THE BOHEMIAN AND MORAVIAN BRETHREN
Among these groups we find our Baptist ancestors. All of the Brethren were not Baptists but many were. Bohemia is the region now western Czechoslovakia while Moravia is the Central part of the same country. Baptists have always been missionary, therefore we find them, by different names, in every place they were able to go. Not a country in Europe or Asia successfully kept them out.
Description of the Land
Robert Robinson, writing in 1792, gives the following description of the land: "Bohemia is derived from Bohmen, which signifies the country of the Boii, a tribe of Celts, who many years ago retired into what was then called the Hercynian forest to avoid the Roman kingdom of Bohemia properly so called, the dutchy of Silesia, and the marquistate of Moravia. It has Austria and Bavaria on the south, Brandenburgh and Lusatia on the north, Poland and Hungary on the east, and Bavaria and Saxony on the west. This country is about three hundred miles long, and two hundred and fifty broad, and almost surrounded with impenetrable forests and lofty mountains."1
One can easily see why this country would attract the Baptist people. They were always hiding in mountains, valleys and caves to escape the persecution of the Roman Catholic Church. The Bible words it like this: "And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpents" (Revelation 12:14). One of the great blessings in the study of Baptist history, for me, is to see our historians apply this passage (correctly so) to our Baptist ancestors. Alas - modern dispensationalism has missed the meaning again altogether!
The Gospel in Bohemia
Early, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ went into this region. Orchard writes: "We have authentic evidence in the writings of the apostle Paul that he preached the gospel of the Christ in Illyricum, and that Titus visited Dalmatia; hence the Bohemians infer that the gospel was preached in all the countries of Sclavonia in the first ages of Christianity. They also say that Jerome, who was a native of Stridom, translated the Scriptures into his native tongue, and that all the nations of Sclavonian extraction, the Poles, the Hungarians, the Russians, the Wallachians, the Bohemians, and Vaudois, use this translation to this day."2
The mountainous country also drew early those suffering persecution from the Beastly Rome. Orchard, writing of the persecution of the Paulicians writes: "The severest persecution experienced by them was encouraged by the empress Theodora, A. D. 845. Her decrees were severe, but the cruelty with which they were put in execution by her was horrible beyond expression. Mountains and hills were covered with inhabitants. Her sanguinary inquisitors explored cities and mountains in lesser Asia. After confiscating the goods and property of one hundred thousand of these people, the owners to that number were put to death in the most barbarous manner, and made to expire slowly under a variety of the most exquisite tortures. The flatterers of the empress boast of having extirpated in nine years that number of Paulicians. Many of them were scattered abroad, particularly in Bulgaria."3 Thus we have the Paulician influence in Bohemia.
Peter Waldo fell among and became a Baptist - a Waldensian. They did not get their name from him but existed many years before he came on the scene. He went about everywhere preaching the Gospel. His influence was also felt in Bohemia, and strongly so.
J. M. Cramp writes: "In the year 1170, Peter Waldo, a merchant of Lyons, renounced his secular engagements, and devoted himself to the revival of religion. He procured a translation of the New Testament into the French language,
and spent his life in toilsome journeys among the people, during which he circulated portions of the Scriptures, preached, and by other methods sought to promote true godliness. Being joined by a number of like-minded men, their united efforts produced an extensive reformation. The "Poor Men of Lyons," as they were called, because they sacrificed worldly prospects and lived in poverty, became a numerous and formidable body. But persecution scattered them. Waldo himself escaped to Bohemia, and died there. Many of his followers settled in the same country."4
The Paulicians came there about 845 A. D. and now, in the twelfth century, we see them joined by the followers of Peter Waldo. It is easy to see how Bohemia and Moravia became strongholds for Baptists truth.
An article in the Religious Encyclopedia links these "Brethren" with the Waldenses. "Thy members of this newly constituted community called themselves 'Brethren,' and were known in many different portions of the country by the names of their chief centers such as Kunwalders, Bunylaw Brethren, and the like. As a whole they termed themselves Jednota Bratrska, which they later rendered into Latin as Unitas Fratrum. Their characteristic designation was Brethren, which had already been current in various older Bohemian communities. The name Fratres legis Christi first arose in the second half of the sixteenth century, but never became general. Their opponents usually termed them Waldensians or Pickards (a corruption of Beghards), and this designation, found even in royal decrees, became so general that they themselves employed it in the titles of many of their writings, terming themselves ‘the Brethren who for envy and hatred are called Waldensians or Pickards."5
Huss had great influence on the people of Bohemia. The followers of Huss were called "Bohemian Brethren" and "Hussites." Though he was not a Baptist, he held many of
their views and promoted much truth. Robert Robinson writes: "John Huss, who was professor of divinity in the university of Prague, and preacher in one of the largest churches in the city, was a man of eminent abilities and more eminent zeal. He taught much of the doctrine of Wycliffe. His talents were popular, his life irreproachable, and his manners the most affable and engaging. He was the idol of the people: but execrated by the priests. He was not a Baptist: but, as his sermons were full of what are called anabaptistical errors, Wicklivites, Waldenses, and all sorts of heretics became his admirers and followers, and as he in the spirit of a true Bohemian endeavored to curb the tyranny of the churchmen, who the nobles knew were uniting with the house of Austria to enslave the state, he was patronized by the great, and all Bohemia was filled with his doctrine and praise."
Again: "We said just now that these two eminent men, Huss and Jerome taught what are called anabaptistical errors. The following are a few of this sort. 'The law of Jesus Christ is sufficient of itself for the government of the church militant.' 'The church is the mystical body of Christ, of which He is the head.' 'They are not of the world, as Christ was not of this world.' 'The world hates them because it hates Christ, that is, the virtue and the truth of God.' 'Christians ought not to believe in the church (the Roman Church).' 'All human traditions savour of folly.' 'A multitude of human doctrines and statues is useless, and on many accounts pernicious.' 'No other law beside the rule of Scripture ought to be prescribed to good men.' 'The devil was the author of multiplying traditions in the church.' 'Deacons or elders by the instinct of God, by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, without any license from a pope or a bishop, may preach and convert spiritual children.' We do not say, that these reformers followed their principles whither they led: but we do contend that some of their hearers reasoned consequently from them, and so became Baptists."6
No study of the Bohemian Brethren would be complete without a study of Huss and Jerome. The above truths they taught, followed logically, would lead one to the Baptist camp.
Robert Robinson Again
All Bohemian historians say Picards or Waldenses settled in Bohemia in the twelfth century at Staz and Laun on the river Eger. Many affirm there was a sect or Arian vagrants there long before, who had fled from Mesopotamia from the athanasian persecution in successive ages from all parts of Europe. On this account, most Bohemian catholic historians call their country "a sink of heresy, and Prague the metropolis, a common and safe asylum for all sorts of heretics."7
It seems like the persecuted fled there for freedom of worship and freedom from persecution like our American ancestors came to this country for the same reasons.
Robinson writes: "The Bohemian and Moravian Baptists were then divided into two classes; the one constituted of calvinist Picards, and resided at different places all over the kingdom. Some of their ministers kept school: others practiced physick. The other class lived all together in Moravia, and is called in edict by the new German name Anabaptists."8
They conducted schools for young women which were above reproach. Many of the nobles sent their daughters there. This, in turn, led to the conversion of their husbands when they later married. The result was that a great many of the nobility of Bohemia and Moravia were Baptists. Baptists have always been evangelistic in every way.
These brethren, like the faithful truth bearers before them suffered much at the hands of Rome. Of the Bohemian Brethren, Armitage writes: "Endless numbers evaded the inquisitors, but in 1387 one hundred of them were burnt.... About A. D. 1500 the Brethren of all sects in Bohemia were so numerous in city and country, that Pope Alexander VI sent Dominican monks to preach amongst them and hold colloquies, to win them back to his fold. But this failing, King
Ladislaus II was persuaded, in 1503, to issue bloody edicts banishing their laymen, who refused to recant, and committing their preachers to the flames.... This persecution continued long, its tortures, imprisonments, and burnings ending only with the king's death...."9 Sir William Jones tells much of their persecution in his history.
We conclude this chapter with the martyrdom of John Huss, taken from Henry Vedder's history.
"One of the things to which the council of Constance speedily devoted its attention was the agitation in Bohemia, which had now become a matter of European notoriety. Huss had never denied, but rather affirmed, the authority of an ecumenical council. King Sigismund, of Hungary (who was also the emperor), summoned Huss to appear before the council and gave the reformer a safe conduct. In June, 1415, he had his first public hearing, and two other hearings followed; in all of them he stood manfully by his teachings and defended them as in accord with Scripture. During the rest of the month, frequent attempts were made to induce him to retract, but he stood firmly by his faith. On July 6th condemnation was finally pronounced, and it is said that, on this occasion, the emperor had the grace actually to blush when reminded of the safe conduct he had given. Huss was then publickly degraded from the priesthood with every mark of ignominy, and delivered, with Rome's customary hypocrisy, to the civil power for execution. Thus the church could say that she never put heretics to death! When being tied to the stake he preached and exhorted until the fire was kindled, when he began singing with a loud voice, "Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on me.” This he continued until his voice was stifled by smoke and flame, but his lips were seen to move for a long time, as in prayer. When his body was consumed, the ashes were cast into the Rhine, that the earth might no more be polluted by him."10
Notes on Chapter 22
1 Ecclesiastical Researches, page 477.
2 A Concise History of Baptists, page 230.
3 A Concise History of Baptists, page 137.
4 Baptist History, page 98.
5 The New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia, Volume 2, page 214.
6 Ecclesiastical Researches, pages 481-482.
7 Ecclesiastical Researches, pages 508-509.
8 Ecclesiastical Researches, pages 523-524.
9 History of the Baptists, Volume 1, pages 318-320.
10 A Short History of the Baptists, pages 92-93.
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