The Church in Poland, Pre-1965

B Stasiewski. New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement. Editor: Polly Vedder. Gale, 2000.

Poland, the largest of the West Slavic States, has exercised a marked influence on the history of Eastern Europe. Under the Piast dynasty (960-1386), it was comprised of Great Poland (with its chief centers at Gniezno, Poznań, and Kruszwica), Little Poland (Cracovia), Mazovia, and Silesia. Under the Jagiellonian dynasty (1386-1572) Poland spread far to the east and became a great power. In the period of the Elective Monarchy (1572-1795) and of foreign rule (1795-1916) the Poles had a checkered history. Then, following the restoration of an independent Polish State (1919-39), came a new division of Polish territory in the wake of World War II and ultimately the formation of the Polish People’s Re public (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa), a Communist regime. Although Poland once had a mixed population of Poles, Germans, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Russians, and White Russians, after World War II its inhabitants were overwhelmingly of Polish origin. The ecclesiastical history of Poland, which is the main concern of this section of the article, may be divided conveniently into five major periods. The main features in the history of the Church are presented systematically under each period.

Middle Ages

The first traces of Christianity are found in the area of Cracovia during the second half of the ninth century and are connected with the missionary activity of Methodius, the Apostle of the Slavs, in Moravia. The spread of Christianity in Poland, however, really began under the Piast Prince Mieszko I (ca. 960-992). In 965 he married the Czech princess Dobrava (Dabrówka) and was baptized the following year. In 968 a missionary bishopric was established for Poland, and Jordan, the first bishop, carried on his work from Poznań. To counteract the efforts of the German Church and of the first two Ottonian emperors to put the Polish bishopric under the jurisdiction of the archbishopric of Magdeburg, Mieszko placed his land in a kind of vassal status under the protection of the pope (990).

Establishment of the Polish Hierarchy

In the year 1000, the archbishopric of Gniezno was erected with Kolobrzeg, Wroclaw, and Cracow as its suffragans. Pope Sylvester II, Emperor Otto III, and Boleslaw Chrobry, the son and successor of Mieszko (992-1025), all had an active part in this foundation. Chrobry continued his father’s policy as a vigorous and successful promoter of Christianity in Poland, and a year before his death he received the royal crown from Rome. The boundaries of the archdiocese of Gniezno at first corresponded to those of the Piast realm. The archbishop was responsible for the care of souls in Great Poland. His suffragan bishops had the task of spreading and solidifying the Christian faith in the border areas: the bishop of Kolobrzeg, in Pomerania; the bishop of Cracow, in Little Poland and the adjacent territories acquired in the North and East; and the bishop of Wroclaw, in Silesia. The establishment of the Polish hierarchy in the year 1000 was decisive for the incorporation of Poland into Western Christendom.

Growth in the 11th, 12th, and 13th Centuries

Among the missionaries at the end of tenth century and the beginning of the eleventh were the martyrs St. Adalbert of Prague (d. 997), St. Benedict of Benevento, John and companions (d. 1003), and Bruno of Querfurt (d. 1009). The spread of the Church was threatened temporarily by a pagan reaction in 1046-47. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries Gniezno acquired new suffragans: Poznań, Wloclawek, which replaced the shortlived bishopric of Kruschwitz, in Kujavia, Plock in Mazovia, Lebus on the Middle Oder, and later Wilna (Vilna), Lutsk, and Chelmno. Bishops, such as St. Stanislaus of Cracow (d. 1079), defended the rights of the Church against the encroachments of the state, and in the period of the division of inheritances among the Piasts, they maintained the consciousness of Polish unity. The metropolitans of Gniezno and other ecclesiastical princes emphasized the importance of the Polish language in the light of the threat of the German colonists whose immigration resulted in Polish decline in the western lands of the Piasts, especially in Silesia. The idea of Polish unity was kept alive also in the Polish kingship, and enjoyed the full support of the Church.

The monastic and cathedral schools, which were the vehicles for all education and culture, the cathedral chapters, the development of parish organizations, and the spread of the religious orders (Benedictines, Cistercians, Premonstratensians, Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, Augustinians, Hospitallers, and Templars) all contributed to the solid establishment and growth of Christianity. The Order of Knights, the Fratres Militiae Christi, or Knights of the Sword, founded by Duke Conrad of Mazovia in 1228, which because of its location was also called the Knights of Dobrin, passed in 1237 into the Order of the Teutonic Knights, which established a state of its own in Prussia. The interior growth of the Church in the age of the Piasts is evidenced by the number of saints and blesseds. Among them are: Bp. Wincenty Kadlubek of Cracow (d. 1223), author of the Chronica de gestis (illustrium) principum ac regum Poloniae; Bp. Jan Prandota of Cracow (1242-66), who represented in his person the ideal bishop of his time; the Dominicans, Czeslaw (d. 1222), who defended Wroclaw during the great attack of the Mongols, and Hyacinth (Jaczko Odrowaęź, d. 1257), who was active as a missionlary in Prussia and South Russia; duchess Hedwig (Jadwiga, d. 1243), mother of duke Henry II of Silesia who fell in battle against the Mongols at Liegnitz; in 1241, a woman equally honored by Germans and Poles as a patroness of Christian charity; the Premonstratensian nun Bronislawa (d. 1259); and the Poor Clares, Salomea (d. 1268), Kinga (d. 1292), and Jolanta (d. 1298).

Under the First Kings of the Jagiellonian Dynasty

In the middle of the fourteenth century Poland had again become a closely knit state. King Casimir III the Great (1333-70), the last famous Piast, extended its territory by the incorporation of the principalities of Halicz (Galicia) and Volhynia. To serve the spiritual needs of his Orthodox subjects, he brought about the restoration of the Galician metropolitanate, with Przemyśl, Chelmno, and Vladimir as its eparchies. Roman Catholic bishoptics arose also in these places. In 1367 he recognized the Armenian bishop of Lvov, so that three Christian confessions existed side by side in his realm. Shortly before 1364 he founded the Studium generale or University of Cracow. The marriage in 1386 of Casimir’s granddaughter Hedwig (Jadwiga), the youngest daughter of King Louis of Hungary (1342-82) and Poland (1370-82) with the grandduke Jagiello of Lithuania, who became King of Poland as Wladyslaw II (1386-1434), inaugurated the union of Poland and Lithuania under the Jagiellonians. This union was more strongly established in the course of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and was sealed by the union of Lublin in 1569.

Wladyslaw II, in 1387, founded the bishopric of Vilna, through which Roman Christianity was spread in Lithuania. This missionary work was aided very much by the establishment of the faculty of theology at the University of Cracow in 1397. Several Polish bishops and professors, among them the rector of the University of Cracow, Paul Vladimiri (Pawel Wlodkowicz), were present at the Council of Constance. Paul in his tractate De potestate papae et imperatoris respectu infidelium condemned all conversion of pagans by force. Through this work he involved himself in the diplomatic battle between Poland and the Teutonic Order that took place after the military defeat of the German knights at Tannenberg (1410).

Under Casimir IV (1447-92) a thirteen-year war (1454-66) weakened the political independence of the Teutonic Order, and the bishopric of Ermland passed under the protection of the Polish king. The marriage of the king to Elizabeth of Hapsburg made possible the expansion of the power of the Jagiellonian house to Bohemia and Hungary. During Casimir’s long reign the Orthodox population in Poland-Lithuania continued to enjoy toleration, but through the development of the Archbishopric of Lvov tensions arose between the Latin hierarchy and the Orthodox eparchs, and between those who went over to Catholicism and the majority of the population who were adherents of Orthodoxy. Bishop Zbigniew Oleśnicki of Cracow (1423-55, cardinal from 1449) exercised, as an adviser for many years, a strong influence on the internal and foreign policies of the three first kings of the Jagiellonian dynasty. He suppressed the Hussite movement, which entered Poland from Bohemia, and his secretary Jan Dlugosz (1415-80) was the preceptor of the royal princes and the author of several historical works (among them Historiae Polonicae libri XII).

Spiritual Life in the Late Middle Ages

Polish bishops and professors who had participated in the reform councils spread Humanism in Poland-Lithuania, and in the second half of the fifteenth century the Devotio Moderna also made its influence felt. In the midst of the breakup of the rather circumscribed medieval outlook and of criticism against high ecclesiastics, benefices multiplied and churchmen devoted themselves more to political activities than to the care of souls. Yet, one should not overlook the contributions of outstanding pastors, especially the archbishops of Gniezno, such as Jakób Świnka (1283-1314) and Jaroslaw Bogorja Skotnicki (1342-74, d. 1376), or the first bishop of Vilna, the Franciscan Andrzej (d. 1398), or the holy and fruitful activity of provincial and diocesan synods. Besides the new monasteries erected by the orders already mentioned, foundations were made by Hieronymites, Bernardines, Minims, Brethren of the Common Life, and others.

Worthy of particular note also are the several distinguished saints and blesseds, among them Abp. Jakob Strepa of Halicz-Lvov (d. 1409); Jan Kanty (d. 1473), who was well known as a professor at the University of Cracow and as a friend and helper of needy students; the Bernardine Simon of Lipnica (d. 1482) a promoter of the veneration of the Holy Name of Jesus; the Jagiellonian prince Casimir (d. 1484), who was distinguished for his veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the Bernardines Bl. Jan of Dukla (d. 1484), who despite his long blindness was famous as a preacher and confessor; and Wladyslaw of Gielniów (d. 1505), who was active as a missionary in Lithuania and who as a writer of religious poems promoted the veneration of the Passion of Christ and devotion to the Mother of God.

The Jagiellonians defended the West against the Turks, who flooded southeastern Europe after their capture of Constantinople (1453), and in 1529 they penetrated as far as Vienna. Against them and the Orthodox Russians, Poland-Lithuania served as a bulwark of Christendom (antemurale christianitatis, przedmurze chrześciaństwa).

Reformation to the Final Partitions

Numerous young nobles who had studied at foreign universities, for example, at Wittenberg, Geneva, and Strassburg, and the German burghers, who played a very important role in some cities, were favorably disposed to the ideas of Luther, Calvin, and the other leading personalities of the Reformation. Following the secularization of the State of the Teutonic Order into a duchy (1525) and the conversion to Protestantism of the grandmaster Albrecht of Brandenburg-Ansbach, who became the first duke of Prussia (1525-68), Königsberg developed rapidly as a Protestant center from which the new teaching was channeled into Poland and Lithuania, where it was quickly absorbed.

Spread of the Reformation Into Poland

The rapid spread of the Reformation is to be explained by the shortcomings of the higher clergy, by abuses in the lower clergy and numerous monastic establishments, and by the quarrels between the higher and lower nobility over the extent of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Royal officials, men of learning, and politicians, such as Andrzej Frycz-Modrzewski (1503-72), and poets, such as Mikolaj Rej (1505-69) prepared the way for Protestantism in Poland. As early as 1520, King Sigismund I (1506-48) issued an edict against Luther’s writings, but he did not succeed in halting the spread of Protestantism. After his death the adherents of the Reformation put their hopes in Sigismund II Augustus (1548-72), who was in communication by letter with Melanchthon and Calvin. He did not abandon Catholicism, but the Protestant movement in Poland reached its zenith during his reign. At the imperial diet held at Piotrków in 1565, a constitution was drawn up and put into effect by which ecclesiastical courts were deprived of the jurisdiction they formerly enjoyed. The nobles could then establish Protestantism in their own properties and territories.

The Protestants in Poland at that time fell into three groups: the Lutherans, the Reformed, who were headed by Jan Laski (1499-1560), and the Bohemian Brethren. From 1555 they carried on negotiations among them with the object of establishing an independent Polish national church. At the convention held at Sandomierz in 1570 they reached agreement on the fundamental elements of belief. This consensus Sandomirensis has been called the first attempt at realizing the idea of Protestant universality. At any rate, it made it possible, following the death of Sigismund Augustus, for the dissenters to become politically united at the Warsaw Confederation of 1573. Temporarily, Stancarism, which stemmed from Francesco Stancaro (1501-74), and Socinianism, which took its name from Fausto Sozzini (Socinius, 1539-1604), played important roles. This anti-Trinitarian movement, whose adherents were also called Arians or Polish Brethren, was suppressed in 1658.

The Beginnings of the Counter Reformation

Sharp disputes among the various Protestant groups, Catholic reforms, and the Counter Reformation weakened the position of Protestantism, which had gained its chief support in the noble classes and in the higher levels among the burghers. Faced with the political threat to Poland-Lithuania of the Swedes in the north, of the advancing Russians in the east, and of Turkish attacks in the south, Polish political leaders and bishops emphasized the necessity of the abolishment of all ecclesiastical division and of return to the Catholic Church as a matter that was absolutely vital to the national interest. Catholicism had already taken on new strength.

Numerous diocesan and provincial synods issued decrees against the abuses that had become widespread in the Late Middle Ages, and they also came to grips with the Protestant religious views. The Archbishops Jan Laski of Gniezno (1510-31) and Andrzej Krzycki (1535-37), who as bishop of Przemyśl (1523-27) had written against Luther, sought to check Protestantism. The polemical works of John Eck, Johannes Cochlaeus, and Georg Witzel (Wicelius) were disseminated throughout Poland. Stanislaus Hosius (1504-79) was especially zealous in defending the Church through his polemical and systematic writings (for example, his Confessio catholicae fidei) and his pastoral and ecclesiasticopolitical measures. As bishop of Chelmno from 1549, of Ermland from 1551, and as cardinal from 1561, he succeeded in bringing about a renewal of the life of the Church.

Work of Papal Nuncios and Jesuits

Polish Catholicism received essential help from Rome through admonitory papal briefs to the Polish kings and through the work of the nuncios, who by political means and visitations strove to put into effect the decrees of the Council of Trent. The nuncio Giovanni Francesco Commendone (1563-65) persuaded King Sigismund II Augustus to give the Jesuits the protection of the crown; the nuncio Alberto Bolognetti (1581-85) through his letters and sermons contributed to the return of many nobles to Catholicism; and the nuncio Germanico Malaspina (1593-97) made the preparations for the Union of Brest (1596), through which most of the Orthodox bishops of Poland-Lithuania were united with Rome. The Union of Brest was a great victory in the struggle for the unity of the Church. However, the national tensions between Poles and Ukrainians and the political altercations involving Poland-Lithuania, the Cossacks, and Russia hindered the development of the Union. The Basilian St. Josaphat Kuncevyč (1580-1623, archbishop of Plock from 1618) and the Jesuit St. Andrew Bobola (1592-1657) were murdered by fanatical Cossacks.

The nuncios were strongly supported by Cardinal Hosius and other members of the Polish episcopate. It will suffice to mention: Martin Kromer of Ermland (1579-89); Marcin Bialobrzecki of Kamieniec (1577-86); Stanislaw Karnkowski of Wloclawek (1567-81), and later archbishop of Gniezno (1581-1603), who as preacher, writer, and diplomat opposed Protestantism, and by synods, the erecting of seminaries, and patronage of the Jesuit order, hastened the re-Catholization of Poland; and Jan Dymitr Solikowski, archbishop of Lvov (1583-1603). In the religious strife of the age the Jesuits Melchior Grodziecki (1584-1619) and St. John Sarkander (1576-1620) died as martyrs.

Success of the Counter Reformation in Poland

Sigismund III Vasa, king of Poland (1587-1632), and also king of Sweden (1594-1604), whom Rubens glorified as the “Tamer of Heresy,” completed the Counter Reformation in Poland-Lithuania. The Jesuits were its acknowledged champions. They were active as teachers and leaders in new educational institutions and as diplomats, preachers, missionaries, confessors, writers, and publicists. Typical representatives were Benedict Herbest (1530-93), Jakób Wujek (1540-97), Piotr Skarga (1536-1611), Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski (1595-1640), and Gaspar Druzbicki (1590-1662). The older orders, the Dominicans, Franciscans, Bernardines, Paulites, Augustinians, and Carmelites played an important role beside the Jesuits. The new orders or congregations as, for example, the Reformati (OFM Ref), Piarists, Capuchins, Trinitarians, Vincentians, and others, spread rapidly. Orders and congregations of women engaged actively in education, in the care of the sick, and in other works of charity. Among the mystics of the age, the Carmelite Teresa Marchocka (1603-52) deserves mention.

When Swedes, Russians, and Turks poured into Polish territory, the Church gathered all her forces to drive out these enemies of her religion. The heroic defense of the Paulite monastery on the Jasna Góra at Czeęstochowa in 1655 was the occasion for raising this place of pilgrimage with its icon of the “Black Mother of God” to the status of a Polish national shrine. In 1666 King John II Casimir (1648-68) proclaimed Mary Queen of Poland (regina Poloniae, królowa Korony Polskiej). Pope Alexander VII bestowed the title of rex orthodoxus on John and his successors. Marian devotion, which had struck deep roots in Poland in the Middle Ages, flourished anew. Catholicism was officially recognized as the religion of the State.

Political Decline and Repressive Religious Policy

In the period of the Elective Monarchy (1572-1795) Poland-Lithuania lost the position as a great power that it had attained under the Jagiellonians. Because King John III Sobieski (1674-1696) won victories against the Turks and played a major role in freeing Vienna from the Turkish siege in 1683, he received from Pope Innocent XII the title of defensor fidei. In the eighteenth century, Poland-Lithuania faced the catastrophe of partitions under the Saxon electors, Augustus II (1697-1733) and Augustus III (1733-63), who were forced upon it as kings by its neighbors.

The victory of the Counter Reformation led to measures that went beyond the solid establishment of Catholicism. Protestantism was suppressed, and in 1717 the erection of new Protestant churches was forbidden. Following an attack by the Protestant population on the Jesuit Gymnasium in Toruń in 1724, the burgomaster and nine other Protestants were executed. The United Catholics, or adherents of the Union, who even in the preceding century had to overcome external and internal difficulties, were now treated as Catholics of “the second class;” they were forced to accept certain forms and practices of the Roman Catholic State Church. The rights of the Orthodox were also curtailed. The kings of Prussia and the Russian czars took action to protect the Protestants and Orthodox respectively under Polish rule. Catherine II (the Great) set her favorite Stanislaw August Poniatowski (1764-95) upon the Polish throne. Through Gen. N. V. Repnin, her ambassador in Warsaw, she interfered in ecclesiastical affairs; e.g., in 1767 she had Bp. Kajetan Soltyk of Cracow (1759-88) and Bp. Jozef Andrzej Zaluski of Kiev (1759-74) arrested and deported to Russia. The patriotic Catholic opposition, under the leadership of Bp. Adam Stanislaw Krasiński (1759-95, d. 1800), formed the Confederation of Bar. Jan Dolowicz, the Carmelite prior of Bar (d. 1801), even founded an “Order of the Holy Cross” to protect the faith, but after a four-year struggle the confederates were wiped out by the Russians.

The Partitions of Poland (1772-1815)

In the first partition (1772) carried out by Russia, Austria, and Prussia, Poland lost about thirty percent of its territory and thirty-five percent of its inhabitants. In the attempts to stabilize conditions by reforms, several ecclesiastics took a prominent part. Among them should be mentioned as preacher, educational reformer, and statesman the famous Piarist Stanislaw Konarski (1700-73), Abp. Michal Jerzy Poniatowski of Gniezno (1785-94), Bp. Adam Stanislaw Naruszewicz of Lutsk (1790-96), the founder of modern Polish historiography, and Canon Hugo Kollaętej (1750-1812), who carried out important curricular reforms. They participated actively also in the formation of the Constitution of 3 May 1791, in which the Catholic religion was recognized as the official religion of the State, but in which also the free practice of religion was guaranteed for all dissenters.

The second partition of Poland by Russia and Prussia in 1793, and the third in 1795, by which the three neighboring Great Powers seized the rest of Poland, brought an abrupt end to the efforts at internal reform. The papal nuncio in Warsaw, Lorenzo Litta (1793-95), registered a solemn protest against the injustice done to Poland-Lithuania, but his protest died away unheard. Russia seized two-thirds, and Prussia and Austria the remaining third between them. The name of Poland vanished from the map. The Church was seriously weakened materially by the confiscations and secularization of her possessions. The grand-duchy of Warsaw, established by Napoleon (1807-09), was abolished in 1813 and its territory divided between Prussia and Russia. The Congress of Vienna, which is rightly charged with the fourth partition of Poland, delivered the final blow in 1815: Russia received eighty-two percent, Austria ten percent, and Prussia eight percent of the former Polish kingdom.

Foreign Domination, 1815-1918

The Poles did not meekly accept the loss of independent statehood, but held tenaciously to their national consciousness and to their language. As in earlier crises, the Catholic Church in this period also was a bond that united the Polish-speaking population at home and abroad. In the Congregation of the Resurrectionists, whose first members made their vows in Rome in 1842 (Congregatio a Resurrectione Domini Nostri Jesu Christi; in Polish, Zmartwychstancy), belief in the Resurrection of Christ and the firm conviction that Poland would be restored were combined in a special way.

Polish Catholics Under Russian Rule

In the parts of Poland annexed by Russia, the oppression of the Poles and of Catholicism, which was regarded as a foreign body, was especially severe. The Russian government conducted a continual campaign against the United, or adherents of the Union, in particular. Already under Catherine II eight million United were incorporated into the Orthodox Church by force. The eparchies, which had not been abolished earlier, comprising 1.5 million faithful and 1,500 parish churches, were placed under the control of the United-Greek College in St. Petersburg in 1829. Nicholas I (1825-55) granted the request of the Synod of Plock that the adherents of the Union should be reunited with the “Old Orthodox Mother Church.” Those who did not abandon the Union with Rome voluntarily were forced to do so. In 1875 the Diocese of Chelmno in Congress Poland (Russian Poland) was declared to be an Orthodox bishopric, and thus the Union was abolished in the whole territory under Russian rule. Small groups of faithful continued in secret to be loyal to the Union. The Edict of Toleration of 17 April 1905 permitted them to become Roman Catholics, but a return to their old United status was forbidden.

Dependent Status of the Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic ecclesiastical administration was reduced to a condition of severe dependence under Russian rule. In Stanislaw Sienstreńcewicz-Bohusz, whom she appointed to head her newly erected archbishopric of Mogilev (1782-1826), Catherine II found a willing helper. Alexander I (1801-25) established (1801) the Roman Catholic Ecclesiastical College in St. Petersburg in order to control the Church. In the grand-duchy of Warsaw, Polish Catholics had a short breathing spell. But in the period of the “Kingdom of Poland,” which from 1815 to 1830 was governed in personal union with Russia, it was soon evident that any cooperation with the Church was to be based purely on considerations of public policy. In order to break the influence of the bishop of Gniezno, who as primate of Poland possessed a measure of authority that extended beyond the boundaries of his own jurisdiction proper, Alexander I had Warsaw, which had been made a bishopric in the Prussian partition territory in 1798, raised to the status of an archbishopric in 1817. In the following year seven bishops were placed under its jurisdiction as suffragans.

The expulsion of the Jesuits from Russia in 1820, the dissolution of the numerous monasteries, the possibility of divorce from a Catholic partner on the occasion of the other partner’s conversion to the Orthodox faith, were all threatening portents. After the failure of the Polish revolution of 1830-31, they were followed by harsh measures against the Church. The government refused to give official approval to episcopal candidates (the archiepiscopal See of Warsaw, for example, was vacant from 1829 to 1836, and from 1838 to 1856), in 1832 it suppressed 200 monasteries; in 1834 it restricted freedom of movement on the part of the clergy; and in 1841 it confiscated the major portion of ecclesiastical property. In 1846 the priest Piotr Sćiegienny, who advocated the freeing of the peasants and national revolt, was arrested in Kielce and condemned to hard labor in Siberia, from which he was not permitted to return before 1871. The convention of 1847 made between Nicholas I and Pope Pius IX was never really implemented.

Tensions mounted under the government of Alexander II (1855-81), when the Poles rose in revolution against the Russian terror in 1863-1864, only to be crushed with much bloodshed. Archbishop Zygmunt Szczeęsny Feliński of Warsaw (1862-83, d. 1895), Bishops Adam Krasiński of Vilna (d. 1891), Wincenty Chościak-Popiel of Plock (archbishop of Warsaw 1883-1912), and Konstanty Lubieński of Sejny (1863-69), along with 400 clerics, were banished to Siberia. Almost all monasteries and Catholic societies were abolished, and processions outside churches and May devotions were forbidden. In 1866 the government repudiated the convention made with Rome in 1847. In 1869-1870 it ordered the use of the Russian language in divine worship and punished numerous bishops and clerics who opposed the new regulations with banishment to Siberia. No permission was given the bishops to attend Vatican Council I.

Improvement After 1882

It was only after 1882, when Pope Leo XIII and Alexander III (1881-94) had worked out an agreement, that some alleviation of the oppressive conditions was introduced. The use of the Russian language in sermons and devotions was limited to communities with a Russian population. The use of Polish was permitted in Polish cities and Polish rural areas. In 1884 Leo XIII was able to fill the vacant sees. The Edict of Toleration of 1905 under Nicholas II (1894-1918) brought further alleviations, but restrictions were again imposed only two years later (1907). The government recognized and supported the Mariavites, whose leading personalities were excommunicated by Rome in 1906.

The Poles Under Austria

In Galicia the situation for Polish Catholics was better. The government in Vienna was the only one of the three partition powers to give them assistance and support, although in the first half of the nineteenth century the influence of the State Church of Josephinism was still active. The Concordat of 1855 and the autonomy granted to the Poles in 1867, with their own diet, were fruitful for the life of the Church. Education at all levels was conducted in Polish. The Academy of Cracow was founded in 1872. Cracow and Lvov with their universities and theological faculties were outstanding Catholic centers. From 1884 the Jesuits in Cracow published the monthly, Przeglaęd Powszechny, which became a vehicle for leading Catholics. Distinguished bishops were active as ecclesiastical statesmen, theological writers, and preachers. Special mention should be made of the Prince-Bishops of Cracow, Albin Dunajewski (1879-94) and Jan Kozielko Puzyna (1895-1911, cardinal from 1901), Abp. Józef Bilczewski of Lvov (Lemberg, 1900-23), and Bp. Józef Sebastian Pelczar of Przemyśl (d. 1924).

Between the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the United, who had acquired a separate archbishopric of Lvov in 1807, relations became strained, resulting essentially from the national opposition between Poles and Ukrainians. After long negotiations a formula of agreement was worked out at Rome in 1863, which dealt with disputed questions but did not clarify all points. The United, under the leadership of their metropolitans, especially Sylvester Sambrytovyč (1885-98, cardinal from 1895) and Andreas Count Szeptyckyj (1900-44), strove to gain political and ecclesiastical independence.

Polish Catholicism Under German Rule

During the Prussian partition area the differences between the Protestant government and the Catholic, and especially the Polish-speaking, population became worse decade by decade, although the bull of Pope Pius VII, De salute animarum, issued in 1821 had regulated anew ecclesiastical affairs in the eastern parts of Prussia. The bishopric of Posen (Poznań) was raised to an archbishopric and was united in a personal union with the archbishopric of Gnesen (Gniezno), which retained the greatly extended diocese of Kulm (Chelmno) as a suffragan. The dioceses of Ermland and Breslau (Wroclaw), which meantime had been freed from their dependence on Riga and Gniezno respectively, were placed directly under the Holy See. Following the Polish revolution of 1830-1831, the Prussian Lord Lieutenant Eduard von Flottwell (1830-41) promoted German institutions and culture and Protestantism in order to restrict the influence of the Polish nobility and clergy. In 1839 the demands of the government on the question of mixed marriages led to the internment of Abp. Martin von Dunin of Gniezno (1831-42) in the fortress of Kolberg. His successor Leo Przyluski (1845-65) in 1848 demanded the restoration of the national rights of the Poles.

The quarrel between the German government and the Poles reached its zenith in the period of the Kulturkampf. Through his policy Bismarck wished, among other things, to deprive the growing Polish nationalism of its spiritual leaders. Abp. Mieczyslaw Halka Ledóchowski (1865-86) of Gniezno-Poznań (Gnesen-Posen), two auxiliary bishops, and numerous clergy were arrested, and their parishes left vacant. The pressure of the Kulturkampf, which slackened after some years, and other government measures, for example, the suppression of the Polish language in schools and in public life, did not have the success expected. Archbishop Julius Dinder (1886-90) tried in vain to bring about a settlement. After long negotiations, Abp. Florian Oksza-Stablewski (1891-1906) succeeded in obtaining permission for the use of Polish in religious instruction in the schools. An expropriation law was passed against Polish landed property in 1908, against which Cardinal Georg Kopp of Breslau protested in the Upper House of the German Parliament. This law enkindled a general outburst of anger that had repercussions beyond the borders of Germany. The condition of tension remained, as was evidenced by the vacancy in the archiepiscopal See of Gniezno-Poznań during the years 1906 to 1914.

Along with the Polish bishops, who during the period of the domination of Poland by the partition powers defended the Catholic tradition, one must praise the old orders and new congregations for their splendid service in maintaining Catholicism and in spreading and deepening the knowledge of the Catholic religion. Mention should be made of the Jesuit writer and missionary Karol Antoniewicz (d. 1852), the Salesian August Czartoryski (d. 1893), the Carmelite Rafal Kalinowski (d. 1907), and the Redemptorist Bernard Lubienski (d. 1933). Several new Polish communities were founded in the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1855 Edmund Bojanowski (d. 1871) founded the Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, and Sofja Truszkowska founded the Felician Sisters (Felicjanki); in 1857 Jozefa Karska (d. 1860) and Marcelina Darowska, the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (Niepokalanki); in 1875 Franciszka Siedliska (d. 1902), the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth (Nazaretanki); in 1891-92 Brother Albert, “the Polish Francis” (Adam Chmielowski, d. 1916), the Albertines, including both men and women; in 1893 Bronislaw Markiewicz (d. 1912), the Sisters of St. Michael the Archangel (Michaelitki).

The Church in the Republic of Poland, 1918-39

When the Polish Republic was created in November 1918, the bishops, who had cared for the faithful in the three partition areas, were faced with difficult problems of organization. In the rebuilding of Polish Catholicism, the leaders were the Archbishops Edmund Dalbor of Gniezno (1915-26) and Aleksander Kakowski of Warsaw (1913-38), who were made cardinals in 1919, and the nuncio Achille Ratti (1919-21), the later Pope Pius XI The Concordat of 10 February 1925, and the bull Vixdum Poloniae of Pope Pius XI, issued 28 October of the same year, constituted the foundation for the new ecclesiastical order in Poland. Two new archbishoprics, Cracow and Vilna, were erected beside the existing archiepiscopal sees of Gniezno-Poznań (Gnesen-Posen), Warsaw, and Lvov, and four new dioceses were established: Czeęstochowa, Katowice, Lomza, and Pinsk. The new organization comprised five ecclesiastical provinces with a total of fifteen suffragan sees.

The Polish census of 1936 indicated that Catholics comprised 75 percent of the population (Roman Catholics 63.8 percent, and adherents of the Union 11.2 percent), the Orthodox and Jews, 10 percent each, and Protestants, 3 percent. Catholicism, which was the acknowledged religion of the great majority of the Polish population, was respected even by religiously indifferent statesmen, as Józef Pilsudski (d. 1935) who as chief of state headed the Republic from 1918 to 1922 and guided it in the years 1926 to 1935 under several authoritarian governments. The generally harmonious relations between Church and State were seriously impaired by the new marriage legislation, the proposed penal code, and, above all, in the summer of 1938, by the expropriation and destruction of Orthodox churches in the Lublin area with governmental authority and support. The papal nuncio in Poland Filippo Cortesi (1936-47) and the Polish episcopate disassociated themselves definitely from this harsh action on the part of the government. Under the leadership of the bishops, at whose regularly held conferences the Primate Augustyn Hlond (1926-48) served as president, the Church, through an effective consolidation of its forces, exercised a strong influence on public life.

Flourishing Catholic Life

The number of bishops in the period from 1918 to 1938 rose from twenty-three to fifty-one, and the number of diocesan and regular clergy increased by about forty-three percent, reaching a total of nearly 13,000. The religious orders enjoyed a marked growth in this same period. At the outbreak of World War II there were about 2,000 monastic foundations, 1,600 priests, 4,500 lay brothers, and 17,000 sisters. The numerous pilgrimages to the shrines of the Blessed Virgin at Czeęstochowa, Piekary, and Ostra Brama in Vilna and the increasing participation in the foreign missions and in religious congresses bore witness to a flourishing religious life. The Church intensified the care of souls by the multiplication of parishes, by the development of its social work in its organized charities and in its St. Vincent de Paul societies, by Catholic Action, which furnished a more solid adult education program, and by the apostolate of the press. In 1939 there were more than 250 Catholic periodical publications, 38 of these being organs of the United Church. Every diocese had its own Sunday paper. The religious orders also exhibited marked zeal in the field of the Catholic press. The scholarly life of the Church, which had a solid foundation in obligatory religious education, was promoted through the theological faculties of Warsaw, Cracow, Lvov, and Vilna, by the Catholic University of Lublin, founded in 1918, and by the diocesan seminaries. This scholarly activity was reflected in a series of important theological journals.

The United Catholic Church of Poland was composed of the Armenian Bishopric of Lvov, which had 4,000 faithful, as well as the 3,500,000 members of the Greek-Catholic rite in East Galicia, and some parishes of the Eastern Slavic rite totaling about 25,000 faithful. They in common were opposed to the Polish government, which wished to restrict their separate status within the Church in favor of the Latin rite. The government hoped that Latinization would lead to the complete assimilation of the United faithful into the main stream of Polish life and culture.

The Church in Poland, 1939-65

Until the end of World War I, Polish Catholicism led a different kind of existence in the eastern provinces of Prussia, in the Russian Vistula area, and in Austrian Galicia, but within two decades an abrupt standardization was put into effect. The German-Soviet Pact and the German Polish campaign of September 1939 created a new political situation for the Church. The incorporation of the eastern Polish territory into the Soviet Union entailed the prohibition of religious propaganda, persecutions, and deportations of clergy and laity.

The Poles Under the National Socialist Regime

The German National Socialist regime seized the territory of the ecclesiastical province of Gniezno-Poznań (Gnesen-Posen) and parts of the archbishoprics of Warsaw and Cracow, which it designated “the incorporated eastern territories” and it established a general government that included the main parts of the ecclesiastical provinces of Warsaw and Cracow and the western border areas of the ecclesiastical provinces of Lvov and Vilna. Following the outbreak of the German-Soviet War, East Galicia, with the major portion of the ecclesiastical province of Lvov was added to the general government also. The harsh measures of the German authorities, the ideological outlook of Alfred Rosenberg, race theory, and Jewish persecutions threatened the Church, which was reduced to a slave status in the Warta District and was heavily oppressed in the general government.

In the Warta District members of the hierarchy were brutally beaten; the clergy was decimated in a frightful manner; seminaries, numerous establishments of religious orders, and all Catholic schools and associations were abolished; ecclesiastical property was expropriated; sisters were driven from their convents; churches in large part were closed (in Poznań, for example, of thirty churches only two were left open for Polish-speaking Catholics and one for German-speaking faithful); wayside crosses and shrines were destroyed; Polish inscriptions on gravestones were effaced; and loyalty to religion was made extremely difficult and was ridiculed in every conceivable manner. More than three million Polish Catholics were left completely outside the pale of the law and were at the mercy of the despotic whims of the National Socialists.

The Archbishop of Cracow, Adam Sapieha (1925-51, cardinal from 1946), served as spokesman for all the Polish bishops, making repeated representations to the administration of the general government in order to obtain alleviations in the treatment of priests under arrest and sent into exile, to provide for the recruitment and theological training of seminarians, and to maintain the charitable activities of the Church. Following the systematic elimination of the Church from public life, and especially after the liquidation of the Catholic press and of higher Catholic education, the spiritual activity of the Church under the general government was confined to divine worship, the care of souls, and religious instruction. The youth organizations and societies of men under the leadership of Catholic Action were forbidden, but in the underground they served in part as assistance organizations for persecuted clerics and Jews. The German occupation officials were bent on depriving the Church of her age-old function of being a protective shield for all that was characteristic in Polish life and culture. Their antiecclesiastical attack paralyzed Catholic life and widely destroyed it.

In all, thirteen Polish bishops were exiled or arrested and put in concentration camps. Of these the following died: Auxiliary Bishop Leo Wetmanski of Plock on 10 May 1941, and Archbishop Antoni Nowowiejski of Plock on 20 June 1941 in Soldau (Dzialdowo); Auxiliary Bishop Michal Kozal of Wloclawek on 26 January 1943 in Dachau; Auxiliary Bishop Wladyslaw Goral of Lublin at the beginning of 1945 in a hospital bunker in Berlin. There were 3,647 priests, 389 clerics, 341 brothers, and 1,117 sisters put in concentration camps, in which 1,996 priests, 113 clerics, and 238 sisters perished. On 14 August 1941, Maximilian Kolbe met his death in the concentration camp at Auschwitz (Oświecim). He offered his life in substitution for that of a father of a family who had been condemned to die. The diocesan clergy of the Polish Church, who at the beginning of World War II numbered 10,017, lost 25 percent (2,647). The National Socialist terror raged against leading Catholic laymen as well as against the clergy, and many laymen were put to death. The concentration camps of Auschwitz, Bojanowo, Dachau, Majdanek, Oranienburg, Ravensbrück, Stutthof, Treblinka, and others were sites of Polish martyrdoms.

Reorganization of the Polish Church

The collapse of the German East Front and the end of World War II introduced a new chapter in Polish history. The Polish Committee for National Liberation, the so-called Lublin Committee, in a manifesto of 22 July 1944 guaranteed, among other things, freedom of conscience and respect for the rights of the Catholic Church. Clergy and faithful devoted their efforts to healing the material and mental wounds caused by the occupation and the effects of the war. The Primate, Cardinal Augustyn Hlond—from 1946 also archbishop of Warsaw—undertook the rebuilding of ecclesiastical organization. He consecrated several bishops; restored the seminaries; made provisions for religious instruction, for the restoration of Catholic schools, and for the redevelopment of the ecclesiastical press; and revived the activity of the religious orders. Owing to the political territorial changes, modifications in the Polish ecclesiastical organization were necessary. In the East the largest part of the archdiocese of Vilna and Lemberg (Lvov) were lost. In the West, the new organization was fitted into the structure of the ecclesiastical province of East Germany. In the occupied German eastern territories, the so-called Polish West and North territories, five apostolic administrations were established in 1945 with their centers at Oppeln (Opole), Breslau (Wroclaw), Allenstein (Olsztyn), Landsberg (Gorzów Wielkopolski), and Danzig (Gdańsk).

Difficulties of the Church Under a Communist Government

On 12 September 1945 the Polish government abrogated the Concordat of 1925. The nationalization of Catholic presses and the censorship of Catholic publications marked the beginning of restrictions on the freedom of the Church. They were followed (1948-50) by the censorship of all ecclesiastical publications, by the elimination of Catholic youth associations and broadcasts, by the dissolution of the Caritas Association, the nationalization of hospitals, and by the expropriation of the largest portion of ecclesiastical property. Primate Stefan Wyszyński, took over direction of the archdioceses of Gniezno and Warsaw after the death of Cardinal Hlond (16 December 1948). (He was made a cardinal in 1953.) He made an agreement with the government on 14 April 1950. The bishops obtained the recognition of their dogmatic, liturgical, and catechetical demands, but the normalization of the relations between Church and State, which they expected, did not take place.

Out of the latent battle between Church and State a more open conflict broke out (1952-55). The government decree of 9 February 1953, on the filling of ecclesiastical offices, subordinated episcopal jurisdiction to the supervision of the State. Bishop Czeslaw Mieczyslaw Kaczmarek of Kielce (1938-63) was already arrested in 1951. In 1953 Cardinal Wyszyńiski, and, in 1954, Auxiliary Bishop Antoni Baraniak of Poznań (archbishop from 1957) were likewise deprived of their freedom. The absolute authority of the governmental office for ecclesiastical affairs; the dissolution of some major and minor seminaries, including seminaries of religious orders; the measures directed against the Catholic University of Lublin; the abolition of the Catholic faculties at the beginning of the winter semester of 1954 to 1955; the prohibition of January 1955 against the imparting of religious instruction in the elementary schools; the arrest and imprisonment of priests; the frequent search of private domiciles by the police; and the expropriation of monasteries all endangered most seriously the independence of the Church. In addition to pressures from the outside, attempts were made to split the interior unity of Catholicism by means of the so-called “patriotic priests,” who were pushed into key positions in the Church by the office of ecclesiastical affairs, and of “progressive Catholics” who organized themselves as the Pax-Movement and were supported by the government. These Catholics of leftist orientation developed the Pax Press and presented themselves as the true representatives of Polish Catholicism. The Church was pushed very much into the background in public life. The number of churches and chapels declined about thirty percent; the monasteries for men, forty percent; and convents for women, about forty-five percent. Because of the arrests, imprisonments, and banishments of priests, many parish posts could be filled in a temporary fashion only. On 8 December 1955 concern for the unity of the Church in Poland moved Pope Pius XII to address a letter to the Polish episcopate. He not only dealt with the persecution of the Church, but he emphasized, among other points, the danger of the “Progressive Catholics.”

Church-State Relations 1956-57

In the fall of 1956 Wladyslaw Gomulka, after the thaw (odwilz) that freed Poland from Stalinism, took over the political leadership and the situation of the Church improved. Cardinal Wyszyński was freed and returned to Warsaw, 28 October 1956. A commission made up of representatives of both Church and state was established to remove the existing tensions. The government decree of 9 February 1953, was withdrawn. Imprisoned bishops and clergy were given their freedom, the vicars capitular who had been appointed in the Polish west and north territories by the office for religious affairs in 1951 were now selected from loyal supporters of the cardinal. Religious instruction was permitted as an elective subject in schools before and after the hours set for obligatory studies. The Catholic laity obtained influence in internal political affairs, the press, and journalism. In May 1957, Gomulka declared that he saw the necessity of a coexistence between believers and nonbelievers, between the Church and socialism, and between the people’s sovereignty and the hierarchy of the Church.

Polish Catholicism, 1956-1965

The Church utilized the alleviations that had been granted in 1956 to make itself heard. Through a carefully prepared and successfully conducted nine-year Novena (1957-66) the Church injected itself into the celebration of the millennium of Poland (Millennium Poloniae). The ideological reaction of communism was hesitant at first but soon became clearer. In the preparations for the Sejm (Parliament) elections of 16 April 1961 the watchword went out that Polish atheism must fight with the Catholic hierarchy, and that the domination of the souls of the whole nation was the issue at stake. On 15 June 1961 a law again abrogated the teaching of religion in the schools. The Church replied by constructing a thick network of catechetical support points, that the ministry of education tried in vain to bring under its control. The State applied the screw of taxation against the Church; used the pretense of paper shortages against ecclesiastical papers and periodicals; attacked Cardinal Wyszyński and other bishops, charging them with demagoguery and fanaticism; and restricted the freedom of the Church in systematic fashion.

In 1965, the Church was seeking to overcome these threats through a concentration of her forces. Her interior development was evidenced by the sound training of numerous seminarians in the major seminaries (4,000 seminarians in 1965); by the further development of the Catholic University of Lublin and of the Catholic Academy in Bielany near Warsaw; by appropriate methods of pastoral care; by the zealous activity of numerous religious orders and congregations; by courageous argumentation against dialectic and practical materialism; by the publication of several theological journals of high standing, as, for example, the Ateneum kaplańskie (Wloclawek), the Collectanea theologica (Warsaw), and the Homo Dei (Warsaw); by cooperation in the Ecumenical Movement; by close contact with Rome as the center of the Church; and by the implementation of the decrees and suggestions of Vatican Council II. There was a flourishing religious life that was evidenced by zealous attendance at divine worship, the reception of the Sacraments, the intense devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and the restoration of old churches and erection of new ones. It was reflected also in the appearance of weekly Church papers like Przewodnik Katolicky (Poznań) and Gość Niedzielny (Katowice), in the sociocultural weekly Tygodnik Powzechny (Cracow), as well as in the monthly paper Znak (Cracow).