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Stanisław Grygiel: The Europe of John Paul II

14 marca 2004 | 09:53 | Ⓒ Ⓟ

1. When John Paul II talks about Europe as a “union of countries that ranges from the Atlantic to Ural, from the North Sea to the Mediterranean Sea” , he does not identify it with a small peninsula of the great Asian continent, but only tells the story of an event that began in a specific place and in a specific manner, and progresses in a specific direction.It stretches beyond the geographical boundaries that were defined for it, and it does not allow itself to be limited by the political-economic arrangements. Europe is not an object to be manipulated. “Europe does not constitute a closed and isolated territory; it is being created in the process of meeting other nations, other cultures, other civilisations. /…/ Other states and continents expect brave undertakings from it”, that are essential for the construction of a just and brotherly world. Europe focused only on itself would not be Europe, but an object of politics and economy.
We create Europe, but our work alone does not explain the history of its occurring. Upon asking questions about its identity, we ask not only about our work, but also about the gift that we receive. Asking about the gift, we ask about a mission, because there are no aimless gifts. Europe excels Europeans, so that they continuously mature to equal it. Homines fabri, i.e. the so called „simple workers” (Plato), who identify the maturing of a person with the perfection of the tools of production, are a deadly threat to Europe.
Europe is taking place in people who, while producing the goods that are necessarily for a better life, seek that thing without which one is embraced by chaos. Plunged in chaos, life looses meaning. The more comfortable chaos becomes, the easier that meaning is lost. In other words, Europe is a space of creative cooperation of man and the light that emanates from the Invisible reality; all which a man sees in this light and all that he touches with his hands is transformed into a work of art, of which the greatest work is he himself. In Warsaw, the Pope said: “The point is the creation of a vision of Europe, both in the West and in the East, as a certain spiritual-material whole. /…/ The point is to think of future Europe in terms of a , despite the astonishing singularity of the political scope of events.”
2. The idea of culture is interconnected with work, as in the Latin word colo, -ere, cultum, I work the land. John Paul II thinks of Europe as one would think of a plant, a tree, for which the soil must be prepared. The aspect of the word culture that pertains to the future (cultura, a future participle), points in the direction of the plough-land that spreads before us, the land that has been appointed to us for cultivation.
Europe is a tree, it will wither if it forgets about its own roots. The future of the tree is already inscribed in its roots. It is in the roots where its goal and meaning begin to be revealed. The roots of the tree contain the tree’s teleology. It must be accepted, if the tree is not to be left to the mercy of people who see in it only a material to be processed. Just anything can be made out of a tree, if it is deprived of its roots. To accept a tree as a tree means to care for its roots. It is an act of love that reason by itself will never be capable to undertake, no matter how “enlightened” by itself it becomes.
3. Europe is occurring in people who depart from the visible “here” and make their way towards what only faith and hope can perceive. They cultivate the land “here”, but by faith and hope they abide “there”. “Faith that does not become culture is a faith not fully adopted, not fully considered, not fully, truthfully experienced.”
The Pope reminds on several occasions that Europe stroke root not only in earth but also in heaven. That is why a European is inasmuch a European as he is a witness of earth and of heaven. If a European forgets the origins of Europe, he will transform its history into a history of the progress of hammers and soap production along with the instructions for their use. Different Thrasymachus and Callicles , i.e. persons who are able to construe the so called majorities and force people into obedience, will decide upon the course of such history. There will be no place in it for Socreteses. What’s more, different tanners, writers and rhethors, as in the case of the man who was proclaimed the wisest on earth by the Delphic Oracle, will banish them or often even sentence them to death. It will be a Europe of mercenaries, well of but oppressed by the possession of too many goods (compare Mk 10:22).
The Europe occurs on the way from “here” to “there” is a history of freedom. This history began in Hellas, the Jerusalem prophecy has given it direction, and it has found fulfillment on the cross set in the ground of Golgotha. Europe is revealed in the full range of its identity only in the meeting between the Hellenic desire for truth, without which freedom is just a from of lawlessness, and the Person heralded by the Jerusalem prophecy, the Person in whom Love is Truth and Truth is the Love, “which moves the sun and the other stars” .

4. Europe has emerged from gloom thanks to the Hellenic transgression of the boundaries of their pólei, i.e. in their experience of freedom from their own state, and even more so from other states. They perceived that total dependence does not let a man live in agreement with the benevolent desire for wisdom (filo-sofia). In defense of this freedom they opposed the Asian onslaught. They opposed it without calculating their chances for survival, of such importance for them was freedom from others that they were ready to die for it. On the occasion of funeral ceremonies organised to honor those that died in battle, their love for independence has been expressed in the words of Pericles: “In the understanding that happiness is grounded on freedom, and freedom on courage, do not evade the menace of war.”
Both he who oppresses and he who lets himself be oppressed remains a barbarian in the eyes of the Europe that was conceived in Greece. “It is a duty of conscience for Europe to reveal the atrocities committed in our neighborhood on defenseless communities. They are to be revealed regardless of who might be the one committing them.” In these words of the Head of the Catholic Church, the echo of the Greek desire for freedom and justice can also be heard.
Freedom, however, is something more than independence from others. In truth, he is free who is not dependent above all on himself. Only he has such control over himself as to be able to present himself as a gift to others, even to the point of sacrificing his own life. To gain such control over oneself, one must look further than the eyes can see. One must enter an alliance with the reality that even death has no power over.
The idea of man being carried away by a Deity far beyond the boundaries defined by his own thought, has been expressed in Hellenic culture in the form that is the Antigone, among others, or in the words that Saint Paul found engraved on one of the alters in the temple on Areopagus: “To an unknown God” (Acts 17, 23). The story of seduction of man by a Deity is told in a Greek myth in which Zeus, having assumed the form of a white bull, kidnaps the daughter of the King of Tyre, Europe, and escapes with her so far, that her brothers seek for her until this day. On their way they build cities, states, they create empires and such or other European unions, but all that they find in them are resemblance’s of Europe, their sister. She herself is always a bit further ahead. Therefore they must continue to seek for her and fight for her, fight their own weakness. It is not proper for brothers of Europe to loose courage and succumb to the vicissitudes of fortune.
No Areopagus knows whither to direct the desire for freedom, in which the spiritual event that is called Europe was conceived, and is still being conceived. It is only human to say: “no!”, but it is superhuman to utter the unconditional “Yes!”, without which man and society become a toy of their own and others’ whims. That is why the Constitution for Europe asks for something more than any Areopagus can invent. The spring from which the tree of Europe drinks the water of life, flows from the deepest layers of human reality.

5. The visit of John Paul II to the Roman Synagogue, his prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, remind Europe that the dream of Greek thought pertaining to the unveiling of truth (a-létheia) is, in its nature, connected to the Jerusalem prophecy. He will not understand Europe who does not view it in the light of the Greek idea of transcendence beyond “here”, in order to seek knowledge in the unknown “there”. But he, who does not view Europe in the light of what occurred in Charan, where the Lord said to Abraham: “ Leave the country of your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show to you.” (Genesis 12, 1), will not only never understand it, but will in fact waste that which Greece was able to attain. Abraham abandoned his land, his home, and took the road not knowing where he was heading. Dedicated to the Lord’s Word, he began to perceive visible things in a different manner and to think of them differently. He entered into them in search for the Invisible “land” shown to him in the promise of the Lord. From the covenant established by the Promise of the Lord with the hope of Abraham, a nation was born that became a space for the prophecy guarding men from becoming lost in the fleeting trifles.
The Judaic prophecy and the Athenian desire of the “unknown Deity” make Europe an event that knows no boundaries but grows in a specific direction. Jerusalem defends Areopagus from that rationalism, which by explaining finite matters only in terms of other similarly finite things, is easily transfigured into an Auschwitz or Kolyma. By evoking the hope of truth that is soon to come, Jerusalem disabuses reason from the tautologies that are the grounds for man’s claims to fight only for his right to frolics. Therefore he who questions the prophecy also questions reason, and vice versa, he who questions reason also questions the prophecy, since the prophecy opens reason exactly to that which surpasses it and without which it can only follow logic up to a certain point. The voice that commands a man to leave all things behind and go to the land that will be shown to him, and the prophecy that doesn’t allow him to forget that he has been summoned and sent by this very voice, set human rights upon a lasting foundation of obligation. A man has the right only to that for which he was summoned.

6. The Europe of the spirit is takes place in people in whom reason and prophecy meet Truth that was revealed on Golgotha. Golgotha of the Son of God is not an addition to the Areopagus of the sages and the Jerusalem of the prophets. The sage and the prophet find themselves only in the Love that was nailed to the cross. The history of Europe merges with the history of evangelisation to such a degree, that only the commandment: “/…/ go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt28, 19), allows one to perceive both the meaning of the Greek transcendence beyond the boundaries of the polis, and the meaning of the summoning of Abraham by the Voice of the Lord in Charan.
“Europe has great obligations towards Christianity. But Christianity also has many reasons to thank Europe.” No instance of the so called inculturation of Christian faith on other continents can occur without that which has began when St. Paul, moved by the bidding of the Macedonian that he heard in a dream: “Cross to Macedonia and help us!” (Acts 16, 9), went to Greece, i.e. contemporary Europe. Since that time “The Church and Europe constitute a whole in their being and in their destiny” , so that European culture can be understood only in reference to Christianity: “The Gospel constitutes its foundations.”
To such people as Paul, who was a student of Gamaliel, a Roman citizen, a man who was thrown of his horse by Christ, Europe will always call: “Cross to me and help me!” Europe will always need such people. It will not be satisfied by a fight for independence that ends in a conclusion that there is no such tree from which fruit man shall not eat (compare Gen 3, 2-3). Europeans arouse indignation in others in the matter of substituting the Gospel for a groundless claim, that man, if he is not God, should at least behave like he was.
The internal unity of Aeropagus, Jerusalem and Golgotha causes “the crisis of the European man to be the crisis of the Christian man”, and “the crisis of European culture to be crisis of Christian culture.” “Pilgrimizing on the roads of time, the Church has bound its mission to our continent as with no other. The spiritual condition of Europe has been shaped with the efforts of great missionaries and thanks to the testimony of martyrs. It was shaped in temples erected with great sacrifices, in centres of contemplation, in the humanistic message of universities. /…/ how poor would have European culture been if it was denied the Christian inspiration!” It’s enough to listen how hollow such words as man, freedom and brotherhood sound in their “Enlightenment” rendering in order to discover, that without the Father they do not mean anything, because they can mean everything. The Areopagus of Enlightenment has identified them with mathematical formulae, whose arrangement is decided by temporary interests. A great Nothing, uplifted to the virtue of a rule in life by reason “enlightened” by itself, does away all differences, from sexual differences down to the difference between man and God, and it is the reason why man does not understand why he must not eat from the fruit of the tree that remains in the gestion of the Divinity.
He, who lost everything save reason, does not see that the “cultural treasury of Europe”, to which belong such values as “dignity of a human being, sacred nature of life, the importance of family, the role of upbringing, freedom of thought, speech and freedom to profess one’s own principles or religion, /…/ work understood as participation in the work of creation, authority of the state ruled by law and reason.” is the treasury of the sons of God, and not of gods.

7. The Cartesian belief that “clear and explicit” ideas constitute a measure and criteria for all learning, has subordinated the desire for truth to calculations, i.e. to that which is called ratio (from the Latin reor, -eri, ratum). The calculating mind does not look for springs from which the trees drink their truth. It does not value the prophecy that points to the divine “Otherness” that is indispensable to the human being, therefore it outright recognizes the voice that prompts man to cultivate his land for this Otherness as a malady. In the world of rationalistic calculations, the call to man for a pilgrimage from “here” to the sacred Otherness of “there” has given way to tourism, and it is mainly in that, not in pilgrimage, that the present day Europe, not the usual “a bit further into the future” Europe, is being created. The enlightenment sapere aude!, that in fact means reri aude!, i.e.: “dare to calculate!” sounds like a verdict sentencing the spirit of Europe to death. We are reminded of Chesterton’s saying: “He is not stupid who has lost his reason, but he who has lost everything except for his reason.”
By succumbing to rationalism, Europeans loose the ability to unite, because they do not pilgrimize to one another, but to visions and hypothesis that they form in respect to one another. Instead of creating a society of people, they travel to “distant parts” away from the Father’s home (compare Lk 15, 13), and so away from their brothers and there they form a mob of calculating and calculated individuals. The misery of solitude prevents them from recognising in the entrusting of a man to man and even man to God himself anything more than personal, sentimental naivity.
If Europe is to be Europe, its intellectual tourism, calculated by different centres, must be replaced by pilgrimage to springs. “Political and economic measures, no matter how necessary, will not of their own heal the wounded European who has become culturally weak and defenseless. He will regain balance and power under the condition that he will revive his Christian roots.” The Athenian desire for truth and Judaic prophecy will revive the “will to respect, defend and proclaim human dignity within Europe and in solidary connection with everyone” , only where people can muster the courage to venture out of “the land of their people, the home of their fathers” everyday, and journey to the place that was shown to us by the Lord on Golgotha.
The threat of reason enlightened by itself will constantly loom over Europe. But today, one is under the impression that Europe has exhausted its spiritual strengths to such an extent that it will be difficult for it to remain Europe? Its politicians, on whom much depends, suffer from such memory lapses that they can issue altogether humorist statements. Some weeks ago, in an article that appeared in the columns of the Italian daily magazine Corriere della sera, one of the „enlightened” politicians tried to persuade his readers that the European identity is underlined by an idea that has been striving for justice and recognition since Enlightenment. This idea, writes the politician, puts man in the center of a political programme, and based on Goethe’s ballad “The Erl-King” it constructs morality for him. The enlightenment amnesia, adopted by this politician as a basis for “political correctness”, presents secularity as a “grammar of all religions”, that allows them to be expressed in a form to benefit society.
It is not enough to set one European idea against another, anti-European idea. In order to help Europe, one must rise to a higher level, where realism and sacredness form a whole. Only from the summit of realism and sacredness can it be seen, to quote lines from the same poem by Goethe, that “/…/ the Erl-King, with crown and with train?” is no reality – that “ ’tis the mist rising over the plain” and haunting (translation by Edgar Alfred Bowring) But from there one can also see that reason left to itself, instead of defending people against the “erl-king”, aids him in deceiving them even further with false promises. John Paul II addressed this issue directly in Santiago de Compostella , and he said it directly when, on proclaiming the three great saints co-patrons of Europe, he called upon Europe to develop in harmony with its best tradition “of which the paramount expression is sacredness.” The Erl-King will strangle Europe that is devoid of sacredness. Europe itself will be washed away in the soap that it produces.
There is no doubt that the power of grace surpasses any “erl-king”, also the one who is reason “enlightened” by itself. But will Europeans be able to muster enough courage to heed the summons of grace?

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