GROWTH OF LIBERAL THOUGHT IN THE
REFORMED CHURCH IN POLAND
NOT LONG AFTER Olesnicki had defied the authority of Rome and removed the images from the church and the monks from the monastery in his town of Pinczów (1550), he took steps to establish a school in the abandoned cloister; for education was then at a low ebb in Poland. The University at Krakow, poorly endowed and thoroughly scholastic in spirit, no longer attracted able scholars to its faculty, nor could it long hold active-minded students; while the numerous local schools had such inferior teachers that the sons of the nobility were forced to resort to foreign lands for a satisfactory education. Especially was this the case with those that favored the Reformation.1 Hence, not only for the education of the young nobles, but also for the training of their own ministers, it became a matter of much importance to them to have schools of their own to take the place of those of the Church on which they had hitherto depended. 2 Thus a gymnasium was established at Pinczow as early as 1551; and as soon as the Reformed Church had completed its own organization its development was rapid and its fame spread. Pinczow became a centre of learning, and religious exiles from Italy, taking advantage of the generous privileges offered those that were suffering for conscience’ sake,3 flocked thither in such numbers that an Italian church was ere long organized, with Giorgio Negri as its minister. 4 It was here that the scholars gathered who made the first Protestant translation of the Bible into Polish, here that the first Protestant press in Poland was set up in 1558, and here that the early synods of the Reformed Church were most often held. Thus Pinczow, besides being for some twenty years the metropolis of the Polish Reformation, presently came to be called ‘the Sarmatian Athens.5
Not long after his return to Poland, Lismanino wrote Calvin urging him as soon as possible to send Peter Statorius to assist in the work of the new school. 6 Statorius was a zealous French Protestant of marked ability, who had been a pupil of Beza at Lausanne, and was well known to Lismanino at Zurich. He arrived in Poland later in the year, going first to Krakow as minister, and not long afterwards to Pinczow as assistant teacher in the new gymnasium. Results were soon apparent, and the growth of the school was so striking as to alarm the Catholics, so that in two successive years their synods demanded of the King to close it.7 A second French scholar was added to its teachers in 1558, in the person of Jean Thénaud of Bourges, and Statorius soon set about reforming the plan of the school, upon the model of that at Lausanne.8 It thus became the first humanistic gymnasium in Poland, and its fame spread abroad. Statorius, who in due time acquired so fluent a knowledge of the language that he became one of the translators of the Bible into Polish,9 and even published the first Polish grammar, 10 was made Rector of the school in 1561, and gave his name a Polish turn as Stojenski (Stoinski — Stoinius).
The Pinczów school existed for about twenty years, and under Statorius’s influence became the first ‘Arian’ school in Poland, while Pinczów itself was for a time the focus of the antitrinitarian movement in the Reformed Church. Statorius is said to have been already secretly a follower of Servetus when he came to Poland, and to have brought Servetus’s works with him, 11 though some time elapsed before heresy was suspected of him; but at the Pinczow synod in September, 1559, he was by some accused of opposing the invocation of the Holy Spirit. 12 He replied that he had only opposed the order of the prayers, in which it was customary at the opening of public worship to invoke the Holy Spirit before the Father, in the hymn, Veni, Creator Spiritus. To clear himself he declared that he had not opposed the divinity of the Holy Spirit, that he held that the three persons of the Trinity ought to be equally worshiped, and that he detested all Arian or Servetian heresy as blasphemy. Two months later, however, there was presented to the synod at Pinczów an unsigned letter from one of the nobles, Remigjan Chelmski (supposedly inspired by Statorius with whom he was intimate), calling the worship of the Holy Spirit in doubt. 13 This disturbed many, and the Synod’s reply did not satisfy the writer. Statorius was instructed to answer him as the spirit moved, and did so in evasive terms;14 but being now promoted to be Rector of the Pinczow school, he not only broached his view in private to Chelmski, but even taught in the school that invocation of the Holy Spirit is idolatrous, and totally unwarranted by Scripture.
A discussion on the subject ensued between Statorius and some of the ministers, 15 in which he argued with great learning and eloquence, and at much length, that the Holy Spirit is not a third person in the Deity, nor God, but a power and gift of God which he awakens in the hearts of the faithful, dividing to each one severally even as he will. By his arguments he persuaded a good many, who even surpassed him in zeal for the new view, which however, as we have seen, had already been set forth a half-century before by the Catholic Cardinal Hugo.16 Statorius, however, showed himself to be either of unstable convictions or else unfaithful in his acknowledgment of them. Under the pressure of repeated appeals from his old teacher Beza to return to the true faith, 17 and faced by fear that enemies might deprive him of his employment, in a long discussion of the subject at a synod at Lancut in 1567 he changed sides and denied ever having taught such doctrines, though his old pupil Alexius Rodecki who was present contradicted him to his face. In view of the repeated fickleness that we have recorded, the contemporary historian Budzinski branded him as a Proteus, 18 and relates that not long afterwards he died. 19
Despite his recantation of the views he had formerly urged, the seed that Statorius had sowed could not be recalled, and contributed not a little toward undermining the doctrine of the Trinity in the Reformed Church. More powerful and lasting factors in this development, however, came from another quarter, and had already begun to operate. The development we are now to trace heads back to Francesco Stancaro, whom Wotschke calls ‘the most disagreeable theologian known to history’; 20 a man of great learning and attractive eloquence, but withal ambitious, self-conceited, arrogant, aggressive, quarrelsome, intolerant, insolent, abusive, violent, obstinate. Soon after being, as we have al ready seen, banished from Poland by royal decree late in 1550, he repaired to Prussia, where under the patronage of the Protestant Duke Albrecht he became Professor of Hebrew at the new Protestant University of Konigsberg. A sharp controversy was already in progress with Professor Osiander over Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith, and the Duke invited him to assist in composing it. He sadly mistook his man, for Stancaro plunged into the matter with such violent partisanship that within less than three months he was obliged to leave the city. 21 The greater part of the next two years he spent in various places in Germany, by controversy everywhere making himself offensive. Then, as the King’s edict against him had now been annulled, he returned to his old friends among the nobles of Little Poland. His efforts here to promote the Reformation now met with little success, and after yet another year he went late in 1554 to Hungary. Here again he fell into doctrinal quarrels, in which his maligning of Melanchthon, 22 whom he called ‘the Arian of the North,’ gave great offence, so that he was forced to move on to Transylvania. At Kolozsvár he promptly fell out with the ministers of the city and was excluded from their synod; at Hermannstadt he broke his promise to keep the peace and had to leave town; wherever he went he raised a storm in the churches, and finally after nearly five years of constant quarreling, his patron having died, he came to Poland for the third time in May, 1559, and at once began to stir up dissension in the churches which Laski was just getting fairly organized. 23
By this time his attitude on theological questions had become almost pathological. His hatred of Melanchthon passed all bounds, and he published a little tract in which he flatly said that it was evident that the doctrine of Melanchthon, and of his own recent adversaries in Transylvania, about the Son of God, was Arian. 24 The ministers from Laski down, most of whom had been Melanchthon’s pupils at Wittenberg, were scandalized, all copies of the tract that could be found were burned, and the printer was called to account. Laski and most of the ministers and the nobles in the church opposed him, while he in turn fiercely maligned them. Hence a synod was convened at Pinczow (1559) to sit in judgment on Stancaro and his doctrine, and Lismanino was directed to draw up a confession on the subject, to be published in the name of the Synod. Revision and correction of this confession was Laski’s last work before his death. Some of the younger partisans of Stancaro complained that he had been unfairly treated, and he himself demanded a public debate on the subject. Though this was refused, he was allowed to defend his view before a congregation in the Pinczow church. 25 This he did with intolerable insolence and bitterness, calling all that disagreed with him Arians, while they in turn accused him of Sabellianism.
The particular doctrine which had by now become a fixation with Stancaro concerned the mediatorial office of Christ. 26 In the attempt to interpret the scripture texts on this subject, 27 in connection with the orthodox doctrine of the two natures in the person of Christ, the teaching generally accepted was that as Mediator between God and man, Christ acted in both natures. Stancaro, however, held that it would be absurd to say that Christ mediated with himself, and that since a mediator must always be subordinate to the one with whom he mediates, Christ could not be Mediator in his divine nature without being inferior to the Father. 28 He insisted therefore that Christ could be Mediator only in his human nature; and declared that the generally accepted doctrine involved an Arian view of Christ.
With Laski’s firm hand now removed, the schism widened; and although Stancaro’s doctrine had been consistently disapproved by synods at Pinczow in 1559, his followers continued to agitate the matter and to disturb the synods with it during the two years following, though with no change of result. The issue of the whole controversy was that the synod at length voted to sever all relations with him, to burn his writings, and to remove from office in the churches all the ministers that followed him. 29 Meantime the synods solicited the aid of the Swiss theologians in combating the heresy that was working such havoc. Various letters from them were circulated, including two careful refutations by Calvin, sent in the name of the theologians at Geneva, 30 though Stancaro refused to believe that these were other than forgeries by his enemies. He restated his doctrine in a new work, which was refuted in turn by Simler of Zürich, 31 not to mention several other Reformed theologians who saw in Stancaro a dangerous enemy to the cause of the Reformation; while the Polish man of letters, Stanislaw Orzechowski (Orichovius), from having been an ardent Protestant now again become Catholic, turned his sharp pen against him in a famous work. 32 Nevertheless a considerable number of nobles and of the younger ministers, carried away by his eloquence and his skill in argument, and by his hostility to Arianism, took Stancaro’s part, and Modrzewski even wrote a book in his defence, though in it he appealed for harmony. 33 His disciples ministered to congregations in a dozen or more places, 34 and he and his family found refuge with the noble Stadnicki at Dubiecko in Red Russia. Here, as long as his patron livid, he continued to seek adherents, and he also conducted a gymnasium with five teachers and some 300 scholars, mostly young nobles. 35
Despite all the attacks made upon him, and his being in the later years of his life driven from pillar to post, Stancaro remained unyielding and defiant, even calling the Reformed Church worse than the Catholic. 36 That he had influence in high quarters may be judged from the fact that in 1569 at the Diet of Lublin Sigismund Augustus made him a Polish citizen with standing as a noble. 37 In his last important work 38 he defended the doctrine of the Trinity against the then rising tide of antitrinitarianism of Paulus and Gentile, which will soon claim our attention. At length his followers came to realize that the whole cause of the reformers was being weakened and distracted by a futile quarrel over a merely speculative doctrine of no religious value, which threatened to separate them from all the reformed churches in the West. At the synod of Krakow in 1567, as he would still yield nothing, they began to fall away from him; and when at the Union of Sandomir (Consensus Sendomiriensis) in 1570 the three Protestant confessions at length drew together, the last seven ministers of Stancaro’s little sect returned to the fold. Finally he himself, at the end of his life, after having disturbed the peace of the churches for nearly twenty years, renounced his doctrine and became reconciled to the church. He died in I570.39
The significance of Stancaro in the history of our movement does not lie in the fact that he was in any sense a pioneer of Antitrinitarianism, for he was an unwavering and passionate defender of the trinitarian doctrine throughout, insomuch that even the chief leaders of the Reformation were not orthodox enough to win his approval. It was rather that his view about the mediatorship of Christ was so extreme that those defending the traditional view him were led unwarily to lean toward a form of Tritheism. Calvin early anticipated this danger, and warned the brethren in Poland to assert mediation in both natures, lest in following Stancaro they find themselves asserting more Gods than one; 40 while Stancaro himself, writing to Calvin at the end of 1560, declared that Arians (meaning his Calvinistic opponents) in Poland were teaching that Father, Son and Holy Spirit were not one but three, as separate from one another as three different men, 41 and that the Son of God was subordinate to the Father.
So long as Laski lived he was able to hold Stancaro’s movement successfully in check, but after his death the defence of the faith fell to the less able and experienced hands of Lismanino, whose career with the Reformed Church had been disappointing. 42 Called to be its leader, with high expectations from his learning, experience and influence in high quarters, he found himself, upon returning from his long sojourn abroad, at once an excommunicate from the Church and an outlaw from the State; and it was more than a year before his friends succeeded by strenuous exertions in getting the King to annul his banishment so that he dared appear in public. Meantime Laski had returned, and had assumed leadership of the church with so much greater prestige that Lismanino was quite overshadowed. There was, moreover, a growing resentment among the ministers that so important a part in the Polish Reformation should be taken by foreign refugees, especially Italians, of whom many had flocked to Pinczów. 43 Lismanino therefore seemed to some almost superfluous, and when provision for his support was repeatedly pressed upon the synods, some of the nobles impatiently inquired by whose authority he had been invited to come at all. Although in order to do so he had incurred large personal expense, and had become seriously involved in debts, repayment was grudgingly voted and tardily made. 44 It was more than three years after his return to Poland before he was given any definite appointment in the church, with oversight of churches in the Pinczow district and of the Pinczow gymnasium, yet another before he was made assistant Superintendent, and over five years before the church voted him a definite stipend. 45 Meantime he was forced to suffer the humiliation of depending on the bounty of generous patrons among the nobility.
Lismanino could not but feel sorely wounded by such an ill return for all the sacrifices he had made for the cause, and he requested to be relieved of his office, that he might make provision for his personal needs. 46 But several critical situations now conspired to thrust him into the breach, where he could ill be spared. Hence though not well fitted, and not at all inclined, to the task, he took up the burden of the controversy with Stancaro. Whereas Stancaro held a doctrine of God that verged on Sabellianism, hardly recognizing any distinctive qualities in the three persons, but almost dissolving them in the divine Unity, Lismanino sought to avoid this error by emphasizing a real difference of the persons in God. Agreeing to Stancaro’s contention that mediation implies a sort of inferiority (as the Swiss theologians had been un willing to do), he undertook, while still adhering to the Nicene doc trine, and holding that the three persons were equal in rank, 47 to maintain on scriptural grounds (John xiv. 28) a certain pre-eminence of the Father. This in itself was not necessarily heretical, but Lismanino was not acute enough as a theologian to foresee that it might easily end in emphasizing the three persons more than the unity of the one God. This further development was to be promoted by influences of Italian origin.
For in 1558, at the very time when the controversy with Stancaro was at its height, Laelius Socinus and Biandrata had lately arrived in Poland from Switzerland, the former for the winter, the latter to stay. Lismanino had known Socinus on his first visit to Poland in 1551, when he is said to have been Lismanino’s guest and to have influenced him in favor of the Reformation, 48 and the acquaintance will have been renewed more recently at Zurich. Lismanino will also certainly have known Biandrata when they were both at Queen Bona’s court before the middle of the century, the one as her physician, the other as her confessor. Both Socinus and Biandrata were again now welcomed at court. Socinus had been warmly commended to Laski by Bullinger, and by Calvin to Radziwill,49 and in intimate conversation with Lismanino he may, with his customary caution, have fostered unorthodox views; while the influence of Biandrata on Lismanino is evident from a comparison of Biandrata’s already known opinions with those that Lismanino ere long espoused. Biandrata did not at first attempt any open propaganda, and he so well satisfied Laski and Lismanino of his substantial orthodoxy, and of his desire to be on good terms with Calvin, that Statorius wrote Calvin at Lismanino’s suggestion urging a reconciliation; and when after six months he had received no reply, he wrote a second time to the same effect. 50 Calvin’s opinion of Biandrata’s character and purposes, however, was not to be shaken, and he took offence at the suggestion, calling Biandrata a treacherous trouble-maker, a barbarian or rather a beast, and a dirty dog. 51 He had already written Lismanino to warn the brethren to beware of the monster, 52 though apparently to little purpose, for Vermigli reported to Calvin in the spring that Biandrata was said to have wormed his way into friendship with Lismanino, under the pretence of curing the chronic disease from which he had suffered from his youth; 53 and he urged that further warning be given him.
Meantime Biandrata was away in Transylvania for nearly a year, whither the King had requested him to go to attend his sister, the Queen Isabella, in what proved to be her last illness. She died at the end of the year, but he did not return to Poland until the spring of 1560. The influence and favor which his medical skill and his blameless conduct had won him survived his absence, however, and at the synod at Pinczów in May he was cordially received for his great practical experience, was invited to join in their counsels, and was also requested to go to Radziwill in Lithuania to solicit his aid for Lismanino. 54 At a large synod at Xiaz (Ksiaz) later in the year he and Lismanino took an influential part in settling the organization of the church, and were both appointed coadjutors to Cruciger, the Superintendent. Biandrata modestly declined the honor, as one whose duties he as a foreigner and an active physician could not well discharge, but the nobles persuaded him to accept it for the time being. 55 Calvin on his part was not idle. In August he issued a new edition of his Commentary on the Acts, with an enlarged dedication to Radziwill, in which he took occasion to attack Biandrata for being ‘as much worse than Stancaro as the error with which he is infected is more detestable, and as the poison that he cherishes in his heart is more carefully concealed.’56
At the synod at Pinczow at the beginning of 1561 the matter broke out into the open. A letter from Radziwill was read complaining that Calvin had been hasty and unjust in accusing Biandrata of being a Servetian. Biandrata challenged any accuser to come forward, demanded a public examination, presented a confession of faith that was unexceptionably orthodox, and expressed abhorrence of the doctrine of Servetus. He was then examined by a select committee, who found nothing amiss in him, and voted that both Calvin and Radziwill be written to, clearing Biandrata from any suspicion of being a Servetian.57 Cruciger therefore wrote Radziwill reporting what had been done, while Radziwill in turn wrote Calvin and Bullinger at length, 58 sending his personal messenger Martin Czechowicz, minister at Wilno, of whom we shall hear much in a later chapter. Radziwill, strongly vindicating Biandrata from suspicion, declared that his orthodoxy was approved by the churches, and asked Calvin to be reconciled to him. The ministers of Wilno added their testimony in his defence. 59 Calvin replied to all these appeals, but he remained unmoved. 60
Whether Biandrata now felt that he had become too much the storm centre of a controversy that bid fair to distract the churches as much as Stancaro’s had, or for some other reason, he reported to the synod of Wlodzislaw in September that he had lately resigned the office of Elder which he had reluctantly accepted a year before, and he asked for an honorable discharge; 61 but the nobles begged him to retain his office, and he continued to hold it as long as he remained in Poland. The centre of attack now shifted in another direction. A little book by Gentile had just made its appearance, 62 advocating what came dangerously near to being tritheism, and strongly attacking the Athanasian Creed. Fear of the spread of heresy was now intensified, and suspicion began to turn toward Lismanino, who as now the recognized theological leader of the church was trying to turn the edge of Stancaro’s doctrine, and whose intimacy with Biandrata was well known. A whispering campaign against him had already been noted and quieted at the Pinczow synod in January, and at the Wlodzislaw synod in September there was a rather sharp expostulation by one of the nobles against the writer of an anonymous letter intimating that Lismanino was tampering with the doctrine of the Trinity. 63 Hereupon Lismanino asked leave to read and explain a letter that he had lately written to his friend the noble Ivan Karniniski of Alexandrowice. 64 The letter was intended as a contribution to the Stancaro controversy, and sought to oppose his Sabellianism by setting forth the true doctrine held by the early Fathers, which, along with the equal deity of both, recognized a certain inferiority of the Son to the Father. Consideration of so grave a matter was postponed to a later meeting of the ministers and Elders, which was held at Krakow in December. In the discussion that followed, Biandrata spoke in conciliatory fashion, urging that the matter be considered in a patient and tolerant spirit, and not objecting to phrases in the creeds, provided they harmonized with Scripture. Lismanino also was willing for the present to tolerate unscriptural terms if they were not made compulsory and urged against conscience. While opinions differed, moderation prevailed, and it was unanimously voted that Lismanino compose his confession of faith and maintain his innocence. The proceedings of the synod were reported to Calvin and Bullinger. 65
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