some fishermen hasted to the rescue of the chancellor, who had been seized by his gold chain, and supported in the water by one of his young attendants; but he was too far gone to be restored. The casket which held the persecuting edict was swept down with the current, and never recovered.
In the following year brighter prospects opened before them. They obtained the liberty of opening their places of worship, and engaging in public religious services. These privileges were granted by the emperor himself. When measures for enforcing conformity were about to be put in execution, the Brethren applied to him asking his protection. Their application was favorably received, especially when the emperor had perused their confession of faith, and they were left for a period unmolested. The principle of religious toleration was becoming popular at court. Maximilian had been educated by one who was himself a pupil of Melanchthon. His physician was John Crato, One of the Brethren whom Maximilian made his confidant. Once as they were riding together, the emperor lamented the religious dissensions of the empire, and asked Crato which, of all the various sects, approached the nearest to apostolic simplicity. “The Brethren, known as Picards,” replied Crato, “may bear away the palm.” “I think so too,” was the significant testimony of the emperor. His mind was evidently strongly inclined to the reformed opinions, although he wished to preserve the Roman hierarchy. His disposition accorded well with that of his contemporary, Henry IV of France. His education and his tastes confirmed him in his convictions of the impolicy of attempting to restrict human belief. To force conscience he conceived to be to assail heaven, as he once told the Bishop of Olmütz. On one occasion he wrote to Paul Eber, at Wittenberg, “that he wished the pure gospel everywhere preached, though the Roman hierarchy should be retained.” Catholic writers censure him for a neglect of duty in restraining the spread of heresy. It was even rumored abroad that he was a follower of the Lutheran doctrine.
This charge was not altogether without reason. In 1565, Maximilian urged Pius IV to abrogate the rule requiring the celibacy of the clergy. He granted the free exercise of their religion to the Austrian nobility, and to the cities of Lintz, Steyer, Enns, Wels, Freistadt, Gmunden, and Vœoecklabruck. He tolerated the introduction of the Protestant worship into Austria (1568) by Chytræus von Rostock. He allowed the Bible to be translated for the use of the Slavonians in Carniola, Corinthia, and Styria; and protected, even in Vienna, the Protestants as well as the Jesuits. He even boxed the ear of his son—afterward Rudolph II—for having attacked a Protestant church at the instigation of the Jesuits.
In 1566 the Bohemian Brethren dedicated their hymn-book to him. In the preface they ventured to say, “that the right form of the primitive church had been altered, the true worship abandoned, the light of truth made dim, the word of God adulterated, and the sacraments rent asunder; that error, superstition, and abuse had been introduced, and that the true doctrine must be again established.” The confession of the Brethren, moreover, was kindly received. It was eminently evangelical, and met the warm approval of the theologians of Wittenberg (1575). To the petition of toleration presented by the Brethren, Maximilian replied, with the assurance that neither during his reign, nor that of his son, should they be molested.
It was during the period of comparative quiet that followed, that the Brethren pursued the task of a new translation of the scriptures, from the original Hebrew and Greek, into the Bohemian language. It was published with annotations, under the title of the “Brethren’s Bible.” An excellent copy of this now rare work is still preserved in the museum of Prague.
During this favorable period, the Bohemian Brethren found themselves in a somewhat peculiar position. They were not the only Protestants of the kingdom, and each party of the Lutherans and Reformed strove to draw them over to their side. Repeated efforts were made to secure a more formal union. In 1557 a synod was held at Sleza in Moravia, which was attended by more than two hundred ministers, as well as a large number of Polish noblemen. A principal object of the convocation was to consider the proposed union of the Brethren with the Reformed of Poland and Switzerland. But there were great difficulties in the way, and nothing could be effected. In 1560 the attempt was renewed, at a synod held at Buntzlau, in Bohemia, the place of their principal settlement. A correspondence was opened with the Reformed, and the most kindly feelings were mutually expressed. At the Synod of Xyans, in the same year, the matter was brought to an issue. The Brethren dropped the title of bishop for that of elder; both parties retained their confessions; and the strict discipline of the Brethren was adopted, with slight modifications.
With the Lutherans, the Brethren encountered greater difficulties. In Poland the matter was prosecuted with most success, although even in other lands the seed of truth, scattered by the Bohemian exiles, had taken root and had begun to bear fruit. In this kingdom, soon after the period of the most extensive emigration, already referred to (1551), forty churches of the Brethren had sprung up. Although strongly reluctant to yield one iota of their church order and discipline—now endeared to them by the experience of a century and a half—the sympathies of the Brethren were warmly extended to all that embraced evangelical views. The subject of a union was discussed at the synod of Posen in 1567. No compromise could be effected, and the subject was remitted in the following year to the judgment of the Wittenberg theologians. Their advice was of a liberal and tolerant character. The result was that at a second synod at Posen in 1570, both parties acknowledged the harmony between the Brethren’s confession and that of Augsburg. Soon after, at the synod of Sendomir, the union of all the Protestants in Poland was accomplished (1578). The Consensus of Sendomir was the basis of compromise received and adopted, and for more than a century adhered to in Poland.
Each church retained its peculiar rites and usages, but obtained the benefits of a practical union and mutual aid. The scene that was witnessed on the publication of this agreement was deeply affecting. Many wept for joy, while the members of the synod, as they sang the Te Deum, gave each other the right hand of fellowship. Successive attempts were made to disturb this union of the different churches, but they all proved futile. In 1627, at the synod of Ostrog, a more entire union was effected between the Reformed and the Brethren, so that they were no longer distinctly known.
In Bohemia this period of calm was one of great external prosperity. Enlarged efforts were made to evangelize the land, and numerous synods were held. At one of these there were present, beside ministers, not less than seventeen of the most distinguished barons of Bohemia, and one hundred and forty-six nobles of inferior rank.
Meanwhile the Jesuits, although largely favored by the emperor, failed to stem the tide of religious and ecclesiastical reform. The number of the Calixtines as well as Brethren vastly increased. It contributed not a little to this result, that the priests of the papal party were not only few in number, but at once ignorant and infamous. Repeated complaints were made of their gluttony and drunkenness; in some cases, of their profanity and licentiousness. It were better, said some, to be altogether without curates than to have such. In evident contrast stood the scriptural simplicity of worship and doctrine, and the exemplary life, of the Brethren. A marked progress was manifest in the cause of evangelical reform.
With brief exceptions, the reign of Rudolph II was characterized by a tolerant spirit (1576-1612). In 1602, at the instigation of the Jesuits, the old edicts against the Picards were revived. The increasing number and prosperity of the Protestants began to excite apprehension lest Bohemia should soon be lost to the Papal See. “The principal Bohemian and Moravian nobility,” says Pelzel, “joined the Calvinists or Lutherans.” At the urgent remonstrance of their enemies, the old severe measures were again resorted to. Their meetings were forbidden, their churches closed, and the Calvinists and Picards (Brethren) were ordered to leave the country. They were declared incapable of holding public office, or, if discharging such duty, they were deposed. Some of their schools and churches were either demolished or shut up. But the mind of the emperor was not without misgivings. When the news of the capture of Stuhlweissenberg, in Hungary, by the Turks, reached him, he is reported to have said, “Something of the kind struck my mind today, when I began to usurp the province of God, which is the province of conscience.” The old decrees were again revoked. The Brethren for several years were left unmolested. The Bethlehem church, in which John Huss preached, was allowed to them as true followers of that faithful martyr, by the University of Prague. But they could not obtain possession of it. Three members out of twelve, however, were allowed them in the consistory of the university, and they were permitted to build themselves churches, and have advocates to maintain their rights. There were some, indeed, beside the papal party, who would have excluded them from toleration on the ground of their separation from the Calixtines, which might now be called—embracing as it did nearly two-thirds of the population—the national church; but the diet would not allow of their exclusion from the common privilege.
In their prosperity, however, they were subjected to a new danger. “With the freedom of religion,” says Comenius, their historian and bishop, “there sprang up freedom of the flesh.” They were more disposed to a laxity of principle and to worldly conformity. But this danger was to be but of brief duration.
Protestantism in Bohemia, down to the Close of the Thirty Years’ War
The closing years of the sixteenth century were, to the Protestants of Bohemia, years at once of security and of danger. The lenient policy of their rulers had disarmed their fear, while the seed sown by Jesuit policy was springing up to its harvest. Ferdinand had need of the aid of his Protestant subjects to meet the expenses of the Turkish war. Maximilian II leaned from conviction toward the doctrines of the Brethren, and Rudolph II, though educated by the Jesuits, was not a promising pupil. A pedant rather than a king, he indulged his learned indolence in the arts of the laboratory rather than in the arts of statesmanship, and buried himself from the sight of his subjects in his museum of curiosities and antiques.
But while the Protestants were almost unmolested, and were rapidly increasing in numbers, their Jesuit antagonists were not idle. If the first had acquired the ascendency in Austria, and to a large extent in Bohemia, the latter had seized upon the seats of learning, and presided over the education of those who were destined to wield the scepter. Maximilian had tolerated both. The rival elements of future strife had been developed side by side. The papacy, moreover, was regaining its lost vigor. The tiara no longer rested on the brow of John XXIII, or on that of an Alexander VI. Paul IV commenced the restoration. Pius IV, through the decisions of the council of Trent, reorganized if he did not regenerate the hierarchy. Pius V exchanged the milder policy that had prevailed, for the sword and fagot, sanctioning, by precept and example, the cruelties of Alva in the Spanish Netherlands. Gregory XIII conciliated favor as the representative of Jesuit learning, and Sixtus V displayed the pomp of the old and undivided church. Protestant strength encouraged Protestant division. Henry IV, to secure himself against Spain, had sought the alliance of the Protestants of the German empire, but this hasty union was dissolved by his death (1610), while it had given occasion for the formation of a counter-alliance, the “Catholic League” (July 11, 1609).
The meaning of this league was well understood at Prague, for at this juncture the Protestants had just succeeded in extorting from Rudolph important religious immunities. The persecution of 1602 was scarcely passed, when, at the instigation of the Jesuits, and through pontifical suggestion, it was proposed to renew it. The success of the Protestants, and the spread of their doctrines, had been such as to excite apprehension lest the Roman Catholic church should be utterly exterminated from the land.
In 1605 the alarm was sounded at Prague by the archbishop, at the instigation of the pope. The principal nobles of Bohemia had joined the Lutherans, the Calvinists, or the Brethren, and the clergy became apprehensive lest their flocks should dwindle quite away. The archbishop, the Jesuits, the Capuchins, and the Roman Catholic nobility clamorously demanded of Rudolph severe and persecuting measures. They would have only “Catholics” and Utraquists tolerated in the kingdom.
Their demand was granted. Rudolph forbade the meetings of the Protestants, and decreed the banishment of the Brethren and the Reformed. None but “Catholics” might hold office. Schools were demolished, and churches closed. The archbishop had been enjoined by the pope “to destroy and root out heretical errors,” and the work was now begun. Deeds of harshness and violence followed. Protestant preachers were expelled or silenced. The observance of the commemoration days of Huss and Jerome was prohibited. Special tortures were devised against offenders. Some were thrown to the hounds to be worried. Others were deprived of their ears or tongues. Others were tortured in subterranean vaults by incessant showers of water. Property was confiscated. The wafer was thrust down the throats of the victims by force. Printers were forbidden to print Protestant books; and burial in the graveyards was denied to those of the evangelical faith.
But this state of things could not long continue. Policy was forced to revoke what justice should have forbidden. The Bohemians refused to aid Rudolph in the Turkish war, and he was forced to conclude a disadvantageous peace. At this very juncture, Hungary, where the Protestants were decidedly in the ascendant, demanded and obtained freedom of religious worship.
The grant had been made by the Archduke Matthias, brother of Rudolph, who witnessed with indignation the inefficiency of the emperor, and the impolicy of his administration. At a conference with the princes of the empire he was charged to interfere, and remedy the evils that had followed perverse counsels. Austria and Moravia were ripe for revolt, and were won to his banners by the promise of religious freedom. At the head of an army he proceeded to Prague, and, sword in hand, dictated terms to his brother.
In this measure he was encouraged by the state of things at Prague. The patience of the Protestants was exhausted, and the principal nobles were prepared to welcome one who came as their deliverer. Already the evangelical states had ventured to present to the emperor their demands. At the instance of Wenzel Budowa—a man of devoted piety, who uniformly opened the meetings for deliberation with singing, prayer, and a religious address—fifteen articles were drawn up, setting forth the claims of the Protestants. They were intended to secure the freedom of Protestant worship, and check the intriguing designs of the Jesuits.
These articles were approved and adopted by two hundred lords and three hundred knights, as well as by deputies from the royal cities. The imperial counselor, Martinitz, objected to them, but he was threatened with being cast from the windows if he persisted. Rudolph was forced to grant and ratify the demands of the Protestants, in regard to most of the articles (1608). Some however were rejected.
In the diet of the following year, the Protestants again presented their demands, and their warlike preparations showed that they were in earnest. Rudolph’s advisers favored compliance. Even the archbishop took this ground. Although with great reluctance, Rudolph accepted the advice. “He indignantly cursed his fate, which so meanly and disgracefully exposed him to the arrogance of the faithless, and deprived him of the only right of heirship.” But the immanency of the danger forbade hesitation. The aid of Matthias might be invoked, and Rudolph himself lose the kingdom. The articles of the Protestants were embodied in a “charter,” by which their rights were secured, and the charter was signed by Rudolph, July 9, 1609.
As intelligence of the concession went abroad, it was received with transports of joy. Budowa announced the signature of the charter, adding that now the Protestants, equally with the Jews of Prague, might enjoy full liberty of worship. The fifteenth day of July was celebrated as a day of thanksgiving, and a sermon was preached upon the occasion in one of the old Hussite churches of Prague that had long remained unopened. Throughout Bohemia there was great rejoicing over the restoration of religious privileges. Churches that had long been closed were opened, and new ones were erected. At Prague the German Lutherans erected themselves houses of worship. Evangelical schools were established, and within twelve years after the granting of the charter, the Protestant churches of the kingdom were estimated at about five hundred.
But the success of the Protestants was a new occasion of danger. The Jesuits regarded them with a jealous eye. There was a stealthy encroachment upon their privileges, and step by step the University of Prague was wrested from the control of the Calixtines. Nor was this all. Assured of the support, if not directly invited by Rudolph, the Archduke Leopold of Austria, who was also Bishop of Passau, entered the kingdom with an army of plunderers, and directed his efforts to the suppression of Protestant worship and the restoration of “Catholic” ascendency. But though ferociously orthodox himself, his troops were more brigands than soldiers. His violence and injustice united the Bohemians to repel his assaults, and recover the stolen booty. The troops of Hungary, by direction of Matthias, hastened to Prague, and the invaders were forced to retreat.
Rudolph did not long retain the scepter. Dejected and humiliated, he died January 20, 1612. He was succeeded by Matthias, who had already wrested from him the government of Bohemia, Silesia, and Lusatia. The Bohemians rejoiced in his accession to the throne, confident from his past course that he would concede to them their religious freedom. But, secure in his possessions, he no longer found it necessary to court the friendship of the Protestants. His confessor, moreover, was a Jesuit, Melchior Clesel, not an unfair specimen of his order. He was cool, crafty, sagacious. Mildness of manner concealed firmness of purpose, and, by stealthy measures, he prepared the way for the suppression of Protestant privileges. By wrong and outrage the Protestants were provoked to insurrection and rebellion, that a pretext might be found for a repeal of their charters. They appealed to Matthias. They remonstrated against the wrongs done them. But access to their monarch was denied. The Jesuit kept his ear if not his conscience, and the petitioners only made themselves obnoxious by their troublesome complaints.
Wearied out and exasperated by persistent injustice, they urged their “defenders” to active measures in vindication of their rights. It was in vain that the latter counseled patience. They were themselves suspected of weakness and cowardice. Continued provocation forced the oppressed to violent reprisal, and the long sought pretext for retaliation was given.
It increased the strength of Protestant indignation, that Matthias, old and childless, wished to adopt as his successor his cousin Ferdinand, of Styria, a grandson like himself of Ferdinand I. He attempted to dictate to the states, in violation of their privilege of electing their own monarch. All the resources of hope and fear, flattery and threats, were employed to overcome opposition. Several of the nobility, who could not be overawed, withdrew dissatisfied. Count Thurn, Fels, and others openly opposed the project. They understood too well the character of Ferdinand. Many of his measures for the suppression of Protestant worship in his hereditary states were well known. He had proved himself an inexorable zealot for the popish faith. He tolerated the Jews, yet prohibited Lutheran worship by three successive edicts. Ruled by his Jesuit confessor, Bishop Stobeus, of Laybach, he had banished Protestant ministers, burned Protestant books, and endeavored to subdue his people to a perfect conformity to the Roman church.
In spite of opposition, Ferdinand was elected (1617), although the Protestants secured his approval of their charters. But the value of such security was trifling. The guarantee of their religious freedom was not worth the parchment upon which it was recorded. Ferdinand was a pupil of the Jesuits, and their ready tool. At the age of twelve years he had been placed under the care of the bigoted Duke of Bavaria, and his education was conducted by the Jesuit professors of Ingolstadt. From the first he was instructed to abhor the heresy of the Protestants. His bigotry was of the true Spanish type. At the age of seventeen he returned to his hereditary states to put his principles in practice. For some years policy restrained him from open violence; but after he had sought in person at Loretto, with edifying devotion, the favor of the Virgin, and had received at Rome the apostolic benediction at the feet of Clement VIII, he was ready for his task.
Craftily and vigorously be proceeded to execute his projects. Dealing with his Protestant cities in detail, he succeeded, to the astonishment of Germany, in the suppression of Protestant worship throughout his dominions. He had found it in the ascendant. In a few years almost every trace of it was obliterated. Banishment, stealthy encroachment, annoyance, and persecution had done their work.
This success was due to the aid and counsel afforded by the Jesuits. All his steps were guided by the members of that order. “He yielded himself,” says a Roman Catholic author, “to the guidance of the clergy, but chiefly of the Jesuits and other monks, even in political affairs. Hence originated his great intolerance and hatred against all who would not be Roman Catholics.” His gloomy reserve secured him the reputation of exemplary devotion.
His character excited the distrust of the Bohemians, and with good reason. On the death of Matthias (1618), his policy began to be developed. Now were seen the fruits of his Jesuit training. When Clesel, Matthias’ confessor, mildly expressed the hope that Bohemia would be leniently treated, Ferdinand was offended, and exclaimed, “Better a desert than a country full of heretics.” His people, he resolved, should be of the same faith with himself. He is said to have declared that “he would rather, with his wife and children, beg his bread, staff in hand, from door to door, than have a heretic in his service, or tolerate one in his dominions.” His own Jesuit confessor, more intolerant than Clesel, advised the extermination of the Lutherans; and no advice could have been more grateful. There was but one person in the world whom Ferdinand could have envied, and that was his bigoted model, Philip II of Spain.
Ferdinand was crowned in the Cathedral of Prague, by the Archbishop Lohelias. Almost immediately he withdrew from Bohemia, leaving the government in the hands of his creature, Slawata, a renegade Protestant, and Martinitz, a supple tool of the Jesuits. A harsh policy of encroachment on Protestant privileges was adopted. In spite of the charter, a strict censorship was established. Jesuit works alone were unmutilated. The new churches which the Protestants were erecting at Braunau and Klostergrab were ordered to be demolished, and the remonstrances of the aggrieved parties were treated with contempt.
The Jesuits felt that their hour of triumph had come. They were open and loud in their exultation. When Ferdinand, soon after his “reception,” departed to be proclaimed in Moravia, they erected in Olmütz a triumphal arch, and among other decorations, they placed upon it the Austrian coat of arms. On one side of this was the Bohemian lion, and on the other, the Moravian eagle, both chained to it. Underneath was a sleeping hare, with open eyes, and the superscription, “This is natural to me.” Such was the ridicule hurled at the Protestant states, who had allowed themselves, with their eyes open, to be chained and bound; and their feebleness was thus portrayed. From the pulpits they were openly derided and menaced. Count Thurn was deposed from his office as governor of the castle and keeper of the regalia, and his place was supplied by the Jesuit tool, Martinitz. An attempt was made to wrest the university from the control of the Protestants. The patience of the latter was exhausted, and a call for a meeting of the states at Prague was issued simultaneously from the Protestant pulpits. But the imperial councilors resolved to prevent the meeting. Martinitz and Slawata, already extremely odious to the evangelicals, were commissioned by the sovereign to prevent their assembling in the Caroline chamber; to summon the ringleaders; and to threaten them with punishment, unless they would remain quiet. The states, moreover, were required to repair to the palace to hear the mandate of the emperor, now absent from Prague, read to them. They appeared, listened to the reading of the document, received copies at their own request, and promised to return the next morning with their reply.
They did so. On the eventful May 23, 1618, they met together, and proceeded to the palace where the four councilors (governors) awaited their appearance. Among their number were some of the most prominent of the Bohemian nobility—Thurn, Fels, Schlick, Raupowa, Lobkowitz, Kapliztz, and others. They were not without arms. They had pistols in their girdles, while the people who followed them were provided with muskets and sabers. All the avenues to the castle were occupied; and the leaders passed to the green chamber, where they consulted on the answer which they should return to the royal commands.
Count Thurn was the leading speaker. Though not a Bohemian by birth, he had estates in the kingdom, and had risen to posts of honor from which he had recently been removed. A thirst for vengeance, a restless and aspiring ambition, a burning indignation against the insults and wrongs of the Protestants, not without the impulse of his own impetuous zeal, combined to make him a reckless and headstrong counselor in this emergency. But he had the confidence of the Utraquists, and his burning words and unscrupulous daring bore down all the opposition which might have been offered by more cool or prudent counsels. He depicted in eloquent invective the wrongs of the Protestants, and designated the obnoxious advisers, from whom they had proceeded and by whom they were sanctioned. While these stood in the way, religious liberty would never be established in Bohemia.
He declared Martinitz and Slawata to be the principal offenders. They were said to have driven their evangelical subjects to mass with dogs and scourges; to have wrenched their mouths open that the wafer might be thrust down their throats; to have denied them the rites of marriage, baptism, and burial. These men, said Thurn, must be put out of the way. They must be made a sacrifice. Some opposed the rash and hasty decision, but others approved it, and a rush was made for the hall in which the councilors were seated. Paul of Rziczan was the spokesman in the name of the Utraquistic states. He charged Slawata and Martinitz with being disturbers of the peace, and with having sought to deprive the Utraquists of their charter.
Each of them was now asked whether he had had a hand in the imperial mandate. Some who were with them remonstrated against this tumultuous and disorderly proceeding. Fels replied that they had nothing to say against Sternberg or Lobkowitz, but that Slawata and Martinitz, who were now put upon their defense, had on every occasion opposed the Utraquists.
At this critical moment, when indecision threatened to be fatal, and the Protestants had gone too far to retreat, one of their number, Wenzel Raupowa, called out, “The best way is, straight out the window, after the old Bohemian fashion.” These were fatal words. Some stepped forward to lay hold of one of their victims, when Lobkowitz interfered to lead them out of the room. But Martinitz and Slawata asserted their innocence, and prayed that if they were guilty they might be judged according to the laws. The matter, however, had gone too far; reconciliation or procrastination was now out of the question. Martinitz was seized by several at once, who bore him to the window and threw him out. He fell sixty feet, into the moat, but the force of his fall was broken by a heap of dung, which saved his life. Slawata was next seized and treated in the same manner, and the tragedy was completed by throwing down the secretary, Philip Fabricius Platter, who was also implicated, after the other two.
Singularly enough, not one of the three was killed; not even a limb was broken. Platter was the first that was able to rise. He went back to his house in the Old town, and hastily proceeded to Vienna to acquaint the emperor with what had happened. The servants of Martinitz and Slawata, although fired upon in the attempt, ran to their aid, and succeeded by means of a ladder in bringing them over into the adjoining house of the Chancellor Lobkowitz. The means to restore them were diligently and successfully employed. Thurn came and demanded them, but the prudent and bold Polyrena softened down his fury by assuring them that they were both in a pitiable state.
Martinitz soon after made good his escape. Cutting off his beard, blackening his face with gunpowder, and disguising himself so as to defy recognition, he got safe to the White Hill, and subsequently to Munich. Slawata was unable to follow him, and he was allowed a physician, though kept under close guard. The three men, grateful for their wonderful escape, united in the present of a golden diadem, set with precious stones, to the Lady of Loretto.
There was danger lest the violence at the castle should be imitated in the city. The multitude in their exasperation commenced an attack upon the Catholics, but Thorn, mounting his horse, hastened to the place of danger, and deprecated all violent proceedings. The Braunau prisoners, however, were set at liberty.
The states immediately wrote to the emperor, acquainting him with what they had done. In two successive letters, termed their apologies, they detailed the grievous persecutions they had suffered, and vindicated the course they had pursued. They united together in a league of mutual defense, and took measures for their own security. The governor of the castle and the three councilors were compelled to swear allegiance to the officers whom the Union saw fit to appoint. One of the bishops, and the abbots of Strahow and Braunau, were banished. A severe decree was issued against the Jesuits; they were forced to evacuate their colleges at Prague, Kruman, Neuhaus, and Glatz, and within fourteen days to leave the country. None was to grant them shelter, or intercede for them. Thus, says Pelzel, did the Protestants make enemies of those “who had in their hands the hearts of the Romanist monarchs.”
Unwisely enough, the Protestants had now furnished their foes with the long-sought pretext for violent retaliation. But aware of their danger, they determined to anticipate it by timely measures. They knew what they would have to expect from Ferdinand if he should be suffered unmolested to take possession of the kingdom, and they therefore solemnly deposed him, and elected Frederic V Elector Palatine, a Calvinist in his religious sentiments, as king of Bohemia. Undoubtedly they had felt that in the troubles which surrounded Ferdinand, and with the support which they expected from England or its continental allies in behalf of the son-in-law of the English monarch, they could safely maintain their cause.
But they had committed a great error. The very weakness of Ferdinand proved his security. The Catholic league, while he was pressed by Protestant invasion even at the gates of his palace in Vienna, came forward to his help. His own casting vote as king of Bohemia, and consequently imperial elector, secured for him, on the death of Matthias (1620), in spite of the protest of the Bohemians, the imperial crown. Frederic of the Palatinate, moreover, proved himself utterly unfitted for the post which he was called to fill. His Calvinistic sympathies, and imprudent measures in stripping the churches of their ornaments, alienated his Lutheran subjects, and when the league began to act in earnest in support of Ferdinand, Bohemia was the first to feel the weight of its vengeance. Its king was merely an encumbrance. Without energy himself, he only inspired his subjects with disgust, and alienated the sympathy of the German Lutherans, while he was coldly abandoned by his own father-in-law, the king of England.
And now commenced that terrible episode of crime, violence, plunder, and invasion, known in the history of Europe as “The thirty years’ war.” The real date of its commencement is from May 23, 1618, when the imperial councilors were thrown from the windows of the royal palace at Prague. But it was some months before the cloud of vengeance burst upon the devoted country. At length it came. The emperor, recovering from his depression and humiliation at Vienna, was now prepared to subdue Bohemia. His army marched direct to Prague. Unprepared for the attack, the army that defended the city, and which consisted of Hungarians, Moravians, and Bohemians, was defeated in the battle of the White Hill, October 29, 1620. The weak monarch, though a manful resistance might have yet been offered, abandoned his capital, and earned by his brief residence the reproachful title of “the summer king.” Prague lay at the mercy of the victor; and what that mercy would be, his own character only too clearly foreshadowed.
The days of Protestant ascendancy and even toleration, in Bohemia, were now numbered. The concentrated vengeance of the papacy, the emperor, and the Jesuits was poured out on the devoted land. It would be entering upon another and an arduous task to trace the fortunes of the Protestant states of Europe during the thirty years’ war, and, happily, there is no need of it, for it has been already done by an able hand. The horrors of war, carnage, devastation, and violence, fiendish cruelties and reckless deeds, marked with aggravated enormities the progress of the fearful drama. Generals like Wallenstein, Tilly, Pappenheim, and the wonderful Gustavus Adolphus, appeared upon the scene, and excited alternate hope and fear as they led their victorious hosts from city to city. Europe at last sank exhausted under its own efforts; and after a whole generation had been made to feel that war is the natural condition of humanity on the globe, the exhausted combatants, worn out by their own efforts rather than by defeats sustained from their foes, laid down their arms. German Protestantism was secured from its imminent peril, but Bohemia and Hungary, in the general pacification, were abandoned to their fate. This result was the more readily acquiesced in, that already Protestantism was well-nigh crushed out from these devoted lands. They scarcely dared to lift a voice of protest, or to make their claims heard in the ear of Europe, and the sympathies of Lutheran Germany abandoned Bohemia to its fate.
Under Rudolph and Matthias the condition of the country was enviable, compared with what it now became under the rule of the bigoted Ferdinand. From time to time gleams of light stole in upon her through the broken clouds, as the beleaguering hosts were forced to tremble before a foreign foe. But for the most part her feeble opposition was crushed. It could only break out in ill-timed and ill-managed insurrections. Bohemia had her full share of the ravages and cruelties of this dark period. The imperial will found nothing to stay its vengeance. The palace of the mysterious, Mephistophelian Wallenstein, who could convoke armies at a word, and whose nature was constituted without the element of mercy, rose proudly, with menacing aspect, by the Hradschin of Prague. A savage soldiery dragooned the trembling fugitives, till they abandoned in exile their native land. Every attempt at national resistance was trampled down. The choicest spirits of Bohemia sighed in prisons, or wandered in foreign lands. Twenty-seven of her ablest defenders, in the opening scene of the fearful drama of retribution, perished on the scaffold.
Nor was this the worst. The banished Jesuits, expelled by the states for their incendiary principles and obnoxious measures, were readmitted at the point of the sword. Volumes could not fitly display the results of the fact stated in that single sentence. With them came back all that Bohemia had most to dread. Ferdinand was only their bigoted tool. What with them was policy, with him was principle. It may easily be imagined what was the nature of the measures to be taken, when at that very time the English Jesuit Campian—a fair representative of the order, for the order was as near as possible a unit in spirit and sentiment—was saying, “The Lutherans and Calvinists ought to be killed with the sword; they ought to be banished and oppressed; they ought to be burned with fire, sulphur, and pitch; drowned in water; impoverished, hunted down, deprived of their estates, annihilated; in a word, they ought to be rooted out, and persecuted to death by every imaginable kind of excessive torture and pain.” No wonder the Protestants should say, that they would rather have the devil for their master than Ferdinand with his Jesuitical principles. In his bitter intolerance, the most remorseless cruelties were covered with the sanction of churchly zeal.
The battle of the White Hill was followed by a train of most odious crime and gratuitous outrage on the part of the emperor. Neither rank nor age was regarded. Of the twenty-seven distinguished citizens of Bohemia who perished on the scaffold, twenty-four belonged to the nobility. Some of them had grown gray in the imperial service. Men they were, of lofty patriotism, of heroic spirit, and of Christian principle. The history of the martyrs scarce furnishes a more sublime illustration of a triumphant faith than that afforded by the scenes of their imprisonment and execution. They might have said, each, with the Duke of Argyle, “I could die as a Roman, but I choose rather to die as a Christian.”
Some of the sufferers were members of the Brethren church. One of them was Wenzel Budowecz of Budowa. For talents, learning, sagacity, integrity, and Christian zeal he stood foremost among them all. He has been called the last Bohemian, as Brutus was called the last of the Romans. When urged in prison to seek the clemency of the emperor, his reply was, “I will rather die than see the ruin of my country.” “See my Paradise,” said he, pointing to the Bible in his hand. “It has never offered me such sweet heavenly food as now.” When Count Schlick was offered a cup of wine, he declined it. “I will only look forward to a cup of heavenly joy,” was his reply. “May God forgive my enemies,” prayed the dying Harant, and then commended his spirit to Christ. “The flesh is ready to fail,” said the venerable Rosacius, “but I am no longer afraid.” “Tell your emperor,” was the language of the fearless Procopius Dworshezky, “that I stand now before his unrighteous judgment, and remind him of God’s righteous tribunal.” “Thanks be to God,” exclaimed another, as the summons to leave his prison for the scaffold was announced, “worldly distress has ceased; I hasten to Christ.” In such a spirit these noble men met their fate.
But this was by no means the last act of this terrible drama of vindictive tyranny. Seven hundred and twenty-eight of the nobility, who were induced by a promise of pardon to confess their participation in the rebellion, were deprived of their estate. Forty million dollars were collected by confiscation alone. Five hundred noble and thirty-six thousand citizen families emigrated. Bohemia lost the whole of her ancient privileges. The charter granted by Rudolph, in favor of toleration, was torn by the emperor’s own hands. All heretical works, especially those of the ancient Hussites, were sought for and devoted to the flames. Nor did the dead escape. Zisca’s monument was destroyed. Rokyzan’s remains were disinterred and burnt. Every visible memorial of the heroism of Bohemia was obliterated. No trace of religious liberty was left, to remind the citizen of privileges that his ancestors had once enjoyed. The emperor declared himself in conscience bound to exterminate all heretics.
It was a serious question what measures should be adopted for the purpose. The matter was agitated even in the conclave of Rome. Bloody executions would only sow the seed of new martyrs, and were deemed impolitic. Prompt banishment was proposed. “No, not yet,” was the reply of crafty malice, “at present they have too much to take with them. They would bear off too much money. The exile would too easily be borne. They must first be fleeced.”
This was the plan adopted. A brief space intervened before the terrible work began. There was an oppressive sullenness as it were, like the lull that ushers in the tempest. Men lived in fearful expectation. At length the storm came in its fury, and swept all before it. Even the peasantry were imprisoned by the hundreds, and forced by starvation to recant. The Protestants were deprived of their churches. Some of them were shut up; some burned and destroyed. Pulpits and statues were torn down. The tombs were broken open. The altars or furniture were lashed and whipped, in the imbecile rage that attacked even inanimate objects. When the Jesuits recovered their church at Prague, they strewed the floor with gunpowder, and set fire to it to destroy the poison of heresy with smoke and flame. Hussite pastors, who failed to make good their escape, fell a prey to the savage soldiery. They were tortured to extort confessions of guilt, or the place where their money was stored. In one case they filled their victim’s mouth with gunpowder and set fire to it, when his throat was burst asunder. Some were beaten, some left for dead, some plundered. These indeed were the acts of a licentious soldiery, but they were countenanced by imperial authority. Iniquity and violence were framed and legalized by statute. Imperial clemency was a commentary on what scripture declares of the tender mercies of the wicked. A fugitive nobleman was offered pardon if he would return to his country. His answer was significant. “What sort of pardon? A Bohemian one? Heads off! A Moravian one? Imprisonment for life! An Austrian one? Confiscation!” Ferdinand’s confessor, Lamormain, superintended these horrors enacted at his master’s command. What a terrible light is thrown upon his conduct by the title which he assumed in reference to the immense confiscations that took place—”God’s clerk of the exchequer!”
All through the space of the thirty years’ war persecution raged, till the materials on which to wreak its vengeance seemed to be exhausted. But the work of plunder and proscription still went on. Even the books of the Protestants were sought as eagerly as their persons. The friends of the Bible were forced to conceal it, sometimes in the space beneath the dog-kennels. A Bohemian book became synonymous with a rare work. Nothing was allowed to be printed unless by the approving signature of the officials of the Inquisition. Whatever Protestant works could be gathered were piled up under the gallows, and then destroyed by fire. The work of forced conversions was carried on with a high hand. The Jesuits threw off the mask of mildness, and called in to their aid Lichtenstein’s dragoons. The peasants were driven to church at the point of the sword, and a licentious soldiery won the title of “Conversionists.” Count Dohna boasted of his having been able to do more than Peter, who converted three thousand on the day of Pentecost. He had accomplished more without preaching a single sermon. One Jesuit father wrote “with a trembling hand, a little before his death, a summary of his conversions.” “He had restored 33,140 to Christ and the church, with enviable success.” Priests of the vilest character and most scandalous life were put in the place of the exiled pastors. The people were forced, by terrors of torture and death, to swear “that, without compulsion, they renounced the evangelical doctrine.”
But even these measures were only partially effectual. The praying people could not be exterminated. They met in the hours of night, in the mountains and the forest, to enjoy their worship. Denied all civil rights, prohibited from marrying, from solemnizing the burial of the dead or the rite of baptism, many still clung to their cherished faith. Even when arrested and thrown into prison, the steadfastness of their purpose could not be shaken. Among the humbler victims was a clerk, whose dungeon was in so horrible a state that both his legs rotted off. Yet, supported by his faith, he still sung cheerful songs. Such cruelties often rose beyond the point of endurance. Several times the peasants rose in insurrection, but they were crushed lay the imperial power. The sighings of the suffering martyrs beneath the shadow of the Alps, found echo among the forests and mountains of Bohemia. Thousands indeed escaped, to swell the numbers of the Brethren’s churches beyond the borders. For a whole generation—from 1622 to 1652, during the whole period of the thirty years’ war—the work of expatriation continued, with only such abatement as the dearth of victims rendered necessary. Precious indeed amid their hardships were the promises so beautifully expressed in the Brethren’s hymn-book—songs composed in the midst of trial, and calculated to cheer the hearts of the poor exiles amid their depression.
To the prosperity of Bohemia these inroads of persecution were fatally disastrous. “As high,” says the Romanist author, Pelzel, “as the Bohemians had risen in the arts and sciences, under Maximilian and Rudolph, just so low were they now sinking. I do not know a single example of a learned man, who distinguished himself in Bohemia by any marks of erudition, after the expulsion of the Protestants.” Pessina, in his work on Prague cathedral, confesses that nothing worse or more melancholy could have happened to Bohemia. The last traces of her ancient liberty disappeared. The heel of the tyrant was on the nation’s heart, and crushed its throbbing energies to the dust. Protestantism in Bohemia was murdered by inches.
A large part of the exiles joined their brethren in foreign lands. “They sought,” says an old author, “a place where the doctrines of the gospel and the scriptural use of the holy sacraments, are purely, clearly, distinctly taught and propagated, and they do not care so much for their personal and temporal interests as for their spiritual and everlasting welfare.” As persecution relaxed from time to time, some of them returned to their native land. But they were rarely left unmolested. Many a time the gloom of despair shrouded the prospects of the Brethren’s churches, but with unswerving fidelity they clung to the faith of their fathers, until in more peaceful times they were allowed to extend their labors and influence to a wider sphere, and to become the first missionary church of modern times.
We have traced from its origin to its close by a violent suppression, and a catastrophe of carnage and crime, one of the most remarkable religious movements of modern times. In connection with the revival of learning and the evils of the schism, as well as a growing religious consciousness which brought to light the corruptions of the church, an encouragement was given to the long suppressed demand for the revival of a purer type of Christianity, and at the opportune moment the men were raised up, in the providence of God, who were to give utterance to that demand. Conrad Waldhauser, John Milicz, and Matthias of Janow were the precursors of John Huss. They prepared the way for his labors, and more or less clearly apprehended the radical conflict which existed between the interests of a corrupt hierarchy and the claims of Christian truth.
Huss inherited their views, but he brought to their elucidation and application a bold and fearless spirit, a stern consciousness, a discriminating mind, and a rare self-command. With a purpose that never wavered, and an energy that never wearied—sometimes in the face of royal authority, and in spite of unjust excommunication—he pursued the line of duty marked out by his conscientious convictions, reprobating the iniquity of the times and the abuses of the hierarchy, and holding up before the world his ideal of the church of Christ. All human authority was made by him subordinate to the authority of the Great Master himself. Hence, constantly appealing to the scriptures in support of his views and in defense of his course, he led men to look beyond the decisions of councils or the bulls of popes, and to study for themselves the word of God. The impulse was thus given to a reform more radical than he had himself contemplated. Before he was aware, he had come into conflict with the whole hierarchical system, and stood forth single-handed, and almost alone, as the champion of truth against the errors by which it was overlaid and well-nigh suppressed.
In this conflict he fell—a victim overpowered by numerous and bitter foes. Men that stood by him at first forsook him at the critical moment, and joined the ranks of his assailants. The force of his convictions had brought him to recognize in Wickliffe a fellow-laborer in the same great cause, and the odium that rested on the name of the English reformer was inherited by himself. The council of Constance gladly surrendered him as a sacrifice to the prejudices by which it was itself environed and controlled.
His associate, Jerome of Prague, met the same fate. His chivalrous nature scorned to retract his conscientious convictions as to the character, the truth and integrity of one whom he had known and loved. And now was illustrated the trite adage that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Hundreds and thousands in their native land stood ready to receive the bequest of their falling mantle. A nation imbued with their spirit set the council at defiance, and boldly remonstrated against the iniquity of the deed which had canonized forever the memory of the martyrs.
Meanwhile an enlarged acquaintance with scripture had led to the restoration, in Bohemia, of the use of the cup in the eucharist. Considered as a mere rite, this innovation was a matter of small account. But it symbolized an element of independent thought, which appealed from popes and councils to scripture alone. It was of the nature of a practical and popular protest against errors which had crept into the church, under the sanction of ecclesiastical authority and antiquated usage. Its acceptance was an endorsement of the right of private judgment, and an impeachment of synodical and pontifical infallibility. It was a rent in the external unity of the church—an ominous crack, like that of the dome of St. Peter—which inspired terror by its portentous augury of what was yet to come.
All the resources of papal authority and of ecclesiastical interest were consequently marshaled to suppress the rite. But it was found that many of its adherents had already made it the first step to more radical innovations. Diverse tendencies had already begun to develop themselves among the followers of Huss, and the Taborites and Calixtines, as two radically diverse parties, appear upon the stage. In connection with the first, we find a puritanic severity of morals, a demand for evangelical simplicity of worship and purity of doctrine, a valor nurtured by religious principle, and sometimes allied with a wild fanaticism. In connection with the other, we note the timidity and the prudence of a cautious conservatism, a lingering respect for ancient usage, a jealousy of further innovations, and a disposition to watch and restrain what they regarded as the dangerous tendencies of their rivals.
But a common interest temporarily cements the alliance of these two opposite parties, and renders them, while they retain this attitude, invincible to all foreign invasion. Classed together, as alike heretical, they are threatened with the same fate, and papal fulminations and crusading armies are met by both with a bold defiance and stern resistance. One invasion after another is hurled back from the Bohemian frontier, like the waves dashed to foam upon the rocks.
But the very humiliation of the foe opened the way for the development of the conflicting tendencies which had been temporarily retrained. Internal division was the result of foreign triumph. Calixtine and Taborite were now ranged in open and avowed hostility. It was scarcely a question which must triumph in the conflict. The Taborite was indisputably superior in all the elements of uncompromising zeal, of fierce resolve, and of desperate if not fanatical courage, to his Calixtine rival. He thought more earnestly if not profoundly. He felt more deeply. His wrongs had been greater, and his vengeance was more terrible. The strife that now arose was scarcely less bitter than that of the united Hussites against the imperialists. It ranged neighbor against neighbor, and brother against brother; but, steeled against compassion and sympathy, the Taborites swept down before them all resistance, and encamped before Prague, ready to visit upon it such retribution as it had challenged. To save it from its threatened fate, its defenders submitted to negotiate, and the result was the concession, in the main, of the demands of the Taborites and the establishment of their supremacy.
But the anarchy of the kingdom required that authority should be deputed to able hands, and that the monarch to be selected should be one whom all should be constrained to acknowledge. Sigismund, as the rightful heir, was preferred by many who differed from him in their religious views. The Compactata devised by the synod of Basle, opened the way for his recognition, but reproduced the old divisions between Calixtine and Taborite. The latter were defeated in the open rupture which followed, and Sigismund at last secured his hard-won crown.
From the Taborites, who now abandoned all further appeals to physical force in their own defense, sprang the church of the United Brethren. Through a century of persecution they still maintained their fidelity to an evangelical creed and the memory of Huss. The Calixtines, sometimes leaning toward Rome, and sometimes repelled by her bigotry, wavered in uncertainty as to their position, although still holding fast their four articles. At length the advent of Luther extended to both parties a new strength, and the current of the Bohemian reformation was swollen by the powerful tributary of German reform.
With intervals of persecution, Protestantism made steady progress in Bohemia for another century, till it had almost secured the complete ascendency. But its bold and violent measures provoked the vengeance of the “Catholic” league, and the bigoted Ferdinand, with unfaltering purpose, resolved to suppress it. The tide of the thirty years’ war swept over northern and central Europe, covering its track with desolation and crime. Of all the states that suffered, Bohemia was the most signal victim. In the general pacification, she was abandoned by her German allies, and left to the tender mercies of her unscrupulous and bigoted monarch. His vengeance was terrible. He deliberately preferred a desert to a kingdom of “heretics,” and his preference was well-nigh realized. Bohemian art, literature, and enterprise received a blow from which they have never recovered. Protestantism was almost utterly suppressed. Its ablest champions pined in exile, or in prison, or atoned for their patriotism and Protestantism on the scaffold. The nation that five centuries ago was among the foremost of Europe, dwindled into insignificance; and for more than two centuries Bohemia has ranked as little more than a province of the Austrian empire. Her old renown has been commemorated by the noble achievements of Moravian missionaries, who trace their spiritual lineage to her great reformer; but her condition today is such as to render her a signal monument of the impolicy of persecution, and the incalculable mischiefs that have flowed from the violent suppression of religious freedom.
The day may not be far distant when upon her own soil the memories of her own glorious past shall be revived. Her hills and valleys have witnessed the heroism of men who stood forward as champions of scriptural authority, and the rights and privileges of religious freedom. Her plains have been moistened and fertilized with the blood of martyrs. Many a locality has been immortalized by the valor of her sons, and the names of Huss and Jerome, of Jacobel, Zisca, and Procopius, will never die out of her annals, whoever may guide the pen. A national partiality even now triumphs over ecclesiastical prejudice, and men who would contemn Huss as a heretic, honor him as a patriot.