RAKOW AS CENTER OF THE MINOR CHURCH.
THE WARSAW CONFEDERATION
THOUGH THE CONTACT with the Moravians did not issue as had been hoped, it was not without influence on the development of the Minor Church, which as yet was rather formless and undisciplined. For the envoys to Moravia evidently brought back with them some ideals of applied Christianity that they were soon to see tried in their own community. Meantime the members and leaders of the church were growing restive under the conditions of their church life. Those at Kráków were living in constant fear of severe persecution, and Paulus had some time since felt obliged to flee and seek safety in obscurity.1 The hostility of the orthodox sects had increased since Piotrkow and Sandomir, and many of the brethren were longing for some quiet retreat from the world’s quarrels and alarms, where they might enjoy security and peace, and devote themselves to religious meditation and cultivation of the Christian virtues and graces. It was at this juncture that their prayers seemed to be answered in the foundation of Rakow.
Jan Sieninski (Sienienski), a tolerant Calvinist magnate who was Castellan of Zarnow (later Palatine of Podole), had a wife who was a zealous ‘Arian.’ 2 She had evidently laid to heart the troubles of her fellow-believers, and meditated plans for their relief. To gratify her he determined to found a new town, and to incorporate in its charter provisions of wide religious toleration. This town, which was given the name of Rakow (Lat., Racovia), from the fact that the founder’s wife bore on her coat of arms a rak (i.e., crab), 3 lay about fifty miles west of Sandomir, and was pleasantly situated on the little river Czarna, in the midst of a wide, sandy plain, surrounded by forests and fertile meadows, with numerous ponds and a mild and healthful climate.4 The generous provisions of its foundation5 induced many from all parts of the country, who felt themselves alienated from the rest by their religious views, to emigrate to Rakow. Although there were enough of the Reformed Church to form a small congregation, the great majority of the settlers seem to have been radicals, both socially and in doctrine. The brethren flocked thither in large numbers from all quarters far and near, and from its very foundation the town grew rapidly. 6 Besides Paulus, Schomann, Czechowicz, and a number of other ministers, there were Mundius from Wilno and others from Lithuania, there were nobles like Niemojewski and his friends from Kujawy who had sold their estates to distribute to the poor, there were learned men, commoners and artisans, all enthusiastically dreaming of a New Jerusalem to come into being at Rakow, where all should dwell together in love and peace as members of one great family living again as the first Christians had lived. As all the brethren in such a community should be on an equality, nobles and commoners alike worked daily with their own hands, building their dwellings and tilling their fields. A flourishing industrial community arose, with manufacture of cloth, paper and pottery. The leading spirit was evidently Paulus, who at the synod at Pelsznica had already urged, with the sympathy of Czechowicz and his followers, that nobles should no longer live from the labor of their serfs, and that even ministers should lay aside their profession and earn their bread with their own hands. Indeed, all but Czechowicz and Schomann now did so. 7
For a time all went smoothly, and the brethren occupied all their vacant time in diligently investigating and discussing religious questions. Visitors of various sorts came to join in the discussions, some for a time, and some to stay. But among such various elements sharp dissensions inevitably arose, and extreme views were advanced or opposed, of asceticism, community of goods, and the like, so that for three whole years of uninterrupted debating there was no peace day or night, in what was something like a perpetual synod.8 With no longer any regular minister to lead their worship and give competent religious instruction, their meetings became chaotic, in which any one might take part that felt moved to do so, and these often the rudest and most ignorant, speaking rather out of shallow feeling than out of wide knowledge or deep experience. Better minds found this profitless and hard to endure. 9 Disgusted with the religious chaos that prevailed, Czechowicz and his Kujavian followers removed to Lublin to build up a saner movement; while at Rakow the influence of Paulus waned, some of the discordant elements left the community and some new adherents joined it, until at length comparative quiet and order ensued. At this juncture, when the whole project seemed, humanly speaking, to have collapsed, the Kráków apothecary Ronemberg, ‘like a new Ezra,’ leaped into the breach, supplied the leadership that was lacking, and in 1572 reorganized the church with a regular ministry again, and a membership composed of those that had received adult baptism. Biandrata also wrote from Transylvania to Filipowski, calling on them to abandon their superstition, live as men among men, and furnish a living example of true and godly life. 10
From now on affairs went better. More than a score of ministers resumed their office and were appointed to congregations in all parts of the Republic, Kiszka taking ten to his estates in Lithuania and Podlasie. 11 Henceforth for more than sixty years Rakow had a succession of ministers of the highest distinction, and came to be the acknowledged capital of Polish Unitarianism. A press was established here, which became famous for its excellent typography, and books printed here were circulated in large numbers in European countries, and became most effective means of spreading the doctrine taught at Rakow.12 Jakob Sieninski, son of the founder of Ráków, who had become acquainted with Unitarianism while on an embassy to Transylvania, was converted by the arguments of the Antitrinitarians, after listening to a debate between them and the Calvinists at Ráków in 1599, and became one of their most generous patrons. 13 His most striking benefaction was the foundation of a famous school at Rakow in 1602, for which he erected a building and provided endowments. 14
After Pinczow fell to the Catholics in 1584, the school there will have ceased to exist; but as early as 1586 a new school had been opened at Lewartów (Lubartów), twenty miles north of Lublin, under ‘Arian’ patronage, whose Rector, the celebrated Wojciech z Kalisza (Albert Calissius) had been called from a similar position at Chmielnik. He organized the school on the pattern of that at Pinczow, with five classes of gymnasial rank, and its high standards and able teachers attracted from a distance a large number of scholars, including Calvinists and Catholics. But the raid of Tatar hordes, the death of one patron and the apostasy of another to Catholicism hastened its fall, so that by early in the next century it had ceased to exist.15 This fact impelled the establishment of the Rakow school. It was organized on the same plan as the two already mentioned, with the usual five years’ course. The subjects were of the traditional cultural sort with little utilitarian purpose, although an early experiment in manual training was embodied in the requirement that each student must work at some trade. Especial emphasis was laid upon practice in debate upon philosophical or theological subjects, to prepare students to defend their faith ably. The upper class was required to engage in two such debates each week.16 The school, however, was not designed for proselyting purposes, so that many students from other confessions were sent to it, even by Catholics; and so many were in attendance from Germany that afternoon religious services in German were provided for them. The number of students sometimes ran to over 1,000, of whom a third were of noble families. The faculty included distinguished scholars, several of whom had come from western Europe for greater religious freedom; and the Racovians adopted for their city the name of ‘the Sarmatian Athens,’ which had formerly been applied to Pinczow.17
The striking religious and social experiment that was being made in the Rakow community attracted wide public attention, favorable and otherwise. Members of the other churches, Protestant and Catholic, regarded Ráków as a sort of cave of Adullam, peopled by the discontented and extreme of every class, and the home of wild ideas and singular customs. Lasicki wrote to Wolph of Zurich, 18 ‘The very scum of humanity are joining this sect, but few of the nobles, and so far as I know none of the magnates.’ The life at Rakow at this period seems in fact to have been one of Arcadian simplicity and idyllic peace, in which there were no invidious divisions marked by birth, class, wealth or learning; where no one held office to rule over another, and none looked down on another, while the means of life were held and enjoyed in common. A visitor from Scotland, who while traveling in Germany had heard of Ráków from a friend and was interested to see it for himself, spent a week there in 1612 19 and reported to his friend his impressions. The passage deserves quotation:
There lately came here to me from Ratisbon Thomas Segethus, a Briton, an old friend of mine as you know, of whose wide travels in Bohemia, Hungary, Poland, and also even in Muscovy, I need not write, as it would be too tedious and would run into a book. He said that when he had taken pains to pass through Ráków, a town in Little Poland, where the heresy of the Socinians flourishes greatly, he felt as though he had been transported into another world; for whereas elsewhere all was full of wars and tumult, there all was quiet, men were calm and modest in behavior, so that you might think them angels, although they were spirited in debate and expert in language.20
While their religious opponents spoke contemptuously of the Racovians as visionaries and idle dreamers, they themselves did not look on the matter in that light. For they considered the teachings of Jesus, and especially the moral and social ideals of the Sermon on the Mount, as ethical commands to be taken seriously, and as directions for the practical conduct of a Christian’s life. One that did not honestly attempt to put them into practice was but a spurious Christian. Not to resist evil, to be good to one’s enemies, not to use force or shed blood even in war, not to resort to courts of law for the settlement of differences or the redress of injuries, not to sit in judgment on others, not to indulge in luxury of dress or extravagance in food and drink, to share one’s goods with the poor, to work for one’s living rather than get it by the labor of others, hence to hold no serfs or slaves, not to engage in such riotous pleasures as public dancing and sports with their customary excesses and demoralizations these were to be the practical applications of the Christian religion to the common life of man.
Not often in Christian history has a more serious attempt been made by a whole community to follow the teaching of the Gospels literally in practice, at whatever sacrifice of personal material advantages, than was made in the first half century of the community at Rakow, and the happy results of the movement attracted large numbers to join it. Not until well on in the seventeenth century did the worldliness that had continued to mark the other confessions gain much ground among the Socinians; and although among the nobles there were many that did not go so far as to surrender the privileges that they had inherited, yet to the very end their churches were strongly marked by the simplicity, democracy and unselfishness that were so emphasized at Ráków.
Out of this ground of the simple life of primitive Christianity at Ráków grew an active intellectual life. Ráków as an important publishing centre has been mentioned. A public library was established. The professors at the school contributed an atmosphere, and many distinguished men came as visitors. Synods had already been held here in 1573, 1574, and 1580; and nearly every year from 1601 on the general synods of the whole Minor Church were held here as now the recognized metropolis of Socinianism. They were attended not only by ministers and delegates, but by large numbers of nobles, patrons and other adherents. The attendance sometimes exceeded 400. Besides that which the synods themselves aroused, the controlling interest of the Racovians throughout the year was the study of the Scriptures as the guide of life, and the discussion of questions of faith and conduct arising out of this. Thus we have a record of a conference on important doctrinal questions in March, 1601, in which more than a dozen of the principal ministers took part,21 with Socinus as the leading figure. Another the next year. continuing for two weeks, in twenty-two sessions, was attended by some twenty-five ministers and as many laymen. Other discussions were held at various times at the house of Valentin Smalcius (Schmaltz), the minister of the Rakow congregation. One such lasted continuously for just short of three years from 1606, saving an interruption of some months on account of public disorders.22 Socinus frequently came to Ráków and gave courses of lectures on various doctrines, or expositions of Scripture, which were highly prized and afterwards widely circulated in print. These discussions were important factors in preparing the ground for decisions to be reached at the synods, and it was thus that the leaders of the church, through free discussion, reached their conclusions as to questions of belief, organization and practice.
Turn we now to the political field. King Sigismund Augustus died January 7, 1572. He had for some time been in failing health, and his Protestant subjects had looked forward to this event with foreboding as to their own future. For while he had disappointed the hopes they long allowed themselves to entertain, that he might espouse their cause, yet he had on the whole been indulgent to it. But being childless he would leave no successor; and there was real danger that if a zealous Catholic came to the throne he might employ his power to oppress them and ruin their cause. For the old law against heretics 23 had never been repealed, but simply lay dormant; and while the Diet had not long since suspended ecclesiastical jurisdiction, it might by the same authority again be enforced. To guard against such a misfortune, the Protestant nobles, who were still very powerful and on political grounds could count on considerable support from even the Catholics, sought what measures they might take to ensure themselves against persecution. They desired guarantees of wide religious freedom and full civil equality. With this not a few Catholics sympathized, being willing to see the clergy curbed in power. The Protestants were the more concerned for their safety under a new king, in view of the recent massacre of St. Bartholomew in France, in which no fewer than 50,000 Protestants had fallen victims to the Catholic party. The Protestants declared that they would never let a Diet be held for the election of a king until they had been given assurance that they could live in safety in their own country,24 and they had a plan ready.
After the death of the King, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, following a precedent already set at Korczyn in 1438, came together in a joint meeting at Warsaw in January, 1573 to make preliminary arrangements as to the time, place, and conditions of a new election.25 When, therefore, the Confederation of Warsaw 26 was drawn up, it included a clause (article 3) on religious liberty, elaborated by a committee whose members had been half from the Protestants and half from the Catholics and clergy, as follows:
Since there is in our Republic no little disagreement on the subject of religion, in order to prevent any such hurtful strife from beginning among our people on this account as we plainly see in other realms, we mutually promise for ourselves and our successors forever, under the bond of our oath, faith, honor and con science, that we who differ with regard to religion (dissidentes de religione) will keep the peace with one another, and will not for a different faith or a change of churches shed blood nor punish one another by confiscation of property, infamy, imprisonment or banishment, and will not in any way assist any magistrate or officer in such an act.27
In conformity with this article, the form of oath to be taken at the coronation of the new King included this promise:
I promise and solemnly swear by almighty God that . . . I will preserve and maintain peace and quiet among those that differ with regard to religion (dissidenies de religione), and will not in any way, whether by our jurisdiction or by authority of any of our officers and institutions whatsoever, suffer any one to be influenced or oppressed by reason of his religion, nor will I myself influence or oppress him. 28
The Confederation was somewhat modeled upon the Augsburg Peace of 1555 which had brought religious peace to Germany, and it was at first supposed to be acceptable to all parties. Almost all the Senators lay and clerical had fully approved it, and almost all the Deputies had signed it. But when it was presented to the Senate for final ratification, unexpected opposition was met. Archbishop Uchanski made a violent speech against it, declaring that it would tend to overthrow Christianity and open the door to false religions. All the Bishops but Bishop Krasinski of Kráków withdrew their names, but it was nevertheless signed by a very large majority of the nobles. 29
There were a half-dozen aspirants for the throne, and each was represented at the Diet by influential advocates (Dudith was active in promoting the interests of the Austrian candidate); but after a long and spirited contest, and certain concessions on the part of the Protestants, the choice finally fell upon the French candidate, Henry of Valois, an ardent Catholic, and the Confederation and oath were signed on his part by his representatives. Yet when it came to concluding negotiations with Henry in person three months later in Paris, new obstacles were encountered. A protest against the article about the pax dissidentium was entered in the name of the clergy and the objecting Senators or Deputies, and Henry himself appeared to be disposed not to accept the article concerned. But when he was firmly told by Zborowski, the leader of the Protestants, Nisi id feceris, Rex in Polonia non eris, the Bishops yielded and agreed to abide by the articles, and Henry signed the articles and took the oath in Notre-Dame, though again in the face of protest. Finally at the coronation in the Cathedral at Krakow, February 20, 1574, the Archbishop attempted to substitute the ancient traditional coronation oath in place of the one agreed upon safeguarding the rights of the Dissidents. The substitution was noticed, and the Grand Marshal, a Protestant, insisted upon the form agreed upon, saying. Jurabis, Rex, promisisti, and the crown was seized and withheld until he had complied.30
From this time on the Protestants in Poland appealed to the Warsaw Confederation as the charter of their liberties, and its oath was required of succeeding kings; but the foundation of it was none too stable. From the first the Bishops refused to acknowledge it, and denied its legality, and in the following period they persistently and successfully opposed all efforts to get the Diet to enact a legal method of procedure 31 in prosecuting violations of the Confederation or evasion of its purpose. The history of Protestantism in Poland during the next century is in no small measure the history of efforts on the part of the Catholic powers by one means or another to annul the provisions of the Confederation and thus deprive Protestants of the equal rights and full religious freedom that they had hoped to secure. The first to feel the effect of these efforts were the members of the Minor Church. The ‘Arians’ in the Diet had borne their part in securing the Confederation and believed that they were included in its guarantees, and for some time no objection was raised against them. But the term Dissidents, which in 1573 comprehended all citizens of the Republic, Catholics and Protestants of every shade alike, and even adherents of other religions, in the course of time gradually shifted its meaning.32 Before the end of the century it was coming to be used as meaning simply non-Catholic, hence Dissenters from the Catholic religion, and thus to imply no longer mutual tolerance of bodies on an equal footing, but toleration of inferior sects by a ruling Catholic power. Later still we shall see the effort made (with the willing co-operation of Calvinists and Lutherans) not to recognize ‘Arians’ as among the Dissidents at all, nor to extend to them the security guaranteed by the Confederation.33 For the present, however, the field of our history will be more clear and distinct, since the relations of the Minor Church to the other Protestant sects on the one hand and to the civil government on the other have now been well defined.
Click here to open the frame set built to read this document.
This page was last modified
Sunday 12 November 2006.