Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

English Christianity – Part 2

The writings of John Wycliffe reached as far as Bohemia, where they were adopted, at least in part, by Jan Hus. Hus was appointed rector of the University of Prague in 1401 and chaplain of Bethlehem Chapel in Prague in 1402. Hus preached in the Czech language and strongly attacked the corruption of the Catholic church. In 1414 the German Emperor Sigismund called a church council at Constance to reform the church and settle the question of which of three competing popes should be recognized as the true pope. Hus was promised safe conduct by the emperor, but was captured by one of the popes, condemned for heresy and burned at the stake. Peter Payne, an English Lollard, turned up in Prague about the same time, after spending some time among the German Waldenses. Peter Payne became known as Petr Engliš and became the interpreter of Wyckliffe to the followers of Hus. Divisions soon developed among the Hussites on the point of how much they could accommodate themselves to Catholic teachings for the sake of peace, and all parties eventually got drawn into the use of arms to support or defend their particular views.

In the Bohemian countryside, in the town of Chelčice, lived another Petr, known to us as Petr Chelčický. This Petr was a freehold farmer with little formal education. It is quite probable that the two Petrs will have had discussions together. But one had moved from peaceable Lollardy to the more militant Hussite view. The other had dropped out of the Hussite movement to proclaim by his writings the old Waldensian doctrine of the peaceable and pure church of believers.

Petr Chelčický wrote that the Bohemians were like people who had come to a house that had burnt down many years ago and tried to find the foundations. The ruins had become overgrown with different sorts of growths and people took these for the foundation and proclaimed that this is the way that all should go. Another may perhaps take a different growth for the foundation. How much better it would be if all could see that the old foundation had become lost among the ruins and then would dig and search for it and build upon it. The “Net of Faith” is a metaphor for the Church of God, where the believers are separated from the other fish in the ocean by this net of faith. But two whales, the Pope and the Emperor, have forced their way into the net, tearing great holes in it and mangling it so that only a few threads of the original net are now visible. Now there is no difference between being inside the net or outside.

After the death of Chelčický several small communities of believers grouped together as the Unitas Fratrum (United Brethren), or Jednota Bratskrâ (Church of the Brotherhood) and sought ordination for their leaders from a Waldensian bishop in Austria. But with toleration came a trend to greater formality in worship and the acceptance of civil offices. By the 1500’s their enhanced position in society brought a renewal of persecution. After more than a century during which they sometimes had to hide or flee and sometimes experienced times of peace, they took up arms to defend themselves and were decisively defeated, effectively destroying the Bohemian Brethren.

Years later, in 1690, a small group of Moravian refugees gathered under the protection of Count Zinzendorf in Germany. They were organized as an independent body within the Lutheran church. Later, in more tolerant times, they became completely independent. From the first this new Moravian Brethren church had a strong missionary emphasis.


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