The Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren in the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries

The Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren in the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries

The Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren in the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries

The Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren in the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries

Excerpt

The Czech Reformation preceded the German and Swiss Reformation by over a century. In the history of the Czech lands the hundred years and more that elapsed between the death of Hus at Constance in 1415 and the composition by Luther in 1517 of his ninety-five theses against the sale of papal indulgences may well be called the Hussite century. In the 1520s the spread of Lutheran doctrines and the accession of the Habsburg dynasty marked the end of an epoch in the country's history.

It was this period, too, that saw the active life of the rustic philosopher, Petr Chelčický, and the adoption of his radical political and social doctrines by the men who founded the Unity of Brethren. But, after less than a century, these doctrines had already been rejected by a later generation of Brethren. Within a hundred years of Hus's death they were on the way to being forgotten, kept alive only by a tiny and expiring group of obscure artisans. By the time Luther and Zwingli had appeared on the scene the Unity of Brethren had already made its peace with the existing social order, just as the larger and more conservative Hussite body, the official Utraquist church, had done very much earlier.

The Hussite century had been, indeed, a time of revolutionary upheavals and of profound changes in all spheres of life, religious and cultural, economic, social and political. In the fourteenth century Bohemia under Charles IV was the administrative centre of the Holy Roman Empire and the seat of the imperial court. Its university, founded in Prague in 1348, had made that city the intellectual centre of Central Europe. But both the deposition of Charles's successor, Václav, from the imperial throne in 1400 and the decree of Kutná Hora of 1409, which, by granting the Czechs a controlling majority in the administration of the university, led to the migration of its German scholars and the transformation of the university from a predominantly German into an almost entirely Czech institution, signified a shift in the international position of the Czech lands. This process of change culminated after 1415 in the . . .

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