Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Laski, John
LASKI, or À LASCO, JOHN (1499–1560), reformer, was born at the castle of Lask in Poland in 1499. His father, Jaroslaw, baron of Lask, who seems to have claimed descent from Henry de Lacy, third earl of Lincoln [q. v.] (cf. Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. x. 332), was successively tribune of Sieradz, palatine or vayvode of Leczyc, and vayvode of Sieradz, and died in 1523. His mother was Susanna of Bakova-Gora, of the family of Novina or Ptomicnczyk. John was the second of three sons, all afterwards famous. In 1510 his uncle, John Laski, primate of Poland, took the boys into his palace at Cracow to direct their education, and when, in March 1513, the archbishop set out for Rome to attend the Lateran council, he took John and his elder brother with him. Thence, about the end of 1514, the two boys were sent with their tutor, John Braniczky, to the university of Bologna, where they probably met Ulrich von Hutten. John remained at Bologna till Christmas 1517–18. His uncle looked after his interests, and in 1517 he became canon of Leczyc, on 30 Dec. 1517 coadjutor to the dean of Gnesen, and in 1518, after a judicious distribution of fourteen hundred gulden at Rome, custodian of Leczyc and canon of Cracow and Plock. In 1521 he was ordained priest and became dean of Gnesen.
In 1523 Laski and his two brothers travelled to Basle, where they met Erasmus. After a short visit to Paris John settled down at Basle for a year in Erasmus's house (end of 1524 to October 1525). He paid certain house expenses, three and a half gulden a month for his room, and bought the reversion to Erasmus's library for three hundred golden crowns (cf. D. Erasmi Epistolæ, ed. 1706, p. 891). He met Hardenberg, with Pellicanus and other reformers, at Basle, and when in October 1525 he returned to Poland, he had probably to some extent adopted their views. Though suspected of reforming tendencies, especially in 1534, he continued to hold and add to his benefices, even after the death of his uncle. He became Bishop of Vesprim in 1529, later provost of Gnesen, and on 21 March 1538 archdeacon of Warsaw. A few months later he declined King Sigismund's offer of the bishopric of Cujavia, and in the autumn probably of the same year (1538) he left Poland for Frankfort, lodging there in the same house as Hardenberg, and the two travelled together to Mayence, whence Laski left for the Netherlands.
In 1540 Laski settled at Emden in East Frisia. In 1542 he became pastor of a congregation in the town, with a general charge as superintendent over the surrounding district, and an official residence in the Franciscan friary. In this office Laski appeared as a reformer of the Swiss school. His views were extreme, especially in regard to the Sacrament, and he cleared his churches of what he held to be idols. Yet he was no favourer of the anabaptists, and had difficulties with Menno. The form of church government which he established was presbyterian, for which the Frisians were prepared by earlier customs of their own. In 1544 it was decided that four laymen from the congregation should assist the minister in the regulation of discipline. To Laski was due the cœtus, or assembly of ministers, which gathered at Emden once a week from Easter to Michaelmas, and examined into the life and doctrine of its members. For his congregation he prepared in 1546 his 'Catechismus Emdanus major.' This was used for some years, and superseded by the 'Heidelberg Catechism,' which was partly based upon it. In the spring of 1546 he ceased to be a superintendent, but remained a pastor. In 1547 he formed a friendship with Hooper (Hooper, Later Writings, Parker Soc. ix.), through whom, and through the foreign protestants who had settled in London, Laski became well known to protestant divines in England.
When in 1548 Cranmer began to scheme for a general reunion of the various protestant sects, he invited Laski to come to England to attend a public conference on this subject (cf. Cranmer, Works, Parker Soc., pp. 420–1). Laski arrived at the end of August 1548, and spent the winter at Lambeth. An order of council of 23 Feb. 1548–9 gave him 50l. (Acts of Privy Council, 1547–50, p. 244), and he left England for Emden in March 1549 (cf. Works, ii. 621). On the 22nd Latimer in a sermon said: 'Johannes Alasco was here, a great learned man, and as they say, a nobleman in his country, and is gone his way again: if it be for lack of entertainment, the more pity' (Works, i. 141; cf. Zurich Letters, iii. 61, 187; Cranmer, Works, p. 425). He returned to this country 13 May 1550, lived for some time at Lambeth (ib. p. 483), and on 24 July 1550 was appointed superintendent of the London church of foreign protestants, who included many of his Frisian congregation, and to whom the church of the Augustinian Friars was assigned by letters patent 24 July 1550 (cf. Luckock, Studies in the History of the Prayer Book, p. 67). In 1550 Laski took Hooper's side in the controversy as to vestments (Hooper, Later Writings, p. xiv; cf. Zurich Letters, iii. 95), and Hooper's attitude may be largely attributed to Laski's influence. He organised his church on the presbyterian model, and must be regarded as the founder of the presbyterian form of church government in this country. He still actively supported the extreme reformers in their long controversy with the Lutherans respecting the sacraments. In September 1550 Laski visited Bucer at Cambridge, and had a long discussion on religious matters. They differed on the question of the Real Presence. Bucer wrote down his opinion, and Laski prepared comments on Bucer's views, which were published in his 'Brevis et dilucida de Sacramentis Ecclesiæ Christi Tractatio,' London, 1552. On 6 Oct. 1551 Laski was appointed one of the divines on the commission for the revision of the ecclesiastical laws (Zurich Letters, iii. 678). The result of the commission's labours appeared later as the 'Reformatio Legum;' on 19 Nov. 1551 he received a present of one hundred French crowns (Acts of Privy Council, 1550–1552, p. 420). His influence at the court of Edward VI was great, and can be traced in the second prayer-book and in Cranmer's later views (cf. Gasquet and Bishop, Edward VI and the Book of Common Prayer, pp. 173, 230, 232; Cardwell, The Two Books of Common Prayer Compared, Pref.), but the production of his own liturgy seems to indicate that this influence was not as successful as he wished (cf. British Magazine, xv. 612, xvi. 127).
On 15 Sept. 1553 Laski embarked at Gravesend with 175 of his congregation (Zurich Letters, iii. 512) on his way to Poland. A storm drove the ship to Elsinore, and though the king of Denmark received Laski favourably, other influences prevailed, and they were driven away in midwinter. They had no better reception at Hamburg, Lübeck, and Rostock, but the main body found shelter at Danzig, while Laski managed to reach Emden and remained there for more than a year, chiefly through the intercession of the Countess Anna of Oldenburg. On 31 Dec. 1555 Laski was reported to be dangerously ill at Frankfort, where he remained during the first half of 1556. He employed himself in superintending the churches, holding a disputation with Velsius, and trying to promote a union between the Lutherans and his own party. He proceeded to Poland in December 1556. In February 1557, in company with Utenhovius, he went from Cracow to Wilna, where the king received him kindly and made him his secretary. Calvin wrote of Laski at this time that the only danger was that he might fail through too great an austerity (Henry, Calvin, ed. Stebbing, ii. 348). He preached regularly (Zurich Letters, iii. 600, 687–90), and took an active part in the synods of Ivanovitze in 1557 and Pinczow in 1558 (cf. Wallace, Anti-Trinitarian Biog. vol. ii. passim). He was one of the eighteen divines whose version of the Bible in Polish appeared in 1563. In March 1558 he left with Utenhovius for Prussia, but returned in October. He had the general superintendence of the reformed churches in Little Poland, a charge of great difficulty. Laski's object continued to be the union of the reformed churches, but as in London and Frankfort he found union impossible, although he prepared the way for the subsequent compromise at Sandomir. He died, after many months' illness, at Calish in Poland 13 Jan. 1560. His widow was left in poor circumstances. Laski married his first wife in 1539 at Louvain. She died in London in 1552. By her he seems to have had three sons, John, Jerome, and a third who died young, with a daughter, Barbara Ludovica. His second wife was Catherine, whom he married in London in August 1552. By her he had five children, of whom Samuel was a distinguished soldier. The Laski family afterwards became Roman catholic again. Albertus Laski, palatine of Siradz in Bohemia, probably a nephew of the reformer, visited England in 1583, and nearly ruined himself by searching for the philosopher's stone in partnership with John Dee [q.v.] and Edward Kelley [q.v.] (cf. Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. x. 332).
There is a full and careful account of Laski's writings, both published and in manuscript, in Kuyper's 'Joh. a Lasco Opera Omnia' (Amsterdam, 1866, 2 vols. 8vo). Those which relate to his connection with England are: 1. 'Epistola Joannis à Lasco ... continens in se Summam Controversiæ de Cœna Domini breviter explicatam,' London, 1551, written in 1545. There is a copy of this work in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. 2. 'Compendium Doctrinæ de vera unicaque Dei et Christi Ecclesia ... in qua Peregrinorum Ecclesia Londini instituta est ...,' London, Latin and Dutch, 1551; 2nd edit., Dutch version, 1553; 3rd edit., Dutch version, much altered, Emden, 1565. A copy of the first edition is preserved at Dublin, of the third at Utrecht. 3. 'Catechismus Emdanus major,' drawn up 1546, published London, 1551, Dutch and Latin preface by Utenhovius; other editions. 4. 'Brevis et dilucida de Sacramentis Ecclesiæ Christi Tractatio ...,' London, 1552; copy in the British Museum. 5. 'Brevis Fidei Exploratio,' written about 1550; editions published in 1553 (Dutch) and (with slightly varied title) 1558; a copy of the 1558 edition at Amsterdam. It appeared in Latin, London, 1555. 6. 'Forma ac Ratio tota Ecclesiastici Ministerii Edwardi VI, in Peregrinorum ... Ecclesia instituta Londini in Anglia ...,' the liturgy of the church in Austin Friars, printed for church use only in 1551, and later as a justification of Laski's methods, Frankfort-on-the-Maine, 1555; copies of the latter are in the British Museum, Trinity College, Dublin, and the Bodleian Library, Oxford.[Authorities quoted; Dalton's John à Lasco, trans. by Mr. J. Evans, for early life; Hessel's Ecclesiæ Londino-Batavæ Arch., passim; Moens's Reg. of the Dutch Church, Austin Friars; Krasinski's Sketch of the Reformation in Poland, i. chap. v., and Sketch of the Religious Hist. of the Slavonic Nations, chap. vii.; Herminjard's Corresp. des Réformateurs dans les pays de la langue Française; Dixon's Hist. of the Church of England, ii. 522, iii. 98, &c., iv. 43; Mosheim's Eccles. Hist. ii. 26; Schaff's Hist. of the Creeds, i. 565, 583; Lit. Remains of Edw. VI (Roxb. Club), pp. 48, &c.; Adrian Regenvolscius's (Andreas Wengierski) Systema Historico-Chronologicum, p. 409, &c.; Dan. Gerdes's Florilegium Historico-Criticum, ed. 1640, 8vo (list of works), and Hist. Reformationis, iii. 145, &c.; Erasmus's Letters, ed. 1642, pp. 779, &c., 794, 828, 831, 835, 1984; Kuyper's edition of Laski's Works.]