The Anabaptists of Bohemia

A forest region embracing a territory of 60,000 square miles, lying in the valley of the Danube, was settled in the days of Roman triumph by a tribe of Celts known as Boii, who fled from Roman oppression to the shelter of this secluded retreat. From the name Boii came the word Bohemia, by which that region is still known. It later formed a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

It seems evident that the gospel was preached in this country in the first century of the Christian era. Paul informs us that he preached the gospel of Christ in Illyricum, and adjoining regions (Romans 15:19), and that Titus visited Dalmatia (II. Tim. 4:10). It is related in Robinson's Researches, that Jerome, who was a native of Illyricum, and presbyter of the church at Dalmatia, translated the Scriptures in his native tongue, in the year 378, and that the Bohemians and others used this translation for many centuries.

Here Peter Waldo sought an asylum in the year 1176, who, with others, "introduced more extensively among the Bohemians, the knowledge of the Christian faith in its purity, according to the word of God." "Waldo's labors in Bohemia were crowned with remarkable success. He spent his concluding years in this kingdom, promoting the cause of his Master in every commendable way, until 1179, when he was rewarded with a crown that fadeth not away." - Orchard's History, pp. 233, 234. These people, we are informed, baptized and rebaptized those who joined their churches. In the 14th century they are said to have numbered 80,000. Among the able defenders of the principles of the Anabaptists was the gifted John Huss, born in 1373, and burned at the stake in July 1415. Like Wickliffe, though he espoused the doctrine of the Baptists of Bohemia, yet he remained in the Catholic establishment, lamenting its corruptions, while he strove to effect a reformation. Associated with Huss as an intimate friend and faithful companion was Jerome of Prague, who died a martyr at the hands of the Catholics in 1416, saying, as he was expiring in the flames, "This soul of mine, in flames of fire, O Christ, I offer thee." Ford, in his History of the Origin of the Baptists, gives a letter written from Bohemia to Erasmus, in the year 1519, six years before Luther took his bold stand and appeared before the Diet of Worms. This letter is so significant that we insert it here:

"These men have no other opinion of the Pope, cardinals, bishops and other clergy, than of manifest anti-christ. They call the Pope, sometimes, the beast, and sometimes the whore, mentioned in Revelation. Their own bishops and priests, they themselves do choose for themselves, ignorant and unlearned laymen, that have wife and children. They mutually salute one another by the name of brother and sister. They own no other authority than the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. They slight all the doctors, both ancient and modern, and give no regard to their doctrine. Their priests (or ministers), when they celebrate mass (or communion), do it without any priestly garments; nor do they use any prayer or collects on this occasion, but only the Lord's prayer, by which they consecrate bread that has not been leavened. They believe, or own, little or nothing of the sacraments of the church. Such as come over to their sect, must every one be baptized anew in mere water. They make no blessing of salt, nor of water; nor make any use of consecrated oils. They believe nothing of divinity in the sacrament of the eucharist; only that the consecrated bread and wine do, by some occult signs, represent the death of Christ, and, accordingly, that all that do kneel down to it, or worship it, are guilty of idolatry; that that sacrament was instituted by Christ to no other purpose but to renew the memory of his passion, and not to be carried about or held up by the priests to be gazed on. For Christ himself, who is to be adored and worshipped, sits at the right hand of God, as the Christian church confesses in their creed. Prayers to saints, and for the dead, they count a vain and ridiculous thing; as likewise auricular confession and penance enjoined by the priest for sins. Eves and fast-days are, they say, a mockery and the disguise of hypocrites."

This letter certainly points out Baptists as existing in the kingdom of Bohemia, before the rise of the reformation of the sixteenth century. They were reproached by the protestant "reformers," as well as by the Catholics, as anabaptists. They acknowledged the charge, and thus owned themselves to be Baptists. Their concealment, their principles, and their numbers being known, efforts were made to influence and intimidate them to abandon their faith; but entreaties, sophistry, and threats were all in vain. At length their destruction was planned and brutally executed, Catholics and Protestants alike joining in the shameful outrage. An edict for their banishment from Bohemia, just before the maturity of their harvest, was signed by the ruler, and they packed up and departed, without a murmur, in silent submission to the powers that be, "some to Hungary, others to Transylvania, some to Walla-achia, others to Poland. While many of them had combined with Luther and accepted his proposed change in the practices of their church, leaving off rebaptism, yet vast numbers chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than taste the pleasures of sin for a season.

What a sublime pilgrimage that must have been! "And when the triumphal march of bannered legions, flushed with victory and crowned with glory, shall have been forgotten, the memory of these men, their pilgrimage, their tears, their sublime, trusting silence, will be held in everlasting remembrance." - Ford's History, p. 66.

- Elder John R. Daily, Primitive Monitor, 1898, pp. 27-30.

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