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Soul food for Europeans  

06 May 2016

John Wood considers essays on Christianity and the EU project

© the estate of Charles cundall/liss Llewellyn fine art

“Twentieth-century Grand Tour”: Notre-Dame and Pont de l’Archevêché is one of many Continental scenes by the subject of Charles Cundall 1890-1971, edited by Sacha Llewellyn and Paul Liss, which accompanies an exhibition of the artist’s work at Sotheran’s, 2-5 Sackville Street, London W1, until tomorrow (and online at www.lissfineart.com) (Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, £25; 978-0-9567139-8-8). The fine colour plates include, nearer to home, wartime and industrial scenes and his portrayal of the opening of Coventry Cathedral

“Twentieth-century Grand Tour”: Notre-Dame and Pont de l’Archevêché is one of many Continental scenes by the subject of...

God and the EU: Faith in the European project
Jonathan Chaplin and Gary Wilton
Routledge £90
Church Times Bookshop £81 


ROWAN WILLIAMS, the former Archbishop, in the preface to this book of 14 essays, calls it timely in view of the current ill-informed mud-slinging about the future of UK membership of the European Union. The publication of these excellent contributions is, I would contend, too late to allow informed Christian debate before the impending referendum. But, if the UK’s citizens decide to remain in the EU, I hope that these essays will catalyse discussions among Christians of how to become actively involved in the future of the European project.

The editors’ intention is to “explore the historical and contemporary relevance of Christianity to the European Union”. In their words, it is “a contribution to a political theology of the EU”, while recognising that many aspects are left uncovered.

As might be expected, most of the essays look to historical aspects of Christianity’s influence on the EU, starting from the conviction of the “Father of the Union”, Robert Shuman, that there should never be another war in Europe. His famous declaration of May 1950 is an object lesson in expressing an idea in a clear and simple way; it was based on his Christian faith, and yet deeply practical. His vision is summed up in the second sentence of the declaration: “The contribution which an organised and living Europe can bring to civilisation is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful conditions.”

Three essays reflect on the responses to the project from Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox confessional perspectives. That Schuman, Adenauer, and de Gasperi were all Roman Catholics of deep faith who, with others, drove the creation of the Union through conviction is contrasted with the more cautious approach of Protestantism.

The latter’s heavier emphasis on the part played by individuals rather than the whole reflects in some way the existence of two approaches to the concept of “Church”. The point is made that this explains why the Northern Protestant countries are less committed to integration than those that are primarily Catholic. In contrast, the Orthodox pray for the EU, but have a wider vision for “Christendom” as including the wider diaspora of believers.

The essays then move into the economic ideas behind the Common Market, starting with a discussion on the concept of the “social market economy” which emanated from Germany, uniting both Catholic and Protestant teaching on equal distribution. This is contrasted with the principle of “subsidiarity”, whereby member states define their own social policies.

Chapter 6, “Market State or Commonwealth”, by Adrian Pabst, perhaps highlights the real tension in the Union as it has developed into what it is today. He contrasts the secular “market state” with the idea of a “Christian Commonwealth . . . to function as ‘leaven’ for the entire world”.

In 2012, ESPAS produced a detailed report on behalf of some members of the European Parliament, Citizens in an Interconnected and Polycentric World. The nature of the identity and place of citizens is a reality where we have many allegiances in tension. Is my centre of allegiance my country, my Facebook page, my faith, or Europe? As someone deeply involved in the European project for many years, I feel European before I feel English. This is not, I suspect, true of most churchgoers or the general population.

Taking up this theme, Joshua Hordern argues for Christians to reclaim place. I am not sure I agree with him about a physical space, since this needs to be debated in the light of “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

The second part of the book, which focuses on “Religion and the policies of the EU”, is, by its nature, less coherent, dealing with topics such as religious freedom, formal religious representation, God and the constitution, and Christian economics and the euro, and an assessment of environmental policies for biodiversity.

I acknowledge that there had to be a selection, but maybe a further volume could look at other important policies harking back to the Schuman declaration, such as cohesion, international development, education, freedom of knowledge (the so-called fifth freedom), and the approach to ethical policies where religious tensions start to emerge in regard to medical issues, for example.

Lurking under much of these essays is the nature of the “Soul of Europe”. This was very much part of the vision of the early pioneers, but is either lost or a faint whisper now. The final two essays bring this to the fore, where Diana Jane Beech looks specifically at “a soul for European science”. The word “science” is taken in the European sense of “scholarship or culture”. She brings out starkly the tension between values and market forces, perhaps exemplified by President Junker’s first priority to focus on “Jobs, Innovation and Growth”.

In the Theos study A Soul for the Union, Ben Ryan emphasises that economic growth has largely replaced the Christian values underpinning the early vision for Europe: “if the EU is going to be worth saving”, he states, “it needs to discover a soul.”

The concluding chapter, “Christianity and the ‘souls’ of Europe”, focuses on this issue entirely. Jonathan Chaplin argues for a “forum” of souls, bringing together a rich diversity that includes groups other than the distinctly Christian or even religious to inform the public square. Ultimately, he argues, public theology needs to be more assertive if Europe is to gain its lost soul.

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” These words of wisdom flow implicitly through this excellent and thought-provoking set of contributions.


Professor John Wood is Secretary-General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities and a long-term adviser to the European Commission for Research and Innovation.

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