Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Friday, April 15, 2005

Ecclesia in Europa

A few years ago, when the Preamble for the European Union's Constitution was in its initial drafting stage, mention was made of the Greek and Roman heritage of Europe but almost two millennia of Christian heritage was not even alluded to. The current Constitution rather diplomatically refers only to the "religious inheritance" of Europe. Nonetheless this does not do justice to the central role of the Christian tradition and the Church in the moulding of Europe.

Much of current European culture, arts, science and society has been affected or influenced by the Church, not least by the Papacy as a political entity. The current events in Rome underline to me this historical fact. The Pope's funeral which saw such a massive gathering of world leaders is only possible because of the status of the Holy See as a sovereign state. This in itself is linked to the role of the medieval Pontiffs with relation to Rome and the later Papal states. Of course many will say that the charisma and person of John Paul II drew these leaders to mourn his death and I would not deny that at all. John Paul was truly a great man and a sterling Pope. However it would be unrealistic to not see the politics at play too. Incidentally, there are some great pictures of the late Holy Father on this Mexican site.

Latin was predominant in the funeral rites of the Pontiff and this reminded me of the ancient language of Rome and consequently the Church and its usage throughout Europe as a unifying language of common faith, law, education, learning and diplomacy. It enabled pan-European study and cross-cultural exchange aided by the Church and her institutions as a unifying body. It also linked Europe to its Roman foundations which in itself built on the Greek tradition as well as giving rise to modern European romance languages. To this day the clerical roots of the law and academia are still evident due to the initially Church-motivated rise of universities in Europe.

The social structure of Europe - education and medical and 'social welfare' - was predominantly reliant on the Church and her monasteries to provide. The state most certainly did not provide these 'charitable' services. This still holds true in many cases today. When Henry VIII destroyed and seized the monastic foundations of England in the 1530s, his subjects suffered.

Even democracy has its roots in Christianity. The Dominican Order has been said, "by its composition, powers and functions", to be the "first democracy of the Church and the world." The Conclave, which will open on Monday and which all Catholics and men and women of good will should pray about, is in itself and in essence a process of democracy. I realize that many would challenge this idea but I think a historical understanding of the Conclave and Papal elections would reveal its democratic roots - the presbyters of Rome (themselves leaders of the Roman Christians) electing their bishop and leader and the process of the Conclave evolved in order to free the electors from the influence of the State and secular leaders.

Science, which is so often pitted as the antithesis of faith and religion actually has its roots in curious priests and monks, not least of which is St Albert the Great and even Western philosophy developed under the inquisitiveness and nurture of the Church through such men as St Thomas Aquinas. The modern scientific method of observation and experimentation began in Christian monasteries as did modern philosophy but now the baby has grown up and disavowed its mother...

Although both Europe and the Church are so intertwined and closely connected, it is disturbing the strongly secular Constitution chose (albeit after much debate and intervention by the Holy See) to gloss over the distinctively Christian roots of modern Europe. These reflections arose as I pondered the significance of the coming Conclave and the recent Papal funeral...


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