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Evangelical-Augsburg Church in Poland

The monument of Luther in Bielsko.The history of the Evangelical-Augsburg Church in Poland is connected to the Reformation movement, that started with Martin Luther and was gradually spread into other European countries. The reformatory writings got to Poland very early. Merchants and students, who came home from Wittenberg and Kaliningrad (Königsberg), brought Luther’s writings with them. As soon as 1518, Protestant sermons were held in Gdańsk (Danzig) and Jawor (Jauer) in Lower Silesia. The reformatory ideas were adopted by the scholars and the bourgeoises at first and later by the nobility. In some areas of the country, they were also spread among the rank and files of the rural population. The theses of the Wittenberg Reformation reached Upper and Lower Silesia very fast. In 1523, i.e. scarcely five years after Martin Luther’s rebelliousness against the medieval practice of selling indulgences and two years after the Diet at Worms, the town council of Wrocław (Breslau) appointed the former monk Jan Hess, who preached in the spirit of the Wittenberg Reformation, as provost of the Protestant parish of the Mary Magdalene’s Church.

Gripped by the Reformation

From Lower Silesia and Krakow the reformatory ideas reached “Teschenian Silesia”. In the last years of the government of the Teschenian Prince Kazimierza II (Kasimir II), they were quite known already. Here, the people were gripped as well by the doctrine of the Reformation. The Counter-Reformation under the Habsburg rule could not eradicate it anymore.

The Reformation in Masuria proceeded differently. Duke Albrecht, the last Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, became acquainted with Luther’s doctrine in Wittenberg, suspended the Order, and became a secular sovereign, who rendered homage to the Polish King Zygmunt Stary (Sigismund the Old) at the market place of Krakow. Although the Polish kings had not gone along with the Reformation, they assured the Lutheranism in royal Prussia of protection and development potentialities. After the death of Duke Albrecht, the Polish King Zygmunt August assured royal Prussia of the preservation of the Protestant religion according to the Augsburg Confession. The Lutheranism was spread in all of Pomerania as well.

Equal Rights for the Confessions

The acceptance of Luther’s or Calvin’s doctrine by the nobility were of big political importance. Before long, the Protestants obtained the majority of the delegates in the Sejm, the Polish Parliament, which was expressed in the laws for printing freedom, for freedom of denomination, for the abolishment of clerical censorship, and the clerical courts. In the Confederation of Warsaw in 1573, it amounted to the equal rights for the confessions.

The Reformation spread the opinion, that the commoners are allowed to and have to read the Bible. The Protestant schools were characterised by a high standard. The enlightenment activity contributed to the cultural development.

In the history of the Res Publica – the “golden age” of culture fell into the time of Reformation in Poland – the art of printing developed at that time and national literature came into existence. In 1551, the four Gospels were released in Polish language by the publishing house of Jan Seklucjan, the New Testament a year later and the whole Bible in 1563 (the so-called Brester or Radziwiłł Bible).

Against Social Injustice

Church in Bielsko-BialaDevotional books were published as well and denominational journalism came into being. Three great composers of the Renaissance created hymns for the Protestant Church: Wacław from Szamotuły, Cyprian Bazylik from Sieradz and Mikołaj Gomółka.

Religious tolerance was a distinctive feature of the Polish Reformation. A democratic system, which opposed social injustice and came to the defense of the townsmen and farmers, was implemented in the Church by the Synod. In a Europe bathed in blood, Poland remained a country without pyres. This way, the Reformation has laid the foundation for the development of Ecumenism. A “Unification Synod” of the Reformed Churches and the Church of the Bohemian Brothers, which had taken place in Koźminek in 1555, attests to it. The Lutheran Church joined these churches in the Synod in Sandomierz in 1557.

Start of the Counter-Reformation

The time of the Reformation was ended, however, soon after the Sejm-Law of the Confederation of Warsaw, which had implemented equal rights and denominational peace. After this 1573 law had been banished, the Counter-Reformation began. Despite of all religious persecutions, the Protestantism survived on Polish soil. However, the Polish King Stanisław August Poniatowski (Stanislaus August Poniatowski) granted the Protestants to build the Trinity Church in Warsaw not until the 18th century. In the Silesian area, Emperor Joseph I granted the building of six churches in the Treaty of 1707: in Żagań (Sagan), Kożuchów (Freystadt), Jelenia Góra (Hirschberg), Kamienna Góra (Landshut), Milicz (Militsch) and Cieszyn (Teschen). They were called Grace Churches, because the Emperor was not coerced into issuing the building license by the treaty. The Deed of Tolerance of his successor, Emperor Joseph II, enabled the revival of the catholic life in Cieszyn Silesia.

Changeful History

Church near CieszynThe influx of Protestant farmers and craftspeople from the entire Europe in the 19th century did not only advance the development of Protestantism but also the industry and agriculture. W.W.II interrupted the ecclesiastic stabilisation. Roughly 30% of the Protestant clergymen lost their lives in the concentration camps and prisons, among them Juliusz Bursche, the Bishop of the Church. The politics of the post-war governments decreased the number of parish members and parishes. Thanks to the systematic work and efforts of the believers, the life of the Church stabilised and developed further.

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