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Piotr Skarga (1536–1612)
Piotr Skarga - Sermons to the Diet
SERMONS TO THE DIET
On the Sixth Illness of the Commonwealth Which Comes
From Open Sins and Lack of Punishment for Them
"Sovereignty passes from nation to nation on account of injustice and insolence and insult, and of various betrayals."
Just before your departure,
I have to talk about the sixth and last illness, which destroys kingdoms. You can cure it not only at the Diet but also at home, if you only want to. These are the sins that call to God for vengeance, which stain the earth so that it wants to devour its people, as the prophet said: "The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and the mirth of the timbrels is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased. No longer do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. The city of chaos is broken down, every house is shut up so that no one can enter."
And there are many such warnings from the prophets, in which they tell about the fall of kingdoms. Just as the Sage said in the words which appear at the beginning. Also I, your unworthy prophet, will reveal to you injustices, wrongs, slanders, betrayals in which this kingdom and its inhabitants are entangled, unwilling to leave them behind or mend their ways. Because of them the earth will likely cast you out, and the Lord will settle it with other people, and He will take the earth away from you and your sons and will give it to your foreign foes, destroying you and your sons, if you do not come to your senses. Just as He did to the seven Canaan nations in the Holy Land, which, as the Scripture says, He uprooted from the Holy Land and destroyed for their sins and malice, and settled those kingdoms with others whom He had chosen.
The major sin and most terrible injustice in this kingdom is blasphemy towards the Christian God, one in the Holy Trinity, which takes place and is allowed to grow. Whoever wants, not only in speech but also in writing and printing,
can blaspheme without fear against our Almighty God in the Trinity, brought to us by the light of the holy gospel and the Christian faith that was revealed to us from heaven. The sect of anabaptists,
or rather pagans, is spreading everywhere. Especially in Lithuania, in the Lublin region, in Great and Little Poland, in Prussia, they blaspheme the Christian God in the Holy Trinity. And they disseminate this blasphemy as they wish, without any ban or prohibition. And the whole kingdom is stained by such consent, leading it into sin and God's vengeance.
It was a sin of Achan alone that stood in the way of a victory for the whole army, and God did not bless them over their enemies until the sin was punished.
The many people who blaspheme God will bring a much greater vengeance of the Lord on those who do not restrain them and who do not say like Phinehas and his companions to the Reubenites and the Gadites: "You have turned away today from the Lord, He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel tomorrow."
That means against those who would remain silent and let you do this. Isaiah threatens that the whole kingdom will fall on account of an injustice done to God and blasphemy to His name. He says: "Woe to the sinful nation, people laden with iniquity. They have forsaken the Lord, despised the Holy One of Israel."
And what will happen? "Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land. You will be like a booth in a vineyard, like a shelter in a field, like a besieged city."
And what is said about the blasphemy against God, one in the Holy Trinity, and about anabaptists, is understood about all heretics, who – as in the Revelation
– blaspheme God's sanctuary, that is His holy Church and His holy servants who dwell in heaven. As the kingdom does not provide any appropriate resistance to them, legal and secular, it will not escape God's punishment. For not only the one who is practicing such things, but also the one who allows others to practice them – says the apostle
– deserves to die. The one who keeps silent, and does nothing, when he should do what he can, allows for and takes part in someone else's sin.
And plundering of God's churches and devastation of God's ministry in this kingdom in many places, and the corruption of simple human souls, and taking of properties, incomes and tithes granted to the Lord,
by what court is it punished? This is a great wrong, for which God's vengeance will befall the whole kingdom that does not defend it with the full harshness of its laws. "Woe– says the Prophet – to the one who destroys and robs, because he will be destroyed."
This injustice done to God's glory and to the clergy, which damages ecclesiastical courts and clerical jurisdiction (giving rise to great devastation of God's churches and to the increase of sins, restrained up to then by ecclesiastical law) is strong enough to ruin, God forbid, this kingdom that is not disturbed over it, nor does it reform itself, and remains in this contempt of ecclesiastical courts and anathemas,
like an infidel and pagan state. For the Lord established and set first and foremost the ecclesiastical court and religious jurisdiction over the secular one in his holy gospel and in Christianity all over the world.
The neglect and delay of secular justice, and especially of those injustices, which are tried in the Sejm court,
how can it take place without a great fear of God's vengeance? So many people are wronged and oppressed by the more powerful and then, wandering from one diet court to another,
they lose whatever is left and suffer much poverty. Their voices reach the Lord in heaven and will be heard, the guilty punished. The Lord is more merciful than that judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people, but who had to try a bothersome widow. The Lord will surely grant justice to such orphans and widows, and others downtrodden and robbed, who cry to Him day and night,
and He will not spare the kingdom. These words of Solomon may speak to this: "Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed – with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power – with no one to comfort them."
Homicides alone and constant shedding of neighbors' blood without punishment may doom this kingdom. Here a murderer, robber, attacker, having killed the first, second, and tenth person, cannot be arrested and fears no law, until in ten, thirty or forty years. In that time he will either kill more, or will betray his homeland, having a dozen or more free years, and will keep running away. It happened that one who killed his own father was not sentenced at the last diet and had free time to hide away.
And the Lord wrote in His law: "You shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer; he must be put to death. You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and no expiation can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I also dwell."
Look how innocent blood which is unpunished befouls the whole land and the kingdom and provokes God's vengeance. O my God, how much blood of innocent Abels this land has absorbed and is absorbing, calling constantly to the Lord for vengeance.
And this blood or sweat of the present subjects and peasants, flowing constantly without any restraint, what punishment does it foretell for the whole kingdom? You say yourselves that there is no state in which the subjects and ploughmen were oppressed under such
which the gentry is using over them without any legal obstacle. We can see ourselves the great oppression not only of the peasants who work for the lord but also for the king, from which no one can deliver and rescue them. An angry nobleman or a royal subprefect not only will plunder everything the poor man owns but also will kill him, whenever he wants and however he wants, and will not even suffer a bad word.
That is how the kingdom provides for its poor little subjects by whose work we all live. That is why the Lord threatens in Isaiah: "It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?"
Like seeds under the millstone, so are these peasants under their masters. And the prophet speaks on, showing how from this plundering of the poor they dress up their wives and daughters at excessive and unnatural costs. At the end, he tells of the following vengeance: "Instead of perfume there will be a stench; and instead of a sash, a rope; and instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a rich robe, a binding of sackcloth; instead of beauty, shame. Your men shall fall by the sword and your warriors in battle. And her gates shall lament and mourn; ravaged, she shall sit upon the ground."
Translated by Michael J. Mikoś
. Ed. by Janusz Tazbir with Mirosław Korolko. 4th ed. Wrocław: Ossolineum, 1984, 188-198.
Piotr Skarga, born near Grójec, studied from 1552 to 1555 at the Cracow Academy. In 1564 he became a priest, and in 1569 during his stay in Rome entered the Jesuit Order. He was the first rector of the Jesuit Academy in Wilno, which became the Wilno Academy in 1579, the second university in Poland. Skarga was a founder of many new Jesuit schools. An excellent orator, Skarga was named royal preacher to Zygmunt III, and became the leader of the Counter Reformation movement. He advocated strong ties with the Vatican and championed the cause of Christian unity. Not limiting himself to religious matters, Skarga wrote about the topical issues of the day.
Lives of the Saints
(1579) gained enormous popularity already in his lifetime. Twelve editions of the book appeared before the middle of the seventeenth century, providing the Catholic church with a stock of inspirational stories for various groups of readers, including children.
The Lives of the Saints
, although derivative, played an important role in the religious controversies of the period, and strengthened the victorious movement of the counter Reformation in Poland.
Sermons to the Diet
(1597) Skarga dealt with political issues. He showed the weaknesses of the republic and dangers resulting from its citizens' disregard for moral and civic obligations. Although the Sermons were not popular during Skarga's life, they were widely read, especially after the partitions, as a prophetic vision of Poland.
1. Skarga's biblical quotations are sometimes taken from other sources or from memory, and do not always agree exactly with the original. When that happens, the reference is preceded by 'Cf.', as for example in this case: Cf. Sirah 10:8. Short restatements of the main points on the margins of the text are omitted in the translation.
2. Even though Skarga did not deliver these sermons to the Diet (Sejm), he gives the impression that he is addressing the deputies before the end of the session.
3. Skarga condenses here various fragments of Isaiah's prophecies in 24:5, 6, 8-10.
4. Cf. Deuteronomy 9:4.
5. Skarga alludes to the printing houses, for example the Arian press in Cracow, propagating Reformation ideas.
6. Anabaptists belonged to a Protestant sect which rejected infant baptism and insisted on believer's baptism. They advocated complete religious liberty, separation of church and state, and opposition to military service.
7. Cf. Joshua 7:18-26. Achan was a thief. Only after he was stoned, did God give victory to the Israelites.
8. Cf. Joshua 22:18.
9. Cf. Isaiah 1:4.
10. Cf. Isaiah 1:7-8.
11. Cf. Revelation 13:6.
12. Cf. Romans 1:32.
13. This passage refers to the conversion of some Catholic churches into Protestant congregations, followed sometimes by destruction of pictures and statues.
14. Cf. Isaiah 33:1.
15. The gentry disregarded church anathemas as they did not have any legal consequences.
16. Cf. Matthew 16:18-19.
17. Skarga refers here to criminal cases litigated at a Sejm court, not at a tribunal, appellate court.
18. Many cases waited for years in the Sejm court.
19. Cf. Luke 18:2-8.
20. Ecclesiastes 4:1. The work was attributed to Solomon.
21. This case was recorded in 1597. The murderer was sentenced in absentia.
22. Cf. Numbers 34:31, 33-34.
23. 'absolutum dominium' – absolute domination.
24. Isaiah 3:14-15.
25. Cf. Isaiah 3:24-26.