- Petr Chelčický
region = Western Philosophy
color = #D0C4DF
name = Petr Chelčický
birth = c. 1390 AD,
Vodňany, Bohemian Kingdom(present-day Czech Republic)
death = c. 1460 AD
John Huss, John Wycliffe, Tomáš Štítný ze Štítného
Unity of the Brethren, Moravian Church, Baptist Union in the Czech Republic, Leo Tolstoy
Petr Chelčický [The name may also be seen as Peter Chelcicky, Peter Chelciki, Peter Chelciky, Peter Chelcicky, Peter Chelcický, Petrus Cheltschitzky, Peter of Chelcic, Peter Helchitsky, et al..] (IPA2|'petr 'xeltšitski:) (c. 1390 – c. 1460) was a
Christianand political leader and author in 15th century Bohemia(now the Czech Republic) from about 1420–60.
Petr Chelčický is thought to have been born in southern
Bohemiain about 1390, although one theory puts his birth as early as 1374. [Molnár, Enrico C. S. "A Study of Peter Chelcický’s Life and a Translation from Czech of Part One of his Net of Faith". Berkeley, CA: Pacific School of Religion, 1947.] Very little is known about his personal history. Different historians have called him a serf, an independent farmer, a squire, a nobleman, a cobbler, a priest, and a Waldensian. [Wagner, Murray L. "Petr Chelcický, A Radical Separatist in Hussite Bohemia". Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1983.] On one occasion, Chelčický called himself a peasant, but this description is at odds with his ability to live in Praguefrom 1419–1421, his rudimentary knowledge of Latin, and the time he was able to devote to literary, political, and religious pursuits. It is certain that he was unusually literate for a medieval man without a regular academic education. After 1421 he lived and farmed in his native village of Chelcice, near Vodnany. He produced 56 known works, but the majority remain unpublished and inaccessible except in the original manuscripts. [Petru, Eduard. "Soupis díla Petra Chelčického". Prague: Státní pedagogické nakladatelství, 1957.] His thinking was influenced by Thomas of Štítný, John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, and the Waldensian tradition. [See Molnár.] He died around 1460.
Petr Chelčický's teachings included ideas later adopted by the Moravians,
Anabaptists, Quakers, and Baptists. He was the first pacifistwriter of the Renaissance, predating Erasmusand Menno Simonsby nearly 100 years.
Church and state
Chelčický called the
Popeand the emperor (the church and the state) "whales who have torn the net of true faith", because they established the church as the head of a secular empire. Chelčický believed that Christians should follow the law of love, and in so doing should not be compelled by state authority. He taught that the believer should not accept government office, nor even appeal to its authority, as for the true believer to take part in government was sinful. He argued that capital punishmentand other forms of violent punishment were wrong. His positions on government are similar to the Christian anarchistprinciples of Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy praised Chelčický's work in his 1894 book " The Kingdom of God is Within You".
"The man who obeys God needs no other authority (over him)." — Petr Chelčický
Nonviolence and war
As early as 1420 Chelčický taught that violence should not be used in religious matters. Chelčický used the parable of the wheat and the tares [As did the Waldenses] (bibleref|Matthew|13:24–30) to show that both the sinners and the saints should be allowed to live together until the harvest. He thought that it is wrong even to kill the sinful, and that
Christians should refuse military service. He argued that if the poor refused, the lords would have no one to go to war for them. Chelčický taught that no physical power can destroy evil, and that Christians should accept persecution without retaliating. He believed war was the worst evil, and thought soldiers were no more than murderers. He even opposed defensive war. He believed the example of Jesusand the Gospelwas an example of peace.
Chelčický was a communist in the original Christian sense, and thought that there must be complete equality in the Christian community. He said there should be no rich or poor, since the Christian relinquished all property and status. He maintained that Christians could expel evil persons from their community, but could not compel them to be good. He believed in equality, but that the State should not force it upon society, and went so far as to proffer that social inequality is a creature of the State, and rises and falls with it. According to Kautsky in "Communism in Central Europe in the Time of the Reformation", "The nature of the first organisation of the Bohemian Brethren is not at all clear, as the later Brothers were ashamed of their communistic origin, and endeavoured to conceal it in every possible way." Some of Chelčický's statements tend to indicate that he thought only the poor were genuine Christians.
Priesthood of the believer
Chelčický criticized the use of force in matters of
faith. He taught that the Christian should strive for righteousnessof his own free will, that he must not force others to be good, and that goodness should be voluntary. He believed that the Christian must love Godand one's neighbor, and that this is the way to convert people rather than by compulsion. He maintained that any type of compulsion is evil, and that Christians should not participate in political power struggles.
"On Spiritual Warfare", written in 1421, was his first major work. In it, Chelčický argued that the
Taboriteshad participated in violence through the devil's deceit and the lust for the things of the world. He also criticized the chiliasts, opposed physical warfare, and noted that obligations of debts gave lenders power over debtors. In "On the Triple Division of Society" [Bowsky, William. "Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History, Vol. 1." University of Nebraska Press, 1964. This book contains English translations by Howard Kaminsky of "On the Triple Division of Society" and "On the Holy Church".] Chelčický criticized the nobility, the clergy, and the middle class. In it he described how they subjected the common people and rode them "as if they were beasts". His most comprehensive work, written around 1443 and one of his last, was "The Net of Faith". In it he showed how the apostles treated all people as equals, and considered Christas the only head. It was in this book that he argued that the emperor and the pope were the two great whales that burst the net of faith. In it he also included extensive commentary on the Council of Basel.
Chelčický has been called "the foremost thinker of the 15th-century Czech Hussite Reformation movement." [Encyclopaedia Britannica.] He certainly was an influential thinker among the Bohemian brethren of his day. Beyond his own time, his influence can be seen in the Moravians ("Unitas Fratrum"),
Unity of the Brethren("Jednota Bratrská"), and even the Baptist Union in the Czech Republic(also known as the "Unity of Brethren Baptists" [The first Baptist association was called "The Chelcický Unity of Brethren".] ). Important similarities can be seen between his teachings and the Continental Anabaptists, and, to a lesser extent, the English Baptists, though no direct connections have been shown to exist. He emphasized the New Testamentas the exclusive and final source to know the will of God. He held two sacraments: baptismand the Lord's Supper. He encouraged people to read and interpret the Biblefor themselves.
Chelčický's work, specifically "The Net of Faith", influenced
Leo Tolstoyand is referenced in his book " The Kingdom of God Is Within You". His name appears as Helchitsky in many English translations.
"Whoever is not of God cannot truly enjoy or hold anything belonging to God, except as the man of violence unlawfully enjoys and holds what is not his own." — Petr Chelčický
* [http://www.san.beck.org/GPJ11-Chaucer,Wyclif.html#5 Chelcicky's Nonviolence]
* [http://www.marxists.org/archive/kautsky/1897/europe/ch03.htm The Bohemian Brethren] - from Karl Kautsky's "Communism in Central Europe in the Time of the Reformation"
*Molnár's "A Study of Peter Chelcický’s Life and a Translation from Czech of Part One of his Net of Faith" as [http://www.nonresistance.org/docs_htm/~Net_of_Faith/Net_of_Faith.html one web page] , as a [http://www.nonresistance.org/docs_htm/~Net_of_Faith/NOF_intro.html page per chapter] , and as a [http://www.nonresistance.org/docs_pdf/Net_of_Faith.pdf PDF file] .
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