Above: Flag of the Kingdom of Bohemia
Image in the Public Domain
LUKE OF PRAGUE (1458-DECEMBER 11, 1528)
Moravian Bishop and Hymn Writer
JOHN AUGUSTA (1500-JANUARY 13, 1572)
Moravian Bishop and Hymn Writer
With this post I add two foundational figures of the Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum) to the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.
Luke of Prague (1458-1528) became a great leader of the young church during the period of Moravian Church history scholars refer to as the time of the Bohemian Brethren, or the Ancient Unity. Luke graduated from Charles University (the University of Prague) in 1481. Shortly thereafter he joined the Bohemian Brethren; a friend had introduced him to the young church, founded circa 1457. Our saint became the most influential theologian and writer of the Unitas Fratrum at the time. He provided it with stability and identity. Luke’s leadership bore many fruits, including the following:
- In 1495 each of the 200 congregations had a school attached to it;
- The Bohemian Brethren had founded several institutions of higher learning by 1495;
- Luke made worship more formal, introducing embroidered corporals and golden communion cups;
- He led the Ancient Unity during a time (the 1490s-1516) of persecution by the Roman Catholic Church;
- Luke, a bishop since 1500, increased the number of bishops;
- He wrote a catechism (which John Augusta kept in circulation) for children in 1501 or 1501; and
- Luke edited the Moravian hymnal of 1519. He might also have edited the hymnal of 1501 (the first Protestant hymnbook) and the hymnal of 1505.
Luke wrote religious texts. He composed hymns, few of which exist in English translations. He also wrote commentaries on the Book of Psalms, the Gospel of John, and 1 Corinthians 11.
Luke was an ecumenist. He had established contact with Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic leaders in the 1480s. After 1517 he maintained a correspondence with Martin Luther (1483-1546). The leader of the Moravian Church disagreed with Luther’s theology of salvation by faith alone, arguing that Luther’s position contradicted scripture and underestimated the importance of good works as a fruit of faith. (Luke did not think that James was an epistle of straw, did he?)
Reading the early history of the Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum) reveals a process of sorting out major theological questions. Such processes require much time, as a study of the first five centuries of Christianity confirms. In the Moravian case the positions regarding celibacy of the clergy and the number of sacraments have changed. Luke affirmed the celibacy of the clergy and the existence and efficacy of seven sacraments, making him more Catholic than the contemporary Moravian Church.
Luke died on December 11, 1528. His great successor as leader was John Augusta (1500-1572), who suffered much due to the general lack of religious toleration. (Liberty of conscience has long been among my favorite ideals of the Enlightenment.)
Augusta, like Luke of Prague before him, converted to the Bohemian Brethren. Augusta had been a Utraquist. The Utraquists, who were irregular Catholics, gained their name because they received the Communion in both kinds, instead of the normative wafer only. Utraquism had influenced the Moravian Church at the beginning of the Ancient Unity’s existence. Augusta, a hatter and the son of a hatter, had grown up despising the Bohemian Brethren, but he changed his mind and joined it, becoming a minister. In 1532 he became a bishop.
Augusta favored ecumenism. He proposed the union of the Utraquist Church with the Unitas Fratrum in 1547. That never came to fruition, but he held out hope. Our saint also corresponded with Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564), earning their respect for the Bohemian Brethren, whose discipline the reformers praised.
Augusta also wrote hymns, two of which I have found in English translations. That legacy survives in the Moravian Church and beyond.
The Ancient Unity and Bishop Augusta had to contend with the political reality of the general lack of religious toleration. Augusta enlisted the aid of Baron Conrad Krajek to intercede on behalf of the Bohemian Brethren with Ferdinand I, King of Bohemia (reigned 1526-1564), later the Holy Roman Emperor (reigned 1558-1564), in 1535. Ferdinand I agreed to grant religious toleration to the Brethren, whom he recognized as loyal subjects. Eleven years later, however, the monarch faced a Protestant uprising. The Moravians, as loyal subjects, prayed for their king. Yet the triumphant Ferdinand I, having vanquished his foes in 1547, became convinced that the Brethren were traitors and that Augusta had led the rebellion. Thus, in May 1548, the monarch ordered the Brethren to emigrate or to convert to Roman Catholicism. Many of the members of the Unitas Fratrum became fugitives; others emigrated to Poland, where they started the Polish branch of the Moravian Church. Augusta spent 1548-1564 as a prisoner. During that time his health broke, as did his ecclesiastical authority. Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II (reigned 1564-1576) freed the old bishop on the condition that he not preach in public.
Augusta died at Jung-Bunzlau, Bohemia, on January 13, 1572.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JUNE 3, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION
THE FEAST OF SAINT LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS
THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA
THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY
Almighty God, we praise you for your servants Luke of Prague and John Augusta,
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