Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christian Ecumenism and the Future of Religion in Europe

From the indispensible vatican reporter, Sandro Magister, comes another good news story. He writes:
"For the first time, the Russian Orthodox Church publishes a book with texts by a pope. The author is Benedict XVI. The topic is Europe. The objective is a holy alliance in defense of the Christian tradition."
Some have taken to calling Benedict XVI "the pope of Christian unity" and there is no doubt that his overtures to the SSPX, the Anglo-Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox have inspired theologically orthodox believers all over the world from Evangelicals to Russian Orthodox.

The topic of this book is the defense of Christian civilizations against the encroaching darkness of secular atheism and the threat of militant Islam. I believe that Christianity in Europe is not ready quite yet to give up and succumb to the politically correct nihilism of contemporary culture; there will be one major push back before the darkness closes in for the final time. The proposed European constitution that did not so much as mention Christianity once may have been the nadir of European secularism. We don't know; the inscrutability of Providence makes prophecy dangerous. But it looks like both Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are beginning to come to the collective realization that it is time to put aside their differences before faith is swept clean from Europe as it was from North Africa and Asia Minor or placed under servitude as it was in Egypt.

Here is the first few paragraphs of Magister's analysis. A link to the rest and also one to the Introduction to the book itself follows.
""In a terse statement two days ago, Russia and the Church of Rome announced "the establishment of diplomatic relations between them, at the level of apostolic nunciature on the part of the Holy See, and of embassy on the part of the Russian Federation."

Six days earlier, on December 3, Pope Benedict XVI had received in audience Dmitri Medvedev, president of the Russian Federation, to whom he had given a Russian-language copy of the encyclical "Caritas in Veritate," and with whom he had discussed "cultural and social topics of common interest, like the value of the family and the contribution of believers to the life of Russia."

But it is not only with the authorities of the Russian state that the Church of Rome now has relations defined by both sides as "friendly."

With the Orthodox Church of Moscow as well, spring appears to have sprung.

One signal of this came at the same time as Medvedev's visit to Italy. A book was presented in Rome on December 2, published by the patriarchate of Moscow and containing the main speeches about Europe made over the past ten years by Joseph Ratzinger, as cardinal and pope.

The entire volume is in two languages, Italian and Russian. The title is taken from an expression that Benedict XVI used in Prague: "Europa, patria spirituale [Europe, spiritual homeland]." And its extensive introduction is signed by the president of the patriarchate's department for external Church relations, Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk (in the photo), an authority of the highest order: suffice it to say that the previous occupant of this post, Kirill, is today the patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Moscow "and all Rus."

An extract from the introduction to the book is reproduced further below. And it is of great interest for grasping the perspective from which the patriarchate of Moscow looks at its own role in Europe.

It is a Europe forged by Christianity, but now attacked by a "militant secularism" against which two forces above all are leading the counteroffensive: the Church of Rome in the West, and the Orthodox Church in the East.

Those who expect an Orthodox Church removed from time, made up only of remote traditions and archaic liturgies, will come away shaken from reading the introduction to this book.

The guideline here is being set by a document of great vigor, unprecedented in the entire history of Orthodoxy. Its title is: "The foundations of the social doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church," and was published by the council of Russian bishops in 2000.

The image that emerges from it is that of a Russian Orthodox Church that refuses to let itself be locked up in a ghetto, but on the contrary hurls itself against the secularist onslaught with all the peaceful weapons at its disposal, not excluding civil disobedience against laws "that oblige the commission of a sin in the eyes of God."

It is a text that is also striking for its frank, politically incorrect language, unusual for the pen of a high Church authority."
For the rest go here. The Introduction to the book follows Magister's analysis. I simply must quote one section, which comes near the end after much clear sighted discussion of the situation:
"Finally, I would like to comment on the recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights against Italy, meaning the ban on displaying the crucifix in Italian schools. This decision goes against the right of each state to preserve its own traditions and its own identity, that is, it offends the inviolable principle of the authentic pluralism of traditions. It is an unacceptable manifestation of militant secularism. The activity of the European Court must not turn into a cynical farce. The ultraliberal attitude that prevailed in the adoption of that decision must not dominate in Europe. The origins of Europe are Christian. The crucifix is a universal symbol, and it is absolutely inadmissible that, in order to satisfy ultraliberal and atheistic standards, Europe and social institutions should be deprived of the symbols that for so many centuries formed and united people. The crucifix is not a symbol of violence, but of reconciliation. I think that in all of these areas, we can collaborate with the Catholic Church in defending Christian tradition from militant secularism and aggressive liberalism.

In this context, I would like to conclude by asking the following question: are we building a completely atheist and secularist Europe, where God is expelled from society and religion driven into the ghetto of the private, or will the new Europe be a true home for the different religions, thus becoming authentically in a pluralist? I think this is the question the Churches in Europe and the religious communities must ask, a question that the politicians have a duty to answer. It is around this question that the dialogue between European religious communities and political institutions should be centered." [bolding is mine]
This is the right question and the tone of the whole piece suggests that the author is well aware of the fact that secular atheism is on the march and will not tolerate Christianity if it triumphs. He is also aware of the fact that contemporary liberalism is no longer a friend of Christianity.

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