SOCINIANISM OVERWHELMED AND BANISHED FROM POLAND
TOWARD THE END of the reign of Ladislas IV. a long smoldering unrest among the peasant population of the Ukraine, under the oppression of the magnates and other land-owners who lorded it over them, came to a head in open revolution. The leader of the movement was Bogdan Chmielnicki, son of a Polish noble who had removed from Masovia and taken a Cossack wife. Chmielnicki had been outrageously wronged by one of the magnates, and he stirred up a general uprising in the Ukraine, in which the Cossacks formed against Poland a league with the ferocious Tatars of the Crimea, who had formerly been their greatest enemies. In its deeper causes, however, this was a social and religious uprising, on the one hand of the peasantry against oppression by their masters the nobility, and on the other of Greek Catholics against the Jesuits and the Jews. Even the King was suspected of sympathizing with the revolt, as tending to curb the rapacity of the nobles.1 The rebellion burst on the country like lightning out of a clear sky, and in the first great battle the flower of the Polish nobility were slain or taken captive. The death of the King five weeks later was the beginning of long years of defeat and misfortune for Poland. The Cossacks and Tatars, moved by savage hatred, ravaged the land as far west as the Vistula, torturing, killing, plundering, destroying all with fire and sword.2 Whole cities were wiped out amid frightful atrocities, and those that were taken alive were carried away into slavery. Over a thousand of the Socinians, who were especially numerous in the Ukraine, left everything behind them and fled head long and all but naked, and sought refuge with their scattered brethren in western Poland. 3 Though the Cossacks were not, as has sometimes been asserted, 4 more fierce against the Socinians than against the other religions, they vented their wrath without distinction against all their noble oppressors, those of their own Greek Church not excepted. They were at length defeated, though not before all the Socinian churches in the Ukraine had been irretrievably ruined, and any of their patrons that had not escaped from the country had been either slain or transported into slavery among the Tatars. Thus their already greatly weakened community lost in a single year perhaps half of their remaining congregations.
It was in the midst of this Cossack rebellion that Jan Casimir, younger brother of King Ladislas, came to the throne of Poland. Though he had been a Jesuit priest and a Cardinal, he was dispensed from his vows by the Pope, that he might the better serve the interests of the Church as King. Brave and energetic, but impulsive, capricious and unstable, he had a reign marked by incessant and disastrous wars with nearly all his neighbors at once; so that after twenty harassed years he gladly sought escape from his troubles by resigning his crown and seeking the refuge of a cloistered life in France. 5 Though the Cossacks were decisively defeated in 1651, they were not pacified, and intermittent warfare went on until 1655, when they sought an alliance with Poland’s inveterate foe Russia, which was easily persuaded to take advantage of her weakened condition by carrying on a war of un speakable barbarity in the northeast, which wiped out whatever Socinian churches had still survived in Lithuania. While Russia was thus invading Poland from the east, Charles X. of Sweden, ambitious to extend his realms, and having an eye on the crown of Poland, 6 invaded it from the north and west, on the flimsy pretext of protecting it from the Russians and Cossacks. Only feeble resistance was offered, for during the recent struggle for power between the King and the nobles in Poland, large numbers of the nobles, especially the Dissidents (who at all events had more to hope for from the rule of the Lutheran Charles than from the ex-Jesuit Jan), had become estranged from their King, and without drawing a sword strove to outdo one another in putting themselves under the protection of the Swedish King. In the end even generals and their troops entered his service. Charles quickly took the capital at Warsaw, and pursued the fleeing King and his army to Kráków, which soon surrendered; while the Elector Friedrich Wilhelm undertook the ‘protection’ of East Prussia.7
As practically the whole of Poland was in the hands of his enemies, the King, after wandering about the land for a time, fled from the country and took refuge in Silesia, in the domain of the Emperor of Austria. And now a marvelous thing happened. In the hour when King Jan’s cause seemed, humanly speaking, to be utterly lost, when nothing seemed to be left of Poland but a few score exiles in Silesia, a few towns that had happened not to surrender, and a wandering remnant of the Polish army, an unexpected turn for the better took place. The Swedes, who had been so widely welcomed as emancipators from the oppressions of the King, were now found to be wolves in sheep’s clothing, ravaging and pillaging wherever they went, treating the inhabitants with contempt, sacking homes and desecrating the Catholic churches. A spontaneous insurrection took place in all sections of the nation. The magnates who had welcomed Charles withdrew their support from him; even the peasants sprang to arms. The heroic defence of Czestochowa against an overwhelming force inspired enthusiasm, and Lwów (Lemberg) refused to surrender even when its fall seemed certain. The generals of the national army returned to their allegiance, and formed a confederation at Tyszowce at the end of 1655 in defence of faith and fatherland. At the same time both King and Queen, who had in the meantime been indefatigable in foreign diplomacy, had set causes in train that were to result in the formation of a general league of other nations against Sweden, whose rapid conquests had aroused fears in the rest of Europe.8
Hearing how the tide was turning at home, the King, after some three months in exile, secretly made his way through Carpathian forests back to Poland, where Lwów, which had remained stedfastly loyal to him, received him with enthusiasm. It was at this solemnly critical juncture in his life that on April 1, 1656 the King, following a custom then not unknown in a time of crisis, made a celebrated vow in a little chapel adjoining the Lwów cathedral. In the presence of a crowd of clergy and gentry, he knelt with his Senators on the altar steps before a picture of the Holy Virgin, and took her as his patroness and the Queen of his dominions, and committing all to her especial protection and imploring her aid, promised that he would henceforth with all diligence spread her worship everywhere in his territories; and that if he gained the victory over his enemies, especially the Swedes, he would when peace was established take every means to relieve the peasants of their unjust oppressions.9 A sweeping victory soon ensued; though the King never fulfilled the second part of his vow, which would indeed have been impossible save with the unlikely co-operation of the landholding nobles in the Diet. From now on for a time affairs went more favorably for the King. Victories over the Swedes followed, and at the end of June the united Polish forces stood before Warsaw. It was again a critical moment for the King, and again he would make a vow, encouraged by Jesuit priests who as usual were with him. On the day before the final assault on the capital, wishing to invoke divine aid, he made the vow which they suggested to him, having in view the final step toward which they had been pressing for half a century. Yielding to their persuasions that God had been punishing King and country for their treachery in tolerating in Poland such blasphemers of the deity of Christ, he solemnly vowed that he would banish the Arians from the land. 10 It is not to the purpose here to follow the course of Poland’s struggle with her enemies further than to say in brief that in what was at once a political and a religious struggle, of Poland against invasion, and of Catholics against Protestants, the Swedes after wavering fortunes were gradually driven back; peace was concluded with Russia and with the Elector of Brandenburg, in which Poland lost East Prussia and Livonia; an invasion from Transylvania in 1657 under Prince George Rákóczy, inspired by the Swedes, was repulsed with frightful loss to the invaders; and shortly after the death of Charles X. in 1660, peace with Sweden was concluded by the treaty of Oliva in the same year.11
The period embracing the Cossack, Russian and Swedish wars was not only one of unprecedented calamities for Poland as a whole, but also one that brought complete ruin to the few surviving Socinian churches. The one remaining part of the country where there still was, as there had long been, a considerable group of these was the foot-hill country southeast of Krakow, known as Podgorze, and lying between the Vistula and the Carpathians, a district roughly forty or fifty miles square. When the invading Swedish forces overran this territory, the gentry of the district, seeing that the King had fled from the country and that there was no Polish army to defend them, left their homes and for a time sought whatever refuge they could find. When the invaders had swept by, leaving only a garrison at the chief town, Sa they returned to their homes; though within three months trouble again broke out in this district. In the peasant uprising at the end of 1655, referred to above, the peasants were encouraged to expel the garrison the Swedes had left behind them, and as a reward were promised the estates and homes of the Arians,’ whom they were told in the market-places and publicly from the pulpit that they might attack and kill, and then plunder their possessions. Thus a peasant mob of over 3,000 attacked Sacz murdered the garrison, and then under the guidance of their priests, and armed with rustic weapons, proceeded without warning to attack the estates of the Arians’ and ravage all with fire and sword. Any that would not renounce their faith were brutally slain, men, women, and children alike, 12 or were left wounded and half-dead. Leaving their most precious possessions behind, those that could escape made their way by night, in the intense cold of a Polish winter, across the Vistula to a Socinian community in the village of Czarkow, whence after a few weeks they were forced again to flee before the plundering invaders. Taking hasty counsel they realized that in the open country they had no protection against the raging peasantry, and that any attempt to cross the border would expose them there to danger of attack from robbers and assassins. Their only safety seemed to lie in their going to Kráków, which was well fortified and had been held by the Swedes for half a year, and in seeking shelter, as many others from the vicinity had already done, both Catholics and Protestants. Some thirty families took this step, and were kindly received by the Swedish governor. Several of their ablest ministers were of the number—Schlichting, Lubieniecki, Stegmann, and Socinus’s grandson Andrew Wiszowaty – and with leave of the governor they regularly held religious worship and observed church discipline and the sacrament, to the great comfort of the fugitives;13 while their ministers continued their study of the Scriptures, and Schlichting prepared a commentary on a great part of the New Testament. 14 Thus they continued for a year and a half, in which the city was four times under siege, su1 much from hunger and cold.
Meantime the tide of war began to turn strongly against the Swedes, and to stem this Charles devised a plan for dividing Poland among the envious neighboring powers. Under this plan he dangled before the eyes of Prince George Rákóczy of Transylvania the prospect of wearing the Polish crown, and invited him in pursuit of it to invade Poland from the south and join forces with the Swedes. Rákóczy was quick to respond, and at the beginning of 1657 he invaded Poland on the Galician frontier with a motley army of 40,000, composed of Hungarians, Wallachians, Gypsies and Cossacks, chiefly bent upon plunder. When the Poles refused to accept his ‘protectorship’, he ravaged the country mercilessly, including the district where the remaining Socinian communities had been, and then, after reinforcing the Swedish forces at Kráków, proceeded to a union with King Charles farther north. But just at this juncture the Danes attacked Charles in the west, and he at once hastened to meet them, thus leaving Rákóczy alone to face the Poles. As these had already invaded Transylvania in his rear, and Austrian allies of Poland now stood at the gates of Krakow, Rákóczy hastily beat a retreat, which soon turned into a disorderly rout. His Cossacks deserted him, the Polish forces pursued him and harassed his rear, the remnant of his army fell into the hands of the Tatars, who cut them to pieces, and Rákóczy himself barely escaped, and reached his capital only to be deposed by his Diet.15
The Swedish forces evacuated Krakow at the end of August, and the Socinian refugees, since their district was now cleared of enemies, turned back to the homes from which they had fled, only to find their houses pillaged and in ruins, and everything of value carried away. With devotion unshaken by all they had endured they at once set about gathering their congregations together and re-establishing their churches; but before they had been able to do more than take breath a prostrating blow fell upon them. This blow had been long preparing. Even at the time of the accession of King Jan Casimir in 1648 the banishment of the ‘Arians’ had been under consideration in a dietine at Marienburg in Prussia, where the feeling against them was especially strong, though the measure was not deemed practicable as yet for the whole country; and they were publicly compared to Tatars, Cossacks and heathen, and were forbidden to build churches or buy land.16 Also at the national Diet of 1648 after the election of the new King, the great Socinian magnate, George Niemirycz of Kijów, was not permitted to sign the Constitution, since he was an ‘Arian.’ 17 These and other similar occurrences were clear portents of what was destined soon to overwhelm what was left of the Minor Church.
Despite the confusion and ruin of the years of war, the Jesuits had never been diverted from the pursuit of their main purpose, the Utter destruction of ‘Arianism’ in the Kingdom. The controversy that Cichowski had begun in 1641 18 was not allowed to lapse or be forgotten. Schlichting, to be sure, no longer having access to a press, was unable to carry on his part in it, and after 1554 made but one more contribution; but Cichowski, safe from war’s alarms in the seclusion of his college at Poznan, still poured forth a steady stream of attacks— nine in eight years—despite the difficulty of publishing in a time of chaos. By reiterating that ‘Arians’ had no legitimate claim to toleration, asserting the age-honored authority of the Roman Church, attacking the wickedness of the ‘Arian’ doctrines, urging that the national misfortunes of the time were divine punishments for the nation’s toleration of wicked heresies, he caused these ideas in time to become, by sheer force of repetition, an accepted part of the national consciousness. With the ground thus long and carefully prepared, nothing was wanting but a favorable opportunity for consummating the long-delayed action. As soon, therefore, as the Swedes had cleared the country, as they had by the beginning of 1658 a council of the Senate was held at Warsaw, which decided that while amnesty should be granted to all others that had been guilty of treasonable action in the late war, the ‘Arians,’ who had been especially guilty, and were most abominable heretics besides, should upon pain of death either recant or else be banished from the country within a year. 19
After an interval of over three years, the Diet met again in June, 1658 and at the instigation of the King’s confessor and court preacher, the Jesuit father Karwat, it took up religious matters at the very be ginning. In his sermon before the Diet Karwat urged the King now to fulfil the vow that he had made at Warsaw two years before, and the Diet to show its gratitude to God by deeds in exterminating the heretics. The King and the Diet were in a mood to comply readily, and a decree was therefore enacted against the ‘Arians,’ reaffirming an antiquated decree against heretics published by King Ladislas Jagieio in 1424, and aimed especially at the Hussites.20 The new decree called for capital punishment of any duly convicted of ‘Arianism,’ who would not renounce their faith; but as an act of clemency any such were granted three years within which to sell their estates and collect their debts, with possession of their homes and estates in the meantime. In the interval they were to hold no public worship nor perform any official duties. 21
The decree was not passed without opposition, for there were still ‘Arians’ in the Diet. But immediately after the opening it had been proposed and agreed to that an ‘Arian’ is not a Dissident but a heretic, and as such may not sit in the Diet as a Deputy; and they were for excluding forthwith Iwanowicz, Cupbearer from Czerniechow. When he afterwards approached with others to do homage to the King by kissing the royal hand, he was denied unless he would turn Catholic. These things took place in the Senate; but later when the Deputies had withdrawn to their chamber, they voted that no ‘Arian’ might sit among them. 22 When it came to a vote on the decree, an ‘Arian’ Deputy, Tobias Iwanski (or Iwanicki), 23 sought to block proceedings by expressing his disapproval, but this was disregarded as coming from one whose right to a voice was denied. 24
The Socinians were struck well-nigh dumb by the passage of the decree, finding it hard to believe that its terms were meant quite seriously. Their members in the Diet sought support among the other Deputies, and appealed to the King, who was believed to be merciful, to revoke the sentence of banishment; but he replied that he was commanding, not arguing, and that they should come over to Catholicism as the only true faith. There were, however, not a few, even of the Catholics, who opposed the execution of the decree, and for a considerable time the authorities were reluctant to enforce it. To break down such opposition, and place the ‘Arians’ in the worst possible light, one of the Catholic nobility now put into circulation an anonymous tract of a score of pages which, instead of attacking them on the ground of their blasphemous heresies, as the decree had done, now changed the accusation and sought to pillory them as traitors who had been conspicuous in the recent wars by joining with the Swedes, Cossacks and Hungarians against their own country.25 This tract had immense influence upon Polish minds, and greatly intensified their hatred of the ‘Arians;’ and it furnished the favorite materials for whatever apologia Poles later felt called upon to make for the crowning intolerance that blemished their history. It was largely based on the writer’s experiences at Krakow during the Swedish occupation, and it charged that at Krakow the ‘Arians’ stood higher in Swedish favor than did the other Dissidents there, and were more faithful to the Swedish cause; that they took an oath of loyalty to the Swedish King; that the Governor employed eminent ‘Arians’ as his confidential secretaries, who composed his Polish proclamation to the people; that they encouraged and assisted in the Swedish invasion, and also induced Rákóczy to invade the country and enjoyed his favor; that ‘Arians’ fought with Swedes against the Poles and betrayed their plans, and rejoiced at Swedish successes; that they reviled the King and blasphemed the Catholic religion, and were atheists and hypocrites who had been excluded from the Dissidents. Some of these charges were based on gossipy rumor, some were exaggerations, some were suspicions or misinterpretations, and all were naturally colored by prejudice and bitter hatred, and hence deserved critical examination. But as the Socinians had no press with which to reply, the charges being undenied were generally taken at face value.
When at length a vindication of their course could be published, it was too late to avert their fate.26 In the defence at length prepared on their behalf, however, it was replied that in putting themselves under Swedish protection in Kráków, the ‘Arians’ did only what many other citizens of that province were also doing, Catholics and Protestants alike, when their own King and armies had left them with no protection, and there was no other way of escaping the fury of the Cossacks and Russians who were then mercilessly ravaging the land. Though all refugees were indeed required to swear fidelity to the King of Sweden, 27 they did not join in his plans nor take up arms against their country. They had kept faith with King Jan up to the moment of his flight, furnishing him supplies, fighting in his forces, losing many sons in battle, and being ever ready to die for him; nor had they given the Swedish Governor any help, except that one, of German birth, had sometimes been employed by him to write Latin letters for him. But many of the Socinians in other parts of the country, on the other hand, had never sworn allegiance to King Charles, but had borne arms against him with the rest; and many others had made their escape into Hungary or Silesia, as all would have done had it been possible. Even if some individuals acted otherwise, the whole Socinian community was not bound to answer for what they had done, and it was not fair to rouse suspicions and persecutions in the popular mind against them all. 28 Yet in spite of all that was said in defence, one still gets the impression that the Socinians were, in all the existing circumstances, some what deficient in complete loyalty. Of their unqualified love of their country there can be no doubt; but when the existing government for twenty or thirty years, and their King for ten, had shown a steadily growing hostility to them and their faith, it is easy to understand why they may have been ready to believe that a change of ruler from Catholic to Protestant might improve their condition. Nevertheless, the exceptional fact in the whole matter is that while all the others that had for a time given their allegiance to Sweden were granted amnesty, the Socinians were denied it; or rather, that having already been banished from the Kingdom by the decree of 1658, they were unable to claim the amnesty secured under the treaty of Oliva in 1660.
This bitter little tract was perhaps published early in the summer of 1658, soon after the proclamation of the decree of banishment, and must have had immediate and strong effect, for early in September the King found it necessary to issue a mandate forbidding any violence or oppression of ‘Arians,’ and guaranteeing them in the appointed interval of three years peaceable possession of all their goods and enjoyment of all rights and privileges even as other citizens, except that of public worship. 29 For his zeal in purifying his realm of heresy King Jan was highly praised by Pope Alexander VII., who conferred upon him the title of Rex orthodoxus. 30 Undeterred by all that was happening, the Socinians, after three years’ intermission during the wars, again held their synods in 1658 and 1659. The attendants must have been only a handful, and the meetings held in secrecy; but they continued to make plans, and even ordered the publication of two works by Crellius, and voted that Morzkowski’s long delayed work on Ecclesiastical Polity be revised and prepared for the press. 31 At the Diet in March, 1659 the Jesuit Karwat again set the key in his opening Diet sermon, in which he urged that for the sake of peace and prosperity in the country they must resist all efforts to interfere with the state of religion, and not yield a hair from the decree already passed; and he also persuaded them to reduce the interval before banishment from three years to two. 32 The provision was annexed that the decree should not affect any that had been converted to the Catholic Church, thus preventing any more from going over to the Reformed Church, as some of the more wealthy had already done. The fatal date was thus fixed at July 10, 1660 precisely two years from the passage of the decree. Lest there be any reluctance or failure to enforce it, however, Cichowski continued his campaign of attack upon the ‘Arian’ cause, issuing yet seven or eight works after the passage of the decree, in one of which he under took the defence of those ‘Arians’ that had returned to the Catholic Church, and in another opposed Catholics in the Diet who favored patient indulgence to the ‘Arians’, and urged proceeding without hesitation to execute the decree.33
It was evident that there had been wide-spread lack of sympathy with the plan to banish the ‘Arians,’ and that (as has often happened in history, when laws were passed that did not command general approval) there might in some quarters be considerable opposition to seriously enforcing the decree. But when the Diet of 1659 had now confirmed the decree and stiffened its terms, the hopes of its victims grew steadily dimmer. They still kept trying, indeed, in influential quarters to win sympathy for their situation, but they now found themselves seriously driven to plan what should be done if all their efforts failed. Their predicament was more tragic than can readily be conceived. They must make the choice between forever leaving their native land, homes, possessions, life-time friends and kindred, to go out they knew not whither (for there was scarcely a country in all Europe where they could be sure of a welcome and of freedom from persecution), or on the other hand, for the sake of worldly advantage, abjuring their religious faith, violating their conscience, surrendering their honor and self-respect, and all hope of the spiritual freedom that they had enjoyed for a century. As for the humbler classes among them, there was little choice left: it was practically impossible for them to emigrate to an other land. For themselves and their children they must perforce accept baptism in the Catholic Church. Whatever faith they still secretly cherished in their own hearts, their posterity would live in a faith that they themselves had abhorred. Even the gentry had to choose between home comforts and associations, all worldly prospects and public honors, and going forth in their declining years to face privation, hardship and misery, not only for themselves but also for their wives and children. The ampler their possessions the more they must sacrifice in leaving them, and the greater temptation to compromise with con science instead. Small wonder, then, that the greater part of the wealthier ones chose the easier alternative, while comparatively few chose a life in exile.34 It stands recorded, however, that in not a few instances the wives and daughters remained stedfast even after their husbands or fathers had yielded.
Nearly a year before the decree of banishment was passed, the Swedes had evacuated Krakow, and the Socinians that had taken refuge there departed at the same time. Now that the country was again pacified, those that had come from the Palatinate of Krakow returned to their desolated estates, accompanied by their devoted pastor, Andrew Wiszowaty. Three prominent Socinians, however, who had enjoyed the Swedish governor’s favor, followed in the Swedish train: Jonas Schlichting, whose life as one long since proscribed would not now be safe in Poland; 35 Christian Stegmann, and Stanislas Lubieniecki. 36 These hoped that the Swedish King, who had given them protection at Krakow, might be induced to have the Socinians included in the amnesty provided for in the treaty of peace. Hence Lubieniecki continued to live for a year and a half in close association with influential Swedes until, through the mediation of France, the treaty of peace between Poland and Sweden was signed in May, 1660, at Oliva, a Cistercian abbey near Danzig. The treaty in its second article declared a general amnesty to all, of whatever state, condition or religion; and the Swedish commissioners later added a declaration that they understood that no one was to be excepted for having taken the part of the King of Sweden. 37 It very soon became evident, however, that the Polish government did not mean to extend amnesty to Arians’; doubtless holding that they were already outlawed and excluded from the body politic by the decree of 1658, the execution of which had merely been suspended until a later date.
The final months before the date fixed for their banishment were doubtless spent by the Socinians in anxious preparations for their departure; but there were still many that almost to the last were reluctant to abandon their comfortable life and personal connections, and were therefore wavering in religion. Evidently in the forlorn hope that per haps the Catholics might somehow be persuaded that the doctrines of their opponents were less offensive than had been supposed, and might after all agree to toleration, these now urgently requested as a last resort that a friendly conference on religion might be arranged between the Catholics and the Arians.’ The Bishop of Kráków gave his consent, and the distinguished Jan Wielopolski, one of the leading Senators of the Kingdom, in whose neighboring castle at Roznów Wiszowaty had twice sought refuge during the peasant uprising four years earlier, 38 offered his castle for the purpose.
Some of those that were invited to attend and participate were suspicious of a plot and therefore held aloof, some were dissuaded by their friends, some arrived too late; but Wiszowaty, disregarding any danger, appeared on the day appointed, and was received by the Castellan with enviable cordiality. The conference lasted through five days (March 11—16), and was attended by a score or more, in approximately equal numbers on each side. 39 Save for occasional brief interjections, Wiszowaty was the sole debater on the ‘Arian’ side; while the Catholics were represented first by the Provincial of the Bernardine monks, and later by Cichowski and another Jesuit from Kráków. Wielopolski presided, and as the priests refused to use Polish, the discussion was con ducted in Latin, with dignity and in good spirit, and in strict academic form and close adherence to the canons of logic. The topics canvassed were, the Church as interpreter of Scripture, Ecclesiastical traditions, the infallibility of the Church, the eternal divinity of Christ, the Eucharist, infant baptism. Arguments were very acute; but the priests were no match for Wiszowaty, who single-handed often cornered them. One of them, on being asked by the Castellan what he thought of the debate, replied, ‘If all the devils were to come out of hell, they could not defend their religion more strongly than this one man’.40 The result that had been fondly hoped for was not attained, but it was admitted that the disposition of the Catholics was rendered milder toward their opponents; while on the other hand not a few that had been wavering in their religion were confirmed in their adherence to it. A few days later Wiszowaty was invited again to be Wielopolski’s guest, when several days were spent in friendly conversation on religion; and he was urged to change his religion, and promised life-use of a fine estate, and a generous annuity from other magnates, but he remained stedfast rather than forfeit a clear conscience. 41