Remembering Kazimierz Łyszczyński

On 30th March 1689, “De Non-Existentia Dei” was burnt and Kazimierz Łyszczyński was executed. The event took place on the old market place of Warsaw, and it remained in public memory as one of those dark blood stains on the history of the Catholic Church that three centuries could not wash away. Exactly 325 years later, on 30th March 2014, Kazimierz Łyszczyński’s execution was recreated as a play on the historic site of Warsaw’s old market place. 

Kazimierz Łyszczyński lived in the 17th century. He was a noble man, landowner and high ranking soldier in the army of one of Poland’s most powerful princely families. A former Jesuit himself, he became a judge in legal cases against the Jesuits concerning estates. After studying philosophy for eight years, Kazimierz came to the conclusion that god did not exist, but was a creation of men only. And he had a clear idea about the purpose behind the creation: “Simple folk are cheated by the more cunning with the fabrication of God for their own oppression”. Consequently and fearlessly, he wrote a treatise with the title “De Non-Existentia Dei” (about the non-existence of god) – a book that could have halted the Catholic Church’s march to dominance in Poland, if it had been read by enough people. But it had not. Perhaps the opus was only seen by a handful of readers altogether. These men, however, understood its explosive contents only too well: they were bishops. And they decided that this book was so convincing that it had to be wiped out from history before it was too late – together with its author.

On 30th March 1689, “De Non-Existentia Dei” was burnt and Kazimierz Łyszczyński was executed. The event took place on the old market place of Warsaw, and it remained in public memory as one of those dark blood stains on the history of the Catholic Church that three centuries could not wash away. Bishop Zaluski of Warsaw, who played a leading role in murder plot, described how it had been done:

“After recantation the culprit was conducted to the scaffold, where the executioner tore with a burning iron the tongue and the mouth, with which he had been cruel against God; after which his hands, the instruments of the abominable production, were burnt at a slow fire, the sacrilegious paper was thrown into the flames; finally himself, that monster of his century, this deicide was thrown into the expiatory flames; expiatory if such a crime may be atoned for.”

Exactly 325 years later, on 30th March 2014, Kazimierz Łyszczyński’s execution was recreated as a play on the historic site of Warsaw’s old market place. Once again, a colorful execution procession marched through the narrow streets of the old city, taking the same original route. There were about hundred people, dressed up as bishops, clergymen, butchers, grocers and farmers in seventeenth century attires. Led by a crucifix carrier and a couple of bible-reading bishops with magnificent chimeras and miters, they moved to the beat of a muffled drum that seemed to sound straight from the middle ages. Kazimierz, wrapped in a gunny sack and carrying an oversized copy of his incriminated book, was paraded to the scaffold. The reading of the indictment, written on a roll of parchment, the pronouncement of the judgment and the appearance of the red-hooted executioner – the recreation was both marvelous and bloodcurdling. There was silence once the execution scene began. Many onlookers witnessing the event held their breath as Kazimierz’ tongue was torn. Tears run down cheeks as his hands were cut off, and after the final beheading, there was stunning silence. Then, after minutes that felt like hours, Kazimierz was “resurrected”. He stood slowly up, prompting many in the audience to heave a sigh of relief. The spell was broken.

Kazimierz Łyszczyński was played by Jan Marek Hartman, philosophy professor and bioethicist at Jagiellonian University Krakow. Director of the play was Jan Roszka, retired professor of architecture, who had personally created all authentic period costumes and properties with great passion for detail. Jan Marek Hartman briefly narrated the story of the martyr and underlined just how systematically critical thinking was silenced by the Catholic Church. The historic play had been performed in the presence of two international guests of honor, who both have first-hand experience of religious harassment: Sanal Edamaruku and Mariam Namazie.

In a speech held after the play, Sanal Edamaruku emphasized that the intolerance of the Catholic Church against knowledge and critical thinking has still not ended though centuries have passed since Kazinierz’s time. The modern Inquisition is not in a position to publicly execute and burn critics at the stakes as civilization has moved forward and curtailed the old forms of persecution. However, the bishops had always excelled in moving with the times and finding new ways to persecute. As a case in point, Sanal referred to his own story. He is facing persecution for scientifically explaining the “miracle” of the crying Jesus in Mumbai as plumber’s fault and identifying toilet drainage as the water source for the statue’s ‘tears’. “The Catholic Church is the old chameleon,” he said, “that only changes its colors from time to time.”

Marian Namazie, an Iranian atheist living in London, pointed out that there were striking parallels between religious institutions in power. In Islamic countries, atheists are still executed just as they were executed by the Catholic Church earlier, she said. Instigating the brutal extinction of critics in an attempt to get back their old absolute powers is a common strategy. The church had been weakened in Europe and it’s high time for Islam to loosen its hard grip on Islamic countries too.

On the day of the memorial to mark Kazimierz’s execution, the old market place was filled with people, many of them carrying banners with names of atheists of our times: “Richard Dawkins atheiste” was written on one, “Paul Mc Cartney”, “Bruce Lee”, “Alfred Nobel” on others. “Gabriel Narutowicz”, the Polish President who was assassinated in 1922 also had a banner.

“Today, Kazimierz Łyszczyński has resurrected,” said Sanal Edamaruku to great applause. “May the day come where all the martyrs and victims of the Catholic Church resurrect! Remembering those persecuted in the past we have to stand up and defend those being persecuted around the world now.”

“It is our responsibility to break all prisons and scaffolds and defend atheists across the globe against the heinous crimes of religion!” said Mariam Namazie.

Zenon Kalafaticz

Poland, December 1, 2015

Remembering Kazimierz Łyszczyński

Łyszczyński-znaczek
Picture above: Kazimierz memorial stamp by Belarus – Kazimierz was born in Łyszczyce, now in Belarus

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