Chapter 4 – The Founding of the Unitas Fratrum
The work of John Wiclif made an impact on the priesthood, and John Hus made an impact on the Slavic peoples of Bohemia and Moravia. At their turn, they rose up against the church and national powers. Division was seen amongst the ranks though. There were those happy with small changes and those that want change to be total and complete. These difference were so great that those who had stood together fought each other. The loss of life was great. Hard fought for changes are minor.
Chapter 4 – The Founding of the Unitas Fratrum
Stage 1 – Men step forward
John was born in Rokycana to a blacksmith in the very late 1300s. he graduated from the University of Prague in 1415 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1426. Did you notice a gap in there? Roycana was in a monastery for a while. He went on to receive his master’s degree in 1430 and pastored The Tien Church in Prague. He had a reputation as a wonderful orator and fiery preacher. John Rokycana was named the Ultaquist Archbishop and remained involved in church controversy. (A reminder that Ultaquists are not a formal part of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, but virtually indistinguishable from it.)
Rokycana was in many ways caught in the middle. He wanted unity, but he believed in evangelism. He became a man of concessions. He was in fact a skilled church politician making him hard to truly know. But he inspired many toward change.
As an aside, I haven’t had cause to think about the education of men pre-reformation. Now that it’s presented itself, I’ve been quite impressed with the level of education of those I’ve read about.
Gregory, the tailor, was born in 1420. He also happened to be Rokycana’s nephew and like his uncle, had a brief stint in a monastery. His education was limited, although he did learn Latin. He listened carefully to his uncle’s sermons and made note of the controversy, criticism, unrest. He talked with his friends. He preached the message some himself. Not to add to the story too much here, but can’t you just see new friendships being made, fires being lit. How easy it would be with just a little surrounding dissatisfaction for word to spread and a small group to grow.
To this point we’ve seen men who were dissatisfied, who were passionate, but who lacked the knowledge (or in the case of Rokycana, conviction) of how to move this fight along in a tangible way. I am feeling frustrated for them at this point. Been there, done that. To know that change must occur and not be able to pinpoint the hows is stressful and troublesome.
Peter of Chelcicky was a contemporary of Rokycana (and like so many of the others, named after his town). Also woefully uneducated, but with a passion for the Bible and the teachings of those church rebels we’ve talked about in previous posts. He wrote extensively about his criticisms of the church and state. His views were very like those of the Anabaptists who wanted to withdraw from society. The church was past reformation and must be rejected. Following the teachings of Jesus was essential.
I find it interesting here that Chelcicky’s lack of education is mentioned, but he was so obviously very well educated even if it was not formal.
Stage 2 – Unitas Fratrum formed
Rokycana sent Gregory and followers to Chelcicky to ask for help. Gregory’s group read Chelcicky’s teachings. They listened to his sermons. They examined a group, Brethren of Chelcicky, founded on those teachings but were distressed they were doing little. But what Gregory’s group did take Chelcicky’s teachings to heart. The moved to a remote location in eastern Bohemia (Kunwald). There was an estate that belonged to George Podiebrad. This estate was underpopulated and impoverished still from the Hussite wars. Rokycana used his influence to help seal the deal. Tradition says the date was 3/1/1457.
A community was born and its membership is diverse. The lower classes made up the majority, but there were some from the university, nobility and artisans. Surprisingly, there are priests. One notable one, Michael, will play a large role later. Waldenses also joined. They preached, evangelized and discipled. They emphasized everyday Christianity.
- Brethren of the Law of Christ
- Unity of the Brethren (Unitas Fratrum, Latin & Jednota Bratrska, Czech)
- Bible is the only source of doctrine.
- Public worship in accord with Scriptural teaching.
- Lord’s Supper by faith without human interpretation.
- Godly life is essential evidence of saving faith.
Stage 3 – Troubled Times and the birth of a church
George Podiebrad, landlord, became king and was embarrassed by his tenants. The church wanted these heretics brought back into the RCC fold. Persecutions began in 1461. Gregory is stretched on the rack. Michael was imprisoned. Membership declined through desertion. Trouble – serious trouble – will continue for years.
They needed to become an official church. They came from a heritage of church tradition. They were concerned with ordination. After looking carefully at the dynamics of the RCC and the Eastern churches, they turned to the Waldenses for help.
In 1467, three synods were held with members from Moravia and Bohemia in attendance. At the 3rd synod, nine men were chosen for possible priesthood and three were to be chosen by lots. There were 12 lots and only three were valid. If less than three were chosen, the synod was to reject the idea of starting the church at that time. Three were chosen: Matthias of Kunwald, Elias of Chrenovic, Thomas of Prelouc. All common men of humble status.
Next on the list of concerns was ordination of these three men. Can it be done by any elder since no biblical distinction is made between elder or bishop or does it have to be done by a bishop? At first they decided to go with the first way, but then decided to go with the second way and sought out a Waldenses Bishop to help. Michael, the jailed priest from earlier was sent to be ordained as a Bishop, and returned to ordain the others. These efforts helped the congregation view the new church and its leaders as valid. As they grew and more leaders were ordained, the posts of presbyter and deacon also arose. To this day, only bishops ordain.
Chapter 5 – Life and Character of the Old Unitas Fratrum