Paweł Włodkowic , photo: kierunki.info.pl
The foundations for international law were set by a Polish clergyman, Paweł Wlodkowic in the fifteenth century. He was probably better known outside of Poland under his Latin name, Paulus Vladimiri.
He was born in 1370, in Brudzeń, Poland. He started his law studies at the age of fifteen in Prague, and received a bachelor’s degree in 1396. He was ordained in his diocese of Płock, Where he worked until 1404. Then he went to Italy to Continue his studies at the
University of Padua, Where he earned Lxcemtiate Diploma (1408) and Doctor (1411). When he returned to his own country, he taught law at the ]agiellonian University in Cracow and served as the curator of its cathedral.
In 1413 Wlodkowic represented Poland in Buda, Hungary, at the tribunal of the German Emperor under Zygmunt (Sigmund) of Luxemburg . In the same year, Włodkowic started legal work on the
invasions of Poland by the Teutonic Knights, and represented Poland with this topic at the Council of Constance (1414-1418). Its main purpose was an effort to solve a schism between rival popes in the Catholic Church, but it also ruled on a number of international issues brought by individual countries as members of the Church.
In 1415, Wlodkowic presented himself at that forum as a remarkable jurist. He expounded the main aspects of the problem between Poland and the Teutonic Knights. His speech Was comprised of twenty -six points, and asserted that the Teutonic Knights enjoyed undue privileges while their actions were in fact, against the Roman Catholic faith. Among other points, Wlodkowic made this one:
The army if the Teutonic Knights, contrary to its declaration about promulgating the faith, has assailed peaceful pagans… Although the Polish king had complained about the actions of the Teutonic Knights, and the Popes forbade them from organizing expeditions of war, they did not listen.
Wlodkowic ‘s arguments notwithstanding, however, the Council’s final decision was unfavorable for Poland. The Teutonic Knights were friendly with the Emperor of Luxembourg, and managed to persude the pope to align against Poland.
At the Council , Wlodkowic also presented ideas on the human rights of individuals, submitting an essay entitled Tractatus de potestate pape et imperatoris respectu infidelium (Oh the authority of the
pope and the emperor over over pagan peoples). In it, he contended that human freedom should not be destroyed by forced conversions to Christianity This idea was addressed to the Church as the sponsor of the Teutonic Knights, and to all nations and religious communities.
When Wlodkowic advocated the individual’s rights, he based his arguments on both the authorities acknowledged by contemporary science and on official Church teaching. He argued that within
human nature there existed a sense of solidarity with others apart from religion and national affiliation. Because of this, Włodkowic reasoned, nations should be allowed to unite voluntarily, and peace was
to be based on a just relationship among them.
Wlodkowic’s greatest contribution to international law Was his defense of non-Christian and pagan nations. He believed that all people should be ruled on the basis of natural law because all are
human. Therefore, he contended, nations which aspire to reign over others for religious reasons, do so against mankind. He saw no rationale for divesting a person of human freedom, and he expanded his
argument to include freedom which, he believed, must also exist between man and God. Włodkowic believed a sinner can return to God only by his own will, and he reasoned that if the conversion is a
result of force, it is not a true conversion. In conclusion, he defended the pagan’s conscience against. the converting conqueror.
Wlodkowic’s idea may have been too advanced for his time. The great Polish jurist died in 1435. In the sixteenth century, the principle by which the Western civilization ruled itself became cuius regio
eius religio – the religion of the ruler must be the religion of those being ruled.
Source: POLISH CHAMPIONS- Skeches in Human Dignity
Zbigniew Tyburski, 1997