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“The Christian contribution to the European Integration Process”

Conferenza internazionale, Cracovia

X Jubilee Conference on:

The role of the Catholic Church in the process of European integration

The Christian contribution to the European Integration Process

Cracow, 10-11 September 2010

Introductory remarks

Card. Angelo Scola Patriarch of Venices

1. European identity and integration

If we are to attempt to respond as concisely as possible to the topic proposed – the contribution of Christians to the process of European integration – while avoiding abstraction and rhetoric, we need to begin with a recognition of the sudden and often violent transformations that have manifested in all their fullness in the first decade of the twenty-first century that we have just been traversing : the process (I emphasise process and not prescriptive programme) of “hybridisation of civilisations”, the problems of terrorism, the energy and climate crises, the economic crisis. Not to speak of the change in the European religious panorama. As Jenkins[1] has observed, who could have predicted the marked decline in Christian pratice in Europe[2]? Who would have imagined such a significant Islamic presence in Rome and Madrid, let alone Paris and London? Not to speak of the urgent questions more closely connected with the present political and institutional structures of the European Union, from the financial crisis with its worrying repercussions on the single European currency, to the adjustment of equilibria between the organs of the European institutions, to the growing euroscepticism that has recently developed in many countries of the area, to the uncertainty into which the whole unification process seems to be falling. Among other things, it is struggling to keep watch “outside the house”, in particular on the so-called MENA area (Middle East and Nord Africa) which in 2030 will have 600 million inhabitants.

Alongside these questions there is the broader one of the general climate that is seeimg the rapid diminution of the conviction that for centuries has sustained western civilisation, a conviction ultimately founded in the vision of man as person, integral subject of rights and duties that are harmoniously embodied in a system of laws. Against the background of a notable in-difference with regard to the various religious creeds that inhabit our societies, typical of what Taylor identified as phase three of secularisation[3], a phenomenon stands out lastly that involves Christians more directly in their public life. I am referring to a hostility towards the Christian faith and in particular to the faith of the Catholic Church which is beginning to be translated into certain juridical ordinances and concrete normative formulations.[4]

Although the context may appear discouraging from certain points of view, we need to take great care not to read the travails of today in such a way that we let ourselves be carried away by a sense of bitterness. History is made of processes, and Christians are immersed in them like everyone else. The great resource of faith in God the Father which guides the human family and history in Jesus Christ, conqueror of sin and death, does not spare our freedom the dramatic dimension of life together with our fellow men. Christian truth, alive and personal, plays out in history and history is not deducible a priori. Like every one else, Christians reckon with this datum. Indeed they are called, in accord with the virtue of hope, to examine the signs of the times for the benefit of all.

Of course European identity has always presented paradoxical traits. On the one hand, the history of our continent has demonstrated a shared sense of belonging, on the other, it is equally evident that for many centuries the shared patrimony has always manifested in such a plurality of forms, cultures, and languages as to make it seem, to the superficial eye, as if a reference to some kind of original unity is unjustified. To reflect today on European identity after the sixty years of journeying that, as Schuman had foreseen «would not be completed overnight», requires us on the one hand to acknowledge that, given the complexity of the processes that are under way, no national state can cope with them on its own, so that Europe is not an option but a real necessity; on the other hand to refuse to abandon an ideal of identity which functions in some way as a unificatory principle. In this sense I believe that the reading put forward by Cardinal Lustiger in his day of the origins of the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community) points us to the method by which, even in the radically transformed contemporary scenario, European unity needs to be pursued. This method involves starting from reality in all its pressing concreteness and allowing the ideal to emerge. The ideal, not a utopia. The ideal is in fact the truth inherent in the real, while utopia is, as its etymon says, the unreal. Just as in those days there seemed to be a disproportion between the instruments (common production of coal and steel) and the ideals of peace and prosperity for the entire continent (coal and steel as the raw materials of the war industry) so also today great realism and so great ideals fill the bill[5].

From this point of view it is not enough, even though it is necessary, to study the roots of Europe that we know so well. Beyond the multitude of undeniable contributions that over the centuries have helped mould its face – I am thinking of Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome, down to the modern concern with the significance of the subject and the Enlightenment emphasis on equality – it seems to me that crucial elements of these roots can be objectively traced in the nucleus of Christianity understood according to the criterion of secondariness which, according to Rémi Brague represents the realistic form in which to pursue European unity. The Roman attitude which received, preserved, and transmitted as its own patrimony the Hellenistic synthesis of Athens and Jerusalem was secondary. Secondary too is Christianity, for it knows it is second with respect to the First Covenant. Hence the singular critical capacity of Europe in respect of all civilisations and cultures because it avoids conceiving itself as the foundation of itself[6].

Without taking account of the anthropological, social, and cultural implications of the Trinitarian revelation – from the particular vision of the dignity of the person, to the conception of liberty and of its relationship with truth, and up to the salutary distinction between civil society and the religious dimension and to the acknowledgement of the value of subsidiarity and of solidarity – it is difficult to explain what we are saying when we utter the word Europe.

In the end, all the ethnic, national, linguistic, and religious differences consolidate rather than corroding a shared patrimony in the etymological sense of the term. And yet it is not sufficient to consider the roots if we are to meet the challenge of today’s historical reality.

To contribute to a plural Europe Christians ought to demonstrate the importance of the filial relation with God the Father, inconceivable before the Christian revelation. Benedict XVI himself stressed the quaerere Deum in his lectio magistralis at the Collège des Bernardins. Neither the Greek polis, nor the Roman civitas – with the sensational development of rights achieved by the latter – had ever understood society as family and as home. In both, the dignity of man and his liberty were subordinate to the recognition of his status as citizen. The reference to that transcendent and personal origin that constantly generates unity between the sons and constantly regenerates their freedom was absent. It is with Christianity that the notion of citizen is integrated with that of person, opening up to man his full identity. Of course in certain periods of history the idea that the unity of Europe was rooted in God was lived more naturally (we need only think of the role of the first universities in the formation of a shared European consciousness). In the course of the centuries this kind of certainty seems to have been progressively weakened. And yet the men who in the Nineteen-Fifties were in a position to reweave the broken threads of the Continent after the devastation of two tremendous wars did so in projects whose realism was laden with ideals, taking as a basis precisely their shared origin, Origin with a capital “O”. Their action demonstrated that Christianity is credible both in itself and in its public and social significance.

Taking our cue from this interpretative approach, it is evident that the process of European integration does not stand as one possibility among others, but rather possesses in a certain sense the force of a destiny that European men have the mission to fulfil. To betray it [It. tradirlo – translator’s note] would mean for our Continent a rejection of its own traditio, as well as probably representing, in the globalised world of today, a political suicide with unimaginable consequences.

2. The task for Christians

In this situation, how can Christians contribute to the process of European integration? What can the Christians of today do, not only for the sake of the affirmation of their roots, but by virtue of their presence in the here and now of history, to deepen the process begun sixty years ago while showing themselves at one and the same time faithful to the original principles and able to rise to the new challenges of our age? What has the Christian inheritance and indeed Christianity as lived today got to do with Europe?

In order to reply to these questions, a significant datum needs to be stressed, which summarises the phenomena referred to briefly just now: we live in an ever-more plural society. The presence of an ever-increasing variety of religious expressions and world visions seems to exclude the possibility of identifying a shared Weltanschauung as a way to make our shared life flourish. If this applies within each one of our western societies (for all their local variations), the situation is further complicated on the European level by the plurality of cultures and juridical and political traditions that characterises our continent.

Nonetheless Christians are surely well equipped to face up to that inevitable tension between identity and difference, between unity and plurality, which is in reality proper to each historical epoch. It is in fact in the mystery of the Trinity that resides par excellence the principle of difference in unity. And this principle, by virtue of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, becomes a criterion of comprehension and evaluation of every difference, from those constitutive of soul-body, of man-woman, of person-community and of individual-society, to all the ethnic, cultural, and religious diversities.  Historical events in Europe show this quite clearly. Obviously it does not automatically follow that Europe can painlessly reach easy accommodations between so many actors, state and non-state, personal and communal, in the field. Christians however certainly have at their disposition instruments that enable them to respond to the challenge of plurality.

Concretely, the task that they must take on will be that of rethinking the axioms on which our procedural democracies are based and the principle of secularity on which they aim to govern themselves. In a plural society, by its nature tending to be very conflictual, secularity prevails only if conditions are created that guarantee the narration and the content of all the personal and social subjects that inhabit it with a view to mutual recognition (Ricoeur[7]). Today Europe requires a new secularity valuing all the subjects that are actors in the plural society, guaranteeing the public expression of their deepest convictions.

For example if I believe in the value of the family based on publicly-recognised marriage that is faithful and open to life, but fail to back it in public debate, on the assumption that only by being quiet will I respect the ideas and values of others, I in fact take something away from the life of the community, I censor in advance the account of an experience that can enrich debates and discussions within the community.

This attempt to propose my experience to (but not to impose it on) the shared community narrative and the desire to convince others of the goodness of my proposition are the opposite of relativism.

Europe today needs a new secularism which values all subjects who act in the plural society and guarantees the public expression of their deepest convictions.

Only thus will it be possible to have a cohabitation harmonious in tendency that produces a good life. To pursue this complex harmony there needs to be a practical acknowledgement – I emphasise practical acknowledgement – of the material and spiritual goods to be shared: as Maritain argued in 1947 at UNESCO it is not a question of formulating in the abstract a theoretical accord between different worldviews. It is necessary, through agreed procedures, to confer political value on the primary social good of a practical nature: the fact of living together. This social datum must be elevated to the level of political good by all and promoted by institutions. There will not then need to be any preliminary accord about its foundation. Within this space, guaranteed to all, the dynamism of mutual dialogical recognition between the subjects about the individual contents of value can operate, in a close but always open debate between diverse worldviews. From this point of view, the practical political good of being in society could constituite that political universal which the process of secularisation has lost sight of all through modernity[8].

In this way the difference (sometimes acute) between common political action and the various cultural identities ceases, at least in principle, to be conflictual. The various identity-subjects must obviously live together under the guidance of the public establishment, while the latter, to carry out its sensitive regulatory role, must be aconfessional and impartial towards all, without however taking up neutralist positions. It can do this by guaranteeing the two constitutive levels of the political: the acknowledgement of the value of the practical-social common good of being together and the acknowledgement of those specific values that continuous negotiation will gradually recognise as such – according to the criterion formulated by Rawls of the overlapping consensus[9] – in an ongoing quest as occasion demands for a noble com-promise on specific goods of an ethical, social, cultural, economic, and political nature with all the other “inhabitants” of the plural society. 

The context that explains this further is defined by the principle of the inevitability of the cultural interpretation of faith: each faith is always subjected to a public cultural interpretation.  As John Paul II wrote, “a faith that does not become cultural would not be fully accepted, nor entirely thought out, nor faithfully lived”. In fact faith – the Judaic and the Christian – being the fruit of a God who has involved himself with history, has inevitably to do with the concreteness of life and death, of love and suffering, of work and rest and civic action.  If faith becomes culture then it is inevitable that its historical emergence generates an interpretation of faith itself.  The faith-culture relationship is circular.

In this phase of postmodernity in our plural societies, two particular cultural interpretations of Christianity are in evidence that are not far from being polar opposites.

The first is one that treats Christianity as a civil religion, a mere ethical cement, capable of functioning as social glue for our democracies.  If a position like this is plausible for the unbeliever, its structural insufficiency must be evident to the believer.

The other, more subtle, is one that tends to reduce Christianity to the proclamation of the pure and simple Cross for the salvation of ‘every other’.  To be concerned for example with bioethics or biopolitics would distract from the authentic message Christ’s mercy.  As if this message were in itself ahistorical and did not possess anthropological, social, and cosmological implications.

An attitude like this produces a dispersion of Christians in society and ends up hiding the human significance of faith as such.

Neither of these two cultural interpretations succeeds however in expressing in an adequate manner the true nature of Christianity and of its action in civil society:  the first since it reduces it to its secular dimension, separating it from the natural strength of the Christian subject, gift of the encounter with the personal advent of Jesus Christ in the Church;  the second since it deprives faith of its incarnational force.

I believe that another cultural interpretation is more respectful of the nature of man and of the fact that he exists in relation.  This is one that runs along the boundary line that separates civil religion from the crypto-diaspora and maintains the advent of Jesus Christ in all its integrity, proclaiming all the mysteries of faith and all the aspects and implications with which these mysteries are replete.

In this interpretation of the faith a central role is played by the style of testimony, which is counterposed to that of militancy or hegemony.  Testimony understood as method of knowledge and communication.  Nothing can be alien to this view of things, this curiosity and passion, nothing of that which forms part of the daily life of men and women of today, as well as politics and economics.

3. Religious freedom

With regard to the more specific contents of the action of Christians in the area of European integration, I would like to dwell only on one crucial point: religious freedom.

It is much more than mere prediction to state that religions are called to play a role in the future of Europe, for it is in fact a conclusion that anyone can draw from the simple observation of current circumstances. The presence of diverse religious realities -and I am thinking in the first place of Islam – has moreover contributed very substantially to disprove the predictions made only a few decades ago of the coming of “a secular world”. Of course, the multiplication of religious subjects and visions sometimes radically different from each other and the appearance on the scene of new actors has aroused the suspicion of many. But we cannot forget the fact that in European history religious, cultural, and socio-political events have manifested (beyond the necessary distinctions) as so interwoven as to be inseparable in reality. In this connection a far from negligible difference is observable between the two shores of the Atlantic. From the United States to various areas of Africa, to Latin America, from the Middle to the furthest East the presence of Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal Christians is growing markedly. Leaving aside any judgement that may be passed on these new realities, what matters here is to note that they combine their strong “missionary” thrust and faith with an active participation in public life. In Europe, on the contrary, there prevails an attitude tending to assert that public debate must prescind from the religious root of personal convictions. But this ultimately means obliging believers to behave as if they were atheists, which ends up depriving society of important resources. However some prominent thinkers – I have in mind for example Habermas[10], Böckenförde[11], and Rawls[12] – have begun to acknowledge in religious traditions, and in Christianity initially, the expression of a cognitive potential and a reference to a civil commitment which simply cannot be ignored.

Religions in fact possess the capacity to represent the universal in a concrete way. Contrary to what European culture has ended up postulating in the course of modernity, values are never given in the abstract (the Charter of fundamental rights itself comes close to being a pure and simple list of formal propositions), but only within lived traditions. And indeed some axioms that are fundamental to our societies – I think for exemple of the idea of freedom or of the idea of equality – can derive fresh energy from the testimony of the faithful who live them within their own communal experience. The recognition of this ought to involve an acknowledgement on the part of the political power of the public subjectivity of religions[13]. Hence the necessity that public institutions not only recognise but actively promote an effective religious freedom. In the course of some of my visits to Middle Eastern countries I have been able to encounter a reality in which Christians and Muslims, on the basis of certain shared visions – for example the dignity of the human being – combine their energies in cultural and social works with surprising results. I think of the work on behalf of great numbers of differently-abled persons (handicapped) carried on by the Association Our Lady of Peace Centre for Individuals with Special Needs (composed of Muslims and Christians) in Jordan. And all this in contexts in which religious liberty is certainly not encouraged.  I can only imagine what could happen in Europe, what potential could be released if the climate were to grow more favourable to mutual discussion. Obviously that is possible on condition that religions abandon self-interpretations of a private nature on the one hand or of a fundamentalistic variety on the other to create a space for mutual debate between themselves and with all the other cultures.

The idea of possessing a universal mission has always been dear to Europeans, but this task has been complicated and in part obscured by the phenomenon of European colonialism, which has often trasformed the mission into a project for conquest and oppression.

From the beginning of his Pontificate John Paul II gave a new slant to the conception of Europe, formulating, with a courage unheard of in those days, the vision of a continent capable of breathing with two lungs and united from the Atlantic to the Urals.

How then to rehabilitate a universal vision capable of making Europe a significant actor in globalisation and at the same time to preserve her from the tempation to engulf other realities of the planet with her culture? To reply to this question we must refer to the singular relationship with those anthropological, social, and ecological goods involved in the Christian revelation and which possess a universal value. I have recently had occasion to reread a very brief essay by Romano Guardini with the significant title Il significato del dogma del Dio trinitario per la vita etica della comunità[14], where the great German thinker points out a crucial social implication of the Trinitarian mystery. Precisely because Europe received these goods freely she cannot claim ownership of them. They are offered by the plan of a Father who guides the history of all the human family. No reality, however much it be developed and perfected, can ever claim to exhaust the totality of the real. In this connection what Etienne Gilson wrote in 1952 precisely with reference to Europe is highly apposite: «She will be learned but she will not be Science. She will be fruitful in beauty, but she will not be Art. She will be just, but she will not be Law. And we hope that she will be Christian, but she will not be Christendom»[15]. (Elle sera savante, mais elle ne sera pas la Science. Elle saura enfanter dans la beauté, mais elle ne sera pas l’Art. Elle sera juste, mais elle ne sera pas le Droit. Et nous espérons qu’elle sera Chrétienne, mais elle ne sera pas la Chrétienté). Her task remains that of offering to the world what she has received, of showing the world (to use another expression of Cardinal Lustiger’s), «un nouvel art de vivre» (a new art of living). If we want to have recourse to a Christian category, we can say that the proper mission of the Europeans is, in dialogue and in constant debate with other cultures, to bear testimony to the pursuit, personal and communal, of that good life, made up as Aristotle said of philìa, which cannot fail to be at the foundation of the construction of the polis.

If kept within these parameters, the European contribution to the constitution of a new world order, as foretold for some time by the social Magisterium of the Church, can be as important as has already been the case at the noblest moments of her history. Europe’s offering can involve all the continents in the pratice of a free cohabitation of citizens, of intermediate bodies, and of nations that will give life to a civil society capable not of sacrificing differences but of exalting them – and without them disrupting the ever – more urgent unity between the peoples of the planet.

[1] P. Jenkins, God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam and Europe’s Religious Crisis, Oxford University Press, New York, 2007.
[2] Cfr. Ifop for la Croix, Les Français, la laïcité et le rôle des religions, mars 2008.
[3] According to Taylor we have gone from an age in which it was «virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others» (A secular age, The Belknap Press, Cambridge/London, 2007, 3).
[4]Besides the current legislation on abortion and divorce in many European countries, reference can be made to the recent sentence issued by the European Court of Human Rights, which defines the presence of a crucifix in classrooms of Italian State schools as a restriction of «the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions, and to children’s right to freedom of religion», Sentence 2009, Lautsi v. Italy on the crucifix in classrooms: application no. 30814/06); the introduction, in some states, of homosexual marriage (Holland 1/4/2001, Belgium 1/6/2003, Spain 30/6/2005); or the Resolution 14/1/09 of the European Parliament, which calls on Member States to recognize same-sex partnerships  formalized in other Member States and asks Member States who have not yet done so to introduce legislation on living wills  to ensure «the right to dignity of the end of life».
[5] Cfr. J.M. Lustiger, L’Europe à venir, Parole et Silence, Paris 2010.
[6] Cfr. R. Brague, Europe. La voie romaine, Gallimard, Paris 1999.
[7] Cf. P. Ricoeur, Parcours de la reconnaissance, Éditions Stock, Paris, 2004.
[8] Cf. F. Botturi, Secolarizzazione e laicità, in P. Donati (ed.), Laicità: la ricerca dell’universale nelle differenze, Il Mulino, Bologna, 2008, 295-337.
[9] J. Rawls, Political Liberalism, Columbia University Press, New York 1993, 133-168. This is what Rawls writes about public reason: «[a] feature of public reason is that its limits do not apply to our personal deliberations and reflections about political questions, or to the reasoning about them by members of associations such as churches and universities, all of which is a vital part of the background culture. Plainly, religious, philosophical, and moral considerations of many kinds may here properly play a role» (p. 215).
[10] Cf., J. Habermas, La religione nella sfera pubblica. Presupposti cognitivi dell’«uso pubblico della ragione» da parte dei cittadini credenti e laicizzati, in J. Habermas, Tra scienza e fede, Laterza, Roma-Bari, 2008, 19-49.
[11] Cf. E. W. Böckenförde, Cristianesimo, libertà, democrazia, Morcelliana, Brescia 2008.
[12] Cf. J. Rawls, Political Liberalism, Columbia University Press, New York, 1993.
[13] P. Donati, Pensare la società civile come sfera pubblica religiosamente qualificata, in C. Vigna, S. Zamagni (ed.), Multiculturalismo e identità, Vita e Pensiero, Milano 2002, 51-106.
[14] R. Guardini, Il significato del dogma del Dio trinitario per la vita etica della comunità, in Scritti politici, Opera Omnia VI, Morcelliana, Brescia, 2005, 97.
[15] E. Gilson, Les métamormophoses de la Cité de Dieu, Vrin, Paris, 2005 (1952), 219.

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