Orzechowski, Stanislaus

Orzechowski, Stanislaus (better known to learned Europe under his Latinized name of Orzichorius), is one of the most noted of Polish theologians of the Reformation period. He was born in Galicia in 1513. pursued his elementary studies at Przemysl, and then went to the universities of Vienna and Wittenberg. At the latter place he became intimately acquainted with Luther and Melancthon, and adopted their opinions; not, however, from a sense of piety and love of truth, but because his reckless character craved novelty. "Having been sent to Germany," he says himself, "I became enamoured of innovation. I considered that it would be very honorable to me if, by introducing some German doctrines, I should be distinguished from my equals in age, as, for instance, such principles as to disobey the pope; to have no respect for laws; to revel always, and never to fast; to seize the Church property; to know nothing about God; to exterminate the monks. After three years of study I arrived at the truth that all which is old, which is paternal, is not just. I wished to advance further, and I passed to Carlstadt, of whom it was said that all that he has taken from Luther he has made still worse. To the guidance of such leaders I intrusted myself, and whoever made more and bolder innovations, him I considered better and more learned." This description of the particular tenets which he confessed, expressed in the most coarse and abusive language, was written at a time when he had joined the Romanists and attacked the Protestants; and although the account which he gives of his connection with the Reformers was written in order to throw odium on the Protestant doctrines, he gave at the same time a true picture of his passionate character, which rendered him through all his life equally dangerous as a friend or as an enemy. After having finished his studies at the German universities, Orzechowski visited Rome, and returned to his native land in 1543, thoroughly imbued with the opinions of the Reformers. He began openly to broach them in his country; but he soon perceived that they could not afford him any worldly advantages, while the Roman Catholic Church could dispose of wealth and honors in favor of its defenders. He therefore entered into orders, and was, after some time, promoted to the canonry of Przemysl. But, although a member of the Roman Catholic clergy, he could not entirely conceal his real opinions, being continually excited by his relative, Rey, of Naglowice, one of the first Protestant writers of his country. Afraid of losing, by an overt attack on the Roman Catholic Church, the advantages he derived as one of her dignitaries, he did it in an indirect manner. Thus he opened a' discussion in several writings on the councils of Ferrara and Florence, questioning the supremacy of the pope over the Eastern Church, although ostensibly professing a great respect for those councils, and thereby provoking an inquiry into the relation of the Polish Church, which was of Eastern origin, to the Church of Rome as its supreme (?) head. He also openly defended the matrimony of the priests. Having been cited before the ecclesiastical authorities for attempting innovations dangerous to the repose of the Church and the purity of its doctrines, Orzechowski made a recantation of his opinions, and the book which contained them was condemned to be burned. This submission of Orzechowski to the authority of his Church was not, however, of long duration; and when the rector of Kryczonow married a wife, Orzechowski took his part violently against the clergy. Soon afterwards he himself publicly married Magdaline Chelnicki; and when the bishop of Przemysl cited him on that account before the tribunal, he arrived in company with such numerous and powerful friends that the bishop dared not open the court, but, affecting to judge him by default, signed a decree of excommunication, inflicting upon him the penalty of infamy and confiscation of property. Orzechowski, not in the least intimidated by these proceedings, gave a public justification of his conduct before his congregation. He complained at the same time before the tribunal of the province of the violent and cruel proceedings, and made an appeal from the episcopal sentence to the archbishop. Public sentiment favored Orzechowski, and, though the highest governmental authority had, approved the episcopal verdict, no officer dared to execute the Church decree. The delay only encouraged the opposition; and when in 1550 a diet was convened to further consider the case general opinion was so outspokenly arrayed against the Church that Orzechowski found it an easy task to fan the popular indignation into a terrible flame, and thus unconsciously became a most valuable servant to the Reformation cause, though ha had himself turned the cold shoulder to it. His bitter attack of Romanism opened the eyes of the people, and soon the bishops who had been so eager to condemn Orzechowski sought for an opportunity to reconcile this able and violent antagonist. On Feb. 17, 1552, absolution was granted him, and he thereupon presented to a Roman Catholic synod a declaration of his entire adherence to its tenets, and at the same time resigned his ecclesiastical dignities. But as the pope of Rome refused to approve the action of the synod and bishops, Orzechowski broke out anew in invectives against Rome. This time, however, his opposition proved no longer as formidable as heretofore, the golden opportunity for leadership having been lost by him. Those who favored the Reformation cause lared not to trust him after his sudden desertion. The Romanists put his writings into the Index Expugatorius, and he was declared a servant of Satan. In 1557 he was excommunicated anew, but when, soon after, his wife died — the principal obstacle to reconciliation with Rome, as the pope refused to endorse the marriage contract — Orzechowski was approached kindly, and in 1559 was finally reconciled to the Church which he had so long and violently and ably attacked. He now directed his hostility to the Protestants, and for many years was Rome's ablest champion in Poland. His writings of this period abound in the same virulence and scurrility which characterize his works against Rome. He died in the second half of the 16th century. The life of this extraordinary individual is one of the most striking proofs that the highest talent, destitute of principle, is unable to produce anything that is really great or good. The principal cause of popular discontent with Rome in Poland, and the principal promoter of Protestant liberty, he betrayed by the fickleness of his character and the versatility of his opinions the high vocation to which his great talents and bold character seemed to entitle him. He might have been the founder of Protestantism in Poland. He died an abject slave to popish error and superstition, and left his country in darkness and slavery, instead of securing for it religious and civil freedom. See Krasinski, Hist. of the Ref. in Poland, 1:179-198.

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