Between State and Church
Confessional Relations from Reformation to Enlightenment: Poland – Lithuania – Germany – Netherlands
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of Contents
- Part I: Introduction
- Chapter 1: Terminology and periodization
- a) Terminological problems
- b) Problems of periodization
- Chapter 2: Before the Reformation
- Part II: Conceptions
- Chapter 1: Reformers, or Salvation
- a) Martin Luther and Lutherans
- b) Philipp Melanchthon
- c) Ulrich Zwingli
- d) John Calvin and Calvinists
- e) Catholic Reformers
- Chapter 2: Humanists, or Understanding
- Chapter 3: Politicians, or ius resistentiae versus ratio status
- Part III: Religious Relations in Western European Federal States
- Chapter 1: The Holy Roman Empire
- Chapter 2: The United Provinces of the Northern Netherlands
- Part IV: The Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
- Chapter 1: The Twilight of the Middle Ages
- a) The Kingdom of Poland
- b) The Grand Duchy of Lithuania
- Chapter 2: On the Eve of the Reformation (1520–1548)
- Chapter 3: The Reformation (1548–1573)
- Chapter 4: Political Programmes of the Reformation
- Chapter 5: Equal Rights (1573–1606)
- Chapter 6: Toleration of non-Catholic Minorities (1606–1658)
- Chapter 7: The Belated Catholic Confessionalization After 1658
Chapter 1: Terminology and periodization
The preliminary assumption of this book is that the theoretical sections, as well as the chapters discussing political practice, will concentrate not on toleration as ideas and attitudes, difficult as they are to define, but rather on interdenominational relations as a function of broader relations between church (churches) and state in post-Reformation Europe. This last assumption stems from the conviction that the phenomenon of toleration (or tolerance1) is difficult to analyse historically. In the words of Philip Benedict, “the history of tolerance and intolerance is an extremely amorphous subject, for the question immediately arises: tolerance of what? Tolerance is not a polymorphously perverse attribute, capable of extension in any direction, possessed by certain individuals or societies and lacked by others”2.
The basic problem concerns shifts in the usage and interpretation of the term “toleration”3. The noun is derived from the Latin verb tollo (“I destroy”, “I remove”, “I kill”), via tolero (“I carry”, “I hold”, but also “I bear”, “I withstand”) and from the noun tolerantia, which in the sixteenth century was rendered into Polish as cierpliwość (“patience”), wytrwałość (“perseverance”), znoszenie (“forbearance”). In the sixteenth century, tolerance and toleration in French and English respectively began “to acquire the meaning of permission, conscious consent to the different views, especially religious ones, held by others; of withholding condemnation of and refraining from violence towards those who act and think in ways different from ones we believe to be correct”4. ← 13 | 14 →
Despite this, as William H. Huseman has shown, the connotation of the words tolerance or tolerantia remained unequivocally negative even in the sixteenth century: “In analysis of their semantic environments, the extremely negative connotations of the family tolérér have been demonstrated; it is therefore not surprising that opponents of coexistence would choose words which emphasise the unfavourable aspects of such a policy; the Protestants could be ‘tolerated’ much as one would tolerate, bear, endure, put up with intense pain, tyranny, sickness, or bordellos in a city”5. This started to slowly change in the seventeenth century6, with “toleration” not only acquiring positive connotations in the era of Enlightenment, but even becoming a trademark notion of the movement. Under the influence of French literature and journalism, use of the word tolerancja (“tolerance” or “toleration”) in Polish became more frequent in the eighteenth century; the pejorative term tolerantyzm (“tolerantism”) was even coined to describe a tendency for an all-embracing toleration for all religions and denominations7. The first Polish historiographer to point out the disparity between the Early Modern and modern usage of the term and its earlier negative connotation appears to have been Wacław Sobieski, who researched Polish-French relations and the political context of the passing of the Warsaw Confederation8.
In the nineteenth century, an era of Positivism, even the Enlightenment ideal of tolerance was seen as insufficient. Freethinking representatives of early twentieth-century democratic movements strove for equal rights, properly understood as distinct from toleration. “But what is toleration?” asked Jan Baudouin de Courtenay in 1923, who replied: “It is a forbearance, a suffering of someone next to oneself. A tolerated man is a man endured, suffered next to those who have a right to decide their own destiny and that of others”9. Currently, at least in public discourse, tolerance is a highly-esteemed and sought-after value, albeit one which is rarely precisely defined. It seems, moreover, that its range of meaning continues to broaden, as tolerance is increasingly construed as synonymous ← 14 | 15 → with equal rights, although these relations are markedly different, with the former inherently implying an inequality between the one who tolerates and the one being tolerated.
Preliminary research on the contexts in which the notion of toleration appears in historical writing, both scholarly and popular, is sufficient to establish that the term’s usefulness is limited not only in historical research, but in scientific thought in general, the reason being that – also in historical terms – tolerance does not denote any positively and unequivocally definable type of relations but rather a vague and blurry sphere of relations10. From a philosophical point of view, this problem was described by Ryszard Legutko in terms similar to those used by Philip Benedict, quoted above: “[I]t makes little sense to refer to toleration as an independent category for it cannot be independent. Discussing it, we always assume, consciously or not, some kind of a relation to basic moral and political notions.”11
The problem was also noted by Małgorzata Kowalska, who writes: “It is also naïve to attempt to treat toleration as an autonomous value, detaching it from other ideas and values with which it was connected at its historical origin.”12 It seems, however, that modifying the term “toleration” with the adjectives “religious” or “denominational”, or signalling the historical context by multiplication of entities such as “the toleration of Humanists”, “the toleration of reformists”, “the toleration of politicians”, “the toleration of the Enlightened”, or “Whig toleration”, will be of limited use to a historian.
Regarding the reality of Early Modern Europe, we have of course neither the ambition nor the possibility to research toleration as an attitude or a psychological inclination, or even as a philosophical stance. However, in the search for a more strictly delineated field of research, it is worth focusing some attention on this aspect of the problem. Positioned between theoretical reflection and historical research, the work by Feliks Gross is of landmark importance. He considers toleration a strictly political issue – one of coexistence of groups adhering to diverse systems of values in one state. He draws a clear distinction between toleration and affirmation, with indifference towards other systems of values ← 15 | 16 → regarded as part of the former13. According to Gross, toleration is, in practice, a wide spectrum of possible behaviours and levels of reaction; this allows him to classify states into four types. The inquisitorial state is one that does not separate church and state and forcibly imposes an ideological or religious monopoly welded to the legal system. The intolerant state evinces a moderate degree of religious compulsion. The tolerant state allows a diversity of belief while preserving a preference for those adhering to the dominant religion (ideology). Finally, a pluralistic state embraces the diversity of ideological orientations and protects the equal rights of religious groups14. What is particularly interesting here is that, in his characterization of the four types of states, the author refers to historical research; however, in analysing his classification scheme, it is difficult to avoid the impression that the categories are, from the historical point of view, not clear-cut. In practice, it would be difficult to distinguish the intolerant state, which imposes a “moderate” degree of religious compulsion, from the tolerant state, with its “preference” for an established religion. It is obvious that preferential treatment of some can be considered persecution by others.
In recent decades, historical research into interdenominational relations has been dominated by scholars specialising in the social history of the Early Modern era, historians of culture, and historians of ideas, rather than by theologians and historians of the Church15. Religious toleration as a historical phenomenon or a term in the history of ideas was the subject of many theoretical studies published in the twentieth century16, but the best introduction to the subject remains a comprehensive entry in the German compendium Geschichtliche ← 16 | 17 → Grundbegriffe17, stretching to over 150 large-format pages. The entry addressing the issues of toleration and intolerance in the Early Modern era was authored by Klaus Schreiner18. Also worth mentioning is a useful compilation of source texts (from Nicholas of Cusa to James Madison) published by Hans Guggisberg, although he too equates toleration with acceptance from the outset19.
Historians of the Early Modern period and historians of ideas usually adopt a broad and – one would hope – consciously imprecise definition of religious toleration. Usually, this is tantamount to not using force in denominational conflicts, which, in the practice of Early Modern relations between the state and church (churches), means that state authorities programmatically refrain from the extermination, expulsion and physical persecution of dissenters (corporeal punishment, branding, discriminatory clothing, being visibly excluded from the community). But contemporary historical research also uses the term in a different, much broader sense – possibly one which was most frequently applied at the dawn of the Enlightenment by Baruch Spinoza, John Locke20 and Pierre Bayle21, who understood toleration as not merely the authorities refraining from persecuting dissenters, but an acceptance of the freedom of conscience and thought. Contemporary writing often uses the term in the meaning developed and popularised by Voltaire as the so-called positive or active toleration22; the notion was further elaborated by intellectuals active during the French Revolution, who – like Thomas Paine or Honoré-Gabriel de Mirabeau – demanded toleration understood as respect for the freedom of conscience, or even for the views of opponents23. ← 17 | 18 →
Finally, contemporary popular or journalistic works usually understand tolerance as it was developed by Positivists. To reiterate, for John Stuart Mill, the necessity of toleration resulted from the importance of allowing different opinions and beliefs, without which one’s own theses could not be verified or falsified. First and foremost, however, that necessity stemmed from the liberal doctrine: “the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection […] to prevent harm to others.”24
These notions, and their consequences for interpreting history, were popularised in Polish culture in the early twentieth century through, among others, William E. H. Lecky’s history of rationalism25.
This conceptual chaos, which – to make matters worse – relates to categories that defy easy defining and require the application of overtly subtle typologies, offers no solace to a historian endeavouring to research and write about interdenominational relations in Early Modern Europe. Fortunately, Polish scholarship on history abounds in systematic attempts to categorise and clarify the issues in question. The task of fine-tuning the critical lens and expounding on the hazy notion of toleration was carried out by Zbigniew Ogonowski, who posited three definitions. According to him, toleration may be construed as:
a) a legal or customary system of social relations that enables the existence of religious, ideological, political and moral differences
b) practice of coming to terms with the existence of these differences
c) a principle of refraining from violence as part of ideological struggle26.
The above typology has also been adopted and employed by Lech Szczucki in his research into religious heterodoxy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries27. Correspondingly, Janusz Tazbir’s scholarship on interdenominational relations ← 18 | 19 → and religious ideology contains direct references to the classification of toleration proposed by Ogonowski.
Acting on that contention, one can easily assume that religious toleration amounts in practice to the state refraining not only from the extermination and expulsion of dissenters but also from religious persecution, i.e., the systemic application of violence against representatives of non-established churches (dissidents, dissenters, nonconformists). However, the limits of such a notion of toleration remain undefined28. Indisputably, this condition is a far cry from religious equality. What subsequently arises is the question of gauging the extent of the necessary minimum freedom bestowed upon the dissenters as far as the practice of social relations is concerned that would qualify as toleration. To Ogonowski, the minimum of liberty required for toleration to take hold is the right to private worship, while the maximum is defined as the legality of private worship and the right to erect and own a temple29. In a similar vein, Hans Guggisberg construes denominational toleration as located between the minimum, i.e., state policies that permit private worship – limited religious freedom without a right to public worship – and the maximum, i.e., permitting state-wide freedom of any religious cult. The latter, taking into account the sixteenth-century context, was related only – it is worth emphasising once more – to the case of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Transylvania (Siebenbürgen)30.
Admittedly, the above definitions lack precision with regard to demarcating the borders of religious toleration, which is perhaps due to the fact that the Early Modern practice was remiss in isolating rules concerning religious life. Most frequently, different rules applied to different estates and social groups. Furthermore, legislation was dissimilar in different territories, judicial interpretations were radically disparate, and the way in which court orders were executed varied ← 19 | 20 → wildly. However, if we aptly read the intention of the above-mentioned authors, then we can deduce that the sphere of religious toleration in Early Modern Europe was positioned somewhere between the liberty of private dissenter worship and the freedom to publicly practise any religion. What was excluded from this definition of toleration and in effect banished onto the no man’s land of obscurity was, on the one hand, freedom of thought (conscience) and, on the other hand, religious equality expressly guaranteed by written law.
The latter condition seems unquestionable since official acknowledgement of the equality of all religious cults would entail their legal protection, which in practice would imply the abolition of the dominance of the established church. However, to state that bestowing upon nonconformists “only” the freedom of conscience does not constitute “low level” toleration appears quite debatable. For the sake of further analysis, it would seem appropriate to assume that religious toleration, as practiced in Early Modern Europe, amounted simply to freedom from persecution on the grounds of religion or denomination (confession). To classify that freedom as religious toleration would necessitate a precise definition of the notion of religious persecution. If, for the sake of argument, one assumes that the institutionalised or systemic application or endorsement of violence against nonconformists by the state ought to be labelled so, then the conclusion reached is somewhat puzzling. It appears that in the times of confessionalization, in particular starting at the dawn of the sixteenth century, such religious toleration was practised to a varying degree in a considerable number of European territories. Furthermore, apart from the Apenine and Iberian Peninsulas, where local Reformation movements were promptly quashed by the strong-arm tactics of the authorities31, and (with the exception of the Grand Duchy of Moscow) nowhere in peacetime – from the end of the sixteenth-century onwards – was a long-term and systematic policy of physical persecution of dissenters carried out to expel or exterminate them32. ← 20 | 21 →
Typically of the epoch, the case of the Grand Duchy of Moscow and Russia is testimony to the level of complication and ambiguity that characterised the political practice towards dissenters. Even in this country, the above was relegated to the “sphere of intolerance”, where in the early modern age Eastern Orthodoxy enjoyed an unquestionable monopoly as the established religion33 (the rejection of which was punishable by death, as was conversion to any other faith), lay authorities practised a politics of limited religious toleration with regard to selected groups of residents. Such toleration concerned merchants and artisans arriving in the East of Europe from the West, in particular the Protestants settling in large numbers in Moscow and Arkhangelsk as early as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries34, as well as practitioners of non-Christian denominations (primarily Muslims and Buddhists), residing in areas conquered and colonised by Russia – in particular the Volga (Povolzhye) Region. As corroborated by contemporary Russian research, state authorities tolerated religious dissenters, “foreign guests” and pagan “outsiders”, relying on a political and economic rationale long before the period of strenuous top-down modernisation administered by Peter the Great35.
One can hardly accept the existence of “the ideology of toleration” in Russia, not to mention the Russian Orthodox Church, if the politics of limited toleration – which ought to be highlighted – was applied solely to the specially treated “strangers” (literally, non-Russians): „Alle Nichtrussen besaβen im 17. Jahrhundert in Ruβland die Möglichkeit, bei ihrer Religion zu bleiben. In der Begriffen der gleichzeitigen westeuropaischen Rechtwissenschaft gesprochen: alle Nichtrussen besaβen das Recht der devotio domestica”36. In seventeenth-century Russia, the politics of limited toleration did not involve the Catholics and Jews, all of whom were considered heretics. Eventually, however, towards the end of the ← 21 | 22 → seventeenth century, Catholics were granted the right to private worship, and at the beginning of the eighteenth century, after taking over Swedish Livonia, the Protestant residents of the conquered areas were even given the freedom of public worship37. This is indeed an example that fittingly illustrates the pragmatic rationale behind decisions made by Early Modern state authorities38.
Obviously, the practice of social life in Early Modern Europe abounded in limitations of different sorts. Likewise, cases of brutal rape and anti-dissenting excesses, primarily during wartime, were not uncommon. However, a clear-cut distinction should be drawn between excesses that the authorities chose not (or were unable) to oppose, despite being officially against, and between codified acts of systematic persecution perpetrated by the state39. Let us recapitulate: in principle, the majority of European countries refrained from systemic, physical persecution of religious minorities, having come to terms with their existence within their borders and often, driven by different reasons, creating a legal or customary system of social relations that enabled, all limitations and inconvenience notwithstanding, the functioning of religiously and denominationally diverse communities in the territories within their jurisdiction. As previously signalled, among others by the case study of Russia, practical toleration in the epoch under consideration was operational on a number of levels and to varying degrees40. The mechanisms of this historical phenomenon have been interestingly detailed and documented by the research of Heiko M. Oberman, who conducted an in-depth comparative analysis of the practice of relative toleration by juxtaposing the witchcraft trials in the vicinity of Ulm with the stance toward the Jews and Jewish writings advocated by the prominent sixteenth-century Hebrew scholar ← 22 | 23 → Johann Reuchlin, and with interdenominational relations in the Catholic Canton of Vaud, annexed in the 1530s by the Protestant Canton of Bern41.
Religious dissenters were subject to different and divergently nuanced models of practical toleration: from the freedom of conscience granted to the French Huguenots in 1685 to the very limited right to stay granted to Catholics and restrictions imposed on Calvinists in Lutheran Scandinavia; to constraints afflicting the Protestants of all denominations in the countries ruled by the House of Habsburg; to the strictly codified and state-constrained Catholic cult in England; to state-controlled Christian denominations that enjoyed far more liberties in seventeenth-century Holland; and finally to the practical religious equality of Christian confessions that existed in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and in Transylvania (Siebenbürgen) in the sixteenth century. It is worth remembering here, however, that this particular freedom both in Poland and in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was, by and large, limited to the nobility, and in the case of Transylvania it excluded the adherents of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
It is also worth considering the practical significance and possible consequences of religious coercion, usually associated with the principle of ius reformandi, better known as cuius regio eius religio, at work in Early Modern Europe. Henry J. Cohen’s research into the role played by territorial princes of the Holy Roman Empire in spreading the so-called Second Reformation (here understood as Calvinization)42 shows that those states and cities of the Empire where rulers for various reasons changed their denomination to one distinct from that of most subjects are a particularly interesting field for analysis43. The complicated trajectory of the denominations in Rheinland-Palatinate in the second half of the sixteenth century serves as an example of how ius reformandi functioned ← 23 | 24 → in practice, as shown by in-depth research by Volker Press44. Even here, existing works such as Peter Zschunke’s study on the denominational landscape in Rheinland’s Oppenheim ruled by the electors of the Palatinate45, or Wolfgang Zimmerman’s study on the compulsory re-Catholicisation of Constance after the city came under the power of the branch of Habsburgs ruling Tyrol46, provoke reflection and invite caution in drawing general conclusions, if only ones limited to the Holy Roman Empire. Both monographs show interesting defence strategies successfully deployed by local urban elites subjected to religious coercion by state authorities.
On the other hand, works by Rudolf von Thadden and Peter-Michael Hahn and research by Bodo Nishan show that the – highly controversial at the time – conversions of the Elector of Brandenburg, John Sigismund Hohenzollern, to Calvinism in 161347, of the Elector of Saxony, Frederick Augustus Wettin, to Catholicism in 1697, and of other German rulers at the end of the age of confessionalization48 did not result in religious coercion. Neither the Elector of Brandenburg, converting in the early seventeenth century, nor the Elector ← 24 | 25 → of Saxony, doing so in the late seventeenth century, made any attempts to force the Lutheran majority of both Electorates to adopt either the Reformed faith or Catholicism. The political motivations for the forbearance of the Electors of Brandenburg49 and Saxony50 from implementing the cuius regio eius religio principle are obvious, with ius reformandi being balanced by the threat to the political and economic interests of local rulers posed by the possibility that the ruled might invoke ius emigrandi, legitimised by the Peace of Westphalia.
Notions such as freedom of denomination or confession, freedom of conscience, or religious freedom recur frequently, if without clear definitions, in works on the history of interdenominational relations or religious toleration. The first of these notions means a right to “be different” in terms of denomination, and thus a legalisation (legal protection) of the existence of dissidents. In itself, allowing a group freedom of denomination did not mean that the level or practice of the functioning of the dissenting cult was specified. This often remained a major problem, as orthodox Christian religiosity (regardless of denomination) considered public worship to be the basic and essential aspect of Christian communities51.
The second notion, freedom of conscience, was in the Early Modern era usually interpreted in its original sense, in which the conscience was the ultimate and indisputable adjudicator, as confirmed by the Fourth Council of the Lateran: “Quidquid fit contra conscientiam, aedificat ad gehennam”52. In the Early Modern era, especially in the works of Reformers such as Luther, Zwingli, Calvin ← 25 | 26 → or Melanchthon, the term “freedom of conscience” was often replaced by “Christian freedom”, understood – especially by Calvinists – as obedience to the Word of God53.
In a sense closer to our understanding of the freedom of denomination or confession, freedom of conscience was popularised in the French Revolutionary era when it was consciously contrasted with toleration, interpreted (more correctly) as a humiliating concession by authorities towards the essentially non-accepted dissidents; this was best expressed by Thomas Paine54.
As for religious freedom, this can be considered tantamount to full equal rights in the modern sense, or the freedom of religious belief protected by the state and full civil rights for adherents to all faiths and none55. Herbert Butterfield, who emphasised so strongly the distinction between tolerance and religious freedom, reiterated that while toleration was practiced in Early Modern confessional states when political or social costs of religious coercion turned out to be too high, religious freedom is an idea of the modern state, which allows not only freedom of belief, but even freedom to reject religion altogether56. Finally, as for theoretical considerations of the possible types and levels of toleration in the Early Modern era, the publications of German scholars, Gustav Mensching and Erich Hassinger, are an invaluable source57.
Even if toleration is defined as freedom from persecution, and a distinction is drawn between it and freedom of conscience or religious freedom, contemporary scholarship shows a persistent tendency to conflate denominational toleration and religious liberty. This tendency is particularly evident in writers specialising in the history of liberalism whose views can be described as “liberal” (in the American sense of the word) or “progressive” in the spirit of the mid-twentieth-century ideology. The latter stance is evinced by Henry Kamen’s popular monograph on the history of toleration, where the following definition may be found ← 26 | 27 → (my emphasis – W. K.): “In its broadest sense, toleration can be understood to mean the concession of liberty to those who dissent in religion. It can be seen as part of the process in history which has led to a gradual development of the principle of human freedom. What should be remembered is that this development has been by no means regular. Even the great English historian Lord Acton, for whom the evolution of freedom lay at the heart of history, was obliged to recognise that toleration has pursued not a linear but a cyclic development; it has not evolved progressively but has suffered periodic and prolonged reverses. The belief that religious liberty is an exclusively modern achievement is of course untrue, and it should cause no great surprise to find that some countries today are further from full liberty than they were five centuries ago.”58 A similar tendency to verbally identify toleration and freedom, especially denominational toleration and religious freedom, appears in the writings of the critics of liberalism; they often view and discuss these notions as though the debate on them had been initiated by John Locke, or – like John Gray recently – appear to equate the Early Modern understanding of toleration with an interpretation of the term typical for the Enlightenment59.
This is despite the fact that, as is well known, the toleration of dissenters is hardly a phenomenon characteristic of the Early Modern state, let alone the Enlightenment state. Persecutions of “heretics” in the Middle Ages were not so much the result of the “desire of the people” as decisions by clerical and secular authorities60. These authorities were limited in their actions by various factors, including political ones – an example is the case of the Czech Utraquists. In the Middle Ages, pragmatism of this kind, which is not to be confused with a “modern” toleration, tended to be more characteristic of proponents of dualism, who subscribed to the equal status of church and secular authorities; the most recognised of those is Marsilius of Padua61. It is worth noting, however, that a similar ← 27 | 28 → justification – a pragmatic allowance of “the lesser evil” – was proffered for toleration of prostitution62.
To conclude our remarks on terminology, we need to note that, bearing in mind Hubert Jedin’s argumentation63 and subsequent findings on the origin of reformation and counterreformation, the wider term “Catholic Reformation” is here preferred over “Counter-Reformation”. This does not of course mean that the anti-Protestant dimension of the changes in the Catholic Church at the time of the Council of Trent is to be denied; instead, the term “Catholic Reformation” denotes the totality of the changes, while “Counter-Reformation” concerns only their anti-Protestant aspect64.
Possibly the most problematic notion to clarify is the term “confessionalization” (konfesjonalizacja, die Konfessionalisierung), frequently used also in Polish scholarship. It was introduced into German historiography in the early 1980s through the works of Wolfgang Reinhard and Heinz Schilling. The theory of confessionalization is not, however, limited to a description of the processes of denominational homogenisation of European societies after the Council of Trent: its authors sought to create an “explanatory paradigm” which could successfully replace Marxist schemata accounting for the rise of absolutism and the forging of modern European statehood. It is thus an attempt at providing a macro-historical explanation of key social processes in Europe between the earthquake of Reformation and the secularisation of the Enlightenment. As the postulated processes of confessionalization were to occur as a result of a multi-dimensional cooperation of secular and clerical authorities, their analysis had ← 28 | 29 → to account for the complex interdependence between social and political history, including problems concerning culture, religiosity and education65. It has to be noted, however, that the Reinhard-Schilling thesis has often been called into question, disputed, and modified, while in recent years another generation of German historians has sought to redefine the “paradigm of confessionalization”, noting its various weaknesses66.
In contrast with the terminology discussed above, chronological divisions pertaining to research on the Protestant Reformation and the history of state-church relations in post-Reformation Europe seem clear-cut. In principle, the research in question revolves round the epoch whose terminus post quem is defined as the end of the processes of Protestant Reformation while its ante quem refers to the beginning of the European Enlightenment in the latter part of the seventeenth century. What makes periodization particularly difficult, however, is the very nature of the processes, the chronology of which differs from country to country. A comparative analysis of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Germany, and of Germany in turn juxtaposed with England and France, i.e., the East with the West, proves that the discrepancies with regard to chronology can amount to decades if not, as in the case of the genesis of the Enlightenment, to over half a century. This comparison yields a rather expected conclusion: the benefit of applying clear-cut chronological caesuras remains highly contestable.
An example that illustrates ambiguity of this kind is the debate over the periodization of the English Reformation, which ad usum scholarum is dated to the ← 29 | 30 → period 1530–157067. This does not, however, preclude the existence of divergent concepts. The breadth of these chronological discrepancies is evidenced by two scholarly chapters collected in a synthetic – if not popularising – volume of essays on the English Reformation. The first, written by Conrad Russel, dates the English Reformation and the process of the formation of the Anglican Church very broadly, construing it as a period starting in 1500 and finishing in 1640, while the second, authored by Wallace MacCaffrey and included in the very same book, dates the politics of the Reformation era to the period 1485–158568. The epoch of the political and Church reforms under Henry VIII is often classified as a schism, while the term “Reformation” is reserved for the changes introduced by the two consecutive regents during the short reign of Edward VI69. Modern scholarship on interdenominational relations in England introduces yet another batch of proposals of periodization; Diarmaid MacCulloch, among others, considers the epoch beginning with the reign of Edward II and culminating in the death of Elizabeth I to be the second phase of the English Reformation or even “later Reformation”70, which directly alludes to Dutch research on “nadere reformatie”71 or German studies on “die zweite Reformation”72. On the other hand, Christopher Haigh – the author of a treatise containing circa 50 pages of footnotes and bibliography – devotes its first part entitled “Two Political Reformations 1530–1553” to a discussion of the rule of Henry VIII and Edward VI, which is subsequently contrasted with the second part entitled “Political Reformation and Protestant Reformation”. Here, the last paragraphs dedicated to analysis of the reign of Elizabeth I delineate, on the one hand, the creation of the legal and organisational foundation of the Anglican Church, while portraying, ← 30 | 31 → on the other hand, growing resistance to the established religion73. Thus, Haigh measures both visions of Reformation (respectively, that of Henry VIII and that of Edward VI), treated primarily as political phenomena, against the Protestant Reformation (“later Reformation”) under Elizabeth I. What seems to be the outcome of Haigh’s research is that, while analysing the history of denominations of sixteenth-century England, one ought to simultaneously take into consideration a number of parallel, frequently overlapping and often contradictory currents of religious changes and reforms74. Instead of critiquing unified English Reformation, we rather ought to discuss a diverse range of reformations in sixteenth-century England that led to widespread social atomisation75.
A corresponding attitude to chronology and periodization is to be found in the scholarship of Felicity Heal, the author of a history of reformation in England and Ireland76. Encompassing the period of 1530–1600, the volume is divided into two parts, the latter of which is devoted to the reign of Elizabeth I and, as such, focuses on the processes pertaining to the reformation of the Anglican Church, its clergy and the laity77. One cannot resist the impression that the creation of novel forms of Evangelical religious life in line with the newly-introduced precepts of the Crown – be they Anglican or oppositional, Puritan (Presbyterian), in the latter part of the sixteenth century, which Haigh and Heal appear to be contrasting with the earlier, “political” reformations, namely Henrician and Edwardian – may be, to a certain extent, coterminous with processes dubbed by German scholars “die Konfessionalisierung” and “die zweite Reformation”78. ← 31 | 32 →
In this context, what seems of particular interest is the strand of scholarship on the situation of English Catholics that is an integral component of British historiography, serving also as an addendum to research on the English Reformation at large. With Charles I in power, at the end of the epoch that some of historians regard as typified by Reformation, the Catholics constituted a significant social group. Despite systemic efforts on the part of the reformers, Catholic sympathies retained their influence, especially among the higher estates. Aristocratic families were natural leaders and protectors of local Catholic communities – the importance of the Catholic nobility is corroborated by statistics; for instance, in 1641 Catholics constituted approximately 20% of all the peers of the House of Lords79. For that reason alone, Michael C. Questier’s recently published treatise is especially noteworthy. In his monograph, which provides a case study of the Browne family headed by the 1st and 2nd Viscount Montague of Sussex, Questier comprehensively analyses the living conditions of the Catholic minority in England in the latter part of the sixteenth century and the first half of the seventeenth century. Admittedly, not every English Catholic was a recusant, subjected to – especially in times of war with Spain – severe restrictions and ruthless repression. A significant number of them, while remaining steadfast followers of the Church in Rome, attended Anglican masses and were thus treated as “conformists”. Still, in practice, even recusants, as proved by the above-mentioned research, managed to lead uninterrupted provincial lives80. One cannot fail to notice distinct parallels between the English reality and the analogous relevance of influential noble families in the history of Polish and Lithuanian Protestantism.
There now is a substantial body of work on the debate over the chronology of religious history and denominational changes in sixteenth-century England81 that leads to a conclusion similar to that above: it would be premature to establish precise dividing lines with regard to the chronology of the Reformation and its immediate consequences, in particular the social consequences in England (and probably elsewhere). To a lesser or greater extent, this also applies to other European states, even “the homeland of Reformation” – the Holy Roman Empire, although in this case synthetic works and textbooks tend to agree on the year ← 32 | 33 → 1555 as the end point of the Protestant Reformation82. However, monographs and studies concerning the subsequent period, i.e., the Age of Confessionalization, produced over the last decades offer many, often contradictory, conclusions, including some on periodization83.
In the 1980s Heinz Schilling proposed that the period of post-Reformation confessionalization in the Holy Roman Empire be dated between the Peace of Augsburg (1555) and the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War (1618)84. Later, however, as the meaning of the “paradigm of confessionalization” broadened and the term began also to be used in research on the interdenominational relations in Eastern Europe, Schilling posited an extension of the timeframe in which the paradigm functioned to the years 1550–165085. This was the ante quem watershed adopted by Anton Schindling and Walter Ziegler, who published a series of volumes on interdenominational relations in Reformation-era Germany, which ended at the year 165086. Over the recent years, some have even suggested that, while the basic timeframe of the Age of Confessionalization should remain at the years 1550–1650, an extended timeframe of 1520–1700 should be considered87. In this way, the period would not only overlap with the “classical period” of the Reformation, or the first half of the sixteenth century, but also extend forward into the second half of the seventeenth century.
Yet another periodization of interdenominational relations in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Germany was posited by the American researchers Joel F. Harrington and Helmut Walser Smith. In their analysis of the relations between the confessionalization of society and Early Modern German statehood, they ← 33 | 34 → propose that the standard periodization of the history of the German Protestant Reformation be modified. They distinguish three main periods: the popular and urban Reformation until 1525, “the magisterial Reformation” until 1555, and “the territorial Reformation” up until 1618, thus incorporating into the Reformation the period earlier described by Heinz Schilling as the “Second Reformation” or the “Confessionalization Age”88. In this way, their approach pushes the Age of Confessionalization, which in the Holy Roman Empire followed Reformation, well into the seventeenth century, and extending it over the first half of the eighteenth century89.
Another work analysing the processes of confessionalization in the longue durée is the interesting study by Ronnie Po-Chia Hsia on social discipline in Central Europe (in practice especially within the Holy Roman Empire), which analyses the period 1550–175090. And, while Heinz Schilling stands by the year 1650 as the end point of the processes of confessionalization in Europe, he is not unwilling to regard the second half of the seventeenth century as connected to the previous period, considering it a time of internal consolidation of religious systems in particular European countries after the stabilisation of international relations, which was expected after the Peace of Westphalia91. This would be true of France in particular, where the year 1685 is an unquestioned watershed in the history of interdenominational relations. Furthermore, many accept Heinz Durchhardt’s view that in Europe the end of the seventeenth century is, at the same time, the end of an era when religious conflicts were the decisive or a major factor in international relations – after that, they would be no more than a pretext92.
In contrast with England and Germany, France is an example of the durability of traditional periodization93. The basic chronological divisions, present in the ← 34 | 35 → now classical study by Joseph Lecler on religious toleration in the Reformation era94, were not questioned in Jean Delumeau’s works on the transformations of Christianity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries95. Thus, the religious history of France distinguishes the period of unofficial influence of Reformation before 1560 and the era of religious wars, divided into several sub-periods and ended by the 1598 Edict of Nantes. The conversion of Henry of Navarre to Catholicism at the end of the sixteenth century was tantamount to the silent acceptance, also by Huguenots, of the principle that the French crown and the French state would remain Catholic. Thus, a strong foundation was laid for later efforts to ensure a Catholic confessionalization of French society, strengthened by the terms of the Peace of Alès and the Edict of Nîmes in 1629, which substantially weakened the Huguenot community.
The French “Grand Siècle”, considered the classic period of Counter-Reformation and a counter-example to the significance of confessionalizing processes for the formation of the Early Modern absolutist state96, is divided in contemporary scholarship into two parts. The first half of the seventeenth century saw interdenominational relations dominated by the tradition of “politicians”, embodied by Cardinal Richelieu97. The second, as Louis XIV headed the coalition against the Protestant Maritime Powers, brought the domestic victory of the dévots, resulting in the enforcement of belated Catholic confessionalization, sealed by the 1685 Edict of Fontainebleau98. It must be noted, however, that a political victory over the Huguenots did not mean their social marginalisation; as late as 1660–1670, the community was almost 800,000 souls strong, with several hundred churches at their disposal.
Although traditionally and stereotypically imagined as wealthy burghers, the overwhelming majority (almost 73%) of late seventeenth-century Huguenots ← 35 | 36 → were peasants, which was essential to the survival of French Protestantism after 168599. This is analogous to the history of the Protestant community in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Here, the peasant congregations in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were the ones which best weathered the age of an already very limited toleration in the first half of the eighteenth century.
Thus, between 1520 and 1585 the French experienced a complex process of transformations of interdenominational relations, from the peaceful questioning of the un roi, un foi, une loi principle by supporters of the Reformation before 1560 to an attempt to find an armed resolution to the problem of many denominations in one country in the period of religious wars. Subsequently, acceptance of a Catholic two-denominational state was imposed on them in 1598100, to be superseded in the second half of the seventeenth century by efforts to recreate a denominational monolith along the lines of ubi unus dominus, ibi una religio101, an ideal held by mediaeval theoreticians of state and law.
It is typical that – regardless of the actual situation, best documented by the fate of the 1702–10 Camisard revolt102 – freedom of conscience, granted to adherents of “Religion Pretendue Réformée” by the 1685 Edict, was abolished by Louis XIV in 1715, several months before his death. Until 1787, French authorities would refuse to officially acknowledge the fact that there were still some Protestants living in France103.
Interestingly, in contrast with the denominational history of the Holy Roman Empire, changes in denominational relations in France manifest certain – perhaps superficial – analogies to the denominational chronology of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (after 1569 the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), with the obvious exception of the French Wars of Religion. Not unlike France, Poland in the first half of the sixteenth century experienced a period of the unofficial (grassroots) development of Reformation, the ideology ← 36 | 37 → of which had disseminated from Germany and took root first in the North-West (Royal Prussia, Greater Poland) and subsequently in the South (Lesser Poland); the ideas of the Reformation also spread from Royal Prussia to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania104.
Sigismund I the Old, who reigned as King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania between 1506 and 1548, took stringent measures with a view toward opposing the impact of the ideas of the Reformation spreading from the neighbouring Holy Roman Empire. As far as the king’s handling of internal affairs was concerned, the most drastic was the 1526 execution of the leaders of the burghers’ rebellion in Gdańsk, who overtly embraced the tenets of Lutheranism105. Truth be told, Sigismund I’s policy in this regard – not unlike the policy of the French monarchs of the period – was rather inconsistent, which may point to the fact that the king favoured the raison d'état over the interests of Catholicism. With regard to foreign affairs, Polish politicians, much as their French counterparts, often regarded German Protestants as allies, the symbol of which is the historical consent given by Sigismund I to the secularization of the Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights in Prussia, which was led by the last Grand Master Albert of Hohenzollern. Having converted to Lutheranism and become the Duke of Prussia, a secular ruler of Prussia (from this moment known as the Duchy of Prussia), he paid public homage to the Polish Catholic king in Kraków in 1525.
However, the Protestant Reformation as an open social movement in Poland is usually assumed to start in the 1540s, its development spurred by the accession of Sigismund II Augustus in 1548. This is yet another analogy to the changes brought to the supporters of the Reformation in France by the death of Henry II in 1559, followed by the sudden demise of his son Francis II in 1561. But questions concerning the periodization of later developments and the end point of the Protestant Reformation in the Commonwealth may be problematic. After all, the lack of precision in the periodization of the Reformation in Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, so distinct from the German historiographical tradition, has a long and noble tradition. ← 37 | 38 →
The first synthetic history of the Polish Reformation, Historical sketch of the rise, progress and decline of the Reformation in Poland (London 1838–1840), written by Walerian Krasiński and translated into German and French in the nineteenth century, discusses the period between the introduction of Christianity into Poland in the tenth century and the fall of the Commonwealth in the late eighteenth century. It is clear therefore that Krasiński identified the Reformation with the history of Protestantism in the Kingdom of Poland and the Commonwealth. It is worth noting that the book, with its openly sectarian (Protestant) approach, has been granted a long presence on the market, with a Polish translation being published at the beginning of the twentieth century and reprinted a dozen or so years ago106. Nineteenth-century writers analysing the Polish Reformation, such as Wincenty Zakrzewski or Father Julian Bukowski, did not usually go beyond discussing the events of the sixteenth century107, possibly because they focused on the origin and development of the Reformation rather than on its decline, a tendency which appears to have continued into the twentieth century108.
Władysław Konopczyński, the author of possibly the most influential synthetic history of Early Modern Poland, written in the early twentieth century (first published in 1936), was quite specific about the chronology of the early stages of the Reformation in Poland, though he made few definitive judgments ← 38 | 39 → concerning its latter stage or its end; it appears he regarded the Sandomierz (Zebrzydowski) rebellion, ultimately defeated in 1608109, as the final point. Contemporary historians, too, differ in assessing the duration of the Polish Reformation, with some subscribing to a “long” and others to a “short” timeframe. In his work on the attitude of the Polish nobility (szlachta) to the Reformation, the German scholar Gottfried Schramm adopted a timeframe similar to Konopczyński’s (1548–1607)110. More recently, another German historian, Christoph Schmidt, divides the Reformation in Poland into three stages: persecutions prior to 1548; partial recognition after 1548; and the onset of the Counter-Reformation with the arrival of the Jesuits in the Kingdom of Poland in 1562/63111. Alfons Brüning, who focuses on the later period, considers the times of relatively high toleration, based on the principles of the Warsaw Confederation, to end in 1648; furthermore, he regards (after Heinz Schilling and Michael G. Müller) the seventeenth century as the era of the Catholic confessionalization of the Commonwealth’s “political nation”, or the nobility (szlachta)112.
In contrast, in one of his works on the Protestant Reformation as an intellectual movement in Poland, Janusz Tazbir, the preeminent expert in Old Polish culture and interdenominational relations in the Commonwealth, puts its closing point as late as 1658113. On the other hand, Maria Bogucka, the author of a popular and often-reprinted synthetic history of Poland, restricts the history of the Reformation to the sixteenth century114.
Ambroise Jobert, the French author of a work on Poland during the Early Modern crisis of Christianity, evaded the periodization problem by dividing his work into two parts. While the first was devoted to the development of Protestantism, or to the Reformation proper, in the years 1520–1573, the second was devoted to the Catholic Reform, or the renewal of Catholicism between 1573 and ← 39 | 40 → 1648115. Here, the year 1573 is an important watershed, as it is in Janusz Małłek’s periodization proposed several years ago for research into religious toleration in Poland. The stages he distinguishes are: in the years 1517–1548, the partly clandestine development of the Protestant Reformation restricted by the repressions of the authorities; full toleration under the rule of Sigismund I Augustus between 1548 and 1573, toleration typified by elements of the Counter-reformation (1573–1658), and the time of a successful Catholic confessionalization based on the ideology of Sarmatism between 1658 and 1768116.
The division proposed by Małłek is (with several modifications concerning terminology, of which more below) perfectly acceptable, although not so much with respect to denominational toleration (which, as we tried to show above, is extremely difficult to define) as to research into the history of interdenominational relations. Furthermore, it has to be noted that contemporary Lithuanian historians researching the Reformation and its direct consequences in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania often utilise a chronology which differs in some details from that of other researchers, as well as a distinct periodization. An example is the recent work by Ingė Lukšaitė, which outlines the history of the Lithuanian Reformation between the 1530s until the first decade of the seventeenth century117.
At this point, it is worth reiterating the differences in interdenominational relations in the two countries that comprised, as of 1569, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, differences that are often glossed over in synthetic works. Already in 1663, Sigismund I Augustus issued a privilege to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in which he granted equal rights for nobility (szlachta) of all Christian denominations118. Moreover, Eastern Orthodox Christians as well as Protestants played a vital part in the social and political life of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania under the rule of Sigismund I Augustus; it is enough to recall the prominence of the mostly Calvinist Radziwiłł family in the political elite of the Duchy119. As a result, over the final decades of the sixteenth century the differences in the ← 40 | 41 → actual situation of non-Catholics in Poland and in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were preserved to the advantage of those in the Grand Duchy. As a symbol of this, state protection was, in the spirit of the Warsaw Confederation, legally extended over non-Catholic churches and parishes; the text of the Confederation was incorporated into the legal code of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, passed in 1588 as the so-called Third Statute of Lithuania120.
Regardless of the divergent details in the various periodization schemes, the years 1520–1540 must of course be considered a preliminary period, when the ideology of the Reformation filtered into Poland and Lithuania. As an open social and political movement, the Reformation begins in 1540s with a period that closes in 1573, the year of the Confederation of Warsaw, a watershed and a date that is pivotal to subsequent interdenominational relations in the Commonwealth121.
The next stage in interdenominational relations in the Commonwealth is thus an era of equal rights and a fragile equilibrium between the Catholic Church, the Protestants united under the Sandomierz Consensus, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Church of Polish Brethren, which broke away from the Reformed Church. This particularly interesting period falls between 1573 and 1606; describing it, one should note that the intense work over the Reform of Polish and Lithuanian Catholicism122 could not be matched by a similar effort on the part of the Protestants. The Catholic Church did not just counteract Protestant influence, but worked to strengthen the denominational identification of its adherents, laying foundations for a Catholic confessionalization, in particular in areas owned by the Church and the King123. At the same time, the Protestant community, united politically but diverse with regard to denominations, had their hands tied by the Sandomierz Consensus.
The next epoch in the history of interdenominational relations in Poland and Lithuania (1606–1648) is marked by a period of toleration of non-Catholic ← 41 | 42 → minorities, who were – more clearly than before – losing their political footing in the Commonwealth. At the same time, Catholics were gaining political leverage. The palpable shift from religious equality towards the Catholic majority’s toleration of dissenters is symbolised by a semantic change happening at that time. More frequently, Catholic pamphleteers in particular and assorted majority writers wrote about dissidentes de religione rather than, as they previously had, about dissidentes in religione. Innocuous as the change in preposition may seem, it is of crucial importance here: the phrase no longer referred to all Christians of different denominations but rather targeted dissenters, labelling them as the ones who dissented from the faith and, by implication, from the Catholic religion – the only true and righteous denomination124. Later, in the 1630s, these linguistic manipulations grew in strength. The sermons of Jesuit Wojciech Cieciszewski (who would become the court chaplain of King John II Casimir Vasa) contain the following faux etymology of dissidentes, construed as “sitting separately”/“those who sit separately”, and complemented by distantes – “for the distantia of their faith from ours is greater than that between the heavens and the earth” and discordantes – “as though of many hearts concerning matters of the faith”125.
At the beginning of the period, in 1607, the Lutheran Synod in Miłosław acknowledged the Augsburg Confession (Confessio Augustana Invariata) as the norm of Polish Lutheranism, which in practice entailed rescission of the Sandomierz Consensus126. It was only then that Protestant activity to strengthen the foundation of confessional identity started to come to the fore127, though it bore fruit only in those few areas where Protestants still remained in power. These included the Lutheran circles of major towns in Royal Prussia, namely Gdańsk, Elbląg and Toruń, all of which were preoccupied with the rivalry between the ← 42 | 43 → Lutherans and the Reformed128, as well as Reformed communities on lands belonging to Protestant magnates: the Leszczyński Family in Korona (the Kingdom of Poland) and the Reformed branch of the Radziwiłł Family in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania129.
Two subsequent eras in interdenominational relations in the Commonwealth (of nobility) are the years 1648–1768, which demarcate the belated Catholic confessionalization, which – dressed up in a Sarmatian ideological costume – found it increasingly difficult to tolerate the weakening Protestant communities130, and the years 1768–1794, a period of Enlightenment transformation in relations between the state and Christian churches. In the context of the transformation, it is important to note that the dating of the origins of the Enlightenment in Poland is even more problematic than deciding on a closing date for the Polish Reformation. The decades-long debate on its origin and initial stage has so far led to one conclusion – a clear-cut division into periods is now out of the question – and efforts to establish an exact starting point for the Polish Enlightenment have (fortunately) been abandoned. It does, however, seem that the origin of the Polish Enlightenment as well as its character in the context of the debate concerning the so-called Catholic Enlightenment needs thorough research131.
The present chapter is an attempt to prove that research on interdenominational relations in the Polish and European reality of the Early Modern period ought to focus on events of the late sixteenth century and the entire seventeenth ← 43 | 44 → century. However, wherever necessary, it is crucial to return to the depths of the sixteenth century or to fast forward to the eighteenth century. Although this formula has been necessitated by a scholarly sine qua non, there are also notable precedents that justify this approach. For instance, Ronnie Po-Chia Hsia uses a similarly broad chronological scope (i.e., 1550–1750) in his research on interdenominational relations and religiousness in Reformation Germany. It is also worth highlighting the fact that, with regard to the periodization of the history of interdenominational relations in Poland, we are often able to draw interesting comparisons with interdenominational relations in other European countries. In this context, perhaps the most intriguing issue is the phenomenon of the delay in terms of confessionalization processes in countries as geographically remote and culturally disparate as Poland and France in the latter part of the seventeenth century.
1 The Polish language does not distinguish between “tolerance” and “toleration”. The translator of this book would like to point out that, because the semantic difference between the two English nouns is not consistently marked or pronounced, a fact that is corroborated by the scholarly sources quoted throughout this monograph containing – often interchangeably – both lexemes, the two words are employed on purpose. However, since most of the related contexts are of religious/denominational nature, “toleration” is more frequently used.
2 P. Benedict, “Un roi, une loi, deux fois. Parameters for the history of Catholic-Reformed coexistence in France, 1555–1685”, [in:] idem, The Faith and Fortunes of France’s Huguenots, 1600–85, Aldershot 2001, p. 279.
3 J. Puzynina, “Tolerancja”, [in:] eadem, Słowo – wartość – kultura, Lublin 1997, p. 338–348.
4 Ibidem, p. 339.
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- Denominational relations Church-state relations Protestant and Catholic reformers Humanist and political theory
- Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 626 pp.