This is a continuation of my blog about PETR CHELČICKÝ and his remarkable book Net of Faith.
Experts say that PETER CHELČICKÝ was a medieval thinker and remained so. I do not know why this should be the case. On the contrary, even from today’s perspective, after nearly 600 years have passed, Peter is a modern man and a good citizen. He has remained what he was: an outstanding thinker with limitless reverence for the essence of Jesus’ teaching and its basic requirement of love.
The commandment of brotherly love
Peter demonstrates his understanding of Jesus’ teachings by stating that ‘a true Christian can have no other sentiments but those of equality with others; he must do nothing but to keep authentic brotherly equality with all and everybody, to love his neighbor as himself.‘ He insists that all people ‘are created equal and not meant to be elevated above others with haughty pride‘. He subjects to criticism those ‘who have grown fat‘ who claim, contrary to the divine law, that owning human beings is their inheritance : ‘For who has the right to buy people, to enslave them and to treat them with indignities as if they were cattle led to slaughter? You prefer dogs to people whom you cuss, despise, and beat, from whom you extort taxes and for whom you forge fetters … while at the same time you will say to your dog, “Come here and lie down on the pillow.” ‘
To this Peter adds: ‘They were God’s before they were enslaved. The heavenly Lord created human beings as He liked and loves each one more than all the riches of the earth together. ‘
It is thus beyond any doubt that Peter considers life to have value in itself, a value that is superior and inviolable. Peter couldn’t ignore the fact that the LORD God formed man and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life to become a living soul, and thus arose his deep conviction about the importance of brotherly love in the teachings of Jesus. He who looks at another human being without having sentiments of brotherly love understands nothing.
Arbitrary and willful powers-that-be not holding violence sinful
The commandment of brotherly love necessarily leads Peter to the rejection of violence, and thus to criticism of the ruling secular power in committing violence with the motive of plunder in order to obtain pecuniary gains. Peter considers such power and such a system ‘arbitrary‘, ‘weighing pigs or dogs more than man‘, ‘vicious and devoid of good when judged from the point of view of faith‘.
Peter sees the cause in the powers-that-be being ‘proud and not holding killing and violence to be sinful‘. Driven by pride they fight for goods and chattels, for worldly honor, and ‘if someone touches their property, immediately they declare war, round up the people like cattle, and drive them to war where all murder and rob one another.‘
From Peter’s perspective living under such powers is dangerous as people are forced to do evil and to trespass the divine commandments:
‘And what I esteem crueler, they drive Christian men to war – and there are Christians on both sides – with orders to kill and rob others. A brother will go against a brother to do violence to him; he who by faith should lay down his life for him goes to kill and despoil his brother, simply because he is compelled to do so by the ignoble authority. He does not have so much sense or love as to be willing to be killed by his overlord rather than to commit such an evil thing. An arrogant authority is, indeed, a trap for good Christians; it compels its subjects to go and do every evil it can think of. ‘
Misguided and distraught times
In the first sentence of his foreword Peter writes: ‘This book is very needful for these misguided and distraught times.‘ Meanwhile, history has reached the present day, and killing, violence, wars, material oppression and all other sickening things remain with us. The term “War” is flying back and forth as if it were a rhyme from Doctor Seuss. Those who let this word out of their mouths embrace it in their hearts. Therefore they will not have too far to go to make war plans and take action.
Towards the end of the first part of his controversial book Peter devotes a few humble words to reminding his readers of the effects of love dying in men: ‘When faith and love die in men – the two qualities that can perform miracles – they are left in such corruption that secular sovereignty is hardly in the position to restrain them. God has given us faith for the purpose of doing good deeds, pleasing to Him and useful to the entire world. When men fall away from faith they are seized with the passions of this world and immediately the sword directs their ways. ‘
Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts
Many regard Peter as the founding father of pacifism, which appears a simplification to me. The way he sees the world needs to be understood in the context of his own era, full of ruthlessness and cruelty. Peter refused to play the power games and decided to move beyond the chess board, promoting faith that would function on a purely spiritual and religious basis. He dared to raise his voice to remind his brothers and sisters in faith that Jesus’ religion is based on morality and humanity, a religion that is not just for heaven, but for the earth and for everyday life. He wanted to change the world not by power, but by love. He cried out desperately, yet few listened to him.
Perhaps Peter was wrong in effectively believing that love can heal those who despise love. Some people appear to believe in rather different values and we should learn about these values in order to know who we are dealing with. However, Peter was most certainly right that without love there is no trust and vice-versa, and without security and peace man can’t live a meaningful life. Perhaps all those who desire to sponsor and spread violence simply need just a bit more time to solve their own problems inside their own hearts, individually and collectively. Until they do there is no other option left for humanity but to defend peace and to promote understanding and good-will between people.
May the LORD give us peace and joy into our hearts. Happy New Year 2017!
- Enrico C. S. Molnár: A study of Peter Chelčický’s life and a translation from Czech of Part One of his Net of faith (Thesis, Berkeley CA, February 1947) – bold italic letters are used in quotations from this translation; only rarely do I deviate slightly from this translation using my own translation from the original Czech version; for the sake of clarity quotes are not tagged with references to pages and chapters
- PETR CHELČICKÝ: Síť víry (Publishing House Host, Brno 2011, editorial comments by Jaroslav Boubín; academic editorial office by Hana Bočková)
- Amedeo Molnár: Slovem obnovená (Renewed by Word/Reading about reformation, Publishing House Kalich, Praha 1977)