THE MINOR CHURCH EXCLUDED FROM THE UNION OF PROTESTANTS. EFFORTS AT UNION WITH THE MORAVIAN BRETHREN
THE CONFERENCE between the two wings of the Reformed Church at Piotrków in 1565 was, as we have seen, largely due to the initiative of Filipowski who, with keen political foresight, saw the crucial importance at the present juncture of all the forces of reformation keeping a united front against the reviving Catholicism. Undiscouraged at the failure of this effort, he presented himself together with several other eminent men at a large gathering of Calvinists meeting in the hall of the Palatine at Krakow in 1568, where he was commissioned by the brethren of the Minor Church to speak on their behalf.1 His address was marked by mildness and a conciliatory spirit, and showed an earnest desire for union on any basis consistent with adherence to the authority of Scripture as supreme; but his eloquent appeal for peace and harmony fell on deaf ears, and was received only with angry and insulting language.
An unexpected result followed, however, in the impression made upon a distinguished churchman present. The celebrated Andreas Dudith (Dudicz), one of the most eminent figures of his generation, had been Catholic Bishop of three sees in succession, 2 had had a prominent part at the Council of Trent, and was the trusted Councilor of three Emperors, a man of profound learning, great eloquence, and unblemished character. 3 Having been sent by the Emperor Maximilian to Poland in 1565 as permanent ambassador to the Polish court, he there embraced Protestantism out of disgust at what he had seen of the inner workings of the Catholic Church at Trent, resigned his see, married a lady of the court, and became a Polish citizen. At Rome he was presently excommunicated and burnt in effigy. At Krakow he attended worship with the Calvinists, and Tretius as their leader made every endeavor through letters from the leading theologians in the west to influence him to join their movement. But when he observed the bitter and dogmatic spirit in which they met the friendly advances of the Minor Church, he gave his sympathy instead to the latter. Though he never formally became a member of the Minor Church, remaining to his death nominally a Lutheran, yet when he not long afterwards became proprietor of the town of Smigiel (Schmiegel) in Great Poland, he became patron of the antitrinitarian church there, for which he erected a house of worship and a school.4 The Calvinists were greatly disgusted.
Even yet Filipowski, unwearied, did not cease his efforts to bring the two wings of the church once more together upon some acceptable basis, even though they did not agree in details of doctrine. It was doubtless largely due to him, seconded by many on both sides who de sired union, that the synod at BeIzyce in March, 1569, 5 was attended not only by a large number of Unitarians, but also by an equally large number of Trinitarians, tritheists and ditheists, including both Sarnicki and Farnowski. The order of the day listed nearly two score topics for discussion. Some were doctrinal, yet more were social in their nature. Though discussion was had, the result was disappointing. The extant record breaks off incomplete, but it shows that opprobrious names were soon called, and that since the one side accepted only Scripture as authority, while the other insisted also upon the traditions of the Fathers and Councils, no agreement was to be expected. While for a good many years yet there were to be occasional half-hearted approaches toward healing the breach, yet this was the last attempt that showed the least promise of success; for within the next year two events took place that were profoundly to affect the future of both churches. In 1570 the three existing orthodox sects were to form at Sandomierz (Sandomir) a Protestant federation from which the Minor Church was deliberately and decisively excluded; and in 1569 came the foundation of Rakow, to which large numbers of Antitrinitarians were to flock from all quarters, and which was to become, after an initial period of chaos, the capital of a united and vigorously active church. Henceforth the two bodies were to develop separately, and the course of the history of the Minor Church will be a simpler one to follow. We have now to speak in turn of these two events.
When the King, by accepting the decrees of the Council of Trent at the Diet of Lublin in 1564, dispelled any lingering hope of a Polish national synod which should arrive at some form of united national church, it became more than ever clear to the Protestant sects that if they were to maintain their existence against a now aggressive Catholicism they must come together in some sort of union; and this feeling was confirmed when, by the Union of Lublin in 1569 Poland and Lithuania became united in one kingdom, the largest west of Russia. After several preliminary meetings, therefore, to prepare the way, representatives of the three older Protestant bodies — Calvinists, Lutherans, and Bohemian Brethren—gathered at Sandomierz in April, 1570,6 with a view to forming a national Protestant church, in the hope that it might acquire full legal status along with the Catholic Church, and have equal rights with it. Such a union had long since been advocated by Laski, and had been repeatedly talked of at various synods in the ten years since his death in 1560.
The synod that thus gathered attracted an attendance of several thousand, but the official delegates were only from the members of the three orthodox sects. Several ministers and lay members of the Minor Church also presented themselves, and there was even a debate on the doctrine of the Trinity between their spokesman Witrelin and the Calvinists Tretius and Thenaud;7 but they were not permitted to join in the general discussion nor to sign the resulting agreement. It was not easy even for the three churches to arrive at a common doctrinal basis of union, for the Lutherans insisted on keeping their Augsburg Confession, the Calvinists were committed to the Helvetic Confession of the Swiss churches which they had adopted in Polish translation in 1566, and the Bohemian Brethren were naturally attached to their own statement. The chief obstacle was difference as to the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Each of the three bodies, however, at last agreed to recognize the doctrines of the two others as scriptural, though the forming of a common body of doctrine was never accomplished. The Union of Sandomir (Consensus Sendomiriensis) was finally subscribed April 14, 1570,8 and the surviving remnant of Stancaro’s followers, seven in all, were then taken back into the church and included among the signers.
The Union, however, proved to be a disappointment. Two years later the King died without having given it legal recognition. Its chief purpose therefore was not accomplished; and though it was later repeatedly ratified by various synods, by the end of the century the Union began to break up, and by 1645 it had ceased to exist. So far as concerns the present history, however, the significance of the Union of Sandomir lies in the fact that, though tentative efforts continued to be made at intervals to have the Minor Church recognized as belonging to the whole body of Protestants, it was steadily treated henceforth as without the pale of common Christianity, and had more than ever to go its way alone. Thus at a period when the Protestant forces in Poland urgently needed the united support of every possible adherent, they deliberately lessened their strength by excluding from their ranks a vital and important contingent; blindly insisting, as the thing of first importance in religion, upon the acceptance of speculative dogmas, instead of tolerantly allowing for differences of belief so far as these were consistent with the practical end of cultivating Christian character in individuals and applying Christian principles to the life of society and the government of the State. Time brought its inevitable revenge. Protestantism in Poland had already reached its culmination in the period 1563—’65, and this was also the period when schism among its adherents began.
From this time on its strength steadily declined; and in 100 years from the Union of Sandomir its power in Poland was practically crushed. Thereafter it never had more than a feeble existence in Polish lands.
Excluded as they now were from fellowship with the other religious bodies in Poland, the Minor Church longed for sympathetic relations in other quarters; and the communities of Anabaptists in Moravia seemed to offer them the best promise. They had indeed already been somewhat influenced from this quarter through Gonesius and Czechowicz. There was not a little to draw them together. The Anabaptists had early won a reputation for greater strictness in church discipline, higher standards of personal morals, and more fervent piety than the other Protestants, and had a greater following among the common people.9 Less concerned than were the others to insist on the traditional dogmas of mediaeval Christianity, they were the more in earnest about reviving the practices of the Apostolic Church in living a simple life, avoiding luxury, worldly pleasures, display in dress, and extravagance in food and drink, and in practicing community of goods and regarding private property as a sin, while treating all members as brothers and sisters on the same level, with no distinction of class or rank, master or servant. In Moravia at this period they were flourishing, and had perhaps 1,000 communities. At the same time, while the dominant Protestant churches in Poland, largely aristocratic in their cast, being composed of the higher nobility, were making little effort to bring their peasants to the Protestant faith or to better their condition, and were growing ever more worldly, the Minor Church on the other hand counted comparatively few of the wealthier nobles, but attracted large numbers of the artisan class in the towns, and not a few of the commoners and peasants in the country; and they were tending increasingly to encourage the homely virtues and simple standards of the early Christian Church. In broad terms, the Reformed and Lutheran churches were aristocratic, while the Minor Church, especially in its main centres at Krakow and Lublin, was democratic.
At the synod of Pelsznica in October, 1568 there appeared one Lukas Mundius, who had been a member of the City Council at Wilno, but had left his office and been traveling through various countries with religious interests in view. 10 He had just spent several weeks among the Anabaptists in Moravia, and was full of praise of their moral discipline and singular piety. He announced that a delegation was coming to visit the brethren in Poland, of whose progress they had heard with much interest. Four of them soon came, and before returning home also visited the new settlement at Rakow. Mutual impressions were evidently favorable, for three young students were at once sent to Moravia to learn some trade, since it was at the time felt at Rakow that all ministers should support themselves by some trade rather than live by the sweat of others. They spent the winter there, though none too happily. Meantime they were followed by a delegation consisting of Filipowski, Schomann the minister at Chmielnik, Simon Ronemberg the apothecary, 11 a leading layman of Krakow, and several others, to confer with the Moravian brethren about their doctrine and moral standards.12 They found the discipline and piety of the Moravians to be all that had been said, but in other respects they were disillusioned. The Moravians proved to be uncompromising trinitarians, who did not scruple at calling their guests pagans for rejecting this doctrine. Moreover, along with agreement in various respects, grave differences were discovered between them. The cultural level of the Poles was radically different from that of the Moravians, their educational standards were very unlike, and the general social arrangements of the Moravian community were quite unacceptable to the brethren from Krakow. Besides, when closely examined, the Christian brotherhood that the Moravians were supposed to practice in their community life seemed to fall far short of the professed ideal. So that although half-hearted efforts were still made, and at least one more large deputation was sent from Poland and Lithuania, nothing came of it, and relations were broken off, not without some reproachful expressions on both sides. 13
Click here to open the frame set built to read this document.
This page was last modified
Sunday 12 November 2006.