Chapter 5 – Life and Character of the Old Unitas Fratrum

This is part five of the book about the history of the Moravian church. Parts 1-4.

In chapter 4, we left the Unitas Fratrum struggling with their birth and organizational pains.

This is rather a hodge-podge chapter. Few great names, few things to nail down. So it’s difficult to retell. I think I’m going to start in bullet form and see where that goes. The next chapter is on John Amos Comenius. Wow! Now he is someone I think will be easy to write about, but in the meantime . . .

Chapter 5

Theology

  • The emphasis of the Brethren was on Christian living.
  • They were not made up of theologians, but were often forced to defend themselves and their beliefs
  • In writing letters and tracts, they often did become theologians.
  • A focus was placed on Matthew 5:21-28 which in many ways necessitated a separation from the world.
  • There is no true church. God has children in every church.
  • Essentials – faith, hope, love. Faith includes basics of Christianity.
  • Things merely useful – outer differences in churches.
  • Subscribed to Apostles’ Creed, The Athanasian Creed and the Nicene Creed.
  • Lord’s supper has been described in chapter 4.
  • Baptism – position unclear. They tended to prefer the voluntary baptism of adults, but were ok with infant baptism and still baptized most of their babies.
  • During/After Reformation, sacraments were baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Whittled down from those associated with the Church.
  • There must have been some confusion over works-based salvation. Luther questioned their writings on this .
  • Made contact with Luther, Calvin and Bucer. Sent a delegation to Luther in 1522.
  • They thought Luther extreme on his salvation by faith to the exclusion of works. (I’m thinking this odd as in they will lean toward the reformed in just a bit. This must have been a Catholic holdover they were having a hard time relinquishing.)
  • Luther helped them write two official statements of faith – 1533 & 1538.

Church organization – beginning

  • Highest authority is Synod.
  • Synod is made up of ex0officio reps from the congregations.
  • Synod actions administered by council.
  • Clergy – bishops, presbyters, deacons.
  • Deacons was an assistant cleric.
  • Acolytes were trained through apprenticeships.
  • Ministers expected to earn living in whole or at least part. They were unmarried until mid 1500s.
  • At first ministers were not formally trained, but later they went to Lutheran and Reformed unis.
  • Unity secondary schools did offer wide educations and offered university level studies.
  • Synod wrote rules for membership that were pretty specific.
  • Ministers with laymen assistants kept a close eye on the flock.
  • They took care of their own and if their own were blatantly sinful, they could be dismissed.
  • Church services were plain. Preaching, Bible reading, prayer.
  • Bibles were scarce, so entire books were memorized as were hymns.
  • Always a singing church, they published a hymnal in 1501 and in the next 70 years published 10 more in three languages.

Church organization – emerging

  • Increasingly difficult to stay separate.
  • Members of nobility allowed to join without renouncing of titles.
  • They were no longer strictly pacifists.
  • Bishop Luke changed the worship to one that was more liturgical.
  • Silver vessels reappeared.
  • The strict rules were usurped by a more lenient understanding of man’s nature.
  • Literacy was stressed. Schools grew.
  • 1539 – a Czech Bible (Kralitz) was translated. New Testament was work of John Blahoslaw.
  • Intellectual development meant a decline in the spiritual.

Protection from the feudal system

  • Stronger nobles mainly independent from king and each other.
  • Brethren enhanced estates because they were faithful, hardworking, farmers, craftsmen.
  • Many nobles chose to protect the Brethren rather than turn them in to the church as heretics.
  • Many nobles were so impressed with the Brethren that they joined them.
  • Nobility was, however, still subject to pressures and at times changed (marriage, conversion, succession).
  • Life was more difficult in Bohemia than Moravia.

Persecution and flight

  • 1548 – persecution increased.
  • Bishop John Augusta jailed until 1564.
  • Brethren move to Protestant East Prussia.
  • Difficulties there with ultra-Lutherans kept the congregation numbers small. (1500 Brethren)
  • Most left to return home or to Poland. Many were absorbed into Lutheran churches.
  • In Poland, the Brethren fared better.
  • Polish citizens were receptive to Protestantism, and the Brethren were invited to stay in various parts.
  • Ten years saw 40 congregations established which eventually grew to 80.
  • Protestants cooperated out of need due its precarious situation – Brethren, Lutherans, Reformed.
  • Consensus of Sendomir (1590) almost saw the three churches merge into one.

Numbers

  • Pinning the size of the church down was difficult. They were almost always an unrecognized group (if not heretical).
  • 1517 – Bohemian and Moravian Brethren are thought to have numbered 200,000 in 400 congregations.
  • That was their peak and after that, they lost members to the Lutherans and Reformed.
  • Brethren participated in the overthrow of King Frederick that triggered the Thirty Years War.
  • Half of the 27 nobles executed for that event were Brethren.
  • The Brethren became virtually extinct in Bohemia and Moravia.
  • The Treaty of Westphalia outlawed all churches except RCC, Lutheran and Reformed in the Holy Roman Empire.
  • Poland was not mentioned in the treaty, so the Brethren stayed there.
  • They merged somewhat with the Reformed church, but managed to keep their identity by keeping Brethren together in congregations.
  • Some clergy were consecrated as Unitas Fratrum.
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4 thoughts on “Chapter 5 – Life and Character of the Old Unitas Fratrum

  1. Hi Bitsy, are you interested in the Moravian Church? I was always intrigued by the piety of the Moravians. John Wesley is famous for being influenced by the Moravians. I don’t know anything about them but from what I gather, they seem to be a cross between the Brethren and Reformed.

  2. Hey Kevin!

    We live in the Home of the Southern Provence for the US, so we’ve grown to know some of their ways. We are in the process of joining a Moravian Church at this time.

    The Moravians are a pre-reformation group, but definitely influenced by many during the Reformation – like the Reformed Church.

  3. Bitsy, that’s really neat. I have a feeling you’ll enjoy the piety of the Moravian Church. They seem to have a rich history behind them.

    I’m curious to know what attracted you to want to join the Moravian Church?

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