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


  • 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.

Chapter 4 – The Founding of the Unitas Fratrum

Other Summaries

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 RokycanaJohn 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 ChelcickyPeter 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.

Name Progression:

  • Brethren of the Law of Christ
  • Brethren
  • Unity of the Brethren (Unitas Fratrum, Latin & Jednota Bratrska, Czech)

Adopted Principles:

  • 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 3Troubled 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

Chapter 3 – The Aftermath

This is part 3 in the continuing series summarizing The Moravian Church Through the Ages by John Weinlick.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

The Crusades introduce so much to The Middle Ages – including a desire to expand. John Wiclif examines the structure of the church in light of Scripture and finds it lacking, and while he is able to escape persecution during his lifetime, he stirs the embers for others to follow. There is the Papal Schism and countries like Bohemia and Moravia are ready to throw off their Germanic and church related bonds. Men like John Hus are spurred on by desires to preach, write, teach in the language of the people. His challenges toward the church mean his death.

Chapter 3 – The Aftermath

The Cast

The Setting

  • Primarily Bohemia
  • To lesser degrees: Wenzel’s castle, Rome
  • Early to mid 1400s

The Plot Summary

John Hus TrialJohn Hus’s murder unites the Bohemians who rebelled against not only the church but the German empire. Hidden followers come out into the open. Violence erupts. The church issues orders of execution against the Hussites which only serves to unite them farther – and make them angrier. Unrestricted preaching of the Gospel is encouraged on the estates of Hussite nobles. AND people are listening. They gather in great crowds to hear the Gospel message. At one point 40,000 people gathered to take communion in protest against King Wenzel’s decree to return parishes to Roman priests.

A land divided between Hussites and Catholics.

The Church had previously taken away the right of the laity to partake of the cup in communion. The cup became a badge of the Hussites and during Hus’s imprisonment, rebellious priests returned the sacrament to the people.

Two groups emerge: The Utraquists and the Taborites. Utraquists are the conservative majority. They only want the cup returned to the people and can justify continuance with The Church. They are the theological voice of the University of Prague.

The Taborites are radicals. They recognize the Bible as the ultimate authority. Their sacraments are baptism and communion which they served in regular earthen ware. They rejected teachings on Purgatory and iconic images and masses for the dead.

Open warfare is amazingly avoided.

Four Articles of Prague are issued:

  1. Unrestricted preaching throughout Bohemia
  2. Communion includes both bread and wine
  3. Return of the clergy to poverty
  4. Punishment of mortal sins without favoritism

King WenzelDuring a riot at the city hall of Prague, seven councilors are thrown to their deaths. Wenzel suffers a series of strokes and dies two weeks later. Emperor Sigismund becomes king and sends Queen Sofia as regent to Bohemia. Sigismund persuades the Pope to crusade against the Hussites. For 15 years, the Bohemians resist invasion under the leadership of Ziska and Prokop.

Eventually, Sigismund and the Pope realize they will never defeat Bohemia and the Hussites decide to negotiate. Negotiations alternate from Basel to Prague. The Compactata of Basel is reached. The devastated Taborites think too much is conceded and continue to fight. Thirteen thousand Taborite soldiers were killed by the Utraquists and Roman crusaders in the Battle of Lipan.

The Utraquists are now the established church, but they must work beside the many remaining Roman parishes. Neither group carried the torch of reform strongly for the Bohemians.

Next: Chapter 4 – The Founding of the Unitas Fratrum

Chapter 2 – The Moravian Church

Chapter 1

Chapter 2 – John Hus: The Martyr of Bohemia

It’s 1381 and Princess Anne of Bohemia had married King Richard II.  This bond between the two countries allowed for Bohemian priests to come to England to be trained and introduced to the teachings of John Wiclif. They returned home to add Wiclif’s thoughts to their arsenal.

Cyril & MethodiusCzechs were ripe for reform. They’d been a minority in the Germanic area. And there had been conflict in Bohemia/Moravia between the Eastern and Western churches. Each church had vied for dominance. The Eastern church had a strong foothold. Ignored by Rome, the Eastern church moved in with Cyril and Methodius in the mid-800s. They translated scriptures into the vernacular, preached in the same and established popular church order.

And by now, the Western church was German which did not sit well with the Czechs. The church is still terribly corrupt and being German on top of it, didn’t win them any favors. Charles IV was a reformer king in Bohemia. He established a fair justice system, encouraged industry, listened to the people and advanced education. Prague became an archdiocese and home to a university. The people became even more dissatisfied with outside rule of any kind. John Hus was a young man when priests began to return from Oxford. They had a story to tell and Hus, among many of his countrymen, eagerly listened.

John HusJohn was born in Husinec in 1369. Since he was a peasant, he had no last name and became known as John Hus. Few peasants had the opportunity to go on to higher learning, so he must have been exceptional. He went to the local school run by the monastery, then to a school in a neighboring town and finally to the University of Prague where he earned his way in part as a singer. He studied logic, philosophy and theology. Bachelors in 1394, Masters in 1396. By 1401 he was dean of the philosophy department. In 1402, he was rector of the university – a rotating office, and he was appointed preacher at Bethlehem Chapel. As a preacher and professor, he was better known for his preaching. Weinlick mentions that if Hus had stayed in the classroom and out of the pulpit, he might have lived a long life.

Bethlehem ChapelStill, Hus enjoyed the backing of the royal family and university friends for a long time.  In Bethlehem Chapel he preached to people from all walks of life including royalty. He not only preached in Czech but also translated hymns from Latin and wrote new ones. He was also an active writer. He wrote sermons, commentaries and tracts. He read Wiclif heavily and helped exposed a “miracle” in Wilsnack involving wafers.

In due time, Wiclif’s teachings were less accepted at the university. Hus was a rebel after my own heart because the more Wiclif was condemned, the more Hus defended him. There was the Papal Schism. A Council of Pisa was held in 1409 to heal the Papal Schism, but it was such a disaster that they ended up with yet a third Pope.

This is really a messy time in history. Difficult to chisel down to a few distinct sentences, but Prague was selling indulgences for a Crusade desired by Pope 3. Hus naturally stood against this. He was excommunicated, and King Wenzel talked him into a voluntary exile. During his two years of exile, Hus moved about freely and preached frequently. After a while, he was able to even visit Prague. In addition to preaching, he wrote sermons, letters and books.

Emperor SigismundIn 1414, another council is held – The Council of Constance. And in its four years of meetings, it did unify the papacy but did little to help the corruption of the church. John Hus’s head was on the proverbial chopping block. Emperor Sigismund of Bohemia convinced Hus to travel to Constance for a hearing. Sigismund guaranteed Hus safe travel to and from Constance. Friends accompanied Hus on the four week journey beginning October 11, 1415. He spent three weeks in town before the hearing. He was arrested on November 28. During his imprisonment, he was housed in a Dominican monastery, in Gottlieben Castle and then in a Franciscan monastery. He was kept in cramped, cold or hot quarters and given insufficient amounts of food.

The trial was three hearings held on June 5, 7, 8. His book, On the Church, was used against him. The Council and Sigismund hoped Hus would recant, but these were the same men who had ordered Wiclif’s bones burned, so there was little chance of a lenient sentence without that recant.

July 6 (his birthday), Hus was sentenced. He was taken to a raised platform and defrocked. He was given another opportunity to recant. He told them he couldn’t. They burned his books and took him to a meadow where they had a place ready. Hus was given one last opportunity to recant. He died in flames singing and praying. His ashes were thrown into the Rhine.

Chapter 3 The Aftermath

Chapter 1 from The Moravian Church

Table of Contents

This book is very much like a small text book. Lots of little snippets of information that kind of jump around under a larger umbrella. As I mentioned in my previous post, it is out of print. I’ve linked some subjects to google books which offers an amazing amount of material and some of it is in full text form.

Chapter 1 – The Late Medieval World

Weinlick begins by discussing the very real and worthy work going on in church life prior to the Reformation. He mentions that sometimes we go back to Luther and stop, but men of faith were challenging the system before that. While there were many attempts at breaking away from the church, only two pre-reformation churches were still around to see the Reformation. Group 1 was the Waldenses from the late 1100s and the other was the Unitas Fratrum (1457).


In the 1300s we see a powerful papacy as well as a rising university system. The language was Latin in both cases and that made for easy movement from county to country for both priests and lecturers. The church had a stronghold on the people and the threat of excommunication was constantly present. The church was terribly corrupt.

The CrusadesThe Crusades had been stage central from 11-1300 expanding mental horizons if not necessarily territorial ones. Trade opened up, and a monetary economy began to develop. Feudalism was declining. Nationalism was rising. Inquiry and exploration are intriguing to an ever growing number of people.

Nationalism meant that languages were developing in new and exciting ways. Literature was being written in those different languages. People wanted their languages used for more than day to day communications – church, school.

The church was troubled. The new language interests alone could weaken their control. And the new nationalism meant countries didn’t want to send money to Italy for any reason. There was a French Pope and he lived in France. When he returned to Rome, the French actually elected another pope. Now we had two, at least until the Council of Constance. This time was known as the papal schism.

And still we see evidence of the faithful. This is the period that will give rise to the Reformation. This environment produced Francis of Assisi, Peter Waldo, Thomas a Kempis, John Wiclif and John Hus. It cannot be said that this period was completely void of spirituality.

John WycliffEnter John Wiclif. (This is the spelling used by Weinlick.) Wiclif was born in Yorkshire, trained in Oxford. He was a priest and a professor. Weinlick used the words radical and upsetting to describe Wiclif’s work. What he did:

  • rejected doctrine of transubstantionation
  • emphasized predestination. He did believe the church represented the elect.
  • stressed that Christ is the head of the church – not the pope. The church may have an earthly leader but not one that is scraping to get his hands on any piece of wealth on the globe
  • believed that priests were servants
  • thought of the Bible as the only law

Wiclif translated the Bible into English during the 1380s. There is some dispute as to how much he actually translated. He may have done the NT and a colleague the Old. It had a wide circulation even without a printing press. Wiclif was spared persecution. He was apparently a tad too early for that. He obviously stayed in trouble with the church, but had some powerful political friends like John of Gaunt. He was popular with the people who liked his message for what must have been a variety of reasons.

Wycliffe sends out LollardsDuring this time, priests (nicknames Lollards) went out two by two as itinerant preachers. They taught in the local languages to anyone who would listen anywhere they would listen. this movement continued until 1401 when Lollards were burned at the stake. While this put a stop to the movement at large, it did continue in smaller and less obvious ways.

Wiclif wasn’t left to rest in his grave. The Council of Constance condemned his teachings and Pope Martin V had his bones burned and throne into a stream.

Chapter 2 – John Hus, The Martyr of Bohemia

The Moravian Church Through the Ages

This book was written in 1966, and it’s by John R. Weinlick.  Looks like a church study course book with questions at the end of each chapter. I was hoping, because of it’s age, that it would be available on Google Books. It had rated a page but that is even of an updated edition and there is nothing on the book there. No cover, not table of contents, no reviews.

So, I’m thinking of blogging my way through this book – well, if grad school doesn’t get in the way. I still have several papers to write for one class.

The Table of Contents

PART I – The Bohemian Brethren

1. The Late Medieval World

2. John Hus, the Martyr of Bohemia

3. The Aftermath

4. The Founding of the Unitas Fratrum

5. Life and Character of the Old Unitas Fratrum

6. John Amos Comenius

PART II – The Renewed Moravian Church

7. The Renewal of the Unitas Fratrum

8. Herrnhut, Mother Community of the Moravian church

9. The Moravian Diaspora

10. Into All the World

11. The Moravian Church in America

12. The Moravian Heritage

Changing denominations

A little over a year ago, when I left my job at the church and walked away to find a new one, I also left my church. The church, that church, the old church? For 17 years, it had been my church and then it was not. Ron and I had taught more classes than I can remember – together and apart. We worked with discipleship, new members and of course, the library. The boys spent their teenage years there and were in countless programs, went to numerous camps as campers and then as counselors. They went on mission trips and made their first international trips with this church.

But the time had come to go. We had different jobs and Ron continued teaching Sunday School until the year ended. I didn’t go anywhere in that time period. It was in many ways a time of healing. A few people knew why I wasn’t there. I’d see other people out and about and they’d mention that they hadn’t seen me at church in a while. One of the problems in going to a really big church with multiple services across campuses. It’s not hard to lose track of someone. You change a service time, they change a campus. Contact is gone. I’m sure there are many people who don’t even know we are no longer there. I think it was Brian LePort who mentioned that he wanted to go to a church that wasn’t so big or that wasn’t so small. Well, that’s it.

When you work and worship at the same place, the sense of loss is great when that place and those people are no longer a part of your life.

Time passed and we began to visit – searching for where God would have us worship, a place to fellowship and serve. We had always gone to an SBC Baptist church, so that’s where we started and it just wasn’t clicking. It wasn’t that things didn’t seem perfectly wonderful at those churches, but there was just that mmmmmm can’t put your finger on it kind of feeling. It’s awkward not belonging, not having a regular place to go on Sunday – being at odds on a location. It’s like going out to dinner when no one is hungry for anything specific. Where do you want to go this week? We went to another church and another and then at Easter, we visited a Moravian Church. We saw an ad in the paper for a Great Saturday Sabbath service. We’ve been going there since without a second thought of going anywhere else. To say this has surprised me would be an understatement. To say that I have been surprised that Ron has felt the same way would be a greater understatement. The church we were in had a blended service and lots of opportunities for Amens and clapping with the sound of Bible pages flipping filling the air. This church is traditional, liturgical, smaller, quieter.

We met with the pastor today to talk about joining and getting more involved. We’ll meet again with another one of the pastors. I thought it would be hard to make a denominational change, but I didn’t know anything else.


I went back and tried to find the specific post by Brian over at Near Emmaus where he talked about the churches in which he’d been a member and found this one. I don’t know how I missed it, but there’s an interesting conversation going on, and it fits well with this post. I couldn’t find the one I was thinking about and mentioned earlier. Maybe I imagined it 😉