The Writer, the Preacher, and the Leader: The Beginning of the Church of the Brethren

Joseph Hutton’s History of the Moravian Church, Part 2

It took three different men with three different gifts to start the Church of the Brethren. Joseph Hutton tells the story in his History of the Moravian Church.

The first was the writer, Peter of Chelcic.

This man spent the mid-1400’s calling the church to return to the purity and simplicity of her early days. He “waxed vigorous and eloquent” against the union of Church and State. He felt that the Emperor Constantine had made a royal mess of things back in the 300’s.

Peter wasn’t the first to write on this theme; he had studied John Wycliffe and John Hus, among others. But the way he wrote captured imaginations. He inspired people. According to Hutton, “If the reader goes to Peter for systematic theology, he will be grievously disappointed; but if he goes for moral vigour, he will find a well-spread table.”

“Whether he knew it or not,” says Hutton, Peter “was the literary founder of the Brethren’s Church.”

The preacher of John Rockycana, an admirer of Peter and an influential minister in the city of Prague.

The preacher gave a fresh voice to the writer’s ideas: “…week by week, in fiery language, he denounced the Church of Rome as Babylon, and the Pope as Antichrist himself. His style was vivid and picturesque, his language cutting and clear.”

It worked. Some of his listeners got together and determined to strike out on their own and restore the New Testament Church.

Rockycana balked. People were ready to follow him, but he wasn’t ready to go.

This was Europe in the 1400’s. It was no small thing to defy the State Church. The sacrifice would be great. Rockycana was a stirring orator, but apparently his tongue was writing checks that his heart wasn’t able to cash.

The group of separatists found a leader, a man they called Gregory the Patriarch. In 1457, he led them to a village called Kunwald. There they made their stand.

Peter’s books had found a broad audience, and people came from all over to join the new movement.

This was the beginning of the Church of the Brethren, from which the Moravian Church later arose. It was Gregory the Patriarch who became their founder. Peter of Chelcic, through his books, gave them their guiding vision. John Rockycana kept his job.

It doesn’t usually happen this way. Many influential men in Church history were both preachers and leaders, sometimes also writers. But to start the Church of the Brethren, it took three different men with three different gifts.

The contribution of the preacher, John Rockycana, can be debated. In Hutton’s account, at least, he was a necessary catalyst.