CHAPTER XXXIV

GROWING PERSECUTION AND OPPRESSION: THE DESTRUCTION OF RÁKÓW

IN the preceding chapter it has been seen how during something like a generation around the beginning of the seventeenth century the natural antagonism between the Socinians on the one hand and the Catholics on the other was steadily deepened and sharpened by published doctrinal controversies and public debates on disputed points of doctrine. Still enjoying uninterrupted religious liberty, the Socinians were tempted to abuse it in acrimonious writings and oral attacks upon the dominant Catholic religion. While these discussions were going on, however, they seem never once to have suspected that they were fanning a fire that might one day consume them. Blindly relying on the protection that the Warsaw Confederation was supposed to en sure them, serenely confident that their views of Christian truth, as the only ones justified by Scripture, were therefore certain to prevail, and elated by the steady accession to the number of their adherents and the corresponding decline in the vigor of their rivals in the Reformed Church, they eagerly seized every opportunity to proclaim their own views and to hold up to scorn the errors of their opponents. Little did they realize that their safety lay in avoiding the notice of the ruling powers; and that to become more aggressive meant not so much to win more converts as to stir up greater confessional hatred, inviting persecution from those in power, and passion and violence from the populace. While the printed controversies, often in Latin, appealed to the educated classes and employed every available weapon of scholarship, logic or rhetoric, oral appeals to the people tended to degenerate into sarcasm, ridicule, bitter invective or even personal abuse; and those whom repeated admonitions from the pulpit had already predisposed to look upon heresy not only as fatally poisonous to individual Souls, but as treason subverting the State, were all too ready to respond in scenes of disorder and acts of mob violence. For the background was already laid in the view, fostered by the Catholic clergy, that Dissidents as such had no legitimate claim to protection; and the temptation was therefore great for them to take the punishment of heretics into their Own hands if the authorities seemed loath to proceed against them. In all this the Socinians had a double burden to carry, for the tradition was being steadily fostered, in which the orthodox Dissidents willingly joined the Catholics, that they not only were heretics, but as blasphemers of the accepted doctrines of God and Christ, were quite outside the Christian pale. The charge was even made and reiterated in high quarters that they worshiped the Devil as a God; and their places of worship therefore came popularly to be called Hell (pieklo), a designation that survives at Nowy Sacz to this day.1

With such a background of bigoted conviction on the one hand and passionate hatred on the other, instances of religious persecution might easily break out on the slightest provocation. Already before the end of the sixteenth century sporadic attempts had been made and sundry outrages perpetrated upon Dissidents at Kráków, in which Socinians suffered, while the young King paid little heed to their complaints and made little attempt to punish the guilty. Such were the two assaults upon Socinus referred to in a previous chapter; 2a similar attack by University students at Kráków on the venerable and noble Socinian minister Lubieniecki as late as 1627; 3 the destruction of both the Reformed and the ‘Arian’ places of worship at Kráków in 1591, and the repeated outrageous attacks upon Protestant funerals and plundering of Protestant graves at Kráków.4 Local disturbances of this sort occurred in various places during most of the long reign of Sigismund III., and little serious effort was made either to prevent or to punish them. It was not until toward the end of his reign that a law was passed in 1631 which expressly and unreservedly forbade religious tumults.5 An outstanding exception was in 1620 at Szczebreszyn, where an ‘Arian’ funeral was attacked by a mob, and the bereaved were insulted, while the authorities looked on indifferently. Complaint was lodged with the court, and a heavy fine was imposed upon both the delinquent authorities and the citizens at large; though at the same time the ‘Arians’ were strictly admonished, under penalty, not to give the Catholics offence on occasion of public ceremonies or gatherings.6 It is evident therefore that the disturbances that occurred were sometimes invited or provoked, where they might have been avoided by more conciliatory measures.

As contrasted with these earlier and irregular outbreaks of popular violence, acts of persecution began early in the seventeenth century to be more systematic and deliberate, and to be conducted more or less under the forms of law. The earliest and most conspicuous case of this sort was that of the martyrdom of Iwan Tyszkiewicz (Jan Tyskiewicz or Tyszkowicz) in 1611, which created a profound and enduring impression upon the whole Socinian world.7 Tyszkiewicz was an honored and influential citizen of Bielsk in Podlasie, who had abandoned the Russian Church and become an ardent Socinian, active in defence of his faith, hence much disliked by both Roman and Greek Catholics, who would gladly have been rid of him. They envied him the more when he and his brother inherited a large property from their grand father, and they incited the Mayor, who was a more distant relative, to invent some way to keep him from his inheritance. To this end, though he had always preferred a quiet life, and shunned public office, they all but forced him to accept the responsible office of public steward, not requiring him to take the usual oath of office, to which on religious grounds he would at once have objected. At the end of his term he rendered his accounts, whereupon the Mayor, seeking to make trouble, insisted on his taking oath that he had performed faithful service. This he at first declined to do, as being contrary to the teaching of Christ, but at length he yielded, consenting to swear by the name of God and his Son the Lord Christ, though not upon the crucifix offered him, nor by the Trinity. Record of his refusal was made, and the case was postponed. A few days later he was summoned before the local court and questioned as to his religious beliefs by a priest, who hoped to ensnare him. His answers angered the priest, who struck him a blow and had him and his brother lodged in jail, though innocent and not convicted of any crime. Influential friends intervened, however, and they were given easy confinement in the town hall, where their friends visited and encouraged them.

When the case was resumed, in the presence of a great crowd, and Iwan’s friends protested against proceedings in violation of the Warsaw Confederation, their protest was unheeded, the trial was conducted in a high-handed way, and the accused were denied their rights. Notice was therefore given of an appeal of the case to the Tribunal. The magistrate did not admit this, and remanded the case to the King’s court for review, and then released the accused under heavy bail. But Iwan’s friends, guided by advice previously taken, had already commenced suit before the Tribunal, charging the Bielsk magistrate with having taken action contrary to the law, and when the King was absent from the country in Muscovy. When the Tribunal gave judgment, the two brothers were discharged, and a heavy fine was imposed on their prosecutors for their illegal proceedings. But when now the case came up for review before the King’s court at Warsaw, it was found that the accusation was quite changed. The charge now was that Iwan had thrown down a crucifix and cast it on the ground, that he had blasphemed the Almighty in court, and that he had inveighed against the court and inflicted insults and great injury upon it by haling the magistrate before the Tribunal. The supporting evidence was denied by the accused as false, and the case was remanded to Bielsk, where it was decreed that Iwan should sell all and leave town within six weeks, and pay a considerable fine; and that his brother also should remove, under pain of death. The King’s court had in fact advised leniency; but some of their friends still urged an appeal to the King’s court, promising complete satisfaction at the next Diet. Arrived at Warsaw at the appointed time, their friends were asked in private conference with the judges not to trouble the Diet with the case, and were promised that when the time came they should have a satisfactory decree. But the prosecution was represented by an attorney, who pressed stronger charges than ever, while the defendants, relying on the promise given, had only a lay representative who was however allowed to speak in their defence, and made a general denial of the charges. The judges then submitted their report to the King, expecting an early decree, which only Iwan remained to hear.

What had gone on, or now went on, behind the scenes, the earliest extant account8 could not learn, though a later account 8 states that the accusers quietly carried the matter up to Queen Constance, a fervent Catholic, in whose personal domain Bielsk lay, and that she, as the supreme authority there, confirmed the magistrate’s sentence, and ordered it put into execution. In view of what followed, this seems likely enough, and also that she used her influence with the King; for his decision, in which the judges concurred, was that Tyszkiewicz should be put to death. At all events, he was soon thrown into a dungeon among condemned prisoners, where for several weeks priests and monks repeatedly labored with him, seeking by various means to move him to change his religion, threatening him with a frightful death on the one hand, and promising him life and peace on the other. Through it all he remained unshaken, betraying no fear even when the death sentence was read to him. The sentence was this: Since he has blasphemed almighty God and the Virgin Mary, his tongue is to be cut off as a blasphemer; since he has resisted the magistrate of his town, opposing him and haling him before the Tribunal, and has not been content with the decree of his magistrate, he is to be beheaded as a rebel; since he has thrown a crucifix from the table down upon the ground, his hand and foot are to be cut off; and finally, since he is a heretic, he is to be burned. After the sentence was read, Iwan continued to assert his innocence, and to protest that he had been condemned on the testimony of false witnesses, until tile sheriff ordered the executioner to proceed; when he met his death with a firmness and constancy like that of the early Christian martyrs. This took place in the forenoon of December 16, 1611, in the great market-place at Warsaw.9 It will have been noted that in this case what began as a plot simply to deprive a Dissident of an inheritance ended, when the plot miscarried, by being transformed through clerical influence into a prosecution for heresy. Not forgetting the death of Servetus and of Gentile, which occurred before the movement had become distinct whose history we are following, it is fair to reckon Iwan Tyszkiewicz as the first martyr in historical Unitarianism.

The martyrdom of Tyszkiewicz was in a way a sort of echo of one that had been suffered by a Calvinist at Wilno earlier in the same year. Francus di Franco 10 was a young Italian who had embraced the Protestant faith after coming to Poland, and was eager in promoting it at Wilno, where he adhered to the Reformed Church. Carried away by his zeal he interrupted the Catholic ceremonies on Corpus Christi day (a festival observed by Poles with the greatest solemnity) by a public attack upon such idolatry, as he regarded it. He was severely beaten by the crowd whose feelings he had outraged, but was taken away to safety. When later questioned by the authorities he eloquently and even defiantly defended his action, not weakening even when put to torture, and apparently courting martyrdom. Protestant nobles interceded for him in vain, and as he could not be brought to escape by denying his faith he was privately executed in prison in much the same way as Tyszkiewicz, after which the quartered parts of his body were publicly exposed. Following this a mob burned the Reformed church at Wilno, and religious tumults continued for three weeks. 11

From this time on, the prevailing state of popular feeling and the constitution of the courts were such that upon slight occasion a violent case of persecution might at any time be stirred up, with little hope of relief or redress from the Tribunal in case of appeal. The seat of the Little Poland Tribunal was at Lublin, 12 and when this was in session many important persons came thither, as did young men destined for the law, as a part of their legal education. Lublin had thus almost the dignity of a capital. It was also the seat of a flourishing Jesuit college, whose students were easily excited to mischief against Protestant heretics; and at the same time of perhaps the most flourishing ‘Arian’ church in Poland, led by able ministers, and patronized by a large number of distinguished nobles. 13 The leaders of the church here were especially aggressive and eager to engage in debates in a place where they might hope to win influential converts. When therefore the distinguished Jesuit scholar Nicholas Leczycki came from Lwów and challenged both Calvinists and ‘Arians’ to debate in 1615, though the Calvinists avoided the challenge, the young ‘Arian’ minister Jan Stoinski readily accepted it, and the debate was held before a crowded church and in the presence of most of the members of the Tribunal. In the interest of good order, the populace were excluded, and the debate, on the sufficiency of Scripture and the eternal divinity of Christ, lasted three hours, being conducted on both sides quietly and with entire courtesy. 14 Another public debate, in which Stoinski accepted a challenge given by a Dominican monk named Waleryan Grocholski, was held in the Lublin Dominican church in the following year. The subjects debated were the Trinity, the incarnation, and the charge that the respondents were Arians. The discussion was in Latin, for the Dominicans would not consent to a debate before the people in their native tongue.15 The debate broke off abruptly for want of time, but ended without disturbance, and the ‘Arians’ were conducted in safety to their own meeting-place. Later in the evening, however, a riot broke out against the Calvinists, whose meeting-place was destroyed, and it then spread against the ‘Arians’, as being equally heretics with them. The age of toleration was evidently passing, and confessional hatred was increasing throughout the land; for in the same year at Nowogr6dek in Lithuania a crowd drove the Antitrinitarians away, so that they dared not hold their intended synod.16

The chief centre of disorder, however, continued to be at Lublin, for it was here that the two elements in maximum strength oftenest came into conflict; and as time went on, and the Socinians continued aggressive, their public worship became increasingly offensive to the Catholics. Relations grew steadily worse until 1627, when an unfortunate incident occurred which caused the impending storm to break in full force.17 It happened that some Jesuit students fell into an altercation with some Protestant German mercenaries drinking in a public house, in which it came to blows and ended in bloodshed. The students at once raised a call to arms, and a wild mob of Sunday idlers soon gathered, bent on taking vengeance upon all Protestants without distinction, and on sharing in the plunder. Both the Calvinist and the Socinian church were demolished in the following night, and the homes of their leading members were attacked, while judges of the Tribunal gave tacit approval, and no just punishment was inflicted upon the rioters. On the contrary, the Protestant Palatine, though himself a member of the Tribunal, and the Castellan, together with other patrons of the destroyed churches, were called into court, as being ultimately responsible for the disturbance. A heavy fine was imposed, and both churches were sentenced to perpetual proscription; though the Diet annulled the decree in the same year as illegal. 18 In the years immediately following, however, there were repeated instances in which leading noblemen of the Socinian congregation were brought to trial before the Tribunal, and on flimsy charges and in defiance of law and right were sentenced to heavy fines or long and severe imprisonment, 19 until in 1635 the church was by decree of the Tribunal closed forever.20 The site of the Socinian meeting-place then fell into the hands of the Jesuits. Driven thus from Lublin, the remnants of the church there found refuge for a dozen years or so on the estate of a wealthy noble at Piaski a few miles distant, and then for a decade more at Siedliska near by, until the war with Sweden brought it to an end.

Though Lublin had long rivaled Ráków as the most influential centre of the Socinian movement, Ráków now became the uncontested capital for three short years, when it too was destined to receive the fatal blow. For after their success in the instances thus far related, it was becoming evident that a deliberate policy of extermination was now being adopted by the Catholics, to be applied wherever and when ever any excuse could be found. Such an excuse unfortunately soon offered itself at Ráków. At the end of the first quarter of the seventeenth century Ráków had attained a high degree of prosperity. It had now grown to be an active little city of perhaps from 20,000 to 30,000, with flourishing manufactures of paper, cloth, pottery and cutlery. It had a college ranking as the best in Poland, whose fame drew to its faculty able scholars from western universities, and to its student body youth not only from all parts of Poland, but in considerable numbers also from Germany and other countries abroad; and from orthodox Protestant confessions, and even from Catholic families, as well as from Socinian sources. Its press was sending forth a steady stream of books which were widely circulated in Poland and Transylvania, and were also secretly exported by way of Danzig to Holland, France and Eng land, where they were eagerly read by those into whose hands they fell, and had not a little influence in mellowing the religious views of both Protestants and Catholics. Under the assured protection of the Socinian proprietor of Ráków, the Racovians, even if no longer quite confident of the guarantees promised under the Warsaw Confederation, felt secure against the persecutions to which they might elsewhere have been exposed; and in the course of its history it had so often escaped threatening calamity that its inhabitants were ready to believe that it was under the special guardianship of Providence.21 No wonder, then, if they were sometimes tempted to be unwisely bold and aggressive toward the adherents of other confessions.

Meantime clouds were slowly gathering for the storm that was to come. The oral debates and the printed controversies of the Socinians with Jesuits and others were having their effect in various quarters; and the often repeated warnings and denunciations of parish priests nourished feelings of antagonism in the people at large. The Socinians, indeed, were not wholly blind to the rising Catholic reaction and its dangers for them, for as early as 1624 their synod commissioned one of their ablest scholars to prepare a special treatise De concordia et unione inter coetus Evangelicos et Unitarios, which they had much at heart; and six years later the rising tide of intolerance led to a renewal of the commission.22 The Evangelicals, however, seem not to have been interested, but to have regarded Socinians as more dangerous to their cause than Catholics.

Ladislas (Wladyslaw) IV., who succeeded to the throne in 1632, was tolerant in spirit, disliked the Jesuits and would not admit them to his court, at once assured Protestants of complete freedom of worship in their private homes, and gave them some share in public offices, so that in the first five years of his reign the Socinians in the main enjoyed peace. Nevertheless, Catholic strength and influence in government steadily increased. Hence while it had hitherto been generally assumed without question that ‘Arians’ were included among the Dissidents referred to in the Confederation, this now began to be denied. Already in 1636 at a Prussian dietine at Grudziadz the Bishop of Chelmno had asserted that ‘Arians’ were not included in the guarantees of religious freedom to Dissidents, and held that their deputies should be excluded from the Prussian Diet. 23 The stage was therefore set for a fierce act of persecution whenever a plausible excuse might offer. In 1638 an excuse was unexpectedly offered at Ráków itself.24 Contemporary accounts of the occurrence are not satisfactory, being warped by prejudice, and partly based on popular rumor, but in essence they relate events about as follows: Jakob Sieninski, the eminent and noble proprietor of Ráków, had a quarrel about their boundary line with a poor neighboring noble named Rokicki, 25 who to spite the former, though ostensibly out of piety, 26 erected a crucifix by the roadside bordering Ráków, where it might annoy the Racovians. One day early in March, 1638, as some younger scholars of the Ráków school were taking a walk with two of their teachers, they came to this crucifix, whereupon two of them, named Falibowski and Babinecki, threw stones at it as at a mark, and thus broke it down. 27 Unfortunately the act was seen by laborers at a distance, and was reported to the parish priest, who in return reported it to his Bishop, Jakob Zadzik of Krakow. The Bishop, perhaps seeing at once that here was a hoped-for opening for striking a telling blow at the Socinians, was quick to act. He first arranged several public meetings in the vicinity, where complaint was made of the insult offered to the Divine Majesty, so that public feeling was greatly aroused. At the same time a rumor was set afloat that the Ráków press was in process of publishing a book entitled Tormentuin throno Trinitatem deturbans, by an Arian named Letus, which insulted the principles of the Catholic faith.28 Casimir Sieninski himself, third son of the Socinian proprietor of Rakow, having become an ardent Catholic while studying in Vienna, now turned against his father and fervently espoused the Catholic cause in this case. Meantime the matter had reached the ears of Sieninski himself, who through messages to the Bishop and letters to his friends sought to make all possible amends. It was in fact but the rash act of irresponsible schoolboys, deserving to be punished in the usual way; and indeed, as soon as their parents heard of it, they punished the boys and removed them from the school. 29 This however was not enough to satisfy the Bishop, who, as the event showed, chose to interpret the occurrence as a deliberate insult to the Catholic religion, for which the whole Rakow community, and especially its proprietor, should be held ultimately responsible. He therefore carried the matter up to the Diet then in session at Warsaw, of which the majority were zealous Catholics, and appealed to their feelings by exhibiting fragments of the broken crucifix. 30 A great outcry was raised, and a demand for punishment of the guilty. The affair was reported to the King, who was much impressed and agreed to an immediate investigation, though a good many of the deputies still felt that the case ought to be dealt with by local authorities in the ordinary way, and were jealous of infringement of their rights by the Diet. After much maneuvering, however, it was finally agreed to send to Rakow an investigating committee of four, two representing the Diet, and one each the Senate and the King, reserving to the Diet, however, the right of judging the case.

On the Sunday preceding the investigation the local parish priest gave notice of it, inviting the attendance of any that could give evidence in the case, and reporting that two teachers, named Paludius and Andreas, were said to have taken part in the wicked deed. Considering arrest as sure and torture likely, the two therefore took hasty flight, and when sought by the investigators could nowhere be found. When the latter reached Rakow and delivered their orders to Sieninski, a panic seized the inhabitants, who now first realized the danger that threatened them, and took to prayer and fasting. Sieninski left nothing un done that might avert the impending ruin, offered a site for a Catholic church, which had long been sought in vain though the population at Rakow was more than half Catholic, and promised a generous gift for building, but all to no purpose. The official inquiry brought out nothing that was not already known, and the report was sent to Warsaw under seal and delivered to the King. Though it had been stipulated that the report be given to the Chamber of Deputies for decision, 31 clerical pressure prevailed and it was instead handed over to the Senate, which, being overwhelmingly Catholic, might more surely be relied upon for an unfavorable verdict. A fanatical majority here insisted that the case be not left to the slow process of debate in the Chamber of Deputies, but be dealt with in the Senate by swift summary process. Strong and influential opposition from members of all parties was made to such a procedure, lest it set a precedent that in future might be used to the prejudice of the rights of the nobility; but even the services of the venerable Sieninski, who in time of grave public danger had sacrificed his fortune for the Republic, and had thus often been hailed in the Diet as the Father of his Country, 32 were not enough now to secure him from unjust persecution. The opposition at length yielded, under the plea that it was for this time only, and that a law should be passed that in any such case in future summary process should be excluded. 33 The Senate therefore took charge of the case, and cited Sieninski, as the one ultimately responsible, to appear and answer the charges against him; 34 and when at length he protested that a decree could not legally be passed against him as a free nobleman, anger against him was so great that he barely escaped with his life. He was required to take an oath of innocence, confirmed by six other nobles of the same rank, that he had in no way been directly or indirectly guilty of the crime charged, nor privy to it; and he was thereupon adjudged innocent. Within a few days a decree was drawn up, 35 ordering that the two accused teachers should within six weeks present themselves before the court, under pain of perpetual infamy; that the school which had given chief cause to the crime should within four weeks be destroyed and never be restored; that the Ráków press which had for so many years been issuing works against the Catholic faith should be abolished, and its prints be destroyed wherever found; that the teachers, ministers, and Arian inhabitants should 1eave Rakow within four weeks, under pain of perpetual infamy and death; and that neither school nor press should ever be rebuilt, nor Arian ministers imported, under pain of loss of civil rights and a fine of 10,000 gold forms.

Before adjournment a protest against the decree was laid before the Diet and formally entered in the records of the trial, remonstrating against the gross violation of the rights of the nobility, and freedom of conscience. It bore the signatures of some of the most distinguished men in the country, not only Socinians but also Calvinists, and even some of the more liberal Catholics and members of the Orthodox Greek Church, 36 but it produced no result. The provisions of the decree were rigorously carried out. Church, school and press were abolished, 37 and the remnants of the congregation set up a place of worship in the neighboring village of Radostow, where it survived for fourteen years more. Sieninski, seventy years old, heart-broken with grief and cares, died within the year, leaving his estate to a widowed sister, who turned Catholic. Ministers, teachers and pupils scattered in various directions and went into hiding, as will presently be seen. The inhabitants were given three years in which to dispose of their property, much of which was bought up by Jews, it is said, at ridiculous prices. Thus, as a Socinian writer of the next generation pathetically laments, ‘the very eye of Poland was plucked out, the sanctuary and refuge of exiles, the shrine of religion and the muses.’38 From that day to this Rakow has declined, often overrun in war and several times ravaged by fire, until, when the writer visited it in 1924, it was a wretched, unkempt town of a thousand or so inhabitants, mostly poor Jews, with nothing but vague memories of its former importance.39 On the spot where the Socinian church had stood, Bishop Zadzik in1640, laid the foundations of a new Catholic church. He died before construction was completed, but had liberally provided for it at his own expense, doubtless feeling that the destruction of heresy at Ráków was the crowning act of his life.40

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