Monday, November 28, 2011
And when the king came back out of the garden set with trees, and entered into the place of the banquet, he found Aman was fallen upon the bed on which Esther lay, and he said: He will force the queen also in my presence, in my own house. The word was not yet gone out of the king's mouth, and immediately they covered his face. And Harbona, one of the eunuchs that stood waiting on the king, said: Behold the gibbet which he hath prepared for Mardochai...And the king said to him: Hang him upon it. So Aman was hanged on the gibbet...and the king's wrath ceased. (Esther VII: 8-10)

Queen Esther observed in prayer, before she went before her lord, king, and husband's face, that the threat against the Jews had been visited upon them as punishment for sin. Great then had been her personal mortification before she undertook to save her people. Likewise, she demanded fasting and weeping from them, before she ventured to beg Artaxerxes to spare the lives of the Israelites.

Father Augustyn Kordecki, and later King Jan Kazimierz, made the same observation concerning the Swedish 'Deluge' (1655-1660), the former ascribing that chastisement to the sins of Poland's people, and the latter to the crimes of her rulers. His majesty spoke these words after he had crowned the Virgin as his nation's queen:

As I see, to the great sorrow of my soul, that all the adversities which have fallen upon my Kingdom in the last seven years—the epidemics, the wars, and other misfortunes—were sent by the Supreme Judge as a punishment for the groans and the oppression suffered by the peasants, I promise and vow, after the conquest of peace, in union with all the states, to use all means to free my people from all unjust burdens and oppressions. Grant, Oh most loving Queen and Lady, that I obtain the grace of Thy Son to do all that I propose, and which Thou hast inspired me! (Memoirs of the Siege of Częstochowa, Augustyn Kordecki, C. S. P., translated by Plinio Correa de Oliveira)

This noble resolution was most wisely entrusted to Our Lady's keeping. After all, it had been the miraculous survival of her shrine that had turned the tide of the war in Poland's favour. 

Yet, while the great men living through this fiery era beat their breasts for their own sins and prepared to save their fatherland with mortification and repentence, the enemy were unwittingly blunting their own swords by committing iniquities themselves. Like Nabuchodonozor's warrior, Holofernes of the Book of Judith, General Burchard Müller, might have fared better in his campaign against the Catholics of Poland if he had had his own Achior to warn him thusly: 

Wheresoever they went in without bow and arrow, and without shield and sword, their God fought for them and overcame. And there was no one that triumphed over this people, but when they departed from the worship of the Lord their God. But as often as beside their own God, they worshipped any other, they were given to spoil, and to the sword, and to reproach. And as often as they were penitent for having revolted from the worship of their God, the God of heaven gave them power to resist. (Judith V: 16-19)

Alas for him, the general's religious sect had ousted that book from Holy Scripture, so he could not profit from its wisdom.  Making the same mistake as General Holofernes, he sallied forth in contempt of the Church still revered in Poland, even referring to the shrine he wished to capture as a 'henhouse.' History would soon turn him into another proof that God is not mocked, and only a fool spits on His beloved.

Still, no one could call him unreasonable for expecting the surrender of a single, Polish fortress (and a monastic one at that) when the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had already buckled under the Swedish invasion. And did he not go about the siege with the greatest of human wisdom? Did he not send Polish, Catholic aristocrats and even old friends to treat with those stubborn Paulines? Did he not offer them the hope of preserving their monastery if they would yield? Did he not cajole them not once, but eleven times? One of these emissaries even begged Father Kordecki to give in by threatening the defenders of Jasna Góra with damnation: 

...the aim of a religious order is to abstain from temporal matters. What do you have to do with the turbulence of war, you whose rules call you to solitude and silence. Ponder it well, lest the arms which you brandish instead of your Rosaries, carry you to perdition…. (ibid.)

Yet, though the Polish king was a refugee in Silesia, the nobles had surrendered to the invaders, and all tactical and technical prospects of defending the Bright Mountain were bleak, Father Kordecki was driven by one fierce determination--no one who despised Our Lady would stain her sanctuary with his impious feet.

His staunch defiance cannot be justified or condemned in the light of human reason. The probability of clemency on the part of the Swedes would have been a matter for diviners, not logicians. Though defeat was certain, stalling for time in the face of capitulating to an unendurable peace possessed its own wordly wisdom. In the end, surrender is always a gamble, and choosing one side of a coin is not mad.

Can the priest be condemned on religious grounds then? Was the nobleman correct in admonishing him against taking such an active stance on what must in the end be a secular affair--the identity of one's sovereign?

There can be no doubt that fire for one's homeland and the principles of natural pride consumed many of the hearts defending Jasna Góra's walls. But the motto carved above so many portals in Polska is Bóg, Honor, i Ojczyzna. When some of the monks complained against Father Augustyn that it was for God's providence to determine the fate of kings and sovereigns, he did not dispute this fact, but made a new argument:

“…what Faith is ours,” he bellowed, “what love, what gratitude to God Who is so generous to us—that such small damage to our earthly comforts is able to turn us away from the guard and protection of the chest containing the celestial treasures of the eternal King? Let us consider that it is far more prudent for us to defend the integrity of the House of God, the Holy Faith and at the same time our own liberties, than for us to lose all and, in addition, to go into exile and eternal slavery.” (ibid.)

There would be no trust given to the devil, nor a chance for him to commit defamation. This resolve, united with hopeful reports of the king, does much to justify the Pauline's reason, but the feeling remains that there was also something--rather someone--else, who would not allow him to give in. As with Ozias, the Israelite ruler of Bethulia, this someone was very likely a woman.

When Holofernes lay siege to the above-mentioned city, the inhabitants (like those sheltered in the monastery) did not religiously apostatize as they became parched with thirst. Separating their earthly state from their eternal duties, they argued for capitulation on different grounds:

For it is better, that being captives we should live and bless the Lord, than that we should die, and be a reproach to all flesh, after we have seen our wives and our infants die before our eyes. We call to witness this day heaven and earth, and the God of our fathers, who taketh vengeance upon us according to our sins, conjuring you to deliver now the city into the hand of the army of Holofernes, that our end may be short by the edge of the sword, which is made longer by the drought of thirst...

and their ruler, Ozias, was prepared to give in:

 Ozias rising up all in tears, said: Be of good courage, my brethren, and let us wait these five days for mercy from the Lord. For perhaps he will put a stop to his indignation, and will give glory to his own name. But if after five days be past there come no aid, we will do the things which you leave spoken.
(Judith VII 16-17, 23-25)

In the modern world, with its restive field of free choice, we so often forget what our individual duties are or if we have any at all. What is explicitly holy or evil is taught to us and inscribed on our hearts, but the things we owe to God and the world as ourselves is a thing we hardly ever stop to consider. Living life according to the universal virtues, it does not often occur to the modern thinker that what is allowed for him, may not be permitted another man or that the reverse may be true.

Hence, while such a resolution as Ozias's is not objectively impious, and a Christian state of today may even be permittied it, it was wrong. The matter was apparent for the noblewoman Judith:

And who are you that tempt the Lord? This is not a word that may draw down mercy, but rather that may stir up wrath, and enkindle indignation.You have set a time for the mercy of the Lord, and you have appointed him a day, according to your pleasure...And therefore let us humble our souls before him, and continuing in an humble spirit, in his service: Let us ask the Lord with tears, that according to his will so he would shew his mercy to us: that as our heart is troubled by their pride, so also we may glorify in our humility. (Judith VIII 11-13, 16-17)

Perhaps the Pauline priest was not reading Judith in his time of great trial, but he responded to a traitorous, Polish lord that came to urge his surrender with the same fire as that great lady:

“On account of former benefits which Your Excellency has conceded to this sanctuary, your life has been spared various times during this siege; but lower thy head, do not abuse the patience of God!” (ibid.)

Yes, lower thy head lest a hand mightier than Judith's sever it as she severed that of Holofernes's. It was not until after the siege, and from the mouth of enemy witnesses, that the Virgin's gallant knights learnt she had been with them all the time:

"What witch is this that is to be found in your cloister of Czestohowa, who covered with a blue mantle sallies from the cloister and walks along the walls, resting from time to time on the bastions – and whose sight makes our people drop with terror, so much so that, when she appears, we have to turn our faces to the ground and protect our eyes?" (ibid.)

However, the Poles had soldiered on by faith and not by sight. That vision which terrified the Swedes had not consoled their earthly eyes. Persevering with the sacraments without fail, honouring Our Lord without fear, and praying without ceasing had been their preservation and sweetness of spirit. In the end, it prevailed in Heaven and on earth.


“Contemplate, oh Poland of posterity, what a great benefit was conferred upon Thee by the Mother of God, whose devotion thy Apostle and martyr Saint Albert, Archbishop of Gniezno, so zealously propagated together with the Roman Catholic Faith! Follow then the holy example of thy forefathers, for, if you guard your devotion to Mary, propagate it zealously, and defend it generously, you will attract even greater mercies and become terrible to the followers of hell! Let Christendom look and admire how courageously our Queen of Heaven and earth protects Her kingdom, and how efficaciously She sends aid to Her subjects, deprived of all human help! May the angel of the armies of the Lord, guardian of Poland, deign to move the heavenly militias to pay homage together with us to the supreme majesty of God for such great benefits and may He, with His powerful hand, disperse all the enemies who ally themselves in order to eradicate from Poland devotion to the Queen of Angels!”


About Me

My Photo
Warsaw, Poland
Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
View my complete profile