When Poland Was Lutheran
Poland may be the worldâs most Catholic country. But at the time of the Reformation, it may have been the most receptive region to Lutheran preaching outside of Germany.
Oxford scholar Natalia Nowakowska has written a book on this subject entitled King Sigismund of Poland and Martin Luther: The Reformation before Confessionalization.
She summarizes the tale in a post at the Oxford University Press site entitled Martin Lutherâs Polish Revolution. Here is an excerpt:
The packed âLuther Yearâ has now drawn to a close, but 2018 marks 500 years since the Lutheran Reformationâs arrival in the kingdom where it was to enjoy some of its most spectacular, ground-breaking early successesâ"Poland.
Poland has a reputation for being impeccably, historically Roman Catholicâ"the land of Pop e John Paul II, Jesuit churches and popular folk piety. A Lutheran Poland, as part of the Protestant world, today requires some serious re-imagining of European history. Yet, however improbable it sounds, Poland has a claim to be one of the major birthplaces of the European Reformationâ"as scholars back in the 19th century well knew, penning thick tomes on this problem. It was the 20th centuryâs total wars, extreme nationalisms, and crazy-paving redrawing of borders which obscured this story from view, removing it from the familiar Reformation histories we tell, retell, and remember today.
There is no Playmobil figure (yet) of Jakub Knade, the Dominican who in 1518 cast off his friarâs habit and started to preach Lutherâs message in Danzig/GdaÅsk, the Polish monarchyâs principal port. He was a subject of Sigismund I, king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania, scion of the powerful Jagiellonian dynasty. Sigismund Iâs Poland stretched, in an awkward diagonal, fro m the Carpathians of todayâs western Ukraine, to the affluent Baltic cities of Prussia.During the reign of Sigismund I (1506-1548), his kingdom was, almost uniquely, shaken by four different waves of Reformation upheaval: urban, legal, peasant, and elite. During the urban wave, the kingdomâs Baltic ports were seized by religious revolutionaries in 1525, backed by crowds of sailors and fishwives, in violent Reformation city revolts unparalleled in Europe. In the case of the legal revolt, King Sigismund stunned the pope in 1525 by turning the lands of the Teutonic Order (crusading monks) into a vassal territory for himself, ruled by a new Lutheran duke of Prussia. Christendomâs very first legally Lutheran state was thus found within the Polish monarchy. The peasant upheaval also took place during 1525, when armies of Luther-quoting rebel peasants rampaged through King Sigismundâs Prussia in a full-scale Reformation uprising by the lower orders. And during the elite wave , Polish towns and nobles eagerly invited Lutheran preachers, tutors, and printers into their midst, where they were protected by the kingdomâs most powerful magnates, such as Åukasz GÃ³rka of PoznaÅ. Polish undergraduates were a common sight at Lutherâs Wittenberg University. In the 1530s, observers across Europeâ"from Vienna to Londonâ"were convinced that after old Sigismundâs death, Polandâs next king would be a Lutheran, who would take the radical step of announcing Europeâs first Lutheran monarchy. Besides the Holy Roman Empire itself (Germany), no other country was as rocked by Lutherâs message in the 1520s as Poland.
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Illustration: Sigismund I of Poland, by Marcello Bacciarelli [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsSource: Google News Poland | Netizen 24 Poland