CHAPTER XXIV

EFFORTS AT CIVIL PERSECUTION OF THE ANTITRINITARIANS.

DEVELOPMENT OF THEIR DOCTRINE OF THE PERSON OF CHRIST

WHILE THE DEVELOPMENTS spoken of in the previous chapter were taking place in the bosom of the Minor Church, tending to promote its inner harmony and strength, in other quarters hostile measures were being considered designed to bring about its destruction. The situation among the Calvinists had become desperate, since their most able and competent leaders had for the most part adhered to the Minor Church; and Tretius and others were writing to Switzerland pessimistic letters about their prospects.1 There seemed little hope for their cause until the ‘Arians’ were put out of competition with them. They therefore entered upon a deliberate campaign of accusation. The ‘Arians’ were blasphemers or atheists; they were revolutionary Anabaptists; their teachings undermined social order and loyalty to the State. There was scarcely any reproach, religious, moral or political that was not launched against them; and when all had been done to poison the public mind and to arouse popular prejudice, they resorted to means of political persecution.

The Diet at Lublin in 1566 furnished them an opportunity. A large antitrinitarian Anabaptist congregation had arisen here, and held its worship under the very walls of the castle. Its patrons, besides being unorthodox in both their religious and their social doctrines, were numerous and wealthy, and its members were confident and aggressive. They took advantage of the presence of a large number of people during the session of the Diet to carry on a vigorous propaganda for their doctrines, holding many meetings in town and in the suburbs. They were reported to declare that Christians need recognize only Christ as their King, and to be opposed to the power of the State.2 Whether these rumors were true or not, they were believed by many, aroused intense feeling, and led to a wide-spread demand that those holding such views should be outlawed as dangerous to the State. The Calvinists and Lutherans eagerly seized upon this ground for attack on their common enemy, and urged the Catholics to join them in demanding of the King an edict of expulsion from the country. The King was inclined to comply, and the draft of an edict was preparing when the Bishops unexpectedly demurred, as they had done at Parczów two years before for like reason, on the ground that though such a decree might ruin the ‘Arians,’ it would be taken as confirming the other Protestants. Strong opposition also arose in the Chamber of Deputies, where many of the nobles saw that their own rights might eventually be jeopardized by the proposed measure, while yet others pleaded for unimpaired freedom of conscience. Meantime Ruggieri, the new papal Nuncio, arrived and threw his weight together with that of Cardinal Hosius and the Primate against the proposed action. The result was that no decree was enacted, and the laws remained in statu quo.3

Though the proposed decree fell to the ground and no one suffered banishment, the members of the Minor Church had been thoroughly alarmed. While the subject was so long pending in the Diet, much hostile feeling was aroused against Filipowski as the most prominent layman in the Minor Church, and against Schomann as the most active debater among its ministers, and they both felt bound for a time to leave the city for their personal safety. Indeed, from this time on, the ministers, in order to avoid exciting persecution, left off accompanying their patrons to the Diets, where they had hitherto used to seize the chance to spread their views; and some of the more timid patrons were frightened into giving up their chaplains altogether. At this time also large numbers of the Antitrinitarians of Poland removed to Lithuania, where Kiszka offered them room on his wide domains.4

After their narrow escape at Lublin, the Minor Church seems to have thought it safest for the present to attract little attention to itself until hostility had somewhat subsided; but at Krakow Filipowski, from the high position that he held in the State, as well as from his prominence in the church, could not escape notice. The Calvinists were especially embittered that one that had formerly been their patron should now be giving his active and powerful support to heretics, and he thus became the especial object of expressions of ill-will of unprecedented bitterness. The enmity already felt on religious grounds was aggravated by a family quarrel because of his marriage with the widow of one of the Myszkowskis, very wealthy and noble Calvinists, whose brother Stanislas was Palatine of Krakow, and in his jurisdiction surpassed all others in his fierce hatred of the Anabaptists. There were also those that envied him his office of provincial Treasurer. A malicious plot was therefore formed against him, by which he was made to seem disloyal to the King and concerned in a conspiracy against him. His enemies were on the point of succeeding in their infamous design, when two or three faithful friends who had the ear of the King outwitted them and demonstrated his innocence. Even then the Calvinist minister at Krakow allowed himself publicly to spread a scandalous rumor connecting him with Anabaptist practices of a sensational sort. 5

All this reacted upon the oppressed congregation of the Minor Church at Krakow, strongly Anabaptist as it was; and its minister, Gregory Paulus, aware of the bitter hatred of the Palatine against him, and fearing to fall into his hands, again sought safety in flight, 6 and did not return. He seems to have remained in hiding for a year or two, but at length in 1569 he found refuge and a further field of influence in the newly-founded colony at Ráków, where a new Anabaptist congregation gathered about him. His little flock at Krakow scattered like sheep before wolves, some removing into the country, but Matthias Albin, a neighboring minister at Iwanowice, got them together again; and under the conciliatory policy of Paulus’s successor, Albert Koscienski and especially by the influence of the Superintendent, Lutomirski, the hatred of the Calvinists was greatly moderated. 7

The long and conservative pastorate of Georg Schomann, 1573—’86, seems to have been marked by internal peace and growth, and the Catechism published at this time in the name of the church8 must have done not a little to soften the former animosity. This Catechism forms a notable landmark in the development of Unitarian doctrine, being the earliest attempt of the Antitrinitarians in Poland to state their position in detai1. 9 It was designed to correct the existing prejudice against ‘the little and afflicted company of those in Poland who were known by the disreputable and hated name of Anabaptists.’ 10 In the form of simple question and answer it treats the subjects of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, Justification, Church Discipline, Prayer, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper; and it is followed by a manual of directions and prayers to be used in daily family worship. All the teachings are supported by plain texts of Scripture. The distinctive doctrines are that God is one; that the Son is subject to the Father, is a man, and was made Christ and Lord; that his offices are those of Prophet, Priest, and King; that he is to be adored and invoked; that due obedience is to be given to civil authorities; and that baptism is by immersion. The Catechism is free from the spirit of religious controversy, and it contains no radical social doctrines.

During Schomann’s ministry the Catholic opposition to the Protestants at Krakow grew steadily more intense. It was chiefly aimed at the Calvinists, as being the more numerous and the more aggressive, but the Anabaptist congregation also felt its force. Nearly every year on Ascension Day the students at the University would break loose in a riot, under a long-standing usage by which they were permitted as zealous Catholics to restrain the growing heresy by plundering the property of heretics, 11 and little serious effort was made to prevent or punish them. Thrice in seventeen years the Calvinist place of worship was destroyed by a wild mob. In 1586 Schomann was promoted to the important church at Luclawice, and two years later his old meeting-place at Krakow 12 was sacked by a mob. The place was restored, but in the great riot of Ascension Day, May 23, 1591, both the Calvinist church and the meeting-place of the ‘Arians’ were destroyed, 13 and for some time no further attempt was made to hold public Protestant worship at Krakow. The members of the congregation of the Minor Church dispersed, and presumably the most devoted of them went to join the now flourishing Anabaptist community at Rakow, which had already come to be recognized as the centre of this movement in Poland.

From the account of the long persecution of the Anabaptist congregations up to this final point in the history of the Kráków congregation, we must now turn back more than a score of years to trace the inner development of thought in the antitrinitarian congregations as a body. After the vexed question of baptism had at Wegrow been left free from constraint, little further trouble was experienced in connection with that subject. As tradition loosened its hold, the practice of infant baptism rapidly fell into disuse, though the practice of baptizing adults did not at once establish itself. Indeed, at the synod of Pelsznica in 1568, there was no little mirth at the expense of the brethren in Little Poland who for several years had had a good deal to say about immersion, while thus far none of them had followed the example of the disciples of Czechowicz in Kujawy and submitted to it, though they now promised faithfully to introduce it.14 Other questions, however, now claimed the attention of the Minor Church. While the Antitrinitarians had totally rejected the Athanasian doctrine of the Trinity as quite unsupported by Scripture, yet in searching for a new expression of their beliefs about God and Christ they had not as yet reached any generally satisfactory doctrine. In the midst of this uncertainty as to what they believed, not a few were beginning to waver, and to return to the Reformed or even the Catholic Church. 15 As soon, therefore, as their churches had somewhat recovered from the alarm that the Diet of Lublin had caused in them, their synods undertook to settle more carefully their beliefs as to the person of Christ and his relation to the Father.

The first stage in the development of their thought on this subject had proved to be but a temporary and unsatisfactory one. 16 Following the general line of thought of the Italians Gribaldi, Gentile and Alciati, Paulus in his Tabula de Trinitate 17 held that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three divine beings, equally eternal; but he did not make them one except in all having one nature. Thus the unity of the Divine Being was sacrificed, and the resulting doctrine was virtually tritheism. Hence the Catholics gave his followers the name Trinitarii, thereby meaning worshipers of the three, rather than of the three in one. This first attempt to improve upon the alleged Sabellianism of the traditional doctrine was soon abandoned as unsuccessful, for it lasted hardly longer than from 1562 to 1565, after which those that had held it either went back to the orthodox view, or else went on to depart yet further from it.

Belief in the Holy Spirit as the third person in a Trinity of divine beings was indeed early abandoned as unscriptural; and the Spirit was instead held to be not a person but only a divine gift or power of God working in the hearts of men. But among those that had thus given up belief in any sort of Trinity, a new conflict for supremacy had now to be waged between two competing views of the person of Christ. There were some that still ascribed to Christ a certain deity, as having existed before the creation of the world, though even as yet subordinate in rank to the Father. Those holding this rank were consequently called Ditheists by the orthodox,18 and although they did not hold with the ancient Arians that Christ was a created being, they were also called Arians. These were most numerous in Lithuania, and also at Lublin under the leadership of Czechowicz, and they long persisted in the Piedmont district of Little Poland under Stanislas Farnowski, an able and learned theologian who had a few years before achieved notoriety as a heretic at Heidelberg, where he had championed antitrinitarian opinions, and had been so presumptuous as to challenge all the professors to debate the question with him, whence he was required to leave the University.19 His followers were called Farnovians. They existed in steadily diminishing but ever unyielding numbers for nearly a half-century; but when Farnowski, the last Ditheist, died in 1615, his following soon dispersed. Some returned to the Reformed Church, while the rest went over to their opponents, the Unitarians. It was these latter whose doctrinal views were to survive in the movement whose history we are following, and who achieved the third and ultimate stage in the development of antitrinitarian theology. They denied outright the pre-existence of Christ, and hence any sort of deity in him, regarding him as strictly a human being, having only a human nature. It now remains to be seen how within a few years at this period of our history this view, under the moderate and wise leadership of its advocates, came to possess the field that the other groups had gradually yielded.

The Ditheists or Arians first came into open collision with those holding the unitarian view at a synod held at Lancut, 20 in the spring of 1567. Controversy on this point is said to have been first stirred up by Gonesius and Farnowski who, in defending the pre-existence of Christ, had said and written many severe things against their brethren who held the other view, putting upon them the names of ancient heretics. Four leading men from the Kráków congregation, and two ministers, having heard of what was to be done, came to the distant synod, though uninvited and not wanted. The peace-loving Filipowski presided, but the meeting was stormy, the ministers behaving in the debate worse than the laymen. The noble Ivan Karninski,2I however, became so angry at what he regarded as the blasphemies of the other party that he withdrew from the Antitrinitarians altogether, and henceforth became a violent Calvinist again; while Statorius, his early comrade in the antitrinitarian camp, shamelessly declared that he had never denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. 22 He died not long afterwards. On the other hand, Lutomirski, the Superintendent, who hitherto had long wavered in his views, now came over to the Unitarians. The visiting brethren from Krakow were, for whatever reason, excluded from participation in the deliberations. The debate grew violent, and when the judges saw it going too far they put an end to it, and in order to let heated minds grow cool they adjourned the synod until June 24, at Skrzynno, a town some seventy-five miles southwest of Warsaw. This done, the record reads as usual: that ‘all separated with love unimpaired, mutually promising that they would cultivate harmony and would observe moderation until the next synod.’

The synod at Skrzynno23  had the very large attendance of 110 nobles and ministers, from all parts of Poland and Lithuania, besides a crowd of residents from the immediate vicinity. Filipowski, who seems more clearly than any one else to have seen the danger to the whole reformed cause if the Protestants allowed themselves to be split up into sects, and was still hoping for union of all parties among them, had the invitation to the synod addressed not simply to the members of the Minor Church, but to ‘all that seek their own salvation and the glory of God.’ He was again unanimously chosen to preside — a token of the reliance that all placed upon his discretion, justice and moderation. Every precaution was taken to prevent angry disputes and to observe due restraint in the discussion, in which seven or eight speakers were chosen to represent each side. To mention only the leading speakers, the pre-existence of Christ was supported by Farnowski, Niemojewski, and Czechowicz; the opposite view by Schomann, Paulus, and Budny. Both sides rested their arguments solely on texts of Scripture which was explored with the most exhaustive thoroughness in search of proofs. The discussion lasted five days, and was dignified and orderly; but no agreement as to doctrine was found possible. The Unitarians were evidently strongly in the majority, and at last they declared to their opponents that they would acknowledge no one as Son of God and Savior of the world but the Christ of the gospel history. Farnowski on his part would agree to no compromise statement.

Filipowski then, with the unanimous consent of the synod and in its name, prepared a statement of the conclusions reached. It was very skilfully expressed in broad terms, so as to some extent to meet the wishes of both parties, yet without infringing conscience, and with a recommendation of generous mutual tolerance. It declared (briefly summarized) that the term Trinity is to be reverently retained, on condition that brotherly love is to continue as Christ commanded; that the brethren should bear with one another’s infirmities, and should on no account abuse one another; they might discuss their differences in writing, but without invective or condemning one another privately or in public; they might listen to one another’s prayers and sermons so far as these followed the traditional form, but if not, they might without offence do as conscience bid, even to leaving the place of worship. Likewise as to infant baptism and the Lord’s Supper the lead of conscience must be followed, with the fervent prayer that the ordinance may serve for the amendment of personal life, the glory of God, and mutual comfort; no one wishing to impose his faith upon another, since this is the gift of God; and until he sends his angels to separate the tares from the wheat they are not to exclude nor wound one another.

Having accepted this statement, the members of the synod, however differing in opinion, separated bearing no bitterness — except Farnowski, who proceeded henceforth to attack the other party in stinging writings; while the latter contented themselves with simply publishing an account of the whole proceedings with the arguments on both sides. Within the next year took place the so-called ‘agreement of Luclawice,’ whereby an important centre of the Arian movement, with a group of eight leading congregations, went over to the Unitarian camp.24 Meanwhile, Farnowski found a zealous partizan and new patron in Stanislas Mezyk, Starost of Sacz on the border of Hungary, withdrew from the Minor Church and removed thither, where he built up a flourishing congregation of his own, and later set up a press and established a famous school, and thus continued for many years to lead a scattered group of Arian churches, or Farnovians as his sect came to be called.25

Doctrinal differences in the Minor Church were not wholly settled even with the withdrawal of Farnowski and his followers from the rest. At a local synod meeting at Krakow in September of the same year (1567) 26 to take notice of some complaints against the doctrines being taught there by the new minister, Koscienski the delegates also took up a more serious question. The church at Lublin, which had been without a regular minister since Stanislas Paklepka (Paclesius) had died of the plague in 1565 (and which so remained until Czechowicz and Niemojewski came thither from Rakow in 1570, and devoted themselves to restoring order and building up a strong and influential congregation), was reported as being led astray by two ‘false prophets.’ One of these was Esaias of Moskow, a refugee Russian priest, a convert from the Greek Church. He had been infected by Valentine Krawiec, a wealthy merchant of Lublin, whose business often took him to Hungary. He had there imbibed the teachings of a ‘new Judaism’ which was then (as we shall see at length in the next division of our history) spreading in that country the view that Christ should not be invoked in prayer; that the seventh day should be observed as the sabbath; and that various other Jewish usages should be honored. These two were said to have led astray some in the Lublin church. The school there had removed to Belzyce and the church was moribund. The synod at Krakow tried to counteract the new errors through a long letter admonishing the brethren not to be led astray from true Christianity by these falsifiers of it.

This seems to have been the first emergence in the Polish churches of views that were for a time to cause a further division of the now dominant Unitarians, headed by Paulus and Schomann, and holding that though Christ had a purely human nature, yet he became at his baptism divine by adoption, and was therefore entitled to worship as a subordinate divine being; and on the other hand, the consistently radical wing, holding that Christ, being purely human, should not be worshiped at all. As the latter party were inclined to esteem the Old Testament and its teachings as of greater authority than the New, they were called Judaizers, or Semi-Judaizers; as they opposed the worship of Christ, they were called Non-adorants; and as their most influential leader was Simon Budny, they were also called Budnaeans. They had comparatively few adherents in Little Poland, but were very numerous in Lithuania. The contest for survival between these two wings was the last doctrinal controversy of any importance before the system of thought in the Minor Church was given shape by Faustus Socinus; but as it falls for the most part a little later than the period of which we have just been speaking, it will be considered in a later chapter.

Meanwhile, at the next synod at Pelsznica in October, 1568,27 controversy on the doctrinal matters previously discussed was already subsiding, and the debate ended as usual with expressions of mutual love and respect. On the other hand a new group of questions now appeared on the horizon, which were during the next thirty years or so to become very prominent in the life of the Minor Church, and to give it a marked distinction in Christian history, as a church many of whose leaders and members honestly and earnestly tried to put the literal moral and social teachings of Jesus into actual practice both in personal relations and in the discharge of their duties as citizens. The development of this phase too will claim our attention in the following chapter.

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