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".



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]

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]

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.

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.

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.

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. [ citation needed ]

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 a 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

Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement named for its belief that the God in Christianity is one person, as opposed to the Trinity which in most other branches of Christianity defines God as one being in three persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unitarian Christians, therefore, believe that Jesus was inspired by God in his moral teachings, and he is a savior, but he was not a deity or God incarnate. As is typical of dissenters, Unitarianism does not constitute one single Christian denomination, but rather refers to a collection of both existing and extinct Christian groups, whether historically related to each other or not, which share a common theological concept of the oneness nature of God.

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.

Raków, Kielce County Village in Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Piotr Stoiński Jr. (1565-1605) was a Polish Socinian Unitarian writer.

Karol Grycz-Śmiłowski was a Polish Lutheran priest who sought to reestablish the Polish Brethren of the period 1565-1658.

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.


Further reading