Bohemian Brethren according to Encyclopedia Americana

Bohemian Brethren; the name of a Christian sect, which arose in Bohemia, about the middle of the 15th century, from the remains of the stricter sort of Hussites. Dissatisfied with the advances towards popery, by which the Calixtines had made themselves the ruling party in Bohemia, they refused to receive the compacts, as they were called, i. e., the articles of agreement between that party and the council at Basil (30th Nov. 1433), and began, about 1457, under the direction of a clergyman, Michael Bradatz, to form themselves into separate parishes, to hold meetings of their own, and to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Hussites by the name of Brothers, or Brothers’ Union; but they were often confounded by their opponents with the Waldenses and Picards, and, on account of their seclusion, were called Cavern-hunters (Grübenheimer). Amidst the hardships and oppressions which they suffered from the Calixtines and Catholics, without making any resistance, their numbers increased so much, through their constancy in their belief and the purity of their morals, that, in 1500, their parishes amounted to 200, most of which had chapels belonging to them. The peculiarities of their religious belief arc seen in their confessions of faith, especially their opinions with regard to the Lord’s supper. They rejected the idea of transubstantiation, and admitted only a mystical spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In other points, they took the Scriptures as the ground of their doctrines throughout, and for this, but more especially for the constitution and discipline of their churches, received the approbation of the reformers of the 16th century. This constitution of theirs was framed according to the accounts which remain of the oldest apostolic churches. They aimed to restore the primitive purity of Christianity, by the exclusion of the vicious from their communion, and by making three degrees of excommunication, as well as by the careful separation of the sexes, and the distribution of the members of their society into three classes—the beginners, the proficients and the perfect. Their strict system of superintendence, extending even to the minute details of domestic life, did much towards promoting this object. To carry on their system, they had a multitude of officers, of different degrees: viz. ordaining bishops, seniors and conseniors, presbyters or preachers, deacons, aediles and acolytes, among whom the management of the ecclesiastical, moral and civil affairs of the community was judiciously distributed. Their first bishop received his ordination from a Waldensian bishop, though their churches held no communion with the Waldenses in Bohemia. They were destined, however, to experience a like fate with that oppressed sect. When, in conformity to their principle not to perform military service, they refused to take up arms in the Smalkaldic war against the Protestants, Ferdinand took their churches from them, and, in 1548, 1000 of their society retired into Poland and Prussia, where they at first settled in Marienwerder. The agreement which they concluded at Sendomir (Sandomierz), 14th April, 1570, with the Polish Lutherans and Calvinistic churches, and still more the Dissenters’ Peace Act of the Polish convention, 1572, obtained toleration for them in Poland, where they united more closely with the Calvinism under the persecutions of the Swedish Sigismund, and have continued in this connection to the present day. Their brethren, who remained in Moravia and Bohemia, recovered a certain degree of liberty under Maximilian II, and had their chief residence at Fulnek, in Moravia, and hence have been called Moravian Brethren. The issue of the 30 years’ war, which terminated so unfortunately for the Protestants, occasioned the entire destruction of their churches, and their last bishop, Comenius, who had rendered important services in the education of youth, was compelled to fly. From this time, they made frequent emigrations, the most important of which took place in 1722, and occasioned the establishment of the new churches of the Brethren by count Zinzendorf. Although the old Bohemian Brethren must be regarded as now extinct, this society will ever deserve remembrance, as a quiet guardian of Christian truth and piety, in times just emerging from the barbarity of the middle ages; as a promoter of pure morals, such as the reformers of the 16th century were unable to establish in their churches; and as the parent of the esteemed and widely extended association of the United Brethren, whose constitution has been modelled after theirs.

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