Between Hus and Herrnhut
Comenius and the Unity of the Brethren
The Reformation started by John Hus (1369–1415) in Bohemia did not die when he was burned at the stake. A number of small communities spun off from the Hussites, each rebelling against Rome in its own ways. The first “Brethren” moved to a remote village called Kunvald in 1457 to live together as the early church did, and follow the law of Christ.
From the start, the Unity of the Brethren, as they became known, had contacts with the Waldensians, a communal group that preserved the teachings of Peter Waldo from the twelfth century, promoting equality of believers and opposing ecclesiastical hierarchy. Significant also for the Unity’s founding was the thought of Peter Chelcicky, who condemned the use of force in matters of faith and the participation of Christians in political power struggles, especially in war. Chelcicky dared to call the Pope and the emperor “whales who have torn the net of true faith,” since they had established the Church as the head of a secular empire.
These ideas, denial of material aspirations and refusal of secular power, as adopted by the Unity, did not sit well with the authorities. The Unity was outlawed and persecuted by secular and religious powers alike, but its numbers grew, new communities were formed, and its influence went far beyond its ranks.
Despite their commitment to Christlike poverty, the Brethren presented the Czech nation with a wealth of spiritual resources. They translated the Scriptures into Czech; they composed hymns that are still sung in Czech churches today; they published a confession of faith praised by Luther, and left an unmistakable mark on the Confessio Bohemica (Czech Confession)—the first ecumenical confession the world had seen.