Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Church and state

Judging by the title, Church and state, I thought the nineteenth chapter of Tischner czyta Katechizm would be ultimately boring - the church and the state should stay well separated, end of story. To my surprise, Fr. Tischner reaches the very same uncompromising conclusion, without any ifs or buts. Yet in reaching it, he discusses some very interesting historical and philosophical points, which make the chapter a rewarding read.

Fr. Tischner begins with a sweeping assertion. "I'm troubled by the easy with which people of the Church give in to temptations flowing from authority, most often from the state. They [people of the church] are immune to persecution. But they not very immune to enticing promises.

Too often, the Church had entered into alliances with absolutist monarchs or fascist states, he says. The Catholic Church in Germany is a good case study in how well-meaning theologians were all too easily swayed to support national socialism. Fr. Tischner cites Catholic dogmatist Professor Michael Schmaus and Archbishop of Breslau, Adolf Bertram, both of whom (initially at least) regarded the Nazis as a strong force countering the godless anarchy. These "outstanding thinkers, the very summit of inter-war German theology... opened for Hitler the doors to power in Germany - and also opened the the way to Stalingrad for ordinary German soldiers."

What then, is the structure of temptation? "The heroes of the age of persecution become collaborators in an epoch of privilege. The archbishop and the professor were both people of good will. "They had the absurd hope that Hitler was bringing something positive. Hitler spoke much about the moral renewal of the nation. And in the ears of priests, such words sounded attractive. Promises of a church-state concordat, religious education in schools - all this, against a background of the painful experience of the Weimar republic - and further back in history, the French Revolution," recounts Fr. Tischner.

"Why did the Catholic Church in Germany have such a distrust for democracy? This distrust was not accidental, it had very deep doctrinal roots. In Germany, in France, democracy was born in a world torn apart by religious wars. And religious wars were wars about Truth. Democracies arose from the idea, first formulated by Thomas Hobbes, who wrote "non veritas sed auctoritas facit legem" - not the truth but authority makes law. And for the Church, the authority should be the authority of truth. The Church is convinced that you cannot separate power from truth, because then everything becomes possible," says Fr. Tischner.

"These views clashed and clash to this day. But the clash reached its climax over the 20 years after Hitler, during the Second Vatican Council. Memories of the mistakes made by the Catholic Church in Germany were still very painful. And against this background the conflict between the integrists and the liberals," he says. Spelling out the causes of the rift, he quotes the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Colombo, who said in 1977: "The state should be entirely secular, without religion", and the reaction to this statement from Archbishop Lefebvre, outraged that a cardinal should say such things, that 'rotten liberalism' had permeated to the very heart of the Church.

The notion of liberalism should be contemplated further; it is not libertinism, not free-for-all, but a more humanist notion of freedom within behavioural constraints agreed by consensus within society. The danger, for the Church, is that liberalism does not need a God.

Jacek Żakowski says that Archbishop Lefebvre sentiments are resonating increasingly in Poland. He quotes an article from Słowo - Dziennik Katolicki: "The doctrine of separation of Church and state is basically false, because it is against man, against the family, against the nation. Can we," asks Żakowski, "transpose the revealed truth upon politics? Or is it that we are unable to transpose it directly onto politics, and therefore we should not mix it at all into matters of state?

Fr. Tischner replies: "If we indeed wish to create a truth-based state, then the privileged in that state would be those who espouse the truth. Catholics. Good Catholics. The state should therefore give them more rights than others, and give to them power, because they 'have truth'. This does not mean that we would necessarily have to persecute others; however, in a truth-based state, we must deny having believers in the truth and believers in lies on the same level."

Żakowski asks how the Church can escape this conundrum [which, in Poland, 17 years after the book was written, looks far more serious than it was then].

Fr. Tischner replies: "After WW2, the idea of the rights of man and human dignity began to mature within the Church." The Vatican Council's Declaration of Religious Freedom is quoted at length in the catechism: '...no one should be forced to act against their conscience... This right is based on the very nature of man, that is why this right is a permanent entitlement even for those who do not fulfil their duty to seek the truth and abide by it.' Even for those! Even for those! Christ died for us all, so all of us have the same dignity. Pascal said that knowing God gives birth to pride; knowing man gives birth to despair. It is only through knowing Christ that we can see in Him our own misery and own own greatness. The greatness of man depends on the fact that Christ died for him; because of this, no one has the right to limit the rights of any of us. Even of those, who stray."

Żakowski asks the obvious question: " So the Church is to allow that society to stray in the name of the dignity of those, who are not right?"

"The Church should allow the state to establish its own harmonious coexistence within rules which concern the state. However, within the framework of those rules, giving everyone equal rights. The Church will proclaim the truth. But now without force, and without the help of the state. The Church will proclaim the truth about the dignity of man."

Very noble words, certainly words that the Lefebvrist, Marian wing of the Polish Catholic Church would not accept. How this will all hang together going forward remains to be seen.

Five weeks of Lent gone, a week and half to go, six more conversations ahead of me, which may yet shed some new light.

This time last year:
Scrub fire in Jeziorki

This time two years ago:
Airbus A380 visits Warsaw


Anonymous said...

So very proud words. Church will allow the state out of its free will to give equal rights to each citizen. How nice of them.

Fortunately Poles are increasingly enraged by the worse of the Church clerks, and in 2 generations maybe 20% of Poles will be Catholic, maybe even less.

Michael Dembinski said...

Anon: the two generations 20% figure I'd go along with, if you mean 20% as regular churchgoers. If you mean 'affiliate themselves with the Church', the figure could still be as high as 50%-60%. Out of inertia, tradition. Will my children's children be attending mass every Sunday as grown ups? Doubt it.