MILICH FROM KROMERIZ – THE FATHER OF THE CZECH REFORMATION
(died August 1, 1374}
In the mouth of three witnesses let every statement be established-this is what the law says. We present, therefore, three testimonies of three contemporaries of Milich –those who saw his way of life and who were strongly touched by his life. Tomas Stitny from Stitny, a classical writer of old Czech literature, wrote concerning Milich: “What fervency could be experienced in noble Milich’s sermons given at St.Jilji’s Church in Prague! In God’s grace would a strong spirit burn and so many were the fiery words he spoke!“
An outstanding university teacher and “master from Paris” ,Vojtech Rankuv from Jecov confessed when presented by the archbishop with Milich’s sermons for proofreading, that it inappropriate to correct what the Spitit’s grace had inspired. He would himself need at least a month to write a sermon like one Milich was able to write in an hour or so. Another witness could be another Parisian university master Matej from Janov, who considered Milich as his master and a saint, wrote in his regulations a few pages, where he reports that Milich was a “son and almost a full image of our Lord Jesus Christ and likeness incarnate of Jesus’ apostles…”
However, are any witnesses needed where deeds speak so loudly? What Milich did was evident to all people and his influence far exceeded the borders of the kingdom of Bohemia. What was it that made Milich so exceptional? He was born in an ordinary family at Kromeriz, gradually got a decent education, started a successful career at the emperor’s court. As a notary,a member of the Emperor’s office, would accompany the emperor Charles IV in his travels around the Empire. Thus, the two of them developed a close friendship. Milich was successful in a spiritual ministry too- he became a canon of the Prague metropolitan church, i.e. St. Vitus’ Cathedral. His conversion in 1363 was a real turning point in his life. Fiery sermons of the Austrian monk Konrad Waldhauser stirred him tremendously. After he heard Christ’s call “…everyone of you who does not forsake all his own possessions cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14,33), he appropriated it literally for himself and decided „he would rather leave the palace and bear the shame of Jesus Christ crucified and be the least in God’s house than dwell in the palace of sinners and enjoy riches and the glory of Pharaoh’s daughter…” In spite of the fact that the archbishop of Prague Arnost from Pardubice tried hard to persuade Milich to stay at the Emperor’s court and remain in the position of the canon, Milich decided to leave Prague, giving out all his possessions to the poor. He preached for six months at Hrosovsky Tyn and afterwards he returned to Prague having only one thing in his heart-to gain as many souls for Jesus as possible. Milich was secure in the divine calling and inspiration, which was indeed , together with a passionate love towards people, a mighty motivation for ministry. That would also give him strength and courage when he started preaching in St. Nicholas’ Church in the Lesser Town in the Prague Old Town, wher many mocked him because of his Moravian accent and forgetfulness in giving announcements. Others claimed that there was nothing he could achieve in Prague, which, as they said, had so many mighty learned men, who did not manage to achieve much nevertheless. Milich was happy to suffer the ridicule and adversity for the truth he preached- it was not the crowds he was after but to him the salvation of ‘one Samaritan woman would do the job just as well.’
After some time, however, God’s fisherman’s nets started to be filled with fish. People repented of their sins, felt sorry for how they had lived so far, usurers would return interests, tradesmen would abandon trades which could not be performed without sin. The complexion of Prague started to change and light up. What was Milich’s ordinary day like? The amount of work he was able to do in a day was absolutely incredible-it could only be attributed to the strength and the anointing of the Spirit of Jesus of which Milich was so full. This servant of God would get up early in the morning, spent time in prayer and preparations of sermons. Then he would minister in services, preached for two or three hours and did counseling sessions with confessions till noon. During church festivals Milich would preach as many as tree to five times a day in different churches. When ministering on a one-to-one levelhe would never make any differences between the rich and the poor, the famous or the unknown. ‘He never despised anybody, although he might be very exhausted, he would always welcome everybody very politely by standing up, then he would sit the person next to him, always treating him/her very graciously. The only exception was women, whom he would never meet by himself and “when a woman in her simplicity approached his body too closely, he would ask: ’my beloved, could you please stand a little farther than that?’ “ When he did not have any commitments in the morning, Milich would pray, many times remaining in prayer till the evening. Milich loved prayer- this was the place where he got fed with God’s presence and grace. It was there that he would confess being infused with abundance in the House of God. It was these encounters with the Lord that brought Milich new strength and anointing. This was where God’s power and inspiration would be released for him-that is why Milich had so much to say in his sermons and teachings. ‘ Whenever he found someone fervent and persistent in prayers, he would love this virtue in him/her above all others.’
Love of people invaded Milich’s noble heart at the moment of his conversion and remained there till his death-such a love for all souls, not unlike a mother’s love. This was the reason why he learned German in his adulthood, taught by one of his students, in fact-to be able preach to the many Germans living in Prague. So, to Germans he would preach in German, to simple Czechs in Czech, and at synods he preached in Latin. He liked giving his students opportunities to preach, recommending them saying: “Beloved, today the preacher will be so-and-so, he is very skilful in the Word of God and with God’s help you will enjoy listening to him much more than to myself.” Every day Milich prayed for all faithful preachers and ministers, saying: “ I wish everybody would prophecy.” In his sermons he always preached the truth without any partiality. Very strictly would he rebuke sinful priests at synods for their lukewarmness , laziness and worldliness. Here is his view of the priesthood of his time: “… Now even priests keep themselves seeking iniquity in adultery, fornication, incest, mistresses, kissing, in concubines’ embrace, trading in prostitutes’ homes and-beyond the scope of any human speech- standing in sins, they bring in the cause of God sins of lust or even those against human nature, exceeding even human depravity…Some hunt for beasts in the woods, some hunt for women’s hips or thighs.” ( Milich’s first synodal speech)
We cannot possibly forget to mention here Milich’s great mercy flowing towards all the poor, needy and pitiful. He loved giving generously. He always asked his rich friends how much they possess and how much they could give out to the poor. It was joy and passion for him to give out to them. No wonder he was always surrounded by the poor.
As to him, he always had just one skirt and one shirt. Once, when the frosts were quite severe and Milich was still dressed very lightly, a certain nobleman –Tomas-wanted to give him a nice fur coat under one condition only, i.e that he would only keep it for himself. Milich responded: “ I could not possibly promise that I would only keep it for myself.” He loved visiting the sick and prisoners, strengthening and encouraging them with the Word of God.
In 1372 The Spirit of God fell on many girls living at the bottom of the society-prostitutes, who consequently turned their hearts in years to Christ. They were deeply touched by Milich’s messages. Many of them got involved in this trade because of a poor family situation ( their parents had got into debts and the girls were supposed to pay them off). Milich was aware of all this and would pay large sums of ransom money for them ,taking them to the house of Katerina, a young lady from Moravia, who then took care of them. With great effort and in tears would he search for them and bring them back whenever they fell back into sin. Not so long afterwards, their number grew up to 300. Some of them got properly married, some of them found a job as maids in burgher families, others joined religious orders, yet there were still about 80 of them left without means. When the owner of the main brothel Na Benatkach ,whose name was Hofarta, was dying- she was already born again at that time- bequethed the house to Milich. That enabled him to fulfil the vision he had been carrying in his heart for a long time , i.e. to establish in Prague a place called NEW JERUSALEM, a place where Milich would live with his students- eagles of the age to come- and converted prostitutes according to the pattern of the early church in unity, fear of God and holiness, having all things in common. His intention was not simply to form a new religious order, bound by many rules and regulations. He longed for an open fellowship of believers. Milich visited the emperor Charles IV to ask him for other plots of land in the area of “Na Benatkach”. Charles Iv was delighted to say yes and Milich was able to start the work. Completely from scratch did he build a house, a chapel and a school, where he would move with those closest to his heart. He supported around 100 people, buying them food, clothes and even paper for writing if necessary.Some opposed him doubting how he would be able to get so much money. ‘Milich rebuked them and encouraged them saying that one should never despair of the mercy of God.’ And the Lord did prove faithful. one of Milich’s contemporaries describes the atmosphere of NEW JERUSALEM in this way: “ Whenever anybody entering the place saw and what was happening there and was being spoken there when everybody seemed to be prophesying like Paul describes the Corinthian Christians, he was overwhelmed and, praising the Lord , confessed that truly God was in them and either joined their community or, he would leave crying over himself, blessing them nevertheless.
The NEW JERUSALEM triggered an outburst of opposition and terror in the realm of darkness. Many priests and particularly monks belonging to mendicant orders, felt threatened by Milich, who reprimanded them for their abuses and , on top of that, caused many of their adherents to leave them and join Milich- with their money. Because of this they made many false accusations against Milich, spreading gossip about him at the archbishopric to the archbishop Ocko from Vlasim, they sued him at the the Roman Curia and the Inquisition. The archbishop held nothing against Milich, but he had to summon him nevertheless. When that happened, Milich addressed the archbishop cheerfully: “Oh, Reverend Father, do not grieve over this; many are the things of which I have been accused at the Roman Curia, yet my entire hope is in God. For the truth will shine more brightly than the sun and no darkness of lies will be able to overshadow it.” This is apparently where the Czechs’ love for the truth could be traced back to, even 30 years before Jan Hus, the famous truth warrior appeared publicly for the first time. As the turbulances would not calm down, Milich decided to go to the Holy See to ask them to settle the dispute. He had visited the Pope Urban V before, namely in 1367. The fact of the matter was that Milich had been living in an anxious anticipation of the coming of the antichrist and Jesus Christ. As Matej from Janov had testified : ‘Milich interrupted the long-term silence concerning the second coming of Christ and the antichrist.’ He saw the abomination of desolation standing in the Holy Place (Matthew 24,15) , i.e. the Church, and felt responsible for warning the Pope against it.When the Pope was waiting for him in Rome, Milich placed on the entrance to St. Peter’s Cathedral an open letter saying that while in Rome, he would preach on the coming of the antichrist in the same way he had been doing it in Prague. This caught attention of the Inquisition and because of that Milich was imprisoned for the suspicion of heresy.Together with Milich, another priest, whose name was Detrich, was put into prison as well. Detrich considered the whole thing as injustice and slightly grumbled in his heart. Seeing that, Milich admonished him very gently: “Beloved brother, bear in mind the martyr’s death of Jesus Christ, who was led like a sheep to be slaughtered, yet he did not even open his mouth.” Although Milich as well was treated very harshly, his responses were always gentle and kind –even to such an extent that both the clergy and laymen marvelled at his patience. He felt no need to defend himself, because he was standing in the truth, having authority. Everybody felt Milich’s moral and spiritual superiority and so his accusers ended up sending their apologies. The Cardinal of Albania stood up for Milich, mediating an audience at the Pope Urban V. Everybody respected the natural prophetic authority Milich was endued with.
At the audience Milich presented the Pope with a project for the renewal of the church, appealing that the Pope would call a general council, where the decision would be made to send out anointed evangelists all over the world to prepare God’s army for the coming of the antichrist and at the same time to prepare the Bride of Christ for the coming of Christ. The Pope agreed with Milich but continued minding his own business.
So Milich has to go before the Pope again, this time to Avignon. His strongest opponent was a Czech, whose name was Klonkot, an ex-professor of the Prague University, now a papal penitentiary in Avignon, trying his best to achieve one goal only: to get Milich to the stake.Milich is allowed to defend himself before the Pope and is found innocent again. The Cardinal of Albania invites Milich to a banquet and seats him in the third most important place at the table. at that time Klonkot suddenly falls ill and dies in spite of Milich’s most fervent prayers. Milich had never prayed so urgently for hinself and so much for his enemies than while praying for Klonkot. Believers and trustworthy witnesses report to have actually heard the pangs of his inward parts when he prayed .
Milich was no longer able to get back to Prague after that. He dies on August 1, 1374 in Avignon, where he is also buried. Before his death he nanaged to write a letter to the Cardinal of Albania which touched his heart so deeply that the Cardinal said: Although my brother, the Pope, performs many miracles, I do believe that this Milich should be canonized before him.” Milich had never been canonized, yet he was a true saint- in the eyes of God and in the eyes of men. The historian Frantisek Palacky called Milich the father of the czech reformation. His life and work paved the way for the Hussite movement of renewal. When Milich of Kromeriz dies , he already has a successor- a small boy from Husinec, whose name was Jan. Even though the NEW JERUSALEM was destroyed after Milich’s death, his legacy has been burning in the hearts of many faithful Czechs to this very day like a torch pointing towards and preparing the way for the second coming of Jesus Christ to this Earth.