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

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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.

The gaze of Magellan: Pope Francis’ European dream

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(Brief excerpt from: A. Spadaro, «Lo sguardo di Magellano. L’Europa, Papa Francesco e il Premio Carlo Magno», in La Civiltà Cattolica 2016 II 469-479 translated by Reyanna Rice)

— What is the vision that the non European Pope has of Europe?

Pope Francis received the prestigious Charlemagne Prize May 6, 2016 . Here is the reason for the prize: «in tribute to His extraordinary commitment to favor peace, understanding, and mercy in a European Society of values».

What is the vision that the non European Pope has of Europe?  The Bergolio’s gaze is a European gaze, because his roots are in the Piedmont and his formation is radically European as well.  He himself, in his discourse, recognizes himself as a son «who rediscovers in Mother Europe his roots of life and faith».  And he is however Argentine and his ecclesial experience is Latin American.

The itinerary of his trips on the European continent began from Lampedusa–«Europe’s gate», and therefore goal of a trip more European than Italian—and from Albania, a land of Europe that is not yet part of the European Union and of an Islamic majority.  From these «peripheries» the Pope is as if rebounded briefly to the «center», that is at Strasburg, to visit the European institutions, and then continues ever to the borders: Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Lesbos, other tragic «European gates».  In October he will be at Lund, in Sweden.  Mercy for Francis is delineated politically in freedom of movement.[1]  He approaches Europe from her distant «periphery».

To understand this statement beyond every easy slogan, we read what Francis declared in an interview released by La Cárcova News, a popular magazine produced in an Argentine villa miseria: «When I speak of periphery, I speak of borders.  Normally we move in space that in one way or another we control.  This is the center.  In the measure in which we go out from the center and distance ourselves from it, we discover more things and, when we look at the center of these new things that we have discovered, new places, from these peripheries, we see that reality is different.  One thing is to observe reality from the center and another to see it from the last place where you arrived.  An example: Europe seen from Madrid in the 16th century was one thing, however when Magellan arrives at the end of the American continent, he sees Europe from a new point reached and understands another thing».[2]

resizeBergolio’s gaze is, therefore, that of Magellan, and he wants to continue to be him.  Francis wants to know Europe starting from Rome and circumnavigating the continent starting from the south and proceeding to the east and then—he will do it in October—pushing into the deep north, in Sweden.  There was not, at the moment, any short trip to the west, towards the West.

In the interview quoted he continues: «You see reality better from the periphery than from the center».  Here’s the reason for his external journey, for his circumnavigation to the borders.  This is what Francis seeks between Lampedusa, Tirana, Lesbos and Lund: the European «soul».  And the soul is not only the «center», but the pulsing and living «heart».  Francis is like a doctor who seeks to understand if the heart functions, observing if and how the blood flows everywhere, and also investigating the peripheral circulation.

Another term to express this vision is «multipolarity».  Francis said it clearly in his discourse to the Council of Europe November 25th, 2014: Europe cannot be understood in terms of a few polar «centers», because « tensions – whether constructive or divisive – are situated between multiple cultural, religious and political poles».  Multipolarity involves «striving to create a constructive harmony, one free of those pretensions to power».  Then we must think of Europe in a multifaceted manner in its relationships and tensions.  That of Francis is a non deterministic European geopolitics, aware of the fact that the redistribution of power among the principal actors does not account for the profound dynamics of the Continent.

— Europe: not a space to defend, but a process to implement

«Creativity, ingenuity and the capacity to rise above and to go beyond her own limits belong to the European soul», Francis began.  And here in his discourse immediately surfaces the reference to eccentricity, to the overcoming of limits and boundaries.  Europe is herself because she knows to go beyond herself.  Her «house» is built going beyond the ashes of «tragic conflicts, culminating in the most horrific war ever known»

This vision therefore is profoundly bound to becoming, to dialectical overcoming of walls and obstacles.  Europe is not a «thing», but a «process» still in action with «a more complex and highly mobile world».[3]  Her Fathers have «laid the foundations» an «enlightened project» that is always a work in progress.  We must therefore verify not if the house holds, but if its realization follows that wise project.  Here is the opinion of the Pope: «Their new and exciting desire to create unity seems to be fading; we, the heirs of their dream, are tempted to yield to our own selfish interests and to consider putting up fences here and there»

Why has this happened?  Because — the Pope affirmed, consistent with his approach to reality — Europe is «more concerned with preserving and dominating spaces than with generating processes of inclusion and change.  There is an impression that Europe is tending to become increasingly “entrenched”, rather than open to initiating new social processes capable of engaging all individuals and groups in the search for new and productive solutions to current problems. Europe, rather than protecting spaces, is called to be a mother who generates processes».

If Europe considers herself as a «space», then sooner or later will be—and it has already come—the moment of fear, of the fear that the space is invaded.  Space is first of all defended.  If instead Europe is to consider herself as an ongoing process, then she understands how it puts energies into movement, accepting the challenges of history.  Then even difficulties and contradictions «can become powerful forces of unity».

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] Cfr A. Spadaro, «La diplomazia di Francesco. La misericordia come processo politico», in Civ. Catt. 2016 I 209-226.
[2] That text of the audio interview is found transcribed and translated at the site http://www.terredamerica.com (10 marzo 2015).  The emphasis is ours.
[3] Pope Francis, Discorso to the European Parliament, Strasburgo, 25 novembre 2014.