If you have never visited Prague, you owe it to yourself. If you have, you will want to return. So why not this summer? Prague is a vital link in the story of the making of Europe, and thus in our Heritage Trip this July.
Of course, there are so many ‘vital links’ to Europe’s Christian heritage. You can scratch the surface almost anywhere across the Continent to reveal the influence of the Bible, as we wrote about last week.
For example, a friend of a friend made a website enabling you to scratch the surface of any English county to discover its spiritual history. Next time you go on holiday in England, check out www.englandschristianheritage.org.uk.
But I digress. The links with Prague go right back to St Paul, and forward to John Wesley.
The two brothers who were the first missionaries to the region of Prague were from Thessaloniki, where Paul had planted one of Europe’s first churches. Cyril and Methodius gave the Slavs the gospel in their own language, creating a special alphabet now called Cyrillic.
Once introduced to the scriptures in their own language, the local Bohemians and Moravians later became restless when Catholic authorities insisted they trade-in their own language for Latin, when it came to masses and liturgies.
In the late 14th century, Jan Hus, Czech reformer and national hero, entered history’s stage preaching against the wealth, power and corruption of the church, and in particular the selling of indulgences. He became a very popular preacher at the Bethlehem Chapel, with congregations of up to 3000 people. The chapel had been built on condition that services had to be held in the local languages, a protest statement against the Catholic ‘Latin-only’ policy,
The rebuilt Bethlehem Chapel stands on the same spot today. About the time we visit each July, it is being used for graduation ceremonies. Large murals decorate the wall reproducing historic scenes, such as Hus burning at the stake as a heretic in 1415, or of Hussites going into battle against Catholic forces., bearing their hero’s proud motto: Veritas Vincit-truth prevails.
Hus’ dying words of advice for the students back in Prague reportedly were: ‘seek the truth, hear the truth, learn the truth, speak the truth, keep the truth, defend the truth until you die and the truth will redeem you.’
Such advice sounds rather quaint to postmodern ears. After all, there is no truth to seek, to hear, to learn, to speak, to keep, to defend and to redeem you, is there?
Václav Havel would beg to disagree. As he led the Velvet Revolution in 1989, he adopted Hus’ motto Veritas Vincit as his own. He knew that lies had reigned for too long, and it was time for truth to prevail. Today the motto adorns the presidential flag. of the Czech Republic.
Prague’s initial contribution to the Reformation thus, in the figure of Hus, came a whole century before Luther himself ignited Europe. Some say that although ‘John Wycliffe struck the first spark, John Hus used it to ignite the candle, and Martin Luther raised the burning torch aloft; the blaze of the torch obliterated the glow of the candle and the spark in the general awareness of history.’
The Reformation triggered an era of religious wars, including the Thirty Years’ War which ravaged Moravia and Bohemia. The Hussites had formed the Unitas Fratrum, or United Brethren, which was often forced underground during these wars.
A second Czech hero, Jan Amos Comenius, was a bishop in this church. He is also known worldwide as the father of modern education, author of the world’s first picture book for children. Descendants of this church found refuge on an estate they called Herrnhut, just across the border in Saxony (Germany). The discovery of Comenius’ books, and thus of their own history, helped the rebirth of the Moravian Church at Herrnhut into an intecessory and missionary movement.
Moravians were responsible for John Wesley’s conversion, which in turn led to the widespread Wesleyan revival in Britain and beyond.
Prague is therefore a vital link in our story of the making of Europe. As is Herrnhut, which I call ‘the little town that blessed the world’.
On our Heritage trip we visit both these places at the the easternmost point of our journey. These are just two of some thirty cities and towns we visit, starting with Amsterdam and ending in Geneva.
Two weeks gives little time to do more than simply ‘scratch the surface’. But one schoolteacher on an earlier trip remarked that our way of learning about Europe was probably how Comenius would have taught it: on the spot interaction and hands on engagement; ‘seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting and smelling’.
This mobile summer course is part of a four-week Summer School of European Studies. Each of the three modules can be taken separately.
After looking at Europe Yesterday on the Heritage trip, we look at Europe Today and then Europe Tomorrow over the last two weeks. We stay in Einigen, Switzerland, in a beautiful jugendstil mansion overlooking Lake Thun and the Bernese Alps.
The dates for the full course? June 28-July 26, 2008.
You can read more about it, with a full itinerary and costs, on www.ywam.eu/sses.
So come, scratch the surface with us this summer!
Till next week,