- The Protestant cause in Poland has taken an unusual course. At the time of the Reformation, Poland had a weak central government unable to unify its various language and religious groups. Whatever religion the nobles favored could dominate in their lands.Among the early converts to Lutheranism was a Dominican named Samuel, a preacher at the Posen cathedral. one of his colleagues at the cathedral, Jan Seklucyan, composed a Protestant confession of faith, published hymnbooks, and completed successively the first Polish translations of the four Gospels (1551), the New Testament (1552), and the entire Bible (1563). Lutheranism was followed by Calvinism and Anabaptism. Followers of John Hus, persecuted in their native Bohemia, found some protection in neighboring Poland. In the 1570s, anti-Trinitarians made a place for themselves in Krakow.In 1555, Polish King Sigismund II Augustus (d. 1572) granted religious freedom to all Protestants, including the anti-Trinitarians. Protestantism flourished during his reign, and some 900 congregations are known to have existed. Some Protestants attained high posts in the government. There were attempts to unite the various Protestant factions into one Evangelical church, but Sigismund preferred to keep the various factions under his control by playing one against the other. Then, under the influence of Catholic bishop Stanislav Hosius (d. 1579), one of the presidents of the Council of Trent, he invited the Jesuits to Poland to try to reverse Protestant gains. Stephen Bâthory, who after a period of instability succeeded Sigismund, also favored the Jesuits, though he reaffirmed religious liberty.During Bathory's regime, the non-Trinitarian reformers under Faustus Socinius (1539-1604) established a flourishing center at Krakow. For a generation it was the major dissemination point for the Socinians' anti-Trinitarian literature.However, as the century drew to an end, the Jesuits proved effective. They established a college in Hosius's diocese at Braunsberg (Ermland) and an academy in Vilnius (Lithuania). Within a generation, most of Poland and Lithuania returned to Catholicism. Protestantism survived only in what is today Latvia, in several urban centers such as Danzig (present-day Gdansk), and in the Duchy of Prussia (southeast of Danzig).By the early 17th century, Protestantism in all its forms had been marginalized. Socinianism was destroyed in Poland, but Lutherans (Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession) and Calvin-ists (Evangelical Reformed Church of Poland) survived; in the 18th century, both again began to grow. Steady growth continued in the 19th century, though the Protestants never challenged the Roman Catholic hegemony over the people and culture.No other Protestant and Free Church bodies appeared until the early 20th century, when the Jehovah's Witnesses (1906) and the Seventh-day Adventist Church (1912) arrived, as well as the first Pentecostal churches. The Methodists and Baptists began small works in 1922. Various independent factions merged in 1946 to form the present United Evangelical Church of Poland. The non-Catholic churches suffered significantly during World War II. It is estimated that approximately 30 percent of all their pastors died in concentration camps.After World War II, Protestant efforts were stifled by the officially atheist Communist government. Protestants returned largely to a survival mode. However, when freedom of religion returned in the 1990s, Protestantism revived. Nevertheless, it represents less than 1 percent of the population. As the new century begins, the largest non-Catholic groups are the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Lutherans.Further reading:■ A. Korbonski, The Church and State in Poland after World War II (Washington, D.C.: Council for Soviet and East European Research, 1994)■ A Piekarski, The Church in Poland: Facts, Figures, Information (Warsaw: International Publication Service, 1978)■ A. Tokarcyzk, Five Centuries of Lutheranism in Poland (Warsaw: interpress, 1984).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.
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