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Christian Singers Of Germany by Catherine Winkworth

Bohemian Brethren

Another link between the religious poetry of the Reformation and of that preceding age, was the hymnology of the Bohemian Brethren, which often reminds us in tone of the mediaeval Latin hymns. These Brethren were the remains of an ancient Slavonic Christianity, which owed its origin to the teaching of two Greek monks in the ninth century, and was in existence before the papal authority and Roman liturgy found their way to Bohemia. Throughout the Middle Ages a tacit struggle existed between these two elements; the Roman prevailed, but the earlier Greek still showed itself in the demand of the people for the possession of the Scriptures and the performance of worship in the vernacular; and it was in a great measure due to his meeting this want that the doctrines of Huss were so readily received. At last the smouldering conflict burst into open warfare, which raged at intervals throughout the fifteenth century. It was a terrible war, embittered by the animosities alike of religion and race -- a history of virulent and unrelenting persecution on one side, and of cruel retaliations on the other. At last a peace was made; the Hussites withdrew to the borders of Bohemia and Moravia, and maintained a precarious existence, until the scanty remnants found a refuge in Saxony in 1725.

When the Reformation began, the Bohemian Brethren were among the first to hail it; as early as 1522 they sent messengers to Luther to wish him success, and confer with him on questions of church discipline. One of these was Michael Weiss, who afterwards became the pastor of the German-speaking congregations of Landskron and Fulnek, and for their benefit translated into German the finest of the Bohemian hymns, adding some of his own. Luther greatly admired and highly recommended this hymn-book; it was republished with further additions by their Bishop, John Horn, in 1540, and passed through many editions both in Germany and Holland. Its contents are of various kinds: some are entitled |Hymns of Instruction,| and were designed to put the great truths of Christianity and the chief events of the Gospel history, into a form in which they might be easily understood and retained by unlettered minds; others are liturgical, adapted to the festivals of the Church, or morning and evening prayer, and among these many are antiphons, often of very elaborate structure, intended to be sung alternately by priest and people; others again are simply hymns of Christian experience. The versification is fluent and musical, reminding us that the Bohemian race has always been distinguished by its musical gifts: the tone has no fierceness, but much tenderness and earnestness; and the frequent references to persecution only implore steadfastness and protection, never vengeance. The Christian sacrifice of entire self-surrender to God, the union of the Church in Christ, reliance on God in trouble, -- these thoughts, which the circumstances of their own career must have brought very close to their hearts, meet us again and again in their hymns. The following is

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