Above: Bohemia, 1559
Image Source = Hammond’s World Atlas–Classics Edition (1967)
Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor
PETER OF CHELCIC (CIRCA 1390-CIRCA 1460)
Bohemian Hussite Reformer
GREGORY THE PATRIARCH (CIRCA 1420-SEPTEMBER 13, 1473)
Founder of the Moravian Church
I have been writing about saints from the history of the Moravian Church for a while. With this post I add two foundational figures from the history of that denomination to the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.
Peter of Chelcic (circa 1390-circa 1460), whose origins have remained mysterious, was the Moravian forerunner. The opinions of the fiery preacher were not mysterious, however. He condemned the union of church and state, the violence of the Hussite Wars, the profiteering of priests who charged fees for the administration of sacraments, the existence of religious sects, and royal authority. He was a communalist, a pacifist, an anarchist, a radical egalitarian, an advocate of simple living, and a champion of the poor. Peter, a leader of the Bohemian Reformation, had read and absorbed works of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus. Peter taught the priesthood of the believer, communal living, and a life of voluntary goodness. Good works, he said, are vital even though all people depend on divine grace. He also affirmed only two sacraments–baptism and the Holy Eucharist–and offered Eucharistic theology which presaged Lutheran Consubstantiation. Peter’s theology also influenced the Anabaptist movement, which came into existence in the 1520s.
There were Hussite factions after the execution of Jan Hus in 1417. The two germane to this post were the Taborites and the Calixtines/Utraquists. Peter of Chelcic was a Taborite. The Taborites were similar to the Lollards, who formed in support of Wycliffe’s views and expanded on them. The Calixtines/Utraquists, many of whom had returned to Holy Mother Church in 1434, were the Hussite establishment. They administered the Holy Eucharist in both kinds–wafer and wine, hence the name “Utraquist.” The leaders of the Utraquists were the Bohemian monarchs and the Archbishop-Elect of Prague. From 1448 the latter was John Rockycana (circa 1396-1471). He was the Archbishop-Elect, not the Archbishop, because Prague was a vacant see from 1421 to 1561, for political reasons.
I have chosen to be more generous to Rockycana than J. E. Hutton, author the now-public domain A History of the Moravian Church (1909), was. He, in Chapter 5, wrote of Rockycana:
For all his fire in the pulpit, he was only a craven at heart.
Later in the same paragraph Hutton wrote that Rockycana sought not
the Kingdom of God, but his fame and glory.
That evaluation might be correct, but I do not know that for a fact. I do know for a fact that Rockycana was in a difficult situation, flung between the Roman Catholic Church on one side and radical Hussite factions on the other side. In an age when the union of church and state was normative, there was no separation between matters political and theological. Thus the union of church and state created perilous ground to tread. In that context Rockycana helped the nascent Moravian Church, or the Bohemian Brethren, until he stopped doing so, as he balanced political-theological considerations. This reality made him imperfect, but not necessarily “a craven at heart.”
Rockycana’s nephew was Gregory the Patriarch (circa 1420-September 13, 1473), the founder of the Moravian Church. Gregory, a son of a Bohemian knight, had been a monk. The monastery, he learned, however, was corrupt, so he left. Rockycana gave his nephew a copy of some of the writings of Peter of Chelcic. Gregory found much worthy in them and befriended Peter. Later, Gregory, with support from Rockycana, established a settlement in the valley of Kunwald in 1457 or 1458. (J. E. Hutton wrote in A History of the Moravian Church that the traditional date, March 1, 1457, which the Moravian Church has taken as its founding, lacks documentary support.) Thus the origins of the Moravian Church, or the Bohemian Brethren, entailed merging Taborite and Calixtine/Utraquist elements. King George Podiebrad of Bohemia (reigned 1458-1471), who was initially supportive of the Kunwald settlement, changed his mind in 1461, when he learned that the Brethren of Kunwald were administering the Holy Eucharist in the forms of bread (not wafers) and wine. This seemed like heresy to him, and he resolved not to condone heresy in his realm. The first persecution of the Moravian Church followed. It entailed incarcerating people, torturing them, and burning some of them at the stake as heretics. Gregory endured torture until his uncle arranged for his release.
The scattered community of Kunwald reconstituted itself in time. The synod of 1467 established the Moravian episcopate. That succession of bishops has remained unbroken despite the century or so (1620-1722) the Moravian Church existed as an underground institution. The first bishop was Matthias of Kunwald (died in 1500), who succeeded Gregory as the leader of the Brethren in 1473.
The Moravian Church, the original Protestant denomination, has blessed the human race with a generous theology (“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love”) and a magnificent musical legacy. Peter of Chelcic and Gregory the Patriarch were present at creation, laying the foundations of a work which has grown to become a global church. I, although an active member and communicant of a different communion, one to which I am suited by temperament, thank God for the Moravian Church.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 17, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF DANIEL SYLVESTER TUTTLE, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
THE FEASET OF SAINT MARY EUPHRASIA PELLETIER, FOUNDER OF THE CONTEMPLATIVES OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD
THE FEAST OF SAINT ROBERT OF CHAISE DIEU, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT
Almighty God, we praise you for your servants
Peter of Chelcic and Gregory the Patriarch,
through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.
Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,
whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 3:11-23
–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60