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REMARKS MADE AT THE KOPERNIK GALA CELEBRATION IN UTICA, N.Y. ON NOVEMBER 3, 2012

November 6, 2012

KOPERNIK MEMORIAL ASSOCIATION OF CENTRAL NEW YORK ; 40th ANNIVERARY  ‘GALA CELEBRATION’ held at Dorothy Smith Center, Utica , New York on November 3, 2012  (Remarks delivered by Dr. Thaddeus V. Gromada, Professor Emeritus of European History, New Jersey City University at this event . Following his address he received the Distinguished Polonian Award from the Kopernik Association.)

First, let me highly  commend you for the important work that you have done in the past 40 years. In my mind there is nothing more important than promoting culture, in your case  specifically  advancing and promoting Polish culture to mainstream American society which is essentially a pluralistic society.  Thus you are enriching American society and at the same time making sure that you as Americans of Polish ancestry do not lose your precious Polish cultural heritage.  It seems that Polish Americans are too often in a defensive posture spending a great deal of time energy responding to defamatory allegations, a better strategy is to be in a positive mode emphasizing the values of Polish culture and its contributions to our Western Civilization which obviously, that is what  you are doing.

You certainly did well to choose Mikołaj Kopernik (aka as Nicolaus Copernicus) as the patron of your association.  There are good reasons for you and other Polish Americans to be proud of Kopernik and share in some way in his greatness.  He was born in Torun, Poland in 1473 whose family originally came  from Śląsk. No doubt he was a titan, one of the greatest geniuses who has ever lived on this planet.  He belongs to the real greats, in the class of Aristotle, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, who have made revolutionary breakthroughs  and freed men from ignorance.  His book, “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestum” written probably between 1515 and 1532 but not published until 1543 when Kopernik was 70 years old and near death, was based on long observations of the skies and mathematical calculations.  With incredible boldness Kopernik repudiated the geo-centric Ptolomaic system accepted for over thousand years and asserted that the sun was the center of our solar system and the earth just one of the heavenly bodies revolving around it.  This  conception paved the way for Galileo, Kepler, Newton and marked the birth of modern science making today’s space age possible.  Just think of it ! Truly, a universal man of the Renaissance, Kopernik was not only one of the greatest astronomers of all time, but he was a physician by training and predilection , an economist who formulated the law of bad money, later known as Gresham’s law, 32 years before it was devised by Sir Thomas Gresham; a statesman ; a soldier who fought the Teutonic Knights showing his loyalty to the Kingdom of Poland ; by necessity , a man skilled in the technical sciences , mechanics, surveying, a poet, and yes a painter.

Poland, the native land of Kopernik , certainly deserves some credit for producing such a genius.  Kopernik did not live and work in a vacuum.  Poland was responsible for providing the social and intellectual environment, the milieu, which made his intellectual growth and development possible.  The Poland of Kopernik’s time was a country that was beginning to enjoy the quasi federation with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania made possible by the marriage between Queen Jadwiga who originally was crowned King of Poland, and Władysław Jagiełło (Jogaila in Lithuanian) the Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1386.  This new body politic eliminated the German Teutonic danger after the Battle of Grunwald in 1410 and extended its borders from the Baltic to the Black seas. The period of the 15th and 16th centuries was Poland’s golden age, ruled by the Jagiellonian kings under the influence  of Christian Humanism and the Renaissance  who managed to govern  with great wisdom, prudence and toleration. Thus making it possible  for diverse peoples of the Polish-Lithuanian Confederation , that is, the Poles, Lithuanians, Ruthenians, ancestors of modern  Ukrainians and Belorusins, Armenians, Tartars, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Jews, and later Protestants to live in harmony and peace while Western Europe was in turmoil as a result of religious conflicts.  Such enlightened Poles, like Paulus Vladimiri, rector of the Kraków University, anticipated the spirit of the times to come, by advancing religious and social tolerance  at the Council of Constance in 1415, anticipating the modern theories of human rights guided by the principles of peace and mutual respect among nations.   When Casimir IV, the Jagiellonian died in 1492 after a long 45 year reign, Ruthenian Orthodox subjects mourned his death calling  him good and just because he respected their traditions, customs and did not meddle into their ancient laws.  This Jagiellonian legacy of pluralism, moderation and tolerance is today being recalled as Europe begins to face serious demographic changes and cultural instability.

Although in the modern sense Poland’s political system could not be strictly described as a democracy.  It nevertheless had one of the most advanced representative systems in Europe.  Poland never developed an absolute monarchy like France, Prussia or Russia; instead its monarchy was elective and it was severely  limited by  the bi-cameral Parliament known in Polish as the Sejm by 1401.   The Parliament  (Sejm)in control of the magnates and gentry  passed the Polish Habeas Corpus Act in 1430. By 1505 Poland  was definitely on the road to a Constitutional monarchy when the first Polish constitution , the so called “Nihil Novi” Act was passed .”Nothing new about us, without our concurrence”, which meant that the King could not make a decision without the consent of the nobility through the Polish Diet.

Most crucial for Kopernik’s intellectual development was the higher education he received at his alma mater, the Jagiellonian University in Krakow between 1491-1495.  Kopernik was fortunate that Poland had established a university in Kraków as early as 1364, years before the universities at Vienna, Heidelberg and Cologne were founded.  This university was totally reorganized, reformed, reinvigorated  modeled after  the Sorbonne University in Paris model in 1400.  Although the reformed university  was eventually called Jagiellonian University after King Władysław Jagiello, it was really his wife , and co-king, Jadwiga, now St. Jadwiga who was the real founder of the university.  The first endowment came from the sale of her jewelry and other valuables which she bequeathed to the university.  She was the one who was deeply committed to providing higher education not only to Poles but other peoples living in the Polish-Lithuanian Confederation   which included Lithuanians and Ruthenians.  Kraków with its great university became a seat of scholarship where truly humanistic activity took place and attracted both scholars and students from all over Europe but particularly from Hungary and Bohemia.  Indeed, the Jagiellonian University played a key role in integrating East Central Europe with Western culture.

When Kopernik studied at the Jagiellonian University , it was at its most brilliant period.  As early as 1410 it had a special chair in astronomy whose professors included such luminaries as Wojciech Brudzewski, Bartlomiej of Lipnica, Michal of Wrocław and Marcin Król.  They certainly  made an impact on Kopernik so we are justified  to claim  that his native country made a significant contribution in shaping this genius.  He should continue to be an inspiring role model to all people, but especially to  Poles and Polish Americans who claim him as their own and cherish his legacy.  No doubt, he has inspired some of Poland’s greatest mathematicians like Stefan Banach and Nobel prize laureates like Maria Skłodowska Curie (physics and chemistry), Andrew Schally (medicine) Roald Hoffmann (chemistry) and our own Polish American  from Queens, New York, Frank T. Wilczek (physics).  By the way all last three Nobel prize winners were members of the Polish Institute of Arts & Sciences of America while I had the honor to be its Executive Director and President based in New York.  It would be well for us to reflect a bit and ascertain  how faithful are we to the spirit of Kopernik’s intellectual and scientific heritage.  As Polish Americans , how open are we to bold innovative ideas that make human progress possible, of course without accepting ideas that undermine basic human rights, above all respect for the individual human personality

Kopernik made a startling, truly revolutionary breakthrough not only in the field of astronomy but in every field of learning.  His ideas not only revolutionized the way of looking at the universe but man’s relationship to it.  Humanity owes Kopernik a great deal as it begins to push  the frontiers of knowledge in the 21stcentury.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 6, 2012 4:50 pm

    Reblogged this on tadgromada.

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