- Faith and Fatherland. Catholicism, Modernity, and Poland by Brian Porter-Szűcs
Perhaps no other modern national identity is so intertwined with Catholicism as the Polish. During the dark years of statelessness (1795–1918) and of post-World War II communism, one touchstone for Poles was their Catholic faith and heritage. At least, so runs the traditional story. Brian Porter-Szücs aims to complicate this easy equivalency, in particular the facile assumption that Polish nationalists were also fervent Catholic believers. In the end, however, this book does not so much reject the link between Catholicism and the Polish nation as provide a more profound, historically informed, and sophisticated understanding of this complicated relationship. For anyone interested in the history of Catholicism in East-Central Europe or in Polish history, this fine volume is essential reading.
Rather than proceed chronologically, Porter-Szűcs chose to structure his arguments topically. Starting with chapters on the fundamental theological issues of “The Church and Sin,” he proceeds to the relations between the Church/faithful and the modern world in chapters on “Modernity,” “The Person and Society,” and “Politics.” Specifically addressing the interplay between Polish national consciousness and national movements among Poles are chapters titled “The Nation Penitent” [End Page 164] and “Ecclesia Militans” (the latter being an oft-used self-description by Polish-Catholic enthusiasts). The final three chapters probe into Polish-Catholic relations with Jews, relations between nation and faith, and finally the very specific role of the Virgin Mary in Polish Catholicism. Taken as a whole, the book provides great insight into the importance of Catholicism for Poles in the later nineteenth and twentieth century, even to the present day.
The author uses a wide variety of sources, mainly published ones, ranging from periodicals (in particular, a number of Polish Catholic journals) and books to the writings of Karol Wojtyła both before and after he became Pope John Paul II in 1978. Indeed, it may well be that the widely misunderstood pontiff—all too often simply dismissed as “conservative” in the West—may have sparked Porter-Szűcs’s interest in the complicated relationship between modernity and the Catholic Church in the Polish case. Porter-Szűcs writes as a historian, not as a believer, but his careful and sympathetic analysis will appeal to a very broad readership. One hopes that this book will soon be published in Polish as well.
To conclude, Brian Porter-Szűcs has written an important book on the interaction among Catholicism, the Polish nation, modernity, and politics in the broadest sense of the word. The issues examined in this book are not just “history” but remain vital for understanding Poland not just in the past but also in the twentyfirst century. Written in a clear, appealing style, this book may be recommended to anyone interested in the relationship among belief, the Church, and the modern world. It is also, of course, required reading for anyone interested in Poland in the past century or present day.