Eminent Polish preacher, theologian, and apologist; b. Grójec, Mazovia, 1536; d. Cracow, Sept. 27, 1612. He attended the parish school at Grójec, went on to the University of Cracow (B.A. 1554), was ordained at Lvov (1564), and entered the Jesuit novitiate. He studied theology in Rome (1564–71) and was appointed professor at Pultusk College (1571). He abandoned his teaching career for preaching and missionary activities (he converted the Radziwill princes and their Lithuanian subjects) and founded or enlarged Jesuit colleges in Ryga, Dorpat, Połock, Nieśwież, and Lublin. He was first rector of the Academy (university) of Vilna (1579–84).
To uphold Catholicism and to convert Protestants and schismatics, Skarga wrote many treatises, usually in Polish, such as Pro Ssma. Eucharistia (1576; Eng. tr. Milwaukee 1939) and O Jednosci Kościoła Boźego (1577, On the Unity of the Church of God). The Union of Brest (1596), which united the schismatic Ruthenians with Rome, was widely attributed to the influence of Skarga's apologetic treatises.
Zywoty Swietych (1579, Lives of the Saints) has been most widely read by Poles through the centuries. Rather than simply translate, Skarga artistically transformed Lippomano's hagiographic work by adapting it to the Polish mentality, adding original commentaries, and including new biographies. Outstanding for philosophic depth and finesse of style is Kazania na Niedziele i Swięta (1595, Sermons for Sundays and Holidays). Skarga published his powerful Kazania o Siedmiu Sakramentach (1600, Sermons on the Seven Sacraments), together with Kazania Przygodne (Sermons on Various Occasions) and his prophetic Kazania Sejmowe (Sermons Preached to the Diet). The last work, a national examination of conscience, greatly influenced Polish literary and patriotic thought, particularly in the 19th century.
Skarga's profound eloquence combined with piety and humility to win him the name of the Polish Bossuet. He founded many charitable societies in major Polish cities: Bractwo Milosierdzi (the Brotherhood of Charity), Bractwo Betanii Sw. Łazarza (the Brotherhood of St. Lazarus of Bethany) to care for the sick, Skrzynka Sw. Mikołaja (St. Nicholas' Chest) to shield young girls, and especially the Bank Poboźny to protect the poor from usurers. He spent the last 24 years of his life as King Zygmunt III's preacher, using his prestige and power solely for the good of his Church and his country, to which he had given a salutary program for reform.
Bibliography: p. skarga, Pisma wszystkie, 5 v. (Warsaw 1923–30); Les Sermons politiques … , tr. a. berga (Paris 1916). s. windakiewicz, P. Skarga (Cracow 1925). a. berga, Un Prédicateur … Pierre Skarga … (Paris 1916). g. m. godden, P. Skarga, Priest and Patriot (London 1947).
[t. f. domaradzki]