This essay sets early modern irenic thought in a specific historical context—a multivalent, multi-confessional environment—and examines its development in relation to the personal experiences of Prussian humanist, diplomat, and bishop Johannes Dantiscus (1485–1548). Dantiscus spent his early career in the service of the Crown of Poland, initially as a secretary at the royal court in Cracow and then as a royal ambassador to the Royal Prussian Council, the Holy Roman Emperor, and various princes around Europe. For most of the period 1515–1532, he resided at foreign courts, where he rubbed shoulders with some of the most influential political, religious, and intellectual figures of the age. After years of requesting to return to Poland and maneuvering himself for a career in the Roman Church, in 1530 he was nominated and elected as bishop of Chełmno (Culm) in Prussia. He returned there in 1532 after completing a series of further diplomatic assignments, several of which drew his attention to Central Europe’s intensifying religious reform movements.
When Dantiscus attended the Diet of Augsburg (1530) as a newly elected bishop, he was hopeful for resolution to the split occurring in Western Christianity, but he displayed little awareness of specific issues to be resolved. Rather he hoped that the diet would reestablish decorum, order, and some form of consensus about respect for traditional authorities, both secular and religious, but he did not predetermine the boundaries of such a consensus. This positioning reflected his long tenure as a diplomat. Ten years later, when he monitored and commented on—from Prussia—the Diets of Hagenau, Worms, and Regensburg (1540–41) as prince-bishop of Warmia (Ermland), he was even more eager for resolution and adept at engaging personally with Protestant leaders, but his positioning on issues of belief and practice had become uncompromisingly Catholic. He believed that reformers needed to be brought back into the Roman Church without qualification or concession. This nuanced but weighty repositioning reflected his tenure as a bishop in Prussia, but in various and unexpected ways.
The shift of Dantiscus’s perspective was not due merely to loyalty or self-preservation. It was informed by myriad factors and experiences, not all related to religion. Mundane activities, extraordinary encounters, and contacts with notable contemporaries (e.g. Philipp Melanchthon, Thomas Cranmer, Sigismund von Herberstein, Cornelis de Schepper, Duke Albrecht of Prussia, Nicolas Perrenot de Granvelle, Georg Witzel) all increased his desire for reconciliation but decreased his acceptance of compromise. He went from flexible Erasmian proponent of unity to traditional Catholic advocate of conformity, ironically in time for the colloquy—Regensburg—in which Catholic authorities were most willing to make concessions to Protestant representatives.
Dantiscus’s repositioning demonstrates how eclectic personal experiences altered and propelled individual approaches to managing religious heterogeneity in the early modern world. They informed theoretical discussions, which in turn reshaped practical applications on the ground. In 1530s Prussia they led to the hardening of confessional boundaries as the population become more diverse and more integrated. More broadly, Dantiscus’s irenicism—if it can be called such—directly links the pre-confessional Erasmian development of irenicism to the confessional, Tridentine development of irenicism, using an analytical vehicle—that is, a bishop—that too rarely is considered useful in the history of pre-Tridentine Central Europe.
The article addresses the impact of the right of patronage on the situation of Catholic churches and parishes at the time when Protestantism appeared on the Polish-Ruthenian borderland (Red Ruthenia). The right of patronage was the most important limitation of the power exercised by a diocesan bishop in the administration of Catholic parishes in the modern period. The rights of a patron were most often held by the owner of the estates from which the original property of the benefice had been derived. Thereby, the relationship of the parish as an ecclesiastical benefice with the noble estate was consolidated. The patronage over most parishes in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth belonged to laymen – mainly nobility. The right of patronage consisted of a number of obligations and privileges. The most important one was the right of presentation (“ius praesentationis”). An entitlement similar to the right of patronage developed in the Orthodox Church in the form of ktetorship.
The conviction of the nobility about their right to manage parish churches and their property played an important role in the development of Protestantism in Red Ruthenia. The position of the Catholic Church in this area was weak, as the diocesan and parish organizations were established only in the fifteenth century as a result of the eastward expansion of the Piast state, and then consolidated with the conclusion of the Polish-Lithuanian Union in Lublin in 1569. In the second half of the sixteenth century, the vast majority of the inhabitants of this area were Ruthenians, and the number of Orthodox parishes was several times greater than the number of Catholic parishes. According to the Gottfried Schramm, “in no other part of the country did Protestantism gain so much influence”.
In order to demonstrate the changes in the functioning of the right of patronage in Catholic parishes in Red Ruthenia, caused by the emergence of Protestantism, two case studies with a wealth of historical sources were selected: Lipie and Bończa. In the case of Lipie, Protestants took over the Catholic church and its glebe, which were subsequently regained by a Catholic bishop at the beginning of the seventeenth century. In the case of Bończa, the property owners established a Protestant parish, which was then taken over by the Catholic bishop of Chełm. This did not equate the dissolution of the Evangelical congregation, because the owners of Bończa built a new Evangelical church, which functioned until the beginning of the eighteenth century in parallel with the Catholic parish.
The analysis of sources and the reconstruction of the course of events indicates that changes in the functioning of patronage should be placed in the context of the entirety of social and religious relations, and above all the relations between laymen and clergy, and between the state and religious denominations. The right of presentation in the Latin church and the influence of the patron on the choice of the minister in an Evangelical congregation stemmed from different sources. The takeover of the church by Protestants meant the liquidation of the ecclesiastical benefice, and thus also the right of patronage, as a form of agreement between the bishop and the owner of the property, and the introduction of a different manner of securing the upkeep of the churches and ministers serving in them. Protestant structures were more decentralized and democratic, which made the churches completely dependent on seigneurial power without being subject to restrictions imposed by a bishop or the right of patronage. Organizational strengthening of Protestantism in Red Ruthenia in the second half of the sixteenth century collided with the conservatism of some noblemen attached to their seigneurial rights, additionally liberated from the power of Catholic bishops. Strong legal pressure from diocesan authorities and the support of the Catholic Church by secular authorities led to a change in the attitude of the nobility and consent to the restoration of Catholic parishes. It is difficult to determine the significance of the patron’s religious affiliation in this process. However, it is clearly visible that a temporary loss of power over parishes by diocesan authorities contributed to the organizational consolidation of the Catholic Church after regaining this power and led to progressive limitation of the influence of laymen on church institutions.
Early modern Europe is widely considered as divided by sharp confessional boundaries between the competing Catholic and Protestant denominations. The official politics of the Latin Church excluded the possibility of administering sacraments and other religious services to the dissenters, both Protestant and faithful of the Eastern Churches. However, the practise was often different. This study focuses on metrical registration of three Eastern European Roman Catholic parishes: Siret in Bukovina (contemporary Romanian-Ukrainian borderland), Jeleniewo in Suwałki region (divided between Poland and Lithuania) and Višķi in Latgale (eastern Latvia). The regions were chosen because of their multi-confessional character, but the parishes themselves can be called their sample representation. In all three places it was possible to find not only Greek Catholics, but also non-Catholics bringing their children for baptism to a Roman Catholic church (Lutherans in Siret and Jeleniewo, Old Believers in Višķi). There were Lutheran godparents of Catholic children (Siret and Jeleniewo), dissenters’ couples marrying in a Catholic church (Lutherans in Siret and Old Believers in Višķi), as well as Lutherans buried along Catholics (Siret and Jeleniewo). Moreover, a popular phenomenon constituted mixed marriages, especially Catholic-Lutheran in Bukovina. This material enables to state that, contrary to the claims of the authorities, serving the dissenters was a common and normal practice for the Eastern European Catholic clergy at the turn of the eighteenth century.
Jacob Fabritius (1551–1629) was a representative of a Gdańsk patrician family who after studying at leading Protestant universities in Germany and Switzerland abandoned orthodox Lutheranism for Calvinism and became the leader of Gdansk’s Second Reformation and, in the end, futile attempts to turn it into a Calvinist one.
Born in the city to a newly elevated family, in 1576 Fabritius obtained the degree of Doctor of Theology in Reformed Basel. After he returned to Gdańsk without revealing his true religious preferences, he managed to obtain functions which were essential for the religious life of the city. First, he became a preacher in the most prestigious church of the St. Mary’s Church, and from 1580 he was the rector of the Protestant secondary school. Under his management it was transformed into the Academic Gymnasium where theology played an important role in its curriculum.
After 1586 and under his leadership the Calvinist sympathizers in Gdańsk not only came out into the open, but also tried to reform the religious life in the city, based on the Geneva model. Fabricus became the undisputed spiritual leader of the so-called Second Reformation in Gdańsk. Calvinism dominated the majority of city’s elites at that time: the patriciate ruling the city, the clergy, city officials and people of free professions. However, the middle and poorer classes remained faithful to Lutheranism.
In theological disputes with his religious opponents, Fabricius took an implacable position, removed from the irenic attitudes that were emerging at that time. He was also attacked by Catholic hierarchy and theologians and sued by Catholic ecclesiastical courts. At the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Fabritius conducted written polemics with a leading Gdańsk preacher and Lutheran theologian Michael Coletus. Additionally, he was the author of the manuscript Historia Notulae Gedanensis, an attempt to present the Calvinist interpretation of the history of the Reformation in Gdańsk.
Even during his lifetime, Calvinism in the city passed from the peak of influence in 1605 (three out of four mayors were Calvinists) to a gradual decline in especially after the unfavourable for Reformed edict of King Sigismund III in 1612. Fabricius’ progressive illness eliminated him gradually from active teaching and religious activities. After 1621 he resigned from preaching at Holy Trinity Church but remiaed the head of the gymnasium until the end of his life, persistently defending his views and the reforms he carried out in this school. After his death Gdańsk gradually became more Lutheran. Thus, Fabricius remained the “unfulfilled leader” of the Calvinist attempts at the reformation of religious life in Gdańsk.
Adam František Kollár (1718–83) was a former Jesuit and Director of the Imperial Library in Vienna during the reigns of Maria Theresia and Joseph II. He was also a scholar and jurist who contributed to the educational programme of the Ratio Educationis (1777). Kollár was concerned with the histories, origins, and political rights of the various ethnic groups living in the eastern Habsburg realms, and in the religious rights and freedoms these groups sought. His contributions to policies promoting religious toleration reflect, ironically, his Jesuit training as well as his engagement with the culture of Enlightenment Vienna. Because he grounded his vision of a tolerant and therefore stable society on his historical researche and on evolving universalist ideals, Kollár’s contributions can be better understood in the light of the irenicist movements of the previous century and a half, and of the culture of the Society of Jesus.