The Hussites till the beginning of the Reformation-.
W E have seen with what indignation the Bohemians heard of the murder of John Huss and Jerom of Prague. Tothis cause historians ascribe the commencement of the hussite war, which was carried on by the enraged Bohemians for three years under the famous Zisca, and for ten years after his death.
The historian of the church of Christ withdraws from a scene, crowded with almost incredible victories over the emperor, and with inhuman cruelties on both sides. The main body of the discontented Bohemians were at length satisfied with the liberty of the cup in the sacrament, and with the administration of the ordinance in their own language. These points, after the eftusion of a deluge of blood, were given up by the papal party in the year 143.i, and a treaty of peace was made, of which these formed the basis. In other respects, the calixtines resembled the papists, by whose artifices they were induced even to persecute the genuine followers of Huss. These last mentioned, the true hussites, besides the scriptural celebration of the sacrament, desired to see a real reformation of the church, and the establishment of purity of doctrine and discipline. But, after a long series of military confusion, they found themselves still a persecuted body of men; and those of them, who had been inclined to have recourse to the sword, were gradually convinced, that patient faith and perseverance in prayer are the proper arms of a christian soldier. Never indeed was there a more striking instance of the inefficacy of carnal weapons in defending the church of Christ. The Bohemians had carried on war for thirteen years, often with great success, and always with undaunted courage and fortitude; and in the end, they gained only two privileges, merely of au external nature in the administration of the Lord's supper. With these the majority of the people remained content, and still adhered to the papal abominations, while the real christians were exposed as much as ever to the persecutions of the church of Rome, and were not only abandoned, but also cruelly treated by their brethren.
In the mean time the council of Basil succeeded that of Constance. But the reader who has with me examined the motives which appear to have influenced the last mentioned council will not perhaps be disposed to take the same pains with that of Basil, which was conducted on a similar plan of secular intrigue and ambition. Among its other objects, the reduction of Bohemia to the papal system was not forgotten; and Rokyzan, a calixtine, was allured, by the hopes of the archbishopric of Prague, to second the views of the papal party. He was elected archbishop in 1436, and laboured to induce the Bohemians to be content without the cup, and in all other things to conform to the romish doctrine and worship.
The genuine followers of Huss, were, however, not without hopes of engaging him to promote a more complete reformation. His sister's son, Gregory, who was in a great measure the founder of the unity of the hussite brethren, solicited him in the most pressing manner to promote vital godliness. But Rokyzan, though he had light enough to approve of the pious intentions of his nephew, could not, through fear of losing his archiepiscopal dignity, be prevailed on to oppose the Romish corruptions; yet, he advised the hussites, to edify one another in private, and gave them some good books for that purpose. He also obtained for them, permission to withdraw to the lordship of Lititz, on the confines of Silesia and Moravia, and there to regulate their plan of worship according to their own consciences.
About the year 1453, a number of hussites repaired to Lititz, and chose Michael Bradazius for their minister. He with some assistants, under the direction
Vol. IV. 32
of Gregory, held a conference in 1457, in which the plan of the hussite church, or that of the united brethren was formed, idolatrous rites were prohibited, and a strictness of discipline, resembling that of the primitive christian church, was instituted. Discipline indeed, was a favourite object of this people; and if their attention to this subordinate circumstance had been connected with what is of much greater moment, (an accurate and luminous system of christian doctrine,) far more salutary consequences would have ensued. In this the hussites were certainly defective, though by no means fundamentally so; and hence, while they were pursuing a matter of inferior importance, they failed to promote the spirit of godliness in so great a degree as they had expected. The inward life and vigour of their church corresponded not with the purity of its external system, nor could distressed consciences find among them that comfort and liberty which are so necessary to propagate godliness to any great extent. In one point, however, they proved themselves the genuine followers of Christ; they determined to make use of no carnal weapons for the defence of religion; and no more to suffer the name of hussites to be disgraced by such unchristian methods, as it formerly had been.
They were soon called to the exercise of that passive courage, which they professed. The increase of their congregations in Bohemia and Moravia, was beheld with suspicion both by romish and calixtine priests, and they were accused of an intention to renew the taborite tumults and to seize the government. Those professors of godliness, who have been so far misled by false zeal, or the love of the world, as to take the sword in defence of religion, little know the injury which they do to the cause which they undertake to support. Profane minds are always malicious, and will be ever apt to charge all who profess the same truths with the same seditious spirit, of which they have once seen some instances. The hussites therefore, loaded with the infamy of their predecessors. had now no remedy. Even George Podiebrad, who was elected king of Bohemia in 1458, and who had hitherto protected them, now consented to persecute the united brethren.
They had hoped for support in Rokyzan, whose ministry had formerly been useful to their souls. With a degree of evangelical light, this man still followed the world, and lived in miserable grandeur, dearly purchased at the expense of a good conscience. The following is an extract of a letter, which the brethren wrote to him while they laboured under the imputations of promoting needless divisions. It will give the reader some idea of their principles and • spirit.* " Your sermons have been highly grateful and pleasant to us. You earnestly exhorted us to flee from the horrible errors of antichrist, revealed in these last days. You taught us that the devil introduced the abuses of the sacraments, and that men placed a false hope of salvation in them. You confirmed to us, from the writings of the ap«stles and from the examples of the primitive church, the true doctrine of those divine institutions. Being distressed in our consciences, and distracted by the variety of opinions, which prevailed in the church, we were induced to follow your advice, which was to attend the ministry of Peter Chelezitius, whose discourses and writings gave us a clearer insight into christian truths, insomuch that when we saw that your life and practice were at variance with your doctrine, we were constrained to entertain doubts concerning your religious character. When we conversed with you on this occasion your answer was to this effect, " I know that your sentiments are true; but if I should patronize your cause, I must incur the same infamy and disgrace which you do." Whence we understood that you would desert us, rather than relinquish the honours of the world. Having now no
* Joachim Camerarius de Ecclcsiis in Bohemia et Moravia, p. 61. I have consulted this treatise, and made use of it as my guide in this chapter, in connexion with Crantz's History of the Brethren, published by La Trobe.
refuge but in God, we implored him to make known to us the mystery of his will. As a gracious father, he hath looked upon our afflictions, and hath heard our prayers. Trusting in our God, we have assembled ourselves in the unity of the faith by which we have been justified through Jesus Christ, and of which we were made partakers in conformity to the image of his death, that we might be the heirs of eternal life. Do not imagine, that we have separated ourselves from you on account of certain rites and ceremonies instituted by men; but on account of evil and corrupt doctrine. For if we could, in connexion with you, have preserved the true faith in Jesus Christ our Lord, we never should have made this separation."
Thus does it appear that the hussite brethren were not mere schismatics, but properly reformed protestants, who separated from the church of Rome on account of the essentials of godliness, and because, in that church, they could not preserve the genuine faith of the gospel, and purity of worship. And the constancy, with which they endured persecution, showed, that they had not received the grace of God in vain. For now they were declared unworthy of the common rights of subjects; and, in the depth of winter, were driven out of the cities and villages, with the forfeiture of all their effects. The sick were thrown into the open fields, where many perished with cold and hunger. Various sorts of torture were inflicted on the brethren: numbers were barbarously murdered; and many died in the prisons.
During these melancholy scenes Gregory, the nephew of Rokyzan, was distinguished by his zeal, fortitude, and charity. To these virtues he added prudence and discretion, of which he gave a remarkable instance.* The governor of Prague apprehending danger to the brethren to be at hand, had the kindness to warn Gregory to withdraw from Prague, which he did accordingly.* Some of the brethren were disgusted at this conduct, and boasted, that the rack was their breakfast, and the flames their dinner. Part, however, of these men failed on the trial, and recanted, to save their lives; though of the lapsed, some bemoaned their fall, and recovered by repentance. Gregory himself, on another occasion, underwent with patience the tortures of the rack. In the extremity of his suffering he fell into a swoon, and was believed to have expired- f His uncle Rokyzan hastened to the prison at the news, and lamented over him in these words, " My dear Gregory, I would to God I were where thou art." So strong was the power of conscience still in this unhappy archbishop! But Gregory recovered, and was preserved by providence to be a nursing father to the church to a very advanced age.
* It is not easy to give a regular account of these transactions according to the order of time. There is, I find, some diversity in this respect, between the two authors whom I follow. But I retain the substance of the narrative, collected from both.
The brethren, hearing of the sensibility discovered by Rokyzan, addressed themselves to him again; but his answers were of the same kind as formerly. He was determined not to suffer persecution; and they, in their farewel letter, said to him, with more zeal than discretion, " thou art of the world, and wilt perish with the world." The persecution now took a different turn; the hussites were no longer tortured, but were driven out of the country; whence they were obliged to hide themselves in mountains and woods, and to live in the wilderness. In this situation in the year 1467 they came to a resolution to form a church among themselves, and to appoint their own ministers. In 1480 they received a great increase of their numbers from the accession of waldensian refugees, who escaped out of Austria, where Stephen, the last bishop of the waldenses in that province, was burnt alive, and where the vehemence of persecution no longer allowed this people to live in security. An union was easily formed between the waldenses and the hussives, on account of the similarity of their sentiments and manners. The refugees, however, found their situation but little meliorated by a junction with a people, who were obliged to conceal themselves in thickets and in clefts of rocks; and who, to escape detection by the smoke, made no fires except in the night, when they read the word of God and prayed. What they must have suffered in these circumstances, may be easily conceived. The death of king Podiebrad, in 1471, had afforded them, indeed, some relief; and about the same time had died also the unhappy Rokyzan, who, in his latter days, promoted the persecutions against them, and who expired in despair.
* Joachim Camer. p. 85. f Camerarius, p. 80.
In 1481 the hussites were banished Moravia; but returned into that country six years afterwards. In the beginning of the sixteenth century, they counted two hundred congregations in Bohemia and Moravia. Their most violent persecutors were the calixtines, who certainly for the most part resembled the papists in all things except in the particularity, from which their name was derived.
And here I close, for the present, the history of the hussites, who doubtless as a body of men feared God and served him in the gospel of his Son. They also maintained a degree of discipline among themselves vastly superior to that of any others of the christian name, unless we except the churches of the waldenses. Both of these however were defective in evangelical Light. There wanted an exhibition of the pure doctrines of Christ, luminous, attractive, and powerful, which should publish peace and salvation to mankind through the cross of Christ, and engage the attention of the serious and thoughtful, who knew not the way of peace. These could find little instruction or consolation in the view of a society of well disciplined christians, whose manners indeed were pure and holy, but in the eyes of the ignorant forbidding and austere. God j$ his mercy was now hastening this exhibition by the light of the reformation, which, after we have very briefly surveyed the fifteenth century in GeneRal, must engage our attention.