Glimpses of Bohemia/The Present State and Prospects of the Bohemian Church

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THE demonstration at Klobouk might lead to a mistaken impression of the position of Protestantism in Bohemia and Moravia. Even in Klobouk the Protestants only form one-third of the population, and in the greater part of the country, in all the large towns, they form the merest fraction of the community. All the pastors we have named, and indeed the majority of the Reformed ministers, are now earnestly working for the extension of the Church amidst many discouragements and trials. The views on the state and prospects of the Reformed Church, expressed by Pastor Dusék, in his paper printed in the Proceedings of the First General Presbyterian Council, and by Pastor Cisar in a paper printed in the Proceedings of the Second Council, were in the main confirmed by all that we saw.and heard. In these papers the wants of the Church are fully detailed, and thus the question for the consideration of the stronger Churches of the Presbyterian Alliance is not what are the wants of Bohemia, but, which of the schemes brought under our notice by the pastors are most pressing, and could be most suitably aided from without. Our Churches must take care that our efforts really strengthen our weaker sisters, and do not impair their self-reliance. The conclusion I have reached is that our efforts should be concentrated on two schemes—first, Church extension by evangelistic work; and second, the raising of a sum of at least £2000, to secure premises in Prague to be used as the headquarters of the Comenius Association, and the kindred schemes originated and directed by Mr. Kaspar. Dealing with the last first, the Bohemians are a reading people, and at present there is an unusual number of able writers—historical, poetical, and fictional—supplying them with literary food, and the tone of all the more distinguished authors is truly national. The history of Bohemia, if told at all, is a history of Protestantism. The greatest recent work is Palacky’s “History of the Bohemian People,” through which the present generation has been told the true story of the Hussite times, previously withheld under Jesuit influence. It has been followed by works entitled “History of the Bohemian Brothers,” “Rudolph II. and his Times,” and “ History of the Bohemian Revolt of 1618,” by Gindely. By one popular poet the Bohemians are addressed as “The Heirs of the White Mountain,” while another brings up the same eventful crisis under the laconic title “1621.” The historical novelists stir the emotions by stories drawn from the struggles of Huss and Zizka, and the horrors of the persecutions. Artists aid in the same direction, reproducing on canvas the scenes described by the writers. Even the political journalists tell the people that their “fathers were men,” and although they sometimes sneer at the old Bohemian love of the Bible, many openly profess to teach the social and political views of the Hussites and the United Brethren. The dry bones of the national Protestantism are thus being put together, and Mr. Kaspar is the leader of those who seek to clothe them with the flesh of Gospel knowledge, and who watch and pray for the breath of the Spirit to come on their reviving nation. Kaspar’s industrious pen has already produced a considerable supply of the best Evangelical literature, and he is countenanced by nearly all his fellow-pastors. It is of the utmost importance that he should be relieved of pastoral duty, and set apart entirely to this work, and also be fully equipped for carrying it on. It is proposed to purchase premises in Prague, part of which would be used as a depôt for the sale of books, saving the rent presently paid for hired premises, and the remainder as an Alumneum under Mr. Kaspar’s charge for the Protestant young men attending the High Schools and Colleges in Prague, who are presently without Protestant teaching of any kind, and among whom Mr Kaspar is well qualified to work.

The Reformed Church has been aided in its efforts at church extension by the Gustavus Adolphus Society of Germany, the London Evangelical Continental Society, and a small Association for the Promotion of the Gospel in Bohemia formed in Edinburgh ten years ago. A committee in Geneva aid the Protestant Schools, and the United Presbyterian Church have recently followed the example of the Free Church and instituted bursaries for Bohemian students. The United Presbyterians have also made several handsome donations for Church Extension work. The London Society maintain several preaching stations, such as that referred to at p. 33. The American Board of Missions have had for several years effective workers at Prague and Brünn. They have gathered a small but earnest congregation in Prague, which has adopted the name of “The Free Reformed Church,” and recently obtained, after much difficulty, the recognition of the State to the extent of permission to exist. The Moravians at Herrnhut have likewise sent a mission to the land of their forefathers. The Edinburgh Association have assisted in providing preachers for the stations at Leitmeritz, Zebus, Nymburg, Podiebrad, and Kuttenberg. The history of the last station may be taken as a case which will at once show the obstacles in the immediate past, and the opportunities of the present.

In the year 1870, Dr. Moody Stuart, when visiting Kuttenberg, had his spirit roused by the story of the 4329 martyrs who, in the year 1421, perished in the silver mines, and recorded his resolution, by the Grace of God, “to strive before he died to see in Kuttenberg a church of living men once more on the face of the earth, above that great congregation sleeping in Jesus.” For three years no opening occurred; but in 1873 permission was obtained for Protestant services, and the Rev. Paul Nespor, a talented young preacher, commenced work in the town, his salary being provided by Rev. R. H. Muir of Dalmeny and his parishioners. It was proposed to purchase a hall, and Dr. Moody Stuart had collected for this purpose a sum which, with interest, now amounts to £260, when opposition was raised, which finally, after five years of continuous effort, compelled the Edinburgh Committee to abandon the station for the time. During these five years, however, Mr. Nespor, and Mr. Jelen, who succeeded him, did good work in collecting and uniting the Protestant inhabitants, who, to the number of about 200, attended their services, and also in instructing the young. Now the old pastor of a village some four miles from the town, who is the legal parochial minister of Kuttenberg, has resigned, and the Protestants have elected Mr. Dusèk moderator of their Session, and resolved to form a separate congregation in the town. The only difficulty is to get the sanction of the Government to this step, and to obtain that sanction the congregation must satisfy the officials that they are able to maintain a pastor. They cannot at present do this without extraneous aid. A grant out of the funds the Presbyterian Churches are now raising would remove the difficulty at once, and it is important to notice what a satisfactory investment of money devoted to God’s cause such a grant would make. A pastor for the 200 Protestants resident in the town would be secured, and he would occupy a position of conspicuous usefulness. Placed in the midst of so large a population nominally Roman Catholic, many of whom, however, are enquiring after the faith of their ancestors, surely he might expect to reap, in some measure, in proportion to the seed sown by the army of Hussite martyrs “whose dust is more precious far than the silver lodes they have replaced.”

At Podiebrad a congregation of about 600 people has been formed. They have built a church costing 5000 florins, of which 4000 florins have been raised by their own efforts, and they would be recognised by the Government if a manse were also built. A sum of £300 would probably be sufficient to secure for this congregation the benefit of recognition. At present one preacher has charge of both Nymburg and Podiebrad, and much greater progress might be expected were each town to have a recognised pastor of its own.

A most promising congregation, now comprising 130 families and about 400 souls, has been gathered at Prèlauc, out of a population of 4000, mainly through the efforts of a retired railway official, an elder of the Reformed Church. A small church, manse, and burying-ground have been secured at a cost of 7800 florins—1900 florins of which however, remain as a debt on the buildings. On the congregation applying to the Imperial Church Council for permission to call a pastor, they were told they must first raise 4000 florins as a guarantee for the stipend. The people already contribute 400 florins per annum for church purposes, and they would contribute more if they had even the hope of being formed into a regular congregation of the Church. The station has been reported on by Seniors Janata and Szalatnay and Pastor Kaspar, all of whom are much satisfied with the spiritual work which has been going on among the people.

From Herman Mestec, a small town nestling in the hills in the neighbourhood of Prèlauc, in the year 1874 a request came for a Protestant pastor; Mr. Paul Nespor was sent to preach there occasionally while the negotiations about Kuttenberg were pending. He reported that for some time previous a few of the people had been holding little meetings for prayer and reading of the Word, and that in this way a desire to have regular Protestant worship was fostered. Thinking that it would be useless to apply for a preacher until they had made some preparation for him, they purchased a building which they propose to convert into a church, at a cost of nearly £300. Eight years have passed, and this zealous and longing little flock are still waiting for a preacher.

The circumstances of these places, Kuttenberg, Prèlauc, Herman Mestec, selected out of many, may suffice to show the ripeness of the fields at present open throughout Bohemia, The great obstacle in starting new congregations is the clause in the Edict of Toleration, which permits Protestants to call a pastor only when they can pay what the Government considers a suitable salary—£60—without endangering their power to pay the Imperial taxes. A few years ago an effort made by Pastor Cisar to collect money for a new church at Neustadtl, to replace the old wooden building now falling into decay, was prohibited on the ground that the subscriptions would endanger the taxes, and several other Protestant movements have been crushed in the same way. But if by extraneous aid a start can once be effected there is no doubt that flourishing, self-supporting congregations would soon be established in many Bohemian towns.

The present opportunity is a very special one, and it is sincerely to be hoped it will not be allowed to pass unused. The effect of the centenary celebrations held last year, and the literature published in connection therewith has been great and widespread. Writing of it, Pastor Kaspar says: “There was not only a bright light thrown on our past history, teeming as it does with sore trials and unbounded mercies, but real gifts also were brought to us. There is now to be observed in all our congregations a spiritual freshness and a hearty reuniting.”

Carlyle, who had so often to describe places and events in Bohemia, has done the Bohemians no service. It was enough for him that they were “abhorrent of German speech.” They fare better at the hands of the writer who deals with “The Latest Bohemian Literature” in the Westminster Review, in whose concluding sentences we thoroughly concur. “We may well,” he writes, “congratulate this little people—who form a Slavonic island, environed, and in too many places permeated with Germanism—upon the noble stand they have made for their nationality. . . . It is not too much to say that there is no nation in Europe which so heartily deserves the sympathy of all liberal-minded Englishmen as this little Slavonic island, which threatens so often to be absorbed by the sea of Germanism around it. May the Cechs only be true to the glorious traditions of their ancestors, and they will pass triumphantly through the ordeal. Much may be hoped from a people that has made such a vigorous stand for its nationality.”

Our hopes are founded on the old struggles of its martyrs and confessors, as well as on recent assertions of nationality, and they are not confined to the comparatively small territory of Bohemia. With the Bohemians again in the ranks of Evangelical Protestantism a new missionary era would commence, for revived Boheniia would naturally find an outlet for missionary zeal among the kindred Slavonic races who occupy Russia and South-Eastern Europe, whose number is estimated at 90,000,000. “The harvest truly is: plenteous, but the labourers are few.”

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