The Popes and Sixty Years of European Integration

Second paragraph of third papal document (Paul VI’s Apostolic letter Pacis Nuntius of 1964, proclaiming St Benedict as the Principal Patron of Europe):

Sic igitur spiritualem illam unitatem Europae coagmentavit, qua quidem nationes, sermone, genere, ingenio diversae, unum populum Dei se esse sentiebant. Quae unitas, fideliter annitentibus monachis, disciplinae tanti parentis alumnis, peculiaris nota facta est mediae, quam vocant, aetatis. Illam, quae, ut ait Sanctus Augustinus, «ommis pulchritudinis forma» est, lugenda rerum vicissitudine discissam, quotquot sunt bona praediti voluntate, restituere temporibus nostris conantur. Libro, seu ingenii cultu, idem venerabilis patriarcha, a quo tot monasteria nomen vigoremque traxerunt, vetera litterarum monumenta, cum liberales disciplinae artesque obruebantur caligine, diligenti cura servavit et ad posteros transmisit, atque doctrinas studiose excoluit. Aratro demum, seu re rustica, aliisque subsidiis loca vasta et horrida in agros frugum feraces et hortos amemos mutavit; et precationibus fabrilia iungens, secundum verba illa «ora et labora», humano operi excellentiam addidit. Haud immerito ergo Pius PP. XII Sanctum Benedictum «Europae patrem» appellavit, cuius quidem terme continentis populis ille amorem et studium recti ordinis inspiravit, in quo socialis vita eorum inniteretur.It was in this way that he cemented that spiritual unity in Europe, whereby peoples divided on the level of language, ethnicity and culture, perceived that they constituted the one People of God – a unity that, thanks to the constant efforts of those monks who followed so illustrious a teacher, became the distinctive hallmark of the Middle Ages. It is this unity, which St. Augustine calls the “exemplar and model of absolute beauty”, but which regrettably has been fragmented through a maze of historical events, that all men of good will even in our own day seek to rebuild. With the book, then, i.e. with culture, the same St Benedict, – from whom so many monasteries derive their name and vigour – with provident concern, saved the classical tradition of the ancients at a time when the humanistic patrimony was being lost, by transmitting it intact to posterity, and by restoring the cult of knowledge. Lastly, it was with the plough, i.e. with the cultivation of the fields and with other similar initiatives, that he succeeded in transforming abandoned and overgrown lands into fertile fields and greaceful gardens; and by uniting prayer with manual labour, according to his famous motto “ora et labora,” he ennobled and elevated human work. Rightly, therefore, Pius XII hailed Saint Benedict XII as “the father of Europe”; for he inspired the peoples of this Continent that loving care of order and justice that forms the foundation of true society.

This is an old-fashioned little publication (108 pages), lent to me by a colleague, pulling together fifteen major statements by the popes on European integration from 1957 to 2017. It is nicely illustrated, the photograph of the EU leaders meeting the current Pope in the Sistine chapel is particularly striking.

There’s nothing very surprising here for anyone familiar with the EU and the Vatican. Successive popes have been opposed to war and to Communism, and the EU was constructed as a bulwark against both. More recent themes include an emphasis on social justice and on environmental protection, with the Church’s own particular wrinkles on those themes. There’s not much here that anyone could object to, frankly.

There was a time when the relationship looked closer. Of the six founding mamebr states of the EU, four are largely Catholic by religious tradition and the other two (the Natherlands and West Germany, as it then was) were balanced between Catholicism and Protestantism. Now things are vey different; of the 27 current member states, you’d have to put at least four in the Orthodox column, three in the firmly Protestant tradition, and anyway most of them are part of the rising tide of secularism. The European People’s Party, Europe’s largest political grouping, came from the post-war Christian Democrat tradition, but has moved firmly away from anything too church-oriented (though often gets tempted by anti-wokeness, which is not quite the same thing).

I do remember attending a conference for Northern Ireland party activists in the early 1990s, at which a Unionist participant informed us that Pope John XXIII had endorsed European integration in order to ensure Catholic domination in Europe. One of the others present snorted that not many of John XXIII’s plans for the church had worked out in the end. The EU’s two openly gay prime ministers are both from traditionally Catholic countries. Pius XII would not have approved.

Anyway, this is co-published by the EU External Action Service and L’Osservatore Romano, and you can get it from their websites, here and here.