Benedict XVI and European Cultural Renewal

Says Religious Restoration Needs «Creative Minorities»

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NEW YORK, JAN. 1, 2006 ( An essay by Benedict XVI on «Europe and Its Discontents» is published in the January issue of the U.S.-based journal First Things.

The essay, originally written before his election to the papacy, will also appear in an upcoming book of the Pope’s to be published in February under the title of «Without Roots» (Basic Books).

In the essay, the Holy Father identifies «Europe» as a cultural identity, not simply a geographical concept. Its civilization extends to all of the continents, especially North America.

But according to Benedict XVI, at a time when European civilization is the thoroughly dominant cultural force in the world today, its emphasis on techno-secular progress appears to have weakened the appreciation of its historical value system, culture and faith. To fill this vacuum, people are beginning to look to the religions of pre-Columbian America, Islam and Asian mysticism, he contends.

Benedict XVI states that low birthrates in the West indicate that the «vital energy» of Europe has been lost. There is a lack of regard and hope for the future caused by the secular dogmatisms and ideologies that «view the spirit as produced by matter and morals by circumstances.» The fallacy of communist economics has been rejected, but its moral and religious fallacies have not.

The Holy Father compares the competing understandings of the development of civilizations offered by Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee.

Toynbee’s line

He notes that while Spengler’s «biologistic» thesis meant the death of Europe was inevitable, Toynbee claimed that civilizational progress contained two elements: techno-material and spiritual. The spiritual dimension relies on the free choice of the people. Thus, if the civilization is sick, there can be a remedy. For Europe, Toynbee proposes the recovery of the religious and cultural heritage of Western Christianity.

Pondering whether Toynbee’s thesis is correct, Benedict XVI states, «If it is, then we must ask whether it is in our power to reintroduce the religious dimension through a synthesis of what remains of Christianity and the religious heritage of humankind.»

Benedict XVI ultimately agrees with Toynbee’s understanding of civilizational development, and exhorts Christians to be «creative minorities» within «Europe,» cultivating appreciation for the three pillars of European civilization: respect for the dignity of the human person; marriage and the family; and religion.

Christianity is the antidote to a Europe that is beset by materialism, secularism and multiculturalism; a Europe that no longer appreciates its roots and with little interest or energy left to preserve its heritage. This is a heritage the Pope states should be offered for the service of mankind.

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