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Piotr Skarga – the school patron



 

This exceptional preacher, polemicist and hagiographer was born in Grójec near Warsaw in 1536. He came from a family claiming to be noble and using the name Powęski. He finished his studies in Cracow (1552-1555) with a bachelor’s degree. After that, he lived in Vienna as the tutor of Jan Tęczyński. Probably in 1564 he took holy orders and five years later he entered the Jesuit noviciate in Rome. Having returned to Poland (1571), he commenced intensive preaching and pedagogical activity in Pułtusk, Jarosław, Poznań, Lwów and Wilno, where he was the rector of the Jesuit college, and then in 1579 became the first rector of the Academy established in the city on the river Wilia. He participated in the establishment of Jesuit colleges in Połock, Riga and Dorpat. In later years, he became the superior of a monastic house in Cracow In this town, he undertook wide-ranging philanthropic activity, establishing, among others, the Brotherhood of Mercy, the Pious Bank and St. Nicholas’s Box. In 1588 he became a court preacher to King Zygmunt III Waza; he performed this service for over twenty years. He left the king’s court a few months before his death; he died in 1612 in Cracow.
He commenced his literary work with polemics. He came out against Protestants and against the Warsaw Confederation which was passed on 28 January 1573, see "Rebuke to Protestants"-1592; "Trial of the Confederation"-1595; "Discourse on the Confederation"- 1607, guaranteeing everlasting peace among people differing in faith, and all the nobility, irrespective of faith, equality of rights and state protection. Oscillating between reasoning and refuting, he strove to persuade the reader to accept the position of the Catholic Church and, simultaneously, argued with opposite opinions. With his writing he supported the endeavours toward a union with the Orthodox Church see "On the Unity of God’s Church"-1577; Synod "The Synod of Brześć" - 1597. In the treatise "Soldiers’ service",1606, he devised a model of an ideal knight and Christian.
His contemporaries knew Skarga not only as a polemicist but also as the author of a great hagiographic, "Lives of the Saints"-1579, serving to revive Catholicism in Poland in the post-Tridentine period, "Annals of the Church"1603 also enjoyed unquestioned popularity. This work was an adaptation of the ten initial volumes of the work by Cardinal Cesare Baromius, Annales Ecclesiastici a Christo nato ad annum 1198, aimed to reiterate the basics of Catholic teachings and justify their credibility.
An exceptional position in the literary output of Skarga is occupied by "Parliamentary Sermons", published for the first time in 1597 with "Sermons for Sundays and Feast-days for the Whole Year". They brought an evaluation of the situation in the state. The author enumerated and characterised the six most dangerous diseases afflicting the organism of Poland; lack of patriotism, internal disagreements, toleration of infidelity, weakening and limiting of King's power, bad and unjust laws, impunity of wrongdoing against the Church, clergy and other citizens of the state. He postulated the strengthening of royal power, but submitted to the Church, and of the position of the senate. He opted for limiting the privileges of the nobility and the authority of the lower chamber of Sejm (Parliament). He subscribed to improving the judicature and the conditions of life of peasants. He was convinced that the suggested reforms would be able to save the state. Drawing on the authority of Old Testament prophets and moralists of all times, he admonished that if "heresy" was not rooted out and simultaneously the King's power strengthened, Poland would fall into an abyss.
In "Parliamentary Sermons", Skarga followed the rules of rhetorical persuasion, imitating the type of speech which was called genus deliberativum (advisory, reflective genre). In the argumentation and refutation parts, he quoted, above all, the Bible, updating the reports and descriptions included there. In the stylistic layer, a very important position was occupied by epithets, metaphors and, above all, similes taken from prophetic books, thanks to which "Parliamentary Sermons" are dominated by a prophetic tone.
During the lifetime of Skarga, "Parliamentary Sermons" met with no response. In the nineteenth century, that is when Poland was partitioned, they began to be interpreted as a portent of great national misfortunes, and the partitions as a fulfilment of the predictions. The image of Skarga-prophet was then preserved by Jan Matejko in the famous painting "Skarga’s Sermon", 1864.
Skarga as the author of polemical and hagiographic works, sermons and homilies was rated among the most outstanding authors of Polish prose of the Renaissance epoch.

Translation: M. Pajewski

 

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