CHAPTER XXXIX

THE SOCINIAN EXILES IN EAST PRUSSIA

AFTER THUS TURNING ASIDE from the main course of our narrative to trace that of the somewhat detached kindred movements in East Prussia, we return to follow those exiles from Poland who in 1660 and later sought to reestablish themselves and their church life in what had until recently been Polish Prussia. When the decree of banishment against the ‘Arians’ was passed in 1658, one of the first to leave the country seems to have been Samuel Przypkowski.1 He had long been close to public life as secretary to one of the Radziwills, and had been an active and aggressive champion of toleration in the face of the rapidly growing intolerance of the Catholic reaction. At the accession of Ladislas IV. in 1632 he had addressed an eloquent panegyric to the new King, extolling the value of religious peace and freedom of conscience, deprecating the rising danger of intolerance, and especially pleading for religious freedom for the Polish Brethren. 2 Unfortunately the writing did not have the desired effect, for intolerance remained unchecked. He had also published a bold apology defending Prince Janusz Radziwill against the charge of treason in the war with Sweden; 3 and had made an eloquent reply to Cichowski’s final attack upon the ‘Arians’ in 1661. 4 Being known as a man of brilliant talents and wide experience in public life, when he left Poland he found a ready welcome at the court of Boguslaw Radziwill at Konigsberg, and became a member of his Council. 5 Here he was able to render useful service not only to the Governor but also to the exiles. Numerous others are said also to have removed to Konigsberg, and to have held their religious worship privately in one of their dwellings in the Rossgarten, 6 having for some time a regularly appointed minister. Under existing laws, Arians might not buy nor inherit property, although the law was evaded by taking life-leases which might pass on to survivors. Thus the Elector in 1663 granted life-use of a large property at Rudawki to Zbigniew Morsztyn, perhaps the most distinguished of all the exiles, and afterwards made him one of his Council, with a residence in the castle at Konigsberg, and employed him in diplomatic service of great importance.7 The Governor was well-disposed to the exiles, and did all in his power to protect them, having many of them in his employ. Przypkowski was thus doubtless able to pave the way for more of the brethren to remove to Prussia, where they settled mostly near the border in the southeast corner of the Duchy, leasing large estates on which the poorer brethren could live around them in villages, in the traditional Polish custom, with meetings for worship in the hail of the manor-house. No sooner, however, had the exiles begun to arrive and settle than the Lutheran clergy grew apprehensive lest their territory become widely infected with ‘Arianism,’ and began to work for their banishment. The Diet requested the Elector to have the laws against ‘Arians,’ etc. enforced, and some repressive legislation was at length passed in 1663, though extant records do not show what it was.

Meantime the brethren in exile held a synod in 1663, 8 and appointed two ministers to serve the congregations in Prussia. They also voted that, as they entertained a strong hope that they were to find a permanent and sure settlement in Prussia under the Elector’s protection, all the brethren should henceforth send to Prussia all their records, and the money collected elsewhere, especially in Holland, Holstein and England; and that as Przypkowski had great experience in public affairs he should be directed to write a petition to the governing powers, and do all possible to get a safe place appointed for them to settle, 9 also that he should compose in Latin an accurate account of all their sufferings in the Russian and Swedish wars and forward it to Holland, to stir up compassion for them. 10 The confidence thus reposed in Przypkowski is the more noteworthy since he was an eclectic in religion, and had alienated some of the brethren by his dissentient views about Christ and other subjects, and had suffered harsh abuse for it.11 Pressure upon the exiles now relaxed a little. Stragglers from Poland kept arriving for several years, and in 1665 they ventured to hold a synod at the village of Kessel near Johannisburg, with delegates even from Transylvania, as well as from scattered places in Prussia. 12 Here, taking thought for their future, they voted that their synod records should be preserved and continued; that aid be sent as far as possible to the brethren at Kolozsvár, though they could not now provide a minister for them; that money sent from Holland should be distributed to the brethren still remaining in the Krakow district; and that a sum of money be sent to the destitute widow of one of their distinguished leaders in Silesia. It was not long, however, before the authorities ordered that no more assemblies be held until further notice. The brethren, therefore, fearing that a storm was about to break upon them, presented to the Elector the petition that Przypkowski had been asked to draw up. 13

The Apologia that Przypkowski presented to the Elector in behalf of the Unitarians, as they now preferred to be called, was designed to defend them against the charges that were evidently being made by the Lutherans; namely, that they blaspheme the Trinity, offend the majesty and dignity of Christ, and dishonor the Holy Spirit. These charges are stoutly denied. In other articles of religion they hold to nothing blasphemous or heretical, or at variance with the Apostles’ Creed. They uphold the office of the Magistrate. Though differing as to various matters, they believe that Jesus is the Christ, and prove their faith by uprightness of life, holding that service of him lies not in one’s opinions but in obedience to his commands; and they do not own the name of Anabaptists or Arians, but detest their errors. They are faithful subjects, have no strange laws, and have introduced no evil customs. After over five years here their worst enemies cannot point out one that they have even tried to lead astray. Liberty of conscience is a gift of God, and error is to be put down by spiritual weapons, not by force. Their brethren have been granted citizenship by William of Orange in Holland, and have been received by Protestant princes in Silesia, by the Queen of Poland in her Duchies, by the Princes of Transylvania and Hungary, and by the Elector at Mannheim. Can Prussia be less kind? The appeal closes with an eloquent plea for liberty of conscience as the foundation of civil liberty, and a moving reference to the pitiable case of the exiles if they should now be denied room even on the sandy and waste fields that they have but just begun to restore.

This petition was presently followed by a supplementary writing, an extended defence of the Apologia entitled Hyperaspistes. In six chapters it sets forth the doctrine of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, with especial regard to the radical views that had been espoused by Budny, Palaeologus and David, and had drawn down criticism upon the Socinians. Both these documents were quite irenic in spirit, and went as far as possible to state the faith of the exiles in terms that might not seem too heretical to their opponents. With the same design a Confession of Faith of the Exiles was soon afterwards dedicated to the Elector.14 It followed in the footsteps of Jonas Schlichting’s Confession of 1642, stating the main articles in brief and simple form, with proof-texts cited for every item, and the obvious purpose of showing that this faith in every particular is agreeable to Scripture and the Apostles’ Creed.

No immediate result followed these efforts, but they apparently made a favorable impression, for with the silent connivance of the Elector, doubtless encouraged by the Governor, leave was allowed the exiles to stay in Prussia at least for a time; and it is noteworthy that at just this time Przypkowski and another of the brethren were allowed, with the Elector’s approval, to acquire, subject to mortgage, the village of Kasinowo (Andreaswalde), 15 which was henceforth to become the centre of Socinianism in Prussia.

The Governor, Boguslaw Radziwill, who had from the beginning shown himself a sympathetic friend of the exiles, died on the last day of 1669. 16 Hereupon the Diet at once seized the opportunity to obtain from the Elector early in 1670 an edict, which was publicly posted, denying the exiles any right to remain in Prussia after three years from date.17 They therefore presented to him another petition,18 appealing to his pity, mercy, and sense of justice: they were not criminals, had a clear conscience, could remove to no place where they would be safe from violence; they could claim kinship with all the noblest families in Poland and Lithuania, even with Princes and the present King, and they prayed most earnestly to be spared this last calamity. The King consulted his intimate Councilors: though he had acquiesced in their desire, yet could they not find some other way in view of this piteous appeal? For himself, he felt that at least public posting of the decree should be avoided, and that other means might be found. Their opponents, however, were not satisfied, and kept urging the proscription of the Socinians. These therefore turned again to King Michael of Poland, who two years before had interceded for the exiles at Kreuzburg. 19 He then addressed letters to the Elector, the Governor of Prussia, and the Prussian Diet, making the personal request that the exiles, being of noble birth and closely related to leading men in Poland and Lithuania, might, out of Christian tolerance and as a favor to him, be permitted to remain in Prussia. Such a request could not well be disregarded, so that, from 1673 on, means were sought by which on the one hand the Socinians might be protected, and on the other the danger of their infecting the country with their heresy might be over come; the Elector favoring only very moderate procedure, while the Diet continually pressed for exile, especially in 1679. In this year the Elector, after being reminded that orders four times given in the past ten years had been allowed to be treated as dead letters, issued a new decree of banishment within six weeks;20 nevertheless, on one pretext or another, execution of the decree was from time to time deferred.

Meanwhile the exiles, though conscious of a sword continually hanging over their heads, slowly grew reassured, and prepared for an indefinite stay. Thus in 1678 representatives from congregations in Brandenburg and in Prussia met in synod at Rudawki, appointed a regular minister for the congregation there, voted for shorter sermons and more prayers, and to observe church discipline more strictly. At another synod in 1684, the inner life of the church and domestic worship were considered, with emphasis on personal virtues. Though meetings for worship were apparently held at or near Andreaswalde by about 1662, with occasional visits from ministers delegated by the synods at Kreuzburg, the exiles there had a regular minister beginning with 1670, the first being Christopher Crellius, now returned from his visit to Holland and England; and he also paid annual visits to dispersed groups in Silesia. Later they also had a school, and their church life was uninterrupted until the death of the last minister about 1803. There were in all eight ministers in succession.21 Somewhat later a church with a regular minister was established on the Morsztyn estate at Rudawki (Rudowken, Rutow), 22 which had a succession of seven ministers; but the worship ceased in 1752 when the estate passed into the hands of strangers. No other Socinian congregation with regular church life is known to have existed in East Prussia, 23 though private domestic worship was doubtless held on various Socinian estates, in accordance with traditional Socinian custom.

The best account we have of the mode of worship among the Socinians comes from the hand of a contemporary who enjoyed their confidence in Prussia at the middle of the eighteenth century. 24 Their worship, extremely simple, and without ceremonial, was held in a private home, similar as they believed to those in which the first Christians met, whose rites and customs they strove to imitate. Their place of worship at Andreaswalde25 was in a common house suited for domestic purposes, in whose plain hypocaustum they met for worship on Sundays and holy days. The service began with the singing of a hymn from Preuss’s German hymn-book, Herzliches Saytenspiel, followed by a brief introduction to the sermon. The minister then knelt to invoke the divine blessing on the word, with other prayers not in prescribed form but according to the dictates of the heart. The scripture passage to be dwelt on was then read, with comments and an application. The sermon did not exceed an hour, after which the younger people present were examined upon it by question and answer. The service ended with prayers and a hymn. The afternoon service had a briefer sermon, but more catechizing. The Lord’s Supper and baptism and church discipline were observed with the utmost seriousness, as related in a previous chapter. 26 The minister was assisted in administering the church funds by a Deacon, an elderly man of up right life, who relieved widows, orphans and the poor, as well as paid the minister’s salary, which was meager indeed, amounting to no more than 100 florins a year. Morsztyn had left the church a legacy of 6,000 thalers, whose income supplemented the church funds.

From tile point our narrative has now reached, the church life of the Socinians in Prussia proceeded normally, and not too seriously disturbed, for over a hundred years. They had of course to take care not to arouse Lutheran opposition by doing anything to spread their faith, as by holding public services, engaging in discussions, or circulating their books; but they held their synods, long remained in communication with the brethren in Transylvania and with Remonstrants and Mennonites in Holland, whither they sent their young ministers to be educated, and maintained their traditional standards of devout piety and strict Christian morals. Though for the most part they went their way quietly and gave little offence, the over-zealous had now and then to be admonished not to engage in propaganda. By 1721 the cause at Andreaswalde seemed to be taking on fresh vigor. The members were showing themselves aggressive, and had now built a special house of worship and employed a schoolmaster; and they were said not to be paying due regard to the local Lutheran church administration. The Lutheran clergy became concerned and complained to the King, Frederick William I., who ordained restrictions for the Socinians, with accompanying threats of punishment. This was done in 1721 and again ten years later; but nothing happened. The danger of banishment had passed. Despite repeated complaints and occasional decrees, the Socinians had maintained their existence and held their worship here for seventy years.

Henceforth there was no real question of exile, but only of a measure of religious freedom. Nevertheless from this time on their cause showed a gradual decline. Some twenty families or more are known to have sought refuge in Prussia; 27 but in 1754 only ninety Polish Arians were reported in Prussia, of whom seventy were at Andreaswalde; while worship had now ceased at Rudawki. They were mostly agriculturists, and some of them were poor. They could no longer employ a teacher for their young. They had lost connection with their distant brethren in Transylvania. Worship was still conducted in Polish, but a German catechism was gradually replacing the Polish one, which the children could no longer understand. Their members steadily grew fewer. Some died, some removed to join the brethren in Holland or elsewhere, some went over to the Lutheran or the Reformed Church, some married Lutheran or Reformed wives who brought up their children in their own faith. Although a few of them were placed in important administrative offices, as a rule they were debarred from public office and from the professions. They might not buy estates or invest their money profitably. 28 In short, they were steadily succumbing to the fate of a weak minority in a hostile environment; and when in 1776 King Frederick the Great at length granted them permission to build a new church, with guarantee of unrestricted religious freedom, they were grown so few and so poor that after a dozen years more they had gone no further than gather some materials for it, and there is no indication that it was ever built. 29 In fact, there was now no longer any good reason why they should continue to live in Prussia in face of such odds; for in 1767 religious freedom had been proclaimed in Poland, and Arians’ were no longer liable to prosecution there. Undoubtedly some of them then returned to the homeland, though no record of them remains. We can trace but one individual. One of the owners of Andreaswalde late in the eighteenth century was the family Sierakowski; and of this family came General Karol Sierakowski, who won fame under Kosciuszko in the war against Russia. He remained true to the faith of his fathers to the end of his life at Warsaw in 1824, and is said to have been the last Socinian in Poland.30

Those that remained in Prussia held together a little while longer. With the death of their last minister, a Schlichting, in 1803 their public worship will have ceased, and henceforth they worshiped in the Protestant parish in which they lived, in the persuasion, as one of them bore witness, ‘that true worship is not a matter of name or forms, but of an upright life, which was the chief basis of the old “Arian” religion.’ The dissolution of the group was now only a question of time. The members still held in common the lands at Andreaswalde; but in 1811 the seven surviving members decided to sell the village to the present tenant and divide the proceeds among themselves. 31 An inquiry made in 1838 showed two of the members as still living, both very old men, a Morsztyn and a Schlichting. Of these two, Karol Henryk Morsztyn died in 1852, and is recorded as the last Polish Arian in Prussia. 32 All the rest had now, with their families, become assimilated to the surrounding German churches, though the old Polish names still survive in Masuria in families that in religion and language have long been completely German. Thus ends the history, at once heroic and pathetic, of the Socinians in Poland, the simple Polish Brethren, who united with the widest doctrinal freedom the most eager missionary zeal and the most fervent piety, as they conscientiously tried to live strictly after the literal teachings of Jesus. But though its body had ceased to exist its spirit lived on, widely diffused, as we shall see, in Western Europe, and its teachings insensibly but surely modified the rigors of western orthodoxy. As an orthodox German historian has said of the Socinians, ‘the distinguishing mark of their life, the showing of love toward every one, their demand for freedom of the religious life from all civil compulsion, praised even by Luther but forgotten again in early Protestantism, has entered on its victorious march in the social and liberal thoughts of the whole civilized world. 33

It is worth while for a moment in concluding this story to glance back at Poland and see what happened after the Socinians had been disposed of. Their banishment, as we have seen, was hastened and facilitated through the willing cooperation of the orthodox Protestants with the Catholics. Unfortunately the former did not realize until too late that they were used as tools to dig their own graves. With the Socinians out of the way, Catholic pressure upon the others soon began. The Bohemian Brethren, the next weakest sect, were banished a year after the Socinians; and by 1668 the power of Protestantism in Poland was practically crushed. In 1716 freedom of worship was forbidden to Protestants except in their older churches, and in 1733 and 1736 their political rights were taken from them.34 When after a long struggle the old rights of Dissidents were again restored in 1767, it was not only forever too late for the Socinians, but also too late to do much good to the Protestant cause in Poland, which has never regained more than a mere fraction of its former vigor.

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