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In the matter of religion a large majority of Czechs in the United States are either Catholics or Liberals, the remainder are Protestants. Liberals (also called Rationalists, Freethinkers, etc.) are divided into two classes--negativists, the milder type, and radicals, with an anti-Catholic tendency. The latter are more numerous among the older generation. The term Liberal here is meant to describe all the groups ranging from Atheists (or more properly speaking Pantheists, for Czech Atheists believe in Nature as the guiding force) to those who believe in a Creator but do not attend church. Czechs in Nebraska are no exception to this rule. This phase (Liberalism) puzzles many Americans of other extraction, for they think it strange that Liberals can lead an apparently Christian life, as to moral conduct, without belief in theology. These Americans, who live in or near Czech communities, know that Czechs are industrious, law-abiding, peace-loving,--in general very good people to neighbor with and do business with, so it seems strange to them that certain groups can have all the virtues of their church-going brethren and still profess Liberalism. Inasmuch as this question is of moment to most people, and inasmuch as Czechs are probably the first group in this country to openly profess free thought in an organized manner (Unitarians excepted), it is important that the matter be explained. This was not done in the Czech edition of this history, because it was not necessary for Czech readers. Because Liberals claim that their manner of thinking on this subject is deep-rooted in the history of their native land, the author is obliged to trace the outlines of that history. This has been done as impartially as is possible with historical records and with the realization that to many it is still a sore subject. The sole object, however, is to try to explain this unusual phase to those whom it puzzles.
It is probable that Christianity penetrated into Moravia earlier than into Bohemia, for as early as the year 836 a Christian church was consecrated at Neutra in Moravia by the Archbishop of Salzburg. However, Christianity introduced through the agency of Germany was not likely to gain many adherents, as the Christian faith was, in the eyes of Bohemians, necessarily connected with the hostile German race. It was from the east that Christianity completely and permanently penetrated into Moravia and Bohemia. In 862 the Moravian Prince Rostislav sent a mission to the court of the Greek Emperor at Constantinople, asking him to send Christian teachers of the Slavonic race to Moravia. The emperor Michael then selected two priests, the brothers Constantine and Methodius, to accompany the mission to Moravia. When the brothers started, Constantine brought with him a translation of the Bible written in the language of the Slavic inhabitants of Macedonia. For this translation Constantine used the letters of the new alphabet, which he had himself invented, and which from the name he afterward assumed (Cyril) became known as the Cyrillic alphabet. It renders with great precision the sounds peculiar to Slavic languages and is still largely used in eastern Europe. The Slavic language thus became a written one and by its use in religious service took its position with Latin and Greek as a liturgic language. The undertaking of the brothers was fully successful. Numerous churches were built and the inhabitants of Moravia eagerly flocked to the religious services, which were held in the Slavonic tongue.
The two apostles had journeyed to Rome in 867, to obtain from Pope Hadrian II authority to work among the Czech people and this was granted. The Bavarian bishops, fearful lest the Slavic countries be lost to their jurisdiction, accused them of being heretics, but the pope found them innocent. After Cyril's death Methodius was tricked by the Archbishop of Salzburg, who under pretext of hospitality invited him and then held him in prison for two and a half years. He was freed upon the order of Pope John VIII and returned to his people, but was persecuted by the German bishop Wiching and once more accused of heresy. Again he made his way to Rome and again found innocent, by the same Pope John VIII. After his death Wiching persecuted Methodius' followers and confusion ensued. When order was restored, Latin service was substituted for Czech, and the country was permanently placed under the influence of Western European civilization.
Thus from earliest times injustice of German usurpers was linked with Catholicism, although the popes themselves had nothing to do with it. They stood by Bohemia, for they understood that the trouble lay in national differences rather than religious differences. Until 973 Bohemia was subject to the German bishops. In that year Bishop Wolfgang and the Pope conceded to the wishes of Czechs and a bishopric was established in Prague. Then followed several centuries of intermittent warfare mostly with Germans, but intensified by strife among the Czechs themselves.
Catholicism prospered for several centuries, but the burning of John Hus (July 6, 1415), and Jeronymus (1416) in Constance, which marks the beginning of the Reformation, threw a brand into Bohemia that eventually lighted the flames of the Thirty Years' War. The Hussite Party was formed, to avenge his death. One faction was of a milder type, the other, the Taborites, did not want to compromise with Rome in any way. Thus ensued fratricidal conflict, followed by crusades of the German potentates under King Sigismund, with whom the Taborites battled under their famous general John Zizka. These are called the Hussite Wars. After Zizka's death, under Prokop Holy, they invaded German and Hungarian territory, to avenge old wrongs, and in the battle of Domazlice they finally conquered the Crusaders.
However, the Czech feudal aristocracy, Protestant and Catholic, tiring of the devastation resulting from internal struggles, joined together with the Catholic and neutral inhabitants, and in the battle of Lipany (a battle between aristocracy and democracy) the Taborites were annihilated and Sigismund, emperor of Germany, crowned king. He died in 1437, succeeded by his son-in-law Albrecht. After Albrecht's death for a time the country was without a ruler, then followed the Czech (Protestant) king George of Podebrad (1444-1453) under whom the country prospered and in whose time the Bohemian Brethren church was formed, which paved the way for the Protestant Party.
Czechs never recognized the "divine right" of kings to rule. They elected their kings, who were bound by what was equivalent to our modern constitution, their charter, and they sometimes chose kings from their midst. In 1526 they chose a Hapsburg, Ferdinand I (1526-1564) who founded the Hapsburg dynasty in Bohemia, which was to last until 1918. Ferdinand destroyed the old charter, in accordance with which he was recognized as a king by election and usurped the power which the House of Hapsburg thereafter continued to wield. At the time of his accession the great majority of Czechs were Protestants, under the leadership of the Estates (composed of lords, knights and cities) which contituted the legislative branch of the government. Later a fourth Estate, the clergy, was added, which was destined to exercise the greatest influence on the affairs of government.
The struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism began, not only in Bohemia but in Europe generally. While the Hapsburg rulers tried to stem the tide, the Protestants forged ahead and endeavored to wrest the scepter from a Hapsburg ruler, to give it to one of their own people. In 1617 Ferdinand II was made king and when he refused Protestants permission to re-open churches built by them in Broumov and Hroby (which had been taken over by Catholics) he precipitated the Thirty Years' War. On May 23, 1618, an angry mob in Prague flung out of the council chamber window two of the king's ministers and the vice-regal secretary. This manifestation of defiance plunged the country into war, led by Ferdinand on one side and the Czech Estates (Protestant) under Frederick of the Palatinate, on the other. The Czechs had in 1619 asserted their right to elect their kings and chose Frederick. Their rebellion ended with the battle on White Mountain, November 8, 1620, when they met their downfall and Bohemia lost the last remnant of her independence.
Ferdinand II now determined to severely punish the rebels. On June 21, 1621, twenty-seven leaders of the revolution, all belonging to the most noted families in the country, were executed. The heads of twelve, enclosed in iron cages, six in each cage, set up on either side of the Charles Bridge, were left there for ten years, to awe the populace. To this gruesome evidence of Hapsburg hatred were added the hands of two others and the tongue of the scholar Jesensky (Jessenius), which had been cut out before his execution. The head and hand of still another martyr were nailed to the wall of the Town House. However, it is only fair to say that great cruelties were practiced by the Protestant Party also, as was common in that time.
So ended the "Bloody Day in Prague" and was followed by a great exodus of the inhabitants who would not renounce their faith. It is estimated that 36,000 families, including 185 houses of nobility (some numbering fifty persons) ,--statesmen, authors, professors and preachers went into exile. Of a total of 728 estates, 658 were seized and given to favorites of the king, or retained by the state and by the Hapsburgs. In 1620 the Jesuit fathers, who had come in 1556 but for a long time did not gain in numbers, were invited to Bohemia. They took charge of the once renowned University of Prague and the provincial schools and began to systematically build up their weakened party. The slogan of that time was: "Cuius regio, eius religio", or in effect: those who governed had the right to determine the religion of their subjects.
The Bohemian Brethren had greatly increased and popularized Czech literature and many books then published were of a philosophical and educational nature. Almost all literary works subsequent to Hus had been imbued with his spirit. As a proof of the high development of literature and printing in Bohemia in that early day, it is sufficient to say that in the search for heretical books, one man alone, a priest named Konias, claimed that he had burned or mutilated thirty thousand Bohemian volumes. When we consider further that these and other similar books were found in homes, to which entrance was authorized by the Hapsburgs and enforced by military power, we have further proof that there was already at that time a large number of lovers of literature among the Bohemian people.
But again, as in the case of Methodius and the popes, it was a Catholic and a Hapsburg at that, Emperor Joseph II, son of Empress Maria Theresa, who in 1781 issued the Toleration Patent, allowing Protestants to worship openly, although not exactly in the form that had been used by the Bohemian Brethren. That is, they were to use either the Augsburg or Helvetian confession of faith. True, this same emperor endeavored, even more persistently than did his forebears, to Germanize the Czechs, but we are speaking now of the matter of religion. And among the Czech patriots who, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, helped to resuscitate and modernize the suppressed language, kept alive so long only among the lowly, we find the greatest credit due to a number of Czech priests, called with the rest the "awakeners of the nation". Among them were: Gelasius Dobner, Joseph Dobrovsky, Francis Pubicka, Nicholas Voigt, Francis Prochazka, Vaclav Stach, Albert Nejedly, Dominik Konsky, Joseph V. Sedlacek and Anton Marek.
Thus it can be seen that from earliest times national strife was intertwined with religious strife. During the second half of the last century Czech literature took on a new life and its outstanding feature was the history written by Francis J. Palacky, called the father of his nation. The masses thus had opportunity for the first time to acquaint themselves with the history of their country.
These then, as stated before, are the phases of Czech history which, as many contend, made patriotic Czechs feel antagonistic to the church that, in their opinion, was in league with a hated alien government, and when they came to this country, where they found freedom of speech and press, became Liberals and ceased to believe in orthodox doctrines. But that cannot be the only reason why they became such. They could have been Protestants here as well as many others are. However, the Czech temperament is strongly individualistic. Czechs like to dissent, question, challenge and dispute. This quality they inherit from their Hussite forefathers and this quality is the foundation for liberal thinking. Our prominent authority on Czech-American history and social conditions, Mr. Thomas Capek, in his book "Cechs in America", says:
"Hussitism, more than any other force, has kindled and kept alive for centuries the feeling of national consciousness . . . . The Hussites started to correct certain abuses in the church, but before long their leaders, broadening the programme, raised the banner of nationalism and struck at the Teutons, whom eventually they pushed everywhere to the very edge of the frontier. The defense of faith and the defense of language were not the only issues involved. In the course of time the dispute resolved itself into its elemental factors: A struggle between democracy, which the Hussites championed, and the right of men to determine for themselves their system of government, their form of religion and their scheme of social relationship; and aristocracy and Teutonism, represented by the anti-Hussites, which sought to impose upon the individual a privileged religion, government and caste system."
As noted in the chapter on Organizations, Czech Liberals in this country for years commemorated the burning of John Hus, whose motto was: "Seek the truth, hear the truth, learn the truth, love the truth, hold the truth, defend the truth unto death".-But truth is this to one, that to another. When Liberals are asked why they revere the memory of a Catholic priest they reply: "If Hus were living today, he would be a Liberal". However, many Catholics in Bohemia respect his memory just the same, as we all instinctively respect the memory of any man who has laid down his life for what he believes to be the truth.
However, it is not fair to blame the Hapsburgs (Germans) or the Catholic Church entirely, for secession from faith. The underlying reason is the gradual development of Liberalism out of Hussitism, along with the development of science and non-sectarian education. When people of that bent of mind came to this country, their ranks were strengthened not only by freedom of press and speech, but also by the fact that for quite a number of years Czech newspapers in this country (with the exception of the Catholic weekly Hlas, St. Louis, Mo.) were of rationalistic or at least neutral tendency. This condition separated Czechs in this country into two factions and its parallel may be found in the Orangemen and Catholics of Ireland, as to intensity of feeling. No violence occurred, for Czechs do not readily engage in fistic combat. They like to settle their disputes orally. The Liberals erred in using ridicule instead of argument, and those on the other side erred in considering enemies all who did not agree with them.
Liberals want to settle questions in the light of knowledge and in this they are the pioneer modernists, so alarming now in the United States to the fundamentalists. For every gain there is a loss. They gain in reason and lose in the consolation that faith brings to its adherents. But when they ceased to believe, they were frank enough to say so, for frankness of expression is another quality of the Czech temperament. The younger generation, born in this country, does not feel as strongly about this, because it has been raised in a different political atmosphere, and because it has in a larger measure enjoyed the benefits of higher education, which always tends to counteract violent feeling of any kind. They look upon religion as a person's private affair, as indeed it ought to be.
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