Wyszynski and Wojtyla upon the latter’s election as pope. The first thing you hear is Wyszynski saying, more or less, “Everyone in Poland is celebrating, including our Red brothers, because they think to themselves ‘Poland can’t be all that bad if it has produced a pope.'” He then laments losing Wojtyla, his closest associate and colleague.] A respected facebook acquaintance posted the following shocker the other day: “For the ultra-left, Obamacare was intended to be a first great step toward making all of us blissful wards of the state. But they have screwed this up, screwed it up royally. At this rate, we may have to go back to self-reliance.” My most immediate reaction was, “Who enshrined ‘self-reliance’ as a Catholic virtue?” How do quintessentially Protestant sentiments such as Emerson’s, “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind,” or “I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions” fit into the Catholic imagination, if at all?
The opposition of the Polish church to Communism throws most Westerners a curve. They tend to see this as a sign that with the collapse of Communism Poland has fully matured into capitalism, the End of History (Zizek likes to frequently note how Fukuyama sounds like “f-ed in the ear” to speakers of Slavic languages). This is part of a wider narrative of capitalism’s always irreproachably good fruits. Read through John Zmirak’s recent apocalyptic freakout, “Cardinal Maradiaga’s Poisonous Fruit,” if you dare. In Zmirak’s Manichean estimates you’re either with us, on the side of capitalism and progress, or you’re against us and want to bring back those terrible middle ages or the Gulags. In Poland the Tertio Millennio Seminar has done its part to encourage Poles to surrender to the myth of an unbridled free market with a virtuous and human face. They have also encouraged somewhat skewed research such as Fr. Zieba’s recently translated Papal Economics. (If you want to head for sounder shores, you should sail toward Schindler’s recent book Ordering Love, especially the chapter “Does the Free Market Produce Free Persons?”) Things were not always so. Wojtyla brought a Marxist philosophical journal (search for keyword “Marxist” in that link) to the conclave that elected him. There was nothing unusual about this because, as recently rediscovered essays show, he spent a lifetime sifting through Marxist thought and used it to criticize capitalism. Jozef Tischner, known as the chaplain of Solidarity, also published works, such as Christianity and Marxism, that critically engaged Marxist thought.
Now stop me if you’ve heard this one: There is a pernicious commonplace that would have us believe that John Paul II couldn’t rein in the Western church or Latin America (as debatable as that conclusion might be), because he came from a simple Manichean situation in Eastern Europe. If there’s anything that reading William T. Cavanaugh’s riveting Torture and Eucharist has taught me it’s how similarly complex the situation was (still is to some extent) in Poland. On the other hand, the church in the West has its simple Western problems. It also has peculiar prejudices and theories it wants to impose upon the hearts and minds of the rest of the world as if they were objective reality.
The video at the top of this post recounts the moment when John Paul II failed to stop Cardinal Wyszynski from kissing his papal ring after the conclave. Wyszynski was imprisoned then held under house arrest for resisting the Communists (see: his prison notes). Even given all that he was clear-headed about the fruits of capitalism: “A new religion: money and wealth. Its dogmas: unlimited economic freedom, free competition, the division of capital and labor, its mercenaries are the laws of supply and demand and price mechanisms. Its morality: the lack of any moral superiority of human capital and labor or good production. Profits are its only good deeds. Its altars: a great plant, machinery, tools, cartels, syndicates, banks, where greed is satisfied by the price of human life. The final goal: blessed be the rich. Be rich at all costs, whoever can, and as soon as they can! This is the god of this world, a hurried capitalism. From now on all the world will encounter will be associated with that system because ‘abyss calls to abyss'” [This is my quick translation of a Polish text. I’ll have to check, but the essay from which it is taken, “Catholicism and the Spirit of Capitalism,” might also appear in the English-language collection All You Who Labor.] Isn’t it a stark statement of the problems we still face? Isn’t it closer to the savage capitalism we know (financial crashes, abortions, environmental destruction)?
The final irony is that several graduates of the Tertio Millennio seminar have broken away from their American handlers. They’ve created a journal called Pressje. One of their thematic issues was entitled “We’ve Killed a Prophet.” Some of the essays detail how Poland has wasted the prophetic message of the pope by surrendering to unbridled capitalism after 1989. Just to add insult to injury: When I went to check the Polish registration page for the Tertio Millennio seminar, the link was, no joke, dead. Update: The facebook acquaintance redeemed himself by posting a video about something Wyszynski could have predicted. Is it possible to put a human face on this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM