Reformations in Eastern Europe: Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox

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REFORMATIONS IN EASTERN EUROPE: PROTESTANT, CATHOLIC, AND ORTHODOX. The Reformation first came to Poland-Lithuania in its Lutheran form soon after 1517, finding sympathizers among the German burghers in the cities of Royal Prussia. By 1522 calls for the introduction of the new religion had arisen in Gdańsk against the background of social unrest. King Sigismund I the Old banned the possession and reading of Lutheran books in 1520, and in 1526 he restored order in Gdańsk, reiterating the ban, although some burghers may have continued to practice the religion covertly. In 1525 Königsberg, the capital of the newly secularized Ducal Prussia (a fief of the Polish crown), became a center for Lutheran propaganda in the area (print shop from 1530, university from 1544). Polish and Lithuanian students attended the university, and religious propaganda was printed in their languages. Polish magnates of Great Poland began to serve as patrons of Lutheranism in the 1530s, offering protection to non-nobles on their estates. A few individual voices were heard in Vilnius in the same decade, but pioneering Lithuanian Lutherans such as Abraomas Kulvietis and Stanislovas Rapalionis were forced to seek protection in Königsberg. Another center of the Polish Reformation grew up in the 1520s and 1530s around humanistic circles at the Cracow Academy, at the center of which stood Jakub of Iłża the Younger (member of the Collegium Minor 15181535; documented Reformation activity from 1528). It was here that conditions were created for the first propagation of the new religion in Polish society, and there is some justification in calling Little Poland the "cradle of the Polish Reformation."


All of these activities either remained largely covert or depended upon the protection of the nobles until the reign of Sigismund II Augustus (15481572), who, although remaining Catholic, was more open to the new ideas. He corresponded with Philipp Melanchthon and John Calvin (who dedicated his 1549 Commentary on Hebrews to him), and he appointed the patron of Lithuanian Calvinism, Mikołaj Radziwiłł the Black, as Lithuanian grand chancellor (15501565). The transformation of the Polish-Lithuanian Reformation from a clandestine movement into an open, organized church with public services and synods dates from about 1550, when Protestant gentry began to form a majority in the lower house of the parliament. Protestant magnates were a majority in the upper house from the 1560s. Between 1552 and 1565, only Protestants were elected as marshals presiding over sessions of parliament. In 1552 the diet vacated decisions of the ecclesiastical courts against tithe-resisters and heretics, and in 1555 it declared a Polish interim, guaranteeing religious toleration for nobles until a general council could meet. In 1559 Sigismund II granted religious liberty to Prussian towns, approving the Augsburg confession that had been adopted by the Royal Prussian Diet.

In the years 15561560 a reformed church of Little Poland began to take shape as an overt organization, with a presbyterial governing structure and a Calvinist-Zwinglian doctrine. Leaders of the movement included Francesco Lismanini (15041566), the Franciscan provincial of Poland and confessor of Sigismund II Augustus's mother, Queen Bona Sforza, and the Erasmian Jan Łaski (Joannes à Lasco, 14991560), who returned to Poland after a seventeen-year exile in December 1556.

The Reformation in Poland-Lithuania quickly underwent fragmentation. The Brest Biblethe first printing of the entire Holy Writ by Polish Protestantswas a joint project of the Reformed churches of Poland and Lithuania. Its financial patron was Mikołaj Radziwiłł the Black. By the time it was printed in 1563, many of its sponsors and translators, led by such Italian refugees as Giorgio Biandrata (c. 15151588), had made moves in the direction of Anti-Trinitarianism, forming a volatile and loosely organized "Minor church" (as opposed to the still Calvinistic "Major church").

In 1570 the Calvinists, Lutherans, and the Czech Brethren living in exile in Great Poland (the latter had been in communion with the local Calvinists since the Union of Kominek in 1555) met at a synod of concord at Sandomierz and produced a Confessio Sandomirensis, agreeing to hold joint synods, although they actually met jointly only four times between 1570 and 1595. The Minor church, which was excluded from those deliberations, experienced a period of great internal turmoil in the 1570s and 1580s. The social radicals of Little Poland established centers in Raków and Lublin. Their leaders, such as the "pope of Lublin" Marcin Czechowicz (15321613), argued for pacifism and a withdrawal from the state. Lithuanian Anti-Trinitarians, such as Szymon Budny (c. 15301593), wrote in defense of the jus gladii ('office of the sword') but took much more radical ("non-adorantist") stances on Christological questions. Compromise positions were worked out by the Italian refugee Fausto Sozzini (Socinus), and the "Arians" at Raków published their Confessio Racoviensis in 1605, dedicating the work to King James I of England.

As the tiny but intellectually prominent groups of Polish Anti-Trinitarians were conducting their intensive debates on religion and society, the mainstream Reformation in Poland-Lithuania began to decline. The signs of weakness were already visible as the Polish Reformation reached its zenith in the 1573 Confederation of Warsaw. This document was worked out during the interregnum after the death of the last Jagiellonian king, Sigismund II (d. 1572), and from then on the elected kings of Poland were required to sign pacta conventa based on it and guaranteeing mutual toleration among dissidents in religion.


In the original formulation of the Confederation of Warsaw, all, including Catholics, were seen as in a state of "dissidence." Catholic clergy, however, opposed the Confederation and were soon mounting a successful restoration. Cardinal Stanisław Hosius, bishop of Warmia (15041579), had presided over the proceedings of the Council of Trent in 15621563. He introduced the Jesuit order into Poland in 1564. Jesuit colleges quickly arose (Braniewo, 1565; Vilnius, 1570; Poznań, 1573) and became important tools in the Catholicization of Protestants and Orthodox.

Part of the weakness of the Reformation in Poland-Lithuania stemmed from its late introduction, internal fragmentation, lack of cadres of clergy and attractive schools, the general weakness of the cities, and the fact that it remained largely an affair of the nobles, for whom its use as a political tool may already have run its course by 1573. The fragmentation in mainstream Protestantism was between a largely German burgher Lutheranism and a Polish and Lithuanian noble Calvinism. But it was also between the Calvinist middling gentry and the magnates, whose mutual antagonism brought the latter more and more into political alliance with the crown. By 1582 the only remaining Protestant senators were from Lithuania. The practice of Sigismund III Vasa (ruled 15871632) of appointing only Catholics to office encouraged magnate reconversions. The Zebrzydowski rebellion of 16061607 marked the end of the widespread political influence of Protestant nobles.


Both Protestants and Catholics had made proselytizing among the Orthodox of Poland-Lithuania one goal of their confessional propaganda. The future Antitrinitarian Szymon Budny published a Ruthenian-language version of Luther's catechism at Niasvizh (Nieśwież) in 1562. The Jesuits published a Ruthenian catechism at Vilnius in 1585. The Union of Brest of 1596 gave rise to a situation in which two Ruthenian camps laid exclusive claims to the patrimony of Kievan Orthodoxy, and both sought, using the tools of Reformation and Counter-Reformationthrough brotherhoods, schools, printing houses, and monasteriesto restore the church to its pristine form. In addition to fearing loss of souls to the other side, Uniates and Orthodox were troubled by conversions from within their ranks in a trajectory that often led first to Calvinism and then to Catholicism (and later directly to Catholicism).

An Orthodox hierarchy was "illegally" restored in 1620. A decade of pamphlet wars, followed by the death of Sigismund III in 1632, led to the temporary consolidation of a Protestant-Orthodox camp during the negotiations behind the election of the late king's son Władysław IV as king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania. The new monarch recognized the status quo, granting legality to both Uniate and Orthodox hierarchies. On the eve of the Khmelnytsky Uprising (1648) we can discern three programs for a Ruthenian church and people: one Uniate and two Orthodox, the first orthodox program led by hierarchs such as Peter Mohyla and the nobles, and the second by the lesser clergy and Cossacks.


By 1600 there was no Protestant church within the walls of Cracow. In 1627 the last urban Protestant church in the crown lands (at Lublin) was destroyed, as was the Anti-Trinitarian center at Raków in 1638. The wars of the mid-century with the Orthodox Cossacks, Lutheran Sweden, and Orthodox Muscovy helped to establish the equation of Pole and Catholic. In 1658 the Polish parliament made Anti-Trinitarianism illegal, giving the Polish Arians a choice of conversion to Catholicism or emigration. The Treaty of Andrusovo (1667) ceded Kiev and left-bank Ukraine to Muscovy, removing the Orthodox spiritual center and many Orthodox inhabitants from the lands of the Commonwealth. Nonetheless, Lutherans and Calvinists were still present, and Uniates and Orthodox still made up a considerable portion of the population in the eastern lands. And although the magnates were almost exclusively Catholic by around mid-century, all four non-Catholic confessions could still look to patrons among the middling gentry. Thus the story in Poland-Lithuania was one of a relatively peaceful Catholic restoration and a toleration of the other confessions, now rendered unthreatening through increasing restrictions, dwindling numbers, and growing incentives to conform to a Polish Catholic norm.

See also Belarus ; Lithuania, Grand Duchy of, to 1569 ; Lithuanian Literature and Language ; Orthodoxy, Russian ; Poland-Lithuania, Commonwealth of, 15691795 ; Poland to 1569 ; Polish Literature and Language ; Ukraine ; Ukrainian Literature and Language ; Uniates ; Union of Brest (1596) .


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David Frick

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Reformations in Eastern Europe: Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox

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