Characteristics of the economy of monasteries in Poland

Economy and monasticism: a general introduction

Before 1 focus on the specific situation of Polish monasteries, I must describe some characteristics of monastic economy. Economy has always represented a tension in monastic life as the primary goal of the monks and nuns was a life of uninterrupted prayer and contemplation. According to Jean Seguy, monasticism can be described as a utopia of the Kingdom of God, already here and still to come. A utopia is ‘a complete ideological system aiming to transform radically the existing global system implicitly or explicitly, by appealing to an imaginary vision of the world or by applying it in practice’ (Seguy 2014, p. 288). As I have already showed elsewhere (Jonveaux 2011a), monks and nuns develop different strategies in order to integrate economy and work into monastic life without impairing the quality of their religious life. Economy in monastic life aims to provide for the community. Profit is not therefore the primary goal, but religious communities must find or develop activities in which they are directly or indirectly working, to provide for the daily life of the community and the infrastructure of the monastery.

In my other research on monastic economy in Europe and Africa, I identified five main types of economy and sources of revenue:

  • Direct work of monastics with an interned economy ofproduction. The main part of the revenues for the community comes from direct work by the monks or nuns in productive activities. Lay people may also work in these activities alongside monastics.
  • Economy of external activities or externalised economy. In this form of economy, the major part of the revenue comes from activities in which almost only lay employees are employed or where the community has sold off the process of production to a lay firm and receive royalties for the trade brand.
  • Economy of patrimony. Revenues derive mainly from forestry or property assets, for which monks do not w-’ork directly. This form may be particularly established in male monasteries in countries where monastic communities were able to retain their properties during their history.
  • Economy of donation. Communities live essentially thanks to charitable donations either because this corresponds to the spiritual tenets of the monastery, for example, for sisters of the order of Poor Clares, or because the community is still quite new and not yet financially independent. Monastics may work in activities for which they do not receive payment for their services.
  • Economy of ageing. This model is relatively new' and is becoming more and more widespread in Europe. It concerns communities - often female communities - where the majority of revenues come from either state or private pensions of elderly monastics.
  • (Jonveaux 2019)

As we will see, the situation of Polish monasteries corresponds partly to the first model: direct work of monks and nuns, but a productive economy based on goods made and sold by monks and nuns is not very widespread.

The specific situation of Polish monasteries in post-communist Europe

As already noted, contrary to the majority of Central and East European countries, monasteries in Poland were not suppressed during Communism. In this sense, the contemporary period is not identified as a time of restoration as it is, for example, in the Czech Republic. In fact, Polish monasteries has already been subject to suppression before Communism in the 18th and 19th centuries and restoration occurred later in the 19th, and especially the 20th century (Jewdokimow' 2020, p. 63) The suppression followed the partition of Poland between Russia, Prussia and the Austro- Hungarian Empire in 1772: ‘After Poland’s partitions, both Prussia and Russia systematically eliminated Polish monasteries from the territories they annexed’ (Gorniak-Kocikowska 2016, p. 163). The territories ruled by the Austrian Empire were confronted in 1780-1788 with the politics of the Austrian Emperor Joseph II, who wanted to suppress all monasteries that did not provide useful activities for society in general. Nevertheless, ‘whereas under Russian and Prussian rule the number of monasteries dropped in the years 1773-1914, it rose under Austrian rule’ (Jew'dokimow 2020, p. 60). The biggest part of the restoration of monastic life and other religious orders happened after the First World War: ‘Most of these orders survived until Poland regained its independence after World War I, some still exist today.’ (Gorniak-Kocikowska 2016, p. 163). For example, concerning the largest Benedictine monasteries, Tyniec was suppressed in 1816 and restored in 1939, and Lubin was suppressed in 1834 and restored in 1923.

Nevertheless, some monasteries were also suppressed during World War II, and the Communist period brought new conditions for religious houses. ‘Even in the most difficult years, between 1950-55, religious houses were not closed, despite the fact that religious (and in particular, religious women) had to change the traditional orientation of their work'1 (Kloczowski 1983, p. 65). After the Stalinist period, 1953 onwards, the political situation did not prevent monasteries from development. ‘Monastic life was only a little bit easier after the war during communist rule in Poland’ (Gorniak-Kocikowska 2016, p. 164).

In economic terms, monasteries did not have freedom of self- determination towards their properties. A text from 1950 stipulates: ‘The use of the goods by the order is subject to approval by the state. If this is denied, the assets are forfeited by the state’2 (Kloczowski 1983, p. 70). In spite of this legal situation, communities could find ways to cover the costs of their daily necessities. For instance, the bursar of J^drzejow explains:

So, politically it has been more difficult, but economically it was easier. It was easier because we were independent in terms of economy. We had this farm and the communist reality, you know, having a farm, having your own product, was something very good, because the market was very restricted, it was a stable market, so there were no products on the market. So here having a farm and pork, cattle, all this stuff, it was very good for us. Also we could have loans, but we didn’t have to pay and right now they don't. Right now the problem is that the political climate has changed but the economical, this is quite different because if you receive some money, you have to give it back [...]. So, it was more difficult politically, but it was [easier] economically ...

(Brother 7, May 2019).

For this brother, the economic situation concerning the farm was actually better in the past than at the present time. As agriculture is a traditional activity of monks, especially Cistercian monks, the community of J^drzejow could find work that complied with the political situation and also with their vocation.

 
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