Today the Church celebrates the memorial of Saints Cyril and Methodius, brothers from ninth-century Thessalonica, a city where the Saint Paul himself had preached, who became the “Apostles to the Slavs” in Greater Moravia and Pannonia (present-day Hungary). They not only proclaimed the Christian faith but also translated Sacred Scripture and the Byzantine Liturgy into the Slavonic language, whereby they developed an alphabet for that language and thus founded the literary culture of the Slavic peoples.
One of the first diplomatic acts of Pope Benedict XVI was to receive the President of Bulgaria on May 23, 2005, during the statesman’s traditional visit to the tomb of St. Cyril in Rome. On that occasion the Holy Father said, “Your visit today, Mr. President, is all the more meaningful since it is in memory of the two Saints Cyril and Methodius, Co-Patrons of Europe, who shaped the human and cultural values of the Bulgarians and of other Slav nations in a Christian perspective. One could also say that, through their work of evangelization, Europe was formed.”
Even before his election as Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger had spoken and written often about “the spiritual foundations” of Europe, which go far deeper than a common currency or an economic union. In a conference given in Berlin during the Jubilee Year of the Millennium, he acknowledged the cultural differences between Western or “Latin” Europe and the Byzantine East, yet insisted that
there were still sufficient unifying elements to make one continent out of these two worlds: in the first place, their common heritage of the Bible and of the early Church…; then the same idea of empire, their common basic understanding of the Church, and hence also the common fund of ideas concerning law and legal instruments; finally, I should mention also monasticism, which among the great movements of history had remained the essential guarantor not only of cultural continuity, but above all of fundamental religious and moral values, of man’s awareness of his ultimate destiny; and as a force prior and superior to political authority, it became the source of the rebirths that were necessary again and again.
Cdl. Ratzinger concluded his talk on European identity in November 2000 by noting fundamental moral elements that in his opinion should be included in any future European Constitution:
“The unconditional character of human dignity and human rights, which must be presented as values that are prior to any governmental jurisdiction.”
“Monogamous marriage, as a fundamental structure of the relation between man and woman and at the same time as the basic cell in the formation of the larger community. This gave Europe, both in the West and in the East, its particular face and its particular humanity, also and especially because the pattern of fidelity and self-denial depicted therein had to be won again and again, by many toils and sufferings.”
“… respect for what is sacred to someone else and, in particular, respect for the sacred in the more exalted sense, for God, something we are allowed to expect even in a person who is not disposed to believe in God. Where this respect is violated, something essential in a society is lost.”
[Editor’s note: Michael J. Miller translated Europe Today and Tomorrow by Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger for Ignatius Press.]