The New International Encyclopædia/Brethren, Bohemian

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BRETHREN, Bohemian. The name of a religious society which was first instituted in Bohemia about the middle of the Fifteenth Century. It was originally composed of remnants of the Hussites. Dissatisfied with the conduct of the Calixtines (see Hussites), they went, in 1453, to the borders of Silesia and Moravia, where they settled. Here they dwelt in separate communities, and were distinguished by the name of Brothers of the Rule of Christ. Their adversaries often confounded them with the Waldenses and Picards, while, on account of their being compelled during persecutions to hide in caves and solitary places, they were also called cave-dwellers (Grubenheimer). In spite of oppression, such was the constancy of their faith and purity of their morals, that they became profoundly respected, and their numbers greatly increased. The chief peculiarity of their creed was the denial of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation; but in truth they rejected tradition generally, and professed to found their tenets only on the Bible. Their ecclesiastical constitution and church discipline — of which the Lutheran reformers spoke highly — was a close imitation of that of the primitive Christian communities. Under the impression that religion should consciously penetrate and characterize the entire life of men, they extended ecclesiastical authority over the very details of domestic life. Their chief functionaries were bishops, seniors and conseniors, presbyters or preachers, ædiles, and acolytes. The nucleus of the sect was the following of Peter Chelczicky, a layman of the nobility. To them Rokyzana, the Utraquist leader, sent Gregor in 1457, and he led them when persecution broke out to Kunwald, in Bohemia, near Königgrätz, whence, however, they were driven to the mountains. Gregor died in 1474. Their next great man was Luke of Prague, who brought them into literary contact with the Waldenses. The latter translated some of their writings, and these translations have frequently been taken for original Waldensian works; for the Bohemian Brethren had literary intercourse with the Waldenses, but the differences between them prevented union. They had also ecclesiastical intercourse, for their bishop, Matthias of Kunwald, was consecrated by a bishop of the Bohemian Waldenses. It was against their principles to engage in war; and having on several occasions refused to take up arms, they were at last deprived of their religious privileges. The result was that in 1548 about a thousand of the Brethren removed to Poland and Prussia. The contract which these exiles entered into with the Polish reformers at Sandomir, April 14, 1570, and still more the religious peace concluded by the Polish States in 1572, secured their toleration; but subsequently, inconsequence of the persecutions of King Sigismund III., they united themselves more closely to the Protestants, though even at the present day they retain something of their old ecclesiastical constitution. The Brethren who remained in Bohemia and Moravia obtained a little freedom under the Emperor Maximilian II., and had their chief seat at Fulnek, in Moravia. In the Seventeenth Century a number removed into Hungary, but during the reign of Maria Theresa were coerced into Catholicism. The Thirty Years' War, so disastrous to the Bohemian Protestants, entirely broke up the societies of the Bohemian Brethren; but afterwards they united again, though in secrecy. Their exodus about 1722 occasioned the formation, in Lusatia, of the United Brethren, or Herrnhuters. See Moravians.