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A Certain Idea of Europe

Friday, February 14, 2014
Cardinal Marx: ‘A Certain Idea of Europe’

On Tuesday 11th of February the Archbishop of Munich, Reinhard Cardinal Marx, gave the annual Newman Lecture organised by Oxford University’s Catholic Permanent Private Halls. His Eminence titled the lecture ‘A certain idea of Europe’, a reference to Charles De Gaulle’s own ‘certain idea of France.’

The lecture praised the European Union as an agent of peace whilst also promoting the view that the ‘European Project’ gave scope and vision for a Europe which could have a meaningful and positive future. The potential strength of Europe is found not only in its commitment to avoid a repeat of the two world wars but also in its contemporary attitude towards intellectual freedom and exchange of ideas. By its very nature the European Union has to accommodate a vast plurality of peoples, ideas, convictions and so on. This unavoidable engagement with diversity, His Eminence felt, gives Europe a firm bedrock upon which to build a continent which can make ‘a contribution for a better world’ 

Within this pluralistic system the Church has a part to play, indeed Cardinal Marx regularly meets with agents of the European Union to put forward the Church’s ideas to further the European Project. For Cardinal Marx Christianity has to have this role. The history of the continent is intertwined with the history of Christianity. In fact, His Eminence argued, a Europe which does not come to terms with its deeply Christian heritage cannot form an identity which is true to itself.  However, Christians have to fight to show this is the case, though the Church does not seek, the Cardinal says, ‘re-conquest’. Rather, it puts itself at the service of pluralistic Europe; joining in its mission to improve the world.

So, in summary, the Cardinal proposed that the European Union is a positive development in the history of Europe and the world. It contributes through the promotion of intellectual freedom, diverse and pluralistic societies which are open to those on the margins. In this mission the Church can share, serving a world-wide social action which promotes the dignity and rights of all people but which has its roots in Europe, a continent formed by Christian values.

The Cardinal’s message seems somewhat rousing. It appears quite obvious that Christians should join in a project that seeks the betterment of the world; but have they not already done that by being Catholic? Cardinal Marx was keen to impress that the Social Doctrine of the Church and the principles of economic and social equity which help define the European Union are compatible, if not completely ordered toward the same end. His Eminence also repudiated the imperialism of expansionist Europe, the very expansion which took Christianity to the farthest corners of the world, a work which is now bearing fruit in the influx of missionaries and pastors into Europe. The evangelised are now evangelising the evangelists!

Today is the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, patrons of Europe and holy pastors who took the Gospel to the Slavonic Peoples of Central and Eastern Europe - and they certainly sought conquest! It often seems to be supposed that the primary difficulties facing the human condition are questions of poverty, education and want. If these things were eradicated, it is supposed, then mankind will flourish. Can Christians depend upon a project which operates according to that idea? Certainly not; without an acknowledgement of sin and its effects no true diagnosis of the ills of humanity can be made and no genuine remedy offered. Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius sought to conquer sin through the provision of God’s Grace bestowed by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Without dependence upon the Grace of the Holy Spirit, which is the definition St. Thomas gives for the New Law, humanity - no matter how formed by once held Christian ideals - returns to a form of the Old Law, yet one without God at its head.

We find in the European Project the proposal of rights which we think human beings ought to have, and Europe can certainly look to its Christian heritage to find the intellectual trajectory from which this conviction comes, but if there is no Eternal Law in which these things are rooted they become, at best, useful fiction, and all fictions are allowed plot holes! Europe does not just need to recognise its Christian heritage in order to be a force for good in the world; it needs to recognise Christianity.

Pope Leo XIII introduced the Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius into the Roman Calendar in 1880. Five years later he promulgated his encyclical Immortale Dei where he decried the separation of Church and State and foretells that any society which abandons Christianity abandons the common good. The antiquity of this truly Christian conviction is shown when he quotes Pope Paschal II as saying ‘When kingdom and priesthood are at one, in complete accord, the world is well ruled…But when they are at variance, not only smaller interests do not prosper, but even things of greatest concern fall into deplorable decay.’ (Immortale Dei, para. 22)

Jordan Scott OP


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