Blessed Stefan Wyszyński was the primate of Poland from 1948-1981 during one of the pivotal periods of her history. Love and Social Justice: Reflections on Society was created from a series of essays written by Wyszyński during World War II and complied into a single volume, first translated into English now by Filip Mazurczak (a frequent contributor to CWR). Wyszyński is largely unknown in the West, but in his native Poland he is considered one of the 20th-century’s great social heroes. The insights found in writings are extraordinarily insightful and often prophetic, as important today as they were eighty years ago.
Wyszyński was born to a noble but materially declining family at the turn of the last century. He developed a love for the faith and the people of Poland early, and by the start of World War II was a professor of the seminary in Włocławek. During the Nazi occupation, he aided Jews from being discovered and continued to serve his community as best he could. After the war, he rebuilt the seminary and became Primate, only to see Poland fall under the Iron Curtain. During this difficult period, he supported anti-Communist efforts and was imprisoned in 1953. For his efforts to keep the Church strong, he was given the unofficial title “the soul of Poland.”
Love and Social Justice comes from a collection of essays Wyszyński wrote during World War II. Facing the various erroneous philosophies of the age, it outlines his vision of social and economic policies that respect humanity rather than abuse it. Since it was not necessarily meant as a single volume, it can be difficult to read from cover to cover, but works better as an encyclopedia of commentary, to read topic to topic like the Catechism. The translation by Mazurczak is excellent, easy to read and discern. I also appreciated his many notes on aspects of Polish culture and history that readers might find obscure.
Probably the best aspect of the writing is Wyszyński’s constant use of scripture. It demonstrates not only a fantastic knowledge of God’s Word but how authentic Catholic social teaching flows directly from the teachings of Jesus. The overarching theme is that man is meant to live “in a community of love” (62), and that all social ideas must stem from this anthropological focus. It would be difficult to cover every topic, so this review will cover three areas: the primacy of the family, the relationship between the Church and State, and the faults of modern economic theories.
When Jesus first enters a home, he always says, “peace be with this house.” Thus, the right community always begins with the family. Wyszyński brilliantly illustrates how the larger society is essentially an extension of the individual family unit. Thus, “empty cradles lead to empty streets”. The family “carries the burdens of society” by caring for the young and the elderly. It provides stability, education, and a social welfare structure. Thus, it not only provides a model of love but in a real way takes care of needs that would otherwise be assumed by the state. “Civic activity will flourish” if the family is left “unhindered”.
When Wyszyński was writing Love and Social Justice, he was facing state policies that sought a total elimination of any ecclesial influence on society. Although it might have been easier to hide and keep a low profile, Wyszyński insisted the “Church must never abandon the State no matter how sinful and rebellious” because liberty “cannot be accomplished without the assistance of religion.”. His vision was not a total separation of Church and State, as expressed by Thomas Jefferson, nor a complete merger. Rather, it was more akin to British constitutional monarchical system, with the elected State as the efficient realm of government and the Church as the dignified “unseen hand.” Namely, “a free Church in a free State.”
Wyszyński understood that both state and private control of the economy contains dangers. Greedy capitalists and godless communists are two sides of the same evil coin because they both view humans as inanimate means-to-an-end, rather than rational beings with inherent dignity. A society only guided by “the capitalist spirit wants to turn all stones into bread,” while Communism rejects the individual “soul and its desires,” seeing only the collective. The key is that man “possesses nothing because of his essence; instead, he receives everything” from God. Labor is a gift, not for the State or the CEO, but the man himself.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to understand the life of Wyszyński without looking at his relationship with his vastly more famous protégé, Pope St. John Paul the Great. When Karol Wojtyła was made Bishop of Krakow in 1964, the Communist authorities hoped the younger, more philosophical cleric would be a more sympathetic foil against his crusty, senior authority. Instead, Karol showed tremendous respect and deference towards Wyszyński. When the cardinals had to submit to the new Pope, John Paul refused to allow Wyszyński to kneel before him, instead kissing and embracing him.
Reading Love and Social Justice, written while Wojtyła was still a seminarian, one can see an obvious influence. The writing style is quite similar to John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility and Theology of the Body. There is also a shared, intense interest in the dignity of the human person against the pagan spirit of the age. The relationship between the two men was not unlike St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas, the quiet teacher and the star student (though I doubt it will take seven hundred years to canonize Wyszyński).
This volume would be a wonderful primer on social justice in any age, but seems especially important in 2022. There is a powerful narrative throughout society that Christianity is a force of social and economic oppression. But Wyszyński describes the Church’s two-thousand-year struggle to help the poor as “lonely” because political ideologies deal often with money, policies, and enforcement rather than real people, who are made in the image and likeness of God and are called to divine life through Jesus Christ. This is a great insight from Love and Social Justice: the greatest social healing can only come through love, and the true source of love is Jesus Christ.
Blessed Stefan Wyszyński, friend of the poor, defender of the persecuted, mentor of John Paul the Great, pray for us.
Love and Social Justice: Reflections on Society
Written by Blessed Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński
Translated by Filip Mazurczak
Arouca Press, 2021
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I’ve read what little there is available in English, and would only comment that Bl. Stefan Wyszynski’s focus was on the human person made by God, not humanity, an abstraction created by man.