An “Apostate” from Itself: The Lost Europe of Pope Benedict
Even before its separation from God, Joseph Ratzinger sees the old continent withdrawing from itself, from “its very identity.” Fifty years after the Treaty of Rome, the most critical assessment is that of the pope. Here it is
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, March 28, 2007 – Fifty years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which in 1957 brought into life what today is the European Union, Benedict XVI has formulated a very severe diagnosis of the status of the continent. He has even come to the point of stating that Europe is falling into a “remarkable form of apostasy.”
John Paul II also spoke of “apostasy,” in the sense of the abandonment of the faith, in the 2003 apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in Europa.” But Benedict XVI has gone even further. He has accused Europe of being ever more frequently an apostate “from itself, even before [being an apostate] from God”: to the point of “doubting its very identity.”
The pope formulated this diagnosis while receiving in the Vatican’s Sala Clementina on March 24 the cardinals, bishops, and politicians who were taking part in a conference organized in Rome by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, COMECE, dedicated to the theme of “Values and perspectives for the Europe of tomorrow.”
Among the Catholic politicians who spoke at the conference were the president of the Italian council of ministers, Romano Prodi; the president of Ireland, Mary McAleese; and the president of the European parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering.
Meeting the pope in a private audience, Pöttering – a German who in recent years fought unsuccessfully for the insertion of a recognition of the Christian roots of Europe into the constitutional treaty of the Union – invited Benedict XVI to go to Strasbourg to speak before the plenary assembly of the European parliament, as John Paul II did on October 11, 1988.
Joseph Ratzinger dedicated a significant portion of his reflections to Europe even before he was elected pope. Particularly memorable even now is the conference on “Europe in the crisis of cultures” that he held in Subiaco, in the monastery of Saint Benedict, on the evening of April 1, 2005, twenty-four hours before the death of John Paul II.
The address by Benedict XVI on last March 24 – reproduced in its entirety below – is shorter, but it incorporates the essential traits of the reflections preceding it. Not only in calling on Europe not to become lost, but also in pointing out to it how to find the strength again to be “leaven for the entire world.”
To renew this, its worldwide vocation – the pope warns – Europe must again rely not only on its Christian foundations, but also on those “universal and absolute values” in which it believes less and less: values that are fixed in “a stable and permanent human nature, the source of rights common to all individuals, including those who deny them.”
It is in the rejection of these universal and inviolable principles, inscribed in the heart of every man, that the pope sees the origin of, among other things, the laws that in many countries harm the dignity of life and the family.
That Europe may again be "leaven for the world“
by Benedict XVI
venerated brothers in the episcopacy,
dear ladies and gentlemen!
I am particularly happy to receive so many of you in this audience, which is taking place on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957. This event marked an important step for Europe, which had emerged exhausted from the second world war and wanted to build a future of peace and of greater economic and social well-being, without dissolving or denying the different national identities. I greet Adrianus Herman van Luyn, bishop of Rotterdam, president of the Commission for the Episcopates of the European Community, and I thank him for the gracious words that he has addressed to me. I greet the other prelates, the distinguished personalities, and those taking part in the conference sponsored in these days by COMECE to reflect upon Europe.
Since March of fifty years ago, this Continent has taken a long journey that has led to the reconciliation of the two “lungs” – the East and the West – bound by a common history, but arbitrarily separated by a curtain of injustice. Economic integration has stimulated these political developments and has fostered the search, still underway with great effort, for an appropriate institutional structure for a European Union that, by this point, numbers 27 countries and aspires to become a global actor in the world.
In recent years it has become increasingly clear that there is a need to establish a healthy balance between the economic and social dimensions, through policies capable of producing wealth and increasing competition without overlooking the legitimate expectations of the poor and marginalized.
Under the aspect of demography, one must unfortunately note that Europe seems to be traveling along a road that could lead to its disappearance from history.
Apart from putting economic growth at risk, this can also cause enormous difficulties for social cohesion, and above all it can foster a dangerous individualism heedless of future consequences. One can almost think that the European Continent is, in fact, losing trust in its own future.
Furthermore, concerning the examples of respect for the environment or of orderly access to resources and energy investments, solidarity is incentivized with great effort, not only on an international scale but also on a strictly national one. It is seen that the very process of European unification is not shared by all, because of the widespread impression that various “chapters” of the European project have been “written” without adequately keeping in mind the expectations of the citizens.
It clearly emerges from all this that one cannot think of building an authentic “common European home” while overlooking the very identity of the peoples of our Continent.
This is, in fact, an historical, cultural, and moral identity before being geographical, economic, or political; an identity constituted by a collection of universal values that Christianity has contributed to forging, thereby acquiring a role that is not only historical, but also foundational in relation to Europe.
These values, which constitute the soul of the Continent, must remain in the Europe of the third millennium as a “ferment” of civilization. In fact, if these were to be diminished, how could the “old” Continent continue to carry our the function of being “leaven” for the entire world? If, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the governments of the Union wish to “get closer” to their citizens, how could they exclude an element of European identity as essential as Christianity is, and with which the vast majority of them still identify themselves? Is it not a cause for surprise that today’s Europe, while striving to position itself as a community of values, seems more often to contest the idea that there are universal and absolute values? Does not this remarkable form of “apostasy” from itself, even before [apostasy] from God, perhaps induce it to doubt its very identity?
This ends in the spread of the conviction that the “weighing of benefits” is the only method of moral discernment, and that the common good is synonymous with compromise. In reality, if compromise can constitute a legitimate balancing of different particular interests, it becomes a shared ill whenever it involves agreements that are harmful to the nature of man.
A community that constructs itself without respect for the authentic dignity of the human person, forgetting that every person is created in the image of God, ends up by not being good for anyone.
This is why it appears increasingly more indispensable that Europe should guard itself against that pragmatic attitude, widespread today, which systematically justifies compromise on essential human values, as if the acceptance of a presumably lesser evil were inevitable. Such pragmatism, which is presented as balanced and realistic, is not that way deep down, precisely because it denies the dimension of values and ideas that is inherent in human nature.
When, later, secularist and relativist tendencies and currents are woven into this sort of pragmatism, Christians are in the end denied the right to intervene as Christians in public debate, or at the very least their contribution is disqualified with the accusation that they want to safeguard unjustified privileges.
In the present historical moment and in the face of the many challenges that mark it, the European Union, in order to be a valid guarantor of the order of law and an effective promoter of universal values, cannot help but acknowledge clearly the certain existence of a stable and permanent human nature, the source of rights common to all individuals, including those who deny them. In this context, the right to conscientious objection must be safeguarded whenever fundamental human rights may be violated.
Dear friends, I know how difficult it is for Christians to make a strenuous defense of this truth of man. But do not grow weary, and do not be discouraged! You know that it is your task to contribute to building up, with the help of God, a new Europe - one realistic but not cynical, rich in ideals and free from naïve illusions, inspired by the perennial and life-giving truth of the Gospel.
So then, be present in an active way in the public debate on the European level, aware that this is now an integral part of the national debate, and accompany this effort with effective cultural action. Do not bow to the logic of power as an end in itself! May you draw constant motivation and support from the admonition of Christ: if salt loses its flavor, it is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (cf. Mt. 5:13). May the Lord bring fruitfulness to all of your efforts, and help you to recognize and value the positive elements present in today’s civilization, while still denouncing courageously everything that is contrary to the dignity of man.
I am certain that God will not fail to bless the generous effort of those who, in a spirit of service, work to build a common European home in which every cultural, social, and political contribution is ordered toward the common good. I express my support to you, who are already involved in various ways in this important human and evangelical undertaking, and I address to you my most lively encouragement. Above all, I assure you that I will remember you in prayer, and, invoking the maternal protection of Mary, mother of the incarnate Word, I wholeheartedly impart to you and to your families and communities my affectionate blessing.