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Part 1 Birth Pangs
Part 2 Birth
Part 3 Maturity
Part 4 Sick unto Death
Part 5 Burial
Part 6 The Hidden Seed
Part 7 Lessons from the Bohemians
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Then Came Peter
As one-eyed, fiery John Zizka and Nicholas of Hussinec declared at Prague that the time had come for the faithful to take up arms in their own defense, Peter Chelcicky was present at the debate, and contended that for Christians, war was a crime. “What is war?” he asked. “It is a breach of the laws of God! All soldiers are violent men, murderers, a godless mob!”
In 1420, Peter had traveled to Prague and listened to these men defend their views in the Bethlehem Chapel. What they said did not convince him. “You will not bring the kingdom of heaven to earth,” he told them, “as long as the hell of hatred burns in your hearts.”
Peter Chelcicky was one of the few South Bohemians who stuck to their earlier resolve to practice the Sermon on the Mount. His sword was a pen, which he used extensively in his later years, authoring over 50 books and tracts.
The name Chelcicky simply means “from Chelcice”, a small town in south Bohemia. The date of his birth and death are still unknown. He lived and died fighting for the kingdom of God, with his pen, voice, and example. He is considered to be one of the founding voices of the Unity of Brothers, even though he died before they ever became fully and officially organized.
On his visit there, he met the Hussite theologian, Jacob of Stribro in a back room of the Bethlehem chapel. Their conversation, under Peter’s direction, turned quickly to the Sermon on the Mount. They discussed what Jesus taught on wealth, on speaking the truth without swearing, and on returning good for evil.
“Our faith compels us to bind wounds,” Peter explained, “not to make blood run.” With sharp but honest words, he rebuked the Hussites for using worldly power. He told them how war comes from a desire to own things, and how Christ frees us from that desire.
Jacob did not accept Peter’s rebuke. When Peter asked Jacob by what Biblical authority he could justify war, Jacob—like John Wycliffe and John Huss—defended the use of the sword, saying war is necessary and Christians must fight against Turks and infidels, “But with great love toward God and with nothing other in mind than that God would be glorified.” For this reason, he explained, Christian soldiers must “avoid all brutality, excessive greediness, and other irregularities.” In the end, Jacob had to admit that in justifying war “only the saints of old37 say so.”
Peter had no time for such talk. “How your master Jacob would rage against someone for eating a blood sausage on Friday,” he wrote to the archbishop-elect Rokycana in a letter soon afterward, “yet if he sheds his brother’s blood on the scaffold or on the field of battle you praise him; this man whose own conscience has been stolen from him by those ‘saints of old’.” Pointing to more inconsistencies he continued:
You would not allow an individual to chase others and kill them. But if a nobleman gathers a great army of peasants and makes of them warriors who can kill others with the power of an army, you do not consider them murderers. Neither is it held against their conscience, but they boast and think of themselves as heroes for murdering the godless! This is the poison poured out among Christians by learned men who do not follow the meek Lord Jesus, but the counsel of the Great Whore of Babylon. And for this reason our land is filled with abominations and blood!
I do not want to make light of the preaching and good works done by men like John Huss, Matthias, and Jacob, in the name of God. But I say that they too have drunk the wine of the Great Whore, with which she has besotted all nations and people... They have written things that contradict God’s laws, especially where Master Huss has written about bearing the sword, swearing oaths, and venerating images. Therefore I cannot condone what they have passed on of an offensive nature to the scandalizing of many…
Peter could speak with a certain authority, as he had enlisted, we are told, in the army in his younger days. He there discovered that a soldier’s life was wicked. He then thought of entering a monastery, but was shocked by what he heard of the immoralities committed within those walls. Finally, he returned to his little property at Chelcice in south Bohemia, and picked up his pen to spend his time in writing pamphlets about the troubles of his country. He gained a smattering of education in Prague. He had studied the writings of Wycliffe and of Huss, and often appealed to Wycliffe in his works. He could quote, when he liked, from the early church writings. He had a good working knowledge of the Bible; and, above all, he had the teaching of Christ and the Apostles engraved upon his conscience and his heart.
As he was not a priest, he could afford to be independent; as he knew but little Latin, he wrote in Bohemian; and thus, like Stitny and Huss before him, he appealed to the people in a language they could all understand. Of all the leaders of men in Bohemia, this Peter was the most original and daring. As he pondered on the woes of his native land, he came to the firm but sad conclusion that the whole system of religion mixed with politics was rotten to the core.
Peter and War
As we shall see in the following pages, Peter Chelcicky was a writer. His first tract was titled, On Spiritual Warfare,38 and dealt with the Christian’s use of arms. He had been in fellowship with the Taborites as long as they had taught non-resistance. But after the council at Prague, he drew back. He wrote:
Our brethren [who once followed the Scriptural injunction against the use of violence] to our great shame and sorrow, have been cleverly seduced by Satan. They have turned from Scriptures in strange and unheard-of imaginings and doings.
Even after the prophesied date came and went without anything unusual happening, a few ecstatics still held to a physical millennial deliverance. Martin Husska was one of these men, a gifted orator with the charisma to attract a following. In his zeal to show his disbelief in transubstantiation, he was known to literally trample upon consecrated Catholic communion “hosts”. Peter wrote of him:
Martin was not humble and willing to suffer for Christ… He confessed to us his belief that there will be a new Kingdom of Saints established on earth, and that the good will no longer suffer, and [he said] that… ‘if Christians were always to have to suffer [on this earth], I would not want to be a servant of God’.
Some of Martin’s like-minded friends took their liberty and “ran with it”. Thinking they were above sinning while in the heavenly state of communion services, they reportedly turned their love feasts into the wrong type of “love”.41 Deciding that feudalism was evil, they destroyed all class levels, everyone putting his earnings into a pot and practicing a form of community of goods. As well, they refused to pay taxes, saying that lords and priests needed to be severely punished for their sins. Martin recanted of his beliefs for a while, but later picked up his ideas again. The Hussite general Zizca finally ordered his execution. Some time later Zizca invaded the Adamites’—so called from their dressing like Adam before the fall—home base and basically annihilated them.
Peter lived in the midst of all these doings. He strongly disagreed with the Adamites, but to punish them by death as the Hussites had done was not according to the gospel in his eyes. It is not that Peter had no wrongs that he could have sought revenge for: While in Prague debating with the Hussites about war, Catholics troops had arrested the leader of his church and burned him for heresy.
The following are more quotes from his writings against the use of violence, even to “enlarge the kingdom of God”:
Where has God recalled His commands, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ ‘Thou shalt not take thy neighbor's goods’? If God has not repealed these commands, they ought still to be obeyed today in Prague and Tabor. I have learned from Christ, and by Christ I stand; and if the Apostle Peter himself were to come down from Heaven and begin to advocate the sword and to gather together an army in order to defend the truth, even then I would not believe him.
It is impossible, as some doctors have argued, to kill with love in one’s heart.
And all these call themselves Christians, and unitedly call upon God as ‘Our Father who art in Heaven’. All come out on the Lord’s side and demonstrate their loyalty to God by drenching the earth with the blood of other children of God. And they continually pray in unison: ‘Forgive us as we forgive one another’. Yet each one tries to collect as large a company of warriors as possible, and never thinks of forgiving even those nearest to him. Therefore their prayers are the greatest blasphemy…
The executioner who kills is as much a wrong-doer as the criminal who is killed.
If he [Christ] had wanted people to cut each other up, to hang, drown, and burn each other, and otherwise pour out human blood for his Law, then that Old Law could also have stood unchanged, with the same bloody deeds as before.
Cruel punishments…torture, blinding, cutting-off of hands, confiscation of estates, deportation from towns [are unchristian].
No one may stray from the way of Christ and follow the emperor with his sword, for this way is not changed just because Caesar has become a ‘Christian’.
[Even though] rulers sin by acting unjustly, [servants] also commit a sin in seeking vengeance on such lords.
In time of war [the nobility] make warriors of tanners and shoemakers and weavers, of anyone able to wield a club…for neither the king nor the princes nor the nobles nor the lessor gentry do the fighting themselves, but compel their peasants to do it for them.
The saints should be obedient to the higher powers, but with circumspection, that is to say, in those things…which are not contrary to God. They should, therefore, render the dues and services which rulers require of their subjects…[But] a man opposing the state in…perverse wickedness, commits no sin nor is he in fear of damnation, since we can find in the Scriptures similar examples among righteous men.
[The primitive Christians were] humble and lowly people, who, when kings and princes came against them, prayed to God, dispensing with shield and weapons.
Not limiting his non-resistance to military questions, Peter wrote:
Among Christians, secular courts are a disgrace and a sin.
It would be shameful to fight and quarrel over material justice, over worldly goods.
For God did not, through his apostles, ordain a king for the Holy Church, to bear her tribulations on his sword, to fight for her against her enemies, and through force to make that Church serve him. God never set up [among the believers] magistrates or councilmen, in order that the holy church should appear before them suing about the goods of this world, nor did he appoint policemen and executioners so that its members might hang one another or torture each other on the rack on account of temporal things. Such conduct should be left to the pagan and worldly… For the holy church is spiritual and needs only spiritual officials for its edification.
According to the faith, [Christians] must be more eager to be put to the sword than to commit such actions contrary to God’s commandment.
If anyone, a Jew or a heretic or an enemy, is ever in need, then according to the principles of love it is his duty to see that he does not die from hunger or cold or any other calamity.
For disputes among brethren, “the least of the brethren” were to be called as judges in the situation at hand. If the one found to be the offender did not repent, he was to be expelled from the brotherhood. But, Peter wrote, “No harm should be done him, such as killing him in his sins, but let him be cast out, thereby preserving our own purity.”
The Fruits of Resistance
Time passed since Peter had written his first tract. The Catholic forces attacked Bohemia five times. Five times they were driven back by Zizca’s “Warriors of God”. Heady from victory, these poorly armed peasants—“the terror of Europe”—even took the offensive to make invasions into Germany and other surrounding areas. But when they were not fighting the Catholics, they took to bickering and fighting among themselves. Eventually, the Prague Utraquists were, after ferocious battles,42 able to wipe out the Taborite’s base.
Peter looked on with sadness and horror as his beloved Bohemia went up in smoke. He wrote:
For the sake of the future, we should not gloss over those things which we have now been suffering, and been eyewitnesses of, for over fifteen years43…when for reasons of faith one side has risen up against the other in its wrath and savageness… What this side has proclaimed as truth, the other has condemned as error… The fire they have lit they have been unable to quench. Everywhere murder, rapine, and want have flourished and multitudes have perished… Every town in the land has girded itself to battle, has been enclosed with walls and surrounded with moats… Whoever would enter or leave the town is imprisoned and robbed and killed… On every side there is only want and fear, in the home and in the fields and in the forest and on the mountains. Nowhere may one find rest and peace. The laboring people is stripped of everything, downtrodden, oppressed, beaten, robbed, so that many are driven to want and hunger to leave their land. Some even must pay their dues to castle or town thrice over, even four times, now to one side, now to the other. For otherwise they would be driven from house and fields. And what is not taken from them by the castle in dues is eaten up by the armies…that prey upon the land.
A contemporary Utraquist, John of Pribram, gave a similar report:
Those peasants who used quietly to pay one year’s rent now have to pay such rents five or six times over, as well as other dues. Nor can they be left alone either at home or in the forests or in holes in the earth. Yea! Everything is plundered and ransacked and driven away.
“The time to wander with a pilgrim's staff is over,” one of them had said. “Now we shall have to march, sword in hand.”
Many years after marching, sword in hand, had left them in such a position that they could not even peacefully wander with a staff… And this in spite of the fact that the Catholics, the original enemy, had been thoroughly routed!
Peter and Castes
Strange hybrids result when men begin to try and accommodate Christianity to the surrounding culture.44 In the days before Rome was “Christianized”, there was the idea that society was to be divided into three tiers: secular rulers, spiritual rulers, and workers. The first two were to live off the labors of the working poor. The ruling positions were not doled out according to ability, but rather one was born—or bought or bribed his way—into the “better” positions. The whole idea was nothing less than a European caste system.
When the Catholic Church “Christianized” Rome, it “Christianized” the above doctrine, calling it the Corpus Cristianum. The congregation at Rome backed up its claim of supreme spiritual oversight by a fraudulent document called the Donation of Constantine. This “donation” was none other than Constantine, Roman Emperor, giving the Bishop of Rome spiritual oversight over his dominion.45
“Since that time,” said Peter, “these two powers, Imperial and Papal, have clung together. They have turned everything to account in Church and in Christendom for their own impious purposes. Theologians, professors, and priests are the satraps of the Emperor. They ask the Emperor to protect them, so that they may sleep as long as possible, and they create war so that they may have everything under their thumb.”
To the spiritual leaders, Peter had some advice. In today’s English he might have said, “Get a job!” But I shall let him speak for himself in the following selected quotes:
They should set a good example of industry, should do nothing to justify the taunt that they had chosen their calling from material considerations; although worthy preachers should not be disallowed from receiving those things necessary.
All are his pilgrim people where there is industriousness, forbearance of pain, affliction, humiliation, and poverty even unto the cross.
Indeed, I trust God that till my dying day I shall never assent to this doctrine concerning Christ’s Body, which holds it right that these two arrogant estates [secular and spiritual leaders] should exempt themselves [from hard work] and lay the whole burden on the common folk; should as it were ‘ride upon them’, and consider themselves superior within Christ’s body to the common man on whom they ride…not as one member to another, but as beasts whom it is of little account to work to death.
To whom the whore who sits on the Roman throne has given birth, freely and without pain, sitting on silken cushions, and whose lives she has established in soft effeminacy… And they do all this with the blood of the common working people, from whom they get these things with the lies they think up—not as though from limbs of one body, but as though from contemptible dogs.
[They are] ‘honorable’ men, who sit in great houses, these purple men, with their beautiful mantles, their high caps, their fat stomachs. As for love of pleasure, immorality, laziness, greediness, uncharitableness and cruelty—as for these things, the priests do not hold them as sins when committed by princes, nobles and rich commoners. They do not tell them plainly, ‘You will go to hell if you live on the fat of the poor, and live a bestial life,’ although they know that the rich are condemned to eternal death by such behavior. Oh, no! They prefer to give them a grand funeral. A crowd of priests, clergy, and other folk make a long procession. The bells are rung. There are masses, singings, candles and offerings. The virtues of the dead man are proclaimed from the pulpit. They enter his soul in the books of their cloisters and churches to be continually prayed for, and if what they say be true, that soul cannot possibly perish, for he has been so kind to the Church, and must, indeed, be well cared for.
Albertus Magnus, who upheld war while sitting snugly in a safe fortress. Peter Chelcicky felt this was hypocrisy. If Albertus wanted war, he should have been the first to grab the sword.
[The supposedly poor Friars] pretend to follow Christ, and have plenty to eat every day. They have fish, spices, brawn, herrings, figs, almonds, Greek wine and other luxuries. They generally drink good wine and rich beer in large quantities, and so they go to sleep. When they cannot get luxuries, they fill themselves with vulgar puddings till they nearly burst. And this is the way the priests “fast”. Many citizens would readily welcome this kind of “poverty”.
They prepare Him as a sweet sauce for the world, so that the world may not have to shape its course after Him and His heavy Cross, but that they may conform to the world; and they make Him softer than oil, so that every wound may be soothed, and the violent, thieves, murderers and adulterers may have an easy entrance into heaven.46
In a special denunciation, Peter picked out Albertus Magnus (1193-1280), a Benedictine monk who thoroughly supported war for Christians. The idea of a fat scholar, sitting snugly in a castle and stirring up the war spirit among believers, was more than Peter could handle. He wrote:
It seemed to Albert that it would be better to favor the bliss of a gluttonous and debauched and fat-thickened life, a life with a pot belly and reddened cheeks47, a worry-free life sitting in a fortress under the protection of the sword, without fear of adversity, consigning all opposition unto the sword, enjoying God’s holy orders in security, proclaiming God’s praise and honor.
To the secular leaders of the State, Peter had the following reproof:
If your forefathers bought human beings together with their hereditary rights to property48, then they bought something that was not theirs to buy and sell.
[The feudal lord is a sluggard who] can sit in the cool shade and ridicule the ‘louts’ and ‘boors’ roasting in the heat, or drive them out into the bitter cold in their smocks to trap hares, and himself sit in the warm indoors.
Since the nobility had usually acquired their position through violence or money, Peter had no confidence in their supposed superiority. He wrote:
If they now had no money in addition to their birth, hunger would force them to drop their coat-of-arms and take to the plow. Wealth alone, therefore, sustains the honor of their nobility and the fame of their birth… Lacking money, they would soon sink back to the level of the peasantry and, as they scorn work, they would often go hungry. If [the labor of their serfs] disappeared, their noble birth would decay miserably.
“Civil authorities,” Peter wrote, “cannot direct the life of obedience to God, because they rely on cruel compulsion.” For this he gave an example:
Not all tools can be used for every trade, and every trade has tools of its own. A blacksmith cannot hold a horseshoe in the fire with a spindle and a woman cannot spin with a blacksmith’s tongs. Therefore, just as tongs pertain to the blacksmith and a spindle to the woman, civil authority is suitable for some things and religious authority for others.
The crooked members that hold the sword oppress the other, lesser members, afflicting them, beating them, putting them into prison, weighing them down with a forced labor, rents, and other contrivances, so they go wan and pale… For the common, scorned people are like dogs in the eyes of the powerful, who can hardly even think up new ways of insulting them. Some say ‘peasant blister’… some say ‘screech owl’, some say ‘lout’. Insult is more abundant than honor from the more ‘honorable’ members.
Ever since Augustine in his famous treatise The City of God, had affirmed the notion, using Romans 13 as a basis, the idea of three God-ordained classes of society had been firmly rooted within Christendom. Peter called such Scriptural manipulating, “milking the Scriptures.” To him, the term “State Church” was a total contradiction of terms.
Kings and Princes invade the church as wolves among a flock of sheep.
These two classes, the temporal order of force and Christ's way of love, are far removed from each other…an action done because of compulsion of authority is quite different from one done through love and from the good will arising out of words of truth. The civil authority is as far as removed from Christ’s truth inscribed in His gospel, as is Christian faith from the necessity of using such authority. Those in power are not led by faith nor does faith need them… Faith supported solely by spiritual power stands firm without the power of [carnal] authority, which only brings fear and can only attain what it wishes under threat of compulsion.
[Power can only be wielded] by the worst of men who are without any faith or virtue, since it is by means of terrible punishments that the state compels evildoers to some measure of justice in outward matters.
[Civil] authority cannot exist without cruelty. If it ceases to be cruel, it will at once perish of itself, since none will fear it…Therefore, [civil] authority is far removed from love.
Peter Chelcicky has been called an anarchist for perpetuating the idea of a breakdown of the social classes. But he was not a revolutionary in the physical sense of the word—even though Karl Kautsky opinionated that “Chelcicky was a communist in the original Christian sense.”49 Peter acknowledged the Christian’s duty to submit to the civil authorities, but only so far as not to violate the Word of God. While Peter’s teaching on the elimination of social classes was similar to that of modern-day “Liberation Theology”,50 he had no desire to make it happen by force of the sword or by voting. The only revolution that Peter preached was the coming of the Kingdom of God into the hearts and minds of those who expressly permitted Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, to be their only Lord and Saviour.
Peter and Separation from the World
Peter was consistent in not using political “ropes” to pull his point of view. He taught that the State had a job to do, and that the Church should let them alone to do it. If the Church had a job to do, then it should not turn to the State. But, not only were Christians to abstain from being magistrates and knights, they were to not to sue using secular courts. Furthermore, since Jesus forbade the swearing of oaths, many professions were not compatible to walking with Christ, as an oath was required in many business professions. Beyond that, Peter even had a great suspicion of any buying and reselling to make a living: it smelled too much like trying to live off of others without honest laboring; and besides, there was usually a lot of price bickering in the markets.51 In fact, city life in itself was deemed incompatible with following Jesus, as most people who relocated themselves within city walls did so for material or political advancement. In the cities, Peter wrote, “the fullness of authority lies in the accumulation of wealth and vast gatherings of armed men, castles, and walled towns, while the fullness and completion of faith lies in God's wisdom and the strength of the Holy Spirit.”
Therefore true Christians must never, if possible, live in a town at all. If Christians, said Peter, lived in a town, and paid the usual rates and taxes,52 they were simply helping to support a system which existed for the protection of “robbers”. He regarded towns as the abodes of vice, and the citizens thereof as dishonest and unprincipled. The first town, he said, was built by the murderer, Cain. He first murdered his brother Abel; he then gathered his followers together; he then built a city, surrounded by walls; and thus, by robbery and violence, he became a well-to-do man. And modern towns, said Peter, were not a lick better.
At that time, the citizens of some towns in Bohemia enjoyed certain special rights and privileges; and this, to Peter, seemed grossly unfair. He condemned those citizens as thieves. “They are,” he said, “the strength of Anti-Christ; they are adversaries to Christ; they are an evil rabble; they are bold in wickedness; and though they pretend to follow the truth, they will sit at tables with wicked people and knavish followers of Judas.” For true Christians, therefore, there was only one course open: Instead of living in godless towns, they should try to settle in country places, earn their living as farmers or gardeners, and so keep as clear of the State as possible. They must never try to make big profits in business. If they did, they were simply robbing and cheating their neighbors.53 They should strive to cut off all unnecessary connection with that unchristian institution called the State, which thrives on force and wealth.
Whatever his occupation, the Christian must not accumulate wealth, declared Peter. Not that he should be like the mendicant friars, for whom he had little use. Honest labor, without strivings for selfish gain, was the goal. All excess should be used to bless others.
I shall again let Peter speak for himself as to his understanding of the relationship between the Christian and mammon:
If a man has not been deceived by greed, why should he need property or take any heed of worldly things?
Whoever is not of God cannot truly enjoy or hold anything belonging to God, except as a man of violence unlawfully enjoys and holds what is not his own.
It is difficult to ‘buy and resell’ anything without sin, on account of excessive greed.
Every kind of trade and profit-making occupation connected with the town should be avoided in order not to harm one’s soul.
The true word of God says, “The earth and everything in it is the Lord’s, its mountains, its valleys, and its fields.” God is the only rightful ruler of the earth. . . . Whoever does not belong to God has no right to possess or hold anything that belongs to him. If anyone claims ownership of earthly goods, he does so because he has taken possession of them illegally and through violence.
In disobedience to God’s law, our fathers bought and established illegal claims for us...54 And this is what we have inherited from them: poverty, shame, death, and in the end, hell.
If you who are big, fat, and self-satisfied, say, “Our fathers bought these people and these manors for our inheritance,” then, indeed they engaged in evil business and made an expensive bargain! For who has the right to buy people, to enslave them, and to treat them with indignities as if they were cattle... You prefer dogs to people, whom you curse, despise, and beat—from whom you extort taxes and for whom you forge fetters—while you say to your dogs, “Here pup, come lie on this pillow!”
Jesus is now very poor. He does not have multitudes following him. The few who stick with him are the outcast and unlearned, for the doctors of this age are too rich and too famous. They have engendered many servants of God with their swords—that is why all the world looks up to them.
Peter Chelcicky talking with the Prague leaders.
When a people wise in this world see Christ—abandoned, dressed in the garb of poverty, and surrounded by danger—they turn away from him and follow after wealthy and popular men who serve God with great learning in cathedrals, in armies, with civil authority, with thumbscrews, city-halls, pillories and gallows. The whole wise world runs after them, but only “fools” dare follow Christ and suffer the ridicule of all.
Oh how small and barren is the dominion of earthly kings compared with the dominion of Christ! Earthly rulers heap burdens and suffering on their subjects instead of freedom and consolation. By way of contrast, the kingdom of Christ is so powerful and perfect that if the whole world accepted him, it would have peace and all things would work together for good. There would be no need of temporal rulers anymore, for all would live by grace and truth.
Perhaps the word “simplicity” would sum up Peter’s ideal; living for God without ensnaring oneself in the affairs of this life. Peter himself was a small farmer, even though with his abilities he could have probably gained a position of leadership in the Hussite movement. So relatively unknown he was, that neither the date of his birth nor that of his death is certain. He must have been born into a relatively well-to-do family, as he somehow had learned to read and write, and, in his earlier days, had enough money to buy books. But nobody really knows: Peter was not about to use his moderate means to advance himself. To do so would have made him a foremost hypocrite!
Then there were “lovely and delightful things, colors, fine costumes, beautiful dresses, perfumes, tasty dishes, unusual objects, soft raiment, fine rooms, physical beauty in man or woman.” Peter’s discernment of these? Hindrances to following “the narrow way” and snares set by the devil for the unwary.
“[Certain] men,” said he, “wear capes reaching down to the ground,55 and their long hair falls down to their shoulders; and the women wear so many petticoats that they can hardly drag themselves along, and strut about like the Pope’s courtesans, to the surprise and disgust of the whole world.” The brethren who gathered with him at Chelcice wore simple gray robes with a cord tied around the waist. These brethren were Christ’s flock, “who, hearing His voice and believing in Him, are ready to follow in His footsteps, turning aside from the world for His sake and placing their hopes for their own welfare in Him alone.”
Time and again Peter would warn souls about the dangers of living to gratify the five senses.56
Those who live for the external physical senses and have abandoned the heart57 are not able to perceive the inner and spiritual things, nor be participants in them.
Whoever can attain and learn from Jesus to recognize what the inner spiritual life is, by which man comes to understand the discipleship of an inward faith, can reach the love of God, not letting his thoughts spill out into many things and not leading the heart into lethargy so that it becomes accustomed to it and, like a vagabond, wants to be home only as a guest and to wander out upon the highway through the gate of the physical senses; wanting to see, observe and question everything wherever something new occurs, wanting to give shelter to everything, no matter where it might come from, chattering needlessly about everything and wanting out of habit to be a guest anywhere—such is the physical life. But to have control over these things and to be lord over the senses and the heart protects one against such diversions; this is to be alive, according to the spirit of faith.58
Peter, The Bible, and Faith
“Is the law of God sufficient, without worldly laws, to guide and direct us in the path of the true Christian religion? With trembling, I answer, it is. It was sufficient for Christ Himself, and it was sufficient for His disciples.” As is easy to see in these words, Peter was “a man of The Book”. He also wrote:
Every doctrine needs to be tested by Christ’s words and life, to see if it accords with His example and teachings.
The law [Christ’s] is no less sufficient today than it was from the beginning.
I acknowledge all the holy doctors, those of today too, so far as they can point out to me through their learning the path of true understanding in those matters which God has shown me in His law…and I follow them thankfully and regard them as right when they give real understanding and enlightenment here or proclaim faithfully some hidden truth.59
Whoever is not sincerely brought to the Christian faith through the preaching of the gospel, will never be brought by force, just as no one will ever learn the Czech language properly by means of the German. [Elsewhere he says:] [Using] the sword of the temporal power on drunkards and thieves and other sinners, wishing by this sword to conceive Christ’s spirit [is like] a company of priests gathered around an old woman demanding that she should give birth.
That person lives by faith who makes his life agree with the faith and conducts it in obedience to God in accordance with an understanding of the meaning of the faith of Christ…60
True God and true man, perfect and complete, Christ taught us masterfully how to please God in everything. Not only did he give us a perfect example, he also makes it possible for us to follow it. We only sin when we go after the things Christ condemned, or when we turn our backs on His way of life. His whole life on earth was an example and a lesson for us.
And the law of God is one and forms a unity of such goodness and loving-kindness that it can receive the greatest multitude of men, so that all could become one. If only the world would have faith in the law of God and obey it, all could be one in Christ, for this law leads men so that each takes his place in parity with his brother, loves the other as himself, bears his brother’s burden, and does to all others as he would wish for himself. Hence, there can be no better word for mankind as it journeys along its way in this worldly pilgrimage, for this word will lead men into the truest life and make them most pleasing to God and a benefit to each other, to that each one will become a second self to his brother.
The Net of True Faith
Peter wrote like a common man. Largely self-taught, his spelling was not always correct, and when he used the word kopyto (“hoof” in Bohemian) instead of kapitola (chapter) his enemies did not lose their chance. “Doctor Kopytarum” (Doctor Hoof) they called him, and made fun of his largest and most significant work, The Net of True Faith61 he wrote between 1440 and 1443. This was perhaps a culmination of his exposure of ‘Antichrist’ and the resulting chaos that ensued following the wedding between the church and the state.
Using the allegory of Christ’s net [true faith] thrown into the world (Luke 5:4-11), it gathered, he says, all kinds of fishes. The end of the world was to be a judgment, in which the good ones and the bad would be separated. But with the coming of Constantine—who should have been made to renounce his position when he became a “Christian”—into the church, two great whales entered the net, as well as other great fishes. These great animals thrashed and banged around until the net was all broken up and had great holes in it.
“Through His disciples,” said Peter, “Christ caught the world in the net of true faith, but the bigger fishes, breaking the net, escaped. Then others followed through these same holes made by the big fishes, and the net was left almost empty.” The meaning was clear to all. The two whales who broke it were the Emperor and the pope; the big fishes were the mighty “learned persons, heretics and offenders”; and the little fishes were the true followers of Christ.
“Since that time,” Peter wrote, “all live in hypocrisy, from the least to the greatest, figuring out how to be Christian while doing everything their flesh desires. Everyone seeks the honor of the world and flatters it with pleasant talk. Everyone wants peace with the world to avoid suffering its persecution in any way—so to compare today’s Christianity with that of the early church is like comparing night to day.”
The pope abandoned apostolic poverty and tried to rule in pagan fashion both believers and the world. Only he could validate the ministry of other priests, the pope claimed. He took to himself divine prerogatives, i.e., the forgiveness of sins, and he multiplied the number of laws that were contrary to God's law. Likewise, the emperor was guilty of infiltrating the net with paganism and pagan rulership. Civil authority operated by coercion, which is contrary to the love of Christ. A true Christian cannot be civil ruler over either true fellow Christians or the strayed, disobedient ones, because coercion and brotherly equality and love are incompatible. War and bloodshed are not Christ's way. Hence the coercive method of civil authority and the persuasive method of Christ must be kept distinct.
In an exposé of his understanding of salvation, Peter wrote:
God has borne witness that He Himself remits sins and forgives the world, possessing in Himself the unique right of forgiving sins, because He is Himself at once God and man. And on this account He died as a man for sins and gave Himself to God on the cross as an offering for sins. Thus God obtained by Him and His pains the forgiveness of the sins of the world. So He alone has the power and the right to forgive men their sins. Therefore, the great priest [the pope], in utmost pomp with which he raises himself above all that is called God, as a robber has laid hands on these rights of Christ. He has instituted the pilgrimage to Rome through which sins are to be cleansed away. Therefore, drunken crowds run together from all lands, and he, the father of all evil, distributes his blessing from a high place to the crowds that they may have the forgiveness of all sins and deliverance from all judgment. He saves from hell and purgatory, and there is no reason why anyone should go there. Also, he sends into all lands tickets, for money, which ensure deliverance from all sins and pains; they do not even need to take the trouble to come to him, they have only to send the money and all is forgiven them. What belongs to the Lord alone, this official has taken to himself, and he draws the praise which belongs to his Lord, and becomes rich through the sale of these things. What is left for Christ to do for us when this official frees us from all sins and judgment and can make us just and holy? It is only our sins that stand in the way of our salvation. If the great priest remits all these, what shall the poor Lord Jesus do? Why does the world neglect Him so and does not seek salvation from Him? Simply on this accoun: the great priest overshadows Him with his majesty and makes Him darkness in the world, while he, the great priest, has a great name in the world and unexampled renown. So that the Lord Jesus, already crucified, is held up to the world’s laughter, and only the great priest is talked about, and the world seeks and finds salvation in him.62
John Wycliffe, giving Bibles out to itinerant Lollard preachers. Lollardy had a definite impact upon the Bohemian revival. Peter Payne, “The Wandering Lollard”, spent many years in Bohemia.
So wrote Peter. Fifty-some works by his pen are extant, although only a small fragment is available to those unfamiliar with his beloved Bohemian. If he had no other gift, he was a writer. Even today, his works are valued by secularists for their peculiar style and witty comparisons. He was also a leader, after the death of Vojtech, of the little band of brothers that gathered in Chelcice. There is evidence that he may have ministered in other nearby brotherhoods of same precious faith. But other details about his personal life are non-existent, or yet to be dug out of some hidden manuscript. He lived, he wrote, he died.
Yet he lives on. As we shall soon see, his writings helped to shape the Unitas Fratrum. It is partially for this reason that I include so many quotes from him in this book, as his writings motivated others to put them into action. Several centuries later, the Moravian Brethren revived the once-dead Unity of Brothers. And in the 19th century, when Peter’s bones had long returned to dust, another author was molded by his writings: none other than the famed—greatest, in the eyes of many—Russian writer Tolstoy.
Meanwhile, in the political scene of Bohemia…
I Have a Dream...
“In that time there will be no king on earth and no master, nor will there be a subject, and all taxes will have an end, no one will force any other to do something, because they all will be equally brothers and sisters. As in the city of Tabor there is no ‘mine’ and no ‘yours’, but all is in common, the like it shall be everywhere and nobody shall have a special property, and those who have such property commits a mortal sin.”
For a serf in 15th-century Bohemia, the above words were like the song of Peter Piper. Multitudes of country folk arose and followed men preaching such doctrines, even if they were a bit illusionary. But in the cities, not all were willing to wander too far from the Catholic Church. So the city Hussites sat down at the negotiating table with the Catholic leaders.
After the disastrous rout of the Catholic army, led by Cardinal Cesarini at Tauss, Aug. 14, 1431, the history of the Hussite movement passed into a third stage, marked by the negotiations begun by the Council of Basel. It was a new spectacle for a Catholic ecumenical council to treat with “heretics” as with a party having rights. The leaders of the Bohemian delegation were John Rokycana of the Utraquist party and the Taborite, Procopius. Rokycana63 was the pastor of the Teyn Church in Prague.
The council recognized the austere principles of the Hussites by calling upon the Basel authorities to prohibit all dancing and gambling and the appearance of loose women on the streets.64 On their arrival, Jan. 4, 1433, the Bohemians were assigned to four public lodging houses, and a large supply of wine and provisions placed at their disposal. Delegations from the council and from the city bade them formal welcome. The Taborites aroused great curiosity by the omission of all Latin from the services and discarding altar and priestly vestments.
On the floor of the council, the Bohemians coupled praise with the names of Wycliffe and Huss, and would tolerate no references to themselves as heretics. The discussions were prolonged to a wearisome length, some of their number occupying as much as two or three days in their addresses. Among the chief speakers was the English “Wandering Lollard”, Peter Payne, whose address consumed three days. The final agreement of four articles, known as the Campactata, was ratified by deputies of the council and of the three Bohemian parties giving one another the hand.
This compact demanded  the free preaching of the Gospel, the distribution of the cup to the laity, the execution of punishment for mortal sins by the civil court, and the return of the clergy to the practice of Apostolic poverty. The Calixtines confined the use of Czech in the church service to the Scripture readings.
Although technically the question was settled, the Taborites were not satisfied. The Utraquists approached closer to the Catholics. Hostilities broke out between the two Hussite parties, and after a wholesale massacre in Prague, involving, it is said, 22,000 victims, the two sides joined in open war. The Taborites were defeated in the battle at Lipan, May 30, 1434, and Procopius slain. The power of the Taborites was now gone, and in 1452 they lost Mt. Tabor, their chief stronghold.
The Emperor now entered upon possession of his Bohemian kingdom and granted full recognition to the Utraquist priests, promising to give his sanction to the elections of bishops made by the popular will and to secure their ratification by the pope. Rokycana was elected archbishop of Prague by the Bohemian diet of 1435. But Emperor Sigismund died soon after, in 1437, and the archbishop never received papal recognition, although he administered the affairs of the diocese until his death in 1471.
Rokycana- The Man of the Middle Road
“God, grant us the grace to find a middle road,” cried out Rokycana.
A brilliant idea is an excellent thing. A man to work it out is still better. At the very time when Peter Chelcicky’s followers were marshaling their forces, John Rokycana, Archbishop-elect of Prague, was making a mighty stir in that drunken city. What Peter had done with his pen, Rokycana was doing with his tongue. He preached Peter’s doctrines in the great Teyn Church; he corresponded with him on the burning topics of the day; he went to see him at his home; he recommended his works to his hearers; and week by week, in fiery language, he denounced the Church of Rome as Babylon, and the Pope as Antichrist himself.
His style was vivid and picturesque, his language cutting and clear. One day he compared the Church of Rome to a burned and ruined city, wherein the beasts of the forests made their lairs; and, again, he compared her to a storm-tossed ship, which sank beneath the howling waves because the sailors were fighting each other. “It is better,” he said, “to tie a dog to a pulpit than allow a priest to defile it. It is better, oh, women! for your sons to be hangmen than to be priests; for the hangman only kills the body, while the priest kills the soul. Look there,” he suddenly exclaimed one Sunday, pointing to a picture of the apostle Peter on the wall, “there is as much difference between the priests of today and the twelve apostles as there is between that old painting and the living Peter in heaven. For the priests have put the devil into the sacraments themselves, and are leading you straight to the fires of Hell.”
If an eloquent speaker attacks the clergy, he is sure to draw a crowd. The Teyn church was crammed. The people listened with delight as he backed up his hot attack with texts from the prophet Jeremiah. No wonder they cried in their simple zeal: “Behold, a second John Huss has arisen.”
But John Rokycana was no second John Huss. For all his fire in the pulpit, he was only a craven at heart. “If a true Christian,” said he to a friend, “were to turn up now in Prague, he would be gaped at like a stag with golden horns.”
But he himself was no stag with golden horns.
As he thundered against the Church of Rome, he was seeking not the Kingdom of God, but his own fame and glory. His followers soon discovered his weakness. Among those who thronged to hear his sermons were certain quiet men of action, who were not content to paw the ground for ever. They were followers of the teachings that Peter of Chelcice expounded; they passed his pamphlets in secret from hand to hand; they took down notes of Rokycana’s sermons; and now they resolved to practice what they heard.
If Peter had taught them nothing else, he had at least convinced them all that the first duty of Christian men was to quit the Church of Rome. Again and again they appealed to Rokycana to be their head, to act up to his words, and to lead them out to the promised land. The great orator hemmed and hawed, put them off with excuses, and told them, after the manner of cowards, that they were too hasty and reckless. “I know you are right,” said he, “but if I joined your ranks I should be reviled on every hand.”
“After us,” Rokycana prophesied in a sermon, “shall a people come well-pleasing unto God and right healthy for men; they shall follow the Scriptures, and the example of Christ and the footsteps of the Apostles.”
But poor Rokycana dared not be one of the number that “followed the Scriptures”. He was content to merely talk, and not walk. He was, indeed, a “man of the middle road” who would not walk the narrow way, but neither did he prefer the broad way. His greatest mistake was to not realize that there is no middle road: It is merely an illusion, a by-path of the broad way.
Poor Rokycana. Every article I read about him painted him as the great compromiser: all talk and little walk. Thunder and lightning and storm-tossed clouds, but no rain.Go to Part 3 Maturity
37 Old Testament saints...
38This has just been translated to English in the last year or so.
39 “Chiliast” has to do with a belief in a visible political reign of Christ, as the Greek word for “'1000” is rooted in “chili”.
40 Between February 10 and 14 of 1420.
41 I write these words with a bit of caution: the Adamites were now “heretics” in the eyes of the Hussites and the accusations against them may have been exaggerated, as is usually the case in allegations against any “heretic” by any other religious group.
42 One of which left, it is said, 22,000 victims.
43Referring, most likely, to the so-called Hussite Wars (c.1420-1434).
44 Instead of conforming the culture to Christ… The official word for this is syncretism, “syn” meaning “same”, and “cret” meaning “Crete”. This meant, originally, a union with the Cretians. For all the failures of syncretism we have before us in the history of the church, modern missiology is still full of it. Missionaries are told left and right that they must learn the culture of the people they are going to minister to, so they can adapt Christ's teachings to it with the least pain as possible for the converts. The result is a cross-less “Christianity”.
45 Even the Catholic Church now recognizes this document as an 8th-century forgery.
46600 years later and Jesus is now “sweeter” than ever... Even sodomites may now slide gracefully into the Church, sugar-coated with the “imputed righteousness” of this sweet Jesus!
47 These words may seem unusually harsh to our North American “Christianity”, where the sin of gluttony runs unbounded and nobody, to speak of, raises his voice. Have you ever heard of a church disciplining someone for gluttony here in the USA? Do we not have any problems with this sin? Or do we overlook it? Somehow, about 20% of American children are now considred to be “obese” by the federal government, yet we never discipline obesity in our churches.
48 One negative aspect of the passing away of serfdom is that we now have a hard time grasping the meaning of the word “lord”. In those days, the nobility either inherited or bought property. Those living on the land were part of the property and now belonged to the lord. In some places, the peasantry had the option of moving away if they did not like the lord. In others, they had to “grin and bear it.” All said and done, one could not live on a piece of land without asking permission and paying rents or other dues. This included, in most occasions, the right of the lord to send the serfs off to fight his battles. Is Jesus your Lord?
49 Karl Kautsky (1854-1938), born in Prague, was the man who molded “orthodox” socialist/communist thought after the death of Engels. He holds Peter up as a medieval Marxist-of-sorts, although he is honest enough to admit that Peter Chelcicky’s and Karl Marx’s modus operandi were quite distinct one from the other.
50 “Liberation Theology” is a somewhat broad term which basically teaches that the calling of the church is to “liberate” the poor from poverty and the politically oppressed from abusive governments. This teaching is somewhat strong in parts of Latin America, where poverty and political corruption run rampant.
51 The early Anabaptists (at least some of them), 100 years after Chelcicky, also forbade the making a of living by buying and reselling.
52 To live in a walled city cost more than to live on an unprotected rural property.
53The old European idea of “just price” seems to have faded into oblivion. “Just price” was the concept of selling an article at a fixed price, with a fixed level of gain per item (say for example, $.10 per bushel of wheat) . One was not allowed—buyer or seller—to “bicker” with the price to make a better deal for himself, nor to take advantage of another’s ignorance of the price. If a natural disaster occurred or something else affected the supply, one was not allowed to raise his price so as to “take advantage of the situation.” There were actually laws that forbade such activities, and even here in the USA, in the 1600’s, there is record of the conviction of a rich merchant who was making too much profit from his merchandise. This principle is in direct opposition to those who buy a train-car load of OSB, then wait for a hurricane to hit Florida so they can make $10/sheet in the resulting shortage of building materials...
54 Referring, most likely, to those who bought or inherited properties that included the serfs living on that property.
55Obviously referring to capes worn merely for adornment. Capes, worn by men as a raincoat, normally only reached to the midriff.
56 He was not alone in this. The Taborites and the Utraquists also spoke openly and boldly against these forms of worldliness. Researching the Hussite reformation, one sees the word “puritanical—used by modern historians—more than once!
57To understand him, picture the body as a circle. Inside that circle is another one, called the inner man. In which circle do you spend most of your time living: in the outer (seeking bodily sensations), or the inner one (seeking to refine character traits such as gentleness, kindness, humility, etc.)?
58I suggest you reread this last paragraph slowly. It is a meaty piece, worthy of a good chew.
59 And this is the way we need to look at Peter, today. “Follow me as I follow Christ…”
60Compare this definition of “saving faith” with the modern “Evangelical” one!
61 Most times you will see this work titled as only The Net of Faith. But I have noticed that those writers who know Czech well often insert “true” into the title.
62 Is it any wonder then, how Peter so easily called the pope “Antichrist”? While I do not personally think the pope is the anti-christ, he certainly fits the bill to be an anti-christ.
63This is his “last name”, which most histories use to refer to him. It is, as with most of the men of that time, simply the name of his home town, with a suffix.
64 This goes to show that in spite of the Hussite’s taking up of arms, they were very strong moralists in other areas.