Piotr Skarga (real name Piotr Powęski; 1536–1612) was a Polish Jesuit, preacher, hagiographer, polemicist, and leading figure of the Counter-reformation in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He was called the "Polish Bossuet" because of his oratorical abilities.
He was born February 2, 1536 in Grójec, to a family of lesser landless gentry. There he was raised and started his education at a local parochial school before moving to Kraków, where in 1552 he joined the Kraków Academy. He began life as a tutor to the family of Andrzej Tęczyński, castellan of Kraków, and, some years later, after a visit to Vienna, took orders, and from 1563 was attached to the cathedral church of Lwów. His oratory was so successful that he determined to become a missionary-preacher among the people, in order better to combat the social and political evils of the day. By way of preparation he studied theology in Italy from 1568 to 1570, and finally entered the Society of Jesus. On his return he preached successively at Pułtusk, Jarosław, and Płock under the powerful protection of Queen Anna Jagiellon. During a subsequent mission to Lithuania he converted numerous noble families, including the Radziwills.
He became the first rector of the Vilnius Academy in 1579, where he wrote the Lives of the Saints (Żywoty świętych), which is still popular reading today. In 1584 he was transferred to the new Jesuit College at Kraków, and in 1588 he became court preacher to King Sigismund III Vasa (a position he would hold until 1611), and thus sometimes preached to the Sejm (parliament). The nobility (Polish: szlachta) ascribed to him a great (and baleful: he advocated strong royal authority) influence on King Sigismund. He died September 27, 1612 and was buried in St. Peter and Paul church in Kraków.
Skarga is remembered by Poles as a vigorous early advocate of reforms to the Polish-Lithuanian polity and as a critic of the Commonwealth's governing classes. He advocated the strengthening of the monarch's power at the expense of Sejm, magnates and szlachta.
His name "Skarga", which in Polish means, "accusation", is likely because of this career as a reformer and critic. The loose translation of his name would therefore be "Peter the Accuser".
He established or enlarged many Catholic charitable societies and Jesuit schools.
Janusz Tazbir, writing in 1978, noted that "there already is an extensive literature on Skarga". This he attributed to Skarga being the most famous figure in the Polish counter-reformation; to his reform proposals, that while controversial during his times, have gained renown during the times of partitions of Poland and have been well regarded since. He also notes that Skarga's writings are reviewed primarily for their valor with regards to political and socio-economic reforms, and not because of their theological content.
- Lives of the Saints (Żywoty świętych, 1579, 8 editions in his lifetime).
- Sejm Sermons (Kazania sejmowe, 1597, published posthumously).
- Soldiers' Devotions (Żołnierskie nabożeństwo, 1618).
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Skarga, Piotr". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- "Nasz Patron - ks. Piotr Skarga". Stowarzyszenie Kultury Chrześcijańskiej im. Ks. Piotra Skargi (in Polish). piotrskarga.pl. 2007. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
- "Piotr Skarga (Polish Jesuit)". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
- "Rusza proces beatyfikacyjny ks. Skargi" (in Polish). wiara.pl. 2007. Retrieved June 12, 2013.
- Tazbir, Janusz (1978). Piotr Skarga, Szermierz kontrreformacji. Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo "Wiedza Powszechna". pp. 5–6.
- Tazbir, Janusz (1978). Piotr Skarga, Szermierz kontrreformacji. Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo "Wiedza Powszechna".
- "Peter Skarga". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- Short note on Jesuits portraits
- Żywoty Świętych Starego y nowego zakonu, na każdy dzień przez cały Rok, Kraków 1603 at Opolska Biblioteka Cyfrowa