05 February 2006

Nationalism and Religion: An Alliance of Convenience

Some leading [Polish] Catholics who had earlier felt alienated by the secular tone of the nationalist movement began to recognize an essential connection between the defense of the church and defense of the Polish nationality. Their ranks included the agricultural modernizer Dezydery Chłapowski.

A telling example of this alliance came during the funeral of Karol Marcinkowski in 1846. The event, orchestrated by Polish nationalist leaders to broaden sympathy for their cause, attracted huge crowds eager to honor the good doctor. Marcinkowski had drifted away from the church during his student years in Berlin and never returned. On his deathbed he apparently refused to take Holy Communion and explicitly declined a Catholic funeral. "Despite this," explained provincial governor Maurice Beurmann in exasperation, "on the day of his funeral the archbishop appeared at the head of the entire clergy in clerical robes and joined the funeral procession." Beurmann reacted so strongly to this because it foreshadowed his own worst fears. As he had explained two years earlier: "Two levers command unparalleled power to move the local population: nationality and religion. The first exercises its influence over the nobility, and the second over the common people. A combining of the two, through which religious interests also come to oppose the government's intentions, will spell trouble."

Heinrich Wuttke recognized the same ominous signs. In 1846 he noted: "Three or four years ago a rapprochement or alliance occurred between the Poznan-area nobility and various clerics. Its exact nature remained unknown at the time and is still unclear, but it has been betrayed by its effects. Many noble men and women widely known to be irreligious suddenly demonstrated great piety. Our disenchanted world no longer quite believes in the sudden illumination of the Holy Spirit."
SOURCE: Religion and the Rise of Nationalism: A Profile of an East-Central European City, by Robert E. Alvis (Syracuse U. Press, 2005), pp. 106-107

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