CHAPTER XXVII

THE MINOR CHURCH: THE STRUGGLE WITH RADICALISM, DOCTRINAL AND SOCIAL

IN AN EARLIER CHAPTER it was noted that at a synod at Krakow in 1567 serious notice was taken of certain quasi-Jewish views imported from Hungary, and especially of the view that Christ should not be invoked in prayer.1 This view of the non-adorants or Judaizers (as they were called) had by now made much headway among the Unitarians of Transylvania, where it was warmly espoused by their Bishop, Francis David, as will be seen at length in the next division of this history. The question had led to serious controversy in the churches there, and Socmus, who had been summoned thither for the purpose, had been unable to settle it. The Catholic Prince had taken note of the matter, and had caused David to be prosecuted for innovation in doctrine, with the result that he was condemned to prison, where he died in 1579. At Biandrata’s suggestion the Transylvanian churches, which then enjoyed close relations with those in Poland, asked them for an expression of opinion as to David’s doctrine. This question was considered at a synod at Belzyce near Lublin in 1579, where David’s view seems to have been unanimously disapproved. 2 This sentence, when published the following year, was at once answered by a defence of David’s view from Jacob Palaeologus. 3 David’s view continued however to spread in Poland, and in 1580, at a synod at Ráków, it came to the surface in the case of Jan Krotowski, first minister of the church at Smigiel. He inclined to Judaism, used only the Old Testament in the pulpit, and did not acknowledge the worship of Christ. It was only after long argument that he was brought to a better mind.4

It was in Lithuania, however, that the seeds of non-adorantism fell upon most fertile soil. From the middle of the sixteenth century a liberal religious movement fusing Judaism with rationalistic tendencies in the Russian Church had spread from northern Russia into Lithuania, opposing the Trinity and the deity of Christ, and also teaching radical social doctrines. 5 The Jews there were numerous, wealthy and influential, had famous scholars, and carried on an aggressive propaganda. 6 Not a few Christians were thus influenced to regard the Old Testament more highly than the New, to keep the Jewish sabbath, to abstain from pork and blood, and even to accept circumcision, also holding that Jesus was not the Messiah nor the Redeemer. To a Christian like Czechowicz, who considered only the New Testament as authoritative Scripture, those that held such views as these were anathema. It was these extreme free-thinkers, who ignored most of the distinctively Christian traditions in religion, and also anticipated most of the commonplaces of modern liberal biblical criticism, that were the ‘Pagan Jews’ or Epicureans, whom he so strongly opposed in his so-called ‘Dialogues’ already published in 1575. 7 However, these seem not to have had a very wide or deep influence. The trouble came rather from those who, without going so far as to discard Christian traditions and beliefs in favor of Jewish ones, yet held that since Christ was purely human he should not be regarded as in any sense divine, and hence should not be invoked in prayers. This subject seemed to be of the more crucial importance since, rightly or wrongly, it was regarded as marking the fundamental distinction between Christianity and Judaism; and the majority of the leaders of the Minor Church feared that if they were thought to be in effect Jews, then they might be deprived of whatever rights they might otherwise have under the Warsaw Confederation.

For the reason given in the preceding paragraph, the view of the non-adorants was found most congenial among the churches in Lithuania, and it there had an able and active champion in the person of Simon Budny, whose acquaintance and sympathy with Palaeologus in Transylvania had kept him informed of the development taking place there. Budny deserves notice as one of the most significant characters in the history of Polish Unitarianism, being head of its most radical wing.8 Born the son of a poor Polish country squire about 1533, he spent most of his active life in Lithuania. Well educated in the ancient languages, he was also fluent in both Polish and Russian. About 1559 Radziwill appointed him minister of the newly-founded Reformed church at Kieck in the Palatinate of Nowogródek, where he made converts among the Russian members of the Greek Church, and published a large Katechisis in Russian, which showed originality of view. Though he opposed infant baptism, he had no sympathy with the radical social views of the Anabaptists. He early became antitrinitarian, and openly denied the supernatural birth of Jesus. As the Bible of Brest had proved unsatisfactory to the churches, he was asked to undertake a revision, but in the end was led instead to make an entirely new translation from the original tongues. His translation of the Old Testament (1572) was highly praised by Jewish scholars for its correctness; while for that of the NewTestamet (1574) he used a critically revised text, and appended critical notes in which he pointed out many corruptions and interpolations in the received text, thus anticipating by nearly two centuries many of the findings of modern textual criticism. His critical biblical studies confirmed the radical doctrinal views to which he had already tended, and brought him into controversy with western theologians, 9 as well as occasioned attacks from the Unitarian camp, where Czechowicz opposed his views in his Dialogues, and also published for use in the churches a rival translation of the New Testament (1577) to forestall the evil influence of Budny’s work. Budny also sought to commend his view to the famous English Protestant martyrologist, John Foxe.10

His negative view of the divinity of Christ seemed so extreme that even some of the Antitrinitarians in Little Poland charged him with having accepted the ‘Jewish atheism,’ and he was attacked by Gonesius, Czechowicz and Farnowski. To these Budny finally replied in an extensive work on the Christian faith, 11 which was approved by the Lithuanian Antitrinitarians who under his leadership inclined to non-adorantism. This work has been called the most radical doctrinal work published in Europe in the sixteenth century, and it called forth controversy from Catholic writers 12 as well as from Protestants.

When in 1582 a synod was called at Lubecz in deep Lithuania to consider some urgent social questions, so much feeling on the subject had arisen that the Polish delegates refused to consider these until they had first come to terms as to the adoration of Christ. Budny’s party had to yield the point, though there was vigorous discussion, in which they seemed to have the stronger arguments; but a compromise formula was agreed to: ‘We have one God, whom we invoke as God; but we pray to and invoke the Lord Jesus as mediator iii intercession with God. 13

Harmony was short-lived however for only two months later at a synod at Luclawice, the excommunication of Budny, which had for some years been threatened, was carried through by the Lublin brethren led by Czechowicz and Niemojewski. He was judged unworthy the title of both minister and brother, ‘on account of his wicked opinions and acts.14 ‘This judgment was reaffirmed at Wegrów in 1584. 15 This latter action seems to have been incidental to a condemnation of the views of Christian Francken,16 a learned German ex-Jesuit who had recently taken a position as Rector of the ‘Arian’ school at Chmielnik, where he ere long declared that it was not necessary to worship Christ. He was challenged to debate the question with Socinus, and the debate took place in the manor-house of Socinus’s host at Pawlikowice near Krakow, 17 and was wholly on logical rather than scriptural grounds. The tradition is that Francken, full of self-assurance, and wishing to overwhelm his auditors by his learning, proposed no fewer than fifty separate arguments in support of his thesis against the adoration of Christ. The defence had been entrusted to Socinus, but the brethren, fearing that he might forget some important point, urged him to take notes. This he did not do, but simply listened attentively; when, to the admiration of all, he took up the points in just the same order and answered each of them so fully that Francken had nothing to answer, and withdrew in confusion. 18

Despite his excommunication, Budny seems to have continued in the confidence of the Lithuanians as long as he lived. His important relation to the social questions at issue in the church will be spoken of a few pages further on. After his death his form of doctrine seems to have declined; but in 1599 a report reached the synod at Lublin that a good many in Lithuania were still saying that Christ ought not to be invoked. Two leading ministers were therefore sent to warn them to repent, else they would be excommunicated. The mission was successful. The leader of the non-adorants, Fabian19 Domanowski, having failed to appear, was excommunicated, and his followers voluntarily returned to the fold, after which we hear no more of non-adorantism except in Transylvania, as we shall later see.

In so far as Budny’s excomnmnication from the Minor Church was for a of opinion on a matter of doctrine, it stands in striking contrast with the spirit of tolerance that had come generally to prevail in the Minor Church hitherto. But the feeling seems to have been strong that at whatever cost the church must not now lay itself open to the charge of having left the Christian religion in favor of Judaism; and the matter of the invocation of Christ in prayers was taken as the decisive test. This instance, however, is not quite unique. At the synod of Lublin in 1585 a certain Piekarski, a wealthy nobleman who had formerly been a Reformed minister, was excommunicated for favoring Judaism, though for seven years previously he had been left undisturbed in holding such sentiments.20 Also in 1588 Stanislas Budziiiski was restored to the communion of the church after having been under excommunication for several years for sharing Budny’s views, though whether it was his doctrinal or his social ones is not stated. 21 A fourth instance, and the final one, was that of Domanowski just now mentioned. So far as the present writer recalls, these are the only instances in the whole history of the movement we are following in which members were excluded from the church on the ground of their doctrinal opinions.

More or less parallel with the doctrinal question of which we have just spoken, in time and in persons concerned, is that of the application of the teachings of Jesus to social and political situations. In the young reformed churches this began to arise soon after the more urgent questions of doctrine. It was the bold pioneer Gonesius that first brought it forward. During his ministry at Wegrów 22 he expressed views that he had evidently imbibed when among the Moravian communists, and these spread more or less widely in Lithuania. For when in 1562 Budny, still a Calvinist preacher, published his Katechisis, he opposed the Anabaptist view of such questions as whether a Christian might hold public office, or own property, or use force in self-defence, or en gage in war; and such views were evidently attracting wide attention. 23 For in a work published by Budny some twenty years later, 24 he speaks of Gonesius as the first to write on these subjects in a book entitled De Prirnatu, now no longer extant. This book evidently took the social teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as commands which Christians are bound literally to obey; but while it convinced some, it aroused opposition in many others, for there was apprehension lest a radical social movement be stirred up like that at Münster. Nevertheless these radical social views made a strong appeal to those that meant conscientiously to apply the teachings of the New Testament in the practical affairs of daily life. Thus at a Lithuanian synod at Iwie as early as 1568 25 it was debated whether a Christian may hold serfs or slaves, or own landed property when other brethren have none. Such questions now came to be discussed at almost every synod, and the radical social views dominant at both Ráków and Lublin were warmly advocated by such leaders as Paulus, Schomann, Czechowicz, Gonesius and others, though as warmly opposed by Budny and a few more. As we have already seen, Niemojewski gave up high office and sold his estates in Kujawy and took to manual labor, and others of the gentry followed his example, dividing the proceeds among the poorer brethren, or putting them into a common fund as the first Christians had done in Apostolic times. In a similar spirit the noble Ozarowski at Lublin gave his landed estates back to the King, since he could not with good conscience enjoy an inheritance that his ancestors had gained by shedding blood in war, and that carried with it obligation to render military service.26 Another classic case, and by no means an isolated one, was that of Jan Przypkowski in freeing his serfs. 27

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