The presence of the Society of Jesus in the culture of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the period 1564–1773 was certainly one of the most important elements in the process of building the religious, cultural, and political identity of this multinational and multiconfessional state, one of the largest in Europe at the time. The authors sketch the most important trends in research on this subject matter and present the leading authors and their studies. They point out the recent departure from the historiography produced within the Society and the remnants of earlier, largely apologetic writings, towards the “hermeneutic turn” taking place at the moment. They explain their decisions concerning the contents of the present issue of JJS, aimed at filling gaps in the knowledge of English-speaking scholars caused by the fact that the majority of studies concerning the activities of Jesuits in the Commonwealth are published in Polish and Lithuanian.
The presence of the Society of Jesus in the culture of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the period from 1564 to 1773 was certainly one of the most important elements in the process of building the religious, cultural, and political identity of this multinational and multiconfessional state, one of the largest in Europe at the time. One should point out that the number of Jesuits in this vast state grew from about one hundred in 1573 to 2,362—in four provinces and 137 different institutions—two centuries later. The eminent historian Janusz Tazbir, not too favorable to the Society, characterized their activities in the following way, confirming some of the stereotypes:
Jesuits principally attempted to gain influence at the royal court and indeed until the suppression of the order (1773) they were royal confessors to all of our monarchs. Their influence upon the king and openly demonstrated absolutist sympathies resulted in the temporary distrust of the nobility, which ultimately approved of the Jesuits after the Zebrzydowski rebellion (1607). However, the nobility educated their sons in Jesuit colleges and gave the order rich donations from the very beginning. Consequently, Jesuits assumed a central position in the fight against the Polish reform movement, gaining the approval of the more fanatically inclined part of the Polish nobility.1
Consequently, the political and educational elements of the activities of the Society of Jesus have traditionally been given the utmost attention. Scholars have commented upon the Jesuits vacillating between monarchism and the republicanism of the nobility, perhaps due to lack of central regulations that would form a unified political doctrine for the Society. In this line of reasoning, the educational activities are seen as subjected to, as seems obvious, religious formation, although—to refer to Tazbir once more—theology always played a minor role as compared to politics.
Stanisław Załęski’s (1843–1908) multi-volume work Jezuici w Polsce (Jesuits in Poland)2 has been the basic, pioneering source of knowledge concerning the pre-suppression history of the Jesuits for scholars since the turn of the twentieth century. Załęski’s undeniable achievement lies in the fact that he included sources later lost, mostly during the Second World War. Despite its unquestionable value, however, his work has been criticized for its apologetic tone and its genre (as it is not a synthesis).
Załęski’s first intention was to glorify the activities of the Polish Jesuits, their usefulness for the church and the state. At the same time—a fact hardly ever noticed—he created a particular vision of Polish history, pointing out that all the accusations directed at Jesuits of weakening Poland resulted from misunderstanding historical processes, errors both in national and international politics made by monarchs, the aristocracy, and the lesser nobility. Their fight against reform was in turn not an expression of religious intolerance, but rather a part of the attempts of the Roman Catholic Church to regain the property lost due to reformation. This historiosophic vision inherent in Załęski’s opus magnum has not yet been analyzed; its readers either concentrate on its usefulness, its apologetic and, at least in part, panegyric character, and its value as a source.
The nineteenth century brought the first bibliography of the works of Polish Jesuits, compiled by the former provincial superior of the Belorussian and Galician provinces, Józef Brown, S.J.3 He used available collections as well as numerous library catalogues. Although hardly complete, the bibliography includes information about prints and manuscripts that have since been lost. It is a great pity that the majority of the works and authors listed by Brown has not had a chance to become the subject of scholarly studies, which concentrate quite exclusively on a fairly limited corpus of the best-known texts. One should point out here that even the works of this select corpus largely have not been made available in critical editions and the state of research remains hardly satisfactory.
Even a superficial overview of the state of research shows that recent decades have brought a massive increase in the number of published works, mostly interpretative studies. This has not been followed, however, by a similar editorial activity. Consequently, large numbers of works that could significantly expand our knowledge still remain in manuscripts or old printed editions. It should be mentioned that Podstawowa bibliografia do dziejów Towarzystwa Jezusowego w Polsce (The basic bibliography of the history of Society of Jesus in Poland), compiled by Ludwik Grzebień,4 contains 8,551 records. That number includes also popular publications and articles from the Society’s internal bulletin, Nasze sprawy (Our business).
We can also refer to the Encyklopedia wiedzy o jezuitach na ziemiach Polski i Litwy, 1564–1995 (Encyclopaedia of information on the Jesuits on the territories of Poland and Lithuania, 1564–1995),5 edited by Ludwik Grzebień with the assistance of a team of Jesuits. It is the basic compendium of knowledge on the subject, with 7,592 thematic and biographical entries. As we read in the introduction,6
The present encyclopedia was created over many years by a fairly tight circle of Jesuit historians. Their number was purposefully limited in order to create a work which would be as homogenous as possible and based on archives so as to avoid the current bias concerning the Society typical for Polish historiography. The authors attempted to approach the selection of entries and work on them with dispassionate objectivity. They were the farthest possible from approaching their own work as an apology and polemic. They merely wanted to collect and describe the existing studies and point out formerly unknown and unused source materials.
Consequently, it is hardly surprising that it was Ludwik Grzebień, the editor of both the bibliography and the encyclopedia, who took it upon himself to sum up the state of research in his 2004 paper “Dotychczasowa literatura o wkładzie jezuitów polskich do nauki i kultury” (“The existing literature on the contribution of the Polish Jesuits to scholarship, science, and culture”).7 The paper may be read as a response to Marceli Kosman’s article “Jezuitów polskich obraz własny: Badania ostatniego stulecia” (“Jesuits through their own eyes: Research of the last century”), written from a point of view independent of the Society.8 Grzebień points out the massive increase in the number of publications concerning Jesuits, and he also briefly accounts for the state of research on the various fields of activity of the Society, to which he attached an annotated bibliography (which should attract the attention of the readers of the present collection).
The two volumes of studies published in 1993 and 2004 by the Cracow Jesuits ought to be perceived as the first successful attempt at a joint synthesis on the topic, a description of all spheres of cultural activity by Polish and Lithuanian Jesuits.9 It was also the first time that lay scholars participated in such an undertaking alongside Jesuit historians. On the one hand, it may be seen as a proof of openness towards the lay milieu, which—as was clearly stated in the introduction to the Encyclopedia quoted above—was apparently missing when the latter was prepared. On the other hand, one cannot find here any critical opinions about the Society, a peculiar testimony to the alliance of the Polish intelligentsia with—as it seemed at the time—the most progressive of the religious orders and, in a wider sense, the Roman Catholic Church, whose role in the political transformation of Poland in the 1980s and the 1990s had to be taken into consideration.
Stanisław Obirek, S.J., one of the most brilliant Jesuit intellectuals of the time, followed his study on the vision of the state and the church in the works of Piotr Skarga and a series of studies and minor publications with the book Jezuici w Rzeczypospolitej Obojga Narodów w latach 1564–1668: Działalność religijna, społeczno-kulturalna i polityczna (The Jesuits of the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania 1564–1668: Religious, social-cultural, and political activity).10 It was an attempt to replace, at least partially, Załęski’s outdated and hard-to-find monograph. Obirek’s book answers, among others, the question of why Załęski’s monumental work—regardless of its shortcomings, pointed out by historians, and the controversies caused by the author’s approach—has been so important for anyone dealing with the history of Jesuits in Poland and Lithuania. Załęski had to start from scratch, as his older fellow Jesuits (Poles or those active in Poland, such as the visitor of the Polish and Lithuanian provinces, Giovanni Argenti) extremely seldom chose to reflect upon their own beginnings and the early days.11 One must concede, however, that Obirek’s work in its presentation of facts and partly in their interpretation is close to the traditional Jesuit historiography. It is also mostly based on Jesuit sources, which in the eyes of Załęski’s critics was one of the major deficiencies of his approach, leading inevitably towards apologetics. Justyna Łukaszewska-Heberkowa’s Wpływ pierwszego pokolenia polskich jezuitów na życie kulturalne i religijne Rzeczypospolitej Obojga Narodów w latach 1564–1608 (The influence of the first generation of Polish Jesuits on cultural and religious life in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth between 1564 and 1608)12 is quite similar in this respect. It concentrates, however, on the first and most dynamic stage of Jesuit activities in Polish territory.
Polish scholars interested in the Jesuit heritage must also face another difficulty. Due to the language barrier, it is extremely difficult for them to access studies written in Lithuanian, which are usually accessible only in typically very brief English-language summaries. It is particularly unfortunate if we take into consideration the common history of Jesuits in Poland and Lithuania. At the same time, knowledge of Polish and consequently easy access to Polish studies is quite universal among Lithuanian scholars.13
Studies in the history of Jesuit culture in Poland, except for those dealing with literature, the fine arts, and music, have been dominated by Jesuit scholars or researchers closely affiliated with the Society. Consequently, one must assume that their attitude is far from critical. The Cracow-based publishing house WAM and the Akademia “Ignatianum” publish numerous works in several series: “Studia i materiały do dziejów jezuitów polskich” (“Studies and materials in the history of Polish Jesuits,” since 1998); “Źródła do dziejów kultury: Inwentarze i katalogi” (“Sources in the history of culture: Inventories and catalogues,” since 2002), including “Polonica w Archiwum Rzymskim Towarzystwa Jezusowego” (“Polonica in the Roman Archives of the Society of Jesus”); “Źródła do dziejów kultury: Kroniki i listy” (“Sources in the history of culture: Chronicles and letters,” since 2005); and lastly “Klasycy historiografii” (“Classical historiographers,” since 2002), in which the works of Bronisław Natoński, Stanisław Bednarski, and Jerzy Starnawski have been reissued.
Among the recent editions of sources that have indeed brought to light formerly unknown or unused materials are Justyna Łukaszewska-Haberkowa’s Examina novitiorum (Egzaminy nowicjuszów) jezuitów z Braniewa z lat 1569–1574 (Examina novitiorum of the Braniewo Jesuits 1569–1574)14 and Pierwsze pokolenie polskich jezuitów w świetle biografii i egzaminów (The first generation of Polish Jesuits in the light of biographies and exams).15 The latter is particularly important as revealing the specific characteristics of the first generation, those educated before joining the Society—who were the most active, creative, and dynamic. Among other relatively recent publications one should note the Polish translation of Kronika Jezuitów poznańskich (młodsza) (The chronicle of the Jesuits of Poznań [junior]).16
The language barrier of Polish and Lithuanian, in which the majority of studies about Polish Jesuits are published, bars foreign scholars interested in the culture of the early modern period from accessing them. The present volume of the Journal of Jesuit Studies is intended to fill the resulting gap, at least in part. Out of necessity—due to the intended size and the competences of the present authors—it concentrates on selected spheres of Jesuit culture before the suppression of the order. We have left out, for example, philosophy and theology, also because they are generally not considered very original. A synthesis of the rich polemical literature (with Lutherans, Calvinists, representatives of the Orthodox Church, and especially with the antitrinitarians, the so-called Arians) is also missing. We have included studies about education, architecture, music, and missions to China, as well as Jesuit literary works, both in Polish and in Latin. They show both the universal and the particular elements of the activities of Polish Jesuits.
Sadly, a chapter about one of the most interesting literary and educational undertakings of the Jesuits, school drama and theater—a synthesis of art and scholarship—could not be completed in time for publication. The phenomenon has been the subject of extensive research; however, we still await new editions, especially the work of the team headed by Jerzy Axer, producing an edition of the most important manuscript collection of school dramas, the so-called Uppsala Codex, consisting of texts of plays performed in the Poznań college (Tragoediae sacrae [R 380], Uppsala University Library). The sheer scale of the phenomenon is attested by a bibliography published in the 1970s, which includes texts of plays and almost 700 “summaries.”17 The groundwork for the research was laid out by Jan Poplatek,18 who meticulously analyzed all the available manuscripts and printed sources concerning the legal regulations on Jesuit theater. Poplatek presented it within the European context, paying special attention to the dramatic genres, providing “an overview of the stage performances and even minor ones, if only confirmed by detailed sources.”19 The research methods applied by this Jesuit historian, as well as his interpretation of certain facts, have been criticized; however, it must be stated that today his study is a basic point of reference for further work.
We have at our disposal Polish translations of the two most important texts crucial for the understanding of the stage practices of the Jesuit theater—the works of Joseph Furttenbach (1591–1667) and the Bavarian Jesuit Franz Lang (1654–1725).20 We are greatly indebted to Jan Okoń and Irena Kadulska, who are both greatly distinguished in the field of Polish Jesuit theater. They were the authors of two complete monographs of its activities in the baroque period (Okoń) and the Enlightenment (Kadulska), as well as editors of the plays themselves.21 Jerzy Axer put forward a distinctive vision of the Jesuit theater as political theater. Axer developed in his numerous studies the concept of Latin as the second national language of Poland up to the eighteenth century, radically changing the position of Latin works of Jesuits in the Commonwealth.22 Paradoxically, there are editions of Polish but not Latin school dramas, such as the most important eighteenth-century comedies of Franciszek Bohomolec (1720–84), many of which are adaptations of the works of Molière.23 The study of Anna Reglińska-Jemioł on the choreographic aspect of Jesuit theater offers an interesting appendix to the historical or historical-literary analyses.24
Even though literature seems to be the best-researched sphere of Jesuit cultural activity in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Anna Kapuścińska’s recent major study Theatrum meditationis: Ignacjanizm i jezuityzm w duchowej i literackiej kulturze Pierwszej Rzeczypospolitej – źródła, inspiracje, idee (Theatrum meditationis: Ignatianism and Jesuitism in the spiritual and literary culture of the First Commonwealth; Sources, inspirations, ideas)25 was the first successful synthesis of the phenomenon, presenting not merely its annotated bibliography, but also an attempt to clarify the relations between Jesuit and Ignatian spiritualities (which, as the author claims, are not identical) and literature. On the basis of a broad selection of material and case studies, Kapuścińska presents how the primary aims of Jesuit literature were achieved in Polish and Latin texts. She discusses spiritual formation and the transposition of meditative-contemplative models into a variety of literary genres saturated with the “anthropology of senses,” details how the formative-devotional models of “affective prayer” function in various types of literary works, and indicates the foreign, mostly Italian, models for the texts published in the Commonwealth by both Jesuit and non-Jesuit authors. Kapuścińska concludes:
We must once more stress the fact that the foundation for any considerations concerning the native legacy of the Societas Iesu must be the memory of its roots in Ignatian spirituality, its unchanging axiological foundations, European sources, and universal instruments that, even though they might have entered a creative dialogue with local or native tendencies, were always subjected to the aim of achieving the universal formative goals.26
Consequently, after several decades during which the concept of the “sarmaticization of Catholicism” proposed by the eminent historian Janusz Tazbir was generally accepted, there may be a clear chance for a “hermeneutic turn” in research. Tazbir claimed that in the post-Trent period Catholicism was adapted in Poland to the cultural ideology of the nobility (the social group that dominated the social and political life of the time), and that at the same time theology was subjected to the political order. The turn can already be noticed in some of the available studies, especially those dealing with the works of Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski or in Obirek’s synthesis. It is a pity that the latter has recently changed the subject of his research, moving away from Jesuit-related topics.
We should also mention here that several volumes of the series “Kultura Pierwszej Rzeczypospolitej w dialogu z Europą: Hermeneutyka wartości” (“The culture of the First Commonwealth in dialogue with Europe: Hermeneutics of values”), edited by Alina Nowicka-Jeżowa, include important studies that aim at challenging the well-established stereotypes concerning the cultural activities of Jesuits, as well as presenting modern assessments, free from confessional or anti-religious idiosyncrasies. One may list here the works concerning the reception of Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (by Piotr Urbański) or Jesuit education (by Jakub Niedźwiedź).27
Our views on the future of research into the culture of Polish Jesuits before the suppression of the Society can be summed up in the following proposals. Firstly, there is a need for an increase in the number of editions of sources and literary texts, as even the most important authors such as the Horatius christianus, Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski,28 not to mention many minor writers, have not yet been made available in critical editions. Secondly, the hermeneutic turn should allow the abandonment of both confessional and anti-confessional lines of thinking,29 moving away from the continuous battle between scholars who are pro-Catholic, pro-Reformation, or inclined towards a secular vision of reality. Thirdly, both editions and studies should be published in languages accessible to the Respublica literaria, so that they can enter the international debate. We hope that the present issue of the Journal of Jesuit Studies will be a step in this direction.