A History of Polish Christianity

By Hetnal, Adam A. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2002 | Go to article overview

A History of Polish Christianity


Hetnal, Adam A., The Catholic Historical Review


A History of Polisb Christianity. By Jerzy Kloczowski. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2000. Pp. xxviii, 385.$69.95.)

Christianity in general and Roman Catholicism in particular have played an immense role in Polish history for over a millennium. Roman Catholicism has largely contributed to the shaping of the Polish national character. Nevertheless, for multiple reasons little was accomplished in the past to provide scholarly syntheses on Polish Christianity in all its rich diversity.

The historian who has devoted most of his professional attention to Christianity in Poland is Professor Jerzy Kloczowski, a scholar of international repute and a friend of Pope John Paul II. This distinguished scholar is currently director of the Institute of East-Central Europe. Prior to his retirement, he taught at the Catholic University of Lublin. He also served as a visiting professor in France and elsewhere. Kloczowski has been honored by various Polish and foreign institutions and has been awarded honorary degrees.

A History of Polish Christianity is a revised and extended translation of a work published in Polish in 1987, with a postscript relating to the post-1989 period. It has a foreword by Professor Christopher Brooke of Cambridge University. The gradual liberalization of the once staunchly antireligious Polish communist regime allowed limited research on Poland's Christianity. Kloczowski's 1987 synthesis was an indication of this trend.

Kloczowski's study, which has been provided with maps, illustrations, a bibliographical essay, a glossary of terms, a foreword, prefaces, and an index, is composed of eight chapters and the above-mentioned postscript. He deals with the foundation of Christianity in Poland, discusses its turning point in the thirteenth century, and examines its eastward expansion in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Subsequently, the author turns to the Reformation, the post-Tridentine Roman Catholic Church, the Polish Baroque and the Enlightenment, the Partitions of Poland-Lithuania in 1772-1795, the long foreign rule, and the twentieth century, and finally he reviews briefly Polish Christianity after 1989. The history of Polish Christianity is examined against the background of its European counterpart. Eastern and Western Christianity are analyzed, and Kloczowski also describes various denominations and other religions and dwells on the reasons for Poland-Lithuania remaining Roman Catholic.

The author shows how Christianity was introduced to Poland in the second half of the tenth century and how it gradually became firmly implanted in all the classes of Polish society. Subsequently, he demonstrates that, though there were many similarities between Latin Christianity in Poland and elsewhere, some specific features of Poland's Western Christianity came to play an important role. Finally, if initially the Poles were only the receivers, thus assimilating what was provided to them by more culturally and otherwise advanced regions, gradually, they also became contributors to various aspects of Latin Christianity, thus enriching it in several ways. The conversion of Lithuania, the largest country of Europe in 1386, spread Western Christianity considerably eastwards. Kloczowski stresses some specific features within early Polish Christianity. Polish fourteenth- and fifteenth-centuries scholars promoted the then very progressive idea that conversion to Christianity should not be accomplished by force and that the rights of non-Christians should be respected. Then, he points out, largely because of Poland's merger with Lithuania, Poland's Christianity underwent a deep evolution. In the multiethnic, multiracial and multireligious country, diversity had replaced uniformity after 1386. At a time of growing religious hatred following the Reformation, Poland-Lithuania remained for long an oasis of tolerance for many Jews and dissident Christians fleeing other parts of Europe. …

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