Czaplic Family

The Czaplic family, nobles from Wolyn (Volhynia) in today’s Ukraine, were patrons and supporters of Arianism (Socinianism) on their estates. After the fall of Raków, their estate, Kisielin, was briefly the capital of Polish Arianism.

The ancestor of the family, Kadjan Czaplic (an addition to the surname “Szpanowski”), though Eastern Orthodox, was a sympathizer with Arianism. In the 1560s he shielded and supported the Orthodox monks, Teodor Kosy and Ignatius, who because of their rejection of the Trinity, the New Testament, and the divinity of Christ, were called “Judaizers” and expelled from 16th-century Moscow. He often had religious discussions with his friend Prince Andrew Kurbski: Kurbski was a defender of Eastern Orthodoxy, while Czaplic rejected the authority of tradition, called for a liberal interpretation of the Bible, and praised Martin Luther. They once nearly came to blows when Kurbski called Luther a “false prophet.” Despite his sympathy for antitrinitarians, Czaplic remained officially Eastern Orthodox until his death.

Kadjan’s nephew or son, Jan Czaplic (d. 1604), Castellan of Luck and later of Kijow (Kiev), became an ardent Arian and protector of the “Polish Brethren” (the name used by Polish Arians to describe themselves) on his estates. In 1599 he was chosen by the Protestant senators to defend the political rights of Polish dyssydents (a term that embraced Lutherans, Calvinists, and Arians). After his death, no other senator worked to shield Polish Arians from the Counter-Reformation until after Gabriel Hojski became Castellan of Kijow.

Although Eastern Orthodox, Teodor Czaplic (d.1611), son of Kadjan, inherited some of his father’s Arian connections and sent his sons to the Arian Academy in Rakow (Racovia). Under the influence of the school they became Arians. In 1612, following the death of their father, brothers Jerzy (d.1649) and Marcin (d.1637) founded Arian congregations on their respective estates, Kisielin and Beresko. Since they were only eight kilometers apart, the churches were served by a single pastor and shared a school. The first minister of these congregations, beginning in 1615, was Mateusz Twardochleb (d.1643). He was aided, from 1631 on, by Jakub Ryniewicz. The school, with buildings on both estates, was run by Eustachy Gizel, 1634-38. Kisielin soon overshadowed Berseko as a center of Arianism.

The Czaplic brothers were leading exponents of Arianism in Poland. They took part in many Arian synods. In 1612 they signed a petition, urging (though to no avail) Polish Calvinists to unite with Arians. In 1623 they pledged 200 florins to buy a new printing press for the Brethren and in 1634, following anti-Protestant riots in Lublin, they donated a considerable sum to bail out imprisoned Calvinists and Arians. Jerzy encouraged the Brethren to settle in Kisielin.

According to historian Stanislaw Lubieniecki, all of the inhabitants of Kisielin were Arian, though the records show that the city had a substantial Jewish community as well. Indeed, thanks to artful persuasion, the congregation at Kisielin was made up not only of local nobles-the Iwanickis, Arciszewskis, Lubienieckis, Falibowskis, Orzechowskis etc.-but also of artisans and peasants. The Roman Catholics later claimed that the nobles bribed the peasants to embrace Arianism by reducing their obligation to work in the Czaplic fields. Kisielin also attracted Arian refugees from Germany and France. The position of Arians in Kisielin was so strong, according to Catholic sources, that some of them beat a Catholic tailor to death for defending his religion.

Despite growing intolerance towards the Polish Brethren, the Kisielin-Beresko churches, like Arianism throughout Wolyn, blossomed in the 1630s. Their numbers were increased by the closure of the church and school in Hoszcza, 1635/39, and the demise of the Raków Academy in 1638. In the latter year the Czaplic family hosted a gathering of Arian nobility which appealed to the Calvinist prince Krzysztof Radziwill for help and defense. Arian synods, with attendance in the thousands, were convened in Kisielin, 1638-40. The 1638 synod meeting moved the Brethren’s school and academy from Rakow to Kisielin. The school was enlarged and thrived under Piotr Stegmann, 1638-40; Teodor Simonius, 1640; and Louis Hollaisen, 1640-44. A special faculty was established to train future Arian clergy. In the 1620s and 30s the Czaplic family founded other Arian congregations in Szpanów, Milostów and Haliczany.

In 1640 the Roman Catholic Bishop of Luck, Andrzej Gembicki, took Jerzy Czaplic and his nephews to court for supporting and aiding the Raków professors and ministers. He claimed that the Kisielin Academy was a continuation of the one closed in Rakow. The ministers and school directors were named as co-defendants. Because of the gathering storm, in 1641 the Arian synod moved elsewhere. In 1644 the Polish Supreme Court (Trybunal Koronny) ruled against the Czaplics, ordering Jerzy to close and tear down the church and school, expel the Arians from his estates, and deliver the ministers and teachers to the court. As Czaplic ignored the ruling, in 1645 the court fined him for contempt. In that year, the teachers of the Kisielin school and its ministers fled. The school and church continued on a smaller scale, with new ministers and teachers. One of the ministers at Kisielin-Beresko, 1644-48, was Andrzej Wiszowaty (1608-1678).

Czaplic appealed the Supreme Court decision to his fellow nobles of Wolyn. He was extremely popular with them; they had elected him a local deputy judge and often called him to negotiate land disputes. The nobles sided with him and called for the Diet to revoke the decisions as unjust persecution. Although a partial annulment of the verdict was won in 1647, the following year Czaplic was charged with the destruction of a crucifix, the same charge which a decade earlier had been used to close the church and school in Rakow. Czaplic died before the case came to court.

Despite their reputation for tolerance, Arians sometimes thoughtlessly brought these desecration lawsuits upon themselves: in 1646 Andrzej Czaplic of Beresko was sued for aiding another Arian, Jan Strzemeski, who had converted an Orthodox church on one of his estates into a pig farm and kept his hunting hounds there.

Jerzy Czaplic married a lady from the Arian Taszycki family. They had at least two children: Alexandra who married the Arian theologian Samuel Przypkowski and a son Alexander. Marcin Czaplic married the Arian, Katarzyna Sieniuta, and helped to convert his brother-in-law Pawel Krzysztof Sieniuta to Arianism. Marcin had three sons: Alexander, Andrzej and Adam Czaplic, who all married Arian noblewomen, creating a tight-knit community of Arian nobility in Wolyn. His daughter Teodora Czaplicowna married Tobiasz Iwanicki, the last Arian Member of the Diet, who in 1658 tried in vain to overturn the law banishing Arians. Marcin’s son Alexander (d.c.1660), owner of Beresko, was a Member of the Diet, 1638 and 1645, and sponsored Andrzej Wiszowaty as minister on his estates. In 1632 he was part of the Arian delegation to the Dutch Remonstrants, to discuss union of the two faiths. He is often confused with his cousin and namesake.

It was probably the Alexander Czaplic (d.c.1664), son of Jerzy and Taszycka, who in 1631, as part of a group of Unitarian nobles from Ukraine and Wolyn, studied in the Netherlands. In Amsterdam he met fellow Arian Krzysztof Arciszewski who urged him to emigrate to Dutch Brazil and establish a Arian colony there. He also visited England and Hamburg where in 1632 he met Hugo Grotius. The group later also studied at the Sorbonne. Upon returning to Poland, Czaplic was sent to a magnate’s court to make a career for himself. He married Arian Dorota Rupniowska. Together with his father, Alexander was the patron of the Kisielin congregation, though his initially minor role can be inferred from the fact that he was not named by the Catholic authorities in the lawsuit of 1640. In 1646 he joined the Diet, where he sought redress for the grievances of the Orthodox and Arians and to tried quash court decisions against them. In 1648 he was fined for insulting the Virgin Mary, and assaulting a Catholic who tried to stop him.

After the Chmielnicki rising in 1648 and the death of his father in 1649, in an ever more dangerous and hostile political environment, Czaplic continued to maintain an Arian congregation and school in Kisielin. Initially a supporter of ex-Jesuit king Jan II Kazimierz Vasa, he was later disillusioned by his fanaticism. In 1655, during the “Swedish Deluge,” like most Unitarians, he took the side of the Swedish king Charles X Gustavus. As punishment for treason, King Jan Kazimierz gave Czaplic’s estates to a Catholic, who sold it to another who seized Kisielin and closed down the Arian church and school. Later in the war, Czaplic returned to the fold of the king. His fellow nobles successfully petitioned the king to restore his properties, which in 1659 he recaptured for himself. Despite the 1658 act of the Diet mandating the conversion or expulsion of the Arians, Czaplic reinstated Arian worship in Kisielin. He there demonstrated his aversion to Catholicism by destroying a crucifix.

In 1660, shortly after the time set for the proscribed Arians to leave Poland, Czaplic departed Kisielin. According to some sources, his peasants bid him farewell “not with a cry, but with a howl.” His cousins from Beresko, Andrzej and Adam Czaplic, also left, though nothing more is known of them. Before leaving, they all sold most of their estates to their cousin Marcjan Czaplic who, because he had converted to Catholicism, could stay in Poland. Alexander joined his son-in-law in East Prussia, where he died. According to his son-in-law he was very popular with his fellow nobles who used to say that “the whole of Wolyn did not have such an illustrious man as Czaplic.” His daughter Zofia (d.c.1700) married the Arian poet and refugee Zbigniew Morsztyn (d.1689).

After 1660 the congregation in Kisielin dispersed. Some converted to Catholicism. A substantial group, led by the last minister Jan Demianowicz and Tobiasz Iwanicki, emigrated to Transylvania. They settled in Koloszwar (modern Cluj, in Romania) and founded a Polish Unitarian congregation (dissolved in 1784). Its records, the book of the Kisielin-Beresko church, survive to this day. The Arian church building in Kisielin, converted into a Roman Catholic church, was burned down during the First World War.


Short and slightly outdated biographical sketches of Jan, Jerzy, Kadjan, and Alexander Czaplic- Szpanowski (in which he is confused with his cousin and namesake) may be found in volume 4 of Polski Slownik Biograficzny (1938). The issue of Arianism in Wolyn and Podole was dealt with in O. Lewickij, “Socynianie na Rusi” in Reformacja w Polsce, vol. 2 (1922), A. Kossowski, Zarys dziejow protestantyzmu na Wolyniu w XVI-XVII wieku (1933), and J. Tazbir, “Antytrynitaryzm na ziemiach ukrainskich w XVII wieku” in Z Polskich Studiów Slawistycznych (1972). An English translation of the article by Lewickij titled “Socinianism in Poland and South-West Rus” may be found in Annals of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the US, vol. 3 (1953). The Kisielin church was described in detail by J. Tazbir in “Kisielinsko-berski zbór Braci Polskich” in Przeglad Historyczny, vol.57 (1966). The same author also published extensively on the topic of Polish Unitarian churches in Transylvania Bracia Polscy w Siedmiogrodzie 1660-1784 (1964). A list of Arian churches sponsored by the Czaplic family may be found in H. Merczyng, Zbory i senatorowie protestanccy w dawnej Polsce (1904). An interesting and extensive article about the reception of Reformation ideals by the Ruthenian nobility has been published by M. Liedke “Szlachta ruska Wielkiego Ksiestwa Litewskiego a reformacja” in Bialoruskie Zeszyty Historyczne, vol. 18 and 19 (2002).

Article by Kazimierz Bem
Posted June 13, 2005