Polish brethren

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Polish Brethren (also called Antitrinitarians, Arians, or Socinians) was the name of a Christian Polish sect from the 16th century. The movement started around 1562 and ended with the expulsion of Arians from Poland in 1658. The Brethren never participated in the agreement at Sandomierz between different Polish Protestants. The Polish Brethren 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 declined political office. They did not believe in private property, were against capital punishment, and did not believe in the traditional Christian doctrines of Hell or the Trinity.

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

Their main ideologues were Piotr z Goniadza (Gonesius), Grzegorz Pawel z Brzezin, although Johannes Crellius (originally from Germany), and Jan Ludwik Wolzogen (who came to Poland from Austria) were far better known outside Poland. Among the best known adherents of this sect are Mikolaj Sienicki, Jerzy Niemojewski, and writers and poets Zbigniew Morsztyn and Waclaw Potocki.

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

These men were exiled from Poland in 1658 after a series of 17th century wars known as the Deluge in which protestant Sweden invaded Poland, since they (as almost all non-Catholics) were commonly seen as Swedish collaborators. 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.

In the Second Polish Republic, 1937, priest Karol Grycz-Śmiałowski recreated the Church of Polish Brethren in Cracow. In the People's Republic of Poland it was registred in 1967 as the Unity of Polish Brethern (Jednota Braci Polskich).

Influence

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 of the Spinowski family (originally Krell from Germany).

Englishman John Biddle had translated two works by said 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).

Subsequently, the Unitarian branch 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, who claimed to be a Unitarian and credited Priestley with having converted him to that faith. 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 Trinity).

See also

fr:Petite Église polonaise pl:Bracia polscy

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