WHEN THE COUP first came in Poland a week ago, there was some reason to hope that Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski was leading it -- in part, anyway -- in order to spare Poles the bloodier tragedy of a direct Soviet intervention. The army's historic role as an agency of Polish and even anti-Soviet nationalism, Gen. Jaruzelski's reach for a military rather than an open Communist party administration, his pledges not to go back to the system that Solidarity had overturned in August 1980 . . . these and other considerations provided a certain slim basis, we thought -- hoped -- for reserving judgment on the general's character and purpose.

In the week that has gone by, however, Gen. Jaruzelski has shredded virtually every bit of the severely limited confidence that had been reposed in him--reposed in the first instance, it must be added, by many Poles. He had promised not to turn guns on workers and he has turned guns on workers. The cold and methodical violence of his coup has evoked the full-throated denunciation of the Catholic Church, which is not a radical force in Poland but which is a force crucial to the restoration of civility and peace. The workers whose interests and desires he professed to respect have veered away from him, in rage or in fear. By the stark evidence of Lech Walesa's continued silence, Gen. Jaruzelski has not been able to gain the trust of the one person who is the demonstrated and, in a democratic sense, elected lay leader of most of the people of Poland.

The general remains, in brief, without legitimacy of any kind as a political authority. His claim to walk in the steps of Marshal Josef Pilsudski, the still-respected Polish military ruler (1926-35) whom Gen. Jaruzelski has conspicuously invoked as his model, seems nowhere respected. He is being seen to act not as a Polish nationalist but as a Soviet stooge. The coup, so far, is Gen. Jaruzelski's shame.

If the general has any lingering desire to be accepted by his countrymen and by history as a genuinely Polish figure -- a tenuous proposition at best -- then his duty is clear. He must do whatever is necessary to persuade the figures who are the unchallenged moral and political leaders of Poland, Cardinal Josef Glemp and Mr. Walesa, to join him in reestablishing an order that enjoyed the respect of the Polish people. Poland was never, after all, a country like the Soviet Union, one without a strong tradition of individual liberty. The church helped keep glowing, through the decades of Soviet-imposed Communist rule, the embers that the Solidarity movement blew into a great popular fire. That is the reality in Poland. To suppress it is to assault the spirit as well as the body of the Polish nation.