1757 - A short, reliable report from the church of the Unitas Fratrum...
Church of the Brethren
The Bohemian-Moravian Church of Brethren stems from those Brethren who were given sanctuary by the King of Bohemia, George Podiebrad on his land near Lititz and the Schlessigian border, out of his own will and love, and also in response to the request of the Archbishop of Prague in the year 1457, AD. This was done in order that the Brethren could serve God in peace and stillness and to protect them from their enemies after they separated from the Taborites over the matter of defending religion with weapons and declared their prayer for the one violence by Christians against their enemies.
They called themselves Brethren after the manner of the first Christians. Because they were Bohemians and Moravians,
outsiders called them the Bohemian and Moravian Brethren and, after the Waldenses fled persecution and joined their nation, they were also called Waldenses. Due to the fact that they also sought protection in Prussia, Poland, England, Würtenberg and Sachsen and left members there, it soon became impossible to gather all of these groups under one name: The Bohemian-Moravian-Welsh-Polish-German- and English Brethren. Thus, instead of claiming any one nation in their name, they compiled all these groups under the beloved name, Fratrum Unitatis, or, The Unity of Brethren, which had already been in use for 300 years. This is the name that, according to the Act of the Parliament of Great Britain, they will continue to use. In other lands, particularly in Thur-Sachsen, they are also known as the Evangelical Brethren, as the Evangelical Directorial-Ministerio, according to the most merciful Assecuration of 1750.
We do not consider it possible to report anything reliable or special about their first origins because it was the fate of all the old, truthful constitutions to be lost in a night of uncertainty, due either to the nature of things, or through the might and craft of their enemies. In the meantime, it has been discovered and placed above all doubt that the church at Lititz, which bloomed fifty years before the Reformation, was a Slavic congregation which came from the historic Bulgarian Christians and from the Greek Church. It has also been confirmed that they managed to keep the religion free of the superstition, the mistakes, and the national maxims which plagued their mother church and that this made them the only lasting public and octroyrte Evangelical church at that time. One who wishes to know more of that, and of how these beloved people fared before as well as after the Reformation
will be able to find all that is to be expected of such materials in the Lafitii and Comenii histories of the Bohemian Brethren, in Saligs history of the Augsburg Confession, and in Riegers Salzbund of the Bohemian Brethren.
We know from these sources that the Bohemian-Moravian Brethren are, in both their origins as well as their geographic situation, oriental Christians and that the Occidental, or Latin, Church attempted to rein them in, before as well as after the Reformation. After quite a few centuries of brave resistance, the Latin Church was finally able to remove the threat with the help of the violent reforming of the empires of Bohemia and Moravia in this last century. Also contributing to the triumph of the Latin Church was the gradual decline of their fellow Protestant Brethren, some of whom fled their fatherlands to found colonies, and some of whom remained quiet and protected for a long time in their fatherlands until they could, in our time, freely leave the land.
Further, we know that the Lititz Church received the Episcopal Ordination and Succession directly from the Waldenses, and that, soon thereafter, they were received in Bohemia and Moravia following the persecution and scattering of the Waldenses. During this inquisition the last bishop, Stephanus, was brought to Vienna and burned. After this, they the Lititz Church committed themselves as a single group, along with the assorted peoples whom holy providence, through the doctrinal reformation, enabled to come into existence.
We also know that the Brethren sent many representatives to Luther and that they were in constant
contact through letters. He professed a liking for them, and allowed their creed to be published in Wittenberg in 1533, along with his own preamble and approval of their creed. He allied himself with them and persisted with the federation until his death. He disagreed, brotherly but not masterfully, with what he saw as a canon that was too restricted. Following his example, his successors were very fond of the Brethren and held them in high regard. Even though there were many quarrels in the area concerning proselytization from both sides, for which they were attacked in polemic papers by Morgenstern and Hederich. These opponents had so few successors that almost all church records which pertain to the ecclesiastical chapter of the Brethren agree that they were loved, honored, and held up to their respective communities of descendents as examples. This was especially true after Doctor Speners' idea of establishing the Ecclesiolis in Ecclesia plantandis was accomplished.
The Brethren had their most plentiful and truest connections to the Reformed Church, regardless of their basic principles, as both strove to understand one another. Calvin also held them in high esteem and recognized them as brothers in faith. He loved, not just in words, but in deed and truth, their canon law and took as much of it as he was able to and introduced it in his church. He also, with great sincerity, suggested, together with other reformed theologians, that the Polish of the Swiss confession unify themselves with the Brethren from the Polish branch of the Unity of the Brethren. This finally happened in 1570 when the famous Consensu Sendomiriensi was enacted.
The connection with the Church of England, in existence since the time of Wycliffe (whose lovely letter to Johann Huß is still available) was still active, so that the Brethren helped to rewrite the Anglican Church laws and, in 1549 appointed Johannes
a Lasco from Poland to the position of superintendent for all foreign Protestants in London, and gave him the handsome Augustinian Church. Johannes Amos Comenius, the last bishop of the Moravian sect, dedicated his chronicles and organization of the Church of the Brethren to King Carl dem Andern and, in a short note to the Church of England, specifically advised the church, and also to his dear mother that the English theologian Bennet, by the order of Kind George the First and his secret council, declared the church to be an evangelical Episcopal church in two sermons which were held and printed in London and Lambeth. They also internalized this affect during their time of need in 1716.
A trustworthy account of how this church, which literally disappeared before the eyes of man, was resurrected and appeared in Germany, England, and other countries is to be found in the texts of the Brethren, especially those in the Büdingen Collection. Christian David was the Caleb who led these Children of the Promise (as he liked to call them) to Oberlaufiz. This happened in 1722, approximately one hundred years after the fall of the Moravians. The first were Catholics, or Calixtinians, who had converted to Evangelical religion and were in search of a sanctuary. They were referred and directed by good friends to Count Zinzendorf. After a futile attempt to accommodate them elsewhere, the man, guided by Christian love and charity, could not refuse them
and did not want to restrict them from settling on his land near Bertholdsdorf. This settlement, below Huthberg, which is on the main road to Prague, finally became the famous town of Herrnhut. The direct descendants of the Moravian Brethren came to Herrnhut between 1724 and 1733 and the population grew very quickly so that, in conjunction with the Bohemian emigration crisis occurring in the same time period, Count Zinzendorf, at obviously great risk to his own person, found it necessary to travel to Moravia in 1726 to speak with the Cardinal Bishop of Olmutz and his Ministerio. Both sides agreed that it would not be a good idea to get involved with the Bohemian converts or to support the agitation of the people in Moravia. However, it was decided that those living in what are known to be old Moravian Brethren villages near Fulneck* , and who wished to leave of their own free will, should be allowed to leave. Both sides agreed to handle the matter peacefully and without the aid of a mediator.
They were thereafter taken into different lands and established congregations in Thur-Sachsen, Brandenburg, Schlessen, Vogtland, on the Rhein, in Holland, England, and Ireland, all of which were recognized by the high officials. It was mostly in America, especially due to the English Brethren, that settlements were established. Settlements were even established among heathens whom no one could take in. According to gossip, some of these missionaries had missions rich in blessings that still failed. The Brethren, predominately at the request of these heathens proceeded to seek and receive the treasure of Episcopal ordination, inherited from their forefathers, from the bishops of the Polish Church of the Brethren.
So is the story of the origins and progress of the Unity. The Unity had been investigated and was not evicted by any of the Evangelical kings or princes. What is more, they were recognized and accepted on the basis of official tests, often following reprimandable quarrels, in those areas where they settled or where they were known due to only a few encounters.* This was especially true in the English empire, as well as those places where the Brethren settled in large numbers. In 1736 the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Potter, suggested to the trustees of the colony of Georgia that they take some of the Brethren of Herrnhut with them as members of an apostolic and Episcopal community in order to convert the Indians and the Negroes. This community would adhere to all 39 Articles of the English Church. Potter also wrote a beautiful letter congratulating Count Zinzendorf on his Episcopal consecration in 1739, and in this letter he called the Church of the Brethren Sanctam vereque illustrem Cathredram una cum pura primaevaque fide primaevam etiam Ecclesiae Disciplnam constanter adhuc tuentem. In 1749 the Parliament released a report fueled by their investigation that declared the Church of the Brethren an old, protestant, orthodox church. In addition, they drafted a law for the empire with the full consent of the bishops that clearly outlined what kind of people were permissible under this title.
After this historical introduction, we come to the teachings of the Brethren. It is nobly perceived that they regard the Bible as pure in its own state, without modern decoration and, as Paul said,
without making it more attractive through lies. For there is no other work that can equal or surpass the teachings of the treasure of all treasures, the book of all books, the beginning and the thread of all Theosophy, Theology, Praxis, and the emotion of a child of God. They adopt the Holy Text, in all things and in all intentions, as the only law and guide for the true teaching. While other theologians strive to seek, to find, and to make a lesson or meaning out of these texts, the Brethren take everything Greek: according to the spoken, so as it is written, so will I read it. What is contained therein is true for them, just as the outer world is true for them. The Brethren believe things that others must find contradictory by their logic, except for by tedious exertion to save the Bible, the Brethren believe.
They then professed an adherence to the unaltered Augsburg Confession which, in the eyes of the Brethren, was in keeping with the Bohemian Confession, to which the Polish Brethren still hold true. The Bohemian Confession was overseen in 1535 by King Ferdinand, and has been approved many times by the Mittenbergers. Everything that the Augsburg Confession refers to as the teaching, which it summarizes in 20 articles and closes with the words, "this is the sum of all our teachings," is also the Thesis and Symbolum doctrinale of the Brethren. They also used the Synod of Bern, especially the first 18 chapters pertaining to Homiletic, as a part of their Methodo dogmatica in preaching, and this without entering the controversy between the two groups and without facing the consequences of this controversy. The Synod of Bern was not a confession but a pastoral instruction. Both of these texts were used in church songs, which sounded almost exactly like the originals.