Bohemia - Church History

Orthodox Mission . Saints Cyril and Methodius arrived in Great Moravia in 863; here they created the Church Slavonic script (Glagolithic) and established an Orthodox church administration, with a bishopric in Nitra (modern Slovakia). While the Catholic Church used Latin for mass and church records, the Orthodox church held mass and wrote church records in old Slavonic. In 880, Bohemian prince Borivoj was baptized according to the Orthodox rite. The Orthodox church organization of Great Moravia was destroyed, together with the state it served, by Magyar incursions (c. 905). The Slavonic church language was still used in certain monasteries in Bohemia in the 11th century.

Catholic Mission . Since 817 Bohemia was regarded a vassall of the Frankish / East Frankish Kingdom. For Bohemia, conversion to Catholicism would have meant an intensification of her dependence on the Frankish / East Frankish Kingdom; conversion to Orthodox Christianity was perceivede as less of a political dependency, as the Byzantine Empire was far and not perceived a military threat. The arrival of the Magyars in the Carpathian Basin (895) changed the political situation.
Dukes Vratislav I. and Wenceslas I. (922-929) were baptized and promoted Catholic mission; Wenceslas was murdered by his brother who, allegedly, had been persuaded to this act of fratricide by representatives of the pagan opposition.
The establishment of the Diocesis of Prague (under the Archdiocesis of Mainz) in 973 marks the conclusion of the process of conversion of the Bohemians, which took one and a half centuries.

Monastic Bohemia . In importance next to the diocesal administration in Prague were monasteries. The earlier monasteries were of the Benedictine Order (Brevnov, Sazava); in the 12th century Premonstratensians (Tepl) and Cistercians followed.
In the 13th century, ethnic German settlers immigrated, settling in cities which emerged all over Bohemia, and in the hitherto thinly inhabited outer regions of Bohemia. New monastic orders, the Dominicans and Minorites (Franciscans) established convents in the cities, taking on charitable tasks. The Teutonic Order, a militant order organizing the conquest and forced conversion of the pagan Prussians, established itself in Bohemia (where it recruited knights for the fight in Prussia).

The 14th Century . While Bohemia, since the immigration of a considerable number of German settlers, was split in two distinct ethnic communities, the country remained one church province, the Diocesis (since 1344 Archdiocesis) of Prague. The language of the church was Latin, favouring neither the Czechs nor the Germans. In 1348 the University of Prague was established, the first in the Holy Roman Empire outside Italy.
The elevation of Prague from diocesis to archdiocesis had turned the Bohemian Lands into an independent entity, in terms of church politics. The university attracted students from beyond Bohemia; the majority of the students was ethnic German; the university was organized in four 'nations', three German, one Bohemian.

Hussitism (1409-1434) . In 1409 King Wenceslas decreed the organization of the University of Prague to be reformed; now there were three Bohemian nations and one German nation. Many of the German professors and students left Prague in protest; they founded new universities in Leipzig and Erfurt.
At the University of Prague, a group of scholars inspired by the writings of John Wyclif formed. Jacob of Mies in 1414 proposed to hand out the eucharist to the parishioners in both kinds; Jan Hus preached in the vernacular, criticized the church for being corrupted, and especially the practice of the sale of letters of indulgence. Hus was excommunicated in 1411, invited to appear at the Council of Konstanz 1414 in order to defend his theses, and - in violation of safe conduct granted to him by Emperor Sigismund - burnt at the stake in 1415.
His followers in Bohemia did not accept this judgment; Bohemia was split in two camps, the Catholic church administration and the Hussite Church. The popes called for crusades against the Hussite heretics (1420-1433), which all were repelled.
Meanwhile the Hussites split in two camps, the moderate Utraquists (Calixtines) and the radical, milleniarist Taborites. In 1434 the Calixtines were readmitted into the Catholic Church (Compacts of Basel, offered by the Council of Basel; in 1462 annulled by the pope), with the permission to continue the eucharist in both kinds. Calixtines and Czech Catholics defeated the Taborites in the Battle of Lipany 1434; Bohemia was restored to the Luxemburg Dynasty.
The period of early Hussitism had not only seen a drastic decline in the population of Bohemia, but also the usurpation of church property by nobles and cities, a factum the Bohemian kings had to accept before being paid homage to. The clergy lost her representation in the Bohemian diet.
Click here for a more detailed history of the Reformation in the Lands of the Bohemian Crown.

1434-1526 . The years between 1434 and 1526 were characterized by changing dynasties (Luxemburg Dynasty -1437; Habsburg Dynasty 1438-1456, George of Podebrady 1456-1471, Jagiellonian Dynasty 1471-1526). Most of these dynasties ruled several countries simultaneously and resided outside of Bohemia. George of Podebrady was a confessed Hussite; he was excommunicated, and again a crusade against Bohemia called for. While Bohemia was not conquered, the Bohemian sidelands were lost, at least temporarily.
Jagiellonian King Vladislaus II. in 1485 signed over the control of the administration to the Bohemian estates, which were dominated by the Bohemian nobility. Many of the parish churches in Bohemia were regarded property of local nobles, as they had been, centuries before, established on privately owned land.
Remnants of the Taborites reorganized as the Bohemian (or Moravian) Brethren.
The year 1522 saw the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation in Saxony. Lutheranism spread in Bohemia's ethnic German communities.
Click here for a more detailed history of the Reformation in the Lands of the Bohemian Crown.

The 16th Century (1526-1620) . In 1526 Ferdinand of Habsburg, brother of Emperor Charles V., was elected King of Bohemia. The Habsburg Dynasty was to rule Bohemia for the next century. King Ferdinand (1526-1564) and Emperor Rudolf II. resided in Prague.
The Habsburg Dynasty was staunchly Catholic. The earlier Habsburg rulers were well aware of the religious diversity of Bohemia; Lutheranism spread among the country's German population. The Jesuits were called to Prague in 1556, but not given a free hand yet. In 1611, Emperor Rudolf was deposed; Emperor Matthias resided in Vienna; in 1617 Archduke Ferdinand of Styria was elected King of Bohemia. He was a staunch supporter of the Counterreformation, which he had had implemented by force in Inner Austria (Styria, Carinthia and Carniola). The protestant segment among Bohemia's nobility feared the policy of enforced Recatholization to come to Bohemia, and in 1618 staged a coup d'etat - the Defenestration of Prague. Bohemia adopted the constitution of a nobles' republic, with a nominal elected king, Frederick Count Palatine, a Calvinist. Bohemia's Czech nobility also tended toward Calvinism in those days; with her control over the parish churches they owned, this had an impact beyond their social class.
Click here for a more detailed history of the Reformation in the Lands of the Bohemian Crown.

Counterreformation Bohemia (1620-1711) . The Battle of the White Mountain in 1620 restored Bohemia to Habsburg rule. Now the Habsburg Dynasty ruled Bohemia by a combination of divine right / the right of conquest, no longer by a combination of genealogical claim, a vote influenced by bribery and the good will of the Bohemian Estates. Thus the Habsburgs were no longer coerced into a policy of religious toleration; the Jesuits were given a free hand in implementing the Counterreformation. Bohemian Brethren, Calvinists and Lutherans were either coerced to convert to Catholicism or to emigration. The rebel Bohemian nobles were executed, their estates auctioned off (to Catholic, mostly foreign nobles). Utraquism was also suppressed; the Catholic Church, by a combination of terror (Inquisition) and incentives (Carnival, Pilgrimages) regained control of the Bohemian parishioners.

18th Century Bohemia (1711-1792) . While the Habsburg Dynasty remained staunchly Catholic, rulers came to realize that a policy of leaving the Jesuits in control was harmful to the economy. As the Dynasty, in oder to finance her wars, long depended heavily on foreign subsidies, a Mercantilist policy was essential; Mercantilists supported a policy of improving the conditions of the peasants, and of religious toleration. Maria Theresia, while concerned about the peasants, was opposed to religious toleration. She even ordered Prague's large community of Jews expelled (1745-1748). Her son Joseph II., inspired by Enlightenment philosophy, decreed religious toleration in 1781. The Jesuit Order had been dissolved in 1773, its assets were used to found modern institutions of higher education. Joseph II. closed down monasteries of contemplative orders, rededicating their assets to institutions with social / charitable tasks. Prospective Catholic Priests had to study at Priests' Seminars, to take an oath of loyalty to the state.

The Nineteenth Century (1792-1918) . Enlightenment and Liberalism reduced the influence of the churches. The Catholic Church had been reduced from an organization complementing the state to an institution within the state by Joseph II. (1780-1790), and, while no longer state church (Patent for the Protestants 1861), remained the dominant religious organization in Bohemia. Relations between the Austrian state and the papacy were regulated in a series of concordats. The Jews were granted emancipation in 1849, the Jewish ghetto abolished in 1852. The 1830es to 1870es saw the assimilation of Bohemia's Jews into the German culture; toward the end of the 19th century, in the face of continued Anti-Semitism, Zionism spread.
The phenomenon of persons refraining from religious services appeared, as did Atheism in the later part of the century.

Czechoslovakia (1918-1992) . Czechoslovakia declared independence in 1918. The Czechoslovak constitution foresaw separation of church and state. The Catholic Church remained the strongest church in the country. In 1919 the Czechoslovak Hussite Church was founded, which held religious services in Czech language.
During the German occupation of Central Bohemia (1939-1945), the German administration aimed at the extermination of the country's Jewish minority, without discriminating between practicing Jews, non-religous persons of Jewish ancestry and former Jews who had converted to Catholicism.
Immediately after the liberation of Czechoslovakia in 1945, the country's ethnic Germans (3 million in all of Czechoslovakia) were forcibly expelled. The People's Republic of Czechoslovakia then declared Atheism official policy and, in the late 1940es / early 1950es, confiscated church property and arrested church officials. Church attendance decreased significantly. In the mid 1950es this policy eased.

Chronology of Catholic Dioceses, Czech R., from Kirken i Norge
Biographies of Czech Saints, from Ökumenisches Heiligenlexikon, in German
Articles Bohemia, Lutheran Theology in, Bohemian Brethren, from Christian Cyclopedia, posted by the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod
The Czechoslovak Hussite Church, official website
Articles Prague, from Jewish Virtual Library
Articles Religion in Communist Czechoslovakia, Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, Moravians (Religion) (= Bohemian Brethren), Hussites, Utraquism, from Wikipedia

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on July 29th 2006

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