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History of the Christian Church, Volume IV: Mediaeval Christianity. A.D. 590-1073.
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§ 34. Cyrillus and Methodius, the Apostles of the Slavs. Christianization of Moravia, Bohemia and Poland.


F. M. Pelzel et J. Dobrowsky: Rerrum Bohemic. Scriptores. Prague.

Friese: Kirchengeschichte d. Konigreichs Polen. Breslau, 1786.

Franz. Palacky: Geschichte von Böhmen. Prague, 3d ed., 1864 sqq., 5 vols. (down to 1520).

Wattenbach: Geschichte d. christl. Kirche in Böhmen und Mähren. Wien, 1849.

A. Friud: Die Kirchengesch. Böhmens. Prague, 1863 sqq.

Biographies of Cyrillus and Methodius, by J. Dobrowsky (Prague, 1823, and 1826); J. A. Ginzel (Geschichte der Slawenapostel und der Slawischen Liturgie. Leitmeritz, 1857); Philaret (in the Russian, German translation, Mitau, 1847); J. E. Biley (Prague, 1863); Dümmler and F. Milkosisch (Wien, 1870).


The Moravian Slavs were subjugated by Charlemagne, and the bishop of Passau was charged with the establishment of a Christian mission among them. Moymir, their chief, was converted and bishoprics were founded at Olmütz and Nitra. But Lewis the German suspected Moymir of striving after independence and supplanted him by Rastislaw or Radislaw. Rastislaw, however, accomplished what Moymir had only been suspected of. He formed an independent Moravian kingdom and defeated Lewis the German, and with the political he also broke the ecclesiastical connections with Germany, requesting the Byzantine emperor, Michael III., to send him some Greek missionaries.

Cyrillus and Methodius became the apostles of the Slavs. Cyrillus, whose original name was Constantinus, was born at Thessalonica, in the first half of the ninth century, and studied philosophy in Constantinople, whence his by-name: the philosopher. Afterwards he devoted himself to the study of theology, and went to live, together with his brother Methodius, in a monastery. A strong ascetic, he became a zealous missionary. In 860 he visited the Chazares, a Tartar tribe settled on the North-Eastern shore of the Black Sea, and planted a Christian church there. He afterward labored among the Bulgarians and finally went, in company with his brother, to Moravia, on the invitation of Rastislaw, in 863.

Cyrillus understood the Slavic language, and succeeded in making it available for literary purposes by inventing a suitable alphabet. He used Greek letters, with some Armenian and Hebrew, and some original letters. His Slavonic alphabet is still used with alterations in Russia, Wallachia, Moldavia, Bulgaria, and Servia. He translated the liturgy and the pericopes into Slavic, and his ability to preach and celebrate service in the native language soon brought hundreds of converts into his fold. A national Slavic church rapidly arose; the German priests with the Latin liturgy left the country. It corresponded well with the political plans of Rastislaw, to have a church establishment entirely independent of the German prelates, but in the difference which now developed between the Eastern and Western churches, it was quite natural for the young Slavic church to connect itself with Rome and not with Constantinople, partly because Cyrillus always had shown a kind of partiality to Rome, partly because the prudence and discrimination with which Pope Nicholas I. recently had interfered in the Bulgarian church, must have made a good impression.

In 868 Cyrillus and Methodius went to Rome, and a perfect agreement was arrived at between them and Pope Adrian II., both with respect to the use of the Slavic language in religious service and with respect to the independent position of the Slavic church, subject only to the authority of the Pope. Cyrillus died in Rome, Feb. 14, 869, but Methodius returned to Moravia, having been consecrated archbishop of the Pannonian diocese.

The organization of this new diocese of Pannonia was, to some extent, an encroachment on the dioceses of Passau and Salzburg, and such an encroachment must have been so much the more irritating to the German prelates, as they really had been the first to sow the seed of Christianity among the Slavs. The growing difference between the Eastern and Western churches also had its effect. The German clergy considered the use of the Slavic language in the mass an unwarranted innovation, and the Greek doctrine of the single procession of the Holy Spirit, still adhered to by Methodius and the Slavic church, they considered as a heresy. Their attacks, however, had at first no practical consequences, but when Rastislaw was succeeded in 870 by Swatopluk, and Adrian II. in 872 by John VIII., the position of Methodius became difficult. Once more, in 879, he was summoned to Rome, and although, this time too, a perfect agreement was arrived at, by which the independence of the Slavic church was confirmed, and all her natural peculiarities were acknowledged, neither the energy of Methodius, nor the support of the Pope was able to defend her against the attacks which now were made upon her both from without and from within. Swatopluk inclined towards the German-Roman views, and Wichin one of Methodius’s bishops, became their powerful champion.

After the death of Swatopluk, the Moravian kingdom fell to pieces and was divided between the Germans, the Czechs of Bohemia, and the Magyars of Hungary; and thereby the Slavic church lost, so to speak, its very foundation. Methodius died between 881 and 910. At the opening of the tenth century the Slavic church had entirely lost its national character. The Slavic priests were expelled and the Slavic liturgy abolished, German priests and the Latin liturgy taking their place. The expelled priests fled to Bulgaria, whither they brought the Slavic translations of the Bible and the liturgy.

Neither Charlemagne nor Lewis the Pious succeeded in subjugating Bohemia, and although the country was added to the diocese of Regensburg, the inhabitants remained pagans. But when Bohemia became a dependency of the Moravian empire and Swatopluk married a daughter of the Bohemian duke, Borziwai, a door was opened to Christianity. Borziwai and his wife, Ludmilla, were baptized, and their children were educated in the Christian faith. Nevertheless, when Wratislav, Borziwai’s son and successor, died in 925, a violent reaction took place. He left two sons, Wenzeslav and Boleslav, who were placed under the tutelage of their grandmother, Ludmilla. But their mother, Drahomira, was an inveterate heathen, and she caused the murder first of Ludmilla, and then of Wenzeslav, 938. Boleslav, surnamed the Cruel, had his mother’s nature and also her faith, and he almost succeeded in sweeping Christianity out of Bohemia. But in 950 he was utterly defeated by the emperor, Otto I., and compelled not only to admit the Christian priests into the country, but also to rebuild the churches which had been destroyed, and this misfortune seems actually to have changed his mind. He now became, if not friendly, at least forbearing to his Christian subjects, and, during the reign of his son and successor, Boleslav the Mild, the Christian Church progressed so far in Bohemia that an independent archbishopric was founded in Prague. The mass of the people, however, still remained barbarous, and heathenish customs and ideas lingered among them for more than a century. Adalbert, archbishop of Prague, from 983 to 997,131131    Passio S. Adalberti, in Scriptores Rerum Prussicarum I., and Vita S. Adalberti in Monumenta German. IV. preached against polygamy, the trade in Christian slaves, chiefly carried on by the Jews, but in vain. Twice he left his see, disgusted and discouraged; finally he was martyred by the Prussian Wends. Not until 1038 archbishop Severus succeeded in enforcing laws concerning marriage, the celebration of the Lord’s Day, and other points of Christian morals. About the contest between the Romano-Slavic and the Romano-Germanic churches in Bohemia, nothing is known. Legend tells that Methodius himself baptized Borziwai and Ludmilla, and the first missionary, work was, no doubt, done by Slavic priests, but at the time of Adalbert the Germanic tendency was prevailing.

Also among the Poles the Gospel was first preached by Slavic missionaries, and Cyrillus and Methodius are celebrated in the Polish liturgy132132    Missale proprium regum Poloniae, Venet. 1629; Officia propria patronorum regni Poloniae, Antwerp, 1627. as the apostles of the country. As the Moravian empire under Rastislaw comprised vast regions which afterward belonged to the kingdom of Poland, it is only natural that the movement started by Cyrillus and Methodius should have reached also these regions, and the name of at least one Slavic missionary among the Poles, Wiznach, is known to history.

After the breaking up of the Moravian kingdom, Moravian nobles and priests sought refuge in Poland, and during the reign of duke Semovit Christianity had become so powerful among the Poles, that it began to excite the jealousy of the pagans, and a violent contest took place. By the marriage between Duke Mieczyslav and the Bohemian princess Dombrowka, a sister of Boleslav the Mild, the influence of Christianity became still stronger. Dombrowka brought a number of Bohemian priests with her to Poland, 965, and in the following year Mieczyslav himself was converted and baptized. With characteristic arrogance he simply demanded that all his subjects should follow his example, and the pagan idols were now burnt or thrown into the river, pagan sacrifices were forbidden and severely punished, and Christian churches were built. So far the introduction of Christianity among the Poles was entirely due to Slavic influences, but at this time the close political connection between Duke Mieczyslav and Otto I. opened the way for a powerful German influence. Mieczyslav borrowed the whole organization of the Polish church from Germany. It was on the advice of Otto I. that he founded the first Polish bishopric at Posen and placed it under the authority of the archbishop of Magdeburg. German priests, representing Roman doctrines and rites, and using the Latin language, began to work beside the Slavic priests who represented Greek doctrines and rites and used the native language, and when finally the Polish church was placed wholly under the authority of Rome, this was not due to any spontaneous movement within the church itself, such as Polish chroniclers like to represent it, but to the influence of the German emperor and the German church. Under Mieczyslav’s son, Boleslav Chrobry, the first king of Poland and one of the most brilliant heroes of Polish history, Poland, although christianized only on the surface, became itself the basis for missionary labor among other Slavic tribes.

It was Boleslav who sent Adalbert of Prague among the Wends, and when Adalbert here was pitifully martyred, Boleslav ransomed his remains, had them buried at Gnesen (whence they afterwards were carried to Prague), and founded here an archiepiscopal see, around which the Polish church was finally consolidated. The Christian mission, however, was in the hands of Boleslav, just as it often had been in the hands of the German emperors, and sometimes even in the hands of the Pope himself, nothing but a political weapon. The mass of the population of his own realm was still pagan in their very hearts. Annually the Poles assembled on the day on which their idols had been thrown into the rivers or burnt, and celebrated the memory of their gods by dismal dirges,133133    Grimm: Deutsche Mythologie, II. 733. and the simplest rules of Christian morals could be enforced only by the application of the most barbarous punishments. Yea, under the political disturbances which occurred after the death of Mieczyslav II., 1034, a general outburst of heathenism took place throughout the Polish kingdom, and it took a long time before it was fully put down.



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