Did Polish “Calvinists” Believe In Predestination? -- By: Dariusz M. Bryc´ko
PRJ 5:1 (January 2013) p. 90
Did Polish “Calvinists” Believe In Predestination?1
The seventeenth-century Polish Reformed pastor and theologian Daniel Kałaj refers to John Calvin affectionately in his discussion on the doctrine of justification.2 This brief remark might come as a surprise to those familiar with Polish historiography of the early modern period and the terrible reputation the Genevan Reformer received, mostly due to his belief in predestination. Therefore, in this article I would like to take a closer look at how Polish historiography deals with the doctrine of predestination among the Polish Reformed theologians and how certain perspectives could be problematic, especially when one considers some primary texts of the Polish Reformed. It is not my goal to provide here a comprehensive or final view, but simply to initiate discussion on this important issue.
Reading Polish secondary sources of the Reformation, one might come to the rather shocking conclusion that the Polish Reformed actually rejected one of the important doctrines of the Protestant Reformation—that is, the teaching of justification by faith alone—and instead proposed something else (however, it is not really clear what that might have been). This situation is illustrated in the available analysis of the theological writings of the early Polish humanist
PRJ 5:1 (January 2013) p. 91
and theologian, Mikołaj Rej (1505-1569). This celebrated author is commonly known as the father of the Polish language; he and Jan Kochanowski (1530-1584) were considered the most prolific writers of the Polish Renaissance. Although the opinions of scholars are divided over Rej, most seem to agree that Rej rejected “Calvin’s doctrine of predestination.” This characterization suggests not only that Calvin was the one who invented the dogma, but also that Rej softened and altered Calvin’s cruel notion that God elected some to salvation and reprobated some to condemnation. For example, Jerzy Kloczowski, in his book A History of Polish Christianity, wrote:
For Mikołaj Rej—who was thoroughly Polish and was called by Zofia Szmidt ‘an Erasmian of the first order’—Christ was the personification of love, kindness, and gentleness, just as he was for Erasmus, and not a strict judge or ruler arousing fear. In the eyes of Erasmus and Rej, a man was not an individual thoroughly degraded by original sin, as was assumed by Calvin and Luther: on the contrary, as a God-created being, he could legitimately trust his own mind, heart, and conscience. Despite the fact that Rej formerly belonged to the Calvinist Church, at the end of his life, it ...
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