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CHAPTER Xl.

THE LAST DAYS OF AUGUSTA, 1560–1572.

TO Augusta the prospect seemed hopeful. Great changes had taken place in the Protestant world. The Lutherans in Germany had triumphed. The religious peace of Augsburg had been consummated, The German Protestants had now a legal standing. The great Emperor, Charles V., had resigned his throne. His successor was his brother Ferdinand, the late King of Bohemia. The new King of Bohemia was Ferdinand’s eldest son, Maximilian I. Maximilian was well disposed towards Protestants, and persecution in Bohemia died away.

And now the Brethren plucked up heart again. They rebuilt their chapel at their headquarters, Jungbunzlau. They presented a copy of their Hymn-book to the King. They divided the Church into three provinces—Bohemia, Moravia and Poland. They appointed George Israel First Senior in Poland, John Czerny First Senior in Bohemia and Moravia, and Cerwenka secretary to the whole Church.

But the Brethren had gone further still. As Augusta was the sole surviving Bishop in the Church, the Brethren were in a difficulty. They must not be without Bishops. But what were they to do? Were they to wait till Augusta was set at liberty, or were they to elect new Bishops without his authority? They chose the latter course, and Augusta was deeply offended. They elected Czerny and Cerwenka to the office of Bishops; they had them consecrated as Bishops by two Brethren in priests’ orders; and they actually allowed the two new Bishops to consecrate two further Bishops, George Israel and Blahoslaw, the Church Historian.

And even this was not the worst of the story. As he lay in his dungeon forming plans for the Church he loved so well, it slowly dawned upon Augusta that his Brethren were ceasing to trust him, and that the sun of his power, which had shone so brightly, was now sloping slowly to its setting. He heard of one change after another taking place without his consent. He heard that the Council had condemned his sermons as too learned and dry for the common people, and that they had altered them to suit their own opinions. He heard that his hymns, which he had desired to see in the new Hymn-book, had been mangled in a similar manner. His Brethren did not even tell him what they were doing. They simply left him out in the cold. What he himself heard he heard by chance, and that was the “most unkind cut of all.” His authority was gone; his position was lost; his hopes were blasted; and his early guidance, his entreaties, his services, his sufferings were all, he thought, forgotten by an ungrateful Church.

As Augusta heard of all these changes, a glorious vision rose before his mind. At first he was offended, quarrelled with the Brethren, and declared the new Bishops invalid. But at last his better feelings gained the mastery. He would not sulk like a petted child; he would render his Brethren the greatest service in his power. He would fight his way to liberty; he would resume his place on the bridge, and before long he would make the Church the national Church of Bohemia.

The door was opened by a duke. The Archduke Ferdinand, brother of the King, came to reside at Pürglitz {1560.}. Augusta appealed for liberty to Ferdinand; the Archduke referred the matter to the King; the King referred the matter to the clergy; and the clergy drew up for Augusta’s benefit a form of recantation. The issue before him was now perfectly clear. There was one road to freedom and one only. He must sign the form of recantation in full. The form was drastic. He must renounce all his previous religious opinions. He must acknowledge the Holy Catholic Church and submit to her in all things. He must eschew the gatherings of Waldenses, Picards and all other apostates, denounce their teaching as depraved, and recognise the Church of Rome as the one true Church of Christ. He must labour for the unity of the Church and endeavour to bring his Brethren into the fold. He must never again interpret the Scriptures according to his own understanding, but submit rather to the exposition and authority of the Holy Roman Church, which alone was fit to decide on questions of doctrine. He must do his duty by the King, obey him and serve him with zeal as a loyal subject. And finally he must write out the whole recantation with his own hand, take a public oath to keep it, and have it signed and sealed by witnesses. Augusta refused point blank. His hopes of liberty vanished. His heart sank in despair. “They might as well,” said Bilek, his friend, “have asked him to walk on his head.”

But here Lord Sternberg, Governor of the Castle, suggested another path. If Augusta, said he, would not join the Church of Rome, perhaps he would at least join the Utraquists. He had been a Utraquist in his youth; the Brethren were Utraquists under another name; and all that Augusta had to do was to give himself his proper name, and his dungeon door would fly open. Of all the devices to entrap Augusta, this well-meant trick was the most enticing. The argument was a shameless logical juggle. The Utraquists celebrated the communion in both kinds; the Brethren celebrated the communion in both kinds; therefore the Brethren were Utraquists.4242   The fallacy underlying this argument is well known to logicians, and a simple illustration will make it clear to the reader:—    All Hottentots have black hair.
   Mr. Jones has black hair.

   Therefore, Mr. Jones is a Hottentot.
At first Augusta himself appeared to be caught.

“I, John Augusta,” he wrote, “confess myself a member of the whole Evangelical Church, which, wherever it may be, receives the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ in both kinds. I swear that, along with the Holy Catholic Church, I will maintain true submission and obedience to her chief Head, Jesus Christ. I will order my life according to God’s holy word and the truth of his pure Gospel. I will be led by Him, obey Him alone, and by no other human thoughts and inventions. I renounce all erroneous and wicked opinions against the holy universal Christian apostolic faith. I will never take any part in the meetings of Picards or other heretics.”

If Augusta thought that by language like this he would catch his examiners napping, he was falling into a very grievous error. He had chosen his words with care. He never said what he meant by the Utraquists. He never said whether he would include the Brethren among the Utraquists or among the Picards and heretics. And he had never made any reference to the Pope.

His examiners were far too clever to be deceived. Instead of recommending that Augusta be now set at liberty, they contended that his recantation was no recantation at all. He had shown no inclination, they said, towards either Rome or Utraquism. His principles were remarkably like those of Martin Luther. He had not acknowledged the supremacy of the Pope, and when he said he would not be led by any human inventions he was plainly repudiating the Church of Rome. What is the good, they asked, of Augusta’s promising to resist heretics when he does not acknowledge the Brethren to be heretics? “It is,” they said, “as clear as day that John Augusta has no real intention of renouncing his errors.” Let the man say straight out to which party he belonged.

Again Augusta tried to fence, and again he met his match. Instead of saying in plain language to which party he belonged, he persisted in his first assertion that he belonged to the Catholic Evangelical Church, which was now split into various sects. But as the old man warmed to his work he threw caution aside.

“I have never,” he said, “had anything to do with Waldenses or Picards. I belong to the general Evangelical Church, which enjoys the Communion in both kinds. I renounce entirely the Popish sect known as the Holy Roman Church. I deny that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ. I deny that the Church of Rome alone has authority to interpret the Scriptures. If the Church of Rome claims such authority, she must first show that she is free from the spirit of the world, and possesses the spirit of charity, and until that is done I refuse to bow to her decrees.”

He defended the Church of the Brethren with all his might. It was, he said, truly evangelical. It was Catholic. It was apostolic. It was recognised and praised by Luther, Calvin, Melancthon, Bucer, Bullinger and other saints. As long as the moral life of the Church of Rome remained at such a low ebb, so long would there be need for the Brethren’s Church.

“If the Church of Rome will mend her ways, the Brethren,” said he, “will return to her fold; but till that blessed change takes place they will remain where they are.”

He denied being a traitor. “If any one says that I have been disloyal to the Emperor, I denounce that person as a liar. If his Majesty knew how loyal I have been, he would not keep me here another hour. I know why I am suffering. I am suffering, not as an evil-doer, but as a Christian.”

The first skirmish was over. The clergy were firm, and Augusta sank back exhausted in his cell. But the kindly Governor was still resolved to smooth the way for his prisoners. “I will not rest,” he said, “till I see them at liberty.” He suggested that Augusta should have an interview with the Jesuits!

“What would be the good of that?” said Augusta. “I should be like a little dog in the midst of a pack of lions. I pray you, let these negotiations cease. I would rather stay where I am. It is clear there is no escape for me unless I am false to my honour and my conscience. I will never recant nor act against my conscience. May God help me to keep true till death.”

At last, however, Augusta gave way, attended Mass, with Bilek, in the castle chapel, and consented to an interview with the Jesuits, on condition that Bilek should go with him, and that he should also be allowed another interview with the Utraquists {1561.}. The day for the duel arrived. The chosen spot was the new Jesuit College at Prague. As they drove to the city both Augusta and Bilek were allowed to stretch their limbs and even get out of sight of their guards. At Prague they were allowed a dip in the Royal Bath. It was the first bath they had had for fourteen years, and the people came from far and near to gaze upon their scars.

And now, being fresh and clean in body, Augusta, the stubborn heretical Picard, was to be made clean in soul. As the Jesuits were determined to do their work well, they laid down the strict condition that no one but themselves must be allowed to speak with the prisoners. For the rest the prisoners were treated kindly. The bedroom was neat; the food was good; the large, bright dining-room had seven windows. They had wine to dinner, and were waited on by a discreet and silent butler. Not a word did that solemn functionary utter. If the Brethren made a remark to him, he laid his fingers on his lips like the witches in Macbeth.

The great debate began. The Jesuit spokesman was Dr. Henry Blissem. He opened by making a clean breast of the whole purpose of the interview.

“It is well known to you both,” said he, “for what purpose you have been handed over to our care, that we, if possible, may help you to a right understanding of the Christian faith.”

If the Jesuits could have had their way, they would have had Augusta’s answers set down in writing. But here Augusta stood firm as a rock. He knew the game the Jesuits were playing. The interview was of national importance. If his answers were considered satisfactory, the Jesuits would have them printed, sow them broadcast, and boast of his conversion; and if, on the other hand, they were unsatisfactory, they would send them to the Emperor as proof that Augusta was a rebel, demand his instant execution, and start another persecution of the Brethren.

Dr. Henry, made the first pass.

“The Holy Universal Church,” he said, “is the true bride of Christ and the true mother of all Christians.”

Augusta politely agreed.

“On this is question,” he said, “our own party thinks and believes exactly as you do.”

“No one,” continued the doctor suavely, “can believe in God who does not think correctly of the Holy Church, and regard her as his mother; and without the Church there is no salvation.”

Again Augusta politely agreed, and again the learned Jesuit beamed with pleasure. Now came the tug of war.

“This Holy Christian Church,” said Blissem, “has never erred and cannot err.”

Augusta met this with a flat denial. If he surrendered here he surrendered all, and would be untrue to his Brethren. If he once agreed that the Church was infallible he was swallowing the whole Roman pill. In vain the doctor argued. Augusta held his ground. The Jesuits reported him hard in the head, and had him sent back to his cell.

For two more years he waited in despair, and then he was brought to the White Tower again, and visited by two Utraquist Priests, Mystopol and Martin. His last chance, they told him, had now arrived. They had come as messengers from the Archduke Ferdinand and from the Emperor himself.

“I know,” said one of them, “on what you are relying and how you console yourself, but I warn you it will avail you nothing.”

“You know no secrets,” said Augusta.

“What secrets?” queried Mystopol.

“Neither divine nor mine. My dear administrators, your visit is quite a surprise! With regard to the recantation, however, let me say at once, I shall not sign it! I have never been guilty of any errors, and have nothing to recant. I made my public confession of faith before the lords and knights of Bohemia twenty-eight years ago. It was shown to the Emperor at Vienna, and no one has ever found anything wrong with it.”

“How is it,” said Mystopol, “you cannot see your error? You know it says in our confession, ‘I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.’ You Brethren have fallen away from that Church. You are not true members of the body. You are an ulcer. You are a scab. You have no sacraments. You have written bloodthirsty pamphlets against us. We have a whole box full of your productions.”

“We never wrote any tracts,” said Augusta, “except to show why we separated from you, but you urged on the Government against us. You likened me to a bastard and to Goliath the Philistine. Your petition read as if it had been written in a brothel.”

And now the character of John Augusta shone forth in all its grandeur. The old man was on his mettle.

“Of all Christians known to me,” he said, “the Brethren stick closest to Holy Writ. Next to them come the Lutherans; next to the Lutherans the Utraquists; and next to the Utraquists the—!”

But there in common honesty he had to stop. And then he turned the tables on Mystopol, and came out boldly with his scheme. It was no new idea of his. He had already, in 1547, advocated a National Protestant Church composed of Utraquists and Brethren. Instead of the Brethren joining the Utraquists, it was, said Augusta, the plain duty of the Utraquists to break from the Church of Rome and join the Brethren. For the last forty years the Utraquists had been really Lutherans at heart. He wanted them now to be true to their own convictions. He wanted them to carry out in practice the teaching of most of their preachers. He wanted them to run the risk of offending the Emperor and the Pope. He wanted them to ally themselves with the Brethren; and he believed that if they would only do so nearly every soul in Bohemia would join the new Evangelical movement. De Schweinitz says that Augusta betrayed his Brethren, and that when he called himself a Utraquist he was playing with words. I cannot accept this verdict. He explained clearly and precisely what he meant; he was a Utraquist in the same sense as Luther; and the castle he had built in the air was nothing less than a grand international union of all the Evangelical Christians in Europe.

“My lords,” he pleaded in golden words, “let us cease this mutual accusation of each other. Let us cease our destructive quarrelling. Let us join in seeking those higher objects which we both have in common, and let us remember that we are both of one origin, one nation, one blood and one spirit. Think of it, dear lords, and try to find some way to union.”

The appeal was pathetic and sincere. It fell on adders’ ears. His scheme found favour neither with Brethren nor with Utraquists. To the Brethren Augusta was a Jesuitical juggler. To the Utraquists he was a supple athlete trying to dodge his way out of prison.

“You shift about,” wrote the Brethren, “in a most remarkable manner. You make out the Utraquist Church to be different from what it really is, in order to keep a door open through which you may go.” In their judgment he was nothing less than an ambitious schemer. If his scheme were carried out, they said, he would not only be First Elder of the Brethren’s Church, but administrator of the whole united Church.

At last, however, King Maximilian interceded with the Emperor in his favour, and Augusta was set free on the one condition that he would not preach in public {1564.}. His hair was white; his beard was long; his brow was furrowed; his health was shattered; and he spent his last days amongst the Brethren, a defeated and broken-hearted man. He was restored to his old position as First Elder; he settled down again at Jungbunzlau; and yet somehow the old confidence was never completely restored. In vain he upheld his daring scheme of union. John Blahoslaw opposed him to the teeth. For the time, at least, John Blahoslaw was in the right. Augusta throughout had made one fatal blunder. As the Utraquists were now more Protestant in doctrine he thought that they had begun to love the Brethren. The very contrary was the case. If two people agree in nine points out of ten, and only differ in one, they will often quarrel more fiercely with each other than if they disagreed in all the ten. And that was just what happened in Bohemia. The more Protestant the Utraquists became in doctrine, the more jealous they were of the Brethren. And thus Augusta was honoured by neither party. Despised by friend and foe alike, the old white-haired Bishop tottered to the silent tomb. “He kept out of our way,” says the sad old record, “as long as he could; he had been among us long enough.” As we think of the noble life he lived, and the bitter gall of his eventide, we may liken him to one of those majestic mountains which tower in grandeur under the noontide sun, but round whose brows the vapours gather as night settles down on the earth. In the whole gallery of Bohemian portraits there is none, says Gindely, so noble in expression as his; and as we gaze on those grand features we see dignity blended with sorrow, and pride with heroic fire.4343I must add a brief word in honour of Jacob Bilek. As that faithful secretary was thirteen years in prison (1548–61), and endured many tortures rather than deny his faith, it is rather a pity that two historians have branded him as a traitor. It is asserted both by Gindely (Vol. I., p. 452) and by de Schweinitz (p. 327) that Bilek obtained his liberty by promising, in a written bond, to renounce the Brethren and adhere to the Utraquist Church. But how Gindely could make such a statement is more than I can understand. He professes to base his statement on Bilek’s narrative; and Bilek himself flatly denies the charge. He admits that a bond was prepared, but says that it was handed to the authorities without his knowledge and consent. For my part, I see no reason to doubt Bilek’s statement; and he certainly spent his last days among the Brethren as minister of the congregation at Napajedl.


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