Collage of Bohemian Dignitaries

Compromise and Defeat

The Germans were encamped near the town of Reisenberg. Before they came within sight, the rumble of the Hussite wagons and the war-hymn chanted by the whole army could be distinctly heard. Cardinal Cesarini and a companion climbed to a small hill to view the impending conflict. Beneath them was a host which they confidently anticipated would soon engulf the advancing Hussites.

Then, to their amazement, they saw a movement in the army below them. The invading host was suddenly seized with realization that the enemy, whom they presumed to be fleeing before them, was actually advancing to meet them. As the significance of the stratagem that had been practiced against them fully dawned on their minds, the Germans, as if struck by some invisible power, were seized by a supernatural fear. The panic extended to the officers equally with the soldiers and they fled, leaving behind everything in the hope that the booty might tempt the enemy from their pursuit. The army, which but a short time before had appeared an invincible host, was now no more than a rabble rout, fleeing when no man pursued. So great was the stupefaction that many of the fleeing army, instead of continuing their flight to their own country, wandered back into Bohemia. Others, upon reaching their homes, failed to recognize their native city and began begging for lodging as if they were strangers.

Hussite Deputies at Basle

Rome, recognizing the failure of arms, turned to other means to accomplish her ends. Hoping to gain by stratagem what was clearly unattainable on the field of conquest, the pope and emperor sent letters to the Bohemians, addressing them in the friendliest possible terms and inviting them to come to Basle and confer on their points of difference. Though the Bohemians were not in the least optimistic of a favorable outcome, they chose deputies to represent them there, of whom the chief was Procopius.

Before they left, the deputies were instructed that there were four points on which there could be no concession: 1.) the free preaching of the Word; 2.) the right of the laity to the Cup; 3.) the ineligibility of the clergy to secular office and rule; and 4.) the execution of the laws in the case of all crimes, without respect to persons.

Cathedral of Basle

Though having been defeated on the field of battle, the Catholic party anticipated a more favorable outcome in the area of diplomacy. To their chagrin, they learned that Procopius could wield his logic with no less dexterity than his sword. The Council drug on for three months, at the end of which the Bohemians departed for home. No sooner had the Bohemian deputies left than the Council sent another proposal to them, suggesting that the negotiations broken off at Basil be continued in Prague. Reluctant to unsheathe the sword if negotiations might prevail, the Bohemians agreed.

In the Diet of Bohemia, convoked in 1434, agreement was at last reached. It was determined that the four points to which the Bohemians adhered should be accepted, but it would be the Church that should determine the precise import. As with the Bible, so now with the four Hussite articles—Rome accepts them, but reserves to herself the right of determining their true sense.

The Compactata, as the agreement was termed, at best a feeble guarantee of the Bohemian faith and liberties was, in fact, a surrender of both. Many of the Bohemians, especially the Calixtine party, now returned to their obedience to the Roman See; and Emperor Sigismund.

The Bohemians were now divided into two separate parties, the Taborites and the Calixtines. While this division had existed from the beginning, it now widened in proportion as the great struggle relaxed. The party that retained the most of the spirit of John Huss was the Taborites. With them, their defense of their religion was of first concern and their civil privileges secondary. By contrast, the Calixtines had become lukewarm so far as their enthusiasm for a religious struggle was concerned. They considered that the rent between themselves and Rome was unnecessarily wide. The chief magnates and the majority of the chief cities belonged to the Calixtine faction and this threw the preponderance of opinion on the side of the Compactata. To this was added the influence of Rochyzanna, the pastor of the Calixtines who in the hope of a bishopric used his influence to further conciliation on terms more advantageous to Rome than honorable to Bohemia.

So long as the Bohemians remained united, their campaigns were among the most brilliant and heroic wars ever recorded. A small country, they had nevertheless prevailed over all the resources of Rome and all the armies of the Empire. So long as they remained united, there was not a power in Europe that would dared have attacked them.

The Calixtines accepted the Compactata while the Taborites rejected the arrangement, with each side appealing to arms. Where in the past they had presented a united front, the swords that had in the past defended their national freedom, were now turned on each other. The Calixtines were by far the larger party and to their numbers were now added the Catholics. The Taborites remained under the command of Procopius, who although desiring peace, would not accept it on terms that he believed were fatal to his nation’s faith and liberty. He clearly saw that Bohemia had entered onto a descending path and that they could only expect further concessions to be required. The enemy, having begun to humble the Bohemians, would not be satisfied until it had gained by diplomacy all it had lost on the field of battle.

Several bloody skirmishes were fought and at last on May 29, 1434, the two armies locked in desperate conflict. During the course of the battle, Procopius fell and with his fall came the end of the Hussite wars.

The Emperor Sigismund was now permitted to mount the throne of Bohemia, but not before he had sworn to observe Compactata and maintain the liberties of the nation. But, the Bohemians could hardly expect that man who had broken his pledge to Huss to fulfill his word to them. No sooner was he firmly in control of the throne than he proceeded to restore the lost dominance of the Church of Rome in Bohemia. This open treachery provoked a storm of indignation, bringing the country to the brink of war. All that prevented its outbreak was the death of the emperor in 1437.

The Taborites received surprisingly lenient terms from Sigismund. He permitted them the city of Tabor, along with certain lands that surrounded it. Here they practiced their worship. Under their skilled hands, the land blossomed like a garden.

As the Taborites looked around themselves, they deemed the evil that surrounded them to be beyond remedy and they therefore resolved to separate themselves from all other bodies and built up the truth anew from the foundations. About the year 1455, they formed themselves into a distinct Church under the name of the United Brethren. This step made them the object of a murderous persecution. They were scattered in the woods and mountains, living in dens and caves.

They began to wonder if they alone were witnesses to the truth and they sent out messengers to the various countries of Christendom. These messengers returned to report that everywhere darkness covered the earth, but that in various places they found isolated confessors of the truth who like themselves were the object of persecution. Especially was this true of the mountains of the Alps. They were greatly cheered to learn that the Alpine Church agreed with them in the articles of its creed, the form of its ordination and the ceremonies of its worship.

In 1471, the ascension of Vladislav, the Polish prince, to the throne, brought them deliverance from persecution. The quiet they now enjoyed was followed by an increase in the number of churches. As the end of the century arrived; it found 200 churches of the United Brethren in Bohemia and Moravia. Such was the remnant which escaped the destructive fury of persecution to see the dawning of the day which Huss had foretold.

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