Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Kirche Und Staat Im Kommunistischen Polen, 1945-1989

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Kirche Und Staat Im Kommunistischen Polen, 1945-1989

Article excerpt

Kirche und Staat im kommunistischen Polen, 1945-1989. By Jan Siedlarz. (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schoningh. 1996. Pp. 416. DM 52,- paperback.)

This book capably summarizes most of what we already knew about the relations of church and state in Poland during its phase of Communist dictatorship. Although the author, a Polish priest and theologian, has little to say that is original, what he does tell the reader is informative, well documented, and unexceptionable, including his assertion of the importance of his topic as a crucial element in the collapse of Communism in his homeland, and perhaps, by extension, in much of the rest of Central Europe as well.

After noting the depth of Poland's Christian heritage and the venerable association of Catholicism with Polish identity and patriotism, Father Siedlarz recites a detailed account of his subject according to the formula that has become standard among those observers inclined to celebrate the ultimate success of the Polish Church in its dramatic forty-five-year struggle against totalitarianism. After seizing the reins of government at the end of World War II, the Polish Communist regime strove to extirpate religion and break the Church, driven by ideology and thirst for unchecked power.The Church weathered this assault, largely owing to the astute and courageous leadership of Cardinal Wyszynski, leaving the ruling clique no choice but to coexist grudgingly with its ecclesiastical rival and even to seek common ground in certain limited respects.Through it all, the Church consistently upheld Christian truths and values, especially an insistence on the subjectivity of man. The author stresses, with justice, that this was a religious message, not overtly political, but under the circumstances it amounted to much the same thing, as everyone understood. The unimpeachable integrity of the Church lent it unmatched prestige and authority among the great majority of Poles and contributed to a noteworthy surge of religiosity in the country that culminated in the astonishing election of a Polish pope in 1978. Now in effect operating from the Vatican, the Polish Church picked its way cautiously through the last decade of the Cold War, encouraging and instructing the Poles, supporting Solidarity in its infancy, and succoring a stricken nation through the rigors of martial law, but never severing lines of communication with the increasingly frustrated and isolated Party. …

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