1. Polonia Restituta: The Catholic Church and the Revival of Poland
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1 | || Polonia Restituta The Catholic Church and the Revival of Poland The formal resumption of Polish statehood in modern times began in church. On February 9, 1919, not quite three months after its inception , the government of the fledgling Second Polish Republic marked the convocation of its first parliament, or Sejm, in Warsaw with an inaugural Roman Catholic high mass, reviving the custom of the bygone commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania before its partition and subjection to foreign rule for a century and a quarter. In its form and dramatis personae, this ceremony vividly asserted the prominence of the Roman confession in national life and tradition, as well as its intimate association with the temporal power. At the hour of eleven that Sunday morning, Chief of State Józef Piłsudski entered the crowded nave of St. John Cathedral, thus sparing himself the sight of the incongruous nineteenth-century facade that defaced the Gothic antiquity of this oldest church of the capital. He began a procession down the aisle toward the altar, followed in turn by the prime minister, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, and his cabinet; the papal emissary to the country, Monsignor Achille Ratti, who would become pope himself three years later almost to the day; the assembled Catholic hierarchs of restored Poland; and finally the celebrant, the archbishop of Warsaw, Aleksander Kakowski. The solemnities reached their emotional peak when the lawmakers heard a patriotic sermon from one of their own, the Armenian-rite archbishop of Lwów Józef Teodorowicz, the most senior of thirty-two deputies who wore the collar, one-twelfth of the membership of the body. A noted homilist of the hellfire school and never a man given to understatement, to put it delicately, Teodorowicz reminded his audience of their duty to God and country with characteristic vehemence, his words laden with gravity and drama. On this momentous occasion, the speaker surpassed even his own impressive standards of fiery rhetoric, and sympathetic listeners afterwards described the prelate’s oratory as magnificent, divinely inspired. Even some political foes paid grudging tribute to his eloquence, barbed with not altogether complimentary comparisons with Piotr Skarga, the legendary Jesuit royal preacher who had harangued a previous Sejm in the heyday of Poland-Lithuania. As a final flourish, at the close of his exhortation Teodorowicz administered to the legislators their oaths of office in unison. When the liturgy ended, the congregation sang the national hymn “Boże coś Polskę”—“God, protector of Poland”—and then the freshly minted deputies emptied out of the cathedral to walk the length of Krakowskie Przedmieście and New World streets, amid cheering throngs, to the parliament building off of Three Crosses Square. There, later in the day, the primate of Poland, Archbishop Edmund Dalbor of Gniezno-Poznań, consecrated the chamber in the presence of the same collection of ranking worldly dignitaries.1 In its symbolic union of church and state, this set piece of official pageantry neatly echoed the litany of historical axioms that commentators habitually cited—and cite to this day, for that matter—to prove the indomitable Catholicity of the Poles throughout the ages and the natural affinity of Catholicism with Polish patriotism: the conventional dating of the origins of Poland from its baptism in 966, the status of the Catholic primate as interrex in Poland-Lithuania, the miracles of the icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, the veneration of the Blessed Virgin as perpetual queen and patroness of Poland, the reputation of the old republic as the easternmost rampart of western Christendom against Turk, Tatar, and schismatic. Indeed, the famous Roman religiosity of Poland was the main thing—in not a few cases, practically the only thing—that many foreigners knew of the country or its people, and so they tended not to subject the time-honored legend of Polonia semper fidelis to rigorous examination. In reporting his initial impression from Warsaw to his superiors at the Vatican Secretariat of State, even the scholarly and matter-of-fact Monsignor Ratti intoned the truism “Dire polacco è dire cattolico”—to say Polish is to say Catholic—and plainly meant it, and only closer acquaintance with the subtleties of his new assignment would teach him not to accept the formula at face value.2 Small wonder, then, that observers more distant assumed the truth of the stereotype and took for granted the Catholic nature of the Second Republic and its readiness to serve the aims of the Church at home and abroad, whether they...


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Subject Headings

  • Church and state -- Poland -- History -- 20th century.
  • Catholic Church -- Poland -- Bishops -- History -- 20th century.
  • Poland -- Foreign relations -- Catholic Church.
  • Catholic Church -- Foreign relations -- Poland.
  • Secularism -- Poland -- History -- 20th century.
  • Poland -- Church history -- 20th century.
  • Poland -- Politics and government -- 1918-1945.
  • Piłsudski, Józef, 1867-1935.
  • Catholic Church -- Poland -- History -- 20th century.
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