Pope Francis: the Idea of Europe and the end of the Charlemagne era


Pope Francis received the prestigious Charlemagne Prize May 6, 2016.  In his discourse he cited the great Jesuit theologian Erich Przywara, teacher of Hans Urs von Balthasar and author of the essay Idee Europa [The Idea of Europe] [1] Citing L’idea di Europa, that he knows well, Francis reveals his conviction, which was that of the Jesuit theologian: we are at the end of the Constantinian epoch and the experiment of Charlemagne.  It is interesting, therefore, that the Pope quotes Przywara precisely in this Carolinian context.

«Christendom», that is that process started with Constantine in which he implements an organic bond between culture, politics, institutions and the Church, is concluding.  Przywara — together with the Austrian historian Friedrich Heer [2] — is convinced that Europe was born and raised in relationship and in contraposition with the Sacrum imperium, that has its own roots in the attempt by Charlemagne to organize the West as a totalitarian state.

This process is evaluated by Heer as «the possibility for the Church to resume the evangelical paths started by Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Lisieux, breaking down the barriers that separated her from the poor to whom Christianity—in the theological political conjuncture of the various forms of Christianity—always appeared as an ideological policy —and the guarantee — of the dominant groups». [3] For Heer the end of Christendom does not mean the decline of the West, but rather brings in itself a decisive theological resource in as much as the mission of Charlemagne is at the end.  Christ himself resumes the work of conversion.  The wall falls that almost up to the present day has impeded the Gospel from reaching the deeper layers of the conscience, from penetrating to the center of the soul. [4]

He thus radically refuses the idea of the realization of the Kingdom of God on earth, that was at the base of the Holy Roman Empire and all similar political and institutional forms, up to the dimension of the political «party».  If so understood, in fact, the «chosen people» would enter into an intricate interweaving of religious, institutional and political dimensions that cause them to lose awareness of its universal diakonia and would contraposition them to those who are alienated, to the those who do not belong, that is the «enemy».

The Pope has confirmed his vision citing Przywara a few days after having received the prize, May 9, in an interview with the French daily La Croix.  Questioned on why he speaks of the «European identity», the pontiff answers: «We need to speak of roots in the plural because there are so many. In this sense, when I hear talk of the Christian roots of Europe, I sometimes dread the tone, which can seem triumphalist or even vengeful. It then takes on colonialist overtones. John Paul II, however, spoke about it in a tranquil manner. Yes, Europe has Christian roots and it is Christianity’s responsibility to water those roots. But this must be done in a spirit of service as in the washing of the feet. Christianity’s duty to Europe is one of service. As Erich Przywara, the great master of Romano Guardini and Hans Urs von Balthasar, teaches us, Christianity’s contribution to a culture is that of Christ in the washing of the feet. In other words, service and the gift of life. It must not become a colonial enterprise».[5]

With Przywara, Bergolio recognizes — precisely as is affirmed in the Letter to the Hebrews (13:13) — that Christians must «go outside of the camp to bring the outrage of Christ».[6]  And the Church must be in exit and never be a closed and excluding entity.  She is to follow Christ outside of the wall of the holy city, where he died as an accursed man to be able to gather together the whole of humanity, even those who believed him accursed and abandoned by God (cfr Gal 3:13).

Here arises the idea of the Church as «a field hospital», also evoked in the discourse of the President of the European Council, Tusk.  And in fact Francis continues in his discourse affirming that «To the rebirth of a Europe weary, yet still rich in energies and possibilities, the Church can and must play her part».  How?  Proclaiming the gospel, that «more than ever finds expression in going forth to bind the wounds of humanity with the powerful yet simple presence of Jesus, and his mercy that consoles and encourages».

Here is, therefore, what the task of the Church should be, definitely post-Carolinian: to be in exit, going out and encountering the wounded.  This is what Francis is doing, seeking thus to contribute to enlarging the soul of Europe.

[1] Cfr J. L. Narvaja, «La crisi di ogni politica cristiana. Erich Przywara e l’“idea di Europa”», in La Civiltà Cattolica 2016 I 437-448. Cfr also A. Spadaro, «La diplomazia di Francesco. La misericordia come processo politico», in La Civiltà Cattolica  2016 I 209-226, 218-220.
[2] E. Przywara, L’ idea d’Europa. La «crisi» di ogni politica «cristiana», Trapani, Il Pozzo di Giacobbe, 2013, 119. Cfr F. Heer, Aufgang Europas. Eine Studie zu den Zusammenhängen zwischen politischer Religiosität, Frömmigkeitsstil und dem Werden Europas im 12. Jahrhundert, Wien, Europa Verlag, 1949.
[3] F. Mandreoli – J. L. Narvaja, «Introduzione», in E. Przywara, L’ idea d’Europa. La «crisi» di ogni politica «cristiana», Trapani, Il Pozzo di Giacobbe, 2013, 55.
[4] Cfr ivi, 55; G. Zamagni, «“Tra Costantino e Hitler”. L’Europa di Friedrich Heer», in Id., Fine dell’era costantiniana. Retrospettiva genealogica di un concetto critico, Bologna, il Mulino, 2012, 55-57.
[5] G. Goubert – S. Maillard, «Le devoir du christianisme pour l’Europe, c’est le service», in La Croix, 17 maggio 2016.
[6] E. Przywara, L’ idea d’Europa…, cit., 122 s.

Questions & Answers about Cybertheology (in English)

I’m getting many questions about what I call “Cybertheology” and my book about it. Some questions are very frequent so I decided to collect them and to try to give and answer here for sharing ideas, thoughts, insights. Feel free to comment or to add your reflections…

You just wrote a book about “Cybertheology”. What is it? Why is it so important for you regarding the future of the Church and its ability to answer to modern challenges of communication?

The Internet has become part of everyday life for many people, and for this reason it increasingly contributes to the construction of a religious identity of the people of our time, affecting their ability to understand reality, and therefore also to understand faith and their way of living it. The Net and the culture of cyberspace pose new challenges to our ability to formulate and listen to a symbolic language that speaks of possibility and of signs of transcendence in our lives.   Perhaps the time has arrived to consider the possibility of a cybertheology also understood as the intelligence faith in the era of the Net. It would be the fruit of faith that releases from itself a cognitive boost at a time in which the logic of the Net influences the way we think, learn, communicate and live. This is way I wrote the book “Cyberteologia. Pensare il cristainesimo al tempo della Rete” (Cybertheology. Thinking faith at the time of the Net). I also publish a blog http://www.cyberteologia.it and a Facebook page.

Do you believe there is a theology of the net that needs to be created? You wrote about the hacker ethic and the christian vision…

The internet is part of the “environment” in which we live made by connections, relations, communication and knowledge. The Church is now very active on the internet not merely “to be present”, but for a natural immersion of Christianity in place of the life of human beings.  This presence naturally poses a series of questions on an educative and pastoral level.  But there are also critical points emerging that regard the same understanding of the faith of the Church, as I told you already.  On the time being we need to consider the internet theologically. It has ben very intriguing and insightful for me to read what the first real “hackers” wrote in the Seventhies. Of course I’m not talking about “crackers”, the IT criminals. Investigating the hacker’s way of life and intellectual pursuits, based on creativity and sharing, I saw their compatibility with a Christian vision of life. Without unduly comparing the hacker and Christian communities, I want to say that Christians and even hackers today, in a world devoted to the logic of profit, have much to give each other, as is demonstrated by the experience of hackers who make their faith a boost to their creative work.

How Internet is changing the way we witness our faith ? How Internet is changing the way we interact as catholics from the same community or different parishes or different countries?

With his most recent messages for the World of Communications Day, the Pope expressed his thoughts on the digital era.  His principal interest is that communication and its technologies place man as its centre and its principal concern in order to help satisfy the desire for meaning, truth and unity, which remain the deepest aspirations of human being. In particular, now, at the time of the «social networks» when every man is always directly involved in what he communicates, the Pope urges the faithful to a very challenging authenticity of life: when people share information, they are already sharing themselves, their world view, their hopes, their ideals. Christians on the Net are therefore called to be witness which affects choices, preferences, judgments, even when not explicitly speaking of the Gospel.  New technologies have created a space of experience with which even the Christian worship is involved. It is noted that a human being, even when he/she navigates the Internet, expresses the desire to pray, even in a liturgical form.

Do you think the Catholic church is late on the Internet challenge?

Not at all. The Church is where there are human beings. And today human beings are also on line in the cyberspace, which is increasingly an anthropological space. The Church has explicitly recognized this anthropological space. If the Church wants to deal with today’s culture, so radically marked by communication, it can not shy away from a dialogue with between faith and the «emerging cultures». Emerging cultures are those which
spread horizontally, pushing from the bottom up. For instance, hosting a meeting for bloggers in the Vatican, last year, the Church recognized the relevance of these phenomena and to encourage a dialogue between faith and culture at this level.

Nuovi modelli di Chiesa nel mondo dei nuovi media

thechurchtools-blogspot-ourgodglorypromoRiprendo una riflessione di Jim Rice dal titolo New
Models of the Church in a New Media World. Più volte ho proposto su La Civiltà Cattolica o al recente Seminario per i vescovi brasiliani, una riflessione simile riferendomi al card. Dulles e chiedendomi se la Rete non possa essere in qualche modo un modello per dire la Chiesa, mostrandone i vantaggi e i limiti.

In his seminal 1974 book Models of the Church, theologian Avery Dulles offered five paradigms, or “models,” each of which called attention to certain aspects of the worldwide Christian church. The church, Dulles wrote, is in essence a mystery — a reality of which we cannot speak directly. Thus we must draw on analogies to understand the church in deeper ways.

Dulles developed five models, drawing on a range of theological schools and traditions, both Protestant and Catholic, to illuminate different aspects of the church. His models included church as institution, mystical communion, sacrament, herald, and servant. Dulles was careful to point out that no single model, by itself, adequately paints a complete picture of the church; each contains important insights about the nature of the church.

But he also stressed that the particular models he articulated, although comprising relatively timeless truths that have stood up for millennia, are not immutable. “To immure oneself behind a fixed theological position is humanly and spiritually disastrous,” Dulles wrote. “The images and forms of Christian life will continue to change, as they have in previous centuries. In a healthy community of faith, the production of new myths and symbols goes on apace.”

In our time, the explosion of new media — and in particular the ability of digital media to collapse time and space and to create real-time global connections — offers a 21st century model that may helpfully supplement older paradigms for understanding the church. 

We now have vivid examples of the “universal body of Christ” that never before existed. The instantaneous global interactions made possible by new media provide us with tangible analogies of God’s transcendence — and immanence — that have the potential to lead to profound new insights and understandings about the very nature of God and God’s realm on earth.

For example, the connections made by a typical Facebook user — real, if fleeting, interactions with multiple people scattered far afield — give an easily understandable glimpse, a tiny picture, of what it means to be linked to the universal catholic church, across all barriers of Leggi tutto “Nuovi modelli di Chiesa nel mondo dei nuovi media”