July 11, 2016
by Fr. George W. Rutler
In 1988 as Pope John Paul II began his speech to the European Parliament, Ian Paisley, a member for Northern Ireland, shouted that the pope was the Antichrist. Another member, Archduke Otto von Hapsburg, seized and with the help of a few others pushed him out of the hall. Since the Archduke was the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, it was as if a thousand years of popes and Holy Roman emperors had come alive again. In 2004, Otto had the joy of watching John Paul beatify his father, the Emperor Karl, in whose army the pope’s own father had devotedly served.
Shortly before his election to the papacy, Benedict XVI wrote a book entitled Europe: Today and Tomorrow. It was prophetic, and poignantly so, in light of the troubles that the European Union is having these days. The constitution of the Union studiously avoided mentioning the role of Christianity in the formation of Europe. The same Union has promoted many policies hostile to moral sanity, which have architected the structure of what successive popes have called a Culture of Death.
Hilaire Belloc said that “the Faith is Europe and Europe is the Faith.” This could be a very limited and parochial view, but an expansive interpretation means that Europe would not be a triumph of civilization had it not been for the Christian sense of mankind. Europe cannot survive as a cohesive culture with a logical ground for its existence without Christianity as its animating force. This sense is lacking now, and the spiritual life of Europe generally speaking is materialistic and indolent, slothful about any transcendent perspective on life.
In 1980 Pope John Paul II named Saints Cyril and Methodius, representatives of the Eastern or “other lung” of European Christianity, co-patrons of Europe along with Saint Benedict, whose feast we celebrate this week, and whom Pope Paul VI had proclaimed patron of Europe in 1964. In contrast to the functioning model for European unity—which seems to be, for the European Union, an entity bureaucratically sustained—Saint Benedict preserved and promoted European culture through his carefully structured and maintained system of monastic confederations. This was not unlike, albeit in a supernatural order, the structure symptomatic of fast-food chains or international corporations.
Saint Benedict could once again be a unifier of Europe more effective than any bureaucracy in Strasbourg or Brussels. As he wrote in his Rule: “No one should follow what he considers to be good for himself, but rather what seems good for another. They should display brother love in a chaste manner, fear God in a spirit of love; revere their abbot with a genuine and submissive affection. Let them put Christ before all else, and may he lead us all to everlasting life.”