|Interview With Catholic Historian Alan Fimister
By Dominic Baster
NEWCASTLE, England, 22 SEPT. 2008 (ZENIT)
The original idea of the European Union has deep roots in Catholic
social teaching, according to the author of a book on Robert Schumann,
one of the founders of the institution.
Catholic historian Alan Fimister, author of "Robert Schumann:
Neo-scholastic Humanism and the Unification of Europe," published by
Peter Lang, affirms that Schuman's actions in 1950 to found what would
later be the European Union were, to a remarkable degree, the conscious
implementation of the Neo-Thomistic project of Pope Leo XIII
In this interview with ZENIT, Fimister discusses the Catholic vision
of the European Union's founders and what it means for a Catholic
understanding of the European Union today.
Q: What was the role of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) in the development
of the idea of European integration?
Fimister: Pope Leo was not directly concerned with the issue of
Europe. The political reality of his day was of great multi-national
colonial empires based in Europe carving up the world between them. What
concerned him was the collapse of the attempt at the end of the
Napoleonic Wars to restore the European order that preceded the French
The failure of the "Vienna Settlement" of 1815
which had sought to redraw Europe's political map after the defeat of
had given free reign to the forces which had directed the French
Revolution itself, namely nationalism, liberalism and anti-clericalism.
It was clear, particularly in France, that the association of the
Church with one particular form of government
was eclipsing the more important message about the role of religion in
public life and the moral requirements upon the state. Pope Leo made it
the first aim of his papacy to achieve "the restoration, both in rulers
and peoples, of the principles of the Christian life in civil and
and to resolve the Church's difficulties with the French Republic and
He made the first foundation of this project the primacy of the
Christian philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas in Catholic thought. He
produced nine encyclical letters that form the fundamental elements of
Catholic social teaching, and made it clear that the Church was neutral
on the issue of different forms of government. The old monarchy, the
empire and the republic were all acceptable provided they conformed to
the requirements of natural and revealed law.
Q: How did this vision translate into concrete plans for a new
Fimister: After World War I it was clear that the global power of
Europe was on the wane. Western and Central Europe were threatened by
the rise of Communism but, rather than seeing the disasters consequent
upon the rejection of the faith, people were instead turning to
neo-pagan ideologies of the right in reaction to this threat.
Pope Pius XI taught that it was St. Thomas who "composed a
substantial moral theology, capable of directing all human acts in
accordance with the supernatural last end of man." And that "it is
therefore to be wished that the teachings of Aquinas, more particularly
his exposition of international law and the laws governing the mutual
relations of peoples, became more and more studied."
Pius XII taught that it was the refusal of the European powers to
listen to the Church's warnings about the de-Christianization of public
life that had led to the calamity of a second World War. He sought to
show the outlines of the sort of order Pius XI had suggested in his 1939
encyclical "Summi Pontificatus" (On the Unity of Human Society).
At the same time, Leo XIII's promotion of Thomism had led to an
explosion of Catholic intellectual activity in this area and, in
particular, an intense examination of how the Church's demand for the
recognition of the Catholic faith by the civil power as the foundation
of peace between and within nations could be pursued at a time when many
existing states were committed to the so called separation of church and
Jacques Maritain, a French Catholic convert and philosopher who wrote
more than 60 books, held that democracy in the modern sense, and a
coming together of nations, was the translation of the revealed
universal law of Charity into the political realm. Because this order
would be dependent upon the revealed core of the universal law of
charity, it would set up a natural sympathy between such supranational
entities and the Catholic Church, which alone could provide them with
the revealed truths and the sacramental grace necessary for their
During the war Maritain even went so far as to say that a European
federation conceived under the banner of liberty would ultimately lead
to the establishment of a new Christendom.
Q: What was Robert Schuman's vision for the development of a united
Europe, and how widely was his vision shared by the other founders of
what has become the European Union?
Fimister: The first European Community was the European Coal and
Steel Community (ECSC) from which the other communities developed. These
were eventually merged into the European Community and then placed
within the larger framework of the European Union, which now includes
intergovernmental cooperation on security and foreign affairs as well as
the "communitarian" supranational tasks of the original community.
The political leaders who founded the ECSC were overwhelmingly
Catholic: Robert Schuman was intensely loyal to the faith and affirmed
publicly that papal encyclicals "define Catholic doctrine and bind in
conscience" Konrad Adenauer and Alcide de Gaspari were also particularly
important. The coal and steel plan was drawn up by an official, Jean
Monnet, who became the first man to hold the office which is now called
President of the Commission. He was not a committed Catholic but the
essential architecture for the institutions was already being advocated
by Schuman before Monnet came to him with his own project.
Adenauer and de Gaspari were both strongly influenced by Leo XIII's
teaching and its intellectual legacy. Schuman was directly influenced by
Maritain's conception of supranational democracy as the foundation for a
New Christendom. "Europe," said Schuman, is "the establishment of a
generalized democracy in the Christian sense of the word."
Unlike Maritain, Schuman held fast to the magisterium's demand that
the final destination of Catholic political action must be the
recognition by the civil order of the truth of the Faith, through
conversion of a "numerical preponderance" of the electorate.
Q: Does the European Union of today retain any legacies of Pope Leo
XIII's and Robert Schuman's vision?
Fimister: In its essential mechanism suggested to Schuman by Pius XII
whereby "each state retains an equal right of its own sovereignty"
but in certain areas this is exercised through "an organ invested by
common consent with supreme power"
the European Union remains what Schuman foresaw.
However, its embracing of the culture of death would have appalled
him. Schuman's slightly more ambitious goals also led him to appreciate
more vividly than Maritain the possible consequences of the corruption
of his vision. "An anti-Christian democracy," he said, "would be a
caricature ending in anarchy or tyranny."
Our present situation has elements of both. Because the essential
justification for supranational democracy is supernatural, in a
continent that has turned its back on the faith, supranational
institutions seek an alternative basis in usurping the roll of national
In the same way, the post-Christian national state, formerly led to
assist the family by the law of charity, now seeks to usurp the place of
the family causing the family to wither away. So there is simultaneously
the creeping emergence of political tyranny and social anarchy
the dictatorship of relativism.
There is no other solution to this than the urgent pursuit of the New
Evangelization. Nevertheless, Christians might be forgiven in the
meantime for resisting the demands of both the European Union and
national authorities for ever-wider powers.