Laski, Jan I and Jan II


Laski, Jan I and Jan II
   Uncle and nephew, members of an influential family of Polish nobility who were leaders in the church and also in encouraging Renaissance learning in their country. Jan I (1455-1531) entered the service of the Polish king in 1496 and rose to high position in the church. In 1510 he became archbishop of Gniezno and as such, primate (senior prelate) of the Polish church. He attended the Fifth Lateran Council, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and played a prominent role in domestic politics and European diplomacy. After the Reformation began in eastern Germany, Bishop Laski opposed the spread of Lutheran ideas in Poland. He also educated his nephews and supported their careers in royal service and in the church.
   Of the nephews, Jan II (1499-1560) was the most important in the cultural and religious history of his time. He accompanied his uncle to Rome for the Lateran Council, studied in Vienna, Bologna, and Padua, and became an enthusiastic supporter of humanistic studies, particularly the Christian humanism of Erasmus. On his second visit to Erasmus at Basel in 1525, he lived in Erasmus' house for six months, paying his own expenses and arranging to purchase most of Erasmus'personal library. The books were to remain in Erasmus' possession during his lifetime. Aided by his uncle's influence, young Jan obtained a number of valuable benefices in the Polish church. Although critical (like Erasmus) of Martin Luther's rashness, he found Luther's more moderate and more humanistic colleague Philipp Melanchthon very appealing. In 1539 he moved to Louvain, attracted by the philosophia Christi of reform-minded Dutch Catholics. While at Louvain, he married the daughter of a merchant, a step that forced him to forfeit his ecclesiastical offices in Poland. He then moved to Emden in northwestern Germany, working to improve local education. Laski returned to Poland in 1541, affirming on oath that he was an orthodox Catholic. But when he returned to Emden, he openly broke with Catholicism and became superintendent (Protestant bishop) of the churches of East Friesland. He opposed the pro-Catholic religious settlement (the Augsburg Interim) imposed on Germany in 1548 by the Emperor Charles V and accepted the invitation of the Anglican Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury to settle in England. There he became superintendent of the congregations of foreign Protestants (mostly German and Dutch) settled in London. After Queen Mary I restored Catholicism in England (1553), he returned to Emden. In 1556 he went back Poland, where he attempted to unify the growing but disunited Protestant groups with a religious system based largely on the theology of John Calvin. Laski's influence had much to do with the Calvinist theology of most Polish Protestants, who remained an influential minority, especially among the aristocracy, until the 17th century.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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