THE POLISH REFORMER. (1524 — 1527.)
In Poland, hitherto, it is only secondary workers, if we may so speak, that we have met with. The country was, however, to possess in one of her own sons a man worthy to rank with the reformers, and whose ambition it would be to see his native land enlightened by the Gospel. Unhappily, during his best years, the storm of persecution drove him to a distance from her.
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, there was in Poland a noble and wealthy family, whose rare privilege it was to count among its members several distinguished men. The foremost of these, John, baron Alasco, was archbishop of Gnesen (Gniezno), capital of Great Poland, and at the same time primate of the kingdom. He was a man endowed with a noble character, a friend of the sciences, devoted to his country, the legislation of which he had striven to improve, in favor at court, and an avowed enemy to the Reformation. He had three nephews, brothers, who were very distinguished men in their day. The eldest, Stanislaus, was minister plenipotentiary of Poland in France under Francis I.; and he discharged the same functions at the court of Austria. Yaroslav (or Jerome), a learned and eminent writer, was active also in political affairs, and played an important part in the disputes between Austria and Turkey. The third brother was named John, like his uncle, and was born at Warsaw in 1499. He dedicated himself to the priesthood, studied with distinction under the superintendence of the primate, and according to some authorities was intended to succeed him. f622 At twenty-five John was still attached to the Roman-Catholic faith; but he was one of those spirits which are sensitive to the noble voice of truth and freedom, when once it is heard. The principles maintained by the Vaudois, by Wycliffe and the Hussites, had prepared Poland, as already related, for the reception of ideas more Christian and more liberal than those of the papacy. The young John Alasco had felt this influence; and although he still held to Roman unity, and was prejudiced against the work of Luther, he believed, nevertheless, that there was something good in the movement for reformation which was then stirring all Europe. He wished to be a nearer spectator of the movement. Erasmus was at this time his ideal. This great scholar, while remaining in the Catholic Church, boldly contended against its abuses, and strove to diffuse everywhere more light. About 1524 Alasco quitted Poland for the purpose of visiting the courts and the most famous universities of Europe, and above all Erasmus. The young Polish noble did not swim with the stream which was at this time carrying so many young men to Wittenberg and to Luther. He was at present too much attached to the Roman Church, and his uncle, the primate, was even more so. He therefore shaped his course at first, as it seems, for Louvain, which the archbishop must have recommended to him in preference to Wittenberg. But if he were really at Louvain at this epoch, the scholastic and fanatical Catholicism of the university led him immediately to seek more enlightened teaching elsewhere. It is indeed stated that at Louvain he formed a friendship with Albert Hardenberg. He might at a later time have learned much from this theologian, so distinguished for his knowledge, his penetrating intellect, and his amiable manners. But in Hardenberg was only thirteen, and he remained till 1530 in the convent of Aduwert, in the province of Groningen. It was, therefore, at a subsequent period that these two men became close friends.
The first reformer with whom we find Alasco brought into connection is Zwinglius. On his arrival at Zurich in 1525, it was natural that Alasco should wish to see the Swiss reformer, who was himself the disciple and friend of Erasmus. It was the time when Zwinglius was resisting Manz Grebel and other enthusiastic sectaries. This might encourage Alasco, who was at present a Catholic, to seek acquaintance with him. Zwinglius, when this young nobleman of the North was introduced to him, lost no time in pointing out the source at which he must seek for the truth. ‘Apply yourself,’ said he, ‘to the study of the sacred writings.’ f624 Alasco was struck with these words. He had already held intercourse with many doctors at Louvain and elsewhere, ‘but,’ said he, ‘this man was the first who bade me search the Scriptures.’ The more he reflected and the more he practiced this precept, so much the more he began to discover the new way that leadeth unto life. He felt the power of that word, and acknowledged that it came from God. Zwinglius went a step farther.
He called upon Alasco to forsake the papal superstition and to be converted to the Gospel. f627 But the nephew of the primate of Poland was not inclined, at this time, to follow the advice of Zwinglius. He was as desirous of devoting his powers to the service of his country, in which he was sure to hold an influential position. It was not the episcopal miter and its accompanying honors which attracted him. It was the hope of diffusing in the Church knowledge and piety. To attain this end he was persuaded that he ought to remain within the pale of the Church.
However this might be, Zwinglius had given him the first impulse. He had received at Zurich the touch which comes from above, and which impels men to seek for the truth in the Bible. He appears to have spent some time at Zurich. He often remembered Zwinglius with gratitude; and when he saw the reformer attacked, calumniated, and after his death represented as the worst of all enthusiasts, Alasco, who had been a witness of his conflicts with lawless men, bravely undertook his defense. ‘Doctrines are attributed to him,’ he said, ‘of which he never had a thought, and which are even contrary to those contained in his own writings.’ f628 Alasco passed through Zurich, he tells us, on his way to France. It was natural, however, that on going to Basel he should see Erasmus, whose acquaintance he had so greatly desired to make. His visit to the king of the schools, therefore, must have followed immediately his visit to the reformer. f630 Erasmus was highly esteemed in Poland. Several grandees of the kingdom had shown him marks of their goodwill, and had also made him kind presents. Alasco brought him letters from his friends; and there was in himself a grace and a modesty which might well have sufficed without any other recommendation. The scholar received him with much kindness and even with warm feeling. The young man pleased him, and he invited him to stay in his house. For the Polish student this was a most tempting offer, and he accepted it. The illustrious Dutchman might have entertained some scruples about offering to a young lord from the north his modest abode, and his manner of life, so plain-and devoid of luxuries. But Erasmus did not think of this; and Alasco saw in the visit an opportunity of procuring for this eminent man some comfort and enjoyments. He had been, according to the custom of the Church, richly provided from his earliest years with titles and benefices; and he was traveling, like the young nobles of the time, with a well-filled purse. He therefore took upon himself, with true Polish liberality, the household expenses during the stay which he was to make there; and he did everything on a grand scale. He set himself also to for the literary tastes of Erasmus with as much generosity as delicacy. f631 Alasco thus spent several months in familiar intercourse with this great man; and, aware of the ties which still bound Erasmus to the papal system, he gave himself up the more confidingly to the impressions produced on him by his fine genius in their daily intercourse. He broke off more and more from that dark Catholicism, that intolerant monarchism, which Erasmus had long before lashed with his biting irony. The influence of Erasmus was of even higher importance. The Bible, and particularly the New Testament had been the special objects of his labors. Observing the serious disposition of John Alasco, he advised him to study the Holy Scriptures, thus urging him along the same path which Zwinglius had pointed out. It is not enough, said Erasmus in their frequent conversations, to aim at holding an important place in the church. It is necessary to acquire fitness for it, to study sound theology, and to seek for true religion in the Gospel. Alasco gave his complete assent to a truth so just, and he felt ashamed of himself. He was aspiring to the office of a priest, of a bishop, probably even f primate; and he had taken little thought about either the faith or the knowledge which such a position demands. He set to work, and at a later day he said to a reformer, — ’It was Erasmus who led me to devote myself to holy things; it was he who first began to instruct me in true religion.’ He does not appear, however, to have found at this time in Holy Scripture the deepest truth of the Christian faith.
Erasmus himself had not completely sounded this depth. He preferred the Gospel to scholasticism; but he was filled at the same time with excessive admiration for the Greeks and Romans, and could hardly help, he says himself, often crying out, — ‘Holy Socrates, pray for us!’ It was exactly at this time that this great man was engaged in a conflict with Luther, and published his Diatribe on the freedom of the will, in which he greatly reduced the power of divine grace. However, no man in his day had acquired so universal a culture. Being near Erasmus was for Alasco the best stimulus to progress in his studies. The young man resolved to begin with Hebrew and the Old Testament; and at Basel he found the necessary assistance. Conrad Pellican, a native of Elsass, who had entered at an early age into the Franciscan order, had all alone in his cell made himself master of the Hebrew language; and in 1502, while he was still only twenty-four years of age, he had been named professor of theology, and afterwards warden of his monastery. Light gradually arose in his mind; and as early as 1512 Pellican and his friend Capito had arrived at the perception of the simplicity and spirituality of the Lord’s Supper. In 1523, at the request of some eminent citizens of Basel, he had substituted, for masses read and sung without end in the chapel, the daily exposition of the Holy Scriptures; and he had persevered in this course, in spite of the complaints of the most bigoted monks, who continually cried out that exposition of Scripture on weekdays savored strongly of Lutheranism! By this man Alasco was initiated in the knowledge of Hebrew and of the Old Testament. He profited at the same time by intercourse with other eminent men who were then at Basel; among whom were Glareanus, a great master of the Greek and Latin languages, and Oecolampadius, who devoted himself especially to establishing the essential foundations of the faith, without wasting time over subordinate differences. Alasco, on his part, endeavored to be of service to these scholars. He was their young Maecenas, and he particularly encouraged Glareanus by generous subsidies. To him Glareanus afterwards dedicated one of his books. f634 He found unspeakable happiness in his intercourse with men at once so pious and so accomplished; and this communion of mind, of ideas and sentiments often recurred to his remembrance. ‘It is always with great joy of heart; that I recall to mind our life at Basel,’ he wrote twenty years later to one of those whom he had known there. Erasmus was hardly less pleased with the young Pole. This prince of letters used to speak of him when writing to his friends. In a letter of October 7, 1525, addressed to Egnatius, we read, — ’We have here John Alasco, a Pole. He is a man of illustrious family, and will soon occupy the highest rank. His morals are pure as the snow. He has all the brilliancy of gems and gold.’ Charmed with the society of Alasco, Erasmus wrote almost at the same time to Casimbrotus, — ’This worthy Pole is a young man, learned but free from pride, full of talent but without arrogance, of a disposition so frank, loving, and agreeable, that his charming company has almost made me young again at a time when sickness, hard work, and the annoyance occasioned by my detractors well-nigh made me pine away.’ To Lupsetus likewise he wrote, — ’The Polish count, who will soon obtain in his own land the highest position, has manners so easy; so open, and so cordial, that his company day by day makes me young again.’
Erasmus evidently had no doubt that Alasco would one day, and that very soon, be primate of Poland. ‘A glorious ancestry,’ said he further, ‘high rank, prospects the most brilliant, a mind of wonderful richness, uncommon extent of knowledge. and with all this there is about him not the faintest taint of pride. The sweetness of his disposition puts him in harmony with everyone. He has at the same time the steadfastness of a grown man and the solid judgment of an old man.’ We could not pass over in silence this impression produced by Alasco on the greatest critic of the age.
This delightful intercourse was suddenly broken up. The news reached Poland that Alasco was living at Basel:, not only in the house of Erasmus, but in the society of the reformers. His friends were alarmed. It was their wish that he should mix with the fashionable world and attend kings’ courts, rather than the meetings of those who were looked upon as heretics. He received letters from Poland, enjoining him to leave Basel, as the king called him to important affairs. f639 Alasco was deeply grieved. ‘I shall never be able sufficiently to deplore,’ said he afterwards, ‘that the happy connections which I had formed at Basel were at that time broken off by the authority of my superiors.’ While the young Pole was preparing to mount his horse, f641 Erasmi wrote to one of his friends, a bishop, — ‘His departure is the death-blow to Erasmus and to many others, so many regrets he leaves behind him.’ Erasmus did not venture to detain him, since the order was from the king. Alasco at his departure entreated Erasmus to enter into correspondence with the king of Poland, in the hope that much good to his country might result therefrom. The great writer could not be comforted under his loss. To Reginald Pole he wrote, — ’The Polish baron, John Alasco, who made me so happy by his society, at this moment afflicts me cruelly by his departure.’ In March 1526, Erasmus wrote to Alasco himself, to whom he gives, in a halfserious, half-jocose tone, the title of Highness: — ’I have been compelled to make great efforts for some months,’ says he, ‘to bring back my house, corrupted by your magnificence, to its old frugality. Through all the autumn and all the winter I have done nothing but struggle with accounts and calculations. This is but a small matter. Other difficulties have beset me in which I could easily perceive that my good genius had left me.’ It does not appear from this letter of Erasmus that the great affairs spoken of in the letter to Alasco from Poland had been entrusted to him. The message was perhaps a mere decoy.
It is supposed that Alasco went next to the court of Francis I., where his brother Stanislaus was residing, as ambassador of Poland. His own name, the letter of which he was the bearer, and the amiability of his character sufficed to ensure him at this brilliant court the most kindly reception. At a later period he corresponded with Margaret of Navarre, the king’s sister.
Perhaps their acquaintance may date from this period.
We feel some doubt, however, as to the course Alasco took on leaving Basel. Possibly he made a short stay at Paris, or he may have gone to Italy. A letter of Erasmus written four months after his departure is addressed to Venice. The great author tells him that till that time he had not known where to write to him. ‘Nobody, not even a fly,’ said he, ‘went hence to Venice. We were in complete uncertainty as to what part of the world contained you, whether Spain, France, or Poland.’ His family appear indeed to have wished that he should visit France and Spain; but Alasco himself seems to have been chiefly bent on visiting Italy. Among his admirers was a distinguished scholar, Beatus Rhenanus, who, having dedicated one of his works to him, sent the dedication to him, in February 1526, to Padua, where he believed him to be immersed in scientific pursuits. But the young Maecenas was by this time on his way back to Poland.
After returning to his native land, Alasco had severe struggles to pass through. His family were anxious at any cost to turn him away from his new notions and his new friends. What a scandal, what a sorrow, to see the nephew of the primate, his destined successor too, uniting with the sectaries of Zurich, Basel, and other places beside! His kinsfolk thought that if they could induce him to enter upon the diplomatic career, this would be the surest way to turn him away from the evangelical path. It appears, indeed, that he was designated to undertake more than one mission of this kind; but his fondness for study, his feeble health, and doubtless the new faith which was springing up in his heart, prevented him from accepting them. If he escaped from these temptations he was ere long exposed to others. His uncle, as we said, was a courtier. Before he was primate he had been arch-chancellor of the kingdom, and had lived in close intimacy with the kings Casimir IV., John Albert, and Alexander.
People fancied that the high sphere in which he moved would rescue Alasco from his strange tastes.
The rank of the young Pole, his family connections, his travels the charm of his character and his handsome person not only procured him admission to the court circle, but made him much sought after. His forehead expressed decision; his eye was clear and keenly observant; his lips, curved and slightly parted, expressed a candid and affectionate nature; a full and elegant beard flowed over his chest. At first the court had some attractions for him. He mixed there with the first society, cultivated men and amiable women; but he soon found that this gay and worldly manner of life was a dissipation to his mind, turned him aside from higher things, took up his time, and kept him away from study. The interests, the talk, and the prepossessions of this worldly company stood in marked opposition to the quiet and studious tastes by which he had hitherto been influenced. Sometimes nothing was talked of but Turkish invasions, the dangers impending over Hungary and Austria, the wars, and the deepseated uneasiness and agitation’s of Europe. At other times it was pleasure, worldliness, and frivolous conversation, the theater and the dance, which appeared to take up the whole interest of this brilliant society. Alasco shrank from the risk of being drawn away into vanities by these dangerous attractions. He questioned within himself how it was that these great lords, who were pressing into the palace of the last but one of the Jagellons, who sought after the good graces of princes, and took care not to miss a single feast at court or in the town, took no thought for their eternal welfare. He was not only struck with the passionate eagerness with which they sought after grandeur and pleasure, the pomp of an age which passed away; but, penetrating more deeply into their minds, he perceived their dissembled hatred, concealed interests, burning jealousies, treacherous intrigues, and divisions ready to break out. He took no pleasure in the air, the tone, or the manner of life which he saw around him. Everyone was outwardly as polished as marble, and inwardly as hard. He had some difficulty, nevertheless, in tearing himself away from the claims and the allurements which encircled him. He deeply regretted afterwards having lost in the life of the court time which, if it had been spent in study, would have yielded him so much good.’ f645 A decay of Christian faith was thus experienced by Alasco. When he returned to his native land, he had brought there in his heart the precious germ of a new life, still weak indeed, but which would have borne fruit if it had been tenderly fostered. Contact with the world stifled it, as thorns choke the wheat when it begins to form.
Alasco wavered while he was at court. He had all kinds of excuses. He said to himself that the illustrious Erosions did not break with old things, although they did not completely satisfy him; and he wished to imitate him. The evangelical Church appeared to him weak and contemptible, compared with the grandeur of Rome.
One of the causes of his falling away was the reception given him on his arrival in Poland. In some cases it was cold, in others sarcastic, and in several instances angry. All sorts of rumors were in circulation about him at the court, in the town, in the vestry, and the convents. The most bigoted Catholics took advantage of these reports, and went to communicate them to the archbishop. It was asserted that he brought back a wife with him, and of course a heretical wife. His uncle the primate received him with frowns. ‘I am assured, sir,’ said he, ‘that you have married in Germany, and have there given your adhesion to the Lutheran doctrine.’ Alasco was in consternation, and he protested that he had not even had any thought of marrying. Accustomed to reverence the archbishop both as a father and as primate, he was intimidated, and he strove to vindicate himself by going as far as his conscience permitted him.
There was an awakening in his soul, but he had not joined any definite sect; and, with respect to his marriage, it was nothing but a ridiculous fable invented by the priests to ruin him. Of this he so thoroughly convinced his uncle that nothing more was said of it. It was not so, however, with regard to doctrine. The primate was sincerely devoted to the court of Rome. He had attended, in 1513, the fifth General Council of the Lateran, had spoken there in the presence of Leo X., and had received for himself and his successors the dignity of legate of the Apostolic See. He had always displayed much zeal as archbishop and prince, and had convoked not less than six provincial synods. Various decrees, canons, and writings bore testimony to his opposition to the Reformation. Hence, the young Alasco, although Erasmus had characterized him as head of piety, patron of knowledge, model of morality, and bishop of peace, must expect on his part a rigorous surveillance.
The alleged misdeeds of Alasco had made much noise in Poland. The primate could not reconcile himself to the thought of finding a heretic in his nephew. He resolved to subject him to an examination. For this purpose he judged it proper to associate with himself another bishop, so that he might not lay himself open to a charge of too much indulgence. He therefore requested the bishop of Cracow to take part with him in the investigation. f648 To Alasco this was the most painful moment of his life. On the one hand, he knew that the evangelical doctors of Basel would have wished to see him openly confess evangelical truth. But, on the other hand, he asked himself whether it was right to go farther than his convictions, and whether he could call for a reformation the absolute necessity for which he did not yet acknowledge. By these considerations, which partly originated in respect for men, he was restrained. He did something more than hesitate; he yielded to the influence of his uncle, the light was darkened within him, and the world resumed its sway. Surrounded by zealous partisans of Rome, these men succeeded by their sophistry in persuading him of the necessity of continuance in the unity of the Church.
Alasco made his appearance before the archbishop and the bishop; and, full of respect for these persons of high dignity, he delivered to them the declaration, in his own handwriting, which his uncle had required of him, introducing into it, however, some reservations. ‘I, John Alasco,’ runs the document, ‘hearing that I have been falsely represented by my enemies as accepting certain suspected dogmas, foreign to the holy Catholic, apostolic, and Roman Church, I think it necessary to declare that, although I have read, with the apostolic permission, many writings of many authors, particularly some writings of those who have separated from the unity of the Church, I have never attached myself to any of their opinions, and I have never embraced knowingly or willingly f649 any of their doctrines, especially if I knew that the Roman Catholic Church rejected them. And if through imprudence (we are all men) I have fallen into any error, which has often happened in the case of the most learned and the most pious persons, I now fully and explicitly renounce it. I sincerely profess that I have no intention of following any sect or doctrine foreign to the unity and the doctrines of the Catholic, apostolic, and Roman Church, that I embrace only what is approved by her, and am willing as long as I live to obey, in all lawful and honest things, the Holy See and our ordinary prelates and bishops, appointed by it. This I swear, so help me God and His holy Gospel.’
This declaration Alasco signed. It bears date in 1526. It has been generally omitted in the narratives of his life, perhaps because it was considered injurious to him. There was, indeed, a falling back in the spiritual life of the young man. It must not, however, be forgotten that he stood at this time not on the pure and steadfast rock of the Gospel, but at the wavering point of view of Erasmus. However this may be, historical fidelity compels us to recall this act of Alasco. As soon as with the heart he believed unto righteousness, he made confession of the Lord with the mouth unto salvation. But what religion Alasco possessed at this period was the fruit of knowledge, not of faith. Now, ‘the seat of truth,’ says Calvin, ‘is not in the brain but in the heart. It is absurd to look for heat and flame where there is no fire.’
This oath taken by Alasco was, like his worldliness, a real fall.
Alasco, although he spoke of remaining in the Catholic Church, had not become a superstitious papist. He kept up the most intimate association with Erasmus. Even after his oath, and although the Rotterdam scholar was an object of hatred to many in Poland, Alasco boldly avowed himself his disciple, He even cherished the hope that his illustrious friend would deliver him from the servitude which he was enduring. One notion haunted him. He believed that, if Erasmus wrote to the King of Poland, prince, who was of a noble character and had an enlightened understanding, could not fail to deliver his country from Romish superstition. Alasco therefore urged him to write to Sigismund. ‘He shows so much earnestness about this matter,’ thought Erasmus, that there must be some reasons for doing it.’ He therefore wrote to the king, June 1, 1527, but so far as appears without any great result. f655 The primate, satisfied with his nephew’s declaration, made him provost or head of the chapter of his cathedral church, proepositus Gnesnensis. This was a first step towards the primacy; and it was not long before he was invested with other dignities. But these very dignities, which placed him in habitual contact with the Roman clergy and Roman superstitions, made him all the more sensible of the need of reformation, and he was grieved to see that no one thought of such a thing. The more he saw of the indifference and even hostility of his uncle and of the king himself to the pure Gospel, the more he felt the worth of it. The pomps and excitements of the court, the honor and the burden of dignities, appeared to have stifled the new life within him. But no plant which the heavenly Father has planted can be rooted up. On the contrary, the divine plant, under the vivifying influence of the Sun of righteousness, was now growing up in Alasco’s heart. He read the writings of Melanchthon, and particularly his beautiful Apology for the Confession of Augsburg. He entered afterwards into correspondence with that amiable and learned doctor. He also sent some young Poles to study under him at Wittenberg. The discussion on freewill between. Erasmus and Luther, the beginning of which he had seen at Basel, interested him deeply. He wrote to Breslau asking that every work on the subject, written either by Luther or by Erasmus, should be sent him. One fact marks a secret advance in Alasco, — that, whereas he had at first been on the side of Erasmus, he now leaned to Luther’s side.
The more progress he made in the knowledge of his own heart and of the Holy Scriptures, the more clearly he saw the abyss which lies between a man’s own righteousness, even in the case of the most moral man, and the perfect holiness of God. he felt that he was incapable of obtaining by his own strength the joy of salvation, or even of going to meet the grace which is given by Jesus Christ. God who had called did not abandon him. In the midst of all the seductions which surrounded him, he was brought to place all his hopes and to seek all his strength in the mercy of the Savior. ‘The grace of God alone has kept me,’ he said; ‘but for that, I should have fallen into all kinds of evil, and no human wisdom would have saved me from it.
I should have been the most wretched of men if the Divine mercy had not saved me!’ f658 In proportion as Alasco attached himself by the strongest ties to the Gospel, the artificial ties which had drawn him back to the Church, and those which had united him to Erasmus, were loosened. He was shocked by this saying of the illustrious writer, ‘that the Gospel in Germany and in Switzerland rested on bad foundations.’ Even in 1527 Erasmus wrote to an Englishman, Cox, that the daily experience which he had had of the character of John Alasco was sufficient to make him happy even though he should have no other friend. Nevertheless, the continually increasing decision of Alasco chilled the heart of the scholar. The recurrence of the name of the young Pole gradually becomes less frequent in the letters of Erasmus. This coolness must have been painful but useful to Alasco.
Another circumstance contributed to make him stronger and freer in his progress and in the development of his faith. His uncle died in 1531. The primate had exercised over him the authority not only of an official superior but of a father; and the prolongation of his life might have delayed the definitive enfranchisement of his nephew. Nothing was said about making Alasco primate in his stead. He was too young for such an office, and there were too many prejudices against him.
Alasco does not stand in the first rank of the men of the Reformation. But in one respect he surpassed them all, and this by reason of the state of life in which it pleased God that he should be born. He knew better than anyone what it was to sacrifice for Jesus Christ the world with its dignities and its favors; and he did this with a noble courage. No sooner was the bandage, which for some time had been placed over his eyes, removed, than he felt abhorrence of bondage. Nothing in the world could make him bow his head under the yoke; and he became one of the most beautiful examples of moral freedom presented in the sixteenth century. It was evident to him that he must give up the thought of reforming Poland.
He saw obstacles increasing, and henceforth acknowledged ‘that wherever the kingdom of Christ begins to appear, it is impossible for Satan to slumber or fail to display immediately his craft and his rage.’ He would fain have conquered his native land for Jesus Christ; but he saw the way barred by fortresses and armies. His position became intolerable. To be surrounded by abuses which dishonor the moral teachings of Jesus Christ and to tolerate them was in his view blasphemy. He would have liked to assail them straightway one after the other, ‘to seize a powerful hammer and crush those stones.’ The office of the true teacher, he thought, was to admonish each one of the duty which he was bound to discharge. But, said he, if the man whom you wish to admonish will not allow you to do so; if he enjoins deference to his own will, is this fulfilling one’s ministry with freedom? In Poland, he who gave such commands was the king. Now, the motto of Alasco was ‘Liberty .’
But the greatest temptations were still to come. John Alasco, we have said, had a brother, Yaroslav, who played an important part in the affairs of Hungary. Aware of the obstacles which his brother had to encounter in Poland, and desirous no doubt of keeping him in the Church, Yaroslav conceived the project of settling him on the freer soil of Hungary, and he got him appointed, in 1536, bishop of Wesprim. f663 But Sigismund, on hearing this news, stood upon the point of honor. He had a mind too lofty not to appreciate the fine qualities of Alasco, and he was not willing that such a man should be lost to his kingdom. As he had no doubt that episcopal honors would be a bond to attach him to Rome, he named him bishop of Cujavia. Dignities were showered upon the head of the young disciple of Jesus Christ. Will he yield, like Roussel accepting the bishopric of Oleron? Will he bend the knee before the idol of honor and of power?
The position was a dangerous one. This collation to two bishoprics was a way opened for arriving at the highest dignities. Called by two kings, he might easily rise higher. The influence of kings was powerful in the Church. John Alasco was at this time enlightened, and it appears that some extraordinary grace had been given him from on high. The work formerly begun in him had been resumed and even accomplished. ‘God in His goodness,’ said he,’ has again brought me to myself; and from the midst of the pharisaism in which I was lost, He has recalled me in a marvelous way to His true knowledge. To Him be the glory!’ He did not hesitate. ‘Brought to my right mind by the goodness of God,’ he says, ‘I will now serve, with what little strength I possess, that Church of Christ which I hated in the time of my ignorance and my pharisaism.’ He was convinced that he could not serve God while remaining in union with Rome, and was determined to follow the voice of his conscience alone, in the same year, 1536, in which Calvin, at Ferrara, wrote to his old friend Roussel his beautiful letter f665 pointing out to him the duty of a Christian man and calling upon him to refuse the favors of the pope, Alasco, at Cracow, was about to take practically the step which the reformer extolled in theory, and not only to refuse the episcopal miters which were offered him, but; also to resign the advantageous and honorable ecclesiastical functions with which he was already invested.
He went to the king, stated to him his convictions, and told him that they prevented his accepting the episcopal charge of Cujavia and that he was going to leave Poland. Sigismund, although regretting his loss, does not appear to have disapproved his plan. The king saw clearly what kind of doctrine it was for which the young man wished to live, and he would rather that he should not profess it within his dominions. He even gave him letters of introduction which were probably never delivered. It was not Alasco’s intention to renounce Poland for ever. He hoped that a time would come when he might return and freely proclaim the Gospel there.
He tenderly loved his native land, and never settled in any place without imposing the condition that he should be at liberty to return to his own country if he might preach Christ there. As he could not labor for the reformation of Poland by preaching in Poland itself, he labored for it in foreign lands by prayer.
Having returned from the palace, Alasco made preparation for his departure. His heart was stirred by the deepest emotion. He saw what he was going to lose; but he saw also what he had gained in finding Jesus Christ. A country in which he was about to serve him appeared more to be desired than all the grandeur and the attractions of his beloved Poland. The splendor of the Gospel. had shone in his soul, and the worldly splendor which had formerly dazzled him had now vanished. He felt that even the reputation for nobleness and virtue which Erasmus and others had given him, hindered him from coming to Christ. He acknowledged that there were on earth things of great value; but the knowledge of Christ surpassed in his eyes all that was fairest and greatest in the world. He therefore did as those do who, sailing over the great waters and seeing that their vessel is in danger, cast their goods into the sea, in order that they may come happily into the haven. f666 Riches, palaces, honors, ancient and illustrious family, a great future, — all these he cast away. He had gained Christ. He wished to be rich only with his grace, and great only with his greatness.
Alasco left Poland in 1537, and undertook a long pilgrimage in foreign lands, consoling himself with the thought that the servants of God have no country on earth, but are seeking a heavenly one. He went first to Mentz, at this time the home of his friend Hardenberg, who took there the degree of doctor in theology. From Mentz he went to Louvain in the Netherlands.