Catholic Medical Quarterly

The Journal of the Catholic Medical Association (UK)

Building knowledge. Building faith. Protecting the vulnerable.

Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 64(2) May 2014

Europe, Ecumenism, Ethics.

Resumé of a paper presented at the FEAMC congress in Bari by Dr Alfredo Anzani, October 2013

Photo of Dr AnzaniIs there such a thing as Europe? Europe, that is, as a common homeland for a mixture of peoples, formerly enemies, now seeking to be brothers.

Between 1945 and 1959 the nations of Europe sought to put an end to the constant wars between them which had culminated in WWII.    The European Coal and Steel Community was founded in the 1950s, by Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.   The Treaty of Rome (1957) established the European Economic Community.  In 1973 Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined and in 1979 the European Parliament was elected for the first time by universal suffrage.   Greece joined in 1981, and Spain and Portugal in 1986, a year which saw the signing of the European Act to set up the Common Market. The Treaty of Maastricht on European Union (1993) and the Treaty of Amsterdam (1999) followed and the Schengen agreement (1995) allowed free cross border movement. Finally in 2002 the Euro was adopted for most European countries. There are now 28 members. A number of institutional bodies are called ‘European’:  a Parliament, a Commission, a Council, a Court of Justice and a Bank. There exists a Europe of markets, banks, common currency, free trade and circulation – even a sort of European citizenship which supports the various national citizenships.

Christian roots

Europe considers herself a Union, but on what is this based? How true is it? History tells us of fratricidal wars, but fratricidal because we are linked in brotherhood. This in turn is based on our Christian evangelisation.

These Christian roots, along with Graeco-Roman culture, gave rise to the current concept of Europe.  Benedetto Croce (1945) “Why we cannot not call ourselves Christians” says Christianity has been the greatest revolution that humanity ever accomplished. In the formation of the concept or the sentiment of Europe, moral and cultural factors have had absolute pre-eminence. The great mediaeval cathedrals, the traditions of faith and art and culture, all point to a Christian imprint.   Thomas Eliot considered that “the dominant force in the creation of a common culture between peoples, each of which has a distinct culture, is religion….  A European may not believe that the Christian Faith is true, and yet what he says, and does, derives from the part of Christian culture which he is heir to, and draws meaning from that. Only a Christian culture could have produced a Voltaire and a Nietzche. I do not think the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian faith… If Christianity goes all our culture goes too.”

What is the greatest contribution of Christianity? ‘I think it is the idea of the person.’ This is a philosophical idea but was born in a Christian and theological environment. The Greeks had not reached the concept of the person and had a negative concept of the body. Christianity had a positive outlook and saw man as made in God’s image and likeness. The coming of the Son of God conferred on man a new sense of sacredness. Christianity not only confirms the bond of flesh but creates a community which goes beyond this. This defines European culture.

But these Christian roots have known, through history, a series of painful disruptions. Down the years there have been many schisms, starting with the division between the East and the West – the ‘Oriental schism’ of 1054. The Catholic Church regards this as a deep wound on the Church of Christ. The Reformation began with Luther in 1517 and spread throughout Europe.  From 1531 Geneva was its centre and Calvinism became widespread. Though it had arisen from religious motives and criticisms of the Church’s spiritual and moral degeneration, it resulted in the fracture of Christianity into several communities, groups and sects. Europe itself has been rent by the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants, particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries. France was particularly divided, at least until the edict of Nantes. The Thirty Years War (1618-48) ended with the peace of Westphalia when Catholicism, Lutheranism and Calvinism were all sanctioned and the right of a subject to hold a different faith from his prince was recognised.


The Ecumenical movement began at the protestant ‘Missionary Congress’ in Edinburgh in 1910. Important moments on the Catholic side include Vatican II, the meeting of world religious leaders at Assisi (1986), the encyclical ‘Ut unum sint’ and the ‘European Ecumenical Assemblies’.

Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for promoting Christian Unity has said that if the integration of Europe, East and West, is to be more than a simple common economic zone then cultural integration will have to depend on ecumenism between the East and the West. Europe needs ecumenism if it is to continue being Europe. Divisions are no longer determined by political factors, but rather by cultural estrangement. The founding fathers of Europe were convinced Christian politicians and on the basis of Christian values Europe has had a period of prolonged peace.

But Europe has fallen into the hands of bureaucrats who display a legislating fury: things are decided centrally, rather than peripherally, ignoring local traditions and customs. Economic success seems to have induced a sense of greed, associated with short-sighted nationalism. But without a common spirit, without ideals and values, centrifugal forces will take over and lead to its destruction.

Emigration and Immigration are ‘signs of the times’. One result has been religious pluralism, something quite new, and the presence of mosques as well as churches is evidence of this. The identity of Europe is being redefined, but we must not let this result in a loss of identity. All the greater need for our Christian roots. Christians need to re-strengthen the foundations of their Christian Faith. In the on-going search for unity the Church must seek resolutely to reach a constructive agreement on moral values, to lead to the further development of society. Europe needs ecumenism to remain being Europe. Europe needs a new evangelisation.

But in any ongoing process of unification among the peoples of Europe the Church must engage itself resolutely to reach a constructive agreement on moral values that will lead to the further development of society. It is all about promoting a sense of fundamental human rights.


The matrix of all human rights is the dignity of the human person, who is the central element in any ethical matter.

The Charter of Nice begins ‘Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected.’  Current matters of concern include in vitro fertilisation, with the overproduction of life, destruction of surplus embryos and destructive experimentation. Along with this go attempts to falsify science by denying the personhood of the embryo, whilst at the same time science shows it to be a human being. We must defend life as we would defend civilisation.

Likewise human dignity remains even up to the moment of death. It derives from the intrinsic worth of the human being, and not from the specific situation. Dying with dignity means the sick person must be given the right to have assistance which respects his existence and meets all his needs – biophysical, physical, psychological and spiritual. The doctor must try to build a personal relationship with the patient. This involves presenting him with all the alternatives to reach an agreed treatment plan. The doctor, as guardian and servant of human life, must protect human life from its beginnings to its natural end. He will distinguish between aggressive treatment and therapeutic abandonment and will alleviate the last sufferings of his patient.

The ethics of the family is a field where the desire ‘not to discriminate’ has subverted the ontological significance of the union of man and woman. To say that is not homophobia but to point out that reality cannot be falsified. We must continue to explain the fundamental tenets of our belief. Is it possible to find an ethical common denominator at EEC level? Bioethics cannot be simply a series of rights asserted by a majority of votes, but must be the result of a common responsibility towards all we have in common. What men have in common – humanity – is far greater than that which differentiates them.


Cardinal Ratzinger distinguished the fundamental moral elements which must not be missed in the struggle for the identity of Europe. The first is ‘unconditionality’ of human rights and human dignity. These are not bestowed by others or by governments but exist in their own right and refer ultimately to the Creator. Only He can establish intangible values based on the essence of man.

Although, in the light of the events of WWII, almost no one will deny the importance of human dignity and rights, they seem to be overlooked when it comes to such matters as cloning, the use of foetal material for research or organ donation, and genetic manipulation. Human slavery and trade in human organs are other examples. The value and dignity of man, together with the basic principles of democracy and the rule of law, imply an image of man which is a fundamental factor in European identity. These can only be retained if the underlying moral conscience is continually renewed. 

An important aspect of the identity of Europe has been monogamous marriage. The Charter of Fundamental rights speaks of the right to marry but gives no precise definition nor any specific moral or legal protection for it. With the union of man and woman becoming more and more detached from legal forms and the attribution to homosexual relations of the same rank and privileges as marriage we are faced with a dissolution of the image of man – with potentially serious consequences. With regard to the question of religion the ‘respect for what the other holds sacred’ particularly the sacred in the highest sense – relating to God – is an essential feature of society. It is worrying that Judaism and Islam are given more protection in Europe nowadays than Christianity. Freedom of opinion ought not to destroy the honour or dignity of the other – it is not freedom to lie or destroy human rights. Western Europe suffers from a strange pathological hatred of itself. It sees only what has been deplorable and destructive and not what has been great and pure.

In order to survive Europe needs a new critical and humble acceptance of itself. Multiculturalism cannot survive without shared principles, without points of reference starting from one’s own values. It certainly cannot exist without respect for what is sacred. In order to respect what is sacred for others we need to recognise what is sacred for ourselves. We must reveal the face of God, a God who has compassion on the poor and the weak, who became a man and suffered with us. The other cultures of the world see the ‘absolute profanity’ which has developed in western Europe as profoundly alien. They see no future for a world without God. We must re-find ourselves.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights is a start but Christian Unity is also essential. The unity of the different ecclesial communities must be pursued as a service to the unity of mankind.  Harmony between peoples and cultures must be accompanied by a convinced search for peace. Hopefully this will lead to global solidarity, justice and peace.  Europe should be a major contributor. Only is this way can we all, Christians and non-Christians, work together toward a globalisation of justice and peace and a unified governance of the world.

Dr Alfredo Anzani.  FEAMC Past Vice-President, Bari, October 2013,

shortened version by  Ian Jessiman