Poland officially crowned Jesus Christ as its king. It also remains resolutely pro-life. Christian morality reigns. And the Catholic Church enjoys a special status and official influence. Poland may thus be the world’s only explicitly Christian nation. But is there something wrong here?
Here is a report from Jozef Andrew Kosc in First Things:
In Poland in 2018, an unabashedly Catholic society is fully integrated into a modern European polity and economy. This society represents an integral and democratic Catholicism, one that has resisted the anti-culture of postmodernism and neoliberal cosmopolitanism.
What post-Trump Americans and post-Brexit Brits long for already exists in Poland: social cohesion and civic virtue, rooted in a Christian meta-narrative. In other words, a post-liberal politics of virtue. Here is a modern state firmly grounded in the principles of liberal democracy, but one that has begun to move beyond the policy limitations of classical liberalism. Undoubtedly, liberalism had to come first, overthrowing Soviet totalitarianism and providing a groundwork for human rights and civil liberties, before today’s leaders and thinkers could begin to construct a society based on the common good. But Poland demonstrates that liberalism need not be the end of history.
This would be in accord with Catholic teaching, that the church really does have a political authority. As Catholic philosopher Joseph G. Trabbic explains,
Reformed theologian Peter Leithart discusses Prof. Trabbic’s article and the Catholic teaching about the church and the state, favorably comparing it to R. J. Rushdoony’s Protestant vision of theonomy, the notion that the state should be ruled by God’s Law.
A Catholic confessional state is the ideal, even if in most modern situations it’s not a practical possibility, and prudence would steer us away from it. But I shall also argue, perhaps more controversially, that that teaching continues to be normative for Catholics. I conclude, then, that the principled liberal demand for a separation of church and state remains in conflict with Catholicism.
We Lutherans, on the other hand, are leery of such an arrangement. One of the issues during the Reformation was the Pope’s claim of temporal authority over earthly rulers. Luther strongly rejected that notion, seeing it as a fatal mingling of the Two Kingdoms, confusing the spiritual realm with the earthly realm, and undermining the Gospel.
The Lutheran criticism of theonomy is, in part, that if even Christians cannot keep God’s law, how can non-Christians? God’s law is different from merely civil ordinances, being designed to convict us of sin, inspire repentance, and drive us to the Gospel. That kind of law cannot be used judicially and politically without severe distortion.
The Lutheran criticism of the “Catholic confessional state,” in part, is that the secular state is already under the rule of God, who works by means of the vocation of earthly officials and citizens. The same can be said of the secular realm as a whole, in which God is present in a hidden way.
For the church to be given political rule–including punishing transgressors, waging wars, and exercising power over its subjects–it must inevitably abandon its vocation of proclaiming the Gospel of forgiveness through Christ. A politicized church is one of law, not gospel, and will have a theology of glory rather than a theology of the cross.
So what are we to think of “Christian Poland”?
Photo: “Christ the King,” (2010) by Mirosław Kazimierz Patecki, et al., in Świebodzin, Poland [the tallest statue of Jesus in the world at 108 feet], via Arcaion, Pixabay, CC0, Creative Commons