Blogger: Take Notice and Read Carefully


Rome, Oct. 26, 2004. (CWNews.com) – The European community can recognize its Christian heritage without offending the Islamic world, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told an Italian group on October 25.

The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith spoke at an evening meeting of the Center for Political Orientation, an influential discussion club in Rome, about the effort to include an explicit mention of Christianity in the constitution of the European Union.

Asking whether European leaders had omitted a mention of Christianity in order to avoid offending Muslims, Cardinal Ratzinger said that logic was unpersuasive. On the contrary, he said, Muslims would naturally have expected Europe to affirm its religious patrimony, and the absence of any mention of religious faith tends to reinforce Islamic perceptions of Europe as a decadent society. “What offends Islam is the lack of reference to God, the arrogance of reason, which provokes fundamentalism,” he said.

“Europe was founded not on a geography, but on a common faith,” the cardinal said. “We have to redefine what Europe is, and we cannot stop at positivism.” Speaking to a crowd of politicians, diplomats, and other opinion leaders– just four days before the scheduled signing of the new European constitution– he argued that European society is defined by two criteria: the reliance on reason and the Christian faith.

While he acknowledged the development of secularism in the political life of European nations, the cardinal observed that secularism is “a partial ideology, because it cannot respond to the moral challenge” of contemporary life. To illustrate his argument he gave the example of current debates over bioethics, observing that the purely secular approach offers no way to resolve disputes about the meaning and dignity of human life.

The German prelate observed that “man’s power has grown in an unimaginable way.” Modern biological research, which has reached the point of creating new human life, “could become a weapon more destructive than all the traditional means of annihilation,” he said. And a purely secular society cannot find a way to avoid the attendant problems, he argued.

Cardinal Ratzinger went on to observe that Christianity is not simply a European system of belief. “Europe is, certainly a fundamental source for the development of Christianity,” he said; but now Europe is “marginalizing” the faith. Cardinal Ratzinger had caused a stir in the European media in June, when he voiced his opinion that Turkey should not be admitted into the European Union because it is an Islamic society. But his June statement had sounded the same note that he repeated to his October audience in Rome; in both cases he emphasized that a society without any religious foundation is prey to fundamentalist zealots. “Only a reasoned religious sense can moderate radical movements, and allow us to find an equilibrium in the dialogue among cultures,” he said.

Blogger: Islam attacks atheism, and fills the vacuum of contracepted and aborted babies. Plus, anticipate euthanasia by stealth when social security cannot be paid by 40 years of empty cribs.


The God of Jesus Christ: Key to Europe

More Musings, June 7, 2016.

Joseph Ratzinger raises the large question that we must answer now. He wrote: “The essential problem of our times, for Europe and for the world, is that although the fallacy of the communist economy has been recognized – so much so that former communists have unhesitatingly become economic liberals – the moral and religious question that it used to address has been almost totally repressed. The unresolved issue of Marxism lives on: the crumbling of man’s original uncertainties about God, himself, and the universe. The decline of a moral conscience grounded in absolute values is still our problem today. Left untreated, it could lead to the self-destruction of the European conscience, which we must begin to consider as a real danger – above and beyond the decline predicted by Spengler.[1]

                The real question is: why does the “unresolved issue of Marxism live() on”? such that it (Marxism) transmogrifies into liberal capitalism. What is it that transmogrifies? The answer is the self that lives for the self (handout) under Marxism, is also living for itself (enterprising profit) under liberal capitalism. What’s the difference? It’s all about me. God may or may not be. It’s indifferent. And if it’s indifferent, then what God may be doesn’t matter.  I’m God. And everything I see, I control technologically (or soon will). But this leaves the mind in a most unsatisfactory conumdrum about the meaning of self and the world. It gives me no answer to questions I cannot help asking.

                Judeo-Christianity erupts with a definitive answer, but totally mysterious. It reveals a God who is the creator of all that is, but He is not one of the things that is. He is Creator and not creation. He is not part of creation. He creates ex nihilo. He creates freely. He does not need to create (as the mythical pagan gods) in order to be who he is. Every other creation story is “ex aliquo” – from something, and needs to create in order for god to be god. Not so the God of Genesis and the God of Jesus Christ.  The Judeo-Christian God, “before” creation is all there is. Let’s say this quickly: He reveals Himself simply as “to be.” He is not a being. He is not the supreme being. He is not some kindof being. He is not beyond the stars. He is not a being at all. He is ipsum esse subsistens.  He is not a supreme order parallel and (Robert Barron’s obligatory point, “in competition” with us). From the supreme macro to the nano micro, if it is – whatever it is – the Creator is present making it be.

                The large question is, how to know the Christian God, Creator. Since He is not a being, He cannot be known as we know beings. From created things, we can know about Him, but we cannot know Him as He is in Himself. It’s the same question as knowing Jesus Christ in Himself. This can only take place  experientially. And I have it everywhere in this blog (and in the other [robertaconnor.blogspot.com]): one can only know the Creator God by becoming Him. Since Christ revealed, not a Being but a Trinity of Relations (Father-Son –Holy Spirit) where each is not a Being as individual, but a subsistent Relation that “co-inheres” in the Others, but that “No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and him to whom the son chooses to reveal him” (Mt. 11, 27), there is no way to know “the glue” that holds Europe together as a culture except an experience of Christ. That absent, the world will thrash about with economic and political theories and projects, but if the Christian experience is dead, so is Europe. Read Ron Paul as he goes through the exercise and certainty of this.

[1] Commenting on Spengler, Ratzinger wrote: “There are two opposing diagnoses on the possible future of Europe. On the one hand, there is the thesis of Oswald Spengler, who believed that he had identified a natural law for the great moments in cultural history: first came the birth of a culture, then its gradual rise, flourishing, slow decline, aging, and death. Spengler argued his thesis with ample documentation, culled from the history of cultures that demonstrated the law of the natural life cycle. His thesis was that the West would come to an end, and that it was rushing heedlessly toward its demise, despite every effort to stop it. Europe could of course bequeath its gifts to a new emerging culture – following the example set by previous cultures during their decline – but as a historical subject its life cycle had effectively ended,” J.  Ratzinger, ‘Without Roots,” Basic Books (2006) 67


At the Roots of “Brexit,” (and us) Read Schonborn [long but well worth it].

Christianity Alien Presence or Foundation of the West?


I see the situation of Christianity in Europe to be rather exciting and full of opportunity. A foreign body in Europe and also a root: that is the exciting position of Christianity in secular Europe.

Christopher Cardinal Schönborn

In the last two decades the European Union, with its 27 member states, has grown to be a global power which is able to keep pace with the great world powers. At the same time, trends questioning the Christian foundation of Europe, and aggressively opposing it, are becoming stronger in several countries and in the European political arena in general.

If you are to follow my thoughts about Christianity and the West, I will have to call on that openness to the world for which your American tradition is so well known. I will concentrate my comments on Europe, as anything that happens on this continent will impact the United States sooner or later and is thus relevant to carefully observe. My thoughts are more precisely formulated in this question: “is Christianity an alien presence or the foundation of the Europe?” My answer will be that it is both!

On the one hand, Christianity is one of Europe’s roots and, to a considerable degree, Europe’s future in the world depends on it remaining conscious of that fact. Knowledge of this is decreasing – and alarmingly so.

On the other hand, Christianity is for many a foreign element in a world determined by reason, Enlightenment and democratic principles. My thesis is that this Europe, and the Western world as a whole, will not survive without the foreignness Christianity brings. In other words: Europe can only play its role in the concert of world cultures when it retains Christianity, this foreign body, as a part of its identity.

However, isn’t Europe already on the way towards taking its leave of the concert of world cultures? Demographically, for instance. And does this not also have something to do with the fact that Europe has become the least religious continent in the world? Here I would like to quote two Jewish perspectives on the subject.

Jonathan Sacks, the British Chief Rabbi, believes that a culture of “consumerism and its instant gratification” of material desires is responsible for the falling birth rate in Europe. “Europe is dying” Sacks said, according to media reports of a speech held at the beginning of November in London (during the 2009 Annual Theos Lecture given in London last November), because its population is too selfish to raise enough children. “We are undergoing the moral equivalent of climate change, and no one is talking about it.”

The highest representative of Judaism in Great Britain described Europe as the most secular region of the world. At the same time it is the only continent experiencing population decline. The Chief Rabbi sees a clear correlation between religious practice and the high regard given to family life. “Wherever you turn today, anywhere in the world, and whether you look at the Jewish or Christian or Muslim communities, you will find the more religious the community, the larger, on average, are its families”

To be a parent involves “a great sacrifice” of money, attention, time and emotional energy, Sacks said and asked “Where today, in European cultures … will you find space for the concept of sacrifice for the sake of generations not yet born?” The Chief Rabbi compares the development of Europe to the decline of Ancient Greece with its “sceptics and cynics”.

Sacks goes on to say that religious belief is fundamental to the cohesion of society: “God is back” he asserts, “and Europe on the whole still doesn’t get it.” That, he says, is its “biggest single collective cultural and intellectual blind spot”.

A second Jewish observation is provided by Joseph Weiler, Professor of European Law at New York University who is himself an Orthodox Jew. In a sensational book[1] he questioned why it is that Europeans are so afraid to acknowledge the evidence that Europe has Christian roots. He spoke of a European “Christophobia”. He also sees a correlation between this loss of memory and the demographic development of Europe.

A third spotlight: In October 2007, the Presidents of the European Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conferences met for their yearly plenary meeting in Fatima, the Marian place of pilgrimage in Portugal. The theme was on the family in Europe. One of us came straight to the point with what seemed to him, and to many of us, to be a dramatic situation. Could there come a time in the near future when the greater part of European society says to Christians: You are a foreign body amongst us? Your values are not ours. European values are not the same as Christian values. You do not belong to us!

And if that were so? If this came to be? Would that be so surprising? Didn’t Judaism feel this sense of foreignness in relation to the ancient kingdoms of the Orient and later on to Christianity? Isn’t this foreignness also found at the core of Christianity? “Do not be conformed to this world” (Rom 12.2) the Apostle Paul admonishes the church in Rome. At the Last Supper Jesus said “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15.18). “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2.11) said the Apostle Peter.

They feel like foreigners in this world, despised and rejected. But they accept this foreignness: “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3.20) says Paul. At the same time they long for the city that is to come (cf. Heb 13.14), the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Rev 21.10).

These “foreigners” are anything but a sect that cuts itself off from the world. They want to give shape to the world and change relationships by changing people. They call this conversion “metanoia” and for “foreigners” they are very committed to building a more humane society.

How does that look now? Is it this strange mixture of hope in the life-to-come and commitment to the here and now that has given Europe its specific character? Or does Europe begin to find its identity only when it has liberated itself from the paradox of Christianity and from being dependent on the churches.

How does this relate to Europe’s Christian roots? The attempt to acknowledge the Christian tradition as an important element of European identity in the preamble to the European Union’s constitution failed. The arguments that were given during the discussion about the now-famous preamble were: Europe has become multi-religious and this must be reflected in its constitution. And: This democratic culture founded on reason and Enlightenment had to be won in a bitter struggle against Christianity. Both arguments are well-founded. However, I believe the conclusions drawn from them to be false. This is because their view of the role of Christianity in Europe’s history is too one-sided, seen through the lens of certain prejudices and these arguments do not take account of developments within Christianity itself.

The framework within which we can debate our topic is somewhat limited. It seems to me that to do justice to the topic we need to roughly outline the most important historical stages of Christianity and Europe. I am aware that this is an almost impossible task. Any serious historian would advise against it. Even so, I will try, because if we do not take time to reflect on our history our deliberations concerning the present are groundless and without foundation.

So let me attempt to say something about the development of Christianity and Europe by giving examples from the major historical epochs. I will limit myself to the three great periods of Antiquity, the Middle Ages and Modernity. Even so it can only be an outline, an example of the most formative events.

1. Christianity – A Foreign Body in Antiquity?

“Christianity emerged in a world which is kept at peace, and at the same time, kept in chains during the Pax Romana. In the first centuries of its expansion, it encounters a universal political religion: the cult of the Emperor”[2]. Roman culture had no problem with the integration of foreign religions and these religions had no trouble integrating into the cult of the Emperor.

With one exception: Judaism and, in its wake, Christianity. Soldiers returning from their campaigns brought new cults with them, slaves and freedmen belonged to others. All found their place in the Roman pantheon. Only the Jews and the Christians refused to become one religion among others in the pagan pantheon.

As a result of this they were severely criticized for being hostile to society. Their claim to be the vera religio was seen as arrogant. Both religions were accused of fostering an “odium humani generis“, a hatred of the rest of humanity.

There is a paradox in claiming to be the vera religio and at the same time claiming to represent the vera philosophia comprehensible to all rational people. An example of this is the Roman philosopher Justin (who wrote and spoke Greek). In his fascinating dialogue with the Rabbi Tryphon (from around 150) he describes his path to Christian belief. After trying out a good many of the fashionable philosophical schools competing at that time, he was not satisfied with any of them. While walking by the sea, he meets an old man who proclaims another philosophy, the centre of which is Christ. This philosophy captivated him. In it he recognized the true philosophy he had been looking for. Christianity – the true philosophy. Right from the start it is claimed that in the particular revelation through the prophets and Jesus Christ the truth has been revealed, universally valid and accessible through reason (or at least not in contradiction to reason).

The opposition is strong. It will manifest itself politically in great persecutions. Again, martyrdom is seen to confirm that Christianity is the vera religio, the vera philosophia worth dying for. “Sanguis martyrum semen christianorum” says Tertullian (the blood of the martyrs is the seed for new Christians). Given the fact of these great persecutions and hostility expressed in writings, the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the known world and its development into the state religion of the Roman Empire is a miracle. If the word “miracle” is too strong, then at least one must speak of it as being a development that is difficult to explain.

And so we come to the question: How did Christianity, this foreign body, become the root of Europe? This change is often illustrated by means of a scene from the life of the Apostle Paul. It is found in the 16th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. During his second missionary journey Paul finds himself in Troas in Asia Minor. “During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision,” wrote Luke, who was accompanying Paul “we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” (Acts 16.9-10)

And so it was that the Gospel first came to Europe via Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth and finally to Rome where Paul, like Peter, died for his faith.

What was it that came to Europe? A foreign import? An aid? Something that allowed Europe to become what it is? Or something from which Europe had to emancipate itself after a long process of Enlightenment, something it must continue to do today in order to free itself from foreign authorities?

Now that this “emancipation” is about to become a reality, concerned voices are raised that warn of the consequences of a de-Christianization of Europe. Upon closer examination we can find many examples of the fruits of these Christian roots.

I will mention three elements specifically:

  1. Man is created in the image of God. That is what the bible speaks of in its opening chapters. The meaning of this can never be underestimated and, hopefully, it deserves to be seen as a “European” value today and in the future. The notion that man is created in the image of God is the basis of human dignity, the guarantee that it is unconditional and universal. It is a necessary precondition for the impossibility of this dignity ever being taken away: neither by wrongdoing nor disability, neither by religious nor by or cultural, ethnic or gender differences. Man is always “in God’s image, according to His likeness” and this can never be taken away.I do not need to explain to you how much this view, indebted to this JudeoChristian biblical inheritance, is under threat today. It was already a strange concept at the birth of Christianity. In the culture of the Roman Empire, Jesus’ teaching and practice of seeing the poor, the sick and suffering, as well as sinners, as especially beloved by God and worthy of his compassion was seen to be a shocking foreign element, not to mention this new understanding of the dignity of all mankind. Jacob Burckhardt describes this contrast in his book “The History of Greek Culture”: A deformed person is not just a misfortune for the family, as it is today, but it is a horror, which requires appeasement of the gods, for the entire city, for the nation. These people were not to be raised… According to Plato even sickly people were not to live and were in any case not to leave behind any offspring.”[3] Not to mention “other means of limiting the population such as abortion, the annulment of slave marriages which in itself led to the slaughter of a great number of children, the killing of children of the poor …”[4] – Enough of the horrors of the ancient world, which provide such a distressing parallel to today’s practices of eugenics, euthanasia and abortion.

    This was the one thing that Christianity could offer in opposition to the allpowerful mainstream of the pagan world: an alternative practice. In an early Christian document, the so-called “Letter to Diognetus”, this Christian “alternative society” is illustrated beautifully:

    “For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of men either by country or by language or by customs. For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor do they lead an extraordinary kind of life.

    But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the native customs in dress and food and the other arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvellous, and confessedly contradicts expectation.

    They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign.

    They marry like all other men and they beget children; but they do not cast away their offspring. They have their meals in common, but not their wives.”[5] In brief, the Christians do not belong to a sect which hides itself away, but they offer an alternative which commends itself through its authenticity. At the European Bishop’s Synod in 2000 Cardinal Walter Kasper said: “In the future, Christians will be recognized by what they don’t do.”

  2. It is essential to name another legacy: The idea that there is one Creator and we are created in His image is at one with the belief in the unity of the human race. Humanity is truly one family. All people are, without exception, members of one human family. The reaction of the Roman philosopher Celsus (who also wrote in Greek) illustrates just how extraordinary this concept was in the ancient world. In his polemic against Christianity, he is said to have considered the suggestion that mankind is one to be “the language of rebellion”. Greeks and Barbarians on one level? The mere idea was outrageous to him. It would have been unthinkable for him to agree with Paul’s statement: “(you) have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its Creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all” (Col 3.10f). Max Horkheimer considered this belief in the unity of all mankind to be one of the most important contributions made by the JudeoChristian tradition.Will it again become a foreign body in Europe? The horrific history of racial ideology in the 19th and 20th centuries would suggest so. Has it been completely overcome? New xenophobic movements give us cause for concern, however understandable the fear arising out of excessive immigration may be.

    Pope Pius XII, who is often criticized because of his controversial stance during the Second World War, made a clear statement against this racial ideology in his less well-known Encyclical of October 1939, principally referring to the argument that the human race is one.

    “A marvellous vision, which makes us see the human race in the unity of one common origin in God … (Eph 4. 6); in the unity of nature which in every man is equally composed of material body and spiritual, immortal soul; in the unity of the immediate end and mission in the world; in the unity of dwelling place, the earth, of whose resources all men can by natural right avail themselves, to sustain and develop life; in the unity of the supernatural end, God Himself, to Whom all should tend; in the unity of means to secure that end … in the unity of its ransom, effected for all by Christ.”[6]

    “This ‘law of human solidarity and love’ (Pius XII) assures us, that for all the rich diversity of persons, cultures and peoples, all men are indeed brothers and sisters.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 361). Is this “law of human solidarity and love” that Christianity implanted in Europe as an ideal and mission really to become a foreign body yet again?

  3. Because man is made in the image of God, he possesses the gift that makes him most like God, namely, the gift of freedom. In comparison to the pagan gods who, like humans, were subject to the rule of fate, the Biblical idea of man brought freedom. If a man is to respond with love, a god who wants man to love him “with his whole heart” cannot want to force him to do so. This is the most profound root of religious freedom.The most powerful “invention” of the religion of the Bible is freedom: the ability God gives to man to decide for himself. Only a person who answers of his own free will can truly love God. Love banishes coercion. “Man cannot believe unless he wishes to” (Credere non potest nisi volens), says Augustine[7]. Despite the violations of this very teaching throughout Christian history, it still remains the basic principle for the rights of freedom that have made Europe great. Paradoxically, this view of freedom has been repeatedly questioned since the Renaissance. Deterministic modes of thought, the contesting of freedom through certain trends in brain research, and also certain currents in philosophy and psychology that question man’s real freedom, are an astonishing reminder of the fatalistic views held by those powers that ruled Europe when Christianity arrived in the first century. Will we lose this freedom if we lose its Christian roots?

At this point, I suspect there will be massive protests: Didn’t modern man have to win his freedom through a long and laborious struggle against Christianity? Isn’t what was once the strength of Europe’s Christian roots, not rather a dogmatic and moral barrier to freedom?

We must turn to this question in the second and third part of this text when we look at the Middle Ages and Modernity.

2. The Middle Ages – Europe’s “dark” age?

So far I have taken three elements to illustrate what new things were brought to Europe by Christianity: the idea that man is made in the image of God, the idea that the human family is one and the idea that we have been given the gift of freedom. I could also name many others such as our understanding of time as being linear and not cyclical, that is the birth of history; an understanding

of work as illustrated by the dictum ora et labora summing up the Rule of St. Benedict, not in terms of slavish compulsion but as man’s fulfilment and his participation in the work of the Creator[8].

But the problem is not with what we perceive of as the ideal of apostolic and early Christianity but “Christendom” in the form it assumed after the conversion of Constantine, above all with its establishment as the state religion by Emperor Theodosius in the year 380. It is precisely this Christianity which is the problem, with its enormous might and power, its cathedrals and monasteries and convents as well as its crusades and persecutions of heretics. In short: these are the “dark” middle ages from which we were saved by the brightness of the Enlightenment (and before that, by the Reformation). This image of a dark Christianity has a firm place in the canon of “justifiable prejudices” and comes up again and again when in present-day discussions it is claimed that “the Church” wants to take Europe back “into the darkness of the Middle Ages”, with the Pope and the Catholic Church naturally being given top “ranking” on the Richter scale of reaction and general regressiveness.

But enough of the irony, let’s come to the point. There has always been a great fascination with early, pre-Constantine Christianity. All, or let us say more carefully, many of the numerous renewal or reformation movements known in Europe have taken their bearings from this time when the Christian faith found its way into the hearts of the people without weapons, and without the protection and laws of the Emperor and state. We will return to this in our conclusions (you must still wait patiently for this).

Now, however, we will look at the 1000 years of “Christianity” between the conversion of Constantine and the beginning of the modern era. But a word in advance: After what has arguably been the darkest of all centuries in human history – the poet Ossip Mandelstam, a Russian Jew who was one of the millions of victims of the Soviet terror, called the 20th century the “century of the wolves” – those who continue to call the Middle Ages “dark” need to be told: “Study History”.

In a certain way this new era of the “Middles Ages” begins with the Emperor’s conversion to Christianity. Was it not justifiable for the persecuted Christians to have dreamt of this event? What would happen if the Emperor one day became a Christian? The freedom of the Church would be secure. They would be protected from persecution and they could develop freely. The dream was quickly over. What position would a Christian Emperor have? Does he rule over the church? The Apostle’s words before the council in Jerusalem holds true for a Christian Emperor as well: “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5.29). St. Ambrose of Milan opposed the newly converted Emperor with words which could be said to represent the charter of “The Freedom of the Western Church” (which is the title of a book by Hugo Rahner, 1943, written during the terror of National Socialism): “The emperor is in the church, he is not above the church. A good Emperor seeks to encourage the church not to fight against it. As humbly as we say this, we hold to it and are unshaken, even when we are threatened by the stake, the sword and exile. We servants of Christ have forgotten how to fear[9].”

With this the debate is started. This debate will shape the life of the western world for over 1000 years, unlike the eastern half of Europe – however more about this shortly: The process in which the imperium and sacerdotium, worked with one another and fought against one another, culminating in the dispute over the respective roles of the Pope and the Emperor.

Two Popes stand symbolically and effectively for the development that made the Christian West possible, but also led it into its deepest crisis. Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) was greatly affected by the fall of Rome as he was a member of the upper aristocracy. He saw that the Rome of the East could only be expected to press its claims to dominate the Western Roman Empire but not to help it. That is why the Church itself began to take over the role of guardian and governor in the Western Roman Empire. Pope Gregory went as far as using symbolic language in an attempt to claim power for the Bishop of the Roman Church as Pontifex Maximus and to claim Rome as the caput mundi of a Christian Western Roman Empire. Although he only succeeded symbolically, it gave the Romans a new self-confidence and the Church a new purpose.

Two hundred years later his successor Leo III made a momentous decision. He asked the Franks for help and crowned the Frankish king Charlemagne Roman Emperor in 800 AD. The Byzantine Emperor felt this to be a serious betrayal of the unity of Christianity and the Empire. To this day the two “lungs” of Christianity, the eastern and the western, suffer from this mutual estrangement which continued to deepen until the final split in 1054. For Western Europe the Emperor’s coronation was a crucial step in the development of its own “Western Christianity”.

The consequences of this decision are well known: On the one hand, with the development of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation a high culture defined by Christianity emerged over the course of the centuries, the Latin Middle Ages. On the other hand, an equally lengthy conflict developed over who was to be the head of the empire: The Emperor, who was supposed to rule by divine commission, or the Pope as Pontifex Maximus, Christ’s representative, who crowned the Emperor in the first place?

We know how the conflict ended: with the victory of the Sacerdotiums over the Imperium. However it was a pyrrhic victory. The belief that the Pope alone could manage to rule over all nations in Europe proved to be an illusion. The European kings and princes battled vigorously to create independent nations and obtain supremacy. They proved to be stronger. After many wars the medieval church state became a Sacerdotium with no importance/influence among the European powers. The only power the Pope held was in his role as spiritual, moral representative of a universal religion. The struggle over the sovereignty of the Empire, and then the “Church State” in competition with the worldly powers, weakened the Pope’s spiritual importance more than it strengthened it.

The result of this was a deep-seated on-going crisis beginning in the Middle Ages and continuing into the Reformation, leading to the division of the western church, the religious wars, and finally culminating in Enlightenment and secularisation.

A lesson can be learned from this history. It is a mistake to believe that one religion, one denomination, can be strengthened by uniting itself with state and political power. Certainly religion needs the protection of the state (just as the state also needs the strength of religion) however it doesn’t do religion any good if it were to be identical, so to speak, to state structures and political institutions. The distinction is necessary and it is good for both of them. That is the lesson of the long history of Christianity. It has always flourished best when it has not striven to do the same thing as the state but has demonstrated the inspirational, formative power of authentic belief.

Therefore, in this rapid overview of the Middle Ages it cannot be only about the conflictsacerdotium – imperium but above all it must be about those sources of strength of Christian life which made the West what it is. Before all else we must mention the religious orders and monasteries. One cannot overestimate their impact. Without the Irish monks there would have been no Christian mission. Knowledge of antiquity, pre-Christian as well as Christian, would have been lost. Monasteries were centres of science and learning. They fought for the purity of the faith. They cultivated the land, developed agriculture and the arts and crafts. They recorded and preserved history and they built communication networks throughout Europe.

Of course, there were periods of weakness and decadence. However, new waves of renewal emerged with unbelievable vitality. I can only name a few here. The first of which is the Cluniac Reform. Exactly 1,100 years ago, in the year 910, reform of the monasteries began in Cluny in France. Two hundred years later there were 1,200 monasteries spread across Europe living according to principles of this reform. There was a great energy in the social, economic, artistic and, of course, the spiritual realms. Pope Benedict XVI has said that through Cluny “a spiritual Europe began to emerge in the various regions of France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Hungary”.

As Cluny began to show signs of decline, the next great wave of renewal followed with Bernhard of Clairvaux in the 12th century. In a very short time the Cistercians set up a close network of inter-communicating monasteries. As cities started to blossom in the 13th century yet another dynamic religious movement appeared: Francis and the Poverty Movement.

Has enough consideration been given to the freedom made possible by these renewal movements and how much Europe has been influenced by this? From its inception, Christianity allowed one to “step outside the temporal socio-political order”. The idea that “man must listen to God more than man” brought an element of personal freedom to those wishing to oppose the pressures of society. One of the most impressive examples is that of the young Francesco Bernadone in Assisi in 1207 when he decided to forsake his father and the temporal authorities in order to listen to God alone. He gave his clothes back to his father so that he could walk naked with the naked Christ. Throughout the centuries, this freedom to follow a radical Christian life has set free great creative energy. Here we find one of the sources of Europe’s inner vitality even in secular Europe, this radical way of following Christ continues to exert an effect. To be clear about my conclusions: I am convinced that in this lies one of the greatest potentials for hope in Europe. Just as the great renewal movements in Christianity blossomed in the Middle Ages and were energized, so too it has been in recent history and it continues to be so the present day. The Church (I am referring here to the Catholic Church but it is also true in other Christian churches) often has an undreamt of capacity for renewal. Why should we not have the kind of surprises ahead of us that the Poverello of Assisi triggered off 800 years ago?

3. Modernity: the Other View of Europe

Those who do not see Europe’s roots in our early Christian heritage and its development in the Middle Ages, as I do, must undoubtedly find these roots with the Reformers and the Enlightenment, that is, in opposition to the Catholic Church. Modern Europe is, above all, a “child” of the Enlightenment which often articulated and fought for the implementation of its values and perspectives in opposition to the Church and against Christendom as a whole. Again and again the objection is made that the European view of human rights does not have its roots in Christianity but in a determined resistance to it, and in particular to the Catholic Church.


One thing is certain: the religious split of the 16th century shook western European society profoundly. We can hardly imagine the traumas that people went through on account of the division between the “new” and “old” beliefs. The resulting religious wars have been called the “hermeneutic civil wars” because the warring factions used different interpretations of the same Bible to legitimise their actions.

One of the most horrific outcomes of the religious wars was the “territorialisation” of the religious confessions: Cuius regio eius religio. One’s place of residence came to determine one’s religious denomination. Even today European politics suffers from the consequences of this principle: religious denominations functioning as the source of national identity whether in countries with an Orthodox majority or in the tragic conflict in Northern Ireland. In my opinion the catastrophic concept of “ethnic cleansing” as found in the Balkans is a consequence of this destructive principle. The expulsion of the German and Hungarian-speaking population of Czechoslovakia was a blatant example of this. The Balkan wars that took place in the 1990’s is another instance. Given that the Habsburg “empire of many peoples” was an alternative and entirely contrasting model, it is no wonder that it was destroyed, though it actually anticipated today’s goal of integration as hardly any other European phenomenon has ever done.

The religious wars had a second outcome: people had had enough of theological conflicts. They looked for a basis upon which to build a state free from theology and denomination. Thinkers such as Hobbes or Spinoza believed that this basis was to be found in mathematicalscientific thought. There are no heretics in physics or mathematics. Here was the basis on which law, ethics and metaphysics could be agreed upon, independent of a faith perspective. The incredible success of mathematical-scientific thought appears to prove that religion is reactionary and the scientific world view is progressive. Worse still, the religious wars appear to confirm that religions set people against each other and that Enlightenment sets them free.

If we try to dig deeper, the question of religion leads on to the question of the very question of God. It is finally addressed when we look at the crisis in Europe since the Reformation. The philosopher Odo Marquard speaks of “putting God before the tribunal”: God himself is indicted. The old question of reconciling God’s goodness with the presence of evil comes up again and in strong terms: Unde malum? Where does evil come from? The scientific world cannot answer this question. Their attempted answer was a belief in progress. At a single blow all evil would be eliminated, sickness would be overcome by medicine, injustices by economic advancements. Religion was replaced by belief in progress.

However, there are two problems. Firstly, future advances will not help me today. I will already be dead and the injustice and suffering that has already happened will not be taken away. Secondly, there is justifiable doubt about unlimited progress, because it doesn’t exist. The expectations of salvation fostered by Marxism and other forms of belief in progress were not fulfilled. They could not be fulfilled because we are only guests on this earth. Our pilgrimage on earth is limited by time and resource. The question is sobering: Was that really everything?

In conclusion: Christianity – Root and Foreign Body

Christianity’s place in Europe is paradoxical. It appears to be marginalized to a large extent. The churches are still there, albeit amongst the “also rans”. But they have hardly any weight or influence. Nevertheless, I do not see them as “obsolete” in a Europe with ample spiritual resources.

In many respects it is like being back again at the beginning of Christianity. In a world that is religiously and culturally pluralistic, in a largely “pagan” world in which the Christian way of life practiced over centuries has been forgotten, where astrology, abortion, superstition and anxiety are dominant. Although Christians are a substantial majority in Europe, practising Christians are in the minority.

I see the situation of Christianity in Europe to be rather exciting and full of opportunity. It is in many respects a foreign body – yet it still evokes a feeling of home in many. Europe has a constantly increasing number of people who after living a fully secular lifestyle find their way to a conscious faith. They often describe the journey as a homecoming.

Herein lies the distinctive and unmistakable strength of Christianity: it confers a dual-citizenship, at once earthly and heavenly. It invites one to a loyal participation in society, taking on responsibility for the civitas terrena without wanting to overthrow it in order to create some utopian society. This quiet engagement with the temporal is founded on the fact of a parallel citizenship in the civitas Dei. This claim to be not only a citizen of the earthly civitas has aroused hatred of the church by totalitarian thinkers and dictators. The Christian is free with respect to the state because he is never only a citizen of the state. Never before has this “Christian freedom” been more clearly expressed than when the “confessing Christians”, in the freedom of their faith, defied the totalitarian grasp of the state. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a shining example of this freedom and likewise the simple Upper Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter, to name but two.

This ferment of freedom is what Christianity has to offer Europe, as a freedom from the demands of the mainstream, from political correctness, or simply from the pressure of the latest fashions.

This freedom has a deeper source, an inexhaustible resource. We spoke at the beginning about the amazing phenomenon of the rapid spread of Christianity in its infancy. Among the many reasons for this, I see one in particular: this expansion has to do with the One who gave the church a clear mission and this promise, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of time.” (Matt 28.20). This saying of Jesus Christ is Christianity’s most powerful resource and it continues to be so in the most surprising ways. This explains the inexhaustible power of regeneration in Christianity. So often declared as dead, it again and again experiences its resurrection in the power of the One who rose again.

A foreign body in Europe and also a root: that is the exciting position of Christianity in secular Europe. Europe is often critical of Christianity and that is good. Europe may need the healthy restlessness of the Gospel’s prophetic voice, but Christianity also needs the voice of Europe asking critical questions in return. This does Christianity good. It wakes it up and challenges it. It questions Christianity’s credibility. And why? Because I believe, deep down Europe longs for an authentic Christianity. In our hearts we Europeans, whether secular or religious, know that the root that will sustain Europe in the future is this: a credible Christianity that is true to its roots, however strange and foreign such a Christianity may at times appear to us.


  1. Joseph H.H. Weiler, Ein christliches Europa. Erkundungsgänge, Regensburg 2004, pg 71ff.
  2. Hans Maier, Welt ohne Christentum – was wäre anders? Herder/Spectrum 1999, pg. 108.
  3. Kröner-Ausgabe Vol III,7.
  4. Quoted from Hans Maier, op. cit., pg 15.
  5. The Letter to Diognetus. B.B. Lightfoot, Furman University (c) 1990
  6. Pius XII. Enc. “Summi Pointificatus” KKK 360
  7. Augustine, Tract.in Io.Ev.26,2
  8. cf. Hans Maier,op.cit 9 Sermo contra Auxentium 36; PL16, 1018 B: Hugo Rahner, op. cit., p 10

Europe and Its Discontents

Pope Benedict XVI

A Brief but Profound History of Europe

What is the true definition of Europe? Where does it begin, and where does it end? Why, for example, is Siberia not considered part of Europe, even though many Europeans live there, and it has a European style of thinking and living? To the south of the community of Russian peoples, where do the borders of Europe disappear? Which Atlantic islands are European and which are not? Europe is a geographic term only in a secondary sense: Europe is rather a cultural and historical concept.

Experts on the origins of Europe traditionally refer back to Herodotus (c. 484-425 B.C.), the first known writer to designate Europe as a geographic concept: “The Persians consider something of their property to be Asia and the barbarian peoples who live there, while they maintain that Europe and the Greek world are a separate country.”

Though the lands at the heart of today’s Europe were completely outside of the visual field of the ancient historian, the formation of the Hellenistic states and the Roman Empire led to the establishment of a “continent” that would be the basis for the later Europe. As a whole, the lands facing the Mediterranean came to form a true continent by virtue of their cultural ties, trade routes, and common political system. It was not until the advance of Islam in the seventh and early eighth centuries that a border would be drawn across the Mediterranean, subdividing what had been a single continent into three: Asia, Africa, and Europe.

In the East the ancient world was transformed more slowly than in the West. Shifting its capital to Constantinople, the Roman Empire would resist in the East until the fifteenth century, although it was pushed further and further to the margins. During the same period, the southern Mediterranean region found itself cut off completely from what had been a cultural continent for centuries, while Europe grew steadily northward. The ancient continental border that the Romans called limes disappeared. A new historical space opened up whose heartland encompassed Gaul, Germany, and Britannia, and whose northern reach expanded more and more toward Scandinavia.

Amid this process of shifting borders, a theology of history was constructed that guaranteed ideal continuity with the earlier Mediterranean continent in its various configurations. According to this thinking, rooted in the Book of Daniel, the Roman Empire had been renewed and transformed by the Christian faith, which therefore became the last reign in the history of the world. The framework of peoples and states that emerged defined itself as the permanent Sacrum Imperium Romanum, the Holy Roman Empire.

The process of forming a new historical and cultural identity took place in a fully conscious manner under the reign of Charlemagne, when the ancient name of Europe returned to circulation with a new meaning. It was now used to define the kingdom of Charlemagne and to express an awareness of both the continuity and the novelty of this new aggregate of states, which presented itself as a force that would be propelled into the future—into the future, because it saw itself as a continuation of a world history that until then had been mired in an unchanging situation. This emerging sense of self-consciousness expressed an awareness of finality and of mission.

With the end of the Carolingian reign, however, the concept of Europe almost disappeared, surviving only in erudite usage. The term did not become popular currency again until the beginning of the modern era—as a means of self-identification, in response to the Turkish threat—and was asserted more generally in the eighteenth century. Apart from the history of the name, the decisive step toward Europe as we understand it today was when the Frankish kingdom constituted itself as the heir to the Roman Empire.

In Byzantium (which considered itself the true Rome), the Roman Empire had withstood the upheaval of migrations and the Islamic invasion. The Eastern Roman Empire continued to advance claims on the Empire’s Western half. It extended as far north as the Slavic world and created its own Greco-Roman world that distinguished itself from the Latin Europe of the West by introducing variants in the liturgy and in the ecclesiastical constitution, adopting a different script, and renouncing the use of Latin as the common language.

The two worlds also had enough unifying elements, however, to be considered a single continent. First of all, both the East and the West were the heirs to the Bible and to the ancient Church, which in both worlds refer beyond themselves to an origin that lies outside today’s Europe, namely in Palestine. Secondly, both shared the idea of the Roman Empire and of the essential nature of the Church, and therefore of law and legal instruments. The last factor I would mention is monasticism, which throughout the great upheavals of history continued to be the indispensable bearer not only of cultural continuity but above all of fundamental religious and moral values, of the ultimate guidance of humankind. As a pre-political and supra-political force, monasticism was also the bringer of ever-welcome and necessary rebirths of culture and civilization.

Alongside the common ecclesiastical inheritance of the two Europes, however, a profound difference remained. In Byzantium, Empire and Church were virtually identified in each other. The emperor was also the head of the Church. He considered himself a representative of Christ and—following the Biblical example of Melchizedek, who was king and priest at the same time (Genesis 14:18)—he bore the official title, “king and priest,” from the sixth century on. Once the Emperor Constantine had left Rome, the autonomous position of bishop of Rome—as successor to Peter and supreme pastor of the Church—could be transplanted to the ancient capital of the Empire, where a duality of powers had been established at the beginning of the Age of Constantine. Neither the emperor nor the pope was absolute; each had separate powers.

Pope Gelasius I (492-496) expressed his vision of the West in a famous letter to the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I, and, even more clearly in his fourth treatise, where, with reference to the Byzantine model of Melchizedek, he affirmed that the unity of powers lies exclusively in Christ: “Because of human weakness (pride!), they have separated for the times that followed the two offices, so that neither shall become proud.” On worldly matters, priests should follow the laws of the emperor installed by divine decree, while on divine matters the emperor should submit to the priest. This introduced a separation and distinction of powers that would be of vital importance to the later development of Europe, and laid the foundations for the distinguishing characteristics of the West.

Despite these restrictions, both sides continued to be driven to seek absolute power and to impose their power on the other, making the principle of separation also the source of endless strife. How this principle should be lived properly and how it should be concretized politically and religiously continue to be a fundamental issue in present and future Europe.

The European continent was born from the rise of the Carolingian Empire and the shift of the Roman Empire to Byzantium, with its mission toward the Slavic peoples. If we accept this premise, the beginning of the modern era marked a watershed, a radical change, for the two Europes in both the essence of the continent and its geographic outlines.

In 1453 Constantinople was conquered by the Turks. The historian Otto Hiltbrunner describes the event laconically: “The last . . . learned men emi-

grated . . . to Italy and passed on their knowledge of the original Greek texts to the Renaissance humanists; but the East was overcome by the absence of culture.” This may be an overstatement, since the reign of the Osmanli dynasty had its own culture, too. The European, Greco-Christian culture of Byzantium, however, did indeed come to an end.

There was a risk that one of the two branches of Europe would disappear, but the Byzantine heritage did not die: Moscow declared itself to be the third Rome, and founded its patriarchate on the principle of a second translatio imperii or transplanting of the Empire. Russia thus presented itself as a new metamorphosis of the Holy Roman Empire, as a distinct form of Europe, which nevertheless remained tied to the West and was increasingly oriented toward it, even to the point that Peter the Great sought to turn Russia into a Western country.

This northward expansion of Byzantine Europe meant that the continent’s borders also began to extend toward the East. While the choice of the Urals as the border may have been exceedingly arbitrary, the world to the east of the Urals became a kind of substructure of Europe, neither Asian nor European, that was substantially forged by the European subject at the same time as it was excluded from having subject status itself. It became the object rather than the architect of its own history, not unlike a colonial state.

At the beginning of the modern era, two events took place that were at the base of non-Western, Byzantine Europe: the break-up of ancient Byzantium and of its historical continuity with the Roman Empire; and the establishment of a second Europe, with a new capital in Moscow, whose borders extended eastward, and of a type of pre-colonial structure in Siberia.

During the same period, two events of major historical significance also took place in the West. The first is that most of the Germanic world broke away from Rome. The rise of a new, “enlightened” form of Christianity drew a separation line through the “West” that clearly marked not just a geographical but also a cultural limes: a border between two different ways of thinking and relating. Within the Protestant world, there was also a rupture between Lutherans and the Reformed churches. At the same time, the Church of England tried to steer a middle course between Catholics and Protestants. These divisions were later amplified by the difference between Christianity as a form of state religion, which came to be identified with Europe, and the free churches, which would find their home in North America.

The eastward expansion of Europe, through the progressive expansion of Russia into Asia, corresponded to a radical westward expansion of Europe to a world given the name “America” on the other side of the ocean. The subdivision of Europe into a Catholic half and a Protestant half came to be reflected in the part of the new world occupied by Europe. At first America was perceived as an outpost of Europe, a colony. In the wake of the French Revolution and the upheaval it sparked in Europe, however, America took on the characteristics of a subject. From the nineteenth century on, although America had been shaped by its European birth, it became an independent subject in its dealings with Europe.

Although the Holy Roman Empire had been in decline since the late Middle Ages, and it had faded also as an agreed-upon interpretation of history, it was not until the French Revolution that the spiritual framework it provided—and without which Europe could not have been formed—would shatter in a formal sense. This process had a major impact on both politics and ideals. In terms of ideals, there was a rejection of the sacred foundation both of history and of the state. History was no longer measured on the basis of an idea of God that had preceded it and given it shape. The state came to be understood in purely secular terms, based on rationalism and the will of citizens.

The secular state arose for the first time, abandoning and excluding any divine guarantee or legitimation of the political element as a mythological vision of the world and declaring that God is a private question that does not belong to the public sphere or to the democratic formation of the public will. Public life was now considered the realm of reason alone, which had no place for a seemingly unknowable God. From this perspective, religion and faith in God belonged to the realm of sentiment, not of reason. God and His will therefore ceased to be relevant to public life.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a new schism thus developed, the gravity of which we are only now grasping. There is no word for this schism in German, because in Germany it emerged very slowly. The romance languages, by contrast, define it as a division between Christians and “lay” people. Over the past two centuries, a deep rift has opened between the two groups in the Latin nations. Protestant Christianity, by contrast, was initially able to accommodate liberal enlightenment ideas without jeopardizing the framework of a broad Christian consensus. The ancient idea of empire was shattered by the formation of nation states—defined by their distinctive linguistic spheres—which proved to be the true bearers of history and of unprecedented power. In the place of empire there was a plural historical subject, the great European nations, whose drama was that each considered itself the depository of a universal mission, creating potential conflicts whose fatal impact we have experienced so painfully in the century that has just elapsed.

The two halves of ancient premodern Europe had essentially known only one next-door neighbor, with whom they had to negotiate as a matter of life and death: the Islamic world. It was only a question of time before they would expand toward America and in part toward Asia, continents that were lacking in great cultural protagonists. Still later, Europe would begin to make incursions into two continents, Africa and Asia, that it had previously dealt with only marginally, and that it would seek to transform into European colonial franchises.

If colonization could be considered a success, it is in the sense that contemporary Asia and Africa can also pursue the ideal of a world shaped by technology and prosperity. Yet there, too, the ancient religious traditions are undergoing a crisis and secular thinking has made inroads and begun to dominate public life. Yet these processes have also produced the opposite effect: Islam has been reborn, in part because of the new material wealth acquired by the Islamic countries, but mainly because of people’s conviction that Islam could provide a valid spiritual foundation to their lives. Such a foundation seems to have eluded old Europe, which, despite its enduring political and economic power, seems to be on the road to decline and fall.

By contrast to Europe’s denial of its religious and moral foundations, Asia’s great religious traditions, especially the mystical component expressed in Buddhism, have been elevated as spiritual powers. The optimism in European culture that Arnold Toynbee could still voice in the early 1960s sounds strangely antiquated today. “Of the twenty-eight cultures that we have identified . . . eighteen are dead and nine of the ten left—i.e., all except our own—already appear to be mortally wounded.” Who would repeat these same words today? Above all, what is our culture, and what has remained of it? Is European culture perhaps nothing more than the technology and trade civilization that has marched triumphantly across the planet? Or is it instead a post-European culture born on the ruins of the ancient European cultures?

There is a paradoxical synchrony in these developments. The victory of the post-European techno-secular world and the universalization of its lifestyle and thinking have spread the impression (especially in Asia and Africa) that Europe’s value system, culture, and faith—in other words, the very foundations of its identity—have reached the end of the road and have indeed already disappeared. From this perspective, the time has come for the affirmation of value systems of other worlds, such as pre-Colombian America, Islam, or Asian mysticism.

At the hour of its greatest success, Europe seems hollow, as if it were internally paralyzed by a failure of its circulatory system that is endangering its life, subjecting it to transplants that erase its identity. At the same time as its sustaining spiritual forces have collapsed, a growing decline in its ethnicity is also taking place.

Europe is infected by a strange lack of desire for the future. Children, our future, are perceived as a threat to the present, as though they were taking something away from our lives. Children are seen—at least by some people—as a liability rather than as a source of hope. Here it is obligatory to compare today’s situation with the decline of the Roman Empire. In its final days, Rome still functioned as a great historical framework, but in practice its vital energy had been depleted.

Which brings us to the problems of the present. There are two opposing diagnoses of the possible future of Europe. On the one hand, there is the thesis of Oswald Spengler, who believed that he had identified a natural law for the great moments in cultural history: First comes the birth of a culture, then its gradual rise, flourishing, slow decline, aging, and death. Spengler argued his thesis with examples culled from the history of cultures demonstrating the law of the natural life cycle. His thesis was that the West would come to an end, and that it was rushing heedlessly toward its demise, despite every effort to stop it. Europe could of course bequeath its gifts to a new emerging culture—following the example set by previous cultures during their decline—but as a historical subject its life cycle had effectively ended.

Spengler’s “biologistic” thesis attracted fierce opponents during the period between the two wars, especially in Catholic circles. Arnold Toynbee reserved harsh words for it, in arguments too readily ignored today. Toynbee emphasized the difference between technological-material progress and true progress, which he defined as spiritualization. He recognized that the Western world was indeed undergoing a crisis, which he attributed to the abandonment of religion for the cult of technology, nationalism, and militarism. For him this crisis had a name: secularism. If you know the cause of an illness, you can also find a cure: The religious heritage in all its forms had to be reintroduced, especially the “heritage of Western Christianity.” Rather than a biologistic vision, he offered a voluntaristic one focused on the energy of creative minorities and exceptional individuals.

Which leads us to the question of whether Toynbee’s diagnosis is correct. If it is, then we must ask whether it is in our power to reintroduce the religious dimension through a synthesis of what remains of Christianity and the religious heritage of humankind. Which factors will guarantee the future, and which have allowed the inner identity of Europe to survive throughout its metamorphoses in history? To put it more simply, what can still promise, today and tomorrow, to offer human dignity to life?

Since the French Revolution, two new European models have developed. In the Latin nations the lay model has prevailed. They sharply distinguish the state from religious bodies, deeming them to fall under the private sphere. The state denies that it has a religious foundation and affirms that it is based on reason and rational knowledge. Since reason is inherently fragile, however, these lay systems have proved to be weak, becoming easy prey for dictatorships. They survive only because elements of the old moral conscience have persevered, even without the earlier foundations, making it possible for a basic moral consensus to exist.

In the Germanic world, the liberal Protestant model of church and state has prevailed. According to this model, an enlightened Christian religion—conceived of as essentially moral and involving state-supported forms of worship—guarantees a moral consensus and a broad religious foundation to which the single non-state religions must conform. This model has long guaranteed state and social cohesion in Great Britain, the Scandinavian states, and once upon a time also in Prussian-dominated Germany. In Germany, however, the collapse of Prussian state Christianity left a vacuum that would later provide fertile terrain for the dictatorship. Today state churches throughout the world are marked by fatigue. Moral force—the foundation on which to build—does not emanate from the religious bodies dependent on the state or from the state itself.

Situated between the two models is the model of the United States of America. Formed on the basis of free churches, it adopts a separation between church and state. Above and beyond the single denominations, it is characterized by a Protestant Christian consensus that is not defined in denominational terms but rather in association with its sense of a special religious mission toward the rest of the world. The religious sphere thus acquires a significant weight in public affairs and emerges as a pre-political and supra-political force with the potential to have a decisive impact on political life. One can of course not hide the fact that in the United States, too, the Christian heritage is decaying at an incessant pace, while at the same time the rapid increase in the Hispanic population and the presence of religious traditions from all over the world have changed the picture.

To complicate the picture, we have to acknowledge that the Catholic Church today represents the largest single religious community in the United States, while American Catholics have absorbed the free-church traditions on the relation between the Church and politics, believing that a Church that is separate from the state better guarantees the moral foundation as a whole. Hence the promotion of the democratic ideal is seen as a moral duty that is in profound compliance with the faith. In this position we can rightly see a continuation, adapted to the times, of the model of Pope Gelasius described earlier.

But in Europe, in the nineteenth century, the two models were joined by a third, socialism, which quickly split into two different branches, one totalitarian and the other democratic. Democratic socialism managed to fit within the two existing models as a welcome counterweight to the radical liberal positions, which it developed and corrected. It also managed to appeal to various denominations. In England it became the political party of the Catholics, who had never felt at home among either the Protestant conservatives or the liberals. In Wilhelmine Germany, too, Catholic groups felt closer to democratic socialism than to the rigidly Prussian and Protestant conservative forces. In many respects, democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine and has in any case made a remarkable contribution to the formation of a social consciousness.

The totalitarian model, by contrast, was associated with a rigidly materialistic, atheistic philosophy of history: It saw history deterministically, as a road of progress that passes first through the religious and then through the liberal phase to arrive at an absolute, ultimate society in which religion is surpassed as a relic of the past and collective happiness is guaranteed by the workings of material conditions.

This scientific façade hides an intolerant dogmatism that views the spirit as produced by matter and morals as produced by circumstances. According to its dictates, morals should be defined and practiced on the basis of society’s purposes, and everything is moral that helps to usher in the final state of happiness. This dogmatism completely subverts the values that built Europe. It also breaks with the entire moral tradition of humankind by rejecting the existence of values independent of the goals of material progress. Depending on circumstance, anything can become legitimate and even necessary; anything can become moral in the new sense of the term. Even humankind itself can be treated as an instrument, since the individual does not matter, only the future, the cruel deity adjudicating over one and all.

The Communist systems collapsed under the weight of their own fallacious economic dogmatism. Commentators have nevertheless ignored all too readily the role played by the Communists’ contempt for human rights and their subordination of morals to the demands of the system and the promise of a future. The greatest catastrophe encountered by such systems was not economic. It was the starvation of souls and the destruction of the moral conscience.

The essential problem of our times, for Europe and for the world, is that although the fallacy of the Communist economy has been recognized, its moral and religious fallacy has not been addressed. The unresolved issue of Marxism lives on: the crumbling of man’s original uncertainties about God, himself, and the universe. The decline of a moral conscience grounded in absolute values is still our problem, and left untreated, it can lead to the self-destruction of the European conscience, which we must begin to consider as a real danger—above and beyond the decline predicted by Spengler.

Amid the major upheavals of our day, is there a European identity that has a future and to which we can commit whole-heartedly?

A first element is the unconditionality with which human rights and human dignity should be presented as values that take precedence over any state jurisdiction. Fundamental rights are neither created by the lawmaker nor granted to the citizen. The value of human dignity, which takes precedence over all political action and all political decision-making, refers to the Creator: Only He can establish values that are grounded in the essence of humankind and are inviolable. The existence of values that cannot be modified by anyone is the true guarantee of our freedom and human greatness. In this fact, the Christian faith sees the mystery of the Creator and the condition of man, who was made in God’s image.

Today almost no one would openly deny the primacy of human dignity and basic human rights over any political decision. The horrors of Nazism and its racist doctrine are still too fresh in memory. But in the sphere of medicine and technology today, there are real threats to these values. If one considers cloning, the storing of human fetuses for research purposes and organ harvesting, and the whole field of genetic manipulation, no one can fail to have noticed the slow erosion of human dignity that threatens us. The situation is only made worse by the increased trafficking in human beings, new forms of slavery, and trafficking in human organs for the sake of transplants. To justify such unjustifiable means, “good ends” are cited repeatedly.

A second element that characterizes European identity is marriage and the family. Monogamous marriage—both as a fundamental structure for the relation between men and women and as the nucleus for the formation of the state community—was forged in the biblical faith. It gave its special physiognomy and its special humanity to Europe, both in the West and in the East, precisely because the form of fidelity and the sacrifice that it entails must always be regained through great efforts and suffering.

Europe would no longer be Europe if this fundamental nucleus of its social edifice were to vanish or be changed in an essential way. We all know how much marriage and the family are in jeopardy. Their integrity has been undermined by the easier forms of divorce at the same time as there has been a spread in the practice of cohabitation between men and women without the legal form of marriage. Paradoxically, homosexuals are now demanding that their unions be granted a legal form that is more or less equivalent to marriage. Such a development would fall outside the whole moral history of humanity that, whatever the diverse legal forms, has never lost sight of the fact that marriage is essentially the special communion of man and woman, which opens itself to children and thus to family.

The question this raises is not of discrimination but of what constitutes the human person as a man or as a woman, and which union should receive a legal form. If the union between man and woman has strayed further and further from legal forms, and if homosexual unions are perceived more and more as enjoying the same standing as marriage, then we are truly facing a dissolution of the image of humankind bearing consequences that can only be extremely grave.

The last element of the European identity is religion. I do not wish to enter into the complex discussion of recent years, but to highlight one issue that is fundamental to all cultures: respect for that which another group holds sacred, especially respect for the sacred in the highest sense, for God, which one can reasonably expect to find even among those who are not willing to believe in God. When this respect is violated in a society, something essential is lost. In European society today, thank goodness, anyone who dishonors the faith of Israel, its image of God, or its great figures must pay a fine. The same holds true for anyone who dishonors the Koran and the convictions of Islam. But when it comes to Jesus Christ and that which is sacred to Christians, freedom of speech becomes the supreme good.

This case illustrates a peculiar Western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological. It is commendable that the West is trying to be more open, to be more understanding of the values of outsiders, but it has lost all capacity for self-love. All that it sees in its own history is the despicable and the destructive; it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure. What Europe needs is a new self-acceptance, a self-acceptance that is critical and humble, if it truly wishes to survive.

Multiculturalism, which is so passionately promoted, can sometimes amount to an abandonment and denial, a flight from one’s own things. Multiculturalism teaches us to approach the sacred things of others with respect, but we can do this only if we ourselves are not estranged from the sacred, from God. With regard to others, it is our duty to cultivate within ourselves respect for the sacred and to show the face of the revealed God—the God who has compassion for the poor and the weak, for widows and orphans, for the foreigner; the God who is so human that he himself became man, a man who suffered, and who by his suffering with us gave dignity and hope to our pain.

Unless we embrace our own heritage of the sacred, we will not only deny the identity of Europe. We will also fail in providing a service to others to which they are entitled. To the other cultures of the world, there is something deeply alien about the absolute secularism that is developing in the West. They are convinced that a world without God has no future. Multiculturalism itself thus demands that we return once again to ourselves.

We do not know what the future of Europe will be. Here we must agree with Toynbee, that the fate of a society always depends on its creative minorities. Christian believers should look upon themselves as just such a creative minority, helping Europe to reclaim what is best in its heritage and thereby to place itself at the service of all humankind.

Pope Benedict XVI is pope of the Catholic Church. This essay will appear in his volume Without Roots, from Basic Books, this February. [Copyright (c) 2005 First Things 159 (January 2006): 16-22]


How Benedict XVI Predicted Brexit

June 24, 2016

The idea of Europe has fallen into a strange twilight today…Boundaries appear once again in their immovable significance; the antithetical character of nationalism could become stronger than the European fellowship that has scarcely begun to grow. It must be demonstrated anew whether Europe is only an idea or a real power for reconciliation. (Europe – Hopes and Dangers, 1990)

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI predicted the collapse of the European Union. I do not mean that he declared it grandly (or even authoritatively). Rather, through his books, articles, and quite a few sermons, he delivered a general syllogism:

  1. Any unity rooted in mere economic interest is a precarious one.
  2. The EU is a fundamentally monetary union (without the roots required to sustain genuine human community).

3.  The EU is precarious.

As the world reels and celebrates over the grand British departure from the European Union, a moment of reflection on this enduring warning seems in order.

Europe, and, by extension, the Western world, has only ever come close to unity by virtue of a common creed. In Europe: Today and Tomorrow, Benedict roots the idea of Europe in the Christianized Roman Empire which, “in connection with the book of Daniel, the Roman Empire–renewed and transformed by the Christian faith–was considered to be the final and permanent kingdom in the history of the world.”

Despite this “New Rome” taking on unique forms in the East and West, “there were still sufficient unifying elements to make one continent of these two worlds: in the first place, their common heritage of the Bible and of the early Church…the same idea of empire, their basic understanding of the Church, and hence also the common fund of ideas concerning laws and legal instruments…[and] monasticism, which among the great movements of history had remained the essential guarantor not only of cultural continuity, but above all of fundamental religious and moral values, of man’s awareness of his ultimate destiny; and as a force prior and superior to political authority, it became the source of the rebirths that were necessary again and again.” (Europe: Its Spiritual Foundations, 2000)

A union without genuine cultural unity, shared mission, and a rooted sense of value will not penetrate to the lowest levels of the community as a felt phenomenon of familial relation. Both the arguments for and against the British exit — focused as they were on the relative economic benefits of remaining or leaving the European Union — showed that whoever won, Europe had already lost. A unity of self-interested nation-states is about as stable as a family of self-interested brothers and sisters. Without an ethical and spiritual unity, it is only a question of time before a person, a community, or a nation asks, “And what is this communion doing for me?” Again, Benedict noted this rather incisively: “Over the last fifty years, this [monetary] aspect of European unification has become ever more dominant, indeed, almost exclusively influential. The common European currency is the clearest expression of this in the work of European unification: Europe appears as an economic and monetary union, which as such participates in the formation of history and lays claim to a space of its own.” (Reflections on Europe, 2001) 

The continued effort of the European Union to achieve unity through money and national self-interest has kept it far from Benedict’s healing advice: “Europe, as a political idea, must finally replace the model of the nation state with a generous concept of cultural fellowship, with a solidarity that embraces all of mankind.” (Europe: Its Spiritual Foundations, 2000)

Benedict’s basic thesis — that true unity depends on the pre-economic and even pre-political foundations of value, morality, mission, and creed — has a lesson for us ex-Europeans on the other side of the Atlantic. Populism, and even racist populism, is not simply the result of poverty or economic crisis. It is very often an evil reaction against a feigned togetherness. For while we seldom hate a person simply for their differences, we are very often tempted to hate a person when we are pushed together, told that we are neighbors and friends when there is no tangible bond of unity between us — some shared truth, history, or creed. This could never justify the anti-immigrant sentiments that strangle American politics (and, at least in the popular press, fueled Brexit) but it does go a long way towards explaining them. We are an over-sized nation claiming unity in transient third terms: a national economy, corporate franchises, vague patriotic stereotypes, and an increasingly homogeneous culture.

Genuine unity needs a genuine third term. For Benedict, this third term must be something beyond the political and the economic spheres, beyond even culture and race. For Benedict, the unity of man only attains its fullness in the religious sphere, precisely because the Creator of mankind is both eminently personal and eminently common to all men. Benedict does not advocate a homogeneous religious culture. Rather, he seems to believe that a common faith, or, at the very least, a common recognition of being a nation “founded in faith,” is the essential basis by which we are free to practice tolerance towards other religions, rather than submitting them to a reductive and violent secularism:

Unless we embrace our own heritage of the sacred, we will not only deny the identity of Europe. We will also fail in providing a service to others to which they are entitled. To the other cultures of the world, there is something deeply alien about the absolute secularism that is developing in the West. They are convinced that a world without God has no future. Multiculturalism itself thus demands that we return once again to ourselves. (Europe and Its Discontents, 2006)

And again:

The banishment of Christian roots does not reveal itself as the expression of a higher tolerance, which respects all cultures in the same way, not wishing to privilege any, but rather as the absolutizing of a pattern of thought and of life that are radically opposed, among other things, to the other historical cultures of humanity.

The real opposition that characterizes today’s world is not that between various religious cultures, but that between the radical emancipation of man from God, from the roots of life, on one hand, and from the great religious cultures on the other. If there were to be a clash of cultures, it would not be because of a clash of the great religions which have always struggled against one another, but which, in the end, have also always known how to live with one another but it will be because of the clash between this radical emancipation of man and the great historical cultures.

Thus, even the rejection of the reference to God, is not the expression of a tolerance that desires to protect the non-theistic religions and the dignity of atheists and agnostics, but rather the expression of a conscience that would like to see God cancelled definitively from the public life of humanity, and relegated to the subjective realm of residual cultures of the past.

Relativism, which is the starting point of all this, thus becomes a dogmatism which believes itself to be in possession of the definitive scope of reason, and with the right to regard all the rest only as a stage of humanity, in the end surmounted, and that can be appropriately relativized. In reality, this means that we have need of roots to survive, and that we must not lose sight of God, if we do not want human dignity to disappear. (Lecture, 2005)

Without a recognition (even a non-believing recognition) of Europe’s Christian roots, a genuine European unity will end in Brexit after Brexit, maintaining itself only “when the going is good” — a farce of fellowship that masks the monetary interest of its individual members. The situation is not so different in the United States. If we do not find some pre-political, pre-economic ground of our fellowship, we will perish as a nation. The old saying holds true: we either serve God or Mammon. To it, Benedict adds that we are only unified in God or in Mammon — and the latter is a shaky union indeed.

by Marc 13