Yes, May the Fourth is international Star Wars Day (“May the Fourth be with You”—but watch out for the “Revenge of the Fifth”), and yesterday, all over Western Christendom, is or at least used to be called “the Day of the Holy Cross” (this construction of the Calendar is sometimes said to be a “Gallican” custom, involving the mixture of Celtic rites of Beltane [May Day] with Christianity, in the time of Saint Gregory of Tours and other such French sources predating the time of Charlamagne*, but even as a 20th century Anglican/Episcopalian, I grew up thinking that Constantine’s Mother the Empress Helen** went to Jerusalem and found the “true Cross” fragments on May 3, and when I started traveling to and living in Mexico I found that the Mexicans [in “Veracruz” and elsewhere] still celebrate the 3rd, notwithstanding anything Pope John XXIII did the year I was born , and the Maya of Yucatán—see my birthday greetings for Pedro Un Cen on May 1—still celebrate May 3 as the day that the Chaacs (the Ancient Maya Raingods) return to the land from the East to start the beginning of the rainy season, but Last things first:
POLISH CONSTITUTION OF 1791 Day: A Warning for our Time
Most Americans have heard of American Revolutionary War hero General Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko (at least by the shorter version of his name: Tadeusz Kosciuszko). He came to the United States to assist in the War of Independence for no reason other than he thought it was the right thing to do. He was a volunteer Patriot in Founding a country 1/3 of the way around the world from his homeland.
I have the feeling that Kosciuszko lived to feel even more defeated than John W. Davis….(see my adjoining post on the 60th Anniversary of the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Petition for Writ of Certiorari) possibly more like Jefferson Davis must have felt…..
Kosciuszko lived long enough after the American Revolution to see first the French Revolution, then the final partition of his own homeland by three of the major powers OPPOSED to the French Revolution, the restoration of the core of his homeland (briefly) between 1807 and 1815, and then the final re-annexation of Poland by Russia after the Congress of Vienna in 1815—a situation which would endure for another 104 years….
After helping launch the American nation, with a career comparable and in some ways parallel to the actions of the Marquis de Lafayette in France, Kosciuszko went back to his native Poland where he tried to rebuild and save his own nation, and modernize its constitution in light of what he had learned and seen in America. I have previously, on this blog, mentioned the wonderful Polish Professor Wiktor Osiatynski under whom I was privileged to study at the University of Chicago 1990-1991 and my fascination with the Polish nation and constitutional history has never ceased since then. Poland is a Phoenix-like nation having been consumed by fire into ashes and portioned by its neighbors Germany and Russia at least twice (and Austria once). The metaphoric image of the mythical Phoenix arising from its flames parallels takes on added and appropriate meaning given Poland’s association with the City and University of Chicago, not least since Chicago is the largest Polish-speaking urban area anywhere outside of Poland and the City itself has at least once or twice in history arisen from the flames (after the Great Fire of 1871, but arguably again after the riots of 1968 also…).
On May 3, Poland celebrated the 221st anniversary of the Constitution of 1791, the last Constitution before the two final (18th century) partitions of Poland 1793-1795. The Twentieth Century Partition of Poland, between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia was in a thousand ways much worse, more brutal, more destructive, but also much shorter in duration. The 18th Century Partitions of Poland were reversed by the Emperor Napoleon I Bonaparte in 1807 as he vainly tried to restrict and limit the power of Prussia. The Von Ribbentrop-Molotov (aka “Stalin-Hitler”) Pact of 1941 was reversed a mere four years later, but not before Poland had not only been savaged by Nazi occupation but by the Stalinist reprisal which, in terms of meaningful reality, involved much vaster forced migrations than any that history had ever seen, and comparable only to the forced internal migrations (poorly documented though they are) which took place in Maoist China during the “Cultural Revolution”.
Now you might ask, why should an American care about learning the details of Polish Constitutional History? As Professor Wiktor Osiatynski made us all aware in the two courses he taught that year at the University of Chicago, Poland’s constitutional history was a major source of its downfall. Prior to meeting and studying with Wiktor, my primary familiarity with recent modern Poland had been a vague knowledge of the partitions of the late 18th century, the fact that Napoleon I had created the Duchy of Warsaw, and that Chopin and many other 19th century artists had gained fame for the culture of Poland and quietly advocated the restoration of Polish Sovereignty and Nationality.
Of course, I had also been very generally aware from a lifetime obsession with historical cartography, I was aware that Poland had once been the largest nation in Europe—a fact, again, which probably very few Americans must know.*** Yes, the combination of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland once not merely “dominated” but in effect “was” all of Eastern Europe—controlling during most of the 15th-early 18th Centuries all of the territory from the Baltic to the Black Seas, dwarfing “barbarous” Russian during most of that time, although Russia started climbing out of an inferior position in the 16th century, though it did not achieve “world nation” status until the 18th under Peter and Catherine the Great.
But indeed, the Constitutional History of Poland and Lithuania together is very interesting, and historically relevant for Americans, especially in this day and age. Lithuania, so it was forced to ally more closely with Poland, uniting with its western neighbor as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Commonwealth of Two Nations) in the Union of Lublin of 1569. According to the Union many of the territories formerly controlled by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were transferred to the Crown of the Polish Kingdom, while the gradual process of Polonization slowly drew Lithuania itself under Polish domination. The Grand Duchy retained many rights in the federation (including a separate government, treasury and army) until the May 3 Constitution of Poland was passed in 1791.
I submit to you, “my fellow Americans” that we today are much like Poland—because of the abrogation of our traditional Federal Union into a centralized dictatorship, we are weak and face extinction, division, and perhaps even partition between, say, China, Mexico, and a resurgent Europe.
* Pope Adrian I between 784 and 791 sent Charlemagne, at the King of the Franks’ personal request, a copy of what was considered to be the Sacramentary of Saint Gregory, which certainly represented the Western Roman “Early Dark Ages” use of the end of the eighth century. This book, far from complete, was edited and supplemented by the addition of a large amount of matter derived from the Gallican books and from the Roman book known as the Gelasian Sacramentary, which had been gradually supplanting the Gallican. The editor may well have been Charlemagne’s principal liturgical advisor, the Englishman Alcuin. Copies were distributed throughout Charlemagne’s empire, and this “composite liturgy”, as Duchesne says, “from its source in the Imperial chapel spread throughout all the churches of the Frankish Empire and at length, finding its way to Rome gradually supplanted there the ancient use”. More than half a century later, when Charles the Bald wished to see what the ancient Gallican Rite had been like, it was necessary to import Hispanic priests to celebrate it in his presence, because the Gallican rite took root firmly in Toledo, Viscaya, Aragon, Catalunia, and elsewhere in the land of the Christian Visigoths of Hispania before the arrival of the Moors (and survived there ever after, even during the Caliphate of Cordoba—which resilience explains why May 3 remains the Day of the Holy Cross everywhere in Latin America).
The Luxeuil Lectionary, the Gothicum and Gallicum Missals, and the Gallican adaptations of the Hieronymian Martyrology are the chief authorities on this point, and to these may be added some information to be gathered from the regulations of the Councils of Agde (506), Orléans (541),Tours (567), and Mâcon (581), and from the “Historia Francorum” of St. Gregory of Tours, as to the Gallican practice in the sixth century.
** Constantine’s Mother the Empress Helen did a lot of traveling and established a lot of Churches. Named after Helen of Troy, Empress Helen kept the name alive and popular among the Christians, and it was the Empress Helen, I am told, after whom were named both my Louisiana-born grandmother who raised me with love and my Greek-born wife who razed me with something else.
***For my lifelong obsession with maps, I have mostly my mother to blame, because she bought me so many Atlases–Shepard’s Historical Atlas, Oxford Historical Atlas, just for starters–when I was very small and for some reason decorated my boyhood room with a collection historical individually framed maps of almost every county in England, Wales, & Scotland—this led to my grandparents, somewhat later, always putting me in charge of studying the maps when we traveled and making reports on local geography as we did—Baedeker was almost like a family friend, and sometimes AAA and National Geographic.