Sunday, July 23, 2017

Koźmian & The Jesuit Question

"I have often heard contemporary philosophers...They tell us that had Poland at the time disentangled herself from the Church, as Zygmunt August had prepared to do, Poland would have entered the family of enlightened nations and these enlightened nations would have defended her from division. As an upright Catholic I judge the thing from a different view point: the Catholic religion, other than her heavenly genesis, has as its highest achievement that it is the principle feature of our national character and has saved us from heresy."
- Kajetan Koźmian on the Jesuit Order, Memories I.2 (1852)


Koźmian's recollections of his education are at once reflections on the role of the Jesuit Order in Polish affairs from at least the late sixteenth century through the partitions. It is the mark of a calm, pacific faith when a Catholic can bring himself to review the effects of his religion on national life without hagiography, yet mindful of his duty to avoid inciting his readers towards irreligiousity.

Koźmian notes in his preface, titled "A Warning" that his youthful disinclination towards memories remains on his mind, and it is only in the eightieth year of his life, "when no one can be of any use to us nor we of any use to others, when we have come to know the nothingness of all which we thought valuable in life and which had excited our passions, when we have come to breathe nothing but conscience and truth and nearer now to the Judge of human affairs we care less about our earthly fame than about Heaven's verdict upon us" that he can write his recollections.

By contrasting his penmanship with Rousseau, whose memories so angered Koźmian for their vanity and dishonor, he warns us that in pursuit of "conscience and truth" he will not writes things which "are similar to truth, but rather than building up the faithful only feeds discontent with regard to the Church." Does he succeed?

Reading his assessment of the impact of the Jesuit Order one is hard pressed to answer, for Koźmian's recollections above all reveal a tension that persists in Polish culture and was clearly underscored by the communist era censors of the edition of the Memoires I find myself reading: namely the real and imagined contrast between revolutionary and progressive patriotism as opposed to religious detachment at best or the interest of religious institutions over the national interest at worst:

"When it was necessary to take up arms in 1792 in defense of the fatherland, few places could be found where regiments were filled by knights educated by the Jesuits while many of those who did join the ranks were wanting in manliness. Those educated by the National Commission of Education...broke through enemy lines and charitably squandered their blood...It is hard not to admit as an objective observer that just as the generation that was brought up under two Augusts, drowning - so to speak - in all of the political vices of the previous centuries, bereft of all of the benefits of enlightenment: manliness, imaginative virtues, honor, riddled with demeaning alcoholism, pettifogging, corruption, excess, fanaticism and greed - this generation brought Poland closer to the destruction for which her institutions had prepared her and made of Poland the object of disgust and pity in Europe, without respect - so, in contrast the generation under Stanisław August, born of the Commission of National Education, tutored in the improvement of their forefathers vices, undergoing noble sacrifice and wrestling persistently against the fate prepared for us, although not without its own great political vices, at least restored Poland's good name and earned the respect of Europe..."

Those of us who have lived for a long time in the Ursynòw district of Warsaw, along the acronymous KEN alley, tend to associate the Commission of National Education with that part of Warsaw which was meant to be the vanguard of urban planning, enlightenment and progressivism. To drive along KEN is to see a side of Warsaw unlike any other. For some, it is a trail of modernistic vices, made all the more ugly by the pathologies of communism which accompanied it. For others, KEN - particularly the facades featured towards the long alley's conclusion in Kabaty - are an eclectic mixture of Real Socialism and the architectural kitch of early post-communism.

One thing is certain: judging from Koźmian's reflections, the decision to name the long alley which cuts through Ursynòw after the National Commission of Education was fitting because the controversy over Ursynòw is a mirror image of the controversy over the Commission itself at its inception and the Commission's role in national life.

The communists were not the first to attempt to present the Commission as a step away from what they perceived to be the Jesuit intention to transform Poland into the type of theocratic colony that Spain had liquidated in South America and towards "European enlightenment". This is a standard trope in Continental and Socialist thought.

Koźmian seems to pay homage to this line of thinking in his reflections and makes this controversy lucid in his childhood recollections. His education in Jesuit schools came at the twilight of Jesuit influence in Poland, when the National Commission of Education was established and the Jesuit Order began to lose its hold over national education in favor of a newly secular ideal.

Koźmian was to some extent protected from this secular ideal by his father who feared that the Commission's aim was to breed irreligiosity, and it is to be hoped that his Christian education is precisely what inspired his honest yearning as an historian to note certain positive effects of the Commission on society at large in contradistinction to Jesuit practice.

Koźmian adheres to a simple rule in his deliberations upon the Jesuit Order in Poland: where the Jesuits exemplified Christian virtue; they were praiseworthy. Where the Order was prone to worldly vice, they were blameworthy. Dividing Jesuit influence into two epochs, Koźmian contrasts their defense of Polish virtue against the tempest of religious strife engulfing Europe at the time with a certain level of arrogance, sloth and pride which appeared to have overcome the Order as the seventeenth century dawned.

In domestic affairs it perpetuated a kind of violence from the educated classes towards the lower classes by virtue of having utilized physical violence against pupils who, upon themselves coming of age would exhibit such violence towards the lower classes, seeing it as almost natural. In foreign affairs, Koźmian alludes to "the war against Russia in favor of the self-annointed Dimitri" and the violent attempt at the conversion of the Rus peoples to Roman Catholicism which "gave rise to the Kozak rebellion, followed by the massacres in the Ukraine". In Russia this is known as the Time of Troubles when Poland attempted to take the Russian throne by way of war and guile using the False Dimitris as a formal pretense.

Koźmian is careful not to lay direct blame for this on the Jesuits, but instead points his finger at King Zygmunt III, though describing the Jesuits of the time he uses adjectives such as "prideful", "shallow" and "determined to the point of fanaticism". This is in sharp contrast to his description of Jesuit virtues in the first epoch (from Zygmunt August to the ascent of Zygmunt III), during which time Koźmian records Jesuit "merit...above all the determination with which they kept us attached to our ancient faith and took up arms always with the pen, the word, with education against so many different heretics which multiplied throughout the German schools under Zygmunt August, against their masters who brought Luther and Calvin to Poland...to prepare Polish minds for divorcing themselves from the true Church." Koźmian praises the Jesuit Order of the time for producing Poland's greatest leaders - amongst them Piotr Skarga.

Despite some criticism of the Jesuit Order and select praise for the reforming role of the Commission on National Education, Koźmian is loathe to take the side of those who spy the roots of Polish weakness in the Jesuit presence. While he does indeed note the ill repute into which a Jesuit dominated Poland had fallen amongst European powers, he can hardly be said to be an enthusiast of the Enlightenment and of any scheme to purge Poland of Christian sentiment along the French model.

Koźmian appears above all to see the failure of the Jesuit Order to live up to Jesuit ideals. However, and perhaps most importantly, he blames Jesuits for exiting the theological realm within which they helped shape the soul of the Polish nation for the realm of political practice and political intrigue. Yet this blame is not so much a condemnation of the Jesuits, who were not made for political affairs, as it is a condemnation of the weakness of Poland's political institutions which came into such distress as to leave a vacume which the three Empires filled in successive order as the partitions progressed.

Given that Koźmian follows his childhood recollections with considerations of the Targowica Confederation and the Kościuszko Uprising, the author's considerations upon the Jesuit question should be seen as laying the groundwork for the central question to which Koźmian bore witness: the collapse of the Polish state.

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