Paris “Kultura” logo 26 May 2017
TOPICS
Kultura, Christianity, and the Church
Roman Graczyk
The second issue of Kultura contained a seminal article by Wacław Zbyszewski that mapped out the journal’s – and Jerzy Giedroyc’s – standpoint towards Christianity and the Church over the next half century. Zbyszewski’s article “Poland and the Catholic World” took as its main thesis that it is primarily religion that shapes the life of nations. He writes: “I hold the view that the only revolutions that are deep and lasting are religious revolutions. All others, after a lapse of time, prove superficial and transient. England has been formed by a thousand years of Catholicism, then by its national church, Anglicanism, then by Puritanism, and finally by religious fragmentation. The Bolshevik revolution, although atheist, bore all the hallmarks of a religious revolution. On the other hand, the current sovietization of Poland, unless it can reach into what people really believe, will be only a passing episode in the struggle for power – and in spite of everything will not fundamentally alter our national character, nor our temperament, nor the things we hold dear.” 
 
Developing his thesis, Zbyszewski maintains that it is thanks to Western Christianity that certain concepts took deep root in Poland, concepts – unknown in the Christian East – such as the rule of law, autonomy of the Church, individual conscience, freedom of the individual, and the rejection of absolutist government. At the same time, he argues, the great medieval disputes and heresies passed Poland by: our Catholicism matured almost entirely under the influence of the Counter-Reformation, and then identified itself with the idea of nationhood – hence the concept of the “Catholic-Pole”. Additionally, in the conflict with Russia and Orthodoxy, Polish Catholicism concentrated, maybe too much, on liturgical form and abandoned theological questions.
 
It is therefore this Catholicism that is the bulwark of Polishness, and it is rather thanks to it, than to any political ideas (such as those espoused by the Polish Peasant Party), that Poland will survive this Bolshevik onslaught. However “if in the long run Catholicism is to be truly reborn in our country, and not just avoid annihilation, if we desire a true Catholic renaissance – as in the 17th century – we should understand that an enormous effort awaits us, and in a time less distant that we may think” [1].
 
These two parallel ideas – of the enormous importance of Catholicism for Poland, and of the weaknesses within its Polish expression – inform Kultura’s journalism right up to the death of its founder and the journal’s closure. 
 
Within this half-century of journalism, six big questions or issues, can be distinguished. These relate to the norms of Polish public life and how they are respected by the Church; questions of Polish identity and Catholic identity; the links between the Church and European civilization; the historical and contemporary role of the papacy, and, after 1979,  an appraisal of the pontificate of John Paul II; and finally, the Church’s role in the defence of Poles against communism.  
 
The Church and norms of public life
Jerzy Giedroyc believed in the concept of the state and had a great understanding of the structures underlying the life of the state, whatever its geopolitical form (pre-war Poland, the government-in-exile, non-governmental émigré institutions, and finally the current Third Republic). He valued Christianity, but from the standpoint not of a believer (throughout his adult life he was indifferent towards religion), but as one who cares for Poland and – as far as was possible – for the condition of Polish statehood. Above all, he judged the Church from the perspective of what is good for Poland. These views were most fully expressed during the first years of the Third Republic, and we have them in the monthly “Editor’s Notes” he began writing in 1994. Here were frequent warnings against what he saw as the excessive (and unconstitutional) influence of the Church on public life; he was particularly irritated by the status and role of the Bishop of the Armed Forces Leszek Sławoj Głódź. He drew attention to, and opposed, the financial privileges enjoyed by the Church. His unease about the Vatican’s Eastern policy had started during the pontificate of Paul VI – at first he feared that the fate of local churches would become subordinate to good relations with Moscow, then, after 1989, he feared that the Church’s missionary ambitions in former Soviet republics would ricochet back onto Poland and damage its interests. And he inveighed against the Church’s aims of attaining privileged status in many areas of public life (he was unfavourably disposed to the Concordat of 1993) that he saw as attempts to establish a confessional state. 
 
Polish identity and Catholic identity
This issue leads straight to the concept of the Catholic-Pole. Inasmuch as its existence within the Polish tradition was for the Kultura milieu a straightforward undeniable fact, so its survival into the latter half of the 20th century was for them an intellectual challenge and a source of moral unease. Since a Catholic-Pole is a Pole who is at the same time a Catholic, as a concept, it excludes all Polish non-Catholics. In a letter that Czesław Miłosz wrote to Giedroyc shortly after receiving his Nobel Prize in Literature, he says: “I am really not cut out to be a promoter of Polish nationalism, yet this is being thrust upon me – it doesn’t even enter the heads of all those who ask me for autographs or write me letters that one can be someone other than a Catholic-Pole. ...We undoubtedly must remain in contact and exchange views on this, so that the very thing that you represent, and which Kultura has represented for so many years, this alternative Poland, won’t be squandered and go to ruin” [2]. 
Kultura’s unwillingness to comprehend Polishness in terms of the Catholic-Pole had implications for its standpoints towards national minorities within Poland, towards the nations bordering us to the east – this being Giedroyc’s real hobby horse – and towards ecumenism. 
Giedroyc unceasingly held that Poland’s raison d’état demands that it should maintain the most cordial possible relations with Lithuanians, Ukrainians and Belarussians, so that once the geopolitical situation allows for it, Poland should conduct its foreign policy in co-operation with them – only this would best guarantee Poland’s national security. It almost goes without saying that such aims cannot be realized without the support of the Catholic hierarchy. The foremost writer on these matters in Kultura was Dominik Morawski [3].
These political choices had their echo in Kultura’s position on ecumenism: aiming to influence Vatican policy, it consistently argued for co-operation between Catholics and Orthodox Christians, and between Roman and Greek-rite Catholics. Most active in this field was Antoni Pospieszalski [4].
 
Christian civilisation and the secularisation of the West
Zbyszewski’s 1947 article had laid a solid foundation for Kultura, taking up the thesis that Christianity provided the framework on which European civilization was built. This was reinforced strongly by the 1951 article tellingly titled “An Outline Democratic Manifesto”. It had been written by Fr. Józef Maria Bocheński OP, but – as Giedroyc underlined on many occasions – it had been adopted by the whole Kultura editorial team as its own manifesto. It is a programmatic text, essentially devoted to uncovering the principles underlying the democratic and anti-totalitarian convictions that pervaded this milieu. Bocheński reasons that these convictions take their origin not from Marxism – as was the then modish view generally held in the West – but from Christianity [5]. 
There is, however, no conflict between acknowledging the fundamental role of Christianity in shaping European civilization, and accepting the processes of secularization taking effect in Europe over the past few centuries. Moreover, Kultura journalists saw the secular state as the proper institutional framework within which people of diverse religions and worldviews can co-exist in harmony. It was from this perspective that Kultura analysed the doctrine and pastoral practice of the Universal Church. Here again, the most telling voice was that of Antoni Pospieszalski.
The Papacy in general, and the pontificate of John Paul II in particular
Kultura assiduously followed events in the Church, such as the fate of theological reformers (e.g. Hans Kung and Eugen Drewermann), pastoral strategies (e.g. the new evangelization), and definitions of doctrine (e.g. encyclicals). For decades, most articles on religious or Church matters were published in a column tellingly entitled: “On Religion, Unannointed”. In fact, what was written here was very different from what was being written about religion and the Church in the Catholic press in Poland – for criticism was stated openly, but in a very different vein to Poland’s lay (communist) press, since religion was not treated like an anachronistic survival from a feudal age, nor the Church as a barrier to progress. The writing was competent, penetrating and free of any pro- or anti-Church stance. 
Kultura was essentially sympathetic to attempts to open Christianity to the values of the secularized Western world. Going further, Antoni Pospieszalski wrote that secularization is, in part, proof of how the Christian ethical viewpoint has taken root in lay societies [6]. Kultura journalists wrote with sympathetic understanding of Church reformers, and of dissident movements such as Wir sind die Kirche (We Are Church) [7]. They were less accommodating to Catholic doctrine, which was accused of failing to value the good that exists in the secularized world [8].
In particular, the pontificate of John Paul II was evaluated critically. Notwithstanding the Pope’s contribution to the battle with communism (of which more below), Karol Wojtyła was regarded as a conservative, over-imbued with the habits of a typical Polish bishop from behind the Iron Curtain, with an inadequate understanding of the West [9]. 
 
The Church as a bulwark against communism
Kultura gave due credit to the Church for its role in the battle against communism [10]. But that being said, the journal also noted that the Church hierarchy from time to time adopted a conciliatory policy – and criticised it – whether in the Solidarity era [11], or after the declaration of Martial Law [12]. With time, relatively few positive opinions about the Church’s political line on communism appeared in the journal [13]. 
Certainly, Jerzy Giedroyc viewed the Church as an ally in disarming communist ideology, and then in the destruction of the communist system. However, he also noted the involvement of senior churchmen in contacts – and sometimes their excessive familiarity – with dignitaries of the People’s Republic. Hence the critical tone. 
***
 
The standpoint of the Maisons-Laffitte journal on religious and Church matters was certainly singular.  Naturally, it was different from that of the Polish communist press. But it was also different from the position of the Polish Catholic press, as it felt empowered to criticise openly. And it was different again from the position of the lay press (now free of censorship) after 1989, for in criticising the Church, it was not at the same time pursuing any hidden agendas. 
 
 
[1] Wacław A. Zbyszewski, “Polska a świat katolicki” (Poland and the Catholic World), Kultura 2–3/1947.
[2] Jerzy Giedroyc, Czesław Miłosz, Listy (Letters) 1973-2000, Czytelnik, Archiwum Kultury 12, editor: Marek Kornat, letter of 15 January 1981, underlining in the text by Miłosz, pp. 305–8.
[3] see: Dominik Morawski, “Lux ex Oriente, Notatki z podróży na Ukrainę” (Notes from A Journey to Ukraine), Kultura 9/1992; idem, “Wojna w rodzinie katolickiej, zgrzyty polsko-ukraińskie” (War in The Catholic Family, Polish-Ukrainian Friction), Kultura, 3/1994.
[4] Antoni Pospieszalski, “Katolicy, prawosławni, unici i inni” (Catholics, Orthodox, Uniates and Others), Kultura 10/1990; idem, “Religijna zimna wojna” (Religious Cold War), Kultura 11/1991.
[5] J.M. Bocheński OP, “Zarys manifestu demokratycznego” (An Outline Democratic Manifesto), Kultura 9/1951.
[6] see Antoni Pospieszalski, “Refleksje na czasie” (Well-timed Reflections), Kultura 1–2/1990; idem „Kilka myśli o przyszłości chrześcijaństwa” (A Few Thoughts on the Future of Christianity), Kultura 4/1996.
[7] e.g. Antoni Pospieszalski, “Kościół żywy” (The Living Church), Kultura 3/1996.
[8] e.g. Bernhard Haering, “Brak zaufania, który rani” (A Wounding Loss of Trust), Kultura 12/1993.
[9] e.g. Antoni Pospieszalski, “Bunt teologów” (The Revolt of the Theologians), Kultura 5/1989.
[10] see Redakcja (Editorial), “Zakończona próba” (The Trial Period is Over), Kultura 5/1954.
[11] see Redakcja (Editorial), “Polski sierpień” (The Polish August), Kultura, 10/1980.
[12] Redakcja (Editorial), “Trudny i drażliwy problem” (A Difficult and Irritating Problem), Kultura 3/1982; Redakcja (Editorial), “Obserwatorium” (The Observatory), Kultura 3/1984; Redakcja (Editorial), Dialog (Dialogue), Kultura, 5/1984.
[13] see Jan Józef Lipski, “O wizycie papieża” (On the Pope’s Visit), Kultura 9/1987.
 

 

 

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