Carolomachia by Laurentius Boierus as an Example of Counter-Reformation Creativity

Laurentius Boierus (~1561–1619) was a Jesuit of Swedish origin. In 1604 he was granted the title of professor in Vilnius University, where he taught poetics, rhetoric, mathematics and theology.   Laurentius Boierus wrote in Latin. His most outstanding piece of work is a heroic poem Carolomachia. The name itself, derived from the name Charles and ancient Greek word machē (fight, battle) means “Battle of Charles.” The plural form entails the Swedish King,  Commander-in-Chief Charles IX Vasa and the Lithuanian Great Hetman, Elder of Samogitia, and Livonian Governor Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, known as a military leader, who (27 September 1605) crushed a three times more numerous, well-armed Swedish army during the Battle of Kirchholm, with the troops of merely 40 000 Lithuanian warriors.

A versed source of authentic events and historical titbits

The poem in Latin is of considerable volume and was created quite fast. The printing-house of Vilnius Academy released it in 1606. On the title page, the name of Laurentius Boierus is not to be found. Instead, we see the name of the Academy student Krzysztof Zawisza, following the prevailing tradition of those days. Professors were not supposed to be involved in versification of literature. Furthermore, ethical considerations must have also been considered. It was hardly appropriate for an author of Swedish origin to revel in the crushing defeat suffered by the Swedish army. Krzysztof Zawisza seems to have only been allowed to write a dedication. The poem is dedicated to Wladyslaw Vasa, an 11-year old prince at the time. The reason of such a dedication could be that it would have been impudent to dedicate the poem created by a student to the King himself.

In the poem, the reader is acquainted with an abundant unique authentic knowledge both about the activities conducted during the 1600–1605 war with Sweden and specifically about the Battle of Kirchholm. Due to this reason Carolomachia is up to now regarded as a valuable and credible factographic source even by professional historians.

The poem is interesting from different points of view. Side by side with impressive and detailed descriptions of battles the reader can find spectacular Brogue images of Livonia ravaged by war (for example, a description of corpses being eaten by the locals due to famine) and an entire gallery of literary portraits describing participants of the Battle of Kirchholm (both local and Swedes). Jan Karol Chodkiewicz (fig.5) is portrayed as an absolutely positive and ideal military leader, whereas the Swedish King Charles IX Vasa is depicted with open hatred. He is an obviously negative character, regarded by the author as a usurper, having illegally gained the throne inherited by Sigismund III Vasa.

One should also mention a colourful and dramatic female character in the poem, presented by the author in a negative light. This is the Christina, Queen of Sweden, portrayed as a power-hungry woman, fond of manipulating her husband.

Religious education against the background of historical battle

Carolomachia is a striking example of counter-reformation creative work. The Jesuit Laurentius Boierus was an ardent proponent of Catholic Reform and Counter-reformation (Catholic Reform means an internal renewal movement inside the Catholic Church which started after the Ecumenical Council of Trent, whereas Counter-Reformation was a direct fight against Protestantism). The main character of the poem, Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, in real life was a devout Catholic. He was famous among his contemporaries for his piety and generous donations to the Church.

In the poem Carolomachia, the piety of the Lithuanian military leader is highlighted as the main trait of his personality. The reader is provided insights into the following story: on the eve of the crucial battle the troops under his command were praying for as many as forty hours, Chodkiewicz himself prayed for seven hours without a break. A significant part of the text in the poem is made of the main character’s prayers, which are “retold” by the author. Furthermore, there is emphasis on Chodkiewicz’s modesty, which derives from a firm belief that everything happens for a reason and is predetermined by God’s will only, whereas man is merely the executor of God’s will and is God’s tool on Earth. Man, therefore, has no right to take credit even for the most astounding accomplishments.

Protestants disagreed with Catholics on many issues.

Laurentius Boierus was well aware that complicated theological issues could hardly be discussed in a literary work composed for a specific historical occasion. To avoid all seriousness, he highlighted the moments which could be easily understood by the public at large.

To illustrate the point, Protestantism rejected the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary, therefore the author of Carolomachia did his best to embed it in the readers’ mind at every appropriate opportunity. Mary is described as a caring patron, righteous defender and saviour. In several instances, the interventions of the Mother of God are depicted, which predetermined the course of history. The episode of her miraculous appearance as a sign of the future victory is also included in the poem. In yet another episode, Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, standing in front of Mary‘s statue, makes the following promise: “You shall stand adorned with silver from my war trophies, / If you choose to help me I will cast you from gold.” It should be noted the Catholic custom to richly adorn the images of Mary and the Saints invited particularly sharp criticism from the Protestants.

How “The Battle of Carls” became interconfessional struggle

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Veneration of the saints, their images and relics was regarded by Evangelists as “the new idolatry” and was strongly condemned by them. On the other hand, Counter-Reformation Catholic Church did its best to foster manifestations of such worship in all possible ways. There is an impressive scene in the poem Carolomachia, depicting a Swedish warrior who is inflicted a “heavenly punishment:” a cannon ball dismembers his arm, the same arm which he once used to cut off the arm of St. George’s statue. In this place, the author uses three rhetorical exclamations to declare that the saints keep watching people’s lives and impose severe punishment on those who despise or offend them.

Resolutions of the Trent Ecumenical Council called for a strengthening of sacred cults of local origin.

The author’s efforts to strictly follow these instructions are very obvious in the poem. The care of St. Stanislaus and St. Casimir is several times mentioned by the hero of the poem Jan Karol Chodkiewicz; he also pledges to hang trophy flags in “St. Stanislaus’ chapel,” i.e. the Vilnius Cathedral. In the end of this literary work, the victorious celebration in Vilnius is described; with the public performance staged for this purpose. The main actors leading the Lithuanian troops to the battle are the two above mentioned saints. Just a couple of years before the appearance of the poem Carolomachia (1604), huge celebrations were held in Vilnius in honour of prince Casimir’s canonization (St. Casimir’s recognition as a saint).

Lastly, even the war against Sweden is treated by Laurentius Boierus as the fight of “true faith” against “heresy” (Lutheranism was proclaimed Swedish state religion in 1593). Thus, in the poem composed by the Jesuit author, Jan Karol Chodkiewicz’s victory against Swedes becomes proof of God’s approval of Catholicism.

Literature: Laurencijus Bojeris, Karolomachija, iš lot. k. vertė Benediktas Kazlauskas, Vilnius: Vaga, 1992.

Eglė Patiejūnienė