CHAPTER XXVIII

THE MINOR CHURCH AND THE STATE: NON-RESISTANCE, PACIFISM.  EFFORTS AT UNION WITH THE CALVINISTS.  A DEMOCRATIC CHURCH

As has been seen, the attempt was made for several years to have the whole community at Ráków live strictly according to the gospel rule, as brothers and sisters in one great family.

These experiments were for a time considered by the people at large as the vagaries of fanatics who had gone harmlessly mad, and they were looked on at the worst with contempt or disgust. But when the King died in 1572 and the Senate ordered the whole nation under arms in the face of threatened attacks from hostile neighbors, the situation assumed a more serious aspect. For in antitrinitarian circles the use of weapons had for some time been strongly condemned, and many of the gentry were refusing to bear arms lest they disobey the plain command of Christ. The question was therefore seriously debated whether it were really true that obedience to Christ required his followers to be disloyal to the State; for in that case obedient Christians might be in danger of incurring the extreme penalty as traitors. The debate centered mainly about two questions: whether a Christian might engage in warfare, and whether he might hold a judicial or other office which was authorized to impose a capital sentence.1 Minor questions were also involved, as to the rightfulness of holding estates, taking oaths, paying taxes that might be used in war, resorting to courts for obtaining justice or redress of injuries, and the like.

These questions were publicly discussed at a meeting at Krakow in 1572. Palaeologus happened at the time to be the guest of Dudith, and being present at the meeting he was invited to give his opinion as a foreigner. In doing so he defended the rightfulness of bearing arms in war. He was then requested to write out his argument for use a little later at a synod at Rakow; and many there were found to agree with him.2 He supported his position from the New Testament, but pursued his argument in a very sarcastic and even insulting manner. In defence of the Racovian view, therefore, Paulus composed a reply3 which, however, was more like a sermon than like an argument, and appealed with much feeling to Christ’s spirit and teaching of unconditional love toward one’s enemies; for he was uncompromisingly non-resistant and pacific. Though he wrote in the name of the whole Rakow church, there was outspoken opposition, and at the synod at Lutomirsko late in the same year Budziuiski protested against the intolerant spirit of the Racovians, which would allow for no difference of opinion, but would condemn to eternal punishment any one seen with a sword at his side.4 The brethren took this reproach ill, and charged Czechowicz to reply. On his own part, Palaeologus, returning from a visit to Constantinople, found a copy of Paulus’s reply in Transylvania and at once prepared an answer to it, presenting a complete and thorough discussion of the whole question at issue. 5 He paid especial attention to the ‘office of the sword,’ and held that not to resist evil or punish evil-doers would be madness. In contrast to the literal, unqualified idealism of Paulus, he showed himself a sober realist, and argued with great force, though in a spirit of supercilious contempt, concerning the practical consequences of the position defended by Paulus.

Paulus himself, grown old and weary of controversy, remained silent, but Czechowicz complied with the request of the synod and published an extensive Polish catechism, the Dialogues to which reference has already been made.6 It was written in lively style, and instead of avoiding the thorny questions of the day, it wholly supported the Racovian views, though it was careful not to use expressions that might give offence to the government. This was well, for King Stephen Batory now came to the throne7 (1576), a great soldier, who at once devoted himself to strengthening the authority of the State at home and abroad, in a series of important wars. It was no time for pacifists to urge their views. Though the official view of the church continued to be that stated by Czechowicz, public controversy was not in order.

In Lithuania, however, where war with Moscow was a constant menace, a passive attitude toward the State and its concerns seemed hardly loyal. An active movement against the gospel according to Ráków therefore arose, with Budny at the head of it, who though he had at length accepted the Anabaptists’ view of baptism at Losk in 1578, did not at all agree to their extreme social and political doctrines. Many of the Lithuanian nobles also were not willing as yet to give up their estates as Czechowicz and Witrelin demanded, nor would the ministers surrender their glebes unless convinced from the word of God, holding that these and other things objected to by the brethren from Poland were not contrary to the Gospel. 8 When, therefore, Budny and Domanowski later in the year came as delegates to a synod at Ludawice in Little Poland with letters from the Lithuanian gentry asking for a sober discussion of the question and a written report on it, the brethren refused to discuss it with them at all, declaring that with them the matter had been definitely settled (‘ratum, gratum, et firmissimum’), that a Christian might hold no office in the Republic. This they wrote in brief to the Lithuanian brethren, referring them further to the twelfth dialogue (‘of the Christian Life’) in Czechowicz’s book.9 Nor when a request was also made by the Lithuanians for the loan of Palaeologus’s recent reply to Paulus was it granted. It was evidently suspected that Budny wished to publish it as he had the previous one; for at the next synod, at Lublin, 1579, it was voted that henceforth no book might be published without ecclesiastical censure, although to this the Lithuanian delegates did not give their consent. Budny, however, had no mind to see the question smothered in this fashion, and he soon obtained the desired manuscript from Palaeologus himself, then in Moravia; and in the following year he published the whole controversy. 10 When the Lithuanian brethren wished not long after to offer a copy of the new book to the brethren at Lublin, Niemojewski refused to accept it and thus be drawn into further discussion of a subject already closed; 11 and he sharply reproached Budny for publishing it without leave from the synod. The book evidently found favor in Lithuania, however, for at a synod at Losk in the next year, which was attended only by Lithuanians, all but two voted for the conservative view as to office-holding.12 Still the question would not down; and as the brethren in Little Poland were unwilling to let Palaeologus go unanswered, they urged Socinus to reply to him. An account of his reply will be given in the next chapter.

The subject was still debated at a synod at Lubecz in Lithuania in the spring of 1582, but no agreement was reached and two months later, as we have seen above, apparently in despair of harmony, Budny was excommunicated in Little Poland as incorrigible. It is likely that as a result of this action Kiszka removed Budny from his pulpit. Yet he continued on good relations with the brethren in Lithuania, where he died probably between 1590 and 1595. Although in 1583 he published an important work reviewing the whole subject of the ‘office of the sword,’ 13 and defending his point of view against the radicalism of the Polish brethren, especially Czechowicz, they made no reply, and Budny’s career in the Minor Church was evidently closed. Despite vague rumors to the contrary, there is no good evidence that he ever received, or sought, reinstatement in the church or its ministry. Budny was perhaps the ablest, as he was the most fearless and consistent, of the thinkers that our movement produced in Polish lands. He early reached and announced positions in both biblical criticism and doctrine that were not overtaken until three centuries after his time; and of all the religious leaders of his period, he is the one that would feel most at home in the Unitarian movement of the twentieth century.

Those that had long been the influential leaders of the church were now passing from the stage. Paulus at Rakow, who in his time had been an active and able propagandist, and once had not hesitated to consider himself the logical successor of Luther and Zwingli in the reformation of the Church, was aging and fast losing influence in the movement of which he had long been the leading spirit, and was absorbed in dreams of the millennial reign of Christ on earth, which was the subject of his last work.14 He died in 1591, a month after his long-time co-laborer Schomann. Gonesius had long since gone from the scene, and Budny had been ejected. Only Czechowicz remained to lead the thought and shape the policy of the church, and his extreme views as to the duty of Christians to the State marked him as one whose star was declining. The newer members of his congregation were becoming restive, and as soon as Niemojewski, his powerful patron and colleague in the work of the church, had died in 1598, he was forced to retire from the ministry of the congregation he had served so long and so efficiently, and to yield it to younger men more en rapport with the spirit of the time. Yet his work, the Rozmowy,15 was for nearly a generation the standard exposition of the faith and practice of the church. His last years were spent in quiet retirement until his death in 1613 at the advanced age of 81. His parting message to his followers, as he neared death, was that they should persevere in the Minor Church, despite its departure from his teaching on baptism. 16 In talents, knowledge and sobriety he surpassed all the other leaders in the first generation of the Minor Church. Besides his early work against infant baptism, and his translation of the New Testament in 1577 which became standard for the congregations of the Minor Chuch, and the work just mentioned, he engaged in several important controversies in print: with the Calvinist Paul Gilowski, over an exposition of the church Catechism; 17 with the Jewish rabbi Jakob of Belzyce (near Lublin) who had vigorously attacked the Christian doctrine as it was set forth in Czechowicz’s Rozmowy in opposition to the then active anti-Christian propaganda of the Jews; 18 and most important of all with Canon Hieronim Powodowski of Poznan, of which some account will be given in the next chapter.

While the Lublin church was thus earnestly striving to strengthen its position, it received a severe blow in the apostasy of one of its prominent members. Kasper Wilkowski,19 son of one of the Elders of the church, and himself a physician of note, having with the approval of his friends gone to Italy for study, there became impressed by the dignity and good order of the Catholic worship, in contrast with the heterogeneous, ill-organized and disunited little congregation in which he had been reared at home. Questionings were aroused in him that were not allayed when he returned, and seeking religious stability he at length sought conference with the rector of the Catholic Church at Lublin, and in consequence became a convert. Being now treated by his old associates as a renegade, he was led to publish an apologia for the step he had taken. 20 The book was ably written, and excited much attention among both Protestants and Catholics, of whom the latter made much use of it in winning converts among the Protestants. After relating his religious experience, Wilkowski in twenty-five chapters sets forth his reasons for making the change, which briefly stated are these:

Dissension is rife not only among the ministers, but also in private quarrels of the ministers and the poor with the gentry; there is uncertainty and much contention as to the right form of baptism; the churches are greatly declining in membership, the leading men and the more important nobles have died, and the whole church depends on two or three; the leading ministers are dead, others have gone over to Judaism or the Calvinists, or given up their ministry, and no successors are being trained up; fathers are negligent in training their sons in their own faith. In fact, Wilkowski touched upon some of the weakest spots in the life of the Minor Church, and it winced; but he was ably answered. 21

In 1580 a half-hearted effort was again made to close the breach between the Calvinists and the Minor Church. This time the initiative was taken by the Calvinists. The proprietor of Lewartow, Nicholas Firlej, was the instigator of a joint synod at that town. Both sides prepared for a debate, and about 130 ministers of the different confessions were present, with the Calvinists stronger in numbers, but weak in able theologians. They had therefore sought help from abroad, and asked the University of Königsberg to send an accomplished theologian to assist them.22 He arrived too late, and even Sarnicki was reluctant to face Czechowicz and Niemojewski in debate on scripture grounds only. After a skirmish therefore the Calvinist ministers declared that it was a sin for them to have a debate or anything to do with those Ebionites, Arians and Samosatenians, long ago excommunicated from the Church; and they withdrew from the scene, while the Unitarians went to Lublin in triumph. Nearly a generation later, if we may anticipate, the Socinians, feeling the need of allies in the face of growing persecution, sent a request to the district synod of the Calvinists, meeting at Lublin in 1611, that they might be permitted to present their cause in person. The Calvinists complied, on condition that not more than two or three persons should attend. Disregarding this limitation nearly twenty appeared, and were courteously received. The Socinians desired religious and political union, but after consultation they were told that in view of such a great difference in the chief articles of faith, religious union between them could not be considered, although in political and secular affairs they desired to live in harmony. Nevertheless the Socinians still sought religious union, and at the local synod the next year they begged leave to submit their requests in writing. The conference between the committees appointed came to nothing, for neither side would yield a hair in regard to doctrines, and they separated more estranged than ever. Undaunted still, the Socinians renewed their efforts once more at a synod at Belzyce in 1613. This time the Calvinists lost patience, and appointed one of their ministers to show in a special writing the impossibility of any religious union between the two sects. The work when accepted by the synod was put to print,23 and no further attempt at union was made.

We have now reached a point in the history of the Minor Church where it may be said to have developed its leading characteristics and measurably to have fixed its type. Before we proceed to the period of its middle life it may be well, therefore, after having traced the threads of its development separately, to survey the whole of the progress thus far made. By 1585, twenty years after the Minor Church began its separate existence after the schism at Piotrkow, it probably had several score congregations with settled ministers. Many of these were hardly more than domestic chaplaincies on the estates of the gentry, but there were also meetings in perhaps a dozen of the larger towns, of which the most important were at Krakow, Lublin, Rakow and Luclawice, all in Little Poland, and Smigiel in Great Poland. The congregation at Krakow was declining under the pressure of Catholic persecutions at the capital, which fell on all Dissidents alike. That at Rakow was becoming settled in normal life after the confusion of its early years, and on the way to being the metropolis of the whole movement. That at Luclawice, having absorbed a considerable part of the Arian wing which had at first gone after Farnowski, was growing in influence. But the centre of the church’s strength was at Lublin, where the membership counted a considerable number of persons of high standing, and Czechowicz as minister and Niemojewski as Elder gave the church for twenty years an intellectual leadership that commanded respect. The social views fostered in the congregation were quite advanced, though community of goods was not practiced here as it had been at Rakow.

Historians of the Reformation in Poland have often remarked that Protestantism in that country remained predominantly a religion of the upper classes, dominated by the gentry, showing little interest in the improvement of the humbler classes and peasantry and having little influence on them.24 However true this may have been of the orthodox sects, it does not hold good of the Minor Church. Deeply impressed from early in its history with the doctrines and traditions of the Anabaptists, it was the most democratic of all the religious bodies in Poland. While the magnates and higher nobility in large majority remained orthodox, many of the middle and lower nobility were found in the Minor Church, whose democratic atmosphere they found more congenial. The congregation at Lublin had convinced adherents in all classes of society, not only several score of the middle nobility, but many citizens of different levels in culture and wealth, professional men, merchants, artisans, and not a few of the lowest social status, including peasants and common laborers, of whom all took active part in the inner life of the church, and upon occasion would speak in its meetings.25 Hence their opponents liked to refer to their congregations as sinks for the dregs of the human race. The extreme democracy at Rakow has already been spoken of. In such a church the main emphasis was upon an ethical religious life in both personal and social relations, in conformity with the Sermon on the Mount. Doctrine was esteemed only in proportion to its simplicity and practical value, and the first full statement of it, supplementing the Catechism of 1574, was in Czechowicz’s Rozmowy, which served until the appearance of the Racovian Catechism in 1605. Time wrought changes, of course, and the primitive simplicity of the Minor Church suffered modifications. Toward the end of the century the records of the synods reflect a growing worldliness in dress and food among the nobles, and an in creasing indulgence in luxury and in worldly pleasures is frequently complained of, as many of the nobles became persuaded that after all they might retain their estates and live in the traditional manner of their class. 26 Nevertheless, to the end of their history the earlier ideals were earnestly proclaimed by the ministers, and however much a minority might disregard them, they were more or less adhered to in practice by the majority of the members.

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