John a Lasco, Jan Łaski in Polish, descended from wealthy Polish nobility. As a boy, he was educated by his uncle Jan Łaski the Elder, Archbishop of Gniezno, and head of the Polish church. A Lasco grew up in Krakow, studied in Italy and, even before his return to Poland in 1519, received his first benefice, granting him a high income. In 1521, a Lasco was ordained and appointed as royal secretary. He became the dean of the episcopal church of his uncle in Gniezno.
"Erasmus introduced me to true religion for the first time"
In 1523, a Lasco met Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich and visited Erasmus of Rotterdam in Basel. The Humanist Erasmus impressed young a Lasco very much, so that he moved into his house in 1525 and lived with him for half a year. In a letter to Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli's successor in Zurich, a Lasco wrote: “Erasmus made me engage myself in theology, indeed, he introduced me to true religion for the first time.” A Lasco bought the library of the “Christian Humanist”, which, after the death of Erasmus, was sent to him, stored in three barrels.
A Lasco had to leave Basel when his uncle called him to a diplomatic mission in Italy. However, the project became unnecessary and he returned to Poland in 1526, where he was promoted to become provost in Gniezno. With great passion he continued his studies of Humanism. A Lasco sent messengers to Russia, making them search for lost Greek manuscripts in libraries.
End of the church career in Poland
In 1527, a Lasco, together with his brother Hieronymus, rushed into an adventure in the international political scene. As a diplomat, he participated for ten years in the fight over the succession on the Hungarian throne – at first against Hapsburg, then on his side. This conflict depleted the finances of the a Lasco family, caused the relationship between John a Lasco and the pacifist Erasmus to cool down, and ended his church career in Poland. He was not offered the much-desired position as a bishop.
New challenges were waiting for him: in 1537, a Lasco travelled first to Leipzig to Philipp Melanchton, and then to Leuven, together with the Dutch monk and theologian Albert Hardenberg. There, he got in touch with Protestant circles and was the first Polish cleric who got married. When the news of his marriage reached Poland, his income from his church offices was withdrawn. A Lasco had to flee from the inquisition and went to Emden, which was outside of the Hapsburg territory. After his next attempt to promote the Reformation in the Polish church had been unsuccessful, a Lasco accepted countess Anna's offer to become superintendent of East Friesland in 1542.
Establishing parishes in East Friesland and London
A Lasco began to order the churches of East Friesland and to clearly separate the parishes from the monasteries and the anabaptist communities. He had altars and pictures removed from the churches and founded the Coetus (assembly) of the preachers of East Friesland. However, no unity was found amongst these Protestant ministers with regards to questions about the Holy Supper, and the Coetus was transformed into an assembly of Reformed ministers only, which exists until today.
During the course of the Augsburg Interim after the military defeat of the Protestants in the Schmalkaldic War, the Protestants were only allowed the marriage of priests and the use of the chalice for laypeople. The reformed faith was not acknowledged. In 1549, a Lasco had to leave Emden and became superintendent of the Strangers' Church in London. There, he wrote the London Form and Rationale, the main work of his theology. Integrating Calvin's notions, he gave shape to community welfare and installed an “office of the tables for the needy”.
Flight from the persecution of Protestants in England
When the persecution of Protestants in England began under Mary I., a Lasco and 170 of his parishioners fled by ship to Denmark, where they were denied refuge because they were not willing to accept the Lutheran church order. A Lasco therefore travelled back to Emden, where the political situation had relaxed in the meantime and where, in 1553, he found friendly acceptance again. In 1554, the “Small Emden Catechism” was published by a Lasco and the preacher Gellius Faber from Emden.
In 1555, a Lasco left Emden for good. For a short time he worked in Frankfurt. But in Germany, after the Augsburg religious peace, he was unable to come to an agreement with the Lutherans over the question of the Lord's Supper. A Lasco returned to Pinczów in Poland, from where he promoted the spreading and strengthening of Protestantism. However, Poland remained a predominantly Catholic country. In 1560, John a Lasco died in Pinczów.