Post Eagle Newspaper


Nov 29, 2023

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Time Now


Pawel The Purist

In these days of questionable judgements and even more questionable judges, so much has happened in the courtroom of the United States that we are being led into a state of continuous wonderment. We do experience momentary judicial expertise from time to time but, all in all, however, the erratic appointments and lackadaisical decisions of some of today’s judges on all levels of government has forced me to find refuge in history–to a time period more than five centuries ago and to a man who was ahead of his time legally, morally and politically….

His name is …PAULUS VLADIMIRI -– it was only the Polish history books, however, that carried his true name — PAWEL WLODKOWIC.

When a man’s thoughts run ahead of his contemporaries he is apt to arouse controversies and disturb people’s peace of mind, or more exactly their prejudice and intellectual stagnation. This was the case of medieval jurist Pawel Wlodkowic. Though he lived most of his active adult life in the early fifteenth century, his ideas seem closer to those of President Woodrow Wilson or of the Second Vatican Council, than of his contemporaries.

Pawel Wlodkowic was born around 1370 in northern Poland, the son of a noble family of moderate means. The dramatic fate of his native province left a permanent imprint on his personality, interests and intellectual formation. This was a peaceful farming country of rolling hills, lakes and pine forests, but if grain was the blessing of this land, then its neighbors to the north were its curse. This may seem strange since these neighbors were a Christian military order, known under various names of Teutonic Knights, Brothers Hospitaliers of St. Mary, Knights of the Cross or Crossbearers — denoting the black cross on a white cloak.

These monks-soldiers had been invited to settle there in 1226 by Duke Konrad of Masovia to protect his northern boundary from warring pagan Prussians. As it developed, the Christian Knights proved little better than the pagan Prussians and all the more dangerous because they became more powerful. Repeatedly they invaded the Polish borderland, burning, pillaging and abducting people into serfdom. They behaved even worse in the pagan lands of Prussia and Lithuania. All this led Pawel Wlodkowic to question the current concepts of the attitude of the Christian powers toward the pagan lands and their peoples. The seeds of his future work “On the Power of the Pope and Emperor Regarding the Infidels” began to germinate when he saw the destruction wrought by the soldier-monks allegedly under the auspices of the highest authorities of the Western Christendom, the popes and the emperors. His views on the international law was not a result of scholarly reading and speculation; they were born of the tears and blood of his people and neighbors in the east. He was more than a learned jurist, he was a defender of justice.

Pawel Wlodkowic’s biography is not known in detail. He probably started his education at the cathedral school in Plocks, and then continued his studies at the University of Prague, where he gained a Masters Degree. He was ordained a priest some time around 1395 and became canon of his native diocese and also a member of the diocesan chapter of Poznan. For further specialized studies he went to Padua, a famous center of learning at that time. He spent considerable time at Bologna and Rome as an unofficial envoy of the King of Poland at the papal court. In a similar capacity he traveled to many other sites of international negotiations between the Teutonic Order and Poland. The most important of these meetings was the Ecumenical Council of Constance. Some historians claim that Wlodkowic also participated in the Council of Basel as representative of the University of Cracow. In 1415 he was elected rector of this university which had earlier granted him the title of Doctor of Law and made him professor of this subject. At about the same time, King Ladislaus Jagiello appointed him a member of the Polish delegation to the Ecumenical Council at Constance where he was to act in behalf of both the King and of the University.

The problem Pawel Wlodkowic had to contend with was the long-lasting dispute between Poland and the Teutonic Order of Mary the Cross bearers. The legal aspect of this dispute stemmed from the strange doctrine held by most jurists of the time. According to this doctrine, supreme power over the whole world has vested in the pope and in the emperor. Papal authority was naturally of the spiritual domain, while that of the emperor empowered him to rule not only over the empire but also over any part of the pagan world that he or the princes and vassals of the empire could conquer. Emperor Frederick II had spelled out these claims when he declared that he had the legal power to convert by force or to destroy all pagan nations and subdue them to his sovereign rule.

To the Teutonic Order, Emperor Frederic granted this privilege to invade, convert and conquer Prussia… “for the honor and glory of the true God.” This alleged right had later been extended so as to include Lithuania and the parts of Russia that were under the Tartar domination. The Grand Master of the order was considered a prince of the empire and expected to build a powerful German state on the ruins of the pagan countries of the Eastern Baltic coast. He was quite successful in these ambitious plans. Popes of this period, generally speaking, confirmed these privileges. They added, however, important restrictions that the conquered pagans were to be treated humanely, that they should not be converted by force, and that the actual evangelization be left to the real religious missionaries, like the Franciscans or Dominicans. The soldier-friars accepted the grants and privileges, but paid no attention to any restrictions that might hamper them in their greed for conquest. Things went so far that Pope Clement V reprimanded the monks for their cruel treatment of pagans, and Pope John XXII even excommunicated them for similar reasons. And this was not the only time that the sanctimonious Teutonic Order was excommunicated for illegal attacks on neighbors and inhuman treatment of the conquered pagan population.

These fantastic claims and charges, advocating open aggression seemed outrageous even to simple minds; to scholarly men like Pawel Wlodkowic they were both preposterous and scandalous. As Polish representative at the papal court, he proved to the satisfaction of the pope and his officials, that charges against his kind and country were false and unfounded. Moreover, he demonstrated on the authority of the best theologians and jurists of past ages, that the imperial grants and privileges, given so freely to the Teutonic Order, were in fact illegal, null and void. They were contrary to the natural law, to the teachings of the Church Fathers, and of the Gospel itself.

It became obvious to both sides that the final decisions would have to be made on the battlefield. Under the pretext of a crusade against the infidels, the Teutonic Order gathered reinforcements from the West, hundreds of knights longing for adventure, conquests and glory. The Order had the full support of the German emperor. But when the decisive battle came, the united Polish, Lithuanian and Ruthenian forces inflicted a crushing defeat on the Order; even its Grand Master himself was killed in the Battle of Grunwald in July 1410. From the Polish point of view, however, the advantages gained on the battlefield were wasted at the peace treaty concluded the next year in Torun.

Regardless of the immediate results of the peace treaty, a new statement of the truly Christian and humanistic position on international relations had been recorded. Another great Pole and another great dead!!