Paulina Buchwald-Pelc

CALVINIST CENSORSHIP IN THE LIGHT OF THE ACTS OF THE LESSER POLAND SYNODS.

Discussions relating to control over the publication, distribution and reading of books, whether preventing them from being printed, destroying undesired ones or punishing authors, printers, booksellers or (in rare cases) readers– that is to say preventive and repressive censorship in the early Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – have tended to be limited to outlines of royal and Catholic Church censorship. Jan Daniel Hoffmann was probably the first to take note of the existence of not only Catholic censorship, but also that practised by dissenters. In his outline of the history of printing in the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania released in 1740, he listed in the final chapter (and sometimes quoted) certain rulings of synods, both Catholic (such as the provincial synod of 1643) and Protestant, as of 1560. Extensively quoting Jan Łasicki, the author summarised the approach adopted by the Unity of Brethren in this respect, particularly the special attention they paid to books published in the vernacular language, since multi enim vident prius, quod plures post lecturi sunt (similar views were later expressed by Salomon Rysiński). Hoffmann also quoted a passage from a resolution of the general synod of Włodzisław in 1583 on subjecting any books featuring the exposition of doctrine to the censorship of superintendents, as well as mentioned such provisions included in the acts of Lutheran synods.1

For Protestant Churches within the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, control over their publishing houses and print shops concerned specifically books directly intended to serve for divine service or exposition of doctrine.2 The assessment – called inspection or censorship (most commonly among the Lithuanian Brethren), along with acceptance and approval of books for the purposes of printing, often preceded by their rectification – was performed at synods. Such assessment tended to be lengthy and did not always bring favourable results, as the inspectors or censors changed. Complaints were even raised in this respect, for example by Wojciech Salinarius at the provincial synod of Vilnius in 1611 who “also reported that multitudo correctorum mala.”3 On the other hand, especially in the early period, publishing and even writing itself was largely discouraged. In 1560, a synod in Książ resolved that the “Seniors” shall oversee that no minister “entertains himself with needless writing, making him waste the time he shall spend on studying for himself, so that he can guide his sheep more learnedly. And should anyone amongst them write something of value, then not only shall they refrain from printing it, but also from divulging it to anybody, until the synod comes where people will be designated to examine it.”4

As a matter of fact, this was not the first resolution made by the synod, which constituted the highest Church authority, with regards to the printing and distribution of books as well as their control or censorship. As early as in the acts of the synod of Pińczów held in 1556 (in which delegates of the Unity of Brethren participated), it was recorded that the Church represented by its elders shall decide whether or not printing should be permitted: “No treaties may be published privatim, against their will, without their inspection and rectification” (Akta I, p. 76). Otherwise, one was risking reproofs such as those addressed to Andrzej Trzecieski who was “writing what he wished to, with no judgment or advice” (Akta I, p. 91). Likewise, at the Włodzisław synod in 1557 it was resolved that none of the brethren was allowed to publish books or postils without the prior judgment and assessment of the seniors (Akta I, p. 179). This was expressed even more explicitly when Daniel of Łęczyca launched his printing house in Pińczów. His activity was welcomed at the synod of Książ in 1558, however, upon one condition: he could release no books on matters of faith without the synod’s prior approval. It was also undertaken to appoint book inspectors at the next general synod, so that they might exercise control over works prior to their publication and supervise the printed matter (Akta I, p. 264). Indeed, more and more records of inspections or requests for such an inspection started to appear in the synod acts, as for example one that was submitted that very year with respect to a book by Wawrzyniec of Przasnysz, released the following year in 1559.

Nonetheless, Daniel of Łęczyca, the printer, broke his engagement and printed without having notified the Church. Consequently, at the synod of Włodzisław (29 June 1559) he was accused of having “printed many vile works with no approbation or censorship of the Church” – we remain, however, unaware of which books this reproach referred to.5 Daniel was equally blamed for printing the work by Francesco Stancaro, Collatio doctrinae Arii et Ph. Melanchtonis et sequacium. According to a letter of September 1, 1559, from Francesco Lismanini to the Zurich ministers, the impression was burnt in its entirety. Daniel justified himself by claiming that he had been forced to release the publication by Grzegorz Orszak because he was obligated by “lord’s threats,” referring to Mikołaj Oleśnicki (Akta I, p. 309).

Before this, the Polish version of Canones Reformationis Ecclesiarum Polonicarum by Francesco Stancaro – probably published in Cracow in 1553 with financing by Hieronim Filipowski as Porządek naprawienia w kościelech naszych [ʻA System of Melioration for our Churchesʼ] – was supposed to be burnt. A fragment of this print was found by Kazimierz Piekarski6 among waste papers. As per the acts taken down by Jakub Sylvius, a synod held in Słomniki on November 25, 1554, rejected and condemned this regulation of the Church “system”. As Stanisław Górski informed Stanisław Hozjusz in his letter of January 6, 1555, “The entire impression is believed to have been burnt in Krzcięcice pursuant to Stanisław Stadnicki’s advice” (Akta I, p. 3).


1 J.D. Hoffmann, De typografiis, earumque initiis et incrementis in Regno Poloniae et Magno Ducatu Lithuaniae, Dantisci 1740, p. 69-71.

2 Censorship as practised by the authorities of Gdańsk and Toruń, dominated by members of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, was far more extensive. In 1601 in Toruń, not only Arian books, but also „papist” ones were forbidden; this, however, was of little practical impact, although orders to stop the printing of a Catholic book were occasionally issued. I discussed the censorship practised by various churches, including reformed ones, in my book Cenzura w dawnej Polsce: między prasą drukarską a stosem, SBP, Warszawa 1997.

3 Akta synodów prowicjonalnych Jednoty Litewskiej 1611-1625, Wilno 1915, p. 4.

4 M. Sipayłło (ed.), Akta synodów różnowierczych w Polsce, Warszawa 1972, v. 2, p. 46-47. Further references to this work will be hereinafter given in parentheses in the main text as the first word of the title (Akta) followed by the number of the volume and page (v.1-1966, v.3 0 1983).

5 A. Kawecka-Gryczowa, K. Korotajowa and W. Krajewski (ed.), Drukarze dawnej Polski od XV do XVIII wieku, fasc. 5: Wielkie Księstwo Litewskie, Wrocław 1959, p. 73; Akta I, p. 308-309.

6 K. Piekarski, “Nieznane druki reformacyjne z XVI w.”, Reformacja w Polsce 3, 1924, p. 144-145.