Polish messianism tells the story of a nation struggling to survive and regain its independence. As narrated by the poets Jan Pawe_ Woronicz and Adam Mickiewicz, its vision of patriotism and civil responsibility, first told two hundred years ago, contains promising resources today for a world facing challenged by pluralism, secularization, nationalism and religious fundamentalism. Yet this messianism has a dark side. The romantic philosophy of history that funded this messianism proved an inadequate defense against Prussian and Russian military might, and failed to inoculate Poles against the rising spirit of nationalism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism that swept Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
In seeking to address the problematic and promising feature of Poland's particular messianism, Burnell draws up on the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, arguing that his theology offers a much-needed critique of the myths and values of romantic national messianism. Where such messianism asks how Christ could serve a nation's cause and freedom, Bonhoeffer declared that by it is by following Christ in discipleship that people and nations become truly free.
Recently, a new wave of Polish religio-political fundamentalism has appeared, as a response to the rapid secularization of society since the end of the Cold War. Certain members of the Polish clergy have again joined conservative politicians to promote nationalistic, populist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic attitudes. Bonhoeffer, in contrast, argued for leaders who ennoble and empower those they serve, and modeled how patriots can honor their nation's achievements while freely confessing its failures. His legacy facilitates dialogue and reconciliation in the ongoing struggle against ethnic, religious and national bigotry. Following his lead, the messianic myth of "Poland, the Christ of the nations," can be recast as a call to follow the One who is "God-for-us" and "the-man-for-others" by standing with the suffering, by speaking for the disenfranchised, and serving alongside other nations in the cause of freedom and justice.