POLISH CONTRIBUTION IN THE EUROPEAN HERITAGE
John Paul II called Homeland ‘a land of particularly responsible testimony’. It is a testimony towards the cross of Christ and His resurrection. It is a testimony of faith. And he saw Poles’ faith as ‘reality bustling with life’. In the Polish charism of faith there is trustfulness to God through Mary. It is our basic mission towards Europe and the world – said St. John Paul II and God’s servant cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. In contemporary apparitions of the Angel the Guard of Poland, having imprimatur of the Church in Poland, it is said: ‘God wants to make you the light among the darkness which overwhelmed Europe’. Is it mystification? No. God asks questions and gives demands to the man. He also does it towards nations, especially the baptized ones – as His children.
Poland – an anti-imperial country
Not only did Poland receive civilization and Christian culture from Europe, but it also gave Europe a lot. Poland belongs to countries of anti-imperial ideas. In XII century Wincenty Kadłubek was warning against using force in converting others into Christianity. The attitude affirming freedom has been visible particularly at the background of European history since XV century. It should be mentioned that in Western Europe at that time freedom of conscience did not exist even in the form of a project. It was different in Poland. At the Council in Constance in 1414 Paweł from Włodkowice, a rector of the Jagellonian University gave a speech in which he opposed to the Crusaders who were converting people into Christianity with using a sword. Poland rejected the Crusades’ rule of ‘apostolic prey’. During reformation in XVI the king of Poland Zygmunt August said a significant sentence: ‘I am not a king of your consciences’. Poland, unlike other Western countries, remained faithful to this way of thinking and acting. Affirmation of freedom is heritage which our country brought to Europe.
Poland was not invading countries but got joined with Lithuania with the Lublin Union, and as a result of the union, it got into a close relation with peoples on the line Lvov – Kiev through the Union of Brest in 1596. A political tool in our country was not violence and a sword but the union.
Whereas Europe of that time was strong absolutism, a model of ‘Governments under an iron hand’ and political pragmatism. Poland was ‘an island’ on the sea of Europe. From pragmatic Poland political ethos was doomed to a failure. But from the Christian vision it was a pioneer. We were a country open to everybody – regardless of ethnical, cultural or religious differences. This way, which Poland was taking consciously, was perceived by the greatest humanist of those times Erazm from Rotterdam. our history was the history of respect to other nations and peoples.
An American writer Louis E. van Norman wrote in 1907: ‘Combining Poland, Lithuania and Russia in 169 together was the first voluntary federation of countries in Europe. Poland was the guard of eastern gates of Europe. Poland did not demand a contribution, an army or money for defence of Europe from a wave of paganism or barbarians. Poland did not want any gratitude. So, proceeding of Europe towards Poland is one of historical crimes’. It should be reminded that at that time Poland did not exist on the map.
Poland showed Europe its particular love of freedom: this understanding and loving freedom orders Poles to fight for freedom on all frontiers of the world. ‘For the sake of your and our freedom’ – became the truth which is impossible to remove from our history. The routes of Christian civilization defence lead through the Field of Legnica where we were protecting Europe from the Mongols, where a prince Henryk Pobożny was killed in 1241; they lead through various places of battles with the Tatars and Turks throughout centuries. We were defending Christian Europe at Grunwald, Orsza, Kłuszyn, Kircholm, on the hill of Jasna Góra during the Swedish invasion. Europe was defended and protected from Islam by king Jan III Sobieski. In 1920 Poland was defending Europe from Bolshevik communism.
Poland was the first one in Europe to introduce a democratic Constitution of 3 May. It is when European imperialisms appeared strongly in Europe and in the world. Whereas in Poland there were reflections on how to create a democratic country and introduce the modern constitution. Although it happened a day before the collapse of our country, this event was somehow working for the sake of our independence.
Social justice in Poland was highly appreciated. King Jan Kazimierz vowed freeing peasants from serfdom. Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski and Fr. Piotr Skarga opted for improving life conditions of ‘lower social groups’. Even serfdom had a milder character in our country than in western countries.
An important date for Europe was Solidarity, which brought nations freedom, truth about the man and ‘a gospel about work’.
The ‘gospel about work’ was an achievement of Benedict’s way of thinking: ‘Ora et labora’- Pray and work. It was brought to life in Poland’s experiencing the 80s of the XX century. Human dignity was reminded from which the dignity of the man’s work result, as well as the idea of inter-human solidarity. Solidarity became a gift of Polish Christianity for the common European heritage. Its visible expression is the collapse of communism.
Cyprian K. NOrwid wrote: ‘As long as Poland is alive, doesn’t it not give anything to all categories of vital forces in Europe? …If It was not so – there would not be a right for existence but only a claim for existence, and no process of history’.
Poland has always fought for introducing moral principles in public, political and international life. Our political thought was constantly dealing with an issue how to introduce Christian ethics for cooperation among nations. It is proved by our national philosophy, our poetry and prose. We always associated technical development with morality. It is proven also by contemporary statements of the Polish president Andrzej Duda in the UNO and the prime minister Barbara Szydło in the European Parliament. They are full of truth and noble pride of Poles. Although Europe and the world think that ethics in the political life is naivety and waste of time, Poland is still calling for moral principles, also in the international relations. We were supported and strengthened in it by the Polish Pope.
The election of John Paul II for the Holy See is also the contribution of Poland in the history of Christian Europe. This is a gift and developing the relation between Poland and Europe. The Polish Pope used to say: ‘Poland plays an important role for Europe and the world’. He believed that Poland was a bridge of a meeting between Eastern and Western Europe. He emphasized Slavic unity.
Today this mission is taking on particular validity and even particular hope. The notion of Slavic Europe which John Paul II uses in his encyclical ‘Salvorum Apostoli’ goes beyond the ethnical range. It means this part of Europe which is inhabited not only by the Slavic but also the Lithuanians, Latvians, Romanians and Hungarians. Here we speak about unity based on historical experiences.
In a discussion on a dialogue and unity of Europe presided over by St. John Paul II with scholars of our times F. Ricci wrote: ‘It seems to me that the only country in which this anthropology survived is Poland (…). Poland proved it in the post-Westphalian epoch that there are ideals for which it is worth dying, which explains why Poland is a country which is hardly European in the post-Westphalian sense of this word. It somehow appeared outside the decaying processes which overwhelmed the rest of Europe.
Today this testimony is for us, Poles, a particular duty towards Europe.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 17/2018 (29 IV 2018)