Bohemian Brethren, a Christian society which originated in the Hussite movements of the 15th century, and rejected the mass, purgatory, transubstantiation, prayers for the dead, and the adoration of images, and contended for the communion in both kinds. The origin of this sect is traced to Peter of Chel-cic, who about 1420 protested against any interference of the secular power in matters of faith, and demanded a return of the church to the institutions of the apostolic age. About 1450 an ecclesiastical organization was in existence, composed mainly of remnants of the Ta-borites (see Hussites), and called the "Chelcic Brethren," who lived retired from the world, regarded oaths and military service as mortal sins, and denounced the Roman Catholic church as the church of Antichrist. They were favored by the Calixtine archbishop Roki-tzana, and under the leadership of Gregory, a nephew of Rokitzana, a considerable number of adherents of these doctrines settled on an estate belonging to George Podiebrad, then regent of Bohemia, and known as the barony of Liticz. The Calixtine priest Bradacz became their spiritual head.
In 1460 the first synod of the Brethren was held at Liticz, which severed their connection with the Calixtines and adopted the doctrine of the merely spiritual presence of Christ in the eucharist. Henceforth Rokitzana and Podiebrad, who had been raised to the throne, were outspoken enemies of the Brethren, who sought refuge from persecution in the caves, and thus received the name of cave-dwellers (Gruhenheimer). The Brethren themselves adopted for their organization the name of the Unity of Brethren (Unitas Fratrum). The organization increased rapidly amid persecution; at the beginning of the Lutheran reformation it numbered 400 congregations with 200,000 members. The great persecution under Ferdinand I., in 1547, drove a number of the Brethren into Poland and Prussia. In Poland the organization became so flourishing that the Polish congregations were received into the communion of the Brethren as a separate province. These congregations united with the Lutherans and Reformed in the Consensus Sandomiriensis (1570), while in Bohemia and Moravia they presented conjointly with these two Protestant denominations the Confessio Bohemica to the emperor Maximilian II. (1575). After Rudolph II. had granted religious toleration, the Brethren were represented in the evangelical consistory of Prague by one of their bishops.
Under Ferdinand II. they were compelled either to join outwardly the Roman Catholic church or go into exile (1620). By those who preferred exile a number of congregations were established in Prussia, Poland, and Hungary, which maintained themselves until the death of their bishop Amos. Comenius (1671), when they became merged in the Lutheran and Reformed congregations. The Brethren in Poland ultimately united with the Reformed church, and continued the consecration of bishops in the hope of the restoration of the Unitas Fratrum. The same hope was entertained by the remainder of the Brethren in Bohemia and Moravia, who kept up secret meetings. Their hopes were fulfilled by the new organization which owes its origin to Count Zinzendorf. (See Moravians.) The relation of the Bohemian Brethren to the Waldenses has not yet been fully cleared up by historical investigators. - At the head of the qhurch were bishops, priests, and deacons as assistants of the priests. The bishops had the exclusive right to ordain. Each of the bishops had a diocese; conjointly they formed the supreme church council, which was presided over by the primate.
This council, which also embraced from six to eight assistant bishops, appointed all the preachers, but was itself responsible to the synod, which met every third or fourth year. The church was divided into three provinces, the Bohemian, Moravian, and Polish. The discipline of the church consisted of three degrees: first, private admonition and censure; secondly, public censure and exclusion from the Lord's supper; lastly, exclusion from the communion of the church. The Brethren were noted for their literary activity and their schools; their most celebrated work was the Kralitz translation of the Bible in the Bohemian language. The knowledge of the history of the Brethren was greatly promoted by the discovery in 1862 at Lissa of a part of the old archives of the church, and a number of able historical works have since been written on the subject. The most important sources of information are: Gindely, Geschichte der Bohmischen Bruder (Prague, 1857); Croger, Geschichte der alten BraderHrche (Gnadau, 1865); De Schweinitz, "The Moravian Episcopate" (Bethlehem, Penn., 1865); Benliam, "Origin and Episcopate of the Bohemian Brethren" (London, 1867).
See Bohemian Breth- REX.