BOHEMIA MORAVIA AND POLAND. (1518-1521.)
THE reformation of Denmark and Sweden proceeded, humanly speaking, from Luther, at whose feet the Scandinavian reformers had received the Protestant doctrine. Consequently it was of later date than the reformation of Germany. But there was one country in which the piercing tones of the evangelical trumpet had been heard a century before Luther; and we must not forget this country in the general history of the Reformation. The discourses of John Hus had resounded in Bohemia and Moravia. A great number of believers were to be found there at the beginning of the sixteenth century; but Luther’s reformation gave them a new life.
The disciples of Hus were divided into two distinct parties. One of these had kept up certain relations with the Government of the country, and had been weakened by the influence of the court. The members of this party did not reject the authority of the Roman Catholic bishops of Bohemia; and their principal concern was to reclaim the cup for the laity, which procured them the designation of Calixtines. But the majority of the Hussites, who were chiefly to be found among the country people and the provincial nobility, having entered into relations with the Wycliffites and the Vaudois, went farther than Hus himself. They professed justification by faith in the Savior, and looked upon the institution of the papacy as and-christian. This party, distinguished by the name of Taborites, was not at the time of its origin what it afterwards became. The waters, far from being tranquil, had then been in a state of fermentation, ebullition, and violent agitation. These ardent religionists had uttered war-cries and fought battles. But gradually, being purified by means of the struggle and by adversity, they had become more calm, more spiritual; and from 1457 to 1467 they had formed a respectable Christian community under the name of the United Brethren.
Two different views as to the Lord’s Supper prevailed among them, without however disturbing their brotherly unity. The majority believed, with Wycliffe, that the body of Christ is truly given with the bread; not however corporeal but spiritually, sacramental, — to the soul, not to the mouth. This was afterwards very nearly Calvin’s thought. The most, decided of the Hussites on this side was Lucas, an elder of the church. The others, fewer in number, bore some resemblance in their views to the Vaudois, and looked upon the bread as simply representing the body of Christ. This was afterwards the view of Zwinglius. The two parties were tolerant of each other and loved each other; and both were strongly opposed to the notion of a corporeal presence of Christ in the euchariSt. Suddenly the report of Luther’s reformation reached Bohemia; and there was great joy among the disciples of Hus. They saw at last arising that eagle which their master had announced, and a power shaping itself which would bring them important aid in their struggle with the papacy. The Calixtines had addressed Luther both by letter and by messengers. He received these with kindness; but he was not so friendly to the United Brethren. He would not enter into relation with a sect some of whose opinions he did not share. One day, in 1520, when preaching on the sacrament of Christ’s body, he said, — ‘The Brethren or Picards are heretics, for, as I have seen in one of their books, they do not believe that the flesh and the blood of Christ are truly in the sacrament.’ This deeply affected the Bohemian evangelicals. Oppressed as they were, these brethren were anxious to find support in the Saxon reformation; and now it repulsed them! It seemed as if the little relish which they had for dogmatic formula, and the altogether practical tendency of their Christianity, must make it easy for them to come to an understanding; with the Wittenberg reformers. They therefore sent two members of their body to Luther, John Horn and Michael Weiss, whose appointed task was, while not in any particular disowning their own doctrine, to bring the famous doctor to a better opinion of those whom he called heretics. It was not without some timidity that the two Hussites approached Wittenberg. As members of a despised and persecuted community, how would they be received by the illustrious doctor, a man who enjoyed the protection of princes, whose voice was beginning to stir all Europe, and whose audacious utterances terrified his adversaries? The interview took place at the beginning of July 1522. The two humble delegates set forth accurately their belief respecting the Lord’s Supper. ‘Christ,’ they said, ‘is not corporeal in the bread, as those believe who assert that they have seen his blood flow. He is there spiritually, sacramentally.’ It might seem to Luther a critical moment.
He encountered habitually so much opposition in the world, that he might well ask whether he should go on to compromise himself still farther by giving his hand to these old dissidents, who had been so many times excommunicated, mocked, and crushed. Was it his duty, in addition to all the opprobrium under which he already labored, to take upon him also that which attached to this sect ? A small mind would have yielded to the temptation; but Luther’s was a great soul. He had respect only to the truth. ‘If these divines teach’ said Luther, ‘that a Christian who receives the bread visibly receives also, doubtless invisibly, but nevertheless in a natural manner, the blood of Him who sits at the right hand of the Father, I cannot condemn them. In speaking of the communion, they make use of obscure and barbarous expressions, instead of employing Scriptural phrases; but I have found their belief almost entirely sound.’ Then, addressing the delegates at the time of their leave-taking, he gave them this advice, — ‘Be good enough to express yourselves more clearly in a fresh statement.’
The United Brethren sent him this fresh statement in 1523. It was the production of their elder, Lucas, who, .as a zealous Wycliffite, came near to Luther, but at the same time felt bound to make no concessions. He had consequently set forth very clearly that there was in the Supper only spiritual nourishment for spiritual use. He had likewise added that Christ was not in the sacrament, but only in heaven. Luther was at first offended by these words. One might have said that these Bohemians took pleasure in defying him. But Christian feeling gained the ascendancy in the great doctor. The discourses of Lucas gave him more satisfaction than his treatises. He therefore relented, and addressed to the Brethren his work on the Worship of the Sacrament, f602 in which while setting forth his own doctrinal views he testified for them much love and esteem. Both sides seem to have vied with each other in noble bearing. The party which most nearly agreed with Luther became the strongest; and after the death of Lucas, feeling more at liberty, it came to an agreement with the Saxon reformer; while those who looked upon the bread as representing Christ’s body, at the head of whom was Michael Weiss, entered into relations with Zwinglius. f603 All that we have just said relates to the Taborites.
The Calixtines, on their part, also felt the influence of the movement which was shaking the Christian world. One tie still bound them to the Roman hierarchy. ‘Who is it that appoints pastors?’ they wrote to Luther; ‘is it not the bishops who have received authority from the Church to do so?’
The reformer’s answer was at once modest and decided. ‘What you ask of me,’ he replied, ‘is beyond my power. However, what I have I give to you; but I intend that your own judgment and that of your brethren should be exercised in the most complete freedom. I offer you nothing more than counsel and exhortation.’ f604 The reformer’s opinion was contained in a treatise annexed to his letter; and therein he showed that each congregation had a right itself to choose and to consecrate its own ministers. The modesty with which Luther expressed himself is something far removed from the arrogance which his enemies delight to attribute to him. The Calixtines, captivated by the reformer’s charity and faith, determined in an assembly held in 1524, to continue in the way marked out by Luther the reformation begun by John Hus. This decision called forth keen opposition on the part of some of the body, and its unity was broken. The number, however, of the Lutheran Calixtines continually increased. They received in general such of the evangelical doctrines as were still wanting to them; and henceforth they differed from the United Brethren only by their want of discipline and more intercourse with the world.
It was not in Bohemia alone that John Hus had become the forerunner of the Reformation; he had been so in other lands of Eastern Europe. One country, Poland, seemed as if it must precede other nations in the path of reformation. But after some rough conflict with Jesuitism it passed from the van to the rear. Having lost the Gospel, it lost independence, and now remains in the midst of Europe a ruined monument, showing to the nations what they become when they allow the truth to be taken away from them.
Already, in 1431, some of the disciples of Hus had come into Poland, and had publicly defended at Cracow evangelical doctrines against the doctors of the university, and this in the presence of the king and the senate. In 1432 other Bohemians arrived in Poland, and announced that the general council of Basel had received their deputies. The bishop of Cracow, a steadfast adherent of the Romish party, fulminated an interdict against them. f605 But the king and even several of the bishops were not at all disturbed thereby, and they gave a favorable reception to these disciples of John Hus, so that their doctrines were diffused in various parts of Poland.
Wycliffe was also known there; and, about the middle of the fifteenth century, Dobszynski, a Polish poet, composed a poem in his honor.
Thus Hus and Wycliffe, Bohemia and England, countries so wonderfully unlike each other, were at the same time, as early as the fifteenth century, laboring to disseminate the light in the land of the Jagellons. It was not in vain. In 1459, Ostrorog, palatine of Posen, presented to the Diet a project of reform which, without touching upon dogmas, distinctly pointed out abuses, and established the fact that the pope had no authority whatever over kings, because the kingdom of Christ is not of this world. In 1500, celibacy and the worship of relics were attacked in some works published at Cracow. In 1515 Bernard of Lublin established the express principle of the Reformation, — that we must believe only the word of God, and that we ought to reject the tradition of men. This was the state of things when the Reformation appeared. How would it be received?
The common people both in the country and in the towns were, in general dull of understanding and destitute of culture. But the citizens of the great towns, who by commerce were brought into intercourse with other populations, and particularly with those of Germany, had developed themselves, and began to be acquainted with their rights. A wealthy and powerful aristocracy were predominant in the country. The clergy had no power at all. The Church had no influence whatever on the State, nor did the State ever assist the Church. The priests themselves, by reason of their worldliness and their immorality, were in many places objects of contempt. Sigismund I., the reigning sovereign, was a prince of noble character and of enlightened mind; and he endeavored to promote a taste for the sciences and the arts. Such a country appeared to be placed in circumstances very favorable for the reception of the Gospel.
The Reformation had no sooner begun, than Luther’s writing, arrived in Poland, and 1aymen began to read them with eager interest. Some young Germans, who had been students at Wittenberg, made known the Reformation in the families in which they were engaged as tutors; and afterwards they endeavored to propagate it among the flocks of which they became pastors. Some young Poles flocked around Luther; and afterwards they scattered abroad in their native land the seed which they had collected at Wittenberg.
The Reformation naturally began in that part of Poland which lay nearest to Germany, of which Posen is the capital. In 1524 Samuel, a Dominican monk, attacked there the errors of the Roman Church. In 1525, John Seclucyan preached the Gospel in the same district; and a powerful family, the Gorkas, received him into their mansion, in which they had already established evangelical worship, and gave him protection against his persecutors. This pious man availed himself of the leisure afforded him by this Christian hospitality to translate the New Testament into Polish. Alone, in the chamber in which he had been obliged to take refuge, he accomplished, like Luther in the Wartburg, a work which was to be the enlightening of many souls.
The Gospel did not stop here. Just as in a dark night one flash which shines in the west is succeeded by another on the farthest borders of the east, so the doctrine of salvation, after appearing in the west of Poland, suddenly showed itself in the north, in the east, even as far as Konigsberg.
From the still chamber in which John Seclucyan carried on his valuable labors the Polish reveille transports us into a great, flourishing, and populous town, to which foreigners in great numbers resorted from all quarters. Dantzic, which then belonged to Poland, became the principal focus of the Reformation in these lands. From 1518, German merchants, attracted thither by the commerce and industry of the city, took pleasure in recounting there the great discoveries which Luther was making in the Bible. A pious, enlightened, decided man, named Jacob Knade, a native of Dantzic, gave ear to the good news which the Germans proclaimed, and received them joyfully. He opened his house immediately to all who wished to hear the same. His frank and open disposition and his amiable address made it easy for anyone to cross the threshold of his abode. He did not confine himself to Christian conversation. As he was an ecclesiastic, he began to preach in public his faith in the church of St. Peter. He loved the Savior and knew how to make others love Him. To flowers he added fruit, and to good words good works. Convinced that marriage is a divine institution, the object of which is to preserve the holiness of life, he married. This act raised a terrible storm. The enemies of the Reformation, persuaded that if this example were followed the Church of Rome could not subsist, had him thrown into prison. f608 Released after six months, he was compelled to leave the town; and he would have wandered to and for if a noble in the neighborhood of Thorn had not offered him an asylum, as the Gorka family had done to the evangelist of Posen. The nobles of Poland showed themselves noble indeed; and in practicing hospitality they entertained angels unawares. f609 The bishop of the diocese, of which Dantzic with its priests was dependency, awakened from their slumbers, tried all means of beating back what they called heresy; and for this purpose they founded the fraternity of the Annunciation of Mary, the members of which were diligently to visit all persons who were spoken of as brought to the Gospel. ‘Come now,’ they said to them, ‘return to the Catholic and Apostolic Church, beyond whose pale there is no salvation.’ But the evangelical work, instead of falling off, continued to increase. Various divines had filled the post of Knade at Dantzic, — Hebraist Boschenstein, a Carmelite, Binewald, and others. The citizens would have no more of the Roman Church, on account of its errors; and the common people scoffed at it, on account of its petty practices. In the convent of the Franciscans there was a pious monk, Doctor Alexander, who had gradually become convinced not only of evangelical truth, but also of the necessity of preaching it. However, he was no Luther. He was one of those placid, moderate, and somewhat timid men who abstain from anything which may provoke contradiction, and are a little too much masters of themselves. He remained, therefore in his convent, continued attached to the Church, and preached the truth seriously, but with great cautiousness. The more cultivated of the inhabitants attended his preaching. There was a crowd of hearers, and many were enlightened by his discourses. But some could not understand why he did not separate from Rome. Some pious Christians, occasionally a little enthusiastic, demanded that everything should be changed, without as well as within, and that an entirely new order should be established in the Church. They were certainly not wrong to desire it, but they did not understand that this new order must be established by the faith of the heart, and not by the strength of the arm. One of these, named Hegge, f610 preached in the open air outside the town. ‘ To bow down. before images,’ he exclaimed, ‘is stupidity, any more, it is idolatry;’ and he induced his hearers to break the idols. Fortunately, by the side of these iconoclasts there were some prudent evangelical Christians who, perceiving like Luther that it was by the Word that all needed change must be wrought, requested of the council that it might be publicly preached. The council, which included the aristocracy of the town, most of them Roman Catholics, and which was controlled by the bishop, at first rejected this request. But, at length, finding that a very large number of the inhabitants had embraced the Reformation, it granted five churches for their use. From this time the two doctrines, that of the Gospel and that of Rome, were both preached in the town. Religious liberty existed, and the evangelicals were satisfied therewith.
But the enthusiasts of whom we have spoken, who had not yet renounced the intolerant theories which were and always will be held by Rome f611 wanted something else. ‘What,’ they said, ‘Christian churches filled with images of men! A people bowing down to them! All the churches must be cleared of images, and the Word of God must be established.’ The council gave a decisive refusal. It appeared to these Christians that the magistrates were thus placing themselves in opposition to the will of God. It was, therefore, essential to have others. Although the town was under the sovereignty of the king of Poland, it enjoyed a complete independence in the management of its home affairs. Four thousand Lutheran’s took advantage, of this fact. They assembled, surrounded the town-hall, and appointed other magistrates from among their own friends. These officers required the priests to preach the Gospel, and to cast things defiled out of the sanctuary. As the priests refused to do so, the new council set evangelical ministers in their place, abolished the Romish worship, converted the convents into schools and hospitals, and declared that as the wealth of the church was public property, it should remain untouched. f612 The subject of the organization of the Church in conformity with the Holy Scriptures was now under discussion. These men of action found that they knew very little about it, and they determined to invite Doctor Pomeranus to go and perform this task. Pomeranus (Bugenhagen) was the organizer and administrator of the Reformation. One of the Dantzic pastors, Doctor John, set out for Wittenberg. On his arrival he betook himself to Luther, delivered to him the letter with which he was entrusted, and gave him an account of the reformation at Dantzic, of course omitting its unpleasant features, and depicting it in the fairest colors. ‘Oh,’ said the great man, ‘what’ wonderful things Christ has wrought in that town!’ The reformer, without delay, dispatched the news to Spalatin, adding, ‘I should rather that Pomeranus remained with us; but as a matter of so much importance is at stake, for the love of God we must yield.’ All were not of the same opinion. Pomeranus was so valuable at Wittenberg. ‘Ah,’ replied the ardent reformer, ‘if I were called, I would go immediately.’ The council of the university then interfered. ‘Many foreign students, ‘said the council, ‘come to Wittenberg; we must therefore keep the men who are competent to train useful ministers for other towns of Germany.’ Michael Hanstein was chosen instead of Pomeranus. ‘If there be any changes to introduce,’ wrote the reformer when dismissing him, ‘images or other things to put away, let it be done not by the people, but by the regular action of the council. We must not despise the powers that be.’ f615 This prudent counsel came too late. The reforms effected at Dantzic had thrown the Roman Catholics into a state of distress; and amongst them were to be found the most eminent men. What! no more images, no more altars, no more masses, no more churches! Some of the members of the old council were dispatched to ask aid of King Sigismund. They arrived at the palace in carriages hung with black; they made their appearance before the prince in mourning apparel, their heads encircled with crape, as if the sovereign himself were dead; and on their countenances was the expression of deep grief. They laid their grievances before the king, and entreated him to save the town from the complete ruin with which it seemed to be threatened, and to re-establish the old order, of things abolished by the townsmen. The king was struck by the appearance of these men wearing mourning for the Church. Notwithstanding his remarkable capacities he did not see that there could be any other religion than that in which he was born; and he followed in this matter the advice of his prelates. He therefore summoned the leaders, of the reformed party. These men, however, while professing their loyalty to the prince, did not appear at his call, and were consequently outlawed. In April 1526, Sigismund himself went to Dantzic. Although a Roman Catholic, he was an opponent of persecution on account of religion. Being urged on one occasion by John Eck to follow the example of the king of England, who had just declared against the Reformation, the king replied, — ’Let Henry VIII. publish, if he like, books against Luther; but I for my part will be the same to the goats and to the sheep.’ But the present case was very different. The reformers had laid hands on the State; a political body had been overthrown. Sigismund was pitiless. The heads of the movement were punished with confiscation of their property and banishment from Dantzic or death. Every citizen who did not return to the Roman Church had to leave the town in fifteen days; the married priests, monks and nuns, in twenty-four hours. Every inhabitant was to deliver up Luther’s books. The Roman worship was everywhere restored, and the church of St. Mary, in particular, was given back to the Virgin by a solemn mass. The Dantzic reformers thus paid dear for the mistake which they had made, forgetting the great apostolical principle, The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mightily through God. f616 This persecution, however, did not extinguish faith in men’s hearts; it purified them. Three years later, while a terrible epidemic was raging at Dantzic, a pious minister, named Pancrace Klemme, proclaimed the Gospel there, with love, power, and sobriety. The king broke out in threatening. Klemme declared that he would accept no other rule of conduct or of teaching but the Word of God; and carrying on his work vigorously he earned the title of the Dantzic Reformer. Sigismund, struck with his wise procedure, and fearing lest this and other towns in his dominions should ally themselves with evangelical Prussia, took no notice.
In the succeeding reign, the Gospel again triumphed in this city, but without confusion, and without infringing on the liberty of the Roman Catholics.
Thorn, a town situated like Dantzic on the Vistula, but further south, and which afterwards played a somewhat important part in the history of the Reformation, was also among the first to display its enthusiasm for it. At a Diet held in this town in 1520, the king issued an ordinance against Luther. In the following year, the pope and the bishop of Kamienez having determined to get an effigy of the reformer publicly burnt, some partisans of the illustrious doctor, rather hasty no doubt, finding that his enemies resorted to fire for the purpose of convincing them, took up stones and threw them at the prelates and their adherents. These disturbances were renewed in other shapes, but ultimately everything settled down; and a few years later the Gospel was regularly preached in the churches.
It might have been said that the Vistula bore the Reformation on its waters; for we have found it at Thorn and at Dantzic, and we find it also at the old capital of the kingdom, Cracow. A secretary of the king, named Louis Dietz, afterwards burgomaster of this town, having visited Wittenberg in 1522, came back full of what he had seen and heard, and distributed his new treasure freely on his return. Many of the inhabitants then embraced the doctrine of the Reformation. The university appears to have been the center from which the light radiated. Luther’s works were publicly offered for sale, and everybody wanted to know what was in them. Theologians, students, and townsmen bought and read them eagerly, and the professors did not disapprove them. Modrzewski, a writer of that time, has narrated what occurred in his own case. Impelled simply by curiosity, he began to read the books unconcernedly; but as he went on, the seriousness, the truth, and the life which he found in them interested him more and more. When he had come to the end, the opinions of the Roman tradition had given place in his mind to the truths of the Gospel.
There was in Poland a party which held a middle ground between enthusiasm on the one side and opposition to it on the other. The educated classes were very generally at this time in a state of doubt, hesitating between the two doctrines. A secret society was formed, composed of well-informed men, both laymen and churchmen, whose object was to read and to discuss the evangelical publications. The queen herself, Bona Sforza, was one of these investigators. She had for her confessor a learned Italian monk, one Lismanini, who received all the and-papistical books published in the various countries of Europe, and transmitted them to the society of examiners. The queen was sometimes present at the conferences. It was not till a later day, however, that this association rose into the greater importance. f617 The number of people decided in favor of reform was continually increasing. The university, the library, the cathedral, and even the bishop’s palace resounded with theological discussions between the partisans of tradition and those of Holy Scripture. The students especially were enthusiastic for Luther. The bishop, alarmed and bent on applying some remedy, summoned a professor whose ultramontane orthodoxy was unimpeachable, and explained his fears to him. The professor, all afire with zeal, ascended the pulpit and delivered before the students several very animated sermons against Luther and his Reformation. f618 But it was to no purpose that he did so. The doctrine thus attacked was constantly propagated farther and wider. Fabian de Lusignan, bishop of Ermeland in the palatinate of Marienburg, was friendly to it; and other bishops besides were believed to have leanings to Wittenberg.
A fresh circumstance occurred to give this doctrine powerful support.
Albert, duke of Prussia Proper, whose seat was at Konigsberg, had been enlightened, as we have noticed, by the preaching of Osiander at Nurnberg; and he had become the protector of evangelical doctrine in the towns of Poland in his neighborhood. Luther rejoicing at the news wrote to the bishop of Samland, — ‘In Albert, that illustrious hero, you have a prince full of zeal for the Gospel; and now the people of Prussia, who perhaps had never known the Gospel, or at least had only heard a falsified version of it, is in possession of it in all its brightness.’ f619 Ere long the Reformation reached Livonia, and Luther was filled with joy to hear that ‘God was there also beginning his marvelous works.’ Luther was, so to speak, the bishop of the new churches, and his powerful words came to them to guide and strengthen. In August 1523, he wrote to the Christians of Riga, Revel, and other places in that country, — ’Be sure there will come wolves who will want to lead you back into Egypt, to the devilish and false worship. From this Christ has delivered you. Take heed therefore that ye be not carried away. Be assured that Christ alone is eternally our Lord, our priest, our teacher, our bishop, our Savior, and our comforter, against sin, against sorrow, against death, and against everything that is hurtful to us.’ f620 Directing our attention further to the east and the north, we see Russia, of which we shall have something to say in connection with Poland, and which did not see till a later day any disciples of the Reformation, and these almost all foreigners. Nevertheless, at the time of Luther’s rising against the captivity of the Church, there was also in these land a movement in the direction of the Bible. The sacred writings, transcribed by ignorant copyists, had been gradually altered, and the sense had been corrupted. In 1520, the Czar Vassili Ivanovich applied to the monks of Mount Athos to send him a doctor competent to restore the true text.
Maximus, a Greek monk, well. acquainted with the Greek and the Slavonic languages, arrived at Moscow. He was received with much respect, and he spent ten years in correcting the Slave version by the original text. But the Russian priests, ignorant and superstitious, were jealous of his superiority. They accused him of altering the sacred books with a view to introduce a new doctrine; and the doctor was consigned to a convent. f621 The Greek or Russian Church unhappily remained outside the circle of the Reformation.