Lasko, John A
Lasko, John a (2), one of the most distinguished of the Polish reformers, was born at Warsaw in the early part of 1499, of one of the noblest families of Poland, which, during the 16th century especially, furnished many men illustrious in the Church, in the council, and the camp. We know little of John a Lasko's early education, but it was probably conducted under the supervision of his uncle (see the preceding article), who would naturally intend him for the priesthood. While he was yet a youth, the German Reformation commenced, and evidently attracted a large share of his attention. The archbishop, however, was its strenuous opponent, and young Lasko, at the University of Cracow, where Luther's writings were publicly bought and sold, may have contented himself with accepting the current religious sentiments of his countrymen, which by no means accorded with the highest standards of Roman Catholic orthodoxy. At the age of twenty-five he set forth on his travels. It was his purpose to visit the courts and universities of other lands. Passing by Wittenberg, with its Luther and Melancthon, he directed his course to Louvain, where he seems to have been repelled by the ignorance and bigotry of the priesthood, and thence passed to Zurich, where he met and conferred with Zwingle, and was by him influenced to take a decided stand for the reformatory movement. From Zurich he went to Paris, where he was honorably received, and entered into a correspondence with the sister of the king, the famous Margaret of Navarre, already favorably disposed to the cause of reform. Thence he directed his course to Basle, attracted thither by the fame of Erasmus, who extended to him a cordial welcome, and did not disdain to accept his hospitable gifts. The veteran scholar admired and praised his young friend, and Lasko seems to have reciprocated his confidence and affection. Both occupied the same dwelling, and for some months the expense of the household was met from Lasko's purse. Perhaps the fact that at this very juncture the break between Luther and Erasmus took place may not have been without its effect in repelling Lasko from too close association with the German reformer. In October 1525, Lasko was recalled to Poland, doubtless with a view to be engaged in state employ, or as an ambassador to France or Spain. However this may be, he probably passed through Italy previous to his return, and there formed some acquaintanceships, not without influence in later years. Not long after his return he fell in with the writings of Melancthon, with whom he subsequently corresponded, and we may reasonably conclude that by his counsel, or with his sanction, Polish youth were sent abroad to complete their studies at Wittenberg. A marked change by this time is manifest in his views and feelings. Erasmus, in his correspondence, was not slow to note this. It was due partly, no doubt, to a better knowledge of the German reformers, and partly, also, to the ripening of his own Christian experience. We hear him declaring that he owed everything to the mercy of God. No foresight of his own, no world-wisdom, could have saved him from ruin. There was more of Luther than of Erasmus in such soul-humbling confessions. The death of his uncle, the archbishop (1531), who was resolutely opposed to the cause of reform, removed a certain measure of restraint which had checked young Lasko's freedom of action, if not speculation. No outward manifestation of any radical change of sentiment had hitherto been apparent. He was successively nominated canon of Gnesen, custos of Plock, and dean of Gnesen and Lencicz. In accepting these dignities he still cherished the hope inspired by Erasmus that reform might take place within the Church itself, and to this end he was induced, in a cautious manner, to present the Polish monarch with suggestions as to the necessity of measures directed to that object (Krasinski's Ref. in Poland, 1:248). In 1536 he received the royal nomination of bishop of Cujavia, and the most inviting prospects of ecclesiastical promotion opened before him. But already his hope that the Church of Rome would reform herself had died out. He opened his heart to the king, and freely confessed the views and convictions which forbade his acceptance of the proffered promotion. With the royal permission, and provided with commendatory letters, he chose temporarily to withdraw from his native land. He directed his course to the Netherlands. At Antwerp he was sought out and his acquaintance cultivated by the most respectable citizens. The royal letters alone would have opened all doors to him. But his final decision to withdraw entirely from the Roman Catholic Church was hastened in or before 1540. In that year he married a woman of humble rank, without dowry, whom he met at Louvain (Krasinski says Mayence), and thus made his breach with Rome irreparable. Instead of returning to his native land, he sought a retired residence at Emden, in Friesland. Count Enno, who was anxious to secure a reformation of the Church in his principality, proposed to Lasko the charge of the matter as superintendent. His death suspended the negotiation, but his sister Anna, who succeeded him, renewed the proposal. After much hesitation, Lasko was induced in 1543 to accept the charge, and in the following year was nominated superintendent of all the churches of Friesland. He had already declined the invitation to return to Poland, where he was assured that his marriage should not stand in the way of the bestowment of a bishopric. He longed, indeed, to return, but only that he might labor as an evangelist, unencumbered with any connection with Rome. He accepted his present post — as he did others to which he was subsequently called — with the express proviso that if duty and the prospect of useful service called him back to his native land he might be free to go. He made it also a condition of his acceptance that no obligation should be imposed upon him in his office inconsistent with the word and will of God. In neighboring lands his proceedings were jealously watched.
The duke of East Courland, who had married a daughter of Maximilian, as well as the duke of Brabant, felt that his influence and innovations threatened their states. Lasko pushed on the cause of reform by assailing the monasteries and the pictures in the churches. A formidable opposition was provoked, but he manfully defended himself, and was sustained by the countess. Opposition gradually yielded, and Romish rites and ceremonies disappeared from all the churches. An improved order of Church organization and discipline was introduced and established, substantially Presbyterian. He employed the eldership to enforce discipline. He sought to promote pastoral culture and improvement, as well as confessional unity of doctrine. Preaching himself, he habitually insisted on the sole and supreme authority of the Word of God. In correspondence with Melancthon, Bucer, Bullinger, Pellican, and Hardenberg, he drew up a confession of faith, which yet proved unsatisfactory to the Lutherans, leaning as it did to the views of the Swiss and Anglican reformers, although by no means in full correspondence with those of Calvin.
Lasko's reputation as the founder of the Protestant Church in Friesland now spread rapidly, and he was repeatedly consulted by foreign rulers and divines on questions of Church polity and order. The duke of Prussia invited him to accept the superintendence of the churches of his dominions, but the project was defeated by the condition on which Lasko insisted that the Church should be independent of the state, and that Lutheran rites, kindred to those of the Roman Catholic Church, should be abolished (Krasinski. 1:253). During his residence at Emden Lasko was forced to engage in controversy. Persecuted elsewhere, religious enthusiasts found shelter in the Netherlands, and intruded within his sphere. Menno Simon and David George were his principal antagonists. He sought to convince them by argument, but failed. His constant difficulties and the pressing burden of his duties induced him to listen to an invitation that reached him from England. Archbishop Cranmer, to whom Lasko had been recommended by some of his brother reformers, Peter Martyr and William Turner, pressed him to come and assist in the task of completing the reformation of the Church. Early in September 1548, parting from the countess, who reluctantly consented to his withdrawal, Lasko set out for England. Three days before he left the celebrated interim of the emperor was published, threatening to arrest and put back the cause of Church reform in all his states. Lasko wrote back to his friends in Emden to abide firm, assuring them that it was better to fall into the hands of God than into those of men. His first visit to England was designedly temporary. For six months he resided with Cranmer at Lambeth. The views of the two men were coincident in doctrine, and apparently not greatly divergent in matters of order and discipline. The impression which he made in England was favorable, and in a sermon preached before the king Latimer extolled him with high praise. Returning to Emden, Lasko encouraged his fellow- religionists in their opposition to the interim, and incurred the hostility of those — and among them of the chancellor Ter West — who were disposed to favor a compromise with the emperor. There was some danger that Lasko himself would be sacrificed to their policy. Leaving Emden, therefore, he resided for a time at Bremen and Hamburg, and at length directed his course back to England, in May 1550, to which he had been reinvited. Here, under the protection of a Protestant monarch (Henry VI), refugees from persecution on the Continent were collected in considerable numbers. The foreign Protestant congregation in London was composed of French, Germans, and Italians. Of this, in all about 3000 members, Lasko, by the king's nomination (July 24, 1550), was made superintendent. He seems, however, to have had supervisory charge over all the other foreign churches of the city, while their schools were subject to his inspection. The wisdom of his measures is attested by a letter of Melancthon, who speaks (September 1551) of the purity of doctrine of his churches. He differed with Cranmer on some points, as in reference to sacramental doctrine and the use of priestly habits, but his scruples were respected, and his intervention secured the foreign churches from molestation. In London he introduced the same system of Church order which he had established at Emden. He brought out an edition of his Catechism for the instruction of the people, and to this the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism are said to have been manifestly indebted. The English liturgy he discarded. His views on the sacraments may be inferred from his republication in England of the work of Bullinger, to which he furnished an introduction. This was followed, however, by his Brevis et delucidae de Sacramentis Ecclesia Christi Tractatio (Lond. 1552, 8vo), in which he approximated to the views of Zwingle and Calvin. On the doctrines peculiar to Calvin Lasko was not disposed to stand. He uses language that would seem to indicate an acceptance of the belief in a general atonement. While insisting on the insufficiency and inability of human effort without the grace of God, he emphasizes the freeness and rich provisions of the Gospel of Christ. It was during his residence in England that Lasko's wife died, and his second marriage took place. The death of the young king suddenly wrought an entire change in the prospects of the exiles, and on the accession of queen Mary they prepared to return to the Continent. On the 17th of September, 1553, the first band of them, more than 170 in number, embarked for Denmark, where they had been assured of a welcome reception from a Protestant monarch. But a bigoted Lutheranism repelled them from the Danish shores. Lasko hastened back to Emden, while his fellow-pilgrims, called by Westphal, a Lutheran divine, "martyrs of the devil," and repulsed at Hamburg, Lubeck, and Rostock, finally found a hospitable reception at Dantzic. At Emden Lasko found his position uncomfortable. His vicinity to Brabant gave occasion for those who feared his influence to intrigue against him. Gustavus Vasa invited him and his friends to Sweden, assuring him of entire religious liberty. But he longed to return to his native land. His views concerning the sacrament, however, were represented to the king as objectionable, and it seemed essential that he should first seek to harmonize them with the Augsburg Confession. His opponents in controversy, Westphal especially, had spoken of him in reproachful terms. He determined to consult with Melancthon, and in April, 1555, he left Emden, and for many months, passing from city to city in Germany, and conferring with leading theologians, he awaited the long-desired opportunity of returning, with the hope of useful service, to his native land. We find him at Frankfort almost at the very time when the English exiles had transferred their altercations with reference to the habits to that city, and involved there to some extent in the Lutheran controversy. He was complained of as a dissenter from the Augsburg Confession, but in reply he asserted that he accepted its very language in regard to Christ's presence in the sacrament. At Stuttgard (May 22, 1556) he entered with Brentz upon a disputation on the sacramentarian controversy, and there renewed his assertion and vindicated his views. With Melancthon he succeeded better. Although he could not effect a union of the Lutherans and the Reformed, as he was exhorted to do by the king of Poland, with a view to its happy effect in his own states, he yet secured the confidence and friendly offices of Melancthon. The latter entrusted him with a letter to the king of Poland, to which a modification of the Augsburg Confession, such as it was hoped all Protestants might unite in, was added. Lasko now prepared for his return to Poland, where the king, Sigismund Augustus, was disposed to welcome him. He first, however, published a new account of the foreign churches which he had superintended in London, dedicating it to the king, the senate, and the states of Poland, urging at the same time the reasons for reformation, and setting forth the grounds of his own action in rejecting the doctrines of the Church of Rome. Such a vindication of himself was called for. The news of his return excited the apprehensions, if not the consternation of his enemies. In December 1556, after an absence of twenty years, he planted his feet on his native soil. His approach had been preceded by alarms addressed especially to the ears of the king. He was called a dangerous person, an outlawed heretic, who returned to his country only to excite troubles and commotions. He was said to be preparing measures of rebellion, and means to destroy the churches. The king was not alarmed. He received the reformer in a friendly manner, and was gratified with Melancthon's letters. Cautious in his policy, however, he was anxious, before taking bold and decisive measures of reform, to secure Protestant union. Lasko was entrusted with the superintendence of all the Reformed churches in Little Poland. Laboring for the desired union, his efforts were counteracted by men who preferred to conceal their real (Socinian) sentiments, and by the grave difficulties which he had to encounter. At successive annual synods he exerted himself to secure a harmony of the Protestant confessions-a result effected after his death in the celebrated Consensus Sendomiriensis. In the translation of the Bible of Brzesc he took an active part, and is said to have published many books, most of which are now irrecoverably lost. In the midst of his efforts, and under the burden of his pressing duties, he closed his life, January 8, 1560. During the last four years of his life the record of his labors is scanty indeed, but his vigor, activity, and practical ability left a deep and abiding impress on the development of the Polish Reformation.
Literature. — The sources of information in regard to Lasko are at present quite ample. His Life (Leben d. Johann v. Lasko), by Peter Bartels (Elberfsld, 1860) has been concisely and carefully compiled, and gives a satisfactory account of his doctrinal position, as well as some notice of his books, together with an extended list of authorities. Krasinski's Hist. Sketch of the Reformation in Poland (Lond. 1838, 2 volumes, 8vo) presents an extended view of his life in connection with the Reformation in his native country. In some respects, however, the most valuable work on the subject of this article is Johannis a Lasco Opera, tam edita quame inedita, recensuit vitam auctoris enarravit A. Kuyyper (Amsterd. 1866, 2 volumes, 8vo). In over 1300 closely printed pages we have nearly, if not quite all the remains of Lasko that can now be identified, including portions of his correspondence, extending from 1526 to 1559. See also Bertram (J.F.), Gründlicher Bericht von Johann Alasco (1733, 3 volumes, 4to);
GCbel. Gesch. des christlichen Lebens in der rhein-westph. Kirche (Coblenz, 1849), 1:318-351; Neal, History of the Puritans, 1:53 sq.; Hassencamp, Hessische Kirchengesch. (Marburg, 1832), 1, § 47; Fischer, Versuch einer Gesch. der Ref. in Polen (1856); Schrnckh, Kirchengesch. s. d. Ref. 2:688 sq.; Middleton, Reformers, 2 (see Index); Jahrb. deutscher Theologie, 1860, 2:536; 1868, 3:536; and the excellent article by Göbel, in Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 8:204 sq. (E.H.G.)