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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 19 — Protestantism in Poland and Bohemia

Chapter 3 — Acme of Protestantism in Poland

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Arts of the Pope's Legate-Popish Synod — Judicial Murder — A Miracle — The King asks the Pope to Reform the Church — Diet of 1563 — National Synod craved — Defeated by the Papal Legate — His Representations to the King — The King Gained over — Project of a Religious Union — Conference of the Protestants — Union of Sandomir — Its Basis — The Eucharistic Doctrine of the Polish Protestant Church — Acme of Protestantism in Poland.

Is following the labors of those eminent men whom God inspired with the wish to emancipate their native land from the yoke of Rome, we have gone a little way beyond the point at which we had arrived in the history of Protestantism in Poland. We go back a stage. We have seen the Diet of 1552 inflict a great blow on the Papal power in Poland, by abolishing the civil jurisdiction of the bishops. Four years after this (1556) John Alasco returned, and began his labors in Poland; these he was prosecuting with success, when Lippomani was sent from Rome to undo his work.

Lippomani's mission bore fruit. He revived the fainting spirits and rallied the wavering courage of the Romanists. He sowed with subtle art suspicions and dissensions among the Protestants; he stoutly promised in the Pope's name all necessary ecclesiastical reforms; this fortified the king in his vacillation, and furnished those within the Roman Church who had been demanding a reform, with an excuse for relaxing their efforts. They would wait "the good time coming." The Pope's manager with skillful hand lifted the veil, and the Romanists saw in the future a purified, united, and Catholic Church as clearly as the traveler sees the mirage in the desert. Vergerius labored to convince them that what they saw was no lake, but a shimmering vapor, floating above the burning sands, but the phantasm was so like that the king and the bulk of the nation chose it in preference to the reality which John Alasco would have given them.

Meanwhile the Diet of 1552 had left the bishops crippled; their temporal arm had been broken, and their care now was to restore this most important branch of their jurisdiction. Lippomani assembled a General Synod of the Popish clergy at Lowicz. This Synod passed a resolution declaring that heretics, now springing up on every side, ought to be visited with pains and penalties, and then proceeded to make trial how far the king and nation would permit them to go in restoring their punitive power. They summoned to their bar the Canon of Przemysl, Lutomirski by name, on a suspicion of heresy. The canon appeared, but with him came his friends, all of them provided with Bibles — the best weapons, they thought, for such a battle as that to which they were advancing; but when the bishops saw how they were armed, they closed the doors of their judgment-hall and shut them out. The first move of the prelates had not improved their position.

Their second was attended with a success that was more disastrous than defeat. They accused a poor girl, Dorothy Lazecka, of having obtained a consecrated wafer on pretense of communicating, and of selling it to the Jews. The Jews carried the Host to their synagogue, where, being pierced with needles, it emitted a quantity of blood. The miracle, it was said, had come opportunely to show how unnecessary it was to give the cup to the laity. But further, it was made a criminal charge against both the girl and the Jews. The Jews pleaded that such an accusation was absurd; that they did not believe in transubstantiation, and would never think of doing anything so preposterous as experimenting on a wafer to see whether it contained blood. But in spite of their defense, they, as well as the unfortunate girl, were condemned to be burned. This atrocious sentence could not be carried out without the royal exequatur. The king, when applied to, refused his consent, declaring that he could not believe such an absurdity, and dispatched a messenger to Sochaczew, where the parties were confined, with orders for their release. The Synod, however, was determined to complete its work. The Bishop of Chelm, who was Vice-Chancellor of Poland, attached the royal seal without the knowledge of the king, and immediately sent off a messenger to have the sentence instantly executed. The king, upon being informed of the forgery, sent in haste to counteract the nefarious act of his minister; but it was too late. Before the royal messenger arrived the stake had been kindled, and the innocent persons consumed in the flames. [1]

This deed, combining so many crimes in one, filled all Poland with horror. The legate, Lippomani, disliked before, was now detested tenfold. Assailed in pamphlets and caricatures, he quitted the kingdom, followed by the execration of the nation. Nor was it Lippomani alone who was struck by the recoil of this, in every way, unfortunate success; the Polish hierarchy suffered disgrace and damage along with him, for the atrocity showed the nation what the bishops were prepared to do, should the sword which the Diet of 1552 had plucked from their hands ever again be grasped by them.

An attempt at miracle, made about this time, also helped to discredit the character and weaken the influence of the Roman clergy in Poland. Christopher Radziwill, cousin to the famous Prince Radziwill, grieved at his relative's lapse into what he deemed heresy, made a pilgrimage to Rome, in token of his own devotion to the Papal See, and was rewarded with a box of precious relics from the Pope. One day after his return home with his inestimable treasure, the friars of a neighbouring convent waited on him, and telling him that they had a man possessed by the devil under their care, on whom the ordinary exorcisms had failed to effect a cure, they besought him, in pity for the

poor demoniac, to lend them his box of relics, whose virtue doubtless would compel the foul spirit to flee. The bones were given with joy. On a certain day the box, with its contents, was placed on the high altar; the demoniac was brought forward, and in presence of a vast multitude the relics were applied, and with complete success. The evil spirit departed out of the man, with the usual contortions and grimaces. The spectators shouted, "Miracle!" and Radziwill, overjoyed, lifted eyes and hands to heaven, in wonder and gratitude. [2]

In a few days thereafter his servant, smitten in conscience, came to him and confessed that on their journey from Rome he had carelessly lost the true relics, and had replaced them with common bones. This intelligence was somewhat disconcerting to Radziwill, but greatly more so to the friars, seeing it speedily led to the disclosure of the imposture. The pretended demoniac confessed that he had simply been playing a part, and the monks likewise were constrained to acknowledge their share in the pious fraud. Great scandal arose; the clergy bewailed the day the Pope's box had crossed the Alps; and Christopher Radziwill, receiving from the relics a virtue he had not anticipated, was led to the perusal of the Scriptures, and finally embraced, with his whole family, the Protestant faith. When his great relative, Prince Radziwill, died in 1565, Christopher came forward, and to some extent supplied his loss to the Protestant cause.

The king, still pursuing a middle course, solicited from the Pope, Paul IV., a Reformation which he might have had to better effect from his Protestant clergy, if only he would have permitted them to meet and begin the work. Sigismund Augustus addressed a letter to the Pontiff at the Council of Trent, demanding the five following things: —

1st, the performance of mass in the Polish tongue;
2ndly, Communion in both kinds;
3rdly, the marriage of priests;
4thly, the abolition of annats;
5thly, the convocation of a National Council for the reform of abuses, and the reconcilement of the various opinions.

The effect of these demands on Paul IV. was to irritate this very haughty Pontiff; he fell into a fume, and expressed in animated terms his amazement at the arrogance of his Majesty of Poland; but gradually cooling down, he declined civilly, as might have been foreseen, demands which, though they did not amount to a very great deal, were more than Rome could safely grant. [3]

This rebuff taught the Protestants, if not the king, that from the Seven Hills no help would come - that their trust must be in themselves; and they grew bolder every day. In the Diet of Piotrkow, 1559, an attempt was made to deprive the bishops of their seats in the Senate, on the ground that their oath of obedience to the Pope was wholly irreconcilable to and subversive of their allegiance to their sovereign, and their duty to the nation. The oath was read and commented on, and the senator who made the motion concluded his speech in support of it by saying that if the bishops kept their oath of spiritual obedience, they must necessarily violate their vow of temporal allegiance; and if they were faithful subjects of the Pope, they must necessarily be traitors to their king. [4] The motion was not carried, probably because the vague hope of a more sweeping measure of reform still kept possession of the minds of men.

The next step of the Poles was in the direction of realising that hope. A Diet met in 1563, and passed a resolution that a General Synod, in which all the religious bodies in Poland would be represented, should be assembled. The Primate of Poland, Archbishop Uchanski, who was known to be secretly inclined toward the Reformed doctrines, was favorable to the proposed Convocation. Had such a Council been convened, it might, as matters then stood, with the first nobles of the land, many of the great cities, and a large portion of the nation, all on the side of Protestantism, have had the most decisive effects on the Kingdom of Poland and its future destinies. "It would have upset," says Krasinski, "the dominion of Rome in Poland for ever." [5] Rome saw the danger in all its extent, and sent one of her ablest diplomatists to cope with it. Cardinal Commendoni, who had given efficient aid to Queen Mary of England in 1553, in her attempted restoration of Popery, was straightway dispatched to employ his great abilities in arresting the triumph of Protestantism, and averting ruin from the Papacy in the Kingdom of Poland. The legate put forth all his dexterity and art in his important mission, and not without effect. He directed his main efforts to influence the mind of Sigismund Augustus. He drew with masterly hand a frightful picture of the revolts and seditions that were sure to follow such a Council as it was contemplated holding. The warring winds, once let loose, would never cease to rage till the vessel of the Polish State was driven on the rocks and shipwrecked. For every concession to the heretics and the blind mob, the king would have to part with as many rights of his own. His laws contemned, his throne in the dust, who then would lift him up and give him back his crown? Had he forgotten the Colloquy of Poissy, which the King of France, then a child, had been pemuaded to permit to take place? What had that disputation proved but a trumpet of revolt, which had banished peace from France, not since to return? In that unhappy country, whose inhabitants were parted by bitter feuds and contending factions, whose fields were reddened by the sword of

civil war, whose throne was being continually shaken by sedition and revolt, the king might see the picture of what Poland would become should he give his consent to the meeting of a Council, where all doctrines would be brought into question, and all things reformed without reference to the canons of the Church, and the authority of the Pope. Commendoni was a skillful limner; he made the king hear the roar of the tempest which he foretold; Sigismund Augustus felt as if his throne were already rocking beneath him; the peace-loving monarch revoked the permission he had been on the point of giving; he would not permit the Council to convene. [6]

If a National Council could not meet to essay the Reformation of the Church, might it not be possible, some influential persons now asked, for the three Protestant bodies in Poland to unite in one Church? Such a union would confer new strength on Protestantism, would remove the scandal offered by the dissensions of Protestants among themselves, and would enable them in the day of battle to unite their arms against the foe, and in the hour of peace to conjoin their labors in building up their Zion. The Protestant communions in Poland were — lst, the Bohemian; 2ndly, the Reformed or Calvinistic; and 3rdly, the Lutheran. Between the first and second there was entire agreement in point of doctrine; only inasmuch as the first pastors of the Bohemian Church had received ordination (1467) from a Waldensian superintendent, as we have previously narrated, [7] the Bohemians had come to lay stress on this, as an order of succession peculiarly sacred. Between the second and third there was the important divergence on the subject of the Eucharist. The Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation approached more nearly to the Roman doctrine of the mass than to the Reformed doctrine of the Lord's Supper. If change there had been since the days of Luther on the question of consubstantiation, it was in the direction of still greater rigidity and tenacity, accompanied with a growing intolerance toward the other branches of the great Protestant family, of which some melancholy proofs have come before us. How much the heart of John Alasco was set on healing these divisions, and how small a measure of success attended his efforts to do so, we have already seen.

The project was again revived. The main opposition to it came from the Lutherans. The Bohemian Church now numbered upwards of 200 congregations in Moravia and Poland, [8] but the Lutherans accused them of being heretical. Smarting from the reproach, and judging that to clear their orthodoxy would pave the way for union, the Bohemians submitted their Confession to the Protestant princes of Germany, and all the leading Reformers of Europe, including Peter Martyr and Bullinger at Zurich, and Calvin and Beza at Geneva. A unanimous verdict was returned that the Bohemian Confession was "conformable to the doctrines of the Gospel."

This judgment silenced for a time the Lutheran attacks on the purity of the Bohemian creed; but this good understanding being once more disturbed, the Bohemian Church in 1568 sent a delegation to Wittemberg, to submit their Confession to the theological faculty of its university. Again their creed was fully approved of, and this judgment carrying great weight with the Lutherans, the attacks on the Bohemians from that time ceased, and the negotiations for union went prosperously forward.

At last the negotiations bore fruit. In 1569, the leading nobles of the three communions, having met together at the Diet of Lublin, resolved to take measures for the consummation of the union. They were the more incited to this by the hope that the king, who had so often expressed his desire to see the Protestant Churches of his realm become one, would thereafter declare himself on the side of Protestantism. It was resolved to hold a Synod or Conference of all three Churches, and the town of Sandomir was chosen as the place of meeting. The Synod met in the beginning of April, 1570, and was attended by the Protestant grandees and nobles of Poland, and by the ministers of the Bohemian, Reformed, and Lutheran Churches. After several days discussion it was found that the assembly was of one heart and mind on all the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel; and all agreement, entitled "Act of the Religious Union between the Churches of Great and Little Poland, Russia, Lithuania, and Samogitia," was signed on the 14th of April, 1570. [9]

The subscribers place on the front of their famous document their unanimity in "the doctrines about God, the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation of the Son of God, Justification, and other principal points of the Christian religion." To give effect to this unanimity they "enter into a mutual and sacred obligation to defend unanimously, and according to the injunctions of the Word of God, this their covenant in the true and pure religion of Christ, against the followers of the Roman Church, the sectaries, as well as all the enemies of the truth and Gospel."

On the vexed question of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, the United Church agreed to declare that "the elements are not only elements or vain symbols, but are sufficient to believers, and impart by faith what they signify." And in order to express themselves with still greater clearness, they agreed to confess that "the substantial presence of Christ is not only signified but really represented in the Communion to those that receive it, and that the body and blood of our Lord are really distributed and given with the symbols of the thing itself; which according to the nature of Sacraments are by no means bare signs."

"But that no disputes," they add, "should originate from a difference of expressions, it has been resolved to add to the articles inserted into our Confession, the article of the Confession of the Saxon Churches relating to the Lord's Supper, which

was sent in 1551 to the Council of Trent, and which we acknowledge as pious, and do receive. Its expressions are as follows: ' Baptism and the Lord's Supper are signs and testimonies of grace, as it has been said before, which remind us of the promise and of the redemption, and show that the benefits of the Gospel belong to all those that make use of these rites... In the established use of the Communion, Christ is substantially present, and the body and blood of Christ are truly given to those who receive the Communion.'" [10]

The confederating Churches further agreed to "abolish and bury in eternal oblivion all the contentions, troubles, and dissensions which have hitherto impeded the progress of the Gospel," and leaving free each Church to administer its own discipline and practice its own rites, deeming these of "little importance" provided "the foundation of our faith and salvation remain pure and unadulterated," they say: "Having mutually given each other our hands, we have made a sacred promise faithfully to maintain the peace and faith, and to promote it every day more and more for the edification of the Word of God, and carefully to avoid all occasions of dissension." [11]

There follows a long and brilliant list of palatines, nobles, superintendents, pastors, elders, and deacons belonging to all the three communions, who, forgetting the party-questions that had divided them, gathered round this one standard, and giving their hands to one another, and lifting them up to heaven, vowed henceforward to be one and to contend only against the common foe. This was one of the triumphs of Protestantism. Its spirit now gloriously prevailed over the pride of church, the rivalry of party, and the narrowness of bigotry, and in this victory gave an augury — alas! never to be fulfilled — of a yet greater triumph in days to come, by which this was to be completed and crowned.

Three years later (1573) a great Protestant Convocation was held at Cracow. It was presided over by John Firley, Grand Marshal of Poland, a leading member of the Calvinistic communion, and the most influential grandee of the kingdom. The regulations enacted by this Synod sufficiently show the goal at which it was anxious to arrive. It aimed at reforming the nation in life as well as in creed. It forbade "all kinds of wickedness and luxury, accursed gluttony and inebriety." It prohibited lewd dances, games of chance, profane oaths, and night assemblages in taverns. It enjoined landowners to treat their peasants with "Christian charity and humanity," to exact of them no oppressive labor or heavy taxes, to permit no markets or fairs to be held upon their estates on Sunday, and to demand no service of their peasants on that day. A Protestant creed was but the means for creating a virtuous and Christian people.

There is no era like this, before or since, in the annals of Poland. Protestantism had reached its acme in that country. Its churches numbered upwards of 2,000. They were at peace and flourishing. Their membership included the first dignitaries of the crown and the first nobles of the land. In some parts Romanism almost entirely disappeared. Schools were planted throughout the country, and education flourished. The Scriptures were translated into the tongue of the people, the reading of them was encouraged as the most efficient weapon against the attacks of Rome. Latin was already common, but now Greek and Hebrew began to be studied, that direct access might be had to the Divine fountains of truth and salvation. The national intellect, invigorated by Protestant truth, began to expatiate in fields that had been neglected hitherto. The printing-press, which rusts Unused where Popery dominates, was vigorously wrought, and sent forth works on science, jurisprudence, theology, and general literature. This was the Augustan era of letters in Poland. The toleration which was so freely accorded in that country drew thither crowds of refugees, whom persecution had driven from their homes, and who, carrying with them the arts and manufactures of their own lands, enriched Poland with a material prosperity which, added to the political power and literary glory that already encompassed her, raised her to a high pitch of greatness.


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Saturday, June 23rd, 2018
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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