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 . . .
- 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.
- 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.