ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2011 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 57, No.3 - Fall 2011
Editor of this issue: M. G. Slavenas

The Reformation in Lithuania: A New Look.
Historiography and Interpretation


INGĖ LUKŠAITĖ is Senior Researcher at the Lithuanian Institute of History and Deputy Chairman of The Science Council of Lithuania. She received the 2002 National Science Award for Reformacija Lietuvos Didžiojoje Kunigaikštystėje ir Mažojoje Lietuvoje (Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 1999).


Approaching the Reformation not just as a religious but also as a social and cultural movement, the author attempts to place it within the framework of Lithuanian history and examine if and how it influenced Lithuanian culture and cultural advancement toward the modern era. This article offers a historiographical overview and discusses changes and cultural processes set in motion by the reformers and posing a challenge to the Roman Catholic establishment to change its own practices. As long as none of the competing churches resorted to the use of force, the interaction between them in the Grand Duchy successfully propelled Lithuanian society toward the modern age. This process lasted about one hundred years, leaving a deeper impact on the cultural history of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy than previously admitted.


The Reformation began as an intellectual construct aimed at reforming the faith, with various groups forming their own specific ideas and doctrines about the “true faith” and “true church,” and in its course continued to alter the organization of the Roman Catholic Church and evolved new structures of society. Although it was, first of all, a movement that changed religious beliefs, in many countries religious doctrines became linked with political and social processes, thus strongly influencing the history of culture. The European political and ecclesiastic élite, either supporting the Reformation or opposing it, either disseminating its ideas or formulating counterarguments, completely reshaped Europe’s political map and set the stage for the modern era. This transformation marked the advancement of European society into the early modern age. 

In Lithuania, it encountered a complex situation which, in turn, determined its course. Studies about the Reformation in Lithuania are complicated by the fact that it involved a Lithuanian nation split in two and residing in two different countries under very different governments and political and social conditions. In the sixteenth century, the majority of Lithuanians resided in the multiethnic Grand Duchy of Lithuania, constituting a ruling stratum but comprising a minority in the population at large. The other, smaller, portion of ethnic Lithuanians lived in the neighboring Duchy of Prussia (also referred to as Lithuania Minor or Prussian Lithuania), which at the time of the Reformation, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, was populated by Lithuanians, ethnic Prussians and descendants of other Baltic tribes. Both states shared a long border, close cultural ties, and a history of political and military conflict. Neither encompassed the entire Lithuanian nation. Lutheranism, the first phase of the Reformation, reached both states at the beginning of the sixteenth century simultaneously but followed diametrically different courses due to their different political situations.

Prussia was originally the home of native Prussian tribes which were conquered and colonized by the Teutonic Order in the thirteenth century after protracted warfare. In 1525, Duke Albrecht of Brandenburg, the Order’s last Grand Master, accepted the Lutheran faith, dissolved the order and reorganized the territory into the Duchy of Prussia, a vassal state of the Kingdom of Poland. The Reformation was thus from the start supported by its ruler. The young Lutheran scholars exiled from the Grand Duchy in the 1640 1540s as heretics were welcomed by Duke Albrecht and encouraged to spread the Gospel among the Lithuanian inhabitants of his realm by creating a written form of Lithuanian. The resulting translation by Martynas Mažvydas (Martinus Mosvidius) of the Catechism (Catechismusa prasty szadei), printed in Königsberg, East Prussia, in 1547, was the first book printed in the Lithuanian language.

By the end of the century, Duke Albrecht’s evangelization efforts were successful, and the Lutheran faith became the official state religion. After 1701, the Duchy was incorporated into the Prussian-Brandenburg kingdom and its church history must be studied within the framework of German history.

Conversely, in the Grand Duchy the Reformation never reached the status of a state religion. After the initial setbacks, it burst upon the scene in the 1550s, and Lutheranism was superseded by Calvinism and Antitrinitarianism (Arianism), all three competing with each other. By 1557, Calvinism gained the upper hand and remained the strongest among the other Evangelical churches. Its sudden success was determined by the active support it received at the highest levels of government and society and overall favorable conditions: the relative ineffectiveness of the Roman Catholic Church and the traditional coexistence of several religions under legal guarantees for freedom of worship specified in the Lithuanian Statute. Most important was the sympathetic attitude of the young monarch Sigismund II Augustus who, reversing his father’s position, showed a lively interest in the new teaching and allowed all sides to engage in an active exchange of ideas without the use of force. In 1557, the Calvinists founded the Lithuanian Evangelical Reformed Church under the name Unitas Lithuaniae, independent from its sister church in Poland and utilizing an organizational and ecclesiastical structure that provided for self-governance and proved very resilient against growing adversity in the future. After the Union of Lublin, the Roman Catholic establishment, supported by a succession of elected kings, gained absolute power and eventually turned all other religions into “dissident” minority churches.

In Lithuanian history there are not many other phenomena that have evoked so many conflicting and emotional reactions and have been so variously interpreted and understood as the Reformation. On the other hand, there is now a tendency among cultural historians to view it not just as a religious but also as a social and cultural movement. This perspective allows us to view it within the framework of Lithuanian history and determine if and how it impacted Lithuanian culture and cultural advancement toward the modern era. The most important criterion for determining the impact and duration of the Reformation in Lithuania should be its viability, its power to create and shape societal processes. From the mid-1500s to the mid-1600s, this power was felt in many areas of society. Indeed, a comparison of the state of Lithuanian written language, the system of education, and the overall mindset of the educated segments in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at the beginning of the sixteenth century with that a century later demonstrates that with the advent of the Reformation many new cultural processes were set in motion and continued through much of the seventeenth century and even longer. Viewed from this perspective, the Reformation emerges as a cultural force that left a deeper impact on the history of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy than previously admitted.


Primary sources on the early period of the Reformation in the sixteenth century are scarce. Most were destroyed during religious confrontations or found their way into other archives or personal collections, leaving the researcher with a wide field of unsystematic and fragmentary evidence. In general, they can roughly be classified into Protestant, Catholic, and foreign holdings. Protestant sources consist of church archives, documents by administrative bodies (synods, collegiums), official state documents, privileges and decrees by the King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania, parliamentary decisions, and so forth. Most of them have been published.

The archives of the Catholic Church can fill many gaps. They comprise records of administrative and ecclesiastical provincial synods, decisions of diocesan synods in the Grand Duchy, archives of archdiocesan and diocesan chapters, records of individual Roman Catholic churches and parishes, and family archives of prominent members of the Catholic Church. Of special importance is the Codex Mednicensis (Medininkų kodeksas), the document collection of the Žemaitija (Samogitia) Archdiocese, and the reports of the Lithuanian bishops to the Holy See. Additional insight into the intellectual and social climate and mentality of the times can also be gleaned from religious polemical literature and random books and brochures, some of them one of a kind and scattered all over.

Since the Reformation manifested itself in so many different areas of cultural, social, and religious life, its course, as a part of a broad European phenomenon, attracted the attention of governments and religious and lay societies in neighboring states. The Gdańsk (Danzig) archives in the manuscript repository of the Polish Academy of Sciences library, and the manuscript collections at the Kurnik Library, near Poznań, yield additional information lacking in Protestant archives. Prussia’s secret state archives comprise documents of the États Ministerium and include a portion of the Prussian duchy’s chancellery documents, East Prussian folios and Duke Albrecht’s letters. A portion of the latter has been published. A valuable collection of documents about the early period can be found in the Urkundenbuch zur Reformationsgeschichte des Herzogthums Preussen, compiled by Paul Tschackert in 1890. Walter Hubatsch offers a listing of various minor chronicles in his Geschichte der evangelischen Kirchen Ostpreußens (1968).

The internal affairs of the Evangelical Reformed Church are recorded in the minutes of its annual synods. Although the Church was founded in Vilnius in 1557, its early holdings before 1611 were destroyed during the religious riots of that year and what is available today are the minutes from 1611 to the beginning of the twentieth century. They have been published as Monumenta Reformationis Polonicae et Lithuanicae. Acta synodów... 1611-1625. Also published are the synodal records of the first joint Lithuanian and Polish Evangelical Reformed Church as well as a listing of provincial Arian synods in the Grand Duchy as Akta Synodów różnowierczych (1921). Individual congregations in such places as Vilnius, Biržai, Kaunas, Kelmė, Kėdainiai, Papilė and Salamiestis have their own holdings.

Best preserved are the archives of the Vilnius Lutheran Church, but here too its sixteenth-century holdings available at the Lithuanian State History Archives comprise only single documents. The Vilnius Mokslo Draugijos fondas consists of holdings formerly at the “Aušra” Museum, the Kernavė Manor, the Vilnius Basilian Monastery, the M.K. Čiurlionis Museum and some other institutions; it includes writings by prominent individuals and miscellaneous records of churches and congregations in various localities.

The richest source on the course of the Reformation in the Grand Duchy is the holdings amassed by the famous Radvila (Lat. Radvilius, Pol. Radziwiłł) family, which played such a crucial role in its spread as patrons and supporters as well as its most formidable adversaries later. After the partition of the Commonwealth, the Nesvizh (Nesvyžius) archives were dispersed among other branches of the Radvila family. In the nineteenth century, an epistolographic collection was moved to St. Petersburg. In the twentieth century, the bulk was transferred to Warsaw and some of it to Minsk. The small portion which remained in Vilnius dealt mostly with property disputes and debts. The archives of the staunchly Protestant Biržai and Dubingiai branches of the family, containing some of the oldest documents, were incorporated into the collections of the Tiškevičius, Plater and other prominent families.


From the very beginning, all early texts on the Reformation in Lithuania were written by religious adherents and reflect the religious beliefs of their authors at the time. Every early work represents either one or the other side of the religious dispute, and this division along party lines set a precedent for subsequent centuries, continuing even into the second half of the twentieth century.

In the early seventeenth century, as the Catholic Restoration was gaining strength in the Grand Duchy and the Reformation began to weaken, Protestants felt an urgency to write down its history and preserve a record for posterity. These histories are mostly chronicles about events and accomplishments of prominent figures, catalogues of published books, and miscellaneous information destined to augment or even replace the archives and libraries that were being destroyed by religious opponents.

Most supporters of the Reformation in the Grand Duchy seem to have viewed the unfolding events as an organic part of a broader process emanating from the European churches. Their writing falls between historical source material and historical interpretation. The works of the Calvinist Andreas Wengerscius (1679), the Antitrinitarian Christophorus Sandius (1684), the Arian historians Andrzej and Stanisław Lubieniecki (1685), and the Lutheran Christian Gottlieb Friese (1786) adhere to the tradition of theological polemics. Catholic historiography, on the other hand, had as its mission to record the success of the Roman Catholic Church in its “good versus bad” battle against the Reformation and to influence and shape public opinion accordingly. The classic example of a meticulous record is by Vilnius University professor Albertas Kojelavičius-Vijukas (Albertus Wiiuk Koialowicz Wiiuk-Kojalowicz) (1650). Jesuit historians Jan Poszakowski (1745) and Stanisław Rostowski (1768) produced a long-lasting model for future historians by formulating the argument that the Reformation in Lithuania was a temporary digression and a foreign phenomenon imported from abroad and alien to the Lithuanian mentality. Over time, the belief that a true Lithuanian had to be Catholic became deeply entrenched in the popular mentality and affected the attitude toward other religions for centuries to come.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the influence of Positivism introduced a new approach to the study of history. Historians were challenged to examine and describe the Reformation movement “as it was” by focusing on specific social and political issues without polemicizing. Favorite topics at that time were attempts to analyze the causes for the collapse of the Commonwealth and the demise of the Reformation. On the Protestant side, Walerian Krasiński and Józef Lukaszewicz placed the blame on the ultra-conservatism of the Catholic establishment which, in its zeal to destroy the Reformation, supported the powerful patronage system, blocked reforms, and proved detrimental to the functioning of the state. On the Catholic side, Maurycy Dzieduszycki (pseudonym MJA M.J.A. Rychcicki), Julian Bukowski, Stanisław Zaleski and others blamed the Protestants for having supported elected monarchy which led to anarchy and the collapse of the state. Dzieduszycki, moreover, questioned the depth of religious conviction of the early reformers, ascribing to them political motivation and expedience. This argument set another precedent for future historians.

Around the turn of the century, a sizeable number of Polish, Russian and German historians (among them Alexander Brueckner, Nikolai Kareev, Nikolai Ljubovic, Henryk Merczyng, Wacław Sobieski, Theodor Wotschke, Wincent Zakrzewski) went beyond religious considerations, viewing the Reformation as a social movement and examining its relationship with sixteenth century class reforms. Basing their judgments on official state documents, court decisions and parliamentary and epistemological records, they faulted the Catholic establishment for weakening the throne, expanding the privileges of the self-serving nobility and maintaining an antiquated social system which crippled the state. The Reformation, on the other hand, was not deep enough to affect real social changes and the reformers failed to establish leadership and lacked a clear political program.

In the nineteenth century, with the onset of the rise of European national movements, Lithuania’s neighbors began to develop national historiographies. In Lithuania, then a part of the Russian Tsarist Empire, the most essential preconditions for professional historiography did not exist. The only work on the Reformation was Žemaičių vyskupystė (Samogitian Diocese) by Bishop Motiejus Valančius (M. Wołonczewski), published in 1848. Conversely, in Lithuania Minor (or Prussian Lithuania), then part of the German Empire, German and Prussian-Lithuanian historians (Adalbert Bezzenberger, Georg H. F. Nesselman, Friedrich Kurschat (Kuršaitis), Vilius Gaigalaitis) were at liberty to analyze primary sources in Lithuania Minor which were inaccessible to Lithuanian authors, form societies and publish their findings in historical journals.

The situation changed drastically at the end of World War One in 1918, when Lithuania was able to reestablish its independence. Ansas Bruožis, Vydūnas, and Vincas Vileišis were the first to connect the Reformation with literacy in the native language, premised on the conviction that Lithuania Minor was inseparably linked to the Grand Duchy. New research in the 1930s (Johannes Bertuleit, Victor Falkenhahn, Ernst Fraenkel, Kurt Forstreuter, Jurgis Gerulis (Georg Gerullis), G. and H. Mortensen and some others) provided new insights and created a basis for further investigations. In 1930, Vaclovas Biržiska tried to systematize these findings in almanac form.

As a professional historiography began to develop in interwar Lithuania, the Reformation became a serious topic for research. Respected Catholic historians Juozas Purickis, Simas Sužiedėlis and Zenonas Ivinskis assessed it from the traditional Catholic standpoint. This trend was continued in emigration by Rev. Rapolas Krasauskas and Antanas Musteikis.

While Lithuanian historians basically agreed on the onset of the Reformation, there were differences concerning the end date which fluctuated between the arrival of the Jesuits (1565), the Union of Lublin (1569), and the Sandomierz Synod agreement (1570). According to this periodization, the rise and fall of the Reformation occurred within a short, clearly defined period without any impact beyond one of these dates. All subsequent cultural developments were assigned to the Counter Reformation. This approach prevailed in Lithuanian historiography throughout most of the twentieth century.

Analytical research by Lithuanian historians before World War Two was severely hampered by the fact that they lacked access to essential sources in Polish-occupied Vilnius, Poland, and in the Byelorussian SSR. Z. Ivinskis alone was able to expand the archival base through his research of documents in the Vatican.

After World War Two, Lithuania again lost its independence and became the Lithuanian SSR. Europe’s interest in Lithuania waned. Due to the Cold War, Soviet Lithuania’s historians had no access to the Königsberg archives, without which no serious new research was possible. Notwithstanding the discouraging circumstances, historians found ways to circumvent official censorship. In the 1960s, Juozas Jurginis included the Reformation in his study of the Renaissance and humanism in Lithuania (Renesansas ir humanizmas Lietuvoje) and edited the translations of several relevant sources: Mykolas Lietuvis’s Apie totorių, lietuvių ir maskvenų papročius (1966) and Abraomas Kulvietis’s Tikėjimo išpažinimas. In 1987, Alfredas Bumblauskas researched the Reformation from an economic perspective for his doctoral dissertation, documenting evangelical congregations replacing previous Catholic parishes.

Since political censorship did not permit research of national culture or cultural ties between Lithuania Minor and Lithuania Major, historians focused on literary rather than religious accomplishments. In the sixties, they produced monographs on such important figures of the Reformation age as Martynas Mažvydas, Jonas Bretkūnas, Stanislovas Rapolionis, S. B. Chyliński and others, while the LTSR Knygų rūmai (Lithuanian SSR Book Institute) compiled a useful bibliography (Lietuvių literaturos istorija). The social theories and attitudes of Andrius Volanas, members of the famous Radvila family and other leaders of the so-called Radical Reformation (Simon Budny, Peter Gonezijus) were given special attention. Jonas Palionis and Zigmas Zinkevičius (1977) provided an overview of the cultural processes in the sixteenth century.

During the last decade of the twentieth century, Jūratė Trilupaitienė (1985) and Dainora Pociūtė (1995) presented new approaches to cultural processes during the Reformation era in both the Grand Duchy and Prussia. Domas Kaunas (1996) published a history of Lithuanian books in Prussian Lithuania. Vacys Vaivada documented the network of evangelical congregations in Samogitia in his dissertation Reformacija Žemaitijoj (1995). 

In the last decade of the twentieth century and thereafter, Lithuanian historians were finally free to investigate the hitherto neglected connections between the Reformation era and national culture. Previously, older Polish historians Kazimierz Hartleb (1935) and Kazimierz Kołbuszewski (1935), basing their findings on Polish sources, established the view that the Reformation had strengthened Polish culture in the Grand Duchy and had a detrimental effect on the development of the Lithuanian language. A similar argument was advanced by Henryk Wisner in 1975. However, recent research by Lithuanian historians proves otherwise. My own findings, based on all publications printed in all languages within the entire Grand Duchy, indicate that the Reformation, although slowly and unevenly, introduced and facilitated the development of spoken and written languages of all ethnic groups comprising the Grand Duchy. For Lithuania, the printing of the first books in Lithuanian resulted in a new attitude toward the native language, accorded it status, and began to diminish the existing diglossia between the written and spoken languages. It made it possible for the vernacular, not only of the Lithuanians, but also of the Poles, Byelorussians, and Ukrainians, to be disseminated in the form of the written word, enabled those languages to enter the church and the press, and gradually affected the future course of all national cultures. One could mention here that Martynas Mažvydas himself had dedicated his translation of the Protestant Catechism to all Lithuanians in the geographical areas where Lithuanian was spoken, not just in the Duchy of Prussia. His writings suggest his understanding that the ties that bind a nation are territory, language and ancestry.

Another area that needed revision was the tendency among all Reformation historians to treat the Polish Kingdom and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as a unit, applying events and conditions in Poland to Lithuania by analogy, without separate research. This practice was set in motion in the nineteenth century by Polish historians who began to refer to the Polish- Lithuanian Commonwealth as Rzeczpospolita Polska, i.e., the Polish Republic, an abbreviation of the official name of the confederation created in 1569, at the Union of Lublin, between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland, which was Rzeczpospolita Obojga Narodów, i.e., the Republic of Two Nations. The incorrect terminology entered into Polish and European historiography and persisted. We now know that the Reformation in Lithuania took a different course than it did in Poland and that the two should be treated as separate movements. J. Łukaszewicz, W. Sobieski and H. Merczyng, who researched seventeenth century primary sources, were among the first to notice that it ended sooner in the Polish Kingdom than in Lithuania and that Protestants were playing a role in Lithuanian society into the middle of the seventeenth century. Relying on primary sources in the Prussian archives, Theodor Wotschke, studying the onset of Lutheranism in Lithuania, made a similar observation in 1916. At the time, however, these findings had no effect on the prevailing usage.

New research by contemporary Polish and German historians (Marcel Kosman, Henryk Merczyng, Gottfried Schramm, Janusz Tazbir and Henryk Wisner) focused on previously overlooked aspects and reached new insights. For the most part they concurred that the Reformation had deeper roots in Lithuania than in Poland and lasted longer. Stanisław Kot emphasized its role in bringing the culture of the Grand Duchy closer to Western Europe and Tazbir determined that it was an important factor in strengthening Lithuanian separatist tendencies. A new positive value was placed on the religious tolerance of the sixteenth and part of the seventeenth centuries, which was highlighted as a singularly unique feature when contrasted to the bloody religious wars in other countries. The evidence of the Protestant presence in the first half of the seventeenth century led to a revision of the previously established end date. For Schramm, the turning point was the crushing of Zebrzydowski’s Rebellion in 1607. Kosman chose 1596, the Union of Brest, which demonstrated the ruler’s resolve to unify the state under Catholicism. Others linked it to the expulsion of the Arians (Antitrinitarians) in 1658, which altered the religious composition in the country. In general, historians began to move the end of the Reformation in Lithuania to the middle of the seventeenth century.

In contemporary European historiography there is a new methodological trend to examine historical events as a chain of multiple interrelated phenomena rather than separate single events. Following this approach, we may decide to view the Reformation and the Counter Reformation in the Grand Duchy together as one continuous interrelated period of church and social reforms beginning in the first quarter of the sixteenth century and ending in the middle of the seventeenth. Thus the course of the Reformation could be divided into the following stages: 1) 1530-1549, early Lutheranism and criticism of the Catholic Church; 2) 1550-1569, sudden spread of Calvinism; formation of other Protestant denominations; the weakening of Catholic power; 3) 1570-1609, equilibrium between the Catholic and Evangelical churches; 4) 1610-1650, active implementation of the Tridentine reforms; the rapid decline of the Reformation; decisive victory of the Counter Reformation, or Catholic Restoration.

Periodization of the Reformation in Lithuania Minor, of course, follows a different path due to the completely different historical and political situations. Since religion was organized and supported by the state, its course depended on the policies of the government and was connected with developments in the German states. W. Hubatch, in his major work on the Evangelical Lutheran church in East Prussia, views 1525 to the 1550s as the period of its formation as a state church and the 1560s to 1600 the strengthening of Lutheran doctrine. We could periodize its course in the Duchy of Prussia as follows: 1) the 1520s, the beginning of the Reformation; the formation of the country’s Lutheran evangelical church 2) 1530s-1560s, the growth and strengthening of the Evangelical Lutheran Church 3) 1570s-1610, the establishment of Lutheran orthodoxy in the church. By then the Reformation movements in in Prussian Lithuania and in the Grand Duchy were taking different directions and their interaction dwindled.


Rather than focus on the traditional adversarial aspects, we may try to look at the Reformation from a different angle and evaluate its impact above and beyond religious reform as an energizing cultural force propelling Lithuanian society toward the modern age. Its role was twofold: 1) it initiated and mobilized forces to track innovations abroad and assimilate or newly create them for Lithuania; 2) it presented an ongoing challenge and competition to the Catholic establishment to review, revise, and modify its previous attitudes and practices and copy or adapt these innovations for their own use.

Using these criteria, our research shows that the competition between Protestant and Catholic churches resulted in significant cultural and social changes and advances during the so-called third period when, according to indirect evidence, the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Reformed Church were about equal in number and power and created a state of equilibrium. As long as neither was in a position of dominance and able to subdue the other by use of force, the Reformation functioned as the source and guarantor of the modernization of culture.

The active response by the Catholic elite indicates that, within a relatively short period of time, the changes initiated by the Protestants had already become part of a new mindset. From the last quarter of the sixteenth century until the first quarter of the seventeenth, the rapid renewal of culture and society in the Grand Duchy was the result of the interaction between the two churches, causing a virtual leap toward modernization. It lasted about one hundred years.

Let us focus our attention on what a century of the Reformation meant to Lithuania. We can mention many innovations, either introduced by the reformers directly or evolving indirectly once they were set in motion. They enriched Lithuania’s culture, widened horizons and set precedents in such areas as literacy, printing and publishing, translation and compilation of Scripture and hymnals into the vernacular, their use in church services, better training of the clergy, improvements in education, expansion of primary and secondary schools, establishment of middle schools, founding of the university, new value placed on scholarship and, last but not least, provisions for a legal basis for religious rights.

The teaching of religion was linked with literacy in the native language and in order to spread the Gospel, the reformers had to make the new teaching available to all social classes by means of the written and printed word. The young Lithuanian reformers in Prussia were not numerous but inspirational and resourceful. The resulting translation and publication of the Mažvydas Catechism are breakthrough achievements in Lithuanian culture. To be sure, some writing in the Lithuanian language was already taking place in monasteries, but unlike printed matter, these handwritten manuscripts were available only to a limited number of enlightened members of the clergy. The publication of the Catechism was a definite challenge to the stereotype that spoken Lithuanian was not suitable as a written language. It proved the usefulness of literacy and eventually stimulated both churches to promote writing and printing in Lithuanian as well as translations and compilations of religious books.

In the Grand Duchy, printing was a neglected area and the introduction of the new printing technology was a significant break with previous inertia. The Reformation aroused a strong demand for the printed word and ushered in a tradition of printing and publishing activity. In 1553, Mikalojus Radvila the Black (Nicolaus Radivil; Mikolaj Radziwiłł) founded his printing house in Brest and published the famous Brest Bible, the first complete Calvinist Bible translation into Polish. In the period between 1553 and 1575, all printing houses were in the hands of the Protestants, and for another generation various versions of the New Testament, the Gospels, and other books necessary for Evangelical services were translated and published in Polish or the other languages of the realm. Polish, Old Church Slavonic and Latin were deeply entrenched as written forms of discourse, and translation and printing of texts in Lithuanian did not find an immediate echo. It took another generation before the leaders of either church realized the significance of religious literature in the Lithuanian language. At the end of the century, this resulted in a virtual publishing war. Catholic and Reformed catechisms and postillas in Lithuanian translation appeared almost simultaneously: in 1595 and 1599, a Catholic catechism and postilla, both translated by Mikalojus Daukša, in 1598, a bilingual Calvinist catechism compiled and translated by Merkelis Petkevičius (Malcher Pietkiewicz) and the Calvinist “Morkūnas” postilla, compiled, translated and published by the first Lithuanian professional master printer in Vilnius, Jokubas Morkūnas (Marcovius; Markovicz) in 1600. In the seventies, the Jesuits founded their own press in Vilnius and began to print Catholic religious literature. Following directives established by the Council of Trent, they were realistically assessing the changes set in motion by the reformers and the advantages of the vernacular. By the first half of the seventeenth century, Catholics were already leading with more books and more variety in content.

In Prussia, Lithuanian theologians continued with their translations, adding Gospels and hymnals and raising the written language to a higher literary and grammatical level. The culmination of these efforts was the Lithuanian Bible, completed by the Lutheran pastor Jonas Bretkūnas (Johannes Bretke; Bretchen) and his associates in 1579-1590, although at the time it remained unpublished. In the Grand Duchy, it took another century before S. B. Chyliński translated a Calvinist Bible and then succeeded in publishing parts of his translation in London in 1660-1662. The largest Lithuanian publication in the seventeenth century for use in Lithuanian evangelical congregations was Knyga nobažnystės krikščioniškos, published in Kėdainiai in 1653 in the printing house of Jonušas (Janusz) Radvila. The synod did not make a policy decision on publishing in Lithuanian until the middle of the century, when it was already a minority church. At that time, the Counter Reformation was reaching its culmination and interest in the use of Lithuanian had begun to wane, leading to a neglect of the native tongue, decline in book publishing, and an overall impoverishment of written Lithuanian. However, at least for a century, the Reformation can take credit for introducing and stimulating publications in Lithuanian, which laid the foundations for its development in the future.

The first Lutheran theologians had attained a high degree of education in order to interpret the truths of their faith and carry out theological disputes with their opponents. They produced the first original theological writings in the Grand Duchy. These works interpreted theological theories from abroad and included elements of original argumentation. In 1542, Abraomas Kulvietis (Culvensis) defended his Lutheran faith in Confessio fidei. In 1544, Stanislovas Rapolionis (Rapagelanus) – by that time a professor at the new Karaliaučius (Königsberg) university—published his doctoral dissertation Disputatio de ecclesia et eius notis, an interpretation of Luther’s arguments.

In the fifties and sixties, Calvinists and Arians began to publish their theological arguments and interpretations as well as correspondence with the founders and other intellectuals in Europe. In 1556, Mikalojus Radvila the Black published Duae epistolae, his response to the Papal nuncio Aloysius Lipomani (Lipomanus). A decade later, in 1565, Andrius (Andreas) Volanas Volanus wrote to the Bishop of Kiev, explaining Calvin’s interpretation of the Trinity (Epistola .. de S. Trinitate). In 1592, Volanas Volanus published Meditatio in epistolom divi Pauli apostoli ad Ephesios. There were also numerous texts by Antitrinitarians. Their writings show an intense involvement in the new teaching and a depth of theological knowledge. The spirited theological disputes with members of the Catholic faculty attest to the vibrant intellectual climate of the time.

Another idea first formulated by A. Kulvietis was the need to raise existing educational requirements for the clergy. In the belief that erudition and proficiency in conducting intellectual discourses were prerequisites, the leaders of the Reformed churches were very conscious of a need for trained theologians. They created a nucleus of educated individuals, well-versed in many areas of theology and scholarship, by sponsoring gifted young students to complete their studies at Western universities, among them Andreas Volanus, Jonas Abramavičius (Jan Abramowicz), Adomas Rasijus (Adamus Rassius) and Venclovas Agrippa (Wenceslaus A. Lithuanus). All of them played a role in Lithuanian culture, presenting critiques of the existing social system and advancing ideas on improving and modernizing it according to Western standards. This too sparked polemics.

Public discussions about books and publishing led to a new interest in compilations and publications and stimulated a demand for books. Books were an expensive commodity. The young king and the reformed scholars at his court set an example for intellectual discussions and interest in books. The spread of books not only among the élite families of the higher nobility but also among the middle and lower gentry, city dwellers and even peasants in reformed communities was an unprecedented novelty. In the middle of the sixteenth century, the library of Abraomas Kulvietis held one hundred books; the collection amassed by the nobleman Salomonas Rysinskis (Rysinius; Rysiński) in Vilnius, during the last quarter of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries, reached one thousand books. The holdings at Evangelical libraries in Vilnius, Kėdainiai and Sluck and other schools and churches numbered up to a few hundred books. As a result, there was an increase in the number of educated individuals earning their living by intellectual work: compiling libraries, teaching at schools or working in publishing. Patronage of book publishing brought prestige.

The rivalry between Protestants and Catholics was especially intensive in education and produced a broad new system over a relatively short period of time. In the first decades of the Reformation, the reformers attempted to introduce an educational system following Central and West European models, including the establishment of a university. In the last quarter of the sixteenth century, they were leading in the foundation of elementary schools in their congregations and maintained a secondary school in Vilnius on the estate of Radvila the Black, founded in 1558. Their schools in Kėdainiai and Sluck gained the status of a higher school after 1625 and continued for several centuries. In 1648, the Lutherans opened separate boys’ and girls’ schools. Catholics developed and maintained their own network of parish schools. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, it was not unusual to have two religious schools side by side.

The efforts of the Protestants to establish a university in Vilnius were less successful. After A. Kulvietis’s aborted attempt in 1642 1542, Protestant leaders submitted three requests (two in 1561-1565 and one in 1588), but their petitions were rejected. Their idea, however, served as a strong incentive to Bishop 27 Valerijonas Protasevičius (Valerian Protasewicz), who charged the newly arrived Jesuit Order with the founding of a Jesuit Collegium (1569).

The bishop’s willingness to provide the necessary seed money for the Jesuit college and to support it in the future is indicative of a monumental change in attitudes toward education within the course of some thirty years and a direct result of a process begun by the reformers. Remember, J. Vilamovskis’s petition to open a school in Vilnius in 1537 had been turned down because of an alleged lack of potential students and A. Kulvietis’s insistence in 1542 that the Church use its wealth to support education was deemed heretical at the time!

The new college soon had five hundred students and was reorganized into the Academy of Vilnius. Control over the highest education in the country passed into the hands of the Jesuits, who ran it in accordance with the rules practiced at other Jesuit colleges in Europe, although the special situation in the country prompted the Vilnius University faculty and graduates to become proficient in religious disputes with Protestant theologians. Vilnius University quickly became a magnet for the most active intellectual minds of the time and remained an important center of innovation until the middle of the seventeenth century. Protestant students were also accepted and strongly encouraged but not forced to convert. As long as the faculty and administration subscribed to the principles of religious tolerance and open-mindedness, Vilnius University functioned as a center of creative learning and scholarship. However, in the second half of the seventeenth century, the university was thrust into the religious battle against the Reformation and turned into a force of conservatism not conducive to change, innovation, questioning, or impartial analysis. Indeed, a look at the cultural scene during the second half of the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth century demonstrates an overall decline of creative new ideas and the onset of intellectual and cultural stagnation.

The first signs that the equilibrium between the Churches was undergoing disruption were the serious religious outbursts in 1611 and 1639 in Vilnius, resulting in the destruction of the Reformed school and church by mob action and their forced relocation beyond the city walls. Assaults on evangelical Churches occurring repeatedly in other cities and even on the private holdings of the nobility show that supporters of the Roman Catholic Church were ready to use violence against their religious opponents.

The ascendancy and dominance of one religion over all others occurred in the second half of the seventeenth century. The Roman Catholic Church, spearheaded by the Jesuit Order, began to gain in influence and preponderance. Its efforts were substantially aided by the university, the expanded network of schools, the press, and the royal court. After the creation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the elected kings Stephen Bathory and especially the Vasa kings were staunchly Catholic and used their power to enforce a uniform one-crown-onechurch society. Though legal provisions for religious equality were still valid, Sigismund Vasa removed Calvinists from high office and severely restricted the expansion and maintenance of Reformed churches. In 1632, construction of new Evangelical church buildings in royal cities was prohibited and services strictly limited. Infractions were severely punished, including prison terms. Among the public, discriminatory and intolerant attitudes toward “dissident” religions became the norm.

In 1656, to celebrate the Catholic victory over the Reformation, King John Casimir (Jonas Kazimieras) dedicated the country to the Virgin and proclaimed it “The Land of Mary,” a designation that still exists. To reinforce the new status, in 1658 Parliament adopted the decision to banish the Antitrinitarians (Arians) from the realm of the Commonwealth unless they converted. In 1668, conversion from Roman Catholicism to another religion was prohibited. In 1669, another law was passed specifying that future kings had to be Catholic.

Repressive laws and practices were especially injurious to the Protestant nobility. In the course of forty years, the rights enjoyed by non-Catholics were severely restricted and new legislation placed them in the position of an unwelcome alien minority. They had to forgo almost all opportunities for political advancement, lose status and influence and be pushed to the margins of society unless they converted to Catholicism.

Until the middle of the century, the Evangelical Reformed Church no longer expanded but still preserved its structure and a network of about two hundred congregations. However, with the decline of the Biržai and Dubingiai branches of the Radvila family, they began to diminish and fragment into small groups and solitary parishes. After the ravages and economic devastation of the wars with Russia and Sweden in 1654-1655, the Church was unable to restore them. Our research indicates that the Reformation in Lithuania was effective as a creative social, religious and cultural movement from the mid-1500s to the mid-1600s, when its influence was felt in many areas of society. After that point, its role as a formative power and a cultural force weakened to such an extent that the middle of the seventeenth century must be regarded as the end of the Reformation as a movement with impact on cultural developments. Since the second half of the seventeenth century, the Evangelical Reformed Church has functioned as a minority Church.* 

Adapted for Lituanus by M. G. Slavenas
Translated by B. Šležas and M. G. Slavenas 

* M. G. Slavenas, “Die Evangelisch-Reformierte Kirche Litauens 1915-1940.” Journal of Baltic Studies. Vol. 32, no. 1, 2002; Vol. 33, no. 3, 2002; Marija Gražina Slavėnienė, “Lietuvos Evangelikų Bažnyčia 1915-1940.” In Lietuvos evangelikų bažnyčios. Istorijos metmenys. Arthur Hermann, ed., Baltos lankos: 2003.