Polish Brethren

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The Polish Brethren (Polish: Bracia Polscy) were members of the Minor Reformed Church of Poland, a Nontrinitarian Protestant church that existed in Poland from 1565 to 1658. By those on the outside, they were called "Arians" or "Socinians" (Polish : arianie, socynianie), but themselves preferred simply to be called "Brethren" or "Christians," and, after their expulsion from Poland, "Unitarians".

Nontrinitarianism A form of Christianity that rejects the mainstream Christian doctrine of the Trinity

Nontrinitarianism is a form of Christianity that rejects the mainstream Christian doctrine of the Trinity—the teaching that God is three distinct hypostases or persons who are coeternal, coequal, and indivisibly united in one being, or essence. Certain religious groups that emerged during the Protestant Reformation have historically been known as antitrinitarian, but are not considered Protestant in popular discourse due to their nontrinitarian nature.

Poland Republic in Central Europe

Poland, officially the Republic of Poland, is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 administrative subdivisions, covering an area of 312,696 square kilometres (120,733 sq mi), and has a largely temperate seasonal climate. With a population of approximately 38.5 million people, Poland is the sixth most populous member state of the European Union. Poland's capital and largest metropolis is Warsaw. Other major cities include Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk, and Szczecin.

Arianism is a nontrinitarian Christological doctrine which asserts the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who was begotten by God the Father at a point in time, a creature distinct from the Father and is therefore subordinate to him, but the Son is also God. Arian teachings were first attributed to Arius, a Christian presbyter in Alexandria of Egypt. The term "Arian" is derived from the name Arius; and like "Christian", it was not a self-chosen designation but bestowed by hostile opponents—and never accepted by those on whom it had been imposed. The nature of Arius's teaching and his supporters were opposed to the theological views held by Homoousian Christians, regarding the nature of the Trinity and the nature of Christ. The Arian concept of Christ is based on the belief that the Son of God did not always exist but was begotten within time by God the Father.



The Ecclesia Minor or Minor Reformed Church of Poland, better known today as the Polish Brethren, was started on January 22, 1556, when Piotr of Goniądz (Peter Gonesius), a Polish student, spoke out against the doctrine of the Trinity during the general synod of the Reformed (Calvinist) churches of Poland held in the village of Secemin. [1]

Piotr of Goniądz Polish theologian

Piotr of Goniądz was a Polish political and religious writer, thinker and one of the spiritual leaders of the Polish Brethren.

Secemin Village in Świętokrzyskie, Poland

Secemin is a village in Włoszczowa County, Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, in south-central Poland. It is the seat of the gmina called Gmina Secemin. It lies historic Lesser Poland, approximately 14 kilometres (9 mi) south-west of Włoszczowa and 57 km (35 mi) west of the regional capital Kielce. The village has a population of 1,600, and used to be a town in 1401 - 1869. Its name comes from the local swamps, called sece.

1565: Split with the Calvinists

Religions in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1573 (Catholics in yellow, Protestant in purple/gray, Orthodox in green) Religie w I Rz-plitej 1573.svg
Religions in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1573 (Catholics in yellow, Protestant in purple/gray, Orthodox in green)

A theological debate called by the Polish king Sigismund II Augustus himself in 1565 did not succeed in bringing both Protestant factions together again. Finally, the faction that had supported Piotr of Goniądz' arguments broke all ties with the Calvinists and organized their own synod in the town of Brzeziny on June 10, 1565. [2]

Sigismund II Augustus King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania

Sigismund II Augustus was the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, the only son of Sigismund I the Old, whom Sigismund II succeeded in 1548.

Brzeziny Place in Łódź, Poland

Brzeziny is a town in Poland, in Łódź Voivodeship, about 20 km east of Łódź. It is the capital of Brzeziny County and has a population of 12,514 (2016). It once was a thriving Jewish shtetl noted for its tailors.

In the 1570s a split was developing between the pacifist and Arian group, led by Marcin Czechowic and Grzegorz Paweł z Brzezin and the non-pacifist and Ebionite group led by the Belarusian Symon Budny. In 1579 the Italian exile Fausto Sozzini arrived in Poland and applied for admission to the Ecclesia Minor, which was refused because of his rather unusual personal objection to water baptism, however they saw in the Italian an able advocate and Sozzini's capable answering of Budny, followed by his marriage to the daughter of Krzysztof Morsztyn Sr. in 1586 cemented his place among the Polish Brethren. The calling of the group "Socinian" in England is more a result of the place given to Sozzini's writings in the publishing of his grandson Andrzej Wiszowaty Sr. in Amsterdam a century later than any role of active leadership in Sozzini's life — especially given that without submitting to baptism he could never formally join the church that later bore his name abroad.

Martin Czechowic (c.1532–1613) was a Polish Socinian (Unitarian) minister, Protestant reformer, theologian and writer.

Grzegorz Paweł z Brzezin (1525–1591), was a Socinian (Unitarian) writer and theologian, one of the principal creators and propagators of radical wing of the Polish Brethren, and author of several of the first theological works in Polish, which helped to the development of literary Polish.

Ebionites Jewish Christian movement that existed during the early centuries of the Christian Era

Ebionites is a patristic term referring to a Jewish Christian movement that existed during the early centuries of the Christian Era. They regarded Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah while rejecting his divinity and his virgin birth and insisted on the necessity of following Jewish law and rites. They used only one of the Jewish–Christian gospels, the Hebrew Book of Matthew starting at chapter three; revered James, the brother of Jesus ; and rejected Paul the Apostle as an apostate from the Law. Their name suggests that they placed a special value on voluntary poverty. Ebionim was one of the terms used by the sect at Qumran who sought to separate themselves from the corruption of the Temple. Many believe that the Qumran sectarians were Essenes.

1602–38: The Racovian Academy

Their biggest cultural centers were Pińczów and Raków, site of the main Arian printing press and the university Racovian Academy (Gymnasium Bonarum Artium) founded in 1602 and closed in 1638, which trained over 1000 students.

Pińczów Place in Świętokrzyskie, Poland

Pińczówpronounced [ˈpʲiɲt͡ʂuf] is a town in Poland, in Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, about 40 km south of Kielce. It is the capital of Pińczów County. Population is 12,304 (2005). Pińczów belongs to the historic Polish province of Lesser Poland, and lies in the valley of the Nida river. The town has a station on a narrow-gauge line, called Holy Cross Mountains Rail

Raków, Kielce County Village in Świętokrzyskie, Poland

Raków is a village in Kielce County, Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, in south-central Poland. It is the seat of the gmina called Gmina Raków. It lies in historic Lesser Poland, approximately 39 km (24 mi) south-east of the regional capital Kielce. The village has a population of 1,213.

Printing press device for evenly printing ink onto a print medium

A printing press is a mechanical device for applying pressure to an inked surface resting upon a print medium, thereby transferring the ink. It marked a dramatic improvement on earlier printing methods in which the cloth, paper or other medium was brushed or rubbed repeatedly to achieve the transfer of ink, and accelerated the process. Typically used for texts, the invention and global spread of the printing press was one of the most influential events in the second millennium.

1658: Expulsion

The Brethren never participated in the Sandomierz Agreement 1570 between different Polish Protestants. The Minor Church in Poland was dissolved on July 20, 1658, when the Sejm expelled the Socinians from Poland. This occurred after a series of 17th-century wars known as the Deluge in which Protestant Sweden invaded Poland, since they (like almost all non-Catholic Christians) were commonly seen as Swedish collaborators.

Sandomierz Agreement

The Sandomierz Agreement was an agreement reached in 1570 in Sandomierz between a number of Protestant groups in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was intended to unite different creeds of the Protestant Reformation, such as the Calvinists, the Lutherans, and the Bohemian Brethren, and to face Counter-Reformation as a united front. The Polish Brethren did not participate in the talks that resulted in the agreement, signed on April 14, 1570. Signatories of the consensus agreed to respect each other's preachers and sacraments. Furthermore, united synods were planned. The idea of a parliament bill was raised, in which Protestants were to be treated on equal terms with Catholics.

<i>Sejm</i> lower house of the parliament of Poland

The Sejm of the Republic of Poland is the larger, more powerful lower house of the Polish parliament. It consists of 460 deputies elected by universal ballot and is presided over by a speaker called the "Marshal of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland". In the Kingdom of Poland, "Sejm" referred to the entire two-chamber parliament of Poland, comprising the Chamber of Envoys, the Senate and the King. It was thus a three-estate parliament. Since the Second Polish Republic (1918–1939), "Sejm" has referred only to the larger house of the parliament; the upper house is called the Senat Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej.

Sweden constitutional monarchy in Northern Europe

Sweden, officially the Kingdom of Sweden, is a Scandinavian Nordic country in Northern Europe. It borders Norway to the west and north and Finland to the east, and is connected to Denmark in the southwest by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund Strait. At 450,295 square kilometres (173,860 sq mi), Sweden is the largest country in Northern Europe, the third-largest country in the European Union and the fifth largest country in Europe by area. The capital city is Stockholm. Sweden has a total population of 10.3 million of which 2.5 million have a foreign background. It has a low population density of 22 inhabitants per square kilometre (57/sq mi) and the highest urban concentration is in the central and southern half of the country.

The Brethren were exiled in three directions, finding asylum in the following regions:



Originally, the Minor Church followed a non-trinitarian doctrine inspired by the writings of Michael Servetus. Later on, Socinianism, named for Italian theologian Fausto Sozzini, became its main theological approach. They were against capital punishment, and did not believe in the traditional Christian doctrines of Hell or the Trinity.

Church and state

They advocated the separation of church and state and taught the equality and brotherhood of all people; they opposed social privileges based on religious affiliation, and their adherents refused military service (they were known for carrying wooden swords instead of real, almost obligatory, szablas), and they declined to serve in political office.


Although never numerous, they had a significant impact on political thought in Poland. After being expelled from Poland, they emigrated to England, East Prussia and the Netherlands, where their works were widely published and influenced much of the thinking of later philosophers such as John Locke and Pierre Bayle.

Their main ideologues were Piotr z Goniadza ("Gonesius"), Grzegorz Paweł z Brzezin, Marcin Czechowic, although Johannes Crellius (from Germany), and Johann Ludwig von Wolzogen (who came to Poland from Austria) were far better known outside Poland. Among the best known adherents of this fellowship are Mikołaj Sienicki, Jan Niemojewski, and writers and poets Zbigniew Morsztyn, Olbrycht Karmanowski and Wacław Potocki.

This expulsion is sometimes taken as the beginning of decline of famous Polish religious freedom, although the decline started earlier and ended later: the last non-Catholic deputy was removed from parliament in the beginning of the 18th century. Most of Polish Brethren moved to the Netherlands, where they greatly influenced European opinion, becoming precursors to Enlightenment. Through their connection to Enlightenment thinkers, their ideas also influenced the Founding Fathers of the United States.

Influence in Britain

John Locke was preceded by a few decades by Samuel Przypkowski on tolerance and by Andrzej Wiszowaty on 'rational religion.' Isaac Newton had met Samuel Crell, son of Johannes Crellius, of the Spinowski family. Newton was well informed about the developments in Poland and collected many books from the Racovian Academy. [3]

The Englishman John Biddle had translated two works by Przypkowski, as well as the Racovian Catechism and a work by Joachim Stegmann, a "Polish Brother" from Germany. Biddle's followers had very close relations with the Polish Socinian family of Crellius (aka Spinowski).

Influence in the United States

Subsequently, the Unitarian of Christianity was continued by, most notably, Joseph Priestley, who had emigrated to the United States and was a friend of both James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, the latter of whom sometimes attended services at Priestley's congregation in Philadelphia. Notably, Priestley was very well informed on the earlier developments in Poland, especially by his mentions of Socinus and Szymon Budny (translator of Bible, author of many pamphlets against the Trinity).

In the modern era

In the Second Polish Republic, 1937, priest Karol Grycz-Śmiałowski recreated what he considered was a revival of the Church of Polish Brethren in Kraków. In the People's Republic of Poland it was registered in 1967 as the Unity of Polish Brethren (Jednota Braci Polskich).

Modern groups which look to the Polish Brethren include the Christadelphians and CoGGC. Although Christadelphians had since their origins in the 1840s always looked for historical precedents, the group was unaware of closer precedents in Socinianism. This changed with a series of articles in the community magazine during the early seventies subsequently published. [4] [5] The Polish arm of the Christadelphians use the name Bracia w Chrystusie in conscious echo of Socinian precedents. The Atlanta Bible College of the CoGGC also publish a Journal continuing research into the Polish Brethren and related groups. [6]

See also


  1. Hewett, Racovia, pp. 20–21.
  2. Hewett, p. 24.
  3. Snobelen, Stephen D. (1999). "Isaac Newton, heretic: the strategies of a Nicodemite" (PDF). British Journal for the History of Science. 32: 381–419. doi:10.1017/S0007087499003751.
  4. Eyre, Alan, The Protestors, Birmingham 1975
  5. Eyre, Alan, Brethren in Christ, Adelaide, 1983
  6. Journal for The Radical Reformation, archived from the original on 2010-07-02

Related Research Articles

Socinianism Christian doctrines taught by Lelio and Fausto Sozzini

Socinianism is a system of Christian doctrine named for Italians Lelio Sozzini and Fausto Sozzini, uncle and nephew, respectively, which was developed among the Polish Brethren in the Minor Reformed Church of Poland during the 16th and 17th centuries and embraced by the Unitarian Church of Transylvania during the same period. It is most famous for its nontrinitarian Christology but contains a number of other unorthodox beliefs as well.

Johannes Crellius German theologian

Johannes Crellius was a Polish and German theologian.

Fausto Sozzini Polish-Italian theologian

Fausto Paolo Sozzini, also known as Faustus Socinus or Faust Socyn (Polish), was an Italian theologian and founder of the school of Christian thought known as Socinianism and the main theologian of the Minor Reformed Church of Poland.

The Racovian Catechism is a nontrinitarian statement of faith from the 16th century. The title Racovian comes from the publishers, the Polish Brethren, who had founded a sizeable town in Raków, Kielce County, where the Racovian Academy and printing press was founded by Jakub Sienieński in 1602.

Symon Budny Belarusian and Polish humanist

Szymon Budny or Symon Budny was a Polish-Belarusian humanist, educator, Hebraist, Bible translator, Protestant reformer, philosopher, sociologist and historian, active in the territory of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He was one of the first to promote the development of Belarusian culture in the Belarusian language. He was one of the leaders of the Polish Brethren.

Unitarianism, as a Christian denominational family of churches, was first defined in Poland-Lithuania and Transylvania in the late 16th century. It was then further developed in England and America until the early 19th century, although theological ancestors are to be found as far back as the early days of Christianity. It matured and reached its classical form in the middle 19th century. Later historical development has been diverse in different countries.

Andrzej Wiszowaty Sr. was a Socinian theologian who worked with Joachim Stegmann (1595–1633) on the Racovian Catechism of 1605, and taught at the Racovian Academy of the Polish Brethren.

Joachim Stegmann Sr.(Potsdam 1595 - Cluj-Napoca 1633) was a German Socinian theologian, Bible translator, mathematician and rector of the Racovian Academy.

Racovian Academy

The Racovian Academy was a Socinian school operated from 1602 to 1638 by the Polish Brethren in Raków, Sandomierz Voivodeship of Lesser Poland. The communitarian Arian settlement of Raków was founded in 1569 by Jan Sienieński. The academy was founded in 1602 by his son, Jakub Sienieński. The zenith of the academy was 1616–1630. It was contemporaneous with the Calvinist Pińczów Academy, which was known "as the Sarmatian Athens". It numbered more than 1,000 students, including many foreigners. At this point it is estimated that ten to twenty percent of Polish intellectuals were Arians.

Samuel Crell-Spinowski was an Arian philosopher and theologian, pastor of the church of the Polish Brethren.

Krzysztof Crell-Spinowski was an Arian theologian, pastor of the church of the Polish Brethren.

Krzysztof Morsztyn Sr. Founder of the Polish Brethern Community

Krzysztof Morsztyn Sr. (1522-1600) of the Leliwa coat of arms, was founder of the Polish Brethren community in Filipów in 1585.

The Synod of Skrzynno 24 June 1567 was a synod between the Arians and Socinians among the Antitrinitarian Polish Brethren.

The Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum quos Unitarios vocant or Library of the Polish Brethren called Unitarians 1668 is a collection of writings of the Polish Brethren published by Frans Kuyper, Daniel Bakkamude, and Benedykt's father Andrzej Wiszowaty Sr. (d.1678) in Amsterdam, with Pieter van der Meersche in Leiden.

Bible translations into Polish

The earliest Bible translations into the Polish language date to the 13th century. The first full ones were completed in the 16th.

Crell is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:


Further reading