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Polemical literature

Image - A page from Khrystofor Filalet's Apokrisis published by the Ostrih Press in 1598.

Polemical literature. Publicistic and literary writings on religious and church issues and on national politics. In Ukraine and Belarus polemical literature dates back to the religious denominational struggles of the 16th and 17th centuries, especially those in conjunction with the 1596 Church Union of Berestia, but also those that were part of the general European processes of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. Polemical writings were written in Old Ukrainian and in Old Polish, rarely in Church Slavonic. The stormy religious and political polemics were initiated by the Polish Jesuits Piotr Skarga and Benedykt Herbest, who harshly criticized the institutional and spiritual ‘vices’ of the Orthodox church. In O jedności kościoła Bożego pod jednym pasterzem (On the Unity of God's Church under One Shepherd, 1577) Skarga outlined the ideological basis and the program of a church union. In response the Orthodox published Herasym Smotrytsky's book (1587), which was composed of two treatises, ‘Kliuch tsarstva nebesnoho ...’ (The Key to the Heavenly Kingdom ...) and ‘Kalendar rymskyi novyi’ (The New Roman Calendar). Also written in reply was V. Surazky's Knyzhytsia u shosty viddilakh: O edynoi ystynnoi pravoslavnoi viri (A Book in Six Parts: On the Only True and Orthodox Faith, 1588). Those works defended the dogmas of the Eastern church and simultaneously criticized Catholic teachings, the deeds of the Roman popes, and the new Gregorian calendar. Along with the Ostroh polemicists (see Ostroh Academy), Ivan Vyshensky, the most outstanding publicist in Ukrainian literature, stepped into the fray against the Catholics. Another active Orthodox polemicist was Stepan Zyzanii, who was the author of the Malyi katekhizys (The Short Catechism, 1596) and other polemical works.

The development of polemical literature was notably influenced by the letters and epistles of Prince Kostiantyn Vasyl Ostrozky, who opposed the church union. Ipatii Potii, a leading Uniate polemicist, wrote many theological and polemical works, including the well-known Antiryzis (Antidiscourse), published in Vilnius in Old Ukrainian in 1599 and in Polish in 1600. Further polemics between the Catholics and the Orthodox were sparked by the publication of Piotr Skarga's treatise ‘Synod brzeski i jego obrona’ (The Berestia Synod and Its Defense, 1596), published after the Uniate synod in Berestia (see Church Union of Berestia) and translated and published by Potii in Old Ukrainian in 1597. The writings of Potii also played a significant role. The Orthodox replied to the attack with a series of writings, the more important of which are the brochure ‘Ekthesis’ (1597), about the Orthodox Synod in Berestia; Apokrisis (1597), purportedly written by the Protestant M. Broniewski under the pseudonym Khrystofor Filalet; ‘Otpys na lyst ... Potiia’ (Reply to the Letter ... of Potii, 1598–9) by Ostrozkyi Kliryk; the anonymous pamphlet Perestoroha (A Warning, ca 1606); the theological and polemical lecture Palinodiia, written by Zakhariia Kopystensky in 1621; and the pamphlet Antidot ... (Antidote ..., 1629) by Andrii Muzhylovsky.

Meletii Smotrytsky, the author of Trenos ... (Threnody ..., 1610) and other polemical treatises, played a prominent role. He first directed his polemics against the Catholics (the Uniates) but then changed his allegiance to the Uniate church, in 1627, and figured prominently once again as the author of several treatises against the Orthodox. On the side of the Uniates were Lev Krevza-Rzewuski, Yosyf Rutsky, and Antonii Atanasii Seliava, who polemicized against the Orthodox after the synods in Berestia. In the early 1640s, following a brief interval of peace, the polemical battle intensified owing to the appearance of the writings of Kasiian Sakovych, especially his treatise Epanorthosis, albo perspektiwa ... (Epanorthosis, or Perspectives ..., 1642). The Orthodox replied with ‘Lithos abo kamien ...’ (Litos, or Stone ..., 1644), of a collective authorship, although Petro Mohyla is regarded as its main author and initiator.

In the second half of the 17th century Orthodox and Uniate polemical literature took on a more theological nature and concerned itself with disagreements on matters of dogma or theology. A sharper tone characterizes the writings of the Vilnius Jesuit P. Boima, Stara wiara (The Old Faith, 1668), and the Uniate Teofil Rutka, Goliat swoim mieczem porażony ... (Goliath Wounded by His Own Sword ..., 1689). Orthodox writers replied in kind, particularly Lazar Baranovych, in his treatise Nowa miara starej wiary (A New Measure for the Old Faith, 1676), and Ioanikii Galiatovsky, who also initiated polemical writings concerned with Judaism and Islam (Łabędéz ... [The Swan ..., 1679] and Alkoran Machometów [The Muslims' Koran, 1683]). Putting aside the rancor of the polemicists, the harsh words, the rebukes and the slander, the manipulation of texts and facts to one's advantage, polemical literature produced a legacy of many fine works. The writings hold an important place in the church and political history of their period as well as in the history of Ukrainian literature.

Pamiatniki polemicheskoi literatury v Zapadnoi Rusi, 3 vols (Saint Petersburg 1878–1903), in the series Russkaia istoricheskaia biblioteka, vols 4, 7, 9
Zavitnevich, V. Palinodiia Zakharii Kopistenskogo i ee mesto v istorii zapadnorusskoi polemiki XVI i XVII vv. (Warsaw 1883)
Petrov, N. ‘Zapadnorusskie polemicheskie sochineniia XVI veka,’ Trudy Kievskoi dukhovnoi akademii, 1894, nos 2–4
Studyns’kyi, K. Pam'iatky polemichnoho pys’menstva kin. XVI i pochatku XVII v., vol 1 (Lviv 1906)
Vozniak, M. Istoriia ukraïns’koï literatury, vol 2 (Lviv 1921; repr The Hague–Paris 1970)
Vishenskii, I. Sochineniia (Moscow–Leningrad 1955)
Zahaiko, P. Ukraïns’ki pys’mennyky polemisty kintsia XVI–pochatku XVII st. v borot’bi proty Vatykanu i uniï (Kyiv 1957)
Vyshens’kyi, I. Tvory (Kyiv 1959)
Galiatovs’kyi, I. Kliuch rozuminnia (Kyiv 1985)
Ukraïns’ka literatura XVII st. (Kyiv 1987)

Miroslaw Ivanek, Ivan Korovytsky, Bohdan Kravtsiv

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]