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Jan Ostroróg (1436-1501)
Jan Ostroróg - TREATISE ON IMPROVING THE REPUBLIC
TREATISE ON IMPROVING THE REPUBLIC
On the Diversity of Laws
Such a diversity of laws is not good at all, as the gentry is judged by one law and the plebeians by another, one called Polish law, the other German law, and that law varies still more, and it is preserved so stubbornly, as if the Germans were the only people with brains. Such a mixture in one state is not consistent with reason. Therefore, let there be one law, binding everybody, without any difference in regard to the position of people: for wounds and homicide the same fine and criminal punishment should be kept as was the custom in the past. If, however, one law was considered necessary for the plebeians and a different law for the gentry, because of the distinction of their estates, let that law also be called the civil law and not German, although I believe that all inhabitants of the country can and should govern themselves alike by one and the same law.
God commanded that tithes be given; He commanded it, I do not deny, to Aaron and the Levites, to whom He had given the spiritual law, but He did not command that they be extorted from laymen, as it happens nowadays, so that tithes are collected not without injustice to the donors. There was a time when they were given by the rich, but not by the poor, while now poor peasants give them to those who are well provided for and well fed, who take them haughtily. Are these words observed: "I want compassion--not sacrifices!" Therefore if someone wants to accept a gift, let him take it when a donor feels like offering it, according to his will, not the receiver's.
On Payments Made to the Pope
A painful and inhuman burden also oppresses the Kingdom of Poland, which is otherwise completely free, in another way, because we allow ourselves to be cheated and deceived to such a degree by the constant cunning of the Italians, and under the guise of piety, which is rather a falsification of teaching and a superstition: we permit big sums of money to be sent annually to the Roman court, as they call it, in the payment of a big tribute, called the bishop's tribute or the annates. Whenever a new bishop is appointed in the diocese, he will not be consecrated until he first makes a payment of a few thousand gilders to the pope in Rome, even though the sacred canons teach that the newly appointed bishop should be consecrated and confirmed by the archbishop and the bishops. The cunning and sly Italians usurped this power for themselves while we yawn and fall asleep. It is known that the German and Polish noblemen allowed the Apostolic See to collect the annates for only a few years in order to restrain the enemies of the Christian faith and to check the cruel Turk in his attacks. And this is certain: these few allotted years have long since passed, and the annates destined for other uses are channelled elsewhere. It is therefore necessary to stop this false piety, and the pope should not be a tyrant under the cloak of faith, but on the contrary, a benevolent father, just as merciful as the one whom he claims to represent on earth.
About Sermons in the German Language
Oh, what a discredit and shame for all Poles! In many places in our churches sermons are given in German and this takes place in a lofty and magnificent setting; one or two old women listen to them, and the crowds of Poles are squeezed somewhere in the corner with their preacher! And because nature itself implanted eternal discord and hatred between those two languages (as well as in another aspect), I exhort you not to say the mass in that language. Let the one who wants to live in Poland learn to speak Polish! Unless we are such simpletons that we forget that the Germans treat our language in a similar fashion in their country. And if, after all, such sermons are needed for the new arrivals, let them take place somewhere in secluded spots, without damage to the dignity of the Poles.
Translated by Michael J. Mikoś
Jan Ostroróg, born into a powerful nobleman's family in Great Poland, studied at the universities of Erfurt and Bologna, where he was granted a doctorate in law. After returning to Poland, Ostroróg occupied high public offices, serving as a deputy to Rome and the deputy treasurer to the Crown, and in 1501 became the Palatine of Poznań. His Latin
Monumentum pro ... Reipublicae ordinatione congestum
Treatise on Improving the Republic
; ca. 1475) is a major work dealing with Polish political and legal issues in the Middle Ages. In it, Ostroróg presented a program of major governmental and social reforms, postulating Poland's independence from the papacy and the empire. He called for the strengthening of royal power and for control of the State over the Church, and advocated a uniform penal law for all estates.