HIST 3322 The Reformation Discussion Essay
One of the most interesting places throughout our readings for me has been the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and one our recent sections in MacCulloch (340-344) fascinated me. The state realized how divided it was religiously and instead of fighting for supremacy of Protestantism or Catholicism, the elite compromised. Upon the death of King Sigismond II Augustus, the nobility gathered to elect their new king and agreed to extend an offer to Henri Duke of Anjou with strings attached. On 28 January 1573, the Commonwealth’s Sejm unanimously approved a religious freedom clause in their offer of the kingdom to Henri. Setting aside the fact that the king was elected and that Henri ultimately agreed to the religious freedom clause, it is astounding that such as clause was unanimously agreed to during this time period. While Western Christianity was imploding and violently turning on one another, Poland-Lithuania were seeking peace among confessionals.
Neighboring Transylvania had also engaged in a similar practice of religious tolerance. The eastern edge of Western Christianity embraced its diversity to maintain peace among the various factions within society. Reading this section, my mind was drawn to the birth of the United States and the high value placed on religious freedom by the founders. The religious freedom requirement in the Commonwealth’s offer to Henri created a social contract not completely foreign to our own modern views on religion. Their offer held and our own Constitution holds that in order to rule, one must respect that the religious choices of the people are outside the realm of governance. The actions of the Commonwealth seem very ahead of their time and were a welcome respite from the intolerant turmoil of the Reformation.
A recurring topic throughout our readings has been that of gilds (this is the medieval spelling for what we would now call guilds.) This was the principal way that like minded laypeople could come together to supplicate God in prayer with a common purpose. “These were voluntary organizations, bound by oath and membership levy, with common activities and purposes; for some, these purposes might involve a common trade or commercial activity, but virtually all had some concern with prayer for the membership….Because the gilds reflected the needs and preoccupations of the laypeople rather than the church hierarchy, they reflected the devotions that appealed to the laypeople.” (MacCullogh, 16) The gilds came together to support each other in the cause that was most important to them. They often created new prayers, chantries, and paid clergy to officiate private masses for their gilds. The gilds were focused on different aspects of the communal quest for eternal salvation. Some saw that salvation best accomplished through service, some through charity, for some it was establishing care for the sick through setting up hospitals. Other gilds were focused on self-reflection and contemplation of God’s word, and for others it was a shared interest in, or veneration of, a specific Saint or relic.
I started thinking this week about what type of guild would most interest me? What guild would you establish? What would your focus be? Would you approach it from our modern day perspective, or would you try and envision yourself establishing or joining a guild in the medieval church?