1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Skarga, Piotr

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SKARGA, PIOTR (1532-1612), Polish writer and reformer, was born at Grojec near Warsaw in 1532. He was a member of the noble Pawenski family, but his pseudonym of Skarga (from “skarga” a “complaint” or “accusation”) speedily superseded his real name. Educated at Grojec and Cracow, he began life as a tutor to the family of Andrew Tenczynski, castellan of Cracow, and, some years later, after a visit to Vienna, took orders, and from 1563 was attached to the cathedral church of Lemberg. His oratory was so successful that he determined to become a missionary-preacher among the people, in order the better to combat the social and political evils of the day. By way of preparation he studied theology in Italy from 1568 to 1570, and finally entered the Society of Jesus. On his return he preached successively at Pultusk, Jaroslaw and Plock under the powerful protection of Queen Anne Jagielonika. During a subsequent mission to Lithuania he converted numerous noble families, including the Radziwills, and held for some years the rectorship of the Jesuit Academy at Wilna, where he composed his Lives of the Saints. In 1384 he was transferred to the new Jesuit College at Cracow. He was protected by the valiant Stephen Báthory, and the first act of the pious Sigismund III., on ascending the Polish throne, was to make Skarga his court preacher, an office he held for twenty-four years (1588-1611). With perfect fearlessness and piercing eloquence, he rebuked the sloth, the avarice, and the lawlessness of the diets which were doing their best to make government in Poland impossible. Sometimes, as for instance during the insurrection of Zebrzydowski, Skarga intervened personally in politics, and on the side of order and decency, for his loyalty to the crown was as unquestionable as his devotion to the Church. Wearied out at last, he begged to be relieved of his office of preacher, quitted the court, and resided for the last few months of his life at Cracow, where he died on the 27th of September 1612.

The most important of his works are: Lives of the Saints (Wilna, 1579, 27th edition, 1884); Sermons on Sundays and Saints' Days (1st ed., Cracow, 1595, Latin ed., Cracow, 1691); Sermons preached before the Diet (last and best edition, Cracow, 1904) and numerous other volumes of sermons, some of which have already run through thirty editions. Of less importance are his very numerous polemical works, though his famous book On the Unity of the Church of God (ist edition, Wilna, 1577) directed against the dissenters, especially the Greek Orthodox schismatics, will always have an historical interest.

See Izydor Dzieduszycki, Peter Skarga and his Age. (Pol.) (Cracow, 1850-1851). (R. N. B.)