The Ecumenical Project of Europe

“We are called to bethink ourselves of the Christian basics of Europe by forming a democratic model of governance which through reconciliation develops into a ‘community of peoples’ in freedom, equality, solidarity and peace and which is deeply rooted in Christian basic values.” — Robert Schuman

There are arguments for and against the “Christian” foundation of Europe. I am, for one, a supporter of the understanding that ‘Europe’ as a concept and as a project is deeply rooted in, as Schuman said, Christian basic values. Without the Judeo-Christian history unfolding in Europe, spreading itself across the continent and then the world, would such a unity or Union even be thinkable? But perhaps another important question, first addresses us: what is meant by Christian, since there are so many forms of Christianity across Europe itself?

The state of the churches at first glance may seem a far cry from St Paul’s reminder that there is one faith, one baptism, one hope of our calling. There seems to be thousands of different kinds of churches, with denominations multiplying faster than mushrooms in a damp forest. That damp forest was originally Europe. Between the Greek East and the Latin West, the first (official) large schism among the churches occurred almost 1000 years ago. Then, 500 years after that, another division occurred, which for many reasons, helped set up modern Europe (politically, geographically, socially), the Reformation.

Yet a question that is often asked to the churches is precisely the same question that Europe must face: do we have more in common than we are different? Unity and diversity, the one and the many, these are the themes that have wrapped themselves through European and Christian histories. Philosophically and theologically, they remain crucial questions, especially in terms of identity.

As the churches share the same fundamental questions with the European project, could Europe be said to be an ecumenical undertaking? It is not the case that every European is a person of faith, nor should they have to be to participate in the project and process of creating a peaceful Europe. Yet the goals of ecumenics is analogous to the goals of a European Union, in terms of solidarity and the maintaining of diversity in the midst of unity. Both are choral undertakings, with each denomination or nation-state needing to keep its unique voice, yet participate in the sound of the whole in order to thrive.

As the churches reach out across the centuries of hostility to a new hope and mutual understanding, perhaps we can inspire those in Europe who are attempting to do the same. If there is to be peace in our time, we must commit to the continued work of restoration and seeking the common good. There can be one baptism, one Lord, one faith, yet many expressions of that living faith, just as there can be one Europe, yet many parts constituted separately and working together.

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