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In 1645, Poland was religiously divided. The principle Christian denominations iwere Catholics, Lutherans, Reformed, and Moravians. For the sake of his country, King Wladislaw IV desired to heal the divisions. The Thirty Years’ War still raged across Europe and passions and tensions ran high. He called a conference of the principle parties at Thorn, a Lutheran city under Polish protection.
On this day, 28 August 1645 the “Colloquium charitativum” in Thorn opened. Twenty-six Catholic, fifteen Lutheran, and twenty-four Calvinist theologians were present at the first meeting. The Moravian bishop Amos Comenius came with the Calvinist delegation. Additional Lutherans arrived later. There were eight Jesuits among the Catholics.
For any ecumenical conference to succeed, its representatives had to be willing to make accommodation with each other. However, the Catholics came determined to stop the attempt at peace and to prevent any concessions to the Protestants. Poland was operating under the Pax Dissidentium of 1573, an agreement that gave Protestants and Catholics equal civil rights, but Rome had denounced this as a league of Christ with Belial, and the Jesuits had been working to undermine it.
With one party to the negotiations unwilling to even grant the other’s right to exist, any attempt to work out theological differences was guaranteed to fail. The Catholics presented their position first and it was read in a public session. The Reformed then read their statement, but because its title included the word “catholic” the Roman Catholics protested and the paper was not allowed into the official record. The Catholics refused the Lutheran confession a public reading.
Although the Protestants agreed that the Consensus of Sendomir (the Polish agreement between Lutherans, Calvinists, and Moravians) was Scriptural, they divided on other matters. The Lutherans disagreed among themselves and the Reformed and Lutherans with each other. Consequently, although the conference ran for several months, it produced no unity. Georg Calixtus was a Lutheran theologian who had hoped great things of the conference. Rejected even by the Lutherans because he was considered too willing to make doctrinal concessions, he remarked ruefully, “The Colloquy was no colloquy at all, certainly no colloquium caritativum [charitable colloquy], but irritativum [irritative].”
Thorn has been described as the most important effort to attain religious unity during the Thirty Years’ War. However, its speeches often turned into attacks and recriminations and all the parties left more entrenched in their differences than when they came together. Perhaps the only lasting benefit that came out of the gathering (from a Reformed perspective) was the Calvinist “Declaration of Thorn,” written during the conference, which became a creedal standard for the Calvinist churches of Brandenburg. It stressed continuity with the ancient church.
The results might have been better if, instead of trying to unify entire systems, the representatives had worked on isolated theological topics. Or perhaps the king could have issued an order for them to work out a method of coexistence apart from any agreement on doctrine.
We’d like to thank Dan Graves for this informative article. He requested that all readers go to christianhistoryinstitute.org.
ALSO ON THIS DAY
1840 – Ira Sanka was born. He would go on to be part of one of the most famous partnerships in evangelistic history—D. L. Moody and Ira Sankey. For the next quarter century, Moody and Sankey traveled around the world. As Moody preached the gospel, Sankey sang solos, conducted the singing, and composed music for the gospel hymns. His Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs and Solos sold over 50 million copies. He became his generation’s most beloved gospel singer.
1892 – Peter Ambuofa, a Solomon Islander, was baptized in Queenlsand. He will return to preach the gospel to his own tribe in 1894, but will suffer years of deprivation, sickness, hostility, and threats before a drought brings many to Christ. By 1904 he had led 200 souls to Christ.
1963 – A large civil-rights demonstration, known as The March on Washington, gathers in the United States capital in behalf of African-American civil rights. The march brings together major civil-rights organizations and many religious groups—Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish—and marks the first determined effort by a large number of white clergy to join the cause to end racial discrimination. Rev. Martin Luther King, jr., gives his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.