Historie – Otázky – Problémy

Jiří Strejc and Jan Opsimathes – apostles of Czech Calvinism

Abstract: This study focuses on the isolated situation in which Calvinism found itself on the Czech religious scene during the latter 16th and early 17th centuries. Among the local Christian confessions in the Czech society of the time, “tolerance out of necessity“ was born, uniting Catholics, Utraquists (who continued the Hussite tradition while moving ever closer to Lutheranism) and the unofficial Unity of Brethren (Jednota bratrská). However, even when left out in the cold, Calvinism still wielded a powerful influence on the Unity’s belief system. Unity preacher and a reputable theologian Jiří Strejc-Vetter (1536–1599) translated Calvin’s Institutes into Czech, yet the Unity eyed him as a rather suspicious intellectual. In fact, Unity’s leaders had neither initiated nor welcomed his translation, which was completed in December 1595 but remained for many years available only as an unpublished manuscript. Finally, in 1612–1617, at least three out of four books of the Czech version of Calvin’s Institutes along with several lesser prints with excerpts were clandestinely published. Standing behind this publication was a former member of the Unity, Jan Opsimathes (his proper name was Morkovský or Mrkvička, circa 1568–post 1620). Two addenda accompany the study. The first offers a letter, which Jan Opsimathes wrote to Jan Vetter, Jiří Strejc’s son, bemoaning the hardships he encountered in publishing the Calvin translation. The other addendum contains the title page and preface to the Cambridge copy of Strejc’s translation of Calvin’s Institutes (Sidney Sussex College, sign. S. 4.28), intended for the English King James I. Opsimathes states in it that he prepared the publication of the Czech translation of the Institutes at the request of Frederick IV, Elector Palatine, with the approval of his son Frederick V (later King of Bohemia, nicknamed “the Winter King“).

Key words: Czech history, early modern age, religious development, Calvinism, John Calvin

PhDr. Antonín Kostlán, CSc., vědecký pracovník Kabinetu dějin vědy Ústavu pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, v. v. i., externě přednáší na FF UK ( kostlan@seznam.cz)