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Chapter 5 – Life and Character of the Old Unitas Fratrum

July 26, 2010

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 Comments leave one →
  1. July 27, 2010 12:38 am

    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. July 27, 2010 5:28 am

    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. July 29, 2010 12:50 am

    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?

  4. July 29, 2010 4:22 pm

    Thanks Kevin!

    I wrote a post about how it came about 😉 Changing Denominations

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