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§ 73. The Bohemian Confessions after the Reformation. A.D. 1535 and 1575.


Comp. the work of Pescheck, quoted p. 565; and Reuss: La Destruction du Protestantisme en Bohème. Strasburg, 1867.

The Reformation rekindled the fire of the Husite movement, and made rapid progress within and without the Catholic Church. The Bohemian Brethren sent, from 1520, several delegations to Wittenberg to confer with Luther. They received new light in doctrine, but painfully missed discipline in the churches of Germany. Luther was at first displeased with their figurative theory of the Lord's Supper, their views of justification, and the celibacy of the clergy, and induced them to conform them to his teaching, but afterwards he treated them with a degree of indulgence and forbearance that contrasts favorably with his uncompromising antagonism to the Zwinglians. Nevertheless, the Bohemian Brethren, like the Waldenses, ultimately passed in a body to the Reformed communion, with which they had more sympathy in matters of doctrine and discipline.11031103   They wrote afterwards to Beza (Dec. 3, 1575): 'Lutherus nostra sic fuit interpretatus, quasi ipsius sententiæ sint consentanea, sua quidem ille culpa, non nostra.' Zezschwitz, p. 153; Ebrard, Vol. III. p. 400. They had sent a deputation to Bucer and Calvin at Strasburg in 1510, who were well received. Besides them we find in Bohemia, after the Reformation, three Protestant parties, Utraquists, Lutherans, and Calvinists.

There was at one time, during the reign of Maximilian II., a fair prospect of the conversion of the whole Bohemian nation, as also of the German provinces of Austria, to Protestantism; but before the work was consolidated, the Jesuits, backed by the whole power of the Hapsburg dynasty, inaugurated a counter-reformation and a series of cruel persecutions which crushed the evangelical faith, and turned that kingdom into a second Spain. The bloody drama of the Thirty-Years' War began at Prague (1618). Emperor Ferdinand II. (1619–1637), a fanatical pupil of the Jesuits, fulfilled his terrible vow to exterminate heresy by all possible means, though he should have to reign over a desert. The execution of twenty-seven of the most distinguished Protestants, in June, 1621, was the signal for this war of extermination. The richest families were deprived of their property. Protestant worship was 577forbidden. Protestant churches, schools, and hospitals were razed to the ground, or turned into Jesuit churches and colleges. All Protestant preachers, professors, and school-teachers were ordered, in 1624, to leave the country within a week, under pain of death. Bohemian and German Bibles and all Bohemian works published after 1414, being suspected of heresy, were destroyed in immense quantities on marketplaces and beneath the gallows. One Jesuit, Anton Koniasch (1637) boasted that he had burned over 60,000 books. Thus the whole Czech literature and civilization was overwhelmed with ruin, and ignorance as dark as midnight spread over the land.11041104   See, on this wholesale destruction of books, Pescheck's Geschichte der Gegenreformation in Böhmen, Vol. II. pp. 93 sqq. Bohemian works published from 1414 to 1635 are exceedingly rare, or are to be found only outside of Bohemia in the libraries at Herrnhut, Dresden, and Leipzig. Protestants were forbidden the rights of citizens; they could not carry on a trade, nor contract marriage, nor make a will. Even light and air were denied them. 'More than thirty thousand Bohemian families, and among them five hundred belonging to the aristocracy, went into banishment. Exiled Bohemians were to be found in every country of Europe, and were not wanting in any of the armies that fought against Austria. Those who could or would not emigrate held to their faith in secret. Against them dragonades were employed. Detachments of soldiers were sent into the various districts to torment the heretics till they were converted. The "Converters" (Seligmacher) went thus throughout all Bohemia, plundering and murdering. ... A desert was created; the land was crushed for a generation. Before the war Bohemia had 4,000,000 inhabitants, and in 1648 there were but 700,000 or 800,000. These figures appear preposterous, but they are certified by Bohemian historians.'11051105   Heusser, The Period of the Reformation, English translation, New York, 1874, p. 426. Dr. Döllinger, in his concluding address at the Bonn Union Conference in August, 1875, speaking of the suppression of the Reformation in Austria, made the following remarks: 'Nach römischer Lehre ist eine katholische Regierung verpflichtet, die Andersgläubigen zu unterdrücken. Die Päpste haben die Habsburger durch die Jesuiten stets zur Befolgung dieser Lehre angehalten. In der zweiten Hälfte des sechszehnten Jahrhunderts war die Bevölkerung in einigen überwiegend deutschen Erbstaaten fast zu neun Zehntel protestantisch. Durch das System der Zwangsbekehrung und der Austreibung der Protestanten wurde am Ende des 16. Jahrhunderts and im 17. der römische Katholicismus wieder herrschend. Die wenigen Schriftsteller, welche Oesterreich im 17ten Jahrhundert hatte, klagen einmüthig über den Schaden, den die Protestanten-Austreibung dem Wohlstand Oesterreichs gebracht. Man darf sagen, es macht sich noch heute fühlbar, dass damals der beste Theil der städtischen Bevölkerung vertrieben wurde. Sine grosse geistige Versumpfung ist die Folge der engen Verbindung der Habsburger Dynastie mit der Curie gewesen. Ich sage: der Habsburgischen Dynastie; die jetzige Dynastie ist die lothringische, aus welcher ganz andere Regenten hervorgegangen sind. Ihr gehört Joseph II. an, aber auch die andern Kaiser dieser Dynastie haben nicht ihre Unterthanen um der Religion willen unterdrückt. Oesterreich leidet noch jetzt an den schlimmen Folgen früherer Missregierungen, aber es ist ein Staat, der noch eine Zukunft hat, und sein neues Emporblühen ist von grosser Wichtigkeit für Europa. Wenn wir den Satz des Herrn; an ihren Früchten sollt ihr sie erkennen, auf das Papalsystem anwenden, so können wir nur ein hartes Urtheil über dasselbe fällen. Das jetzige Verhalten des römischen Stuhles zeigt aber, dass er aus der Weltgeschichte nichts gelernt hat, dass sie ihm ein mit sieben Siegeln verschlossenes Buch ist.'


The exiled Bohemian Brethren became the nucleus of the Moravian Brotherhood (1722), and in this noble little Church, so distinguished for its missionary zeal, they continue to this day. Their last and worthy Bishop, Amos Comenius, died an exile in Holland, 1671, with the hope of the future revival of his persecuted Church, which was fulfilled through the labors of Count Zinzendorf. But even in Bohemia Protestantism could not be utterly annihilated. It began again to raise its feeble head when Emperor Joseph II. issued the Edict of Toleration (1781). The recent revival of Czech patriotism and literature came to its aid. The fifth centenary of the birth of Hus was celebrated at Prague, 1869, and his works and letters were published. In 1875 there were forty-six Reformed congregations in Bohemia and twenty-two in Moravia. The number of Lutheran congregations is smaller, and they belong almost entirely to the German part of the population.


The Latin text in the Corpus et Syntagma Conf., and in Niemeyer, pp. 771–818; the German text in Böckel, pp. 780–830.

The Bohemian Brethren surpass all Churches in the number of their confessions of faith, which amount to no less than thirty-four from 1467 to 1671, in the Bohemian, Latin, and German languages.11061106   Gindely enumerates them in Fontes, etc., pp. 453 sqq. Comp. Zezschwitz, in Herzog's Real-Encyklop. Vol. XX. p. 31. But they were all superseded by two, respectively called the First and the Second Bohemian Confessions.

The first of these confessions was prepared, after the example of the Lutherans at the Diet of Augsburg, in proof of their orthodoxy, signed by the noblemen belonging to the Unitas, and laid by a deputation before King Ferdinand at Vienna, Nov. 14, 1535, who promised 579to take it into consideration.11071107   Confessio Fidei ac Religionis, Baronum ac Nobilium Regni Bohemiæ, serenissimo ac invictissimo Romanorum, Bohemiæ, etc., Regi, Viennæ Austriæ, sub anno Domini 1535 oblata.' It was written in Latin by an unknown author, probably by John Augusta, Senior of the Brethren, and, after the death of Lucas of Prague, their most influential leader (d. 1572), and with his aid it was translated into German.11081108   So Gindely, Vol. I. p. 233, 238. Niemeyer (Proleg. p. lxxxvi.) asserts: 'Prodiit primum lingua Bohemica, deinde Latine reddita Vitembergæ publici juris facta est.' But Gindely is a much better authority in Bohemian matters.

The confession consists of a long apologetic preface against the charges of heresy and immorality, and of twenty articles. It closely resembles in form and contents the Augsburg Confession. In Art. XII., on Baptism, it is stated that the Brethren had formerly rebaptized converts, but that they had given up this practice as useless. Infant baptism is acknowledged (Matt. xix. 14). The doctrine of the Lord's Supper (Art. XIII.) is accommodated to the Lutheran theory, though framed somewhat vaguely.11091109   'Docent etiam, quod his Christi verbis, quibus ipse panem corpus suum, et vinum speciatim sanguinem suum esse pronunciat, nemo de suo quidquam affingat, admisceat aut detrahat, sed simpliciter his Christi verbis, neque ad dexteram neque ad sinistram declinando credat.'

The Bohemians sent the confession with a deputation to the Reformers at Wittenberg (1536). Luther disapproved the articles on celibacy and justification, but after the Brethren had made some corrections he published the document, at their request and expense, in 1538, with a favorable preface. In later editions the Bohemians made many changes.11101110   See Niemeyer, Proleg. p. lxxxvii.


The Latin text in Niemeyer, pp. 819–851; the German text in Böckel, pp. 827–849.

The historical notices I have chiefly derived from Pescheck's Geschichte der Gegenreformation in Böhmen, 2d ed. Vol. I. pp. 103 sqq., and from Gindely's Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, Vol. II. pp. 141 sqq.

The mild and liberal Emperor Maximilian II. (1564–1576) was kindly disposed towards his Protestant subjects, and had a certain degree of sympathy with their creed. While holding a diet at Prague he allowed the non-Catholic Bohemians to compose a united confession of their faith. The Utraquists, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Bohemian Brethren laid aside their disputes and agreed upon a moderate doctrinal statement, which is more particularly called the Bohemian 580Confession.11111111    'Confessio Bohemica, hoc est, Confessio sanctæ et Christianæ fidei, omnium trium Ordinum Regni Bohemiæ, Corpus et Sanguinem Domini nostri Jesu Christi in Cœna sub utraque specie accipientium,' etc. It was prepared in the Bohemian language by two divines—Dr. Paul Pressius and M. Krispin11121112   A new chapter in the history of Bohemia—now called Czechoslovakia—and of the followers of Huss was opened with the war, 1914. After nearly 400 years of subjection to Austria, the country gained its freedom and was made a republic, with T. G. Masaryk, who had spent some time in the U. S., as president, 1918. Religious liberty was established, the statue of Mary, erected on the central square of Prag, pulled down, and a massive monument dedicated to Huss with an address by Masaryk. The 'Czechoslovak National Reformed Catholic Church,' now constituting 4 per cent, of the population, was organized, 1920, and occupies a position midway between Romanism and Protestantism, leaning to the Greek Church. Its first bishop received consecration from a Serbian bishop. It uses the national tongue in worship and practises clerical marriage and the elective principle in the choice of its bishops. The Hussites, adopting the name 'The Evangelical Union of Bohemian Brethren,' have doubled in numbers and carry on a theological seminary in Prag with a full faculty, partly supported by the state and occupying quarters in the university buildings. In 1925 the papal nuncio, as a protest at the part taken by Masaryk and the government at a Huss celebration, left Prag. Papal relations were re-established, 1927. Masaryk holds the degree of doctor of theology from the theological seminary in Prag for a thesis on Huss.—Ed.—and adopted with some changes by the Diet of Prague. It was presented to Maximilian, May 17, 1575. He gave the delegates the verbal promise of protection in their faith and worship. It was afterwards presented to Maximilian's son and successor, Rudolph II., 1608, who, under the political pressure of the times, in an imperial letter, or charter, granted the Protestant Bohemians equal rights with the Roman Catholics, a separate consistory at Prague, and the control of the university (1609). But these concessions were of short duration. Emperor Matthias violated the compact, and Ferdinand II. annulled it by his Edict of Restitution (1629), which gave the Romanists full power to suppress Protestantism.

The Second Bohemian Confession consists of an address to Maximilian II. and twenty-five articles on the holy Scriptures, on God, the Holy Trinity, the fall and original sin, free-will, the law, justification, faith and good works, the Church, the sacraments, etc. It is in essential agreement with the Augsburg Confession and the older Bohemian Confession. The doctrine of the Lord's Supper is conformed to the later Melanchthonian view. A German translation was transmitted to the divines at Wittenberg, and approved by them Nov. 3, 1575. A Latin translation appeared in 1619.

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