On April 14, 2016 Poland celebrated 1050-th anniversary of the baptism. For this occasion we present a critical note of the Polish christianity written by Leszek Jażdżewski, Editor in Chief of the “Liberté!” – liberal socio-political magazine. “This is our faith” was published in his internet blog of the weekly magazine “Polityka” – with the consent of the author and the magazine.
THIS IS OUR FAITH
In Poland Christianity has not been adopted. It is not that Poland has become a Christian, but Christianity – in a rather particular form – has been integrated into the Polish identity. A sudden, even though well familiar, with a pleasantly soft sound. The bell of an evangelical church from across the street is announcing the Mass at ten o’clock. After the Mass tea and cookies are often served there. The atmosphere reminds a picnic. Then a second bell starts to ring, then a third. Stronger, deeper, more assertive. These cathedral bells are calling for the high mass. If one day the illuminated rosette of the St. Matthew church and the slender cathedral tower, covered with a roof in light-green colour of patina disappeared, the landscape, with which I wake up and fall asleep, would seem crippled. In the picture: Lutheran Church of St. Matthew in Łódź.
Commonness of the external manifestations of the Christian religion and Christian rituals –celebration of Christmas, Easter, baptisms, church weddings and funerals, or even the calls for the enthronement of Christ as the King of Poland – should not be assumed as the evidence of the fact that Poles are a Christian nation. They are rather a nation that used Christianity to formulate their own, all non-Christian identity.
More important, in retrospect, for present spiritual formation of the Polish people is not nearly mythical baptism of the country (though without it we would share perhaps the fate of Western Slavs [living once in the lands of Eastern Germany – rg], whose only leftovers are unusual names in the former German Democratic Republic).
Contemporary fresco in the Cathedral of Gniezno / photo: Augun, Wikipedia
More important is the counter-reformation, and then the formation of the modern nation in terms of partitions [in the period between 1795 – 1918 Poland was incorporated into Russia, Prussia and Austria – rg] on the Catholic foundation. Catholicism in its specific national version was the factor which distinguished the “real” ethnic Poles from other people living in the lands of the former Rzeczpospolita (Republic of Gentry).
The Church provided the Poles – lacking their own state – with a replacement material for the foundation of the national identity. In a multicultural state [Second Republic – 1918-1939 – inhabited by about 30% of non-Poles, mainly Ukrainians, Jews, Belorussians and Jews – rg] it had to lead to the persecution of other nationalities. In the monocultural People’s Republic of Poland and the Third Republic a Polish man, who rejected the Christian staffage, deprived himself of the essential elements of identity, which in Poland constructed a community – which mainly consisted of the family extended with a circle of friends. We have created neither the state, nor the private symbols, which can allow us to effectively bring sense to our community without the holy tools.
Only 59% of Poles believe in hell, 33% believe in reincarnation and 42% believe that animals have souls. In the resurrection – the basic condition of being a Christian – believe only 66% of Poles. This does not change the fact that 95% consider themselves to be Catholics. A true manifestation of Polish Christianity is not the Easter “rebirth of Christ” but Easter Saturday “święconka” [a traditional basket filled with food and blessed by the priest in the church – rg] – eggs, white sausages, bread, salt, which are eaten at the beginning of the Easter Sunday morning breakfast. The commercialization of Christmas has been imposed on traditional Polish “consumerism” – a fasting feast and preparing food for at least one more week. Polish Christianity is a community of the table, not the religious meditation in the church. In the picture: święconka.
Of course, the most important Polish feast of all is the 100% pagan Souls’Day [1st November – rg] – legalized by the Church as the feast of the Christian martyrs – All Saints Day. Forced by the custom, but also by some strange internal imperative, we stand in traffic jams, squeeze frustrated at the cemetery gates. The glow of the candle lights transforms, for those few days, the cold concrete tombstones into spaces almost friendly, human. Death is reduced to a common ritual of cleaning, lighting candles, memories of the dead.
All Saints Day in Sanok / photo: Silar, Wikipedia, read also: The 1st November
As on All Souls Day we tame death, so for our own needs we have tamed Christianity. We have turned the revolutionary religion, requiring radical demands from its believers, into a familiar, domesticated version. With the morality of “what people will think”; patting formulas in the hope that this time the priest will not be telling blah blah blah in the sermon too long; with a sense of guilt when communion can’t be taken for various reasons (one of them for example is that we met the love of our life one wedding too late) so the believer is not in a state of “grace.” Like every community we need rituals. These rituals are provided in a convenient way by our “table Catholicism.”
Our Christianity is safe. Blesses the bride and the groom, demands participation in the Mass; demands to celebrate the priest; maintains social hierarchies, but as long as we keep appropriate appearances; does not force us to require too much from ourselves. First of all, it does not require making more than we are able, breaking our limitations and prejudices. “You lack one thing. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” – said Jesus, but the man who wanted to live virtuously, “frowned at these words and he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions “(Mk 10: 19-22).
If someone is bothered with reasonable doubt related to questioning the faith of the Polish, yet an extra Catholic nation, let us investigate the reactions to the call of Pope Francis to show Christian charity to those who seek refuge from death and persecution. In present Poland swarthy Mary with Joseph and the Child would be expelled from the stable. They could not even think of the manger and hay. They’d be finally Aliens. They’d be lucky if they escaped alive from the hands of the patrol of nationalists.
Our Christianity is not a Gospel, but an ironed shirt for a visit to the church. This is not the life with a sacrifice for others, but the baptism of the child by the parents religiously neutral (“because it is practiced”, “because Grandma will nag”). We called Christianity our daily, highly hypocritical morality (especially in the field of custom), controlled by a strong group of influence, more and more peeled from reality. It gives our harassment against incompatible individuals (gays, Muslims, “challenging” women) semblance of legitimacy in universal and eternal Truth.
Easter procession in Jelenia Góra / fot. Ewa Parma
In the cathedral a group of tourists is watching the church, a statue of John Paul II, the eternal flame of the torch in honor of the Unknown Soldier. The priest ends the story of the diocese with the words: “Thank you on behalf of the parish priest and invite you to tea.” The excursion is touched and curious.
I think to myself, what a great idea, it is such a simple, natural gesture which wins the hearts of people. Instead of looking at them from the heights of the altar, to go down, to be among them. Here’s the attitude worthy of a shepherd. Seeing the big impression of his words, the priest adds quickly: “Of course, only figuratively, the parish priest is very busy; the idea is that you can now go to tea on your own.” The world, out for a moment of the routine of the irreparable hierarchy, backs to normality.
The bells are ringing for the Angelus. Without these bells Poland would not be Poland.
This is our faith.
Published: April 22, 2016