Luke of Prague

Luke Of Prague one of the most celebrated bishops and writers of the Unitas Fratrunm, or the Bohemian and Moravian Brethren, was born about 1460, in Bohemia, and studied at the University of Prague, where he attained to the degree of A.B. A member of the Utraquist, or National Church, he quitted Prague in consequence of difficulties with the Roman Catholics, sought out the Brethren, whose simple faith and stanch confession of it attracted him, and joined their communion about 1480. At that time they were on the eve of serious dissensions, owing to the gradual separation of two parties among them, the one extreme, the other moderate in its views of the discipline. The former represented the illiterate, and the latter the educated portion of the membership. Luke, being a thoroughly learned man, gifted with great executive ability, and distinguished for his unassuming piety, soon won a prominent position. He held to the moderate party, but enjoyed the confidence of many on the other side. In 1491 he was sent, with three associates, on a visit to the East, in order to find, if possible, a body of Christians free from the corruptions of the age, with whom the Unitas Fratrum might establish a fellowship. Returning from this journey without having accomplished its object, he devoted himself to literary labors, and wrote a number of works treating of the points in dispute among the Brethren. These publications contributed in it a little to the ascendency of the moderate party, and to the final pacification of the Church in 1494, after the most violent of the extremists had seceded, and organized a sect of their own, called the Amosites, which soon degenerated into fanaticism. Three years later, Luke undertook a mission to the Waldenses of Italy and France, and on his return in 1500 was elected bishop. His sound judgment and unflinching courage sustained the Brethren in times of persecution; his sense of the dignity and proprieties of public worship served to develop their ritual; his enthusiastic conviction of the scriptural character of their faith opened the way for their rapid increase among the higher classes; and his wonderful diligence gave them a literature far superior to that of the Utraquists and of the Bohemian Roman Catholics. In 1505 he published a Catechism and a Hymn-book, the first evangelical works of this kind in the Middle Ages. Having, in 1518, become the senior bishop of the Church and president of its ecclesiastical council, he began to watch the progress of Luther's Reformation with close attention, and in 1522 sent a deputation to Wittenberg in order to present the good wishes of the Brethren. The result, however, was not satisfactory. Luke disagreed with Luther in regard to the doctrines both of the Lord's Supper and of justification by faith. On the one hand, he upheld the spiritual presence, and, on the other, he gave undue prominence to good works. Each published a defense of his own views. Luther wrote with moderation, and in a friendly spirit; Luke was more severe in his strictures. His stand-point touching justification, however, was not, as Gindely asserts, a Romish one. He was led to extremes by his desire to prevent a misuse of the doctrine of free grace. This purpose induced him, in 1524, to renew his correspondence with Luther. A second deputation visited Wittenberg, and gave him a full account of the discipline of the Brethren, in the hope that he would introduce a similar system among his followers, and thus bring about a reform not merely of Christian doctrine, but also of Christian life. But again the negotiations failed. Indeed, they produced a personal estrangement between Luke and Luther, and for a time all intercourse with Wittenberg was broken off. The real cause of this disagreement is not clear. In part it was owing to the grave offense which the deputies took at the loose morals of the Wittenberg students, and to the freedom with which they denounced their manner of life. Luther, on his side, attacked the rigorism of the Brethren in his Tischreden. In the following years the Brethren suffered a severe persecution in Bohemia. Luke himself was seized, loaded with chains, and imprisoned, and escaped execution only through the intervention of a powerful noble belonging to the Unitas Fratrum. After his liberation he was active for a few years longer, although suffering from a most painful disease, and died at Zungbunzlau December 11, 1528. His literary labors were astonishing. He was the author of more than eighty different works, written partly in Latin and partly in Bohemian, and consisting of doctrinal, exegetical, and polemical treatises. The most of them have been lost. For a further account of his life, see Gindely, Geschichte der Bohnz. Briider, volume 1, book 1, chapter 3, and book 2; Crozer, Geschichte d. alten Bruderkirche, 1:95-192; Czerwegka, Geschichte der Evang. Kirche in Böhmen, volume 2, chapters 3-7. (E. de S.)

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