Volume 22, No.2 - Summer 1976
Editors of this issue: Bronius Vaškelis
Copyright © 1976 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.





In writing about any great personage one often wonders to what extent circumstances outside his control were responsible for his preeminence. Would Alexander the Great's military genius ever have been manifested if he had not had his father's army? Would Lincoln be considered one of America's greatest presidents if the Civil War had- not broken out? It often seems that fate plays a significant role in bringing to the forefront the right individual who otherwise might have been little noticed. Yet one cannot disregard the greatness of the man, for had someone else been in his stead, events might have turned out quite differently. In many ways the most interesting figure is the man, like Lincoln, who at a crucial time is placed in a position that no one would have ever suspected that he would occupy, yet shows precisely those character traits that the situation demands.

In nineteenth century Lithuania that man who most clearly exemplifies this type was Motiejus Valančius, who died a hundred years ago this year. With good reason some Lithuanians have called the mid-nineteenth century the era of Valančius, for, if the mass of the Lithuanian people had any recognized spiritual, social, and to some extent political leader that man was their bishop, Valančius. But no one would have thought this possible when Valančius was born on February 16 (28), 1801 in the village of Nasrėnai, the district of Kretinga in western Lithuania, the fourth child of a rather well off peasant.1 Valančius attended Žemaičių Kalvarijos middle school (1816 -1822) and the seminaries of Varniai (1822-1824) and Vilnius (1824-1828). In 1828 he was ordained a priest and received a Master's degree in theology. For the next twelve years he served as a school chaplain in Mozir gimnaziia in Minsk gubernia (1828 -1834) and in the Kražiai gimnaziia in Lithuania (1834-1840). In 1840 he was appointed professor of pastoral theology and biblical archeology at the Spiritual Academy of Vilnius, where he received his doctorate in 1842. That very year Valančius moved to Saint Petersburg when the Academy was transferred there. Due to his failing health he returned to Žemaitija2 in 1845 and was appointed rector of the seminary at Varniai. In 1848 he published one of the first historical works in the Lithuanian language Žemaičių vyskupystė (The diocese of the Žemaičiai). This work, an objective and well written account of the history of the diocese from its founding in 1417 to 1840, was the result of extensive archival studies and is still often quoted by historians, since many of the sources that Valančius used no longer exist. The book, however, is more than a simple chronology of church events, it contains useful information on the schools, libraries and educational practices of the period and makes Valančius the first Lithuanian cultural historian. In 1850 Valančius was appointed bishop of the Žemaičiai and served in this capacity until his death on May 17 (29), 1875.

Valančius' advancement was due entirely to his own abilities. As a peasant his future was limited and he even had to ennoble himself by changing his baptismal records to enter the seminary of Vilnius. Mediocrity would have meant stagnation in a low position, for unlike some priests of noble birth, he had no wealth or influential relations to ease his way. He, however, was a very conscientious worker who became expert in every capacity he served. His record was excellent, but it is doubtful whether he would have even become bishop if it had not been for the disagreements between the Pope and the tsar.

After the death of the bishop of the Žemaičiai, J. Giedraitis, in 1838, the tsar and Pope were unable to find a mutually acceptable replacement. In 1842 tsar Nicholas I appointed J. Gintila administrator of the diocese and nominated him for bishop. The Pope, however, rejected the nomination since Gintila had shown himself to be totally subservient to the Russian authorities. After the signing of the Concordat of 1847, Nicholas again nominated Gintila for bishop with Valančius as his suffragan. Valančius had served only in educational positions and had remained aloof of all politics so that his attitudes to the government were unknown. Valančius was acceptable to the Pope, but since canon law prohibited the appointment of a suffragan in a diocese without a bishop, the Pope rejected both of them. The tsar, however, interpreted Valančius' rejection to mean that he was unfavorable to Rome, i.e. loyal to Russia. Two years later in an effort to force the Pope to make a choice, the tsar nominated a number of persons for bishops, one of whom was Valančius.3 Needless to say, the Pope chose  Valančius, who became the greatest defender of the rights of the Lithuanian Catholic Church in the nineteenth century.

Perhaps a suitable analogy for explaining Valančius' activities is to view him as the general of an army engaged in a struggle with a powerful enemy over an important battlefield, the future of Lithuania. As in all battles there are several spheres of action, here the principal ones being the position of the Catholic Church and the national consciousness of the people. The 25 years of Valančius' rule can be divided into two parts, the first period (1850-1862) being an armed truce during which he prepared for the war, which began with the uprising of 1863 and continued long after his death. In the first period Valančius built up his defensive fortifications (constructing new churches and repairing old ones), organized a loyal cadre of officers (priests) and trained his troops (establishing temperance societies, which virtually eliminated drunkenness, and an extensive parish school system). In 1863 the battle began with the enemy triumphant in all fields. (The Russian authorities placed severe restrictions on the Catholic Church, closed the temperance societies and parish schools and even went so far as to prohibit the printing of Lithuanian books in Latin letters.) Valančius, however, regrouped his forces and instituted new tactics, (establishing secret schools in the villages and printing books in Prussia) which served as the basic strategy of opposition to the tsarist government even long after his death.


Valančius' initial concern was the creation of an efficient, well disciplined cadre of officers to carry out his commands and prepare his troops. Thus, he immediately attempted to reestablish discipline among the priests. Since the diocese had been without a bishop for twelve years, the priests had become accustomed to having their own way and were often lax in their duties. Valančius' task was made even more difficult by the fact that the Concordat had expanded the borders of the diocese to correspond to the administrative divisions of the Russian Empire. The districts of Upytė, Ukmergė, and Zarasai as well as all of Courland were added to the diocese.4 Valančius' peasant heritage was widely known and many priests of noble birth were contemptuous of their peasant bishop. Their attitude is well exemplified by the following story. While traveling through a town, Valančius was stopped by a priest. When Valančius asked him what he wanted, the priest replied that he had just wanted to see how a boor rode in a carriage.5 Conflict between such priests and their bishop was inevitable, especially when one remembers that Valančius was a firm believer in authority, who had already earned the reputation of being a strict disciplinarian during his reforms at the seminary of Varniai.

Yet the struggle was one-sided since all the rights and authority were the bishop's. He relieved disobedient priests of their offices, transferred them to other parishes or monasteries, and quickly compelled them to submit to his will. Valančius did not rest after the reestablishment of discipline. He immediately tried to raise the intellectual standards of his priests and ordered the establishment of libraries in all the deaneries. He sent announcements to the pastors concerning recently published books, urging their purchase, and was even responsible for founding a bookstore in Varniai.6

Valančius was not content only to raise the standard of his priests, but also actively sought to increase their number. Cognizant that priests of noble birth were often completely Polonized, unable to speak Lithuanian and thus could little serve the religious needs of the people, Valančius attempted to recruit peasants into the priesthood. He surmised that they not only would be able to address the peasant in his language, but would be more sympathetic to his needs. His efforts were successful; in 1845 there were 50 seminarians, in 1854 — 90, and in 1862 — 120.7 This very rapid growth was abruptly terminated in 1863 when disturbances in Varniai caused the seminary to be closed. In 1864 because of the forced transfer of the bishop and his office the seminary was relocated in Kaunas. Governer-general Murav'ev,8 who had been assigned the task of suppressing the uprising, believed that the priests and nobles were its principle instigators and made special efforts to diminish their influence. Asserting that there was a surplus of priests, Murav'ev forbade the seminary to accept any new members. In 1866 regulations were issued according to which the bishop had to receive the governor's permission to ordain the priest and indicate where the priest was to be assigned so that the governor could decide whether he was really needed there. Valančius repeatedly protested against the regulations writing in 1867:

In the diocese entrusted to me there are 955,800 Catholics. State Statutes Vol. XI, part I, article 125 assigns the ratio of one priest for 700 -1000 people so that in the diocese there should be at least 955 priests. At the present time, there are only 580, a shortage of 375. Every year at least 25 priests die so that every year we should ordain 30 new priests. Therefore, there should be at least 120 students in the seminary. From 1863 the authorities do not allow any new admissions to the seminary. Now there are only four seminarians. Already 60 people of whom 49 have presented all the necessary documents have expressed their desire, but the authorities do not allow them to enter the seminary. Of the 28 newly ordained priests in 1866, the authorities allowed only 10 to be assigned, the rest are left without appointments. The thirty six who finished the seminary this year are not even permitted to be ordained.9

Valančius tactfully did not mention the most important cause of the shortage of priests, namely government action during the uprising of 1863. Of the 654 priests in the Žemaičiai diocese in 1863, 107 were punished or fled to escape punishment.10 The authorities rejected Valančius' complaints and although in 1870 the seminary was permitted to accept new students, their number was strictly restricted, so that in 1875 there were only 33 seminarians.11

In an effort to limit the power of the bishop, laws were passed in 1864 and 1867 which stated that the appointment, transfer or promotion of every priest required confirmation by the governor, who would often fail to approve the bishop's nominees and make it impossible for the bishop to transfer or demote priests, subservient to the government. With few exceptions, Valančius acquired the respect, admiration and trust of his priests, who loyally carried out his commands. Without their assistance his accomplishments would have been minimal, especially after his deportation to Kaunas where he was kept under continuous police surveillance.


Valančius' organizational abilities and his influence over the people was illustrated by his creation of temperance societies, which spread throughout Lithuania in a very brief time. Drunkenness was an acute problem in nineteenth century Lithuania, for the people,  suppressed by serfdom, lived in poverty, but would often spend their last kopeks on alcohol. The production of alcohol was one of the largest and most widely developed industries in Lithuania, since the landlords had the right to produce alcohol to use up their excess grain. In order to assure themselves of a profit, landlords would often require their serfs to purchase a certain quantity of alcohol, which the peasant would obviously feel obligated to consume. The government was also deeply involved in the sale of alcohol, for its revenues furnished from about 1/4 to 1/3 of its normal yearly income.

The most striking thing about Valančius' temperance societies was their remarkably rapid growth. In the late fall of 1858 Valančius visited some parishes where the local priests had organized temperance groups, and encouraged by their success decided to spread the practice through the whole diocese. He assigned priests to write books on temperance, urged landlords to close their distilleries, and published the statutes of the society, which, however, were confiscated by the authorities. By the beginning of 1860 83.3% of the Catholics in the diocese of the Žemaičiai belonged to the societies and had sworn oaths not to drink.12

But a skeptic will surely assert that it is one thing to make a promise and another to fulfill it. One cannot deny that considerable pressure, if not coercion, was often placed on violators of the oaths; "They were forced to crawl around the church on their knees with an empty bottle hanging around their neck, or to kneel in the church in front of everyone with a glass in their teeth" and so on.13 Valančius opposed any coercion since it generally led to protests and interference by the local police and gave credence to the oppositions' assertions that the societies could be politically dangerous. The success of the movement was indisputable; in 1858 1,033,534 buckets of alcohol were produced in the gubernia of Kaunas, in 1860 only 129,194, an eight-fold decrease.14 By the time the societies were closed in 1864 it is estimated that the government lost over 5,000,000 rubles in anticipated revenues.15

The opposition to the temperance societies came primarily from some of the landlords and tavern keepers who saw that their alcohol revenue had disappeared. They tried various methods to bring back the customers; they lowered the prices and sometimes even distributed the alcohol free, but the people generally remained steadfast in their temperance. The opponents began to clamor that the societies be closed and that the priests were coercing the people not to drink. Their pleas did not fall on deaf ears. The government was distressed by the decrease in revenue, but feared even more that the societies could become the basis for political action. They were first forbidden to recruit new members and were closed down by Murav'ev in 1864 as being politically dangerous. For a brief time after the closing, the people remained temperate, but in 1875 Valančius complained that the people had begun to drink excessively once again.16 The temperance societies were important not only in raising the economic level of the people, but also were the first mass Lithuanian social organizations.


At first Valančius' relations with the authorities were generally good. This is hardly surprising, for the local officials were often Poles, and the governors were neither ardent Russifiers nor eager to interfere with church matters. In addition Valančius had considerable diplomatic abilities; tsars Nicholas I and Alexander II were favorably impressed by him and even Murav'ev was friendly during their first meeting. Valančius sought to stay aloof from political affairs. Although he would protest against various government infringements against the rights of the Church, the authorities did not regard the protests to be signs of disloyalty. Whenever the authorities believed some priest to be guilty of an offence, Valančius would investigate the matter and either clear the priest or punish him first, preserving him from harsher civil penalties.

Relations worsened with the outbreak of disturbances and political manifestations in the churches in 1861. Valančius was ordered to St. Petersburg to discuss the situation.17 In 1862 Valančius was refused permission to travel to Rome on the grounds that he was so influential among the people that his presence was necessary to maintain the peace.18 The bishop tried to remain neutral in the uprising of 1863, since he felt that it would be unsuccessful and could only bring misfortune to the Church. The rebels sought to obtain the bishop's active support and when he refused it, they threatened to hang him. The Russians, on the other hand, demanded that he condemn the uprising. He refused to do this, and only after Murav'ev threatened him with deportation to Russia, not an empty threat for Murav'ev had already exiled the bishop of Vilnius, Kasinski, did Valančius issue an appeal to the rebels to surrender and this only in connection with an amnesty.19 Murav'ev held the bishop responsible for all the actions of his priests, asserting that his authority should be sufficient to control them. Considering Valančius to be a supporter, if not one of the leaders of the uprising, Murav'ev transferred him from Varniai to Kaunas, the provincial capital, to facilitate police surveillance.

The transfer did not achieve its purpose, for as the governor-general wrote in 1867:

The transfer of the cathedral from Varniai to Kaunas has not in the least lessened Valančius' influential position, nor his religious and political importance which he acquired through his remarkable abilities and strong character in long service to the Polish - Latin interests. The real result of the transfer to Kaunas is only that everything that was done in Varniai earlier was unnoticed, but now is known to the highest authorities, although the bishop's actions are not in the least more careful.20

After 1863 Valančius generally remained on the defensive. He realized the need for extreme caution as he was only one step away from being relieved of his duties and exiled to Russia. As early as 1860 Valančius' dismissal was discussed in St. Petersburg because of the success of the temperance societies.21 Later it became a common occurrence for the governor of Kaunas to ask for his dismissal, and several times efforts were made to bring him to trial for anti-government actions, but sufficient evidence could not be gathered. The reasons for his not being exiled have never been fully explained. Probably the most important factor was his tremendous influence on the people. The government feared that his dismissal might result in new unrest, for they believed that his authority was sufficient to raise a new revolt.22 Another factor was that his designated successor, bishop Beresnevičius, was considered potentially even more dangerous due to his close ties with the Polish nobility.23 In any case, Valančius was never permitted to leave Kaunas to visit his parishes or even to travel abroad to health resorts until 1874 when his health was totally failing. The governors were constantly fining Valančius for various infractions. The amount of these fines is unknown, but, for example, in the first two months of 1865 he paid 1,600 rubles for infractions, such as printing in the calendar the names of the priests who had been executed during the uprising (1,000 rubles), or for ordaining a priest without the governor's permission (200 rubles).24

Valančius' opposition tactics are interesting for they are very similar to those used by those current Soviet dissidents who only demand that the laws be strictly obeyed. Valančius would always base his protests on either state or Church laws, although holding the Church law higher. When in 1866 the government prohibited church processions in the streets, restricting them to the inside of the church, Valančius refused to announce the new regulations to his priests, explaining that processions were required by church rules. He wrote:

I respect every law and just as I strictly fulfill all the government laws, so also I cannot disregard Church laws. The authorities must understand the difficult position they place me in by demanding that I give the priests orders directly contrary to my duties.25

Valančius' refusal to proclaim the new regulations was circumvented by having the police issue them to the priests.

In 1870 the government published a Catholic ritual book, replacing the Polish text by a Russian one. The governor-general sent 744 copies to Valančius to distribute to the priests. Although the translation was approved by the Roman Catholic College26 and the bishop of Mogilev, Valančius refused to dispense them and wrote to the governor-general:

According to Church statutes on liturgical books, announced by Popes Pius V, Clement VIII, Unban VIII, and Gregory XIV, not even the slightest changes in these books are permitted and the bishop must carefully see to it... that they conform word for word to the original text. For negligence and even more so for permitting changes or accepting changed additions they are to be severely punished with the penalties of suspensionis a divinis and interdictu ab ingressu, that is the prohibition of holding holy services and entering the church.27

Valančius won this battle; he never distributed the ritual books, but stored them in the attic of his residence where they were still to be found fifty years later.

Valančius used the same tactic to dispose of sermon collections which the government wanted the priests to read in place of sermons on Sundays.28 The bishop was always prepared to protest the slightest interferences in any religious matter. By threatening to forbid his priests to obey new rules and bewailing their injustice, Valančius was often able to obtain significant concessions. After the government ruled that only the pastor was allowed to give sermons, Valančius succeeded in extending the right to pastor's assistants.


The struggle against state interference in Church matters was only one aspect of Valančius' activities and in no way the most important. Unlike many of his predecessors, who sometimes never even visited their diocese and showed little concern for the people, Valančius tried to become familiar with the people and their specific needs. Born a peasant, he understood their situation and realized that their religious needs had been generally neglected. He showed his determination to reach the people more directly from the very beginning of his appointment. There was a long standing tradition that the newly appointed bishop issue a letter to his parishioners generally written in either Latin or Polish, both of which the majority of the peasants did not understand. Valančius issued his letter in Lithuanian and Polish.29 This was the first of many letters and circulars through which he maintained contact with the people or, as he called them, his avelės (lambs). In these letters, read during the Sunday services, Valančius acted as a teacher, prescribing them to be temperate and moral, advising that they not believe in witches and spirits, warning them to be wary of gypsies and medical quacks, and so on. Some letters were addressed to specific parishes. For example, he admonished the people of Grušlaukiai for not fulfilling their promise to provide for their vicar.30 A unifying element in all of the letters, is the feeling of Valančius' fatherly concern for the well-being of the people.31

The scarcity of Lithuanian religious books influenced Valančius to begin writing and translating them himself. In 1850 he issued 10,000 copies of his book Pamokims apie Sakramentą Dirmawones (A Lesson on the Sacrament of Confirmation). Later he wrote more than one religious book every year and became the most popular author of the people. For example, his Žiwatos Kristaus... arba Istorija Naujoje Istatime (The Life of Christ or the History of the New Testament) was printed in an edition of 45,000.32 Many of his works, especially Gywenimaj Szentuje Diewa (The Lives of the Saints of God) are valued today by historians of literature for their beautiful style and rich language. Valančius attempted to write in terms that the people could understand. His use of popular folk expressions results in the curious feeling that the ancient saints talked in the fashion of Lithuanian peasants. Valančius reissued the most popular prayerbooks and hymnals, and was so insistent in urging his priests to follow his example that there was a general opinion that if one wanted to improve his standing with the bishop, he should write a popular Lithuanian religious book. The results were dramatic; the number of book titles in the period 1854-1863 (267) was more than twice as large as in the previous 10 year period (121).33 In 1859 Valančius attempted to get permission to publish the first Lithuanian newspaper, Pakeleivingas. Although the paper would have been apolitical, dealing primarily with discussions on religion, topics in history and geography, news on the natural sciences and industry, as well as folk songs and customs, the government rejected Valančius' petition.34

But despite Valančius' prolific writing, the impression that he was a sedentary person always sitting at a desk writing would be misleading, for Valančius was a man who constantly traveled through his diocese. He wanted to become personally familiar with the various parishes and their needs. The extent of his activity is perhaps best illustrated by the statistic that in the first twelve years he administered the sacrament of Confirmation to 560,687 people.35

Valančius understood that publishing books would serve no purpose if they were not read. The schools of* the religious orders, the traditional place of learning for Catholics, had been closed after the uprising of 1831. The government tried to establish state schools, but their lack of success resulted in the decision to permit the founding of Catholic parish schools. The parish school system developed slowly until Valančius began to require t every parish have a school and that he receive reports about the number of students in the schools.36 The success of these schools was very great and in a brief time, they surpassed the state supported schools. In 1854 there were 197 parish schools with 5,910 pupils, 48 state schools with 2,014 pupils and Jewish schools with 1,314 pupils.37 Scattered later reports indicate that the number of pupils probably increased in subsequent years, but it is impossible to calculate how much, since later complete reports have never been found. The state schools had better qualified teachers and superior facilities, but since the language of instruction was Russian, parents preferred to send their children to the parish school, whose teacher was often the parish priest. There were numerous conflicts between the two school systems which at times resulted in the forced transfer of pupils from the parish to the state schools.

Valančius protested the government's decisions of 1862 -1863 to close the parish schools, but sensing the futility of his efforts advised his priests: "... in these times such schools cannot be maintained... new methods of teaching the children must be found, for example, urge the people to hire 'daraktoriai' in the villages to teach their children to read."38 The government had decided that the schools were to be one of the principle means of Russification. It tried to have only Russian teachers, but learned that there were not enough of them. An extensive hiring campaign was launched and successfully completed primarily due to the promise of 50% higher salaries, which attracted enough teachers, many of whom were former Orthodox seminarians and rabid propagandizes.39 Lithuanians, however, boycotted the schools; parents heeded Valančius' warning not to send their children to them. Secret schools were established in the villages and even more often mothers taught their children to read.

In 1864 Murav'ev decided to convert Lithuanian from the Latin to the Cyrillic or Russian alphabet and published a Lithuanian primer in Russian letters. As an incentive to aid the conversion, on June 5, 1864 he forbade the printing of Lithuanian primers in Latin letters.40 The decision was soon expanded to include all Lithuanian books and in 1865 the government officially proclaimed the prohibition of printing and importing Lithuanian books in Latin letters.41 In an effort to supply the public with the most popular works, the next three books printed by the government in Russian letters were a prayer-book, a hymnal, and a collection of Gospels. Since these books were of a religious nature, the bishop's approval was necessary. At first Valančius agreed, but quickly recalled his approval when he realized that the change of letters was only a means to Russify the people and make them Orthodox. He tried to convince the administration to allow him to reprint prayerbooks in Latin letters, but realizing that permission was not forthcoming, he sent 5,000 rubles42 to Prussia to establish a printing press. The idea of printing Lithuanian books in Prussia was not entirely new. When in 1860 the Russian authorities confiscated the statutes of the temperance societies, they were issued in at least several printings in Klaipėda (Memel).43 The first books published in Prussia were reprints of the most popular religious works,44 but soon new books appeared, including many that Valančius himself wrote.

Valančius had discovered the means to overcome the prohibition. There appeared a new kind of smuggler, the knygnešys (bookcarrier), who would buy the books in Prussia, smuggle them across the frontier and distribute them to agents in Lithuania. A vast network of illegal dissemination was established with priests frequently holding important positions. At first the government did not consider the books to be a serious problem, believing that the people would gradually accept the new alphabet. They were mistaken, but still persisted in maintaining the prohibition until 1904.45

The qualities that Valančius evinced were exactly those that were needed to lead the struggle. He was not a deep thinker, but a man of action, a conscientious worker with great organizing abilities.

He does not create fantastic visions about the destiny of his nation. In general he was not a man of visions. He was always a hard realist... He was not one of those who creates ideas, thinks up plans, but one who accomplished things regardless of who thought of them... Only when no one knew what to do, did he improvise.45a

Seeing the government's intransigence toward the schools and Lithuanian books, Valančius reevaluated his position of non-involvement in political matters. In 1868-1869 a number of anti-government booklets appeared which although anonymous, were understood by the people to have been written by their bishop. To quote Valančius' diary, the books "... strengthened the faith and showed how one should act during this time of persecution... These pamphlets were eagerly bought by the people and they were to be found in almost every hut, especially in Žemaitija, the authorities discovering this ordered their seizure."46 The pamphlets outlined a program of action:

Lithuanians, know that as long as the Muscovites are in our land, they will not cease persecuting the Catholics, do not allow your children to go to the state schools, establish secret schools, do not read the graždanka, read the books from Prussia, gather around your priests, but if there should be a traitor priest, shun him, do not go to Confession to him and be wary of him as of a wolf in sheep's clothes.47

The program was accepted by the people. The Russian schools and letters were affectively boycotted. Even though the books in Russian letters were inexpensive (a prayerbook in Russian letters cost 30 kopeks, while one from Prussia two or three rubles),48 and the Prussian books could only be obtained with great risk, the number of books published in Prussia grew at a remarkable rate far exceeding pre-prohibition numbers. The books were used in the secret schools and by mothers teaching their children to read, thus aiding in making such instruction a viable substitute for the state schools. The level of literacy in Lithuania remained higher than that of Russia. In effect, the prohibitions were counterproductive, for they merely antagonized the people, made them anti-tsarist, and served as a catalyst for the Lithuanian national rebirth, which though it came after Valančius', death would have been impossible without his preparatory works. His schools taught the Lithuanians to read and instilled the seeds of nationalism which blossomed into "Aušra".


Valančius' impact was not limited to the social, political, and religious spheres, for he played a very important role in Lithuanian literature. This is indeed remarkable when one considers that he started to write secular works at the age of 63 and then only in his spare time. Lithuanian literature was in its infancy; it could boast of poets like Donelaitis,49 but did not have a single tolerable prose writer. Realizing that the secret schools would need more interesting reading materials, he wrote Vaikų knygelė (A Little Book for Children). His later literary works, also designed for the schools, were Paaugusių žmonių knygelė (A Little Book for Adults), Palangos Juzė (Juzė from Palanga), and Pasakojimas Antano Tretininko (The Tales of Antanas Tretininkas). These books were eagerly bought and read by the public, but more importantly they served in many ways as a guide for future prose writers.

On the basis of these works Valančius is generally acclaimed to be the first important prose writer, "the father of Lithuanian literary prose".50 Even in Soviet Lithuania where he is often vilified as a clerical reactionary, his literary position is unquestioned.

Valančius' literary writings, though they contained many reactionary moments, in general are a positive phenomenon in the development of Lithuanian literature. He created the best examples of didactic prose in Lithuanian literature, in essence he gave the start to Lithuanian literary prose. Creating alive, individualistic personalities, drawing vivid, concrete pictures of everyday life, Valančius stood on the road to realism, on which the best Lithuanian writers later travelled. Later Lithuanian writers learned from Valančius the wealth and vividness of style and language.51

Valančius' purpose in writing was to instruct the reader; he had no thought of literature for its own sake. His didactic stories are often full of blatant and repetitive moralizing and sermonizing, which are intended to ensure that the reader will understand the moral of the story. Often one needs only to read the titles of the stories, such as "Mikė melagėlis" (Mike the Little Liar), "Geroji Onelė" (Good Little Ann), or "Jurgis, nedoras ūkininkas" (George, the Immoral Farmer), to know half the plot. Yet these stories are interesting, primarily due to Valančius' narrative ability and sense of humor. His most acclaimed work, Palangos Juzė, consists of tales told by the tailor Juzė about his travels through Lithuania. The book is divided into 13 very loosely connected "evenings" during which Juzė describes the various places he visited. For all practical purposes the book is a geography and ethnography book in prose, essentially The hero of Valančius' last book, Pasakojimas Antano games, songs, and other aspects of the life of the people, the hero of Valančius' last book, Pasakojimas Antano Tretininko, is a teacher in a secret school, who tells his pupils various stories dealing with Lithuania's glorious past.


Since Valančius was the central figure in the period, it is not surprising that his life has raised considerable controversy especially in regard to his relations to the Poles and Russian government. Unfortunately, Lithuanian historians have often evaluated his actions in the light of their particular conceptions of the role that the Catholic Church played in the national reawakening. Writers who viewed the Catholic Church as one of the progressive forces of the national rebirth looked at Valančius as a forerunner of the movement. They stressed his Lithuanian activities, saw him as a patriot preparing the ground for Lithuanian independence, and ignored or downplayed factors which were not reconcilable with this view. On the other hand, historians who saw the Church hierarchy as a conservative force, closely allied with the Poles and serving their interests to the detriment of Lithuanian nationalism, looked for signs of Polish sympathy in Valančius. They denied that Valančius was a Lithuanian patriot and cited examples of his Polonophilism. Valančius wrote his diary in Polish; he communicated with some priests in Polish even though they wrote to him in Lithuanian, Polish was the language of instruction in many of the parish schools, as were most of the books he advised his priests to read.52 All his Lithuanian activities were solely inspired by his desire to reach the people in order to make them better Catholics.

But may not the difference between the two views be a result of trying to project a twentieth century understanding of nationalism onto the nineteenth century? Valančius was not an ardent Lithuanian patriot, if that meant discriminating against the Poles and working solely for Lithuanian independence. The fierce nationalistic conflict between Pole and Lithuanian only began after his death. He saw little difference between the two nationalities, but rather perceived them both to be Catholics oppressed by the common enemy, the Russian government, which was trying to make them Orthodox. But more importantly he was too much of a realist to dream of Lithuanian independence and saw even little hope of Polish independence. There were more practical talks at hand that had to be done. But it would be even more erroneous not to recognize that Valančius considered himself to be a Lithuanian throughout his whole life. This was part of his heritage and, unlike many of his contemporaries who became totally Polonized, he did not forsake it. His first book was written in Lithuanian even though he knew that he could receive more attention had he written it in Polish. In his later writings he extolled the courage of his pagan ancestors who fought against the "blood-drinking" German crusaders who came to baptize them. Valančius did not have to decide to become a Lithuanian, since he was never anything else.

Valančius' greatest detractors, however, are the Soviet Lithuanian historians who judge him according to a strict Marxist - Leninist interpretation; the Church was a retarding force to social change, an oppressor of the peasant masses in league with the Russian authorities. These historians center most of their attention on Valančius' actions during the uprising of 1863, looking for signs of collusion with the government. They cite his September 6, 1863 appeal to the rebels to lay down their arms and accept the amnesty, his sermon in 1866 in Kaunas where he condemned the uprising, since it was responsible for the tsar's losing faith in the people, and his frequent assertions that it was the duty of a Catholic to obey the government officials since their authority came from God.53 Little effort was made to ascertain under what circumstances these statements were made and more importantly, to see whether Valančius' actions corresponded to his words. Valančius was in a position of power and could not afford the luxury of publicly expressing his views as could some exiled revolutionary in Western Europe. His statements were part of his diplomatic attempts to aid the people by getting the government to relieve some of its restrictions. A public statement against the government not only would have meant his arrest, but also would have been a catastrophe for Lithuania since a new bishop would not have been as effective in dealing with the government. However, the more common policy of the Soviet historians has been to ignore his accomplishments, for supposedly the struggle for national reawakening was a class struggle in which a reactionary bishop could obviously not play a significant role.

In the last few years a more objective view of Valančius' activities has been achieved; his opposition to the government in defending the rights of the Church,54 his significant contributions to the education of the masses55 have been noted, and his most important writings were issued in two volumes. The introduction to the first volume by V. Vanagas is the first serious attempt to appraise Valančius' life and activities in the entire post-war period. However, the negative view is still strong; the article on Valančius in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia does not mention his opposition to the government and simply states: "He played a reactionary role during the uprising of 1863, attempting to draw the peasantry away from the struggle against the landlords." 56

The 100-th anniversary of Valančius' death produced a significant number of articles about various aspects of his life by Lithuanian scholars in the West, but unfortunately the anniversary was totally ignored in Lithuania itself where there is still an abundance of unused archival material to explore. Yet one can be sure that the future will bring more research, for it is impossible to deal objectively with the history, culture, or literature of nineteenth century Lithuania without discussing Valančius' contributions. These studies will undoubtedly strengthen the view that Valančius was indeed the man that Lithuania most needed to prepare the ground for its national reawakening.


1 Until recently it was believed that Valančius was the third child. Cf. Vaclovas Biržiška, Aleksandrynas, III, (Chicago, 1965), p. 79 and Grigas Valančius, "Giminystės ir Portretai", literary supplement to Draugas, Nr. 262 (45), November 8, 1975.
2 In Valančius' time in contrast to modern usage, which considers Žemaitija (Samogitia) to be a part of Lithuania, Žemaitija was often considered as distinct from "Lithuania". ("Lithuania" meaning present day Lithuania without Žemaitija.) In this paper I will not make the distinction and will use the term Lithuania in its modern usage to include Žemaitija.
3 Vaclovas Biržiška, Vyskupo Motiejaus Valančiaus biografijos bruožai XX, New York, 1952), pp. 31-34.
4 Paulius Jatulis, "Motiejus Valančius — idealus vyskupas", Aidai, (May, 1975), p. 193.
5 Antanas Vaičiulaitis, "Tai vyras didžių darbų ir rūpesčių," literary supplement to Draugas, Nr. 167 (29), July 19, 1975, p. 1.
6 Antanas Alekna, Žemaičių Vyskupas Motiejus Valančius, (Klaipėda, 1922), pp. 17-20.
7 Ibid., p. 199, 35.
8 Mikhael Murav'ev (1796-1866), nicknamed the Hangman, was governor-general of Vilnius from May 1, 1863 to April 17, 1865. During this two year period he completed the suppression of the revolt, but more importantly established the general policy of Russification and repression of the Catholic Church that was followed by government for the next 40 years. He expressed his attitude to the Catholic Church thus: "The Catholic faith of this region is not a faith, but a political heresy. Roman Catholic bishops, priests, and monks are not clergy, but political agents advocating hatred to the Russian government." M. Murav'ev, "Vsepoddanneishii otchet grafa M.N. Murav'eva po upravleniiu severo-zapadnim kraem," Russkaia Starina, CX, (June, 1902), p. 496.
9 Alekna, p. 200.
10 Motiejus Valančius, Pastabos pačiam sau (Klaipėda, 1929), pp. 63-70.
11 Alekna, p. 202.
12 Ibid., p. 113.
13 Biržiška, Vyskupo..., p. 56.
14 V. Merkys, Razvitie promishlennosti i formirovanie proleteriata Litvi v XIX v. (Vilnius, 1969), p. 76.
15 Jatulis, p. 200.
16 Biržiška, Vyskupo..., p. 60.
17 Biržiška, Aleksandrynas, p. 91.
18 Alekna, p. 141.
19 The text of Valančius' letter is given in Alekna, pp. 150 -151 and Lietuvos Istorijos Šaltiniai, II, (Vilnius, 1965), pp. 74-75.
20 Prom the December 11, 1867 report of the governor-general, count Baranov, full text is given in the literary supplement to Draugas, Nr. 122 (21), May 24, 1975, p. 4.
21 Jatulis, pp. 200-201.
22 V. Vanagas, "Motiejus Valančius," in Motiejus Valančius. Raštai, I, (Vilnius, 1972), p. 11.
23 December 11, 1867 report of Baranov, Draugas, May 24, 1975, p. 4. The report recommends that Valančius be replaced by the bishop of Minsk, Vaitkevičius. Earlier Kalikstas Kasakauskis (1794-1866) had been considered as a suitable replacement. See J. Matusas, "Apie lotyniškų raidžių draudimą lietuviškiems spausdiniams," Athenaeum, IV, 1933, p. 27.
24 Biržiška, Aleksandrynas, pp. 94-95.
25 Alekna, p. 253.
26 The Roman Catholic Spiritual College was established on November 11, 1801 to be the supreme governing body of the Church in Russia, independent of all foreign authorities even the Pope. Though its existence was never approved by the Popes, it served as the intermediary between the Russian government and Rome. S. Matulis, "Lietuva ir apaštalų sostas 1795 - 1940," Lietuvių Katalikų Mokslo Akademijos Suvažiavimo Darbai, IV, (Rome, 1961), p. 156.
27 Alekna, p. 235.
28 Biržiška, Vyskupo..., p. 72.
29 Ibid., p. 35.
30 Biržiška, Aleksandrynas, p. 101.
31 These letters ceased in 1864 -1865 when the government forbade any correspondence in either Polish or Lithuanian. Biržiška, Vyskupo..., pp. 44 - 45.
32 Pranas Gailiūnas, "Lietuvių knygų tiražas priešaušry," Židinys (August-September, 1938), p. 200. V. Biržiška asserts that only 14,000 copies of Žiwatos Kristaus were printed. Biržiška, Aleksandrynas, p. 98.
33 Vaičiulaitis, p. 3.
34 Jatulis, p. 196.
35 Alekna, p. 35.
36 M. Lukšienė, Lietuvos Švietimo Istorijos Bruožai, (Kaunas, 1970), p. 241.
37 Alekna, pp. 60-62.
38 Ibid., p. 66.
39 P. Šležas, "Muravjovo veikimas Lietuvoj (1863-1865)," Athenaeum, IV, 1933, p. 68.
40 A. Tyla, "Pastabos dėl lietuviškos knygos istorijos," Bibliotekininkystės ir Bibliografijos Klausimai, VII, 1969, pp. 191-195.
41 All the important documents of the prohibition are given in original and Lithuanian translation in R. Vėbra, "Prie lietuviškų spaudinių uždraudimo istorijos," Bibliotekininkystės ir Bibliografijos Klausimai, VII, 1969, pp. 223 - 235. See also J. Matusas, "Lotyniškojo raidyno draudimas," in Kovos metai dėl savosios spaudos, (Chicago, 1957), pp. 115-130.
42 V. Biržiška, "Pastangos draudimui nugalėti," Kovos metai dėl savosios spaudos, p. 172.
43 Lietuvos TSR Bibliografija, Knygos lietuvių kalba 1547-1861. (Vilnius, 1969), pp. 434 - 435.
44 For example Valančius' Kantyčkos had over 30 different printings in Prussia up to 1904. Biržiška, Aleksandrynas, p. 99.
45 Biržiška, Pastangos..., p. 194.
45a Juozas Ambrazevičius, Lietuvių, rašytojai (Kaunas, 1938), p. 38.
46 Valančius, p. 73.
47 Ambrazevičius, p. 42.
48 Dokumentas apie lotyniškos litaras lietuviškoje literatūroje (Tilžė, 1899), p. 33.
49 For more information on Kristijonas Donelaitis (1714-1780) see the special issue in honor of the 250-th anniversary of his birth Lituanus, X, (Spring, 1964).
50 A. Vaičiulaitis, "Vyskupo Motiejaus Valančiaus raštų stilius," Aidai, (May, 1975), p. 209. See also A. Zalatorius, Lietuvių apsakymo raida ir poetika (Vilnius, 1971), p. 240, A. Rybelis "M. Valančiaus palikimas," Pergalė (August, 1973). p. 167.
51 Lietuvių Literatūros Istorija, II, (Vilnius, 1958), p. 51.
52 Cf. R. Vėbra, Lietuvos katalikų dvasininkija ir visuomeninis judėjimas (Vilnius, 1968), pp. 10-13 and J. Stakauskas, "Valančiaus lietuvybės klausimas," Židinys, (January, 1939), pp. 43-66.
53 See Vėbra, Lietuvos..., pp. 13 -17, 116 - 117, L. Bičkauskas-Gentvila, 1863 metų sukilimas Lietuvoje (Vilnius, 1958), pp. 271-280, Juozas Žiugžda, Antanas Mackevičius (Vilnius, 1971), pp. 34-35, 133.
54 Vėbra, Lietuvos..., p. 118.
55 B. Genzelis, Švietėjai ir jų idėjos Lietuvoje (XIX a.) (Vilnius, 1972), pp. 109-125.
56 Great Soviet Encyclopedia, trans. of 3rd edition, IV, (New York, 1973), p. 477.