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§ 74. The Reformation in Poland and the Consensus of Sendomir. A.D. 1570.


Consensus Sendomiriensis, in Niemeyer, pp. 561 sqq. The German text in Beck, Vol. II. pp. 87 sqq.

Joannis a Lasco: Opera tam edita quam inedita recensuit vitam autoris enarravit A. Kuyper.. Amstel. 1866, 2 Tom. The first volume contains his dogmatic and polemic writings, including the Responsio adv. Hosium (1559); the second his Confession, Catechisms, and Letters, including a few from Poland, 1556–59 (Vol. II. pp. 746–765). His Letters were previously published by Gerdesius, in his Scrinium antiquarium, Groning. 1750.

Dan. Ern. Jablonski: Historia consensus Sendomiriensis inter evangelicos regni Poloniæ et M.D. Lithuaniæ in synodo generali evangelicorum utriusque partis Sendomiriæ A.D. 1570 die 14 Aprilis initi. Berolini, 1731.

C. G. von Friese: Reformationsgeschichte von Polen und Lithauen. Breslau, 1786, 3 vols.

Valerian Krasinski (an exiled Polish Count): Historical Sketch of the Rise, Progress, and Decline of the Reformation in Poland. London, 1838 and 1840, 2 vols. German translation by W. Ad. Lindau. Leipz. 1841. Krasinski: Sketch of the Religious History of the Slavonic Nations. Edinburgh, 1851. The same in French (Histoire religieuse des peuples slaves), Paris, 1853, with an introduction by Merle d'Aubigné.

G. W. Th. Fischer: Versuch einer Geschichte der Reformation in Polen. Grätz, 1855–56, 2 vols.

P. Bartels: Johannes a Lasco. Elberfeld, 1860. In Vol. IX. of Leben der Väter der reform. Kirche.

Dr. Erbkam: Art. Sendomir, in Herzog's Real-Encykl. Vol. XXI. pp. 24–45. Dr. Erdmann: Art. Polen, ibid. Vol. XII. pp. 1 sqq.


The history of the Reformation in Poland is as sad as that in Bohemia. It started with fair prospects of success, but was suppressed by the counter-reformation under the energetic and unscrupulous leadership of the Jesuits, who took advantage of the dissensions among Protestants, the weakness of the court, and the fickleness of the nobility, obtained the control of the education of the aristocracy and clergy, and ultimately brought that unfortunate kingdom to the brink of internal ruin before its political dismemberment by the surrounding powers.


Poland became a mighty kingdom by the union with Lithuania (1386) and the successful wars with the Teutonic order in Prussia. In the middle of the sixteenth century it extended from the shores of the Baltic to the Black Sea, and embraced Great Poland (Posen), Little Poland (Warsaw), Lithuania, Samogitia (Wilna), Courland, Livonia, Esthland, Podlesia, Volhynia, Podolia, Ukraine, and the Prussian territories of Dantzic, Culm, and Ermeland. The population was Slavonic, with a large number of Germans and Jews. It originally received Christianity from the Greek Church, through Bohemia, but, owing to its close connection with the German empire, it became, like Bohemia, Roman Catholic during the tenth century. The government 582was in the hands of the nobility, which controlled the king. The power of the Church was restricted to spiritual affairs, and weakened by the immorality of the clergy.


Poland never showed special devotion to the Roman See, and during the Council of Constance manifested some sympathy with the reform of Hus. Waldenses, Bohemians, and all classes of Protestants, even Socinians and Anabaptists, found hospitable shelter.

The Lutheran Reformation was introduced by Polish students returning from Wittenberg, and by Lutheran tutors employed in the families of the nobles. It triumphed in the German cities of Dantzic (1525) and Thorn (1530).

Among the Slavonic population and the higher nobility, and in the University of Cracow, Calvinism made rapid progress. It was patronized by Prince Nicholas Radziwill, the Chancellor of Poland under King Sigismund Augustus II. (1548–1572). The king himself corresponded with Calvin, and read his 'Institutes' with great zeal. Calvin dedicated to him his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, and in some remarkable letters solemnly urged him to use the favorable opportunity for the introduction of the pure doctrine and worship of Christ before the door might be forever closed. In a large kingdom with strongly feudal institutions he would allow, for the sake of unity and order, and after the model of the ancient Church, the episcopal organization, with an archbishop and a regular succession; but he thought that under the circumstances the Reformation could not be introduced without some irregularity, since the papal bishops had become the open enemies of the gospel. He became at last discouraged by the indecision of the king, and lost confidence in the sincerity of the nobles. His fears were only too well realized.11131113   On Calvin's relation to Poland, see Stähelin, Joh. Calvin, Vol. II. pp. 22 sqq.

Another powerful element were the Bohemian Brethren, who, driven from their native land in 1548, emigrated in large numbers and organized forty congregations in Great Poland.11141114   Vergerius wrote, 1557, to Stanislaus Ostrorog: 'Esse jam in Polonia circiter XL ad eorum normam institutas ecclesias, quæ sane florent, multo autem plures propediem instituendas.' They were well received, 583and, by the affinity of race and language, their purity, simplicity, and strict discipline, they made a deep impression on the Slavonic Poles. The Brethren united with the Calvinists at the first general Protestant Synod held at Kosminek, 1555. The latter adopted the confession, liturgy, and episcopal government of the former. This step was highly approved by Calvin, who wrote to a Polish nobleman, Stanislaus Krasinski: 'From a union with the Waldenses [as the Brethren were sometimes called] I hope the best, not only because God blesses every act of a holy union of the members of Christ, but also because at the present crisis the experience of the Waldenses, who are so well drilled in the service of the Lord, will be of no small benefit to you.' He also advocated union with the adherents of the Augsburg Confession as this was understood and explained by its author. He was invited by the nobility to Poland, but could not leave Geneva.


In Calvin's place appeared, by his advice and probably at the invitation of the king, John a Lasco, or Laski, a Polish nobleman, distinguished among the Reformers of the second rank. Born at Warsaw, 1499, and educated for the priesthood by his uncle, the Archbishop of Gnesen and Primas of Poland, he made a literary journey to Holland and Switzerland, and became personally acquainted with Zwingli at Zurich (1524) and with Erasmus at Basle (1525), who shook his faith in the Roman Church.11151115   Erasmus spoke of Laski in the highest terms, and sold him his library for three hundred crowns, with the privilege of retaining it till his death. Krasinski, l.c. p. 98 (German ed.). On his return to Poland he endeavored to introduce a moderate reformation, but the country was not prepared for it. He declined an offer to a bishopric, and sacrificed bright prospects to his conviction, preferring to be in a foreign land 'a poor servant of Christ crucified for him.' He labored several years as Reformed pastor in Emden, East Friesland, until the Interim troubles drove him and his friends to England. He organized in London three congregations of Dutch, German, French, and Italian emigrants (ecclesiæ peregrinorum) on a Presbyterian and voluntary basis, under the protection of Archbishop Cranmer and Edward VI. The persecution of Queen Mary forced him again to wander in exile. 584When he landed with a hundred and seventy-five members of his flock in Denmark, 1553, he was refused shelter in cold winter because he could not subscribe to the Lutheran doctrine of the real presence. He fully experienced the force of his motto, 'The pious have no home on earth, for they seek heaven.' After laboring a short time in a congregation of English and other pilgrims in Frankfort-on-the Main, he accepted the invitation to his native country in 1556, and was made General Superintendent of Little Poland. Here he prepared, with the aid of other scholars, an admirable Polish translation of the Scriptures, published after his death, organized Reformed Churches (which increased in his time to the number of one hundred and twenty-two), and confirmed the union of the Calvinists with the Bohemian Brethren, although he himself preferred the Presbyterian polity with lay representation to the Bohemian episcopacy, and differed from their view of the Lord's Supper and other articles of their confession. He died Jan. 7, 1560, in the midst of work and care.11161116   He wrote to Calvin, Feb. 19, 1557 (Opera, Vol. II. p. 746): 'Ita nunc obruor curis ac negotiis, mi Calvine! ut nihil possim scribere. Hinc hostes, illinc falsi fratres nos adoriuntur, ut non sit quies ulla, sed et pios multos habemus, sit Deo gratia! qui nobis sunt et adiumento et consolationi.'

PETER PAUL VERGERIO.11171117   See Chr. H. Sixt: Petrus Paulas Vergerius, . . . eine reformationsgeschichtliche Monographie (Braunschweig, 1855), pp. 391 sqq. and 437 sqq. Comp. also Herzog's art. Vergerius, in his Real-Encykl. Vol. XVII. pp. 65 sqq.

During the same period Poland was twice visited (1557 and 1559) by another remarkable man among the secondary reformers— Peter Paul Vergerio (1498–1565), formerly papal nuncio to Germany and Bishop of Capo d’Istria.11181118   See Chr. H. Sixt: Petrus Paulas Vergerius, . . . eine reformationsgeschichtliche Monographie (Braunschweig, 1855), pp. 391 sqq. and 437 sqq. Comp. also Herzog's art. Vergerius, in his Real-Encykl. Vol. XVII. pp. 65 sqq. In the attempt to refute the Lutheran writings he had become a Protestant, introduced the Reformation in the Italian parts of the Grisons (Valtellina, Poschiavo, and Bregaglia), and then took up his residence in Tübingen under the protection of Duke Christopher of Würtemberg, writing many books and making important missionary journeys. He was well received in Poland by Prince Radziwill and the king. He associated mainly with Lutherans and the Bohemian Brethren, but labored for the cause of union, like Laski.11191119   He thought at one time of joining the Unitas Fratrum, being disgusted with the renewal of the sacramental war. Even Melanchthon once expressed a similar desire, 'in Valdensium ecclesiis me inserere et in illis mori; placent enim mihi summopere.' See his letter to V. Dietrich, quoted by Herzog, p. 71.


He aided the Reformation by his able pen, and the Roman historian Raynaldus says that 'this wretched heretic led many weak Catholics into the camp of Satan.' But his stay in Poland was too short to leave permanent results.


In the mean time the Roman Catholic party, under the leadership of Cardinal Stanislaus Hosius, Bishop of Ermeland (d. 1579), was very active. Pope Paul IV. sent a nuncio, Lipomani, to Poland, and urged the king to banish Laski and Vergerio from the country, and to suppress, with every power at his command, the rising heresy, if he would save his honor, his crown, and his soul. The weak king vacillated between the advice of Calvin and the threats of the Pope, and did nothing. He allowed the glorious opportunity to pass, and died in 1572, the last of the House of Jagellon. The nobles were likewise undecided, and many of them were carried away by the Unitarian heresy which began to spread in Poland in 1558.

During the interregnum which followed the death of Sigmund Augustus, the nobles, before electing a new king, concluded in 1573 a patriotic treaty of peace for the protection of religious freedom, under the name of Pax Dissidentium—that is, of the Roman Catholic and the three evangelical Churches.11201120   The Roman Catholics objected to being called Dissidentes, and were opposed to the whole treaty. They required Duke Henry of Anjou, the brother of the King of France and a violent enemy of the Huguenots, to accept the treaty as a condition of the crown, hoping to break it afterwards. On being peremptorily told by the Great Marshal, in the midst of the act of coronation, 'Si non jurabis non regnabis' he took the oath in spite of the remonstrance of the Romish party; but he left Poland in 1574, being called to the throne of France after the death of his brother, Charles IX. His Protestant successor, Stephen Bathori of Transylvania (1575–86), took the same oath, but afterwards joined the Roman Church and opened the door to the Jesuits This was the turning-point.

Under Sigmund III.—a Swedish prince, who had been educated 586and converted by Jesuits, and was elected king in 1587—there began a series of vexations and oppressions of the Protestants which gradually reduced them to a poor remnant, except in the Prussian part of Poland where the German element prevailed. Even Laski's relations and the four sons of Radziwill returned to the Roman Church; one of these sons became a cardinal; another made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and spent five thousand ducats for the purchase and destruction of Polish Bibles which his father had published (1563) at his expense.11211121   Krasinski, p. 297. Hence the great scarcity of this work. It was an essential part of the Jesuit counter-reformation to burn the whole Protestant literature, and thus, to suppress all independent thought. In this it succeeded only too well. The Polish nation, after the light of the gospel was extinguished, hastened step by step to its internal and external ruin.


After the death of Laski (1560) and Prince Radziwill (1567) the Protestants had no commanding leader, and felt the more the necessity of some union for their own safety. An organic union would have been the best, and would perhaps have made them strong enough to carry the king and the nobles with them. But for such a step they were not prepared. Instead of this the Lutherans (influenced by the liberal advice of the Melanchthonian divines of Wittenberg), the Calvinists, and the Bohemian Brethren effected a confederate union at the Synod of Sendomir,11221122   A town on the Vistula in Little Poland. Krasinski and Gindely call it Sandomir. April 14, 1570, and expressed it in the Consensus Sendomiriensis, the only important confessional document of the evangelical Churches in Poland. It was published by authority, in Latin and Polish, in 1586, with a preface signed by Erasmus Gliczner, Lutheran Superintendent of Great Poland, in the name of the ministers of the Augsburg Confession, by John Laurentius, Superintendent of the Bohemian Brethren in Great Poland, and by Paulus Gilovius, Superintendent of the Reformed Churches in Little Poland.11231123   The full title is 'Consensus in fide et religione Christiana inter Ecclesias Evangelicas Majoris et Minoris Poloniæ, Magnique Ducatus Lithuaniæ et cæterarum ejus regni provinciarum, primo Sendomiriæ Anno MDLXX. in Synodo generali sancitus, et deinceps in aliis, ac demum in Wlodislaviensi generali Synodo Anno MDLXXXIII. confirmatus, et Serenissimis Poloniæ Regibus, Augusto, Henrico ac Stephano oblatus, nunc autem ex decreto Synodico in publicum typis editus. Anno Christi MDLXXXVI.' This edition contains the supplementary resolutions of the Synods of Posen (1570), Cracow (1573), Petricow (1578), and Vladislav (1583). It was reprinted at Thorn, 1592 and 1596 (with the Acta et conclusiones synodi generalis Thoruniensis anni 1595); at Heidelberg, 1605; at Geneva, in the Corpus et Syntagma Conf., 1612 and 1654 (from the Heidelberg edition); at Frankfort-on-the-Oder, 1704 (with a Preface and German translation of Dr. Sam. Strimesius); and at Berlin, 1731, in Jablonski's Historia cons. Send. Niemeyer (1840) gives the Latin text from the edition of Thorn, with all the supplements (pp. 551–591). Böckel excludes the Consensus (as not being strictly Reformed) from his collection. Beck gives the German text, but without the additions; and so also Dr. Nitzsch, in his Urkundenbuch der Evangelischen Union (Bonn, 1853), pp. 72 sqq.


The Consensus sets forth that the three orthodox evangelical Churches are agreed in the doctrines of God, the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the person of Christ, justification by faith, and other fundamental articles, as taught in the Augsburg, the Bohemian, and Helvetic Confessions, against papists, sectarians, and all enemies of the gospel; that in the unfortunate sacramentarian controversy they adopt that explanation of the words of institution which distinguishes (with Irenæus) between the earthly form and the heavenly substance in the Lord's Supper, and regards the visible elements not as mere signs, but as conveying to the believer truly through faith that which they represent.11241124   Niemeyer, p. 554: 'Convenimus in sententia verborum Domini nostri Jesu Christi, ut illa orthodoxe intellecta sunt a patribus, ac imprimis Irenæo, qui duabus rebus, scilicet terrena et cœlesti, hoc mysterium constare dixit; neque elementa signave nuda et vacua illa esse asserimus, sed simul reipsa credentibus exhibere et præstare fide, quod significant. Denique ut expressius clariusque loquamur, convenimus, ut credamus et confiteamur, substantialem præsentiam Christi [not corporis et sanguinis Christi], non significari duntaxat, sed vere in cœna eo [sc. Christo] vescentibus repræsentari, distribui, et exhiberi corpus et sanguinem Domini symbolis adjectis ipsi rei minime nudis, secundum Sacramentorum naturam.' The Lutheran members demanded the phrase 'præsentiam corporis Christi' for 'præsentiam Christi,' and the insertion of the entire article of the Saxon Confession on the Lord's Supper. The first request was denied by the Calvinists and Bohemian Brethren; the second was granted, because the Saxon Confession uses the words 'in hac communione vere et substantialiter adesse Christum' (not corpus Christi). See Gindely, Gesch. der Böhm. Brüder, Vol. II. p. 86.

Then follows a long extract on the sacraments from the Repetition of the Augsburg Confession, or Saxon Confession, which Melanchthon prepared in 1551 for the Council of Trent.

The Consensus thus adopts the later Melanchthonian or Calvinistic theory; it avoids the characteristic Lutheran terms (manducatio oralis, etc.), and demands faith as the medium of receiving the matter represented by the elements. The doctrine of predestination was not touched, as there seems to have been no controversy about it.


In conclusion the Consensus acknowledges the orthodoxy and Christian character of the three parties, and pledges them to cultivate peace and charity, and to avoid strife and dissension, which greatly hinder the progress of the gospel. They should seal this compact by exchange of pulpits and of delegates to general synods, and by frequent sacramental intercommunion; each denomination retaining its peculiarities in worship and discipline which (according to the Augsburg and the Saxon Confessions) are consistent with the unity of the Church.

Then follow the signatures of noblemen and ministers.

Great joy was felt at this happy result, and was expressed by mutual congratulations and united praise of God.

A few weeks afterwards, May 20, 1570, a synodical meeting was held at Posen in the same spirit of union, and twenty brief supplementary articles were adopted for the purpose of confirming and preserving the Consensus.11251125   Consignatio observationum necessariarum ad confirmandum et conservandum mutuum Consensum Sendomiriæ Anno DN. MDLXX. die 14 April, in vera religione Christiana initum inter Ministros Augustanæ Confessionis et Fratrum Bohemorum, Posaniæ eodem anno, Maii 20 facta, et a Ministris utriusque cœtus approbata ac recepta. Printed in the Corpus et Syntagma Conf., and in Niemeyer, pp. 561–565. One of the articles forbids polemics in the pulpit. When the people, who stood outside of the house where the meeting was held, heard the happy conclusion, they joined in the singing of the Te Deum, with tears of joy and gratitude to God. The union was sealed on the following Sunday by two united services in the Lutheran church and in the Bohemian chapel.

The Consensus was again confirmed by the general synods at Cracow, 1573; Petricow, 1578; Vladislav, 1583; and Thorn, 1595. The last was the largest synod ever held in Poland.11261126   See the Acts of these synods relating to the Consensus and to matters of discipline, in Niemeyer, pp. 565–591.

The Lutherans who adhered to the Formula of Concord (1580) withdrew from the Consensus. But the spirit of union which produced it passed into the three Brandenburg Confessions of the seventeenth century, and revived in the Evangelical Union of Prussia.11271127   See above, pp. 545 sqq. Comp. also Nitzsch, Urkundenbuch der Evangelischen Union, pp. 80 sqq.

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