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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 19 — Protestantism in Poland and Bohemia

Chapter 6 — The Jesuits enter Poland — Destruction of its Protestantism

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Cardinal Hosius — His Acquirements — Prodigious Activity — Brings the Jesuits into Poland — They rise to vast Influence — Their Tactics — Mingle in all Circles — Labour to Undermine the Influence of Protestant Ministers — Extraordinary Methods of doing this — Mob Violence — Churches, etc., Burned — Graveyards Violated — The Jesuits in the Saloons of the Great — Their Schools and Method of Teaching — They Dwarf the National Mind — They Extinguish Literature — Testimony of a Popish Writer — Reign of Vladislav — John Casimir, a Jesuit, ascends the Throne — Political Calamities-Revolt of the Cossacks — Invasion of the Russians and Swedes — Continued Decline of Protestantism and Oppression of Protestants — Exhaustion and Ruin of Poland — Causes which contributed along with the Jesuits to the Overthrow of Protestantism in Poland.

The Jesuits had been introduced into Poland, and the turning of the Protestant tide, and the begun decadence of the nation's political power, which was almost contemporaneous with the retrogression in its Protestantism, was mainly the work of the Fathers. The man who opened the door to the disciples of Loyola in that country is worthy of a longer study than we can bestow upon him. His name was Stanislaus Hosen, better known as Cardinal Hosius. He was born at Cracow in 1504, and thus in birth was nearly contemporaneous with Knox and Calvin. He was sprung of a family of German descent which had been engaged in trade, and become rich. His great natural powers had been perfected by a finished education, first in the schools of his own country, and afterwards in the Italian universities. He was unwearied in his application to business, often dictating to several secretaries at once, and not unfrequently dispatching important matters at meals, He was at home in the controversial literature of the Reformation, and knew how to employ in his own cause the arguments of one Protestant polemic against another. He took care to inform himself of everything about the life and occupation of the leading Reformers, his contemporaries, which it was important for him to know.

His works are numerous; they are in various languages, written with equal elegance in all, and with a wonderful adaptation in their style and method to the genius and habit of thought of each of the various peoples he addressed. The one grand object of his life was the overthrow of Protestantism, and the restoration of the Roman Church to that place of power and glory from which the Reformation had cast her down. He brought the concentrated forces of a vast knowledge, a gigantic intellect, and a strong will to the execution of that task. History has not recorded, so far as we are aware, any immorality in his life. He could boast the refined manners, liberal sentiments, and humane disposition which the love and cultivation of letters usually engender. Nevertheless the marvellous and mysterious power of that system of which he was so distinguished a champion asserted its superiority in the case of this richly endowed, highly cultivated, and noble-minded man. Instead of imparting his virtues to his Church, she transferred her vices to hint. Hosius always urged on fitting occasions that no faith should be kept with heretics, and although few could better conduct an argument than himself, he disliked that tedious process with heretics, and recommended the more summary one of the lictor's axe. He saw no sin in spilling heretical blood; he received with joy the tidings of the St. Bartholomew Massacre, and writing to congratulate the Cardinal of Lorraine on the slaughter of Coligny, he thanked the Almighty for the great boon bestowed on France, and implored him to show equal mercy to Poland. His great understanding he prostrated at the feet of his Church, but for whose authority, he declared, the Scriptures would have no more weight than the Fables of Aesop. His many acquirements and great learning were not able to emancipate him from the thrall of a gloomy asceticism; he grovelled in the observance of the most austere performances, scouring himself in the belief that to have his body streaming with blood and covered with wounds was more pleasing to the Almighty than to have his soul adorned with virtues and replenished with graces. Such was the man who, to use the words of the historian Krasinski, "deserved the eternal gratitude of Rome and the curses of his own country," by introducing the Jesuits into Poland. [1]

Returning from the Council of Trent in 1564, Hosius saw with alarm the advance which Protestantism had made in his diocese during his absence. He immediately addressed himself to the general of the society, Lainez, requesting him to send him some members of his order to aid him in doing what he despaired of accomplishing by his own single arm. A few of the Fathers were dispatched from Rome, and being joined by others from Germany, they were located in Braunsberg, a little town in the diocese of Hosius, who richly endowed the infant establishment. For six years they made little progress, nor was it till the death of Sigismund Augustus and the accession of Stephen Bathory that they began to make their influence felt in Poland. How they ingratiated themselves with that monarch by their vast pretensions to learning we have already seen. They became great favourites with the bishops, who finding Protestantism increasing in their dioceses, looked for its repression rather from the intrigues of the Fathers than the labors of their own clergy. But the golden age of the Jesuits in Poland, to be followed by the iron age to the people, did not begin until the bigoted Sigismund III. mounted the throne. The favors of Stephen Bathory, the colleges he had founded, and the lands with which he had endowed them, were not remembered in comparison with the far higher consideration and vaster wealth to which they were admitted under his successor. Sigismund reigned,

but the Jesuits governed. They stood by the fountain-head of honours, and they held the keys of all dignities and emoluments. They took care of their friends in the distribution of these good things, nor did they forget when enriching others to enrich also themselves. Conversions were numerous; and the wanderer who had returned from the fatal path of heresy to the safe fold of the Church was taught to express his thanks in some gift or service to the order by whose instructions and prayers he had been rescued. The son of a Protestant father commonly expressed his penitence by building them a college, or bequeathing them an estate, or expelling from his lands the confessors of his father's faith, and replacing them with the adherents of the Roman creed. Thus all things were prospering to their wish. Every day new doors were opening to them. Their missions and schools were springing up in all corners of the land. They entered all houses, from the baron's downward; they sat at all tables, and listened to all conversations. In all assemblies, for whatever purpose convened, whether met to mourn or to make merry, to transact business or to seek amusement, there were the Jesuits. They were present at baptisms, at marriages, at funerals, and at fairs. While their learned men taught the young nobles in the universities, they had their itinerant orators, who visited villages, frequented markets, and erecting their stage in public exhibited scenic representations of Bible histories, or of the combats, martyrdoms, and canonisations of the saints. These wandering apostles were furnished, moreover, with store of relics and wonder-working charms, and by these as well as by pompous processions, they edified and awed the crowds that gathered round them. They strenuously and systematically labored to destroy the influence of Protestant ministers. They strove; to make them odious, sometimes by malevolent whisperings, and at other times by open accusations. The most blameless life and the most venerated character afforded no protection against Jesuit calumny. Volanus, whose ninety years bore witness to his abstemious life, they called a drunkard. Sdrowski, who had incurred their anger by a work written against them, and whose learning was not excelled by the most erudite of their order, they accused of theft, and of having once acted the part of a hangman. Adding ridicule to calumny, they strove in every way to hold up Protestant sermons and assemblies to laughter. If a Synod convened, there was sure to appear, in no long time, a letter from the devil, addressed to the members of court, thanking them for their zeal, and instructing them, in familiar and loving phrase, how to do their work and his. Did a minister marry, straightway he was complimented with an epithalamium from the ready pen of some Jesuit scribe. Did a Protestant pastor die, before a few days had passed by, the leading members of his flock were favored with letters from their deceased minister, duly dated from Pandemonium. These effusions were composed generally in doggerel verse, but they were barbed with a venomous wit and a coarse humor. The multitude read, laughed, and believed. The calumnies, it is true, were refitted by those at whom they were levelled; but that signified little, the falsehood was repeated again and again, till at last, by dint of perseverance and audacity, the Protestants and their worship were brought into general hatred and contempt. [2]

The defection of the sons of Radziwill, the zealous Reformer of whom we have previously made mention, was a great blow to the Protestantism of Poland. That family became the chief support, after the crown, of the Papal reaction in the Polish dominions. Not only were their influence and wealth freely employed for the spread of the Jesuits, but all the Protestant churches and schools which their father had built on his estates were made over to the Church of Rome. The example of the Radziwills was followed by many of the Lithuanian nobles, who returned within the Roman pale, bringing with them not only the edifices on their lands formerly used in the Protestant service, but their tenants also, and expelling those who refused to conform.

By this time the populace had been sufficiently leavened with the spirit and principles of the Jesuits to be made their tool. Mob violence is commonly the first form that persecution assumes. It was so in Poland. The caves whence these popular tempests issued were the Jesuit colleges. The students inflamed the passions of the multitude, and the public peace was broken by tumult and outrage. Protestant worshipping assemblies began to be assailed and dispersed, Protestant churches to be wrecked, and Protestant libraries to be given to the flames. The churches of Cracow, of Vilna, and other towns were pillaged. Protestant cemeteries were violated, their monuments and tablets destroyed, the dead exhumed, and their remains scattered about. It was not possible at times to carry the Protestant dead to their graves. In June, 1578, the funeral procession of a Protestant lady was attacked in the streets of Cracow by the pupils of All-hallows College. Stones were thrown, the attendants were driven away, the body was torn from the coffin, and after being dragged through the streets it was thrown into the Vistula. Rarely indeed did the authorities interfere; and when it did happen that punishment followed these misdeeds, the infliction fell on the wretched tools, and the guiltier instigators and ringleaders were suffered to escape. [3]

While the Jesuits were smiting the Protestant ministers and members with the arm of the mob, they were bowing the knee in adulation and flattery before the Protestant nobles and gentry. In the saloons of the great, the same men who sowed from their chairs the principles of sedition and tumult, or vented in doggerel rhyme the odious calumny, were transformed into paragons of mildness and inoffensiveness. Oh, how they loved order, abominated coarseness, and anathematised all uncharitableness and violence! Having gained access

into Protestant families of rank by their winning manners, their showy accomplishments, and sometimes by important services, they strove by every means — by argument, by wit, by insinuation — to convert them to the Roman faith; if they failed to pervert the entire family they generally succeeded with one or more of its members. Thus they established a foothold in the household, and had fatally broken the peace and confidence of the family. The anguish of the perverts for their parents, doomed as they believed to perdition, often so affected these parents as to induce them to follow their children into the Roman fold. Rome, as is well known, has made more victories by touching the heart than by convincing the reason.

But the main arm with which the Jesuits operated in Poland was the school. They had among them a few men of good talent and great erudition. At the beginning they were at pains to teach well, and to send forth from their seminaries accomplished Latin scholars, that so they might establish a reputation for efficient teaching, and spread their educational institutions over the kingdom. They were kind to their pupils, they gave their instructions without exacting any fee; and they were thus able to compete at great advantage with the Protestant schools, and not unfrequently did they succeed in extinguishing their rivals, and drafting the scholars into their own seminaries. Not only so: many Protestant parents, attracted by the high repute of the Jesuit schools, and the brilliant Latin scholars whom they sent forth from time to time, sent their sons to be educated in the institutions of the Fathers.

But the national mind did not grow, nor did the national literature flourish. This was the more remarkable from contrast with the brilliance of the era that had preceded the educational efforts of the Jesuits. The half-century during which the Protestant influence was the predominating one was "the Augustan age of Polish literature;" the half-century that followed, dating from the close of the sixteenth century, showed a marked and most melancholy decadence in every department of mental exertion. It was but too obvious that decrepitude had smitten the national intellect. The press sent forth scarcely a single work of merit; capable men were disappearing from professional life; Poland ceased to have statesmen fitted to counsel in the cabinet, or soldiers able to lead in the field. The sciences were neglected and the arts languished; and even the very language was becoming corrupt and feeble; its elegance and fire were sinking in the ashes of formalism and barbarism. Nor is it difficult to account for this. Without freedom there can be no vigour; but the Jesuits dared not leave the mind of their pupils at liberty. That the intellect should make full proof of its powers by ranging freely over all subjects, and investigating and discussing unfettered all questions, was what the Jesuits could not allow, well knowing that such freedom would overthrow their own authority. They led about the mind in chains as men do wild beasts, of whom they fear that should they slip their fetters, they would turn and rend them. The art they studied was not how to educate, but how not to educate. They intrigued to shut up the Protestant schools, and when they had succeeded, they collected the youth into their own, that they might keep them out of the way of that most dangerous of all things, knowledge. They taught them words, not things. They shut the page of history, they barred the avenues of science and philosophy, and they drilled their pupils exclusively in the subtleties of a scholastic theology. Is it wonderful that the eye kept perpetually poring on such objects should at last lose its power of vision; that the intellect confined to food like this should pine and die; and that the foot-prints of Poland ceased to be visible in the fields of literature, in the world of commerce, and on the arena of politics? The men who had taken in hand to educate the nation, taught it to forget all that other men strive to remember, and to remember all that other men strive to forget; in short, the education given to Poland by the Jesuits was a most ingenious and successful plan of teaching them not how to think right, but how to think wrong; not how to reason out truth, but how to reason out falsehood; not how to cast away prejudice, break the shackles of authority, and rise to the independence and noble freedom of a rational being, but how to cleave to error, hug one's fetters, hoot at the light, and yet to be all the while filled with a proud conceit that this darkness is not darkness, but light; and this folly not folly, but wisdom. Thus metamorphosed this once noble nation came forth from the schools of the Jesuits, the light of their eye quenched, and the strength of their arm dried up, to find that they were no longer able to keep their place in the struggles of the world. They were put aside, they were split up, they were trampled down, and at last they perished as a nation; and yet their remains were not put into the sepulcher, but were left lying on the face of Europe, a melancholy monument of what nations become when they take the Jesuit for their schoolmaster.

This estimate of Jesuit teaching is not more severe than that which Popish authors themselves have expressed. Their system was admirably described by Broscius, a zealous Roman Catholic clergyman, professor in the University of Cracow, and one of the most learned men of his time, in a work published originally in Polish, in the beginning of the seventeenth century. He says: "The Jesuits teach children the grammar of Alvar, [4] which it is very difficult to understand and to learn; and much time is spent at it. This they do for many reasons:

first, that by keeping the child a long time in the school they may receive in gifts from the parents of the children, whom they pretend gratuitously to educate, much more than they would have got had there been a regular payment; second, that by keeping the children a long while in the school they may become well acquainted with their minds; third, that they may train the boy for their own plans, and for their own purposes; fourth, that in case the friends of the boy wish to have him from them, they may have a pretense for keeping him, saying, give him time at least to learn grammar, which is the foundation of every other knowledge; fifth, they want to keep boys at school till the age of manhood, that they may engage for their order those who show most talent or expect large inheritances; but when an individual neither possesses talents nor has any expectations, they will not retain him." [5]

Sigismund III., in whose reign the Jesuits had become firmly rooted in Poland, died in 1632, and was succeeded by his eldest son Vladislav IV. Vladislav hated the disciples of Loyola as much as his father had loved and courted them, and he strove to the utmost of his power to counteract the evil effects of his father's partiality for the order. He restrained the persecution by mob riots; he was able, in some instances, to visit with punishment the ringleaders in the burning down of Protestant churches and schools; but that spirit of intolerance and bigotry which was now diffused throughout the nation, and in which, with few exceptions, noble and peasant shared alike, he could not lay; and when he went to his grave, those bitter hatreds and evil passions which had been engendered during his father's long occupancy of the throne, and only slightly repressed during his own short reign, broke out afresh in all their violence.

Vladislav was succeeded by his brother John Casimir. Casimir was a member of the Society of Jesus, and had attained the dignity of the Roman purple; but when his brother's death opened his way to the throne, the Pope relieved him from his vows as a Jesuit. The heart of the Jesuit remained within him, though his vow to the order had been dissolved. Nevertheless, it is but justice to say that Casimir was less bigoted, and less the tool of Rome, than his father Sigismund had been. Still it was vain to hope that under such a monarch the prospects of the Protestants would be materially improved, or the tide of Popish reaction stemmed. Scarcely had this disciple of Loyola ascended the throne than those political tempests began, which continued at short intervals to burst over Poland, till at length the nation was destroyed. The first calamity that befell the unhappy country was a terrible revolt of the Cossacks of the Ukraine. The insurgent Cossacks were joined by crowds of peasants belonging to the Greek Church, whose passions had been roused by a recent attempt of the Polish bishops to compel them to enter the Communion of Rome. Poland now began to feel what it was to have her soul chilled and her bonds loosened by the touch of the Jesuit. If the insurrection did not end in the dethronement of the monarch, it was owing not to the valor of his troops, or the patriotism of his nobles, but to the compassion or remorse of the rebels, who stopped short in their victorious career when the king was in their power, and the nation had been brought to the brink of ruin.

The cloud which had threatened the kingdom with destruction rolled away to the half-civilised regions whence it had so suddenly issued; but hardly was it gone when it was again seen to gather, and to advance against the unhappy kingdom. The perfidy of the Romish bishops had brought this second calamity upon Poland. The Archbishop of Kioff, Metropolitan of the Greek Church of Poland, had acted as mediator between the rebellious Cossacks and the king, and mainly through the archbishop's friendly offices had that peace been effected, which rescued from imminent peril the throne and life of Casimir. One of the conditions of the Pacification was that the archbishop should have a seat in the Senate; but when the day came, and the Eastern prelate entered the hall to take his place among the senators, the Roman Catholic bishops rose in a body and left the Senate-house, saying that they never would sit with a schismatic. The Archbishop of Kioff had lifted Casimir's throne out of the dust, and now he had his services repaid with insult.

The warlike Cossacks held themselves affronted in the indignity done their spiritual chief; and hence the second invasion of the kingdom. This time the insurgents were defeated, but that only brought greater evils upon the country. The Cossacks threw themselves into the arms of the Czar of Muscovy. He espoused their quarrel, feeling, doubtless, that his honor also was involved in the disgrace put upon a high dignitary of his Church, and he descended on Poland with an immense army. At the same time, Charles Gustavus of Sweden, taking advantage of the discontent which prevailed against the Polish monarch Casimir, entered the kingdom with a chosen body of troops; and such were his own talents as a leader, and such the discipline and valor of his army, that in a short time the principal part of Poland was in his possession. Casimir had, meanwhile, sought refuge in Silesia. The crown was offered to the valorous and magnanimous Charles Gustavus, the nobles only craving that before assuming it he should permit a Diet to assemble and formally vote it to him.

Had Gustavus ascended the throne of Poland, it is probable that the Jesuits would have been driven out, that the Protestant spirit would have been reinvigorated, and that Poland, built up into a powerful

kingdom, would have proved a protecting wall to the south and west of Europe against the barbaric masses of the north; but this hope, with all that it implied, was dispelled by the reply of Charles Gustavus. "It did not need," he said, "that the Diet should elect him king, seeing he was aready master of the country by his sword." The self-love of the Poles was wounded; the war was renewed; and, after a great struggle, a peace was concluded in 1660, under the joint mediation and guarantee of England, France, and Holland. John Casimir returned to resume his reign over a country bleeding from the swords of two armies. The Cossacks had exercised an indiscriminate vengeance: the Popish cathedral and the Protestant church had alike been given to the flames, and Protestants and Papists had been equal sufferers in the calamities of the war.

The first act of the monarch, after his return, was to place his kingdom under the special protection of the "Blessed Virgin." To make himself and his dominions the more worthy of so august a suzerainty,. he registered on the occasion two vows, both. well-pleasing, as he judged, to his celestial patroness. Casimir promised in the first to redress the grievances of the lower orders, and in the second to convert the heretics — in other words, to persecute the Protestants. The first vow it was not even attempted to fulfill. All the efforts of the sovereign, therefore, were given to the second.

But the shield of England and Holland was at that time extended over the Protestants of Poland, who were still numerous, and had amongst them some influential families; the monarch's efforts were, in consequence, restricted meanwhile to the conversion of the Socinians, who were numerous in his kingdom. They were offered the alternative of return to the Roman Church or exile. They seriously proposed to meet the prelates of the Roman hierarchy in conference, and convince them that there was no fundamental difference between their tenets and the dogmas of the Roman Church. [6] The conference was declined, and the Socinians, with great hardship and loss, were driven out of the kingdom. But the persecution did not stop there. England, with Charles II. on her throne, grew cold in the cause of the Polish Protestants. In the treaty of the peace of 1660, the rights of all religious Confessions in Poland had been secured; but. the guaranteeing Powers soon ceased to enforce the treaty, the Polish Government paid but small respect to it, persecution in the form of mob violence was still continued; and when the reign of John Casimir, which had been fatal to the Protestants throughout, came to an end, it was found that their ranks were broken up, that all the great families who had belonged to their communion were extinct or had passed into the Church of Rome, that their sanctuaries were mostly in ashes, their congregations all dispersed, and their cause hopeless. [7]

There followed a succession of reigns which only furnished evidence how weak the throne had become, and how powerful the Jesuits and the Roman hierarchy had grown. Religious equality was still the law of Poland, and each new sovereign swore, at his coronation, to maintain the rights of the anti-Romanists, but the transaction was deemed a mere fiction, and the king, however much disposed, had not the power to filfil his oath. The Jesuits and the bishops were in this matter above the law, and the sovereign's tribunals could not enforce their own edicts. 'What the law called rights the clergy stigmatised as abuses, and demanded that they should be abolished. In 1732 a law was passed excluding from all public offices those who were not of the communion of the Church of Rome. [8]

The public service was thus deprived of whatever activity and enlightenment of mind yet existed in Poland. The country had no need of this additional stimulus: it was already pursuing fast enough the road to ruin. For a century, one disaster after another had devastated its soil and people. Its limits had been curtailed by the loss of several provinces; its population had been diminished by the emigration of thousands of Protestants; its resources had been drained by its efforts to quell revolt within and ward off invasion from without; its intelligence had been obscured, and well-nigh extinguished, by those who claimed the exclusive right to instruct its youth; for in that land it was a greater misfortune to be educated than to grow up untaught. Overspread by torpor, Poland gave no signs of life save such as indicate paralysis. Placed under foreign tutelage, and sunk in dependence and helplessness, if she was cared for by her powerful protectors, it was as men care for a once noble palace which they have no thought of rebuilding, but from whose fallen masses they hope to extract a column or a topstone that may help to enlarge and embellish their own dwelling.

Justice requires that we should state, before dismissing this part of our subject, with its many solemn lessons, that though the fall of Protestantism in Poland, and the consequent ruin of the Polish State, was mainly the work of the Jesuits, other causes co-operated, though ill a less degree. The Protestant body in Poland, from the first, was parted into three Confessions: the Genevan in Lithuania, the Bohemian in Great Poland, and the Lutheran in those towns that were inhabited by a population of German descent. This was a source of weakness, and this weakness was aggravated by the ill-will borne by the Lutheran Protestants to the adherents of the other two Confessions. The evil was cured, it was thought, by the Union of Sandomir; but Lutheran exclusiveness and intolerance, after a few years, again broke up the united Church, and deprived the Protestant cause of the strength which a common center always gives. The short lives of John Alasco and Prince Radziwill are also

to be reckoned among the causes which contributed to the failure of the Reform movement in Poland. Had their labors been prolonged, a deeper seat would have been given to Protestant truth in the general population, and the throne might have been gained to the Reformation. The Christian chivalry and patriotism with which the great nobles placed themselves at the head of the movement are worthy of all praise, but the people must ever be the mainstay of a religious Reformation, and the great landowners in Poland did not, we fear, take this fact sufficiently into account, or bestow the requisite pains in imbuing their tenantry with great Scriptural principles: and hence the comparative ease with which the people were again transferred into the Roman fold. But an influence yet more hostile to the triumph of Protestantism in Poland was the rise and rapid diffusion of Socinian views. These sprang up in the bosom of the Genevan Confession, and inflicted a blight on the powerful Protestant Churches of Lithuania.

That blight very soon overspread the whole land; and the green tree of Protestantism began to be touched with the sere of decay. The Socinian was followed, as we have seen, by the Jesuit. A yet deeper desolation gathered on his track. Decay became rottenness, and blight deepened into death; but Protestantism did not perish alone. The throne, the country, the people, all went down with it in a catastrophe so awful that no one could have effected it but the Jesuit.


Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, September 20th, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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