“Perhaps in no country of Europe were the doctrines of the Reformation so instantaneously and so widely diffused as in Hungary. Many causes contributed to this. The spread of the doctrines of Huss in that country a century previous, the number of German settlers in Hungarian towns, the introduction of Luther’s tracts and hymns by the German soldiers, who came to fight in Hungarian armies against the Turk, the free civil constitution of the kingdom, all helped to prepare the soil for the reception of the Reformation.” –James A. Wylie
“The Living Word, coming from hearts warmed by conviction, produced a wondrous effect, and in a short time whole parishes, villages, and towns, yes, perhaps the half of Hungary, declared for the Reformation.”-History of the Protestant Church in Hungary, from original and authentic documents.
In 1520 and 1521 Luther’s writings Christian Liberty, Epistle to the Galatians, and Captivity of Babylon were brought into Hungary and widely circulated. Both nobles and commoners quickly embraced the evangelical doctrines of Luther. Szakmary, Archbishop of Gran, responded by publicly condemning Luther and his writings.
In 1523 Louis II issued an edict, by the direction of Cajetan, a papal legate, which declared: “All Lutherans, and those who favor them, as well as all adherents to their sect, shall have their property confiscated, and themselves be punished with death, as heretics, and foes of the most holy Virgin Mary.” A commission was then appointed to collect and publicly burn Lutheran books. A Hungarian Diet in 1525 ordered: “All Lutherans shall be rooted out of the land; and wherever they are found, either by clergymen or laymen, they may be seized and burned.” This persecution by the government only seemed to draw more people into the reform movement.
The Reformation in the region of Transylvania began in Hermanstadt. Merchants brought Luther’s writings to Hermanstadt, these were used by God together with the teaching of two monks from Silesia, who had embraced Luther’s teaching, to spread the Gospel in that city. John Surdaster came to the city and began preaching the pure Gospel in the open air and in the Elizabethan church. Large crowds, including members of the town council, came to hear him. After the preaching services Surdaster, aided by the two Silesian monks, held catechism classes for the young. Many churches turned Roman priests out of their pulpits, putting those that would preach reform in their place. “Hermanstadt became a second Wittenberg. The Catholic ministers themselves confessed that the new doctrine was not more powerful in the town where Luther resided.”
Thomas Preussner was one of the first to begin preaching reform and the true Gospel. Cordatus, Siklosy, Kopacsy, Radan and Husser soon followed in boldly proclaiming the truth.
Simon Grynaeus was the son of Suabian peasants, but from a very young age excelled in learning and at fourteen entered a famous school in Pforzheim. He then went on to study in Vienna, where he distinguished himself and was given the degree of Master of Arts. The king of Hungary sent him to teach in Buda, where he boldly began preaching the Gospel. A fellow teacher, Dr. Winsheim, joined him in preaching the Word.
Beginning with Martin Cyriaci in 1522, closely followed by Dionysius Link and Balthazar Gleba, young Hungarian men poured to Wittenberg to study under Martin Luther. Some of those that returned from Wittenberg and became the most useful in the growth of the Lutheran and Reformed churches were Matthias Devay, Stephen Szegedin, Stephen Kopaczy, Caspar Heltus, Emeric Ozoraes, Gregory Wisalmann, Benedict Abadius and Martin de Kalmance.
On April 23rd, 1526 Suleiman the Magnificent set out from Constantinople at the head of an army of over 300,000 Turks to conquer Hungary for the Ottoman Empire. On August 29th, he was met by Louis II’s small army of 27,000 at Mohäcz, on the Danube River. The Turks slaughtered 28 Hungarian princes, 500 nobles, 7 bishops and 20,000 soldiers in the brief battle, they went on to murder 200,000 Hungarian civilians. King Louis II was crushed to death in a swamp by his horse as he tried to escape the battle field, leaving Hungary without a clear king or leader to resist the Turks. On November 10th, 1526 a group of nobles elected János Zápolya, the lord over 72 castles and governor of Transylvania, as king of Hungary, but Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, who was Louis II’s brother-in-law and the younger brother of Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, also claimed the throne. The nation was thrown into a twelve-year civil war as it also tried to fight off the Turks. The fighting kept the state from having time to persecute the Protestants, which were able to grow in number and strength. Transylvania became an independent province, though a tributary to the Ottoman Empire, and it became a safe haven of religious liberty for Protestants. The rest of Hungary was divided between the Habsburgs, Zápolya and the Turks.
Peter Perényi, a powerful noble, and his sons, Francis, George and Gabriel, embraced the Reformation. Many other nobles, including Laelany, Massaly and Dragfi, soon followed his example, filling their parish pulpits with Protestant ministers, building new reformed churches and schools and sending their sons to study in Wittenberg.
Matthias Biro Devay was born in Transylvania near the river Maros, into a noble family. In 1523 he went and studied for two years at the University of Cracow, after which time he was made a priest and monk. In 1528 he came to a true knowledge of the Gospel and soon after traveled to Wittenberg to study under Luther. Devay quickly won Luther’s favor and was invited to live with him while in Wittenberg. He returned to Hungary in 1531 and began preaching in Buda and Pest. Devay then moved to Upper Hungary to preach, but was soon thrown into prison in Vienna. He was released after making a favorable impression on the judge, and then returned to Buda. The priest in Buda convinced King János Zápolya to have Devay placed in prison for preaching. Devay was imprisoned with a farrier who had lamed one of Zápolya’s favorite horses while shoeing it and Zápolya had imprisoned him swearing that if the horse died the farrier would be executed. Devay led the farrier to faith in Christ. When Zápolya’s horse recovered and they released the farrier, the farrier said he would stay and die with Devay for his faith. Zápolya was so touched by the loyalty of the farrier that he released them both. The powerful Count Nadasby, who loved learning and the Gospel, invited Devay to come and rest, study and write at the Castle of Sarvar. There he wrote several books, but not having a printing-press to print his works he traveled to Wittenberg to find a printer. He also visited with Luther and Melanchthon. At this time Melanchthon wrote of Devay, “How pleasant his society is to me, how excellent is his faith, and how much prudence, knowledge and piety he has!” In 1537 he returned to Buda and with the help of Count Nadasby he set up the first printing-press in Hungary. The first book that Devay printed was a Hungarian Protestant primer for teaching doctrine, reading and writing to children. Devay traveled throughout Hungary preaching the Gospel in cottages, castles and fields. At this time Stephen Szantai, a zealous evangelist was traveling throughout Upper Hungary, preaching the Gospel. In 1541, at the time of King Zápolya’s death, the Turks again invaded Hungary bringing much of it under their control. The Turks destroyed Devay’s printing-press and forced him, along with many others, to flee to Wittenberg for safety. Devay then traveled to Switzerland to fellowship with Reformed teachers. In 1544 he returned to Hungary where he became at odds with the Lutherans because he had embraced the Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper. He began ministering in Debreczin, near the Transylvanian frontier, supported by Count Nadasby. Devay died there in 1547.
John Honter, who had studied at Crasow and Badel, was a leader for reform in Transylvania, which became overwhelmingly Protestant. Honter set up the first printing-press in the province.
Stephen Kiss of Szegedin, who was known as Szegedin, was born in 1505. He studied in Cracow and then after his conversion traveled to Wittenberg in 1540. Szegedin stayed in Luther’s home and became an assistant to Luther and Melanchthon. The two German reformers both believed that Szegedin had the needed qualities to help bring about reform. Melanchthon wrote of him that he had “a lively piety which led him to seek in everything the glory of God, a modest seriousness in his manners, his conversation, and his deportment; an accurate acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures, close application to work, remarkable skill in the administration of the Church, and a lively and powerful style in preaching the Gospel.” When Szegedin returned to Hungary he moved to Jasnyad, where he founded a school of theology modeled after that of Wittenberg. He was both an able and powerful preacher to the people and a clear and thorough professor to his students. Szegedin took great joy in studying and writing but was so modest that he never saw fit to publish his works. His writings were later printed by Theodore Beza for their excellence and thoroughness and became very useful for the Hungarian church. Among his writings were commentaries on Psalms, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Matthew, John, Acts, all of Paul’s epistles, and Revelation. He also wrote a book of doctrine and practice entitled Commonplaces of Sacred Theology, Concerning God and Concerning Man and a defense of the doctrine of the Trinity entitled Treatise on the Holy Trinity Against the Extravagances Appearing in Some Districts. Szegedin attacked Roman Catholic traditions in Mirror of the Roman Pontiffs and Entertaining Inquiries Concerning the Papal Traditions. A contemporary wrote of Szegedin, “This man is indeed a theologian, and what is more, a true witness for Christ; a serious, steadfast, and most energetic defender of orthodox truth in countries infested, alas, with Arianism, Mohammedanism, and other sects, to say nothing of the papacy.” During this time Szegedin became Reformed in his thinking rejecting Luther’s teaching of the Lord’s Supper. After some time in Jasnyad he was driven out by the local bishop who sent his soldiers to beat Szegedin up and humiliate him and then banish him from the city. Szegedin then lectured in Jynla and Czegled near Pest, after which he moved to Temeswar under the protection of the powerful Count Peter Petrovich, where he lived three years until Petrovich’s successor banished all the Reformed pastors, unknowingly saving them from being massacred by the Turks. He died in 1572 in Reven, Hungary.
In 1545 a synod of 29 Reformed ministers was held in Erdöd in northern Transylvania, under the protection of Count Caspar Dragfy. They drew up a confession of faith with twelve articles. In 1546 Lutheran ministers met in Eperies to draw up a confession based on the Augsburg Confession. In 1553 a Diet in Transylvania voted in favor of the Protestant faith. In 1557 the Hungarian Confession was adopted by the Reformed Synod of Czenger. In 1563 most of the Lutheran Hungarian ministers left the Lutheran Church to enter the Reformed Church. The Hungarian Reformed Church adopted the Second Helvetic (Swiss) Confession of 1566 at the Synod of Debreczin in 1567, which along with the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563, served as their standard of doctrine in the years to come.
In Habsburg Hungary under Maximilian II, who reigned from 1564 until 1576, there was a level of religious freedom. But after his death Rudolph II came to the throne leaving the ruling of the country to the Jesuits who tirelessly worked to undermine the Reformation. Ferdinand II, who had been educated by the Jesuits, came to the throne in 1618 bringing severer persecution with him which would last for the next two hundred years.
The four Gospels were first translated into Hungarian in 1533. John Sylvestre translated the New Testament into Hungarian and had it printed shortly before the Turkish invasion of 1541. Gáspár Károlyi translated the entire Bible into Hungarian, which was published in 1590.
Poland and Prussia
Luther’s writings entered Poland very soon after they were published and many young Poles came to study under Luther at Wittenberg. In 1524 a Dominican monk, Samuel, began preaching against the false teaching of Rome and, beginning in 1525, John Seclucyan began preaching in the same district. The powerful Gorkas family brought Seclucyan into their home when he began to face persecution, giving the time and support to enable him to translate the New Testament into Polish.
Danzig, which was a center of trade with Germany, became a central part of the spread of the Reformation in Poland. In 1518 Jacob Knade, a native of Danzig and a priest, embraced the truth of Luther’s teachings that German merchants shared with him. He opened his home for people to come and hear the Gospel. Knade preached in a clear, frank and amiable manner and was able to make all welcomed in his home. After a time he began preaching at the Church of St. Peter. Knade became convinced that marriage was a divine institution, which was created to help preserve the holiness of men’s lives, so he married His marriage caused a great stir and the authorities threw him into prison for the offence. After six months he was released but he was banished from the city and went and stayed in Thorn, where a nobleman offered him asylum. Böschenstein, Binewald and others took up preaching in Danzig where Knade had left off. So many citizens became Lutheran that the city council allowed both Roman and Lutheran services in the churches, but soon the Lutherans demanded the removal of all the images in the churches which the council was not willing to do. Angered by the council’s unwillingness to remove idolatry 4,000 Lutherans surrounded the town-hall and demanded the appointment of a new town council. The new council required the priests to preach the Gospel, removing those that would not, abolished Roman Catholic worship, removed images, turned the monasteries into schools and hospitals, and declared the wealth of the church public property to be used for the good of the people. The church of Danzig invited Johannes Bugenhagen, who later became a leading reformer in Denmark, to come from Wittenberg to help them better organize their churches. At the time Luther was unwilling to part with Bugenhagen and sent Michael Hanstein instead. But the reform was harshly stopped by King Sigismund, by the request of the Roman Catholic citizens of Danzig, who banished or killed those unwilling to reconvert. Three years later during the outbreak of an epidemic Pancrace Klemme began lovingly and powerfully proclaiming the Gospel. King Sigismund ordered Klemme to stop but he replied that the Word of God alone was the rule for his conduct and teaching. Sigismund was impressed with Klemme’s courage and levelheaded methods and thus allowed him to continue. Reform moved more slowly under Klemme’s leadership but in the end the city became soundly reformed, without threatening the liberties of the Roman Catholic citizens.
Louis Dietz, a secretary to the king and later the burgomaster or mayor of Cracow, visited Wittenberg in 1522 and embraced Luther’s teachings. When he returned he worked to spread the truth throughout Cracow, bringing many to believe the Gospel. The University of Cracow soon became a center of reform.
Prussia was a colony of the Teutonic Knights, a military and monastic order begun during the crusades. Though they were all of German descent and culture, and maintained some autonomy, they were under Polish rule. In 1523 Luther wrote a public address to the Teutonic Knights, calling on them to forsake the false monastic chastity so often broken and to live in a state of chaste marriage. Albert, Duke of Prussia, whose capital was Königsberg, embraced reform under the preaching of Andreas Osiander at Nürnberg. In 1523 Albert requested Luther to send him a preacher. Luther sent Johannes Briesmann and then a short time later Paul Speratus and John Poliander. Two bishops in Prussia, George von Polenz and Erhard von Queiss, favored reform and helped Albert transform Prussia into a Protestant province. Von Polenz married in 1525 and Duke Albert married the next year, to which wedding Luther was invited. In 1525 Albert ended the rule of the Teutonic Knights making Prussia simply a tributary province of Poland. In 1544 Albert started the third Protestant university, which was placed under the direction of Dr. Frankendorf, who had studied under Melanchthon in Wittenberg. He also called Osiander to teach at the university, but he sadly showed himself to be contentious, causing much theological discord throughout Prussia. Albert died in 1568 with Psalm 31:5 on his lips “Into Thine hand I commend my spirit: Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, Thou God of truth.”
In 1548 the Bohemian Brethren came under severe persecution and were given 42 days to leave the country. Albert of Brandenburg offered them asylum in Prussia. About 1,000 of them started towards Prussia, but while passing through Poland they came to the city of Posen, where Andreas Gorka, First Magistrate of Grand Poland, who had immense wealth and power and was a strong Protestant, offered to help settle them near Posen. Though a short time later most of them moved on to Prussia, they led many in Posen, many of whom were from leading families, to embrace their opinions. Eighty Brethren congregations were soon established in Grand Poland
A group of Bohemian Brethren, led by Pastor George Israel, a tall strapping blacksmith, escaped from Bohemia into southern Poland. They came to the Castle of Count Ostrorog, and as the Count was not at home they asked the Countess for refuge, which she granted. Matthias Cerwenka, a leading Brethren elder, who would later serve as a bishop, came to preach to Israel’s flock. While Cerwenka was holding a service in the castle, Count Ostrorog returned home and being told of the Brethren’s presence, he angrily strode into the service, riding whip in hand, prepared to expel them from his estate. As the Count began to demand them to leave Cerwenka continued preaching and Israel stood up, glared at the Count and ordered him to sit down, which the shocked Count did. As the Count listened to the Gospel message his heart was melted and he received the truth with joy. After the service he welcomed the Brethren to remain on his estate. Count Ostrorog became one of the leading protectors and supporters of the Brethren in southern Poland.
Nicholaus Olesnicki, Lord of Pinczov, removed all the images from the churches on his estates and established Reformed churches in the Geneva strain. Many other nobles soon followed him, Stanislav Stadnicki among them. Stadnicki played an important role in organizing the Protestant nobles against the tyranny of the Roman priests. At the Polish Diet of 1552 the nobles enacted an edict that banned the state from executing anyone for their religious beliefs and forced King Sigismund Augustus to sign it. The man voted as president of the 1552 Diet was Raphael Leszczynski, who during the opening mass refused to remove his hat. Leszczynski, who had adopted as his motto “Better the dangers of liberty than the safety of slavery”, was a descendant of Wenceslaus of Leszna, who had defended John Huss at the Council of Constance.
One of the main things that crippled the growth of the Reformation in Poland was strong divisions among the three major Protestant churches, Lutheran, Bohemian Brethren and Reformed of the Genevan strain. The Bohemian Brethren agreed with the Reformed churches on doctrine and practice but laid great stress on the fact that they had received a succession of ordination through the Waldensians, which they believed was pure and unbroken from the time of the apostles. The Lutherans believed that the Bohemian Brethren were heretics, which the Brethren went to great lengths to show them other wise. The Lutherans and the Reformed could not agree on the Lord’s Supper. Seeing the weakness that disunity brought the three groups began to work on bringing unity and peace between themselves. In April 1570 the Synod of Sandomir was called, with ministers for all three churches along with Protestant nobles present, to work to bring unity among the churches. On April 14th, 1570 a statement of unity and agreement on major doctrines was signed, it was entitled Act of the Religious Union Between the Churches of Great and Little Poland, Russia, Lithuania, and Samogitia. In 1573 a Protestant assembly was held in Cracow, presided over by the Calvinistic John Firley, Grand Marshal of Poland. The aim of the assembly was to work to bring reform to the life of the nation. The assembly forbade “all kinds of wickedness and luxury, accursed gluttony and inebriety.” It prohibited lewd dances, games of chance, profane oaths and night time gathering at taverns. It encouraged landowners to treat the peasants with “Christian charity and humanity,” to not force into oppressive labor or heavy taxes, and to disallow markets or fairs or work on the Lord’s Day. At this time there were about 2,000 Protestant churches in Poland. National assemblies and unity continued until 1595 when the Lutherans broke the unity.
The Jesuits, through stirring up mobs against the Protestants, winning over the hearts of the peasants, flattering the noblemen, establishing schools, encouraging disunity among Protestants and gaining the support of kings, tirelessly worked to overturn Protestantism in Poland for over 150 years. By the 1730s they were mostly successful.
The Polish Bible. In 1544 Duke Albert of Prussia issued an edict requiring that the Bible be read in Polish to the growing number of Polish Protestants in Prussia. To that effect he sought to procure a Polish language translator. Jan Seklucjan (1498-1578), a Lutheran preacher and translator of Lutheran writings who lived in Königsberg, was commissioned by Albert of Prussia to prepare a translation of the New Testament, which he first printed in Königsberg in 1551. A group of theologians worked for six years editing Seklucjan’s translation and translating the rest of the Bible. Among the leading theologians involved in the translation project were Grzegorz Orszak, Pierre Statorius, Jean Thénaud of Bourges, Jan Łaski, Georg Schomann, Andrzej Trzecieski, Jakub Lubelczyk, Szymon Zacjusz, Marcin Krowicki, Francesco Stancaro of Mantua and Grzegorz Paweł of Brzeziny. Prince Nicholas Radziwill covered all the expenses of the translation and printing of this Bible. The Brest Bible, as it was known because it was first printed in Brest-Litovsk in 1563 by Bernard Wojewodka, was the first complete Polish Protestant translation of the Bible. The Brest Bible was superseded by the Gdańsk Bible, which became the Bible of all evangelical Poles. At the synod in Ożarowice, in 1600, a new edition of the Bible was proposed and the work was given to the Reformed minister Martin Janicki, who had already translated the Bible from the original texts. The Gdańsk Bible differs so much from that of the Brest Bible that it may be regarded as a new translation.
Mikołaj Krzysztof Radziwiłł/Nicholas Radziwill (1515 - 1565), nicknamed The Black, was a powerful Polish-Lithuanian nobleman. Radziwill was able to gain much political influence thanks to the romance and eventual marriage between his sister Barbara Radziwill and the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Sigismund Augustus. This made him one of the most powerful royal advisers. Radziwill became Marshal of Lithuania, Grand Chancellor of Lithuania, as well as Palatine of Vilnius, gained immense wealth and became the most powerful magnate in the Commonwealth of that time. He served as ambassador to the emperor Charles V and then to Ferdinand I, from whom he and his cousin Mikołaj the Red, who was also a great supporter of the Reformation, received a hereditary title of Prince of the Empire. In 1553 Radziwill was instructed in the doctrines of the Reformation by some Bohemian Brethren in Prague. He soon heartily embraced the truth and became a staunch Reformed Calvinist. From that point on he used his wealth and power to support the Reformation in Poland. Radziwill financed the translation and supported the printing of the first complete Polish Protestant translation of the Bible in 1563 in Brest-Litovsk, distributed works written in defense of the Reformed faith, financed a college in Vilnius, supported Protestant scholars, and in various other ways fostered the Calvinist faith. He is known to have exchanged letters with John Calvin and protected religious exiles from Italy. Radziwill also funded Lithuanian language churches and schools. On his death bed he charged his eldest son, Nicholas Christopher, to uphold and support the Reformation, but sadly soon after his father’s death his son joined the “Counter-Reformation” and publicly burned copies of the Bible that his father had paid to translate.
Jan Łaski (Polish)/Johannes Alasco (German)/John a Lasco (English) (1499 – January 8th, 1560) Jan Łaski was born in Łask, the son of Jaroslaw Łaski, the Voivode of Sieradz, and Susanna Bąk. His uncle, also Jan Łaski, was by turns royal secretary, Archbishop of Gniezno, Primate of Poland and Grand Chancellor of the Crown. Łaski, supported by his uncle Jan, studied to be a priest. To further his studies he traveled to Germany, France, Italy and Belgium. Laski then traveled to Zurich where he visited with Zwingli, who urged Łaski to “Search the Scriptures”. Next he traveled to Basel where he befriended Erasmus. Łaski also studied under Œcolampadius and Pellicanus, who taught him Hebrew. In 1526 his uncle, hearing that he was spending time with Reformers recalled him to Poland, where he forced Łaski to sign an oath to not embrace doctrine contrary to the teachings of Rome. He continued to study the Bible and wrestle with the doctrines of the Reformation. In 1536 he was offered the Bishopric of Cujuvia in Poland and that of Wesprim in Hungary, faced with these offers he believed he must choose forever to join Rome or the Reformation. Łaski wrote in a letter to a friend, “God, in His goodness has brought me to my senses, and from the midst of the pharisaism in which I was lost, He has recalled me in a marvelous way to His true knowledge, To Him be the glory!” He boldly went to the king and proclaimed himself on the side of the Reformation and then promptly left the county for East Friesland. In East Friesland Łaski tirelessly worked to bring reform to the churches, modeling them after the Reformed Churches of Geneva. He became known as the fire-brand of Friesland. At this time Łaski married a godly woman of low birth. He mostly ministered among the working classes, never putting on airs because of his noble pedigree. Łaski worked as the pastor of a large congregation in the capital, Emden. He brought the disfavor not only of the emperor and the Roman church on himself, but also that of the Lutherans. Gellius Faber worked with Łaski as an assistant and joined him in a disputation in 1544 against Menno Simons. After this disputation Łaski asked the East Friesian government to be more tolerant of Menno Simons’ followers who, to his surprise, he found to be reasonably minded Anabaptists. In 1548, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer invited Łaski to come to England to help advance the Reformation there. Traveling in disguise to London, he arrived there in September of 1548. In 1550 Edward VI nominated him as Superintendent of the German, French and Italian congregations of London, which had about 4,000 members altogether. With the death of Edward and Bloody Mary coming to the throne Łaski believed it was best for him and his congregation to leave the country. On September 15th, 1553, thousands of Protestants crowded the banks of the Thames to pray for him and to see him and the small fleet that sailed with him off on their journey. A storm scattered the fleet, one ship bearing Gellius Faber landed in West Friesland, where Faber again debated Menno Simons. Łaski’s ship landed in Denmark, where at first King Christian III welcomed him, but Johannes Bugenhagen, a Lutheran reformer, convinced the king that these Reformed exiles should be turned away. Lubeck, Hamburg and Rostosk also turned them away. John Calvin wrote Łaski that he was angered “that the barbarity of a Christian people should exceed even the sea in savageness.” Gustavus Vasa King of Sweden offered them asylum. After a short stay in Friesland Łaski settled the congregation in Frankfort. In 1555 he published a book in Polish in which he urged Sigismund Augustus to support the Reformation in Poland. In 1556, the king of Poland recalled Łaski to Poland, where he became the king’s secretary and was appointed Superintendent of all Reformed Churches of Little Poland, making Łaski the head of over half the Protestant churches in Poland. He labored on the Polish Bible, worked on healing breaches between Reformed churches and Lutherans, organized synods, wrote books and defended the Protestant cause to the king. Łaski died on January 8th, 1560 in Pinczów, Poland, and was greatly mourned.
In 1548 Menno Simons and Dirk Philips visited Danzig, preaching their Anabaptist doctrines. After Simons’ death Philips returned to Danzig and worked alongside Hans Sicken to establish Mennonite churches in the area. Many Mennonites from Holland came to Danzig and Elbing because of the relative religious freedom. They were given land in the swampy delta near Danzig, which being Dutch, they were able to skillfully drain and turn into prosperous farmland, winning the favor of the government. Danzig became one of the largest Mennonite centers in all of Europe.
Bohemia and Moravia
In 1176 Waldensian missionaries arrived in Bohemia and started many churches. Outside of the Piedmont Alpine region, Bohemia was the most Waldensian area in Europe. Queen Anne of England, wife of Richard II, was the sister of the King of Bohemia, and she was a friend of John Wycliffe. Many of Wycliffe’s writings were brought into Bohemia by scholars going back and forth from Prague to Oxford where as young men they went to serve under the Queen. In 1400 John Huss became a priest and began teaching some of Wycliffe’s beliefs in Bethlehem Chapel, where he served as a parish priest. Before John Huss’s sermons he had his congregation sing a hymn, one stanza of the hymn was:
The Word of God, which ne’er shall cease,
Proclaims free pardon, grace and peace,
Salvation shows in Christ alone,
The perfect will of God makes known.
In 1414 John Huss was brought before the Council of Constance and condemned as a heretic. On July 6th, 1415 he was burned at the stake. While tied to the stake he said, “It is thus that you silence the goose, but a hundred years hence there will arise a swan whose singing you shall not be able to silence.” He died singing, “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.”
On Sept. 2nd, 1415, 452 Bohemian nobles publicly subscribed to the doctrines of Huss, and bound themselves to protect the preaching of God’s word on their estates, forming a league for the protection of the Gospel.
War broke out in 1420 when the Hussites refused to recognize the Roman Catholic Sigismund as king. The Hussite Wars lasted from 1420 until 1433 during which time the Hussites prevented the Catholics from taking Bohemia. They defeated three crusades brought against them.
The Hussites were divided into three groups, the most radical were called Taborites, they were very puritanical and militant, some of whom were baptistic; the Bohemian Brethren, of whom many were pacifists and strongly rejected Catholic worship; and Calixtines, who simply wanted laymen to be allowed to take both the bread and wine during mass.
John Ziska, who was entirely blind, was the leading Taborite general during the Hussite Wars. He would take his stand on a hill in the center of the battle-field, with his best officers all around him. Then he borrowed their eyes, as he turned his empty sockets this way and that. His staff reported to him on the progress of the fight, and he gave his commands accordingly. Almost without fail, panic would seize the Germans, who were utterly routed again and again. It is said that before he died, he made his followers pledge to tan his skin for a drum-head, that the very sound of his hardened hide might strike terror into these brazen foes of God and man.
One Italian who traveled in Bohemia wrote that, “It was a shame to the Italian priests, that many of them had never read the New Testament, while scarcely a woman could be found among the Taborites who could not answer any questions respecting either the Old or New Testaments.”
The Taborites worked closely with the Waldensians, who sent money to help the Hussites in their wars. One young Waldensian minister, Reiser, rose to high rank in the Taborite army and government, and was ordained in the Taborite church. Later after the Hussite Wars Reiser worked alongside the Taborites to organize Waldensian churches throughout Europe. He died as a martyr.
In 1432 civil war broke out between the Taborites and the Calixtines. The Calixitines went back into the Catholic church and joined in helping turn the nation back over into Roman hands. The Taborites were mostly killed off. Those that remained joined the Waldensians or the Bohemian Brethren. In 1500 there were about 200,000 Brethren in about 350 congregations in Bohemia.
From 1410 to 1488, four different translations of the entire Scriptures were made in the Bohemian language. The Bohemian Bible, published by the Brethren in 1488, was one of the first instances on record where the newly-invented printing press was used to print the Bible in a living language. Before 1519 six printing-presses were running in Bohemia, three of which were owned by the Brethren, whose authors issued sixty productions between 1500-1510.
Lucas of Prague, a Brethren bishop who helped increase education among the Brethren, wrote a letter encouraging Martin Luther and his stand for truth. In 1522 and then again in 1524 the Brethren sent two representatives, John Horn and Michael Weiss, to meet with Luther and give their support to the new reform movement. Michael Weiss would later support and befriend Zwingli, who held the same views on the Lord’s Supper as the Bohemian Brethren.
In 1519 Matthias, a hermit, arrived in Prague, and began preaching reform to large crowds. Many of the Calixtines who had returned to Rome, on the condition that they receive both the bread and wine, began embracing the teachings of Luther and many of their young men traveled to Wittenberg to study under him. One of those that traveled to Wittenberg, Gallua Zahera, a Calixitine pastor, who was “a deceitful, cruel, and superstitious man”. On Zahera’s return from Wittenberg began stirring up the government of Prague against the Reformation and encouraged severer persecution against the followers of Luther. He urged the town council to ban Lutherans from working or doing business in the city, and those that refused to vow allegiance to Rome should be branded on the forehead and banished from the city. The council followed all his advice. John Kalentz was both branded and publicly beaten for administering the Lord’s supper to his family as a layman. John Lapatsky who returned to the city after being banished was promptly imprisoned and put to death in his cell. Nicolas Wrzetenarz, an elderly man and a scholar, along with a widow, Clara, who kept his house, were burned at the stake on December 19th, 1526, for refusing to deny their reformed beliefs.
Martha von Porzicz was tried for her reformed beliefs in Prague. Before the judge she boldly denounced the teachings of Rome and rebuked the Calixtines for following the pope. The judge hinted that she should get her clothing ready for being publicly burned, to which she quickly and fearlessly replied, “My petticoat and cloak are both ready”. As she was led to the stake a town-crier walked in front of her declaring to the on looking crowds that she was being killed for blaspheming the holy Sacrament. She began to call out over the crier, “It is not so; I am condemned because I will not confess to please the priests that Christ, with his bones, hairs, sinews and veins, is contained in the Sacrament. Believe not the priests, who have abandoned themselves to hypocrisy and to every vice.” She boldly marched onto the pile of wood and faced the flames without showing any fear. She died on December 4th, 1527.
In 1530 Gallua Zahera and those councilmen that followed him were banished from Prague for their corruption and the new council allowed religious freedom. In 1547 Charles V sent an army, under his brother Ferdinand I, to punish Bohemia for refusing to send an army to help him in a war against the German Protestant nobles. Ferdinand I ruthlessly imprisoned and executed many Bohemian government officials and noblemen. Soon the Lutherans and Bohemian Brethren were blamed for stirring up disloyalty to the emperor. In the five districts where the majority of the population were Brethren, the people were forced to convert to Catholicism or be banished, and several landlords were imprisoned for not being speedy enough in evicting the Brethren from their land. Most of the Brethren escaped into Poland, the mountains of Moravia and Transylvania. As they left many of them sang the Hussite song:
Blest be the day when I must roam
Far from my country, friends and home,
An exile, poor and mean.
My fathers’ God will be my Guide,
Will angel guards for me provide,
My soul, my soul in danger screen.
Ferdinand I ordered the imprisonment of all the Lutheran and Brethren ministers in the country, in which he was almost immediately successful, with the exception of three Brethren ministers, John Augusta, who had studied under Luther, Jacob Bilke and George Israel, a fearless and strapping blacksmith. These three ministers worked ministering to those Brethren that had not left the country and, after a time, were all captured. Augusta and Bilke were thrown into a deep dungeon in Prague Castle, where they were cruelly tortured and remained imprisoned for seventeen years. George Israel was able to escape from imprisonment shortly after being captured and fled to Poland where he preached and established twenty congregations throughout Poland and Prussia.
Though the Brethren had produced several Bohemian translations of the Bible before the Reformation, they had all been translated from the Latin Vulgate and the Brethren believed that a better translation was needed. Between 1578 and 1593 a group of Brethren scholars worked on the new translation, which came to be known as the Kralitz Bible. Baron John von Zerotin paid for the first printing of this translation.
In 1562 Ferdinand I’s son Maximilian II became king of Bohemia, and then emperor in 1564 and ruled until his death in 1576. Maximilian as a young man had studied under John Fauser, who believed in Protestant doctrine. Maximilian was a lover of the arts and believed that religious liberty was best for the peace and well being of the empire and those Protestants under his rule received a large amount of freedom. During his reign the Brethren, Lutheran and Reformed churches grew rapidly, bringing in many new converts, and most of the population became joined to a Protestant church. During this time 17 of the most powerful barons and 140 knights joined the Brethren church. After Maximilian II’s death his son Rudolf II took the throne. Though he allowed the governments in other parts of the empire to molest Protestants, Bohemia was left in peace. Rudolf lived in Prague and spent most of his time in a state of crippling depression or dabbling in astrology and alchemy. In 1608 Rudolf’s brother Matthias, with the support of the nobles, took over the rule of Royal Hungary, Austria and Moravia but left Bohemia to Rudolph until 1611. To keep the support of the Bohemian people Rudolph empowered Protestants to open churches and schools and turned the University of Prague over to their charge, and the rule of the Bohemian church was equally divided between Calixtines, Brethren, Lutheran and Reformed leaders. He turned Bethlehem Chapel, where John Huss had ministered, over to the Brethren. Once Rudolph became emperor Protestant freedoms began to be removed, and when Ferdinand II was crowned in 1618 the persecution accelerated. In 1619 the mostly Protestant Bohemia Diet voted to depose Ferdinand II, beginning the Thirty Years’ War. On November 8th, 1620 on White Mountain, near Prague, Ferdinand II’s army crushed a rebel Bohemian army, this began many years of the mass killing of Bohemian Protestants. On June 21st, 1621, now known as the Day of Blood, 27 Protestant nobles were executed in Prague. Of the noblemen that were not executed 185 of them sold their castles and fled the kingdom, and over 36,000 families of the commoners emigrated. In 1620 Bohemia had a population of close to 4,000,000, by 1648 less than 600,000 remained.
Luther’s 95 Theses were circulated in Austria and soon after the 1521 Diet in Worms, his other writings entered the country. It was mainly miners, mercenaries, craftsmen and traders who brought Luther’s writings with them and spread them among the people. Luther’s teachings spread quickly throughout the country. By the 1550s Austria was over eighty percent Protestant.
Luther’s ideas gained supporters in Upper Austria, due to the long time discontent with the condition of the clergy, as well as the very close contacts with cities in Upper and Middle Germany due to the iron trade and salt industry. Many leading nobles, civil servants and citizens also had their sons educated in Wittenberg.
By 1525, Gmunden was considered a “Lutheran nest”. In Steyr, Wels, Linz, Enns, Freistadt, and Vöcklabruck the new doctrine was also quickly established. Many of the clergy became Lutheran.
In 1524 Kaspar Tauber was beheaded and his body burned because of his confession of Protestant doctrine. Leonhard Käser, who was the parish vicar of Waizenkirchen and had studied in Wittenberg, was arrested on a visit to his hometown of Raab and tried for heresy. He was burnt at the stake on August 16th, 1527, despite the intervention of the noblemen, Schaunberger and Starhemberger. Many Austrians were appalled by his martyrdom, causing many to leave the Roman church and join Lutheran congregations.
Many nobles, such as the Jörger, Polheimer, Zelkinger, Schaunberger, Khevenhüller and the Starhemberger families, as well as Steyrer Eisenhändler, maintained personal relations with Luther and strongly supported reform on their estates. They introduced evangelical worship in their castles and manors. Yet the Reformation was, above all, a genuine popular movement, carried by artisans, students, traders, and soldiers who had heard of the “New Teaching” in Germany and spread it in their Austrian homeland.
The Anabaptist movement grew rapidly among the craftsmen and lower classes, while the nobility and the gentry embraced Lutheranism.
Many monasteries were abandoned and closed. By 1560 the whole country only had 74 men and 7 women still living in a convent or monasteries. When the emperor Maximilian II died in 1576, the country was almost completely Protestant.
Though the Habsburgs were unfriendly to Protestants, they were too occupied in fighting the Turks to expend much effort in putting down the movement in Austria.
Christoph Jörger I was the first in the rise of the Jörger family at the court of the emperor Frederick III. He lived for a long time in Linz. Christoph's son, Wolfgang Jörger IV, become a field leader and accompanied emperor Maximilian I on his campaign to Brabant and Ghent. For his merits he was knighted by the emperor on the day of his coronation in Aachen, April 5th, 1486, with the sword of Charles the Great. In 1513, Maximilian I called Jörger to head the government of Austria. The Jörgers not only gave the Habsburgs excellent military services, but were also successful as their financial and investment advisors.
Wolfgang Jörger IV married Dorothea Raming, who became a strong supporter of Luther. In 1522 their son Christoph II was sent to Wittenberg to study under Luther. He returned as a convinced Protestant from Wittenberg and, together with his mother, who corresponded with Martin Luther, played a significant part in the rapid spread of the new faith in Upper Austria. In 1525, at the request of Dorothea and Christoph, Luther sent Michael Stiefel to serve as their castle chaplain. At Tollet Castle, the seat of the Jörger family, evangelical services were held from 1526 to 1626.
Helmholtz Jörger (1572- 1631), son of Wolfgang V, become the leading representative of the Protestant nobility. He greatly enlarged and embellished his country home in Linz to serve as a Protestant school for young men and boys. Johannes Kepler, the famous astronomer, was among the professors that he hired. Helmholtz was a prudent and ardent man, who, with the highest knowledge and skill, defended the rights of his subjects. He was condemned to die in 1620 for being a Protestant, but in 1625 he was pardoned and regained the rule of Steyregg.
Hans Jörger V, a strong Protestant, rejected Ferdinand II as emperor, and was accused of conspiring with the rebellious Bohemians. He was able to save his life by a petition, but lost Tollet Castle which he had rebuilt between 1601 and 1611 in the style of the Renaissance. Karl von Jörger, another committed Protestant, was one of the leaders in Austria against emperor Ferdinand II. He was captured and died in 1623 in the dungeon of the Veste Oberhaus near Passau after being cruelly tortured. Part of the Jörger family emigrated to Regensburg and Nuremberg.
The situation for the Protestants changed drastically when Emperor Ferdinand II came to the throne. In 1624 he ordered all Protestant preachers and schoolmasters to leave the country within eight days, while all other Protestants were ordered to convert to Catholicism or go out of the country within a year’s time. The counter-revolution was pushed with military hardness and with all available propagandistic means.
At the “Munich Conference” in 1579, Karl of Central Austria, his brother Ferdinand II of Tyrol and his brother-in-law, Wilhelm of Bavaria, resolved to systematically fight Protestantism in their respective countries. As a result pastors were banished, churches and schools closed, Protestant books burned and soldiers were quartered in Protestants homes. The people were ordered to convert or leave the region, those that chose to leave were told they must leave the young children behind in the care of a Catholic family and they also had to pay a “moving tax” to the government.
As a result of the “Counter-Reformation”, Austria was brought back to Catholicism. This was often carried out through violence, those who were not killed or reconverted went into hiding, creating the “secret church” in Austria, while about 100,000 Protestants were forced to flee to Hungary and Transylvania.
The Anabaptist movement in the province of Tyrol, in western Austria, brought more people into the Anabaptist movement than any other area of Europe. The earliest known Anabaptists in Tyrol first appeared in 1526 in the valley of the Inn River.
On January 14th, 1528, Leonard Schiemer, a learned man and an Anabaptist evangelist, was beheaded in Rattenburg in Tyrol, for “rebaptizing” converts throughout Austria and Bavaria. A week later another zealous preacher and evangelist, Hans Schlaffer, was burned at the stake in Schwatz, Tyrol, for his Anabaptist beliefs.
On April 1st, 1528, the government of Tyrol decreed that all Anabaptists must recant by April 28th or be burned at the stake, those who recanted would be given the “kindness” of only being beheaded. Part of the edict read: “Since in our principality more Anabaptists are found than in any other land, we decree that any and all persons, men or women, who have been rebaptized shall be imprisoned and put to death.” This Catholic government went on to organize a special force called “Anabaptist hunters”, whose sole purpose was to track down and arrest Anabaptists. The government also sent out spies who pretended to join an Anabaptist church and then betrayed the whole congregation. Anyone who turned in an Anabaptist minister to the authorities was rewarded with 40 guilders. In 1530 the government in Tyrol reported to authorities in Vienna that they had executed over 700 people for being Anabaptists and that a larger number had fled to Moravia.
Hans Hut, a leading Anabaptist missionary, traveled throughout Austria, baptizing large crowds of converts. He taught that God spoke through creation and inner enlightenment or “inner Word”, which were both equal to if not superior to the Bible. He believed that a truly spiritual Christian could reach a level of perfection through suffering and submission to inner enlightenment, in which he did not need the Bible to guide him. He also strongly believed in nonresistance and taught that since the government used taxes to wage war, Christians should not pay taxes. He further believed that all government was illegitimate and that believers were not bound to submit to the state. Hut taught that the world would end after an invasion of the Turks, who he believed would conquer Europe on the eve of Christ’s return in 1528. Hut died in prison in Augsburg in 1527. Because many Austrian Anabaptists followed his anti-government teachings all Anabaptists were seen as a threat to order in the country.
George Blaurock was a leader in the birth of the Swiss Brethren church in Zurich, and spent the last part of his life planting churches in Tyrol. In August, 1529 he and a fellow minister, Hans Langegger, were arrested in Guffidaun, Tyrol, and were subjected to barbaric torture until being burned at the stake on September 6th in the nearby town of Clausen.
Because the Anabaptist movement continued to rapidly grow despite persecution, on May 12th, 1532 the government of Tyrol ordered that not only Anabaptists were to be put to death but anyone who gave them shelter or helped them in any way would also be executed, and they increased the reward for capturing an Anabaptist minister to 100 guilders.
Jacob Hutter became the chief leader among a group of nonresistant Anabaptists, who believed in living communally, holding everything in common. This group had congregations in Moravia and Austria, and Hutter worked to organize them into a unified body governed by set rules he laid out for them. Hutter labored to move hundreds of his followers out of Austria into Moravia where they had more freedom. By the 1530s most of the Anabaptists that remained in Austria were Hutterites. Hutter was burned at the stake on February 26, 1536, in Innsbruck, Tyrol.
Primož Trubar (1508 – June 28, 1586) was the leading Protestant reformer of Slovenia, best known as the author of the first book printed in the Slovene language, and as the founder and the first superintendent of the Protestant Church of the Duchy of Carniola. He was also notable for consolidating the Slovene language. Trubar was born in the village of Rašica in the Duchy of Carniola, then under the Habsburgs. In the years 1520–1521 he attended school in Rijeka, in 1522–1524 he continued his education in Salzburg. From there Trubar went to Trieste under the tutorship of the Roman Catholic bishop Pietro Bonomo, where he got in touch with the humanist writers, in particular Erasmus of Rotterdam. In 1527 Pietro Bonomo assigned Trubar a position as priest in Loka pri Zidanem Mostu. In 1528 he enrolled at the University of Vienna, but did not complete his studies. In 1530 Trubar returned to the Slovene lands and became a preacher. He gradually grew more Protestant in his beliefs and was expelled from Ljubljana in 1547. In 1550, while a Protestant preacher in Rothenburg, he wrote the first two books in Slovene, Catechismus and Abecedarium, which were then printed that year in Schwäbisch Hall by Peter Frentz. Catechismus also contained the first Slovene musical manuscript in print. Altogether Trubar authored 22 books in Slovene and two books in German. He was the first to translate parts of the Bible to Slovene. After being exhorted by Pier Paolo Vergerio to do Bible translation, he translated the Gospel of Matthew in 1555 and by 1577 had published in three parts the translation of the entire New Testament. In the period between 1561 and 1565 Trubar was the manager and supervisor of the South Slavic Bible Institute. Trubar died in Derendingen, now part of the city of Tübingen, Germany.