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Between State and Church

Confessional Relations from Reformation to Enlightenment: Poland – Lithuania – Germany – Netherlands


Wojciech Kriegseisen

The different theoretical notions and practices of the relations between the state and religious communities in early modern Europe constitute one of the most interesting problems in historiography. Moving away from a simple «toleration» versus «non-toleration» dichotomy, the author sets out to analyse the inter-confessional relations in selected European territories in a «longue duree» perspective, between Reformation and Enlightenment. Outlining the relations between the state and the different Churches (confessions) in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Holy Roman Empire of Germany, and the Northern Netherlands serves to highlight the specificity of Northern Netherlands serves to highlight the specificity of «free» (non-absolutist) composite states, where the particularly complex process of defining the raison d’etat determined the level of religious toleration that was politically feasible and socially acceptable.
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Chapter 5: Equal Rights (1573–1606)


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Chapter 5: Equal Rights (1573–1606)

Over the course of the debate over the form of Church-state relations, the Commonwealth of Both Nations, created in 1569, ultimately rejected (in 1573) both the idea of a state Protestant Church as proposed by Jan Łaski and the vision promoted by Stanisław Orzechowski, in which the state was subordinate to the Catholic Church. Polish and Lithuanian dissidentes in religione chose a middle way by ratifying the Warsaw Confederation, negotiated by the “politiques”. The democracy of nobles thus did not favour either side of the denominational divide, instead undertaking to preserve the peace between them. The good of the Commonwealth was valued above the interests of religion, and this prioritising of “politics” over “religion” was something that those who opposed this idea from the beginning would have to tolerate.

The 33 years which passed between the Convocation Sejm of 1573 and the rejection in 1606 by the Catholic episcopate and Sigismund III1 of regulations providing real protection to denominational minorities represent the most interesting period in the religious history of the Commonwealth, the Democracy of Nobles that attempted to implement the idea of denominational equality2. The latter part of that period saw two watershed events for non-Catholic communities – the general Evangelical synod in Toruń in 1595, and the 1595 and 1596 synods in Brześć on the Bug, the consequences of which would define relations between denominational minorities and the state as the Commonwealth, starting in...

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