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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 19 — Protestantism in Poland and Bohemia

Chapter 1 — Rise and spread of Protestantism in Poland

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The "Catholic Restoration " — First Introduction of Christianity into Poland — Influence of Wicliffe and Huss — Luther — The Light Shines on Dantzic — The Ex-Monk Knade — Rashness of the Dantzic Reformers — The Movement thrown back — Entrance of Protestantism into Thorn and other Towns — Cracow — Secret Society, and Queen Bona Sforza — Efforts of Romish Synods to Arrest the Truth — Entrance of Bohemian Protestants into Poland — Their great Missionary Success — Students leave Cracow: go to Protestant Universities — Attempt at Coercive Measures — They Fail — Cardinal Hosius — A Martyr — The Priests in Conflict with the Nobles — National Diet of 1552 — Auguries — Abolition of the Temporal Jurisdiction of the Bishops.

WE are now approaching the era of that great "Catholic Restoration" which, cunningly devised and most perseveringly carried on by. the Jesuits, who had: now perfected the organisation and discipline of their corps, and zealously aided by the arms of the Popish Powers, scourged Germany with a desolating war of thirty years, trampled out many flourishing Protestant Churches in the east of Europe, and nearly succeeded in rehabilitating Rome in her ancient dominancy of all Christendom. But before entering on the history of these events, it is necessary to follow, in a brief recital, the rise and progress of Protestantism in the countries of Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, and parts of Austria, seeing that these were the Churches which fell before the spiritual cohorts of Loyola, and the military hordes of Austria, and seeing also that these were the lands, in conjunction with Germany, which because the seat of that great struggle which seemed as though it were destined to overthrow Protestantism wholly, till all suddenly, Sweden sent forth a champion who rolled back the tide of Popish success, and restored the balance between the two Churches, which has remained much as it was then settled, down to almost the present hour.

We begin with Poland. Its Reformation opened with brilliant promise, but it had hardly reached what seemed its noon when its light was overcast, and since that disastrous hour the farther Poland's story is pursued, it becomes but the sadder and more melancholy; nevertheless, the history of Protestantism in Poland is fraught with great lessons, specially applicable to all free countries. Christianity, it is believed, was introduced into Poland by missionaries from Great Moravia in the ninth century. In the tenth we find the sovereign of the country receiving baptism, from which we may infer that the Christian faith was still spreading in Poland, [1] It is owing to the simplicity and apostolic zeal of Cyrillus [2] and Methodius, two pastors from Thessalonica, that the nations, the Slavonians among the rest, who inhabited the wide territories lying between the Tyrol and the Danube on the one side, and the Baltic and Vistula on the other, were at so early a period visited with the light of the Gospel.

Their first day was waxing dim, notwithstanding that they were occasionally visited by the Waldenses, when Wicliffe arose in England. This splendor which had burst out in the west, traveled, as we have already narrated, as far as Bohemia, and from Bohemia it passed on to Poland, where it came in time to arrest the return of the pagan night. The voice of Huss was now resounding through Bohemia, and its echoes were heard in Cracow. Poland was then intimately connected with Bohemia; the language of the two countries was almost the same; numbers of Polish youth resorted to the University of Prague, and one of the first martyrs of Huss's Reformation was a Pole. Stanislav Pazek, a shoemaker by trade, suffered death, along with two Bohemians, for opposing the indulgences which were preached in Prague in 1411. The citizens interred their bodies with great respect, and Huss preached a sermon at their funeral. [3] In 1431, a conference took place in Cracow, between certain Hussite missionaries and the doctors of the university, in presence of the king and senate. The doctors did battle for the ancient faith against the "novelties" imported from the land of Huss, which they described as doctrines for which the missionaries could plead no better authority than the Bible. The disputation lasted several days, and Bishop Dlugosh, the historian of the conference, complains that although, "in the opinion of all present, the heretics were vanquished, they never acknowledged their defeat." [4]

It is interesting to find these three countries — Poland, Bohemia, and England — at that early period turning their faces toward the day, and hand-in-hand attempting to find a path out of the darkness. How much less happy, one cannot help reflecting, the fate of the first two countries than that of the last, yet all three were then directing their steps into the same road. Many of the first families in Poland embraced openly the Bohemian doctrines; and it is an interesting fact that one of the professors in the university, Andreas Galka, expounded the works of Wicliffe at Cracow, and wrote a poem in honor of the English Reformer. It is the earliest production of the Polish muse in existence, a poem in praise of the Virgin excepted. The author, addressing "Poles, Germans, and all nations," says, "Wicliffe speaks the truth! Heathendom and Christendom have never had a greater man than he, and never will." Voice after voice is heard in Poland, attesting a growing opposition to Rome, till at last in 1515, two years before Luther had spoken, we find the seminal principle of Protestantism proclaimed by Bernard of Lublin, in a work which he published at Cracow, and in which he says that "we must believe the Scriptures alone, and reject human ordinances." [5] Thus was the way prepared.

Two years after came Luther. The lightnings of his Theses, which flashed through the skies of all countries, lighted up also those of Polish Prussia. Of that flourishing province Dantzic

was the capital, and the chief emporium of Poland with Western Europe. In that city a monk, called James Knade, threw off his habit (1518), took a wife, and began to preach publicly against Rome. Knade had to retire to Thorn, where he continued to diffuse his doctrines under the protection of a powerful nobleman; but the seed he had sown in Dantzic did not perish; there soon arose a little band of preachers, composed of Polish youths who had sat at Luther's feet in Wittemberg, and of priests who had found access to the Reformer's writings, who now proclaimed the truth, and made so numerous converts that in 1524: five churches in Dantzic were given up to their use.

Success made the Reformers rash. The town council, to whom the king, Sigismund, had hinted his dislike of these innovations, lagged behind in the movement, and the citizens resolved to replace that body with men more zealous. They surrounded the council, to the number of 400, and with arms in their hands, and cannon pointed on the council-hall, they demanded the resignation of the members. No sooner had the council dissolved itself than the citizens elected another from among themselves. The new council proceeded to complete the Reformation at a stroke. They suppressed the Roman Catholic worship, they closed the monastic establishments, they ordered that the convents and other ecclesiastical edifices should be converted into schools and hospitals, and declared the goods of the "Church" to be public property, but left them untouched. [6]

This violence only threw back the movement; the majority of the inhabitants were still of the old faith, and had a right to exercise its worship till, enlightened in a better way, they should be pleased voluntarily to abandon it.

The deposed councillors, seating themselves in carriages hung in black, and encircling their heads with crape, set out to appear before the king. They implored him to interpose his authority to save his city of Dantzic, which was on the point of being drowned in heresy, and re-establish the old order of things. The king, in the main upright and tolerant, at first temporised. The members of council, by whom the late changes had been made, were summoned before the king's tribunal to justify their doings; but, not obeying the summons, they were outlawed. In April, 1526, the king in person visited Dantzic; the citizens, as a precaution against change, received the monarch in arms; but the royal troops, and the armed retainers of the Popish lords who accompanied the king, so greatly outnumbered the Reformers that they were overawed, and submitted to the court. A royal decree restored the Roman Catholic worship; fifteen of the leading Reformers were beheaded, and the rest banished; the citizens were ordered to return within the Roman pale or quit Dantzic; the priests and monks who had abandoned the Roman Church were exiled, and the churches appropriated to Protestant worship were given back to mass. This was a sharp castigation for leaving the peaceful path. Nevertheless, the movement in Dantzic was only arrested, not destroyed. Some years later, there came an epidemic to the city, and amid the sick and the dying there stood up a pious Dominican, called Klein, to preach the Gospel. The citizens, awakened a second time to eternal things, listened to him. Dr. Eck, the famous opponent of Luther, importuned King Sigismund to stop the preacher, and held up to him, as an example worthy of imitation, Henry VIII. of England, who had just published a book against the Reformer. "Let King Henry write against Martin," replied Sigismund, "but, with regard to myself, I shall be king equally of the sheep and of the goats." [7] Under the following reign Protestantism triumphed in Dantzie.

About the; same time the Protestant doctrines began to take root in other towns of Polish Prussia. In Thorn, situated on the Vistula, these doctrines appeared in 1520, There came that year toThorn, Zacharias Fereira, a legate of the Pope. He took a truly Roman way of warning the inhabitants against the heresy which had invaded, their town. Kindling a great fire before the Church of St. John, he solemnly committed the effigies and writings of Luther to the flames. The faggots had hardly begun to blaze when a shower of stones from the townsmen saluted the legate and his train, and they were forced to flee, before they had had time to consummate their auto- da-fe. At Braunsberg, the seat of the Bishop of Ermeland, the Lutheran worship was publicly introduced in 1520, without the bishop's taking any steps to prevent it. When reproached by his chapter for his supineness, he told his canons that the Reformer founded all he said on Scripture, and any one among them who deemed himself competent to refute him was at liberty to do so. At Elbing and many other towns the light was spreading.

A secret society, composed of the first scholars of the day, lay and cleric, was formed at Cracow, the university seat, not so much to propagate the Protestant doctrines as to investigate the grounds of their truth. The queen of Sigismund I., Bona Sforza, was an active member of this society. She had for her confessor a learned Italian, Father Lismanini. The Father received most of the Protestant publications that appeared in the various countries of Europe, and laid them on the table of the society, with the view of their being read and canvassed by the members. The society at a future period acquired a greater but not a better renown. One day a priest named Pastoris, a native of Belgium, rose in it and avowed his disbelief of the Trinity, as a doctrine inconsistent with the unity of the Godhead. The members, who saw that this was to overthrow revealed religion, were mute with astonishment; and some, believing that what they had taken for the path of reform was the path of destruction, drew back, and

took final refuge in Romanism. Others declared themselves disciples of the priest, and thus were laid in Poland the foundations of Socinianism. [8]

The rapid diffusion of the light is best attested by the vigorous efforts of the Romish clergy to suppress it. Numerous books appeared at this time in Poland against Luther and his doctrines. The Synod of Lenczyca, in 1527, recommended the re-establishment of the "Holy Inquisition." Other Synods drafted schemes of ecclesiastical reform, which, in Poland as in all the other countries where such projects were broached, were never realized save on paper. Others recommended the appointment of popular preachers to instruct the ignorant, and guide their feet past the snares which were being laid for them in the writings of the heretics On the principle that it would be less troublesome to prevent the planting of these snares, than after they were set to guide the unwary past them, they prohibited the introduction of such works into the country. The Synod of Lenczyca, in 1532, went a step farther, and in its zeal to preserve the "sincere faith" in Poland, recommended the banishment of "all heretics beyond the bounds of Sarmatia." [9] The Synod of Piotrkow, in 1542, published a decree prohibiting all students from resorting to universities conducted by heretical professors, and threatening with exclusion from all offices and dignities all who, after the passing of the edict, should repair to such universities, or who, being already at such, did not instantly return.

This edict had no force in law, for besides not being recognised by the Diet, the ecclesiastical jurisdiction was carefully limited by the constitutional liberties of Poland, and the nobles still continued to send their sons to interdicted universities, and in particular to Wittemberg. Meanwhile the national legislation of Poland began to flow in just the opposite channel. In 1539 a royal ordinance established the liberty of the press; and in 1543 the Diet of Cracow granted the freedom of studying at foreign universities to all Polish subjects.

At this period an event fell out which gave an additional impulse to the diffusion of Protestantism in Poland. In 1548, a severe persecution, which will come under our notice at a subsequent stage of our history, arose against the Bohemian brethren, the descendants of that valiant host who had cormbated for the faith under Ziska. In the year above-named Ferdinand of Bohemia published an edict shutting up their churches, imprisoning their ministers, and enjoining the brethren, under severe penalties, to leave the country within forty-two days. A thousand exiles, marshalling themselves in three bands, left their native villages, and began their march westward to Prussia, where Albert of Brandenburg, a zealous Reformer, had promised them asylum. The pilgrims, who were under the conduct of Sionins, the chief of their community- "the leader of the people of God," as a Polish historian styles him had to pass through Silesia and Poland on their way to Prussia. Arriving in Posen in June, 1548, they were welcomed by Andreas Gorka, first magistrate of Grand Poland, a man of vast possessions, and Protestant opinions, and were offered a settlement in his States. Here, meanwhile, their journey terminated. The pious wanderers erected churches and celebrated their worship. Their hymns chanted in the Bohemian language, and their sermons preached in the same tongue, drew many of the Polish inhabitants, whose speech was Slavonic, to listen, and ultimately to embrace their opinions. A missionary army, it looked to them as if Providence had guided their steps to this spot for the conversion of all the provinces of Grand Poland. The Bishop of Posen saw the danger that menaced his diocese, and rested not till he had obtained an order from Sigismund Augustus, who had just succeeded his father (1548), enjoining the Bohemian emigrants to quit the territory. The order might possibly have been recalled, but the brethren, not wishing to be the cause of trouble to the grandee who had so nobly entertained them, resumed their journey, and arrived in due time in Prussia, where Duke Albert, agreeably to his promise, accorded them the rights of naturalisation, and full religious liberty. But the seed they had sown in Posen remained behind them. In the following year (1549) many of them returned to Poland, and resumed their propagation of the Reformed doctrines. They prosecuted their work without molestation, and with great success. Many of the principal families embraced their opinions; and the ultimate result of their labors was the formation of about eighty congregations in the provinces of Grand Poland, besides many in other parts of the kingdom.

A quarrel broke out between the students and the university authorities at Cracow, which, although originating in a street-brawl, had important bearings on the Protestant movement. The breach it was found impossible to heal, and the students resolved to leave Cracow in a body. "The schools became silent," says a contemporary writer, "the halls of the university were deserted, and the churches were mute." [10] Nothing but farewells, lamentations, and groans resounded through Cracow. The pilgrims assembled ill a suburban church, to hear a farewell mass, and then set forth, singing a sacred hymn, some taking the road to the College of Goldberg, in Silesia, and others going on to the newly-erected University of Konigsberg, in Prussia. The first-named school was under the direction of Frankendorf, one of the most eminent of Melancthon's pupils; Konigsberg, a creation of Albert, Duke of Prussia, was already fulfilling its founder's intention, which was the diffusion of scriptural knowledge. In both seminaries the predominating influences were Protestant. The consequence was that almost all these students returned to their homes imbued with the Reformed doctrine, and powerfully contributed to spread it in Poland.

So stood the movement when Sigismund Augustus ascended the throne in 1548. Protestant truth was widely spread throughout the kingdom. In the towns of Polish Prussia, where many Germans resided, the Reformation was received in its Lutheran expression; in the rest of

Poland it was embraced in its Calvinistic form. Many powerful nobles had abandoned Romanism; numbers of priests taught the Protestant faith; but, as yet, there existed no organisation — no Church. This came at a later period. The priesthood had as yet erected no stake. They thought to stem the torrent by violent denunciations, thundered from the pulpit, or sent abroad over the kingdom through the press. They raised their voices to the loftiest pitch, but the torrent continued to flow broader and deeper every day.

They now began to make trial of coercive measures. Nicholaus Olesnicki, Lord of Pinczov, ejecting the images from a church on his estates, established Protestant worship in it according to the forms of Geneva. This was the first open attack on the ancient order of things, and Olesnicki was summoned before the ecclesiastical tribunal of Cracow. He obeyed the summons, but the crowd of friends and retainers who accompanied him was such that the court was terrified, and dared not open its sittings. The clergy had taken a first step, but had lost ground thereby.

The next move was to convoke a Synod (1552) at Piotrkow. At that Convocation, the afterwards celebrated Cardinal Hosius produced a summary of the Roman faith, which he proposed all priests and all of senatorial and equestrian degree should be made to subscribe. Besides the fundamental doctrines of Romanism, this creed of Hosius made the subscriber express his belief in purgatory, in the worship of saints and images, in the efficacy of holy water, of fasts, and similar rites. [11] The suggestion of Hosius was adopted; all priests were ordered to subscribe this test, and the king was petitioned to exact subscription to it from all the officers of his Government, and all the nobles of his realm. The Synod further resolved to set on foot a Vigorous war against heresy, to support which a tax was to be levied on the clergy. It was sought to purchase the assistance of the king by offering him the confiscated property of all condemned heretics. [12] It seemed as if Poland was about to be lighted up with martyr-piles.

A beginning was made with Nicholaus, Rector of Kurow. This good man began in 1550 to preach the doctrine of salvation by grace, and to give the Communion in both kinds to his parlshioners. For these offenses he was cited before the ecclesiastical tribunal, where he courageously defended himself. He was afterwards thrown into a dungeon, and deprived of life, but whether by starvation, by poison, or by methods more violent still, cannot now be known. One victim had been offered to the insulted majesty of Rome in Poland. Contemporary chroniclers speak of others who were immolated to the intolerant genius of the Papacy, but their execution took place, not in open day, but in the secresy of the cell, or in the darkness of the prison.

The next move of the priests landed them in open conflict with the popular sentiment and the chartered rights of the nation. No country in Europe enjoyed at that hour a greater degree of liberty than did Poland. The towns, many of which were flourishing, elected their own magistrates, and thus each city, as regarded its internal affairs, was a little republic. The nobles, who formed a tenth of the population, were a peculiar and privileged class. Some of them were owners of vast domains, inhabited castles, and lived in great magnificence. Others of them tilled their own lands; but all of them, grandee and husbandman alike, were equal before the law, and neither their persons nor property could be disposed of, save by the Diet. The king himself was subject to the law. We find the eloquent but versatile Orichovius, who now thundered against the Pope, and now threw himself prostrate before him, saying in one of his philippics, "Your Romans bow their knees before the crowd of your menials; they bear on their necks the degrading yoke of the Roman scribes; but such is not the case with us, where the law rules even the throne." The free constitution of the country was a shield to its Protestantism, as the clergy had now occasion to experience. Stanislav Stadnicki, a nobleman of large estates and great influence, having embraced the Reformed opinions, established the Protestant worship according to the forms of Geneva on his domains. He was summoned to answer for his conduct before the tribunal of the bishop. Stadnicki replied that he was quite ready to justify both his opinions and his acts. The court, however, had no wish to hear what he had to say in behalf of his faith, and condemned him, by default, to civil death and loss of property. Had the clergy wished to raise a flame all over the kingdom, they could have done nothing more fitted to gain their end.

Stadnicki assembled his fellow-nobles and told them what the priests had done. The Polish grandees had ever been jealous of the throne, but here was an ecclesiastical body, acting under an irresponsible foreign chief, assuming a power which the king had never ventured to exercise, disposing of the lives and properties of the nobles without reference to any will or ally tribunal save their own. The idea was not to be endured. There rung a loud outcry against ecclesiastical tyranny all throughout Poland; and the indignation was brought to a height by numerous apprehensions, at that same time, at the instance of the bishops, of influential persons — among others, priests of blameless life, who had offended against the law of clerical celibacy, and whom the Roman clergy sought to put to death, but could not, simply from the circumstance that they could find no magistrate willing to execute their sentences.

At this juncture it happened that the National Diet (1552) assembled. Unmistakable signs were apparent at its opening of the strong anti-Papal feeling that animated many of its members. As usual, its sessions were

inaugurated by the solemn performance of high mass. The king in his robes was present, and with him were the ministers of his council, the officers of his household, and the generals of his army, bearing the symbols of their office, and wearing the stars and insignia of their rank; and there, too, were the senators of the Upper Chamber, and the members of the Lower House. All that could be done by chants and incense, by splendid vestments and priestly Fires, to make the service impressive, and revive the decaying veneration of the worshippers for the Roman Church, was done. The great words which effect the prodigy of transubstantiation had been spoken; the trumpet blared, and the clang of grounded arms rung through the building. The Host was being elevated, and the king and his court fell on their knees; but many of the deputies, instead of prostrating themselves, stood erect and turned away their faces. Raphael Leszczynski, a nobleman of high character and great possessions, expressed his dissent from Rome's great mystery in manner even more marked: he wore his hat all through the performance. The priests saw, but dared not reprove, this contempt of their rites. [13]

The auguries with which the Diet had opened did not fail of finding ample fulfilment in its subsequent proceedings. The assembly chose as its president Leszczynski — the nobleman who had remained uncovered during mass, and who had previously resigned his senatorial dignity in order to become a member of the Lower House. [14] The Diet immediately took into consideration the jurisdiction wielded by the bishops. The question put in debate was this — Is such jurisdiction, carrying civil effects, compatible with the rights of the crown and the freedom of the nation? The Diet decided that it was consistent with neither the prerogatives of the sovereign nor the liberties of the people, and resolved to abolish it, so far as it had force in law. King Sigismund Augustus thought it very possible that if he were himself to mediate in the matter he would, at least, succeed in softening the fall of the bishops, if only he could persuade them to make certain concessions. But he was mistaken: the ecclesiastical dignitaries were perverse, and resolutely refused to yield one iota of their powers. Thereupon the Diet issued its decree, which the king ratified, that the clergy should retain the power of judging of heresy, but have no power of inflicting civil or criminal punishment on the condemned. Their spiritual sentences were henceforward to carry no temporal effects whatever. The Diet of 1552 may be regarded as the epoch of the downfall of Roman Catholic predominancy in Poland, and of the establishment in that country of the liberty of all religious confessions. [15]

The anger of the bishops was inflamed to the utmost. They entered their solemn protest against the enactment of the Diet. The mitre was shorn of half its splendor, and the crozier of more than half its power, by being disjoined from the sword. They left the Senate-hall in a body, and threatened to resign their senatorial dignities. The Diet heard their threats unmoved, and as it made not the slightest effort either to prevent their departure or to recall them after they were gone, but, on the contrary, went on with its business as if nothing unusual had occurred, the bishops returned and took their seats of their own accord.


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Sunday, November 19th, 2017
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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