History of the Bohemian Brethren

A.) Establishment and Early History (1457-1517)

In the BATTLE OF LIPPAU (1434) the moderate Hussites (Utraquists) defeated their radical fellow Hussites, the Taborites. The Utraquists had accepted the BASEL COMPACTATES (1433), and, having been granted communion in both kinds (in utraque species, hence Utraquists), had been reintegrated into the Catholic Church; the Taborites had rejected the Basel Compactates, and after 1434, suffered under persecutuion. In 1457 a branch of remaining Taborites, under the leadership of a certain GREGORY, founded the UNITAS FRATRUM (Union of Brothers) which, with the permission of King GEORG PODIEBRAD, established a community at KUNWALD near Senftenberg. The community rejected Transubstantiation. In 1461 the community left their original settlement in fear of repression; a 1464 synod established their doctrine - salvation by faith and charity. They called upon their members to give up their individual property, to share their wealth with the community. In 1467 Matthias of Kunwald was ordained bishop by an Austrian Waldensian. At a 1467 synod held at Lhotka, all participants were re-baptized, the act symbolizing the formal breach with both the Catholic and Utraquist communities. The brethren focussed on the lifestyle of the individual, under strict ethical guidelines which included poverty, humility, celibacy in the case of priests; military service and the swearing of oaths were discouraged.
Repression continued. King Wladislav II. (Ladislaus, 1471-1516) granted toleration to the Brethren; many new communities were founded; after a 1507 conference called for by the king, the latter ordered renewed suppression.

B.) The Bohemian Brethren 1517-1648

The Bohemian Brethren sympathized with the Lutheran Reformation. Luther objected to their interpretation of the eucharist and to the celibacy practiced by their priests. An attempt to merge the Lutherans in Bohemia and the Bohemian Brethren, striven for by Brethren leader JOHN AUGUSTA, failed (1528-1542) as the Lutherans did not accept the more rigid discipline of the Brethren. The Bohemian Brethren, together with Bohemia's Lutherans, objected to Bohemia's participation, on the side of the Emperor, in the SCHMALKALDIC WAR; after Charles V.'s victory at Mühlberg 1547 they had to submit to King Ferdinand. Regarded rebels, the Brethren were exposed to severe suppression. Some went into exile, to Poland and Prussia; others formally joined the Utraquists. Under Maximilian II. (1548-1576), the persecution ebbed down, to increase again under Rudolf II. (1576-1612). In 1609 Rudolf granted all protestants in Bohemia toleration; a protestant consistory consisting of both Lutherans and Brethren was formed, which was unable to maintain peaceful relations between both groups.
In 1618 the DEFENESTRATION OF PRAGUE marked the beginning of the short Bohemian noble's republic, which was protestant. It was defeated in the Battle of the White Mountain (1620); the Bohemian protestants, including the Brethren, now were given the choice between conversion to Catholicism and exile. Exile communities were founded in Hungary and Poland; among famous exiles figures JAN AMOS better known by his Latin name COMENIUS. In Bohemia proper, the Brethren became extinct.

B.) The Moravian Brethren

In Moravia, Bohemian Brethren, although also persecuted, held out longer. When Lutheran pietist COUNT NIKOLAUS VON ZINZENDORF founded his community at HERRNHUT in Saxony, he invited the Brethren to come and settle there. They founded a second union, the MORAVIAN BRETHREN. In 1731 they established a separate community. Pietism was emphasized; the community took missionary work upon herself.

Article Bohemian Brethren, from Catholic Encyclopedia
Bohemian Brethren, from Christian Singers of Germany by Catherine Winkworth
J.E. Hutton, History of the Moravian Church, online book
REFERENCE Mark Greengrass, The Longman Companion to the European Reformation c.1500-1618, Harlow (Essex): Longman 1998, pp.41f, KMLA Lib.Sign. 374.06 GB 121

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on January 15th 2003, last revised on November 15th 2004

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