A Lasco, John

A Lasco, or Lasco, or Laski (John), usually styled the Polish reformer, a man of high rank, talents, and pious zeal, is said by Fox, the martyrologist, who was his contemporary, to have been uncle to Sigismond, king of Poland. He certainly was of a noble family in Poland, which took its name from Lasco, Latzki, or Latzeo, and subsisted under one of those titles long after his time. He was born, according to Saxius, in 1499, but we have no particulars respecting his family, unless that his brother Jerome was an able politician, and employed by the emperor Ferdinand, as his ambassador to the Turkish government. He had also an uncle, of the same name, who was archbishop of Gnesua, to whom Erasmus dedicated his edition of the works of St. Ambrose, and whom Le Clerc mistakes for our John Alasco. Erasmus in one of his epistles (ep. 862) mentions two others of the same illustrious family, Hieroslaus, and Stanislaus Alasco (usually written à Lasco); and in ep. 1167, he speaks of a John à Lasco (Joannes Lascanus), a young man, who died in Germany.

After receiving an education suitable to his birth and talents, his thirst for knowledge induced him to travel into various countries, where he acquired considerable distinction. In 1525 he was at Basil, lodging and boarding with Erasmus, and at the same time, which proves his high rank, he was the correspondent of Margaret, sister to Francis I. and queen of Navarre. Erasmus highly commends him wherever he has occasion to introduce his name, as we shall notice hereafter. Alasco probably chose to dwell with Erasmus, that he might improve in literature by having free access to him; and the biographer of Erasmus remarks that many of his friends were led by his conversation and writings to embrace the principles of Luther and the other reformers, although he himself did not go scrfar. While under the roof of this eminent scholar, Alasco appears to have contributed to keep up a liberal domestic establishment, which occasioned Erasmus to observe to him in a letter, that “his departure was unfortunate in many respects; for, omitting other matters, it cost him, some months labour to reduce the grand establishment, | Alasco had introduced, to the former frugal system pursued.

It appears by another letter from Erasmus to Pole, afterwards the celebrated cardinal, that Alasco left him to go to the university of Padua. “You will love him,” says Erasmus, “because he has all those qualities which make you amiable: noble extraction, high posts of honour, and still greater expectations, a wonderful genius, uncommon erudition, and all this without any pride. I have hitherto been happy in his company, and now lose it with great regret.” This letter is dated Basil, Oct. 4, 1525. His stay at Padua was probably short, as he went afterwards to Rome, and thence into Switzerland, where he became acquainted with Zuinglius, who, struck with his talents and amiable character, prevailed on him to examine more seriously the controversies of the times respecting religion. The result of this was his embracing Protestantism according to the tenets of the Geneva reformers, and with respect to the sacrament, he zealously adopted the opinion of Zuinglius. In 1526, he returned to Poland, where he was made provost of Gnesna and Lencziez, and was nominated bishop of Vesprim in Hungary. His family and connections would have added to these, but preferment in the popish church was no longer consistent with his principles; and after struggling with much opposition, he quitted the kingdom, with the knowledge and consent of the king, by whom, Lavater the historian says, he was much respected and frequently consulted.

He left Poland in 1540, fourteen years after he had returned from his travels, and during this long period we have very few particulars of his history, except that on the death of Erasmus in 1536, he generously offered an hundred pieces of gold to Froben and Episcopius, to assist them in publishing his works, and at this time he completed his purchase of Erasmus’s library, which he had contracted for in 1525, while under his roof. The agreement between them stated that, during Erasmus’s life, both should have the use of the books, but the property should be in Alasco and his heirs. The price was three hundred crowns of gold.

About the latter end of the year 1542, we find Alasco at Embden, where he took upon him the office of pastor, and preached constantly at a church in that town. In the following year he was engaged by Anne, countess dowager | of Oldenburg, in East Friesland, to introduce and establish the reformed religion in that territory. This he was pursuing with great success, when he was invited by Albert, duke of Prussia, to a similar undertaking; but as that prince was a zealous Lutheran in the article of th<e sacrament, and Alasco had candidly informed him of his strict adherence to the Zuinglian doctrine on the same subject, the engagement did not take place, and Alasco continued for some years, nearly in the same quarter, labouring to promote the reformation by assiduous preaching, lecturing, and exhortation.

When Germany became an unsafe residence for the friends of the reformatiou, and the contest respecting the interim was eagerly pursued, Alasco, whose fame had reached England, was invited thither by archbishop Cranmer. This illustrious founder of the English church had for some time afforded a quiet asylum to such learned foreigners as bad been expatriated on account of their religion; and had at one time residing at Lambeth palace, those celebrated reformers Bucer, Martyr, Fagius, Ochin, and others of inferior note. Alasco arrived accordingly about the year 1548, and was introduced not only to the archbishop, but by his means to sir John Cheke, sir William Cecil, and to the duke of Somerset, the protector. In a conference with the latter, he was encouraged to request that be and his congregation might have leave to come over to London, and be protected in the exercise of their religion; and he urged that such a favour would be a matter of policy as well as charity, as by this step many useful manufactures might be introduced into England. He requested also that they might be incorporated by the king’s jetters patent; and some old dissolved church, or monastery, given them as a place of worship. Having proposed these measures, and obtained the assistance of the archbishop and other friends of rank and power, to assist in forwarding them, he returned again to Embden, where be corresponded with the archbishop and Cecil, As soon as they informed him that his request would be complied with, he again came to England, and brought with him a considerable number of German Protestants, who found an asylum for their persons, and toleration for their principles, under the mild reign of Edward VI. Three hundred and eighty of these refugees were naturalized, and erected into a species of ecclesiastical corporation, | which was governed by its own laws, and enjoyed its own form of worship, although not exactly agreeing with that of the church of England. A place of worship in London, part of the once splendid priory of the Augustine friars, in the ward of Broad-street, which is still standing, was granted to them July 24, 1549, with the revenues belonging to it, for the subsistence of their ministers, who were either expressly nominated, or at least approved of by the king. His majesty also fixed the precise number of them, namely, four minisiers and a superintendant. This last office was conferred on Alasco, who, in the letters patent, is called a person of singular probity, and great learning; and it was an office which comprehended many important duties. It appears that as among the refugees from the Continent there were sometimes concealed papists, or dangerous enthusiasts, a power was given to Alasco to examine into their characters, and none were tolerated in the exercise of their religion but such as were protected by him. His office likewise extended not only over this particular congregation of Germans, but over all the other foreign churches in London, of which we find there was a French, a Spanish, and an Italian church or congregation; and over their schools and seminaries, all which were subject to his inspection, and declared to be within his jurisdiction. In 1552, we find him using his influence to procure for a member of the French church the king’s licence to set up a printing-house for printing the liturgy, &c. in French, for the use of the French islands (Jersey and Guernsey) under the English government.

It is to be regretted that a reception so hospitable, an establishment so munificent, and a toleration so complete, should not have induced this learned reformer to abate the zeal of controversy. But he had not enjoyed his new office long before he published a book against the church of England, her ritual, ecclesiastical habits, and the gesture of kneeling at the sacrament. It is an excuse, indeed, that he was requested by Edward VI. to write on some of these subjects; and it was probably owing to this circumstance, that no censure was passed en his book.

The reign of Edward VI. was short; and on the accession of his bigotted and remorseless sister, the reformation was overthrown; and those who chose to adhere to it soon saw that they must be consistent at the expence of their lives. At the commencement, however, of the Marian | tyranny, whether from a respect for Alasco’s illustrious family, or some regard for the rites of hospitality to those foreigners who had been invited into the country under the royal pledge of safety, Alasco and his congregation had the fair warning of a ' proclamation which ordered all foreigners to depart the realm, particularly heretics. Accordingly, about one hundred and seventy-five persons, consisting of Pules, Germans, French, Scotch, Italians, and Spaniards, belonging to the various congregations. under his superintendance, embarked in two ships, Sept. 17, 1553, with Alasco and his colleagues, and set sail for the coast of Denmark. Their reception here has been very differently represented. It has been said that, although known to be Protestants, yet because they professed the opinions of Zuinglius respecting the sacrament, they were not suffered to disembark, or to remain at anchor more than two days; during which their wives and children were prohibited from landing. Such is the account given by Melchior Adam, and by those who have followed him without examining other writers. According, however, to Hospinian, who may be the more easily credited as he was unfriendly to the Lutherans, it appears that the landing was not opposed, and that the Lutherans even admitted of a conference with Alasco and one of his colleagues, Micronius; but in the end, as neither party would give way, Alasco and his company were obliged to leave the kingdom in the depth of winter, and were refused admittance, with equal inhumanity, at Lubeck, Wismar, and Hamburgh. After 1 thus suffering almost incredible hardships at sea, during the whole of a very severe winter, they arrived in March, 1554, at Embden; and being received with kindness and hospitality, most of them settled there. Anne, countess dowager of Oldenburgh, again extended her friendship to Alasco, became the patroness of his flock, and procured them every comfort their situation required.

In 1555, Alasco went to Franckfort on the Maine, where he obtained leave of the senate to build a church for reformed strangers, and particularly for those of the Netherlands. While here, he wrote a defence of his conduct to Sigismond, king of Poland, against the aspersions of Joachim Westphale (one of the most violent controversial writers on the side of Luther), Bugenhagen, and others. In the same year, with the consent, if not at the desire of the duke of Wirtemberg, he maintained a disputation | against Brentius, then a Lutheran, upon the subject of the eucharist. The unfair representation Brentius published of this controversy, and the garbled account he gave of Alasco’s arguments, obliged the latter to publish an apology for himself and his church, in 1557; in which he proved that their doctrine did not militate with the Augsburgh confession concerning the presence of Christ in the supper; but that, if they had differed from that confession, it did not follow that they were to be condemned, provided they could justify their dissent from the holy scriptures. Westphale was yet more illiberal than Brentius in his censure of Alasco and his flock; and reviled them with a virulence that would have better become their professed persecutors.

After an absence of nearly twenty years, Alasco returned to his native country, where he was protected from the hostility of the ecclesiastics, by the king, who employed him in various important affairs; and when addressed by the popish clergy to remove him, answered that “he had indeed heard, that the bishops had pronounced him a heretic, but the senate of the kingdom had determined no such matter; that John Alasco was ready to prove himself untainted with heretical pravity, and sound in the Catholic faith.” This answer, however, so unfavourable to their remonstrances, did not prevent their more secret efforts to injure him; but we do not find that these were effectual, and he died in peace at Franckfort, Jan. 13, 1560, after a short illness. His piety, extensive learning, liberality, and benevolence, have been celebrated by all his contemporaries, and the bigoted part of the Lutherans were his only enemies; and even of these some could not bring any other accusation against him than that he differed from their opinion respecting the corporal presence in the sacrament; a subject which unfortunately split the early reformers into parties, when they should have united against the common enemy. We have already quoted Erasmus’s opinion of him when a very young man; and it may be added (from ep. iii. lib. 28.) that he pronounced him “young, but grave beyond his years; and that himself was huppy in his conversation and society, and even became better by it; having before him, in Alasco, a striking example of sobriety, moderation, modesty, and integrity.” In another letter he calls him, “a man of so amiable a disposition, that he should have | thought himself sufficiently happy in his single friendship.” Nor was Melanchthon less warm in his praise. On the accession of queen Elizabeth, although he did not return to England, he corresponded with her on affairs of the church; and according to Zanchius, had much influence both with her, and the leading ministers of her court. It may here be noticed that the congregation he had settled in Austin Friars were tolerated again under her reign, and that bishop Grindall was appointed superintendant of this foreign church, the last of whom we have any account as holding that office. The church is to this day vested in a congregation of Dutch Calvinistic protestants, and the library belonging to it contains a vast collection of the manuscript letters and memorials of the reformers, and particularly of Alasco, whose portrait was there before the fire of London.

Alasco was twice married: his first wife died in 1552, and the second survived him; he appears to have had children by both. It was probably a descendant of his, Albertus Alasco, who was most magnificently entertained by the university of Oxford in 1583, by special command of queen Elizabeth. “Such an entertainment it was,” says Wood, “that the like before or since was never made for one of his degree, costing the university, with the colleges, about c350. And, indeed, considering the worthiness of the person for whom it was chiefly made, could not be less. He was one tarn Marti quam Mercuric: a very good soldier, and a very good scholar, an admirable linguist, philosopher, and mathematician.

Of his works we have a catalogue in Melchior Adam, Verheiden, and others, but mostly without dates. His book on the sacrament, already noticed, bore this title: “Brevis et dilucida de Sacramentis ecclesiae Christi tractatio in qua fons ipse et ratio totius sacramentariae nostri temporis controversies, paucis exponitur,” Lond. 1552, 8vo. Together with this, says Strype, was bound up a tract entitled “Consensio mutua in re Sacramentaria ministrorum Tigurinae ecclesiae, et D. Jo. Calvini, ministri Genevensis ecclesiae, data Tiguri, Aug. 30, 1549.” The whole was introduced by an epistle dedicatory to king Edward, which Strype has given at large. It treats chiefly of the controversy respecting the habits, and was reprinted in 1633, when these matters were considered as of sufficient Importance to hazard the existence of church and state. | Of this work on the sacrament, an abridgement was afterwards published under the title “Epistola continens in se summam controversiæ de cœna Domini breviter explicatam.” His other works are: 1. “Confessio de nostra cum Christo Domino communione, et corporis item sui in coena exhibitione, ad ministros ecclesiarum Frisii orientalis.” 2. “Epistola ad Bremensis Ecclesiae ministros.” 3. “Contra Mennonem catabaptistarum prineipem.” 4. “De Recta Eccles arum instituendaruni ratione Epistolse tres,” 6. “Epistola ad regeni Polonise Sigismundum, &c. in qua doctrinae ministeni tidem, ac nominis sui existimationem, contra adversariorum calumnias vindicat.” 6. “Purgatio ministrorum in ecclesiis peregrinis Francofurti, qua demonstrat ipsorum doctrinam de Christ! domini in coena sua pncsentia non pugnare cum Augnstana confessione, ut adversarii eos accusabant.” 7. “Responsio ad virulentam, calumniisque et mendariis consarcinatam, Joachirri Westphali Epistolam, qua purgationem ecclesiarum peregrinarum Francofurti convellere conatur.” -8. “Forma ac ratio totius Ecclesiastici Ministeni Edwardi VI. in peregrinorum maxime Germanorum ecclesia.” He also published a form of prayer and religious service, used in the church at London, df which we find a notice of a translation from Latin into French, printed at London in 1556. 1


Melchior Adam.—Verheiden, Effigies, &c.—Lud. Lavater in hist. de ortu &c. controversiae sacramentariæ.—Sleiden in Comment.—Thuanus.—Hospinian Hist. Sacrament part 2, p. 224.—Gerdesius in Hist. Evangelii renovati, et Florileg. Libr. rar. p. 226, 230.—Freytag in Analectis Litterariis, p. 515, 516.—Strype’s Cranmer, p. 195, 234, 246, 261, 290, 317; App. 139, 141, 145.—Strype’s Annals, I. 119.—Strype’s Memorials, vol. II. 83, 224, 240, 241, 255, 374.; III. 330.—Strype’s Parker, 288.—Jortin’s Erasmus.—Burnet’s Hist. vol. II.—Records, p. 203.