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Earning Heavenly Salvation

Peasant Religion in Lesser Poland. Mid-Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries

by Tomasz Wiślicz (Author)
Monographs 308 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1. A peasant religion, or popular religion?
  • 2. Chronological framework and geographical aspects. Records and other sources explored
  • 3. Postscript
  • I. The Framework of Early Modern Peasant Religion
  • 1. The mediaeval legacy and Reformation influences
  • 2. Counter-Reformation in the countryside: the participation of peasants in religious cult
  • 3. Counter-Reformation in the countryside: the teaching and the sacraments
  • 4. Early modern religious culture and peasant religion
  • 5. Religious attitudes among the peasantry
  • II. The Social Dimension of Peasant Religion
  • 1. The village community as a religious unit and ceremonial community
  • 2. Religious confraternities in rural areas
  • 3. Religion as the basis for the village’s social structure
  • 4. Social harmony as religious value
  • 5. The role of religion-related individuals in the life of village communities
  • III. The Economic Dimension of Peasant Religion
  • 1. The cost of participating in religious life
  • 2. Obligations and duties towards the Church, iura stolae offerings
  • 3. Customary offerings and contributions related to religious rites
  • 4. Religious factors in peasants’ economic lives
  • IV. Religiosity and Morality
  • 1. The background behind the rural moral standards
  • 2. The functioning of the peasant ethical system
  • 3. Sexual ethics of peasants in the light of the Christian model
  • 4. Confession and conscience
  • 5. Fear of God and Divine punishment
  • 6. Salvation and condemnation
  • V. Religiousness and Superstition
  • 1. Magic and superstition in the peasant vision of the world
  • 2. Magical practices in the countryside
  • 3. Persecutions of witches in rural settings
  • 4. Superstition Christianised
  • 5. On the borderline of religion and magic
  • Conclusion
  • Abbreviations
  • Codewords of Frequently Quoted Sources
  • References
  • A. Sources
  • 1. Manuscripts
  • 2. Old prints
  • 3. Modern prints (nineteenth century onwards)
  • B. Studies and monographs
  • Index
  • Series index

cover

Bibliographic Information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek
The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in
the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic
data is available in the internet at
http://dnb.d-nb.de.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A CIP catalog record for this book has been applied for
at the Library of Congress.

About the author

The Author
Tomasz Wiślicz is a professor at the Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, Poland. His research focuses on the social and cultural history of early modern Europe as well as the theory of history.

About the book

Tomasz Wiślicz

Earning Heavenly Salvation

The book offers a comprehensive model of religious culture of peasants of the Lesser Poland in the early modern times. Its principal research topic is the influence of religion on the life and attitudes of peasants during the religious and social transformations that resulted from the Tridentine reform of the Catholic Church from the peak of the Reformation movements in Poland to the Enlightenment reforms and the fall of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. As the book focuses on an illiterate group, its issues concern primarily the so-called external religiosity of peasants as a group, discussing its social, communal, and economic aspects, as well as its impact on the formation of social ethics and individual morals, beliefs, and folk rituals.

This eBook can be cited

This edition of the eBook can be cited. To enable this we have marked the start and end of a page. In cases where a word straddles a page break, the marker is placed inside the word at exactly the same position as in the physical book. This means that occasionally a word might be bifurcated by this marker.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

1. A peasant religion, or popular religion?

2. Chronological framework and geographical aspects. Records and other sources explored

3. Postscript

I. THE FRAMEWORK OF EARLY MODERN PEASANT RELIGION

1. The mediaeval legacy and Reformation influences

2. Counter-Reformation in the countryside: the participation of peasants in religious cult

3. Counter-Reformation in the countryside: the teaching and the sacraments

4. Early modern religious culture and peasant religion

5. Religious attitudes among the peasantry

II. THE SOCIAL DIMENSION OF PEASANT RELIGION

1. The village community as a religious unit and ceremonial community

2. Religious confraternities in rural areas

3. Religion as the basis for the village’s social structure

4. Social harmony as religious value

5. The role of religion-related individuals in the life of village communities

III. THE ECONOMIC DIMENSION OF PEASANT RELIGION

1. The cost of participating in religious life

2. Obligations and duties towards the Church, iura stolae offerings

3. Customary offerings and contributions related to religious rites

4. Religious factors in peasants’ economic lives

IV. RELIGIOSITY AND MORALITY

1. The background behind the rural moral standards

2. The functioning of the peasant ethical system

3. Sexual ethics of peasants in the light of the Christian model

4. Confession and conscience

5. Fear of God and Divine punishment

6. Salvation and condemnation

V. RELIGIOUSNESS AND SUPERSTITION

1. Magic and superstition in the peasant vision of the world

2. Magical practices in the countryside

3. Persecutions of witches in rural settings

4. Superstition Christianised

5. On the borderline of religion and magic

CONCLUSION

ABBREVIATIONS

CODEWORDS OF FREQUENTLY QUOTED SOURCES

REFERENCES

A. Sources

1. Manuscripts

2. Old prints

3. Modern prints (nineteenth century onwards)

B. Studies and monographs

INDEX

←8 | 9→

INTRODUCTION

1. A peasant religion, or popular religion?

Peasant religion in Lesser Poland (Małopolska): this phrase refers to a specific research problem in the field of research into the history of religious culture, named popular (or folk) religion. As a subject of historical studies, it gained considerable popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, primarily in France and, somewhat later, in English-speaking countries.1 Fundamental to this concept was the opposition between popular religion and what can be termed ‘religion of the elite(s).’ Viewed from this perspective, the early modern period seemed particularly interesting, especially in relation to the religious transitions in France.2 Based on the example of France, Philippe Ariès developed an explanatory model whereby the opposition between popular and elitist religion turned, in the early modern period, into an open conflict, with the religious elites proactively striving to subdue the opposition with use of any and all methods available.3

Insofar as the period in question can indeed be perceived as one of confrontation between the discernible religious models, a sharp contradistinction of the everyday piety of common people on the one hand, and the social elite on the other, would definitely be an oversimplification. Several religious cultural phenomena characteristic of the age were shared by society as a whole, and even the strictest elites were identifiably influenced by ‘popular’ religiosity.

Contradicting popular and official religion is a more legitimate concept. It is based on differentiation between the way religion was experienced by the faithful in general and the ideal model of piety propagated by the elite. In such an approach, popular religion becomes a sui generis subculture of the institutional religion. This is how Stefan Czarnowski, the pioneer of Polish historical sociology, first defined the phenomenon. Considering the religious culture of ←9 | 10→rural people, he investigated “the degree to which, and the way in which, one of the social strata absorbed the teachings proposed by the Church; in what ways it adopted them to the essential aspects of its own material and spiritual life; what representations it associated with the names of persons and things appearing in the cult; what its character of piety is, and what the manifestations of such piety are.”4 Later, Polish religious sociology formalised and extended the catalogue of questions concerning religiosity by adding the dimensions referred to as experiential; that is, based on man’s direct knowledge and experiences; ideological, emphasising doctrine and beliefs; and intellectual, exploring religion’s impact on the perception of the world; ritualistic/community-related; and, consequentially, embracing the secular effects of experiences, beliefs, practices, and religious knowledge, on man.5 Following this research tradition, I have decided to embark on studying the ways in which man assumes an attitude towards religion and experiences it intellectually and spiritually, and what the direct consequences of this attitude are for the social, cultural, and personal life of individuals and social groups.

However, to what extent has the popular religion become a useful explanatory concept in the research on the early modern period that has been developing for several decades now? Despite the initially enthusiastic attitude, the most interesting historical studies published in the 1990s attest to a growing distance among scholars towards the idea. In his study on sixteenth-century English popular religion, published in 1998, Christopher Marsh admits that he uses the term “with any great sense of enthusiasm, but for want of something more satisfactory,” and gives it a social (below the gentry on the social ladder), rather than qualitative, meaning.6 Similarily, Polish scholars exploring the problem seek a conceptualisation which would extend to a more diverse social base for the research: apart from the ‘common people’ or folk, residents of small towns and even poorer nobility would have been included; however, an exact definition at this point is impossible. The interpretation proposed by Stanisław Litak is ←10 | 11→characteristic: having completely given up on the term ‘popular religion,’ he uses the phrase ‘religion of lower social strata’ instead.7

For the research discussed in this book, of primary importance was the concept of Keith Luria, who termed the object of his study, describing the religiosity of the Diocese of Grenoble inhabitants, village religion. To his mind, this notion is more detailed as, for one thing, it clearly detaches the phenomenon in question from an elitist, and universal (official) religion, whilst in parallel emphasising the fact that religion in the countryside fulfilled its potential primarily in its community dimension, within a structured rural community.8

A similar assumption may also be made for the study of the religion of the peasantry in Lesser Poland in the early modern period. The community factor is clearly visible, realised by the gromada, which is the basic peasant territorial and social unit. Thus, gromada is the central ‘character’ of my considerations of the social aspect of peasant religion (chapter 2). Nonetheless, the rural community’s position in relation to the Church was much weaker in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and far less confrontational, compared to the situation in the mountainous regions of France. Apart from the community elements in religion, the considerations follow the attempt below to generalise individual experiences and demonstrate the internal diversity of religious culture within the village. Hence, my assumption that peasant religion is a more suitable description here as it refers to the religious culture of a specified social group; namely, the peasants of Lesser Poland between the middle of the sixteenth and the end of the eighteenth centuries. This phenomenon coincides, to a possibly considerable extent, with what has been termed ‘popular religion,’ but is not identical with it. However, this study does at times refer to ‘popular religion,’ so that broader conditions and determinants of the religious model among rural residents can be indicated.

As the object of these considerations is an essentially illiterate group, which is true for the generality of early modern peasantry in Polish rural areas, the issues of religious experience and intellectual effects of subjecting oneself to religion virtually elude the research owing to a lack of sources. Consequently, the subject-matter of this study primarily focuses on the ways in which religion informed the social and economic life of peasants, their morality and beliefs – altogether, the ←11 | 12→sphere which can be described as ‘external religiosity,’ particularly in its ritual, ideological, and consequential aspects.

Polish historical research on the religion and religiousness of the masses has developed a tradition and can boast significant achievements. Mediaevalist scholars have devoted considerable attention to pagan beliefs and their relics in folk culture.9 Since the 1970s, valuable studies on the popular reception of Christianity in mediaeval Poland have been published, notably those penned by Aleksander Gieysztor,10 Aleksandra Witkowska,11 Jerzy Kłoczowski,12 Stanisław Bylina,13 Krzysztof Bracha,14 and others.15

Popular forms of piety have also become the object of study for historians specialising in the early modern period. While it is the morals and mores of the nobility and the Sarmatian model of Catholicism that enjoy the greatest interest among authors, reflections on the religiosity of the plebeian strata can be found in many comprehensive studies exploring these topics.16 However, only ←12 | 13→a few monographic studies of the issue of interest herein exceed the length of a scientific article. Among the most important of these is Wacław Urban’s pioneering study on the influence of the Reformation on Lesser Poland’s sixteenth-century peasants,17 along with the articles by Hieronim Wyczawski,18 Tadeusz Śliwa,19 and Stanisław Litak,20 and books by Piotr Wawrzeniuk21 and Sławomir Zabraniak22 making use of ecclesiastical visitation (i.e. inspection) records. In addition, it is worth mentioning Czesław Hernas’s considerations, heavily drawing upon literary history,23 the studies by Jan Kracik24 and Marian Aleksandrowicz,25 based on extensive source queries, and Jerzy Józef Kopeć’s interesting considerations of the popular forms of the cult of Our Lady.26 The classical studies of Jan ←13 | 14→S. Bystroń27 and Bohdan Baranowski,28 at the intersection of history and ethnography, form a separate category.

The historians exploring the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have tended to leave the issue of common people’s religious culture to ethnologists or sociologists; hence, the high value of historian Daniel Olszewski’s studies dealing with religiosity in Polish society at the turn of the twentieth century.29 The methodological reflection proposed by this author can also be helpful to scholars exploring the earlier periods.

2. Chronological framework and geographical aspects. Records and other sources explored

The chronological framework of this study, the mid-sixteenth to late eighteenth century, embraces the age which can be referred to as the early modern period in the Polish countryside. The limits of this period are somewhat vague; its beginning, marked as above, is only indicative. The period may be regarded as the symbolic end of mediaeval Catholicism. From the European perspective, this end was marked by the Council of Trent (1545–63); in Poland, the Council’s resolutions were adopted by the king and the Senate in 1564, and by the provincial synod in 1577. From the standpoint of Lesser Poland, the middle of the sixteenth century was a peak period of the Reformation, which meant the zero point for the renewal of the Catholic Church. Lastly, in the history of Polish peasantry, the age in question marks the conclusion of the legislative process leading to the emergence of the second serfdom system in the villages. All of these events, however momentous, probably passed completely unnoticed in the rural areas; their influence was based on lengthy historical processes rather than radical change.

←14 | 15→

The upper limit of the chronology adopted in this study, namely the end of the eighteenth century, is likewise indicative and driven by practical aspects. The end of the eighteenth century saw the withering of the rural court registers, which were the basic source for this study. Whereas some of them did survive until the mid-nineteenth century, they had meanwhile been heavily metamorphosed owing to the bureaucratic practices introduced by the Austrian authorities (Habsburg Austria participated from 1772 in the partitions of Poland, seizing most of Lesser Poland’s territory). Moreover, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries mark a symbolic border between Old Polish and nineteenth-century religiousness. The latter took shape in a non-existent Poland, this having been combined with accelerated civilizational transition in the country’s rural areas, marked by the abolition of serfdom and enfranchisement of peasants, increasing literacy, and raising the national consciousness. The turn of the nineteenth century cannot obviously be treated as a marked caesura, because no sudden change ever occurred in the transition of folk religious culture. The transformations occurred slowly with no discernibly clear turning points.

The study’s geographic range encompasses the region of Lesser Poland that basically corresponds with the areas of the then-Voivodeships of Krakow, Sandomierz, Lublin, and the western end of the Ruthenian Voivodeship (approximately the counties [powiats] of Sanok and Przemyśl); or, in terms of the Church’s territorial division, the Diocese of Krakow and the western deaconates of the Bishopric of Przemyśl.30 It is this particular area, especially its southern part, from which the vast majority of rural court registers dating to the Old Polish period and known to modern scholars come.

Summary

The book offers a comprehensive model of religious culture of peasants of the Lesser Poland in the early modern times. Its principal research topic is the influence of religion on the life and attitudes of peasants in the period of religious and social transformations resulting from the introduction of the Tridentine reform of the Catholic Church in the period starting from the peak of the Reformation movements in Poland to the Enlightenment reforms and the fall of the Polish- Lithuanian Commonwealth. Due to the fact that the study focuses on an illiterate group, its issues primarily concern the so-called external religiosity of peasants as a group, discussing its social, communal, and economic aspect, along with its impact on the formation of social ethics and individual morals, beliefs, and folk rituals.

Details

Pages
308
ISBN (PDF)
9783631825617
ISBN (ePUB)
9783631825624
ISBN (MOBI)
9783631825631
ISBN (Hardcover)
9783631823545
Language
English
Publication date
2020 (June)
Tags
popular religion Counter-Reformation magic confession rural community sexual ethics
Published
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 308 S.

Biographical notes

Tomasz Wiślicz (Author)

Tomasz Wiślicz is a professor at the Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, Poland. His research focuses on the social and cultural history of early modern Europe and the theory of history.

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