A public Lecture given by John Battle at Leeds Trinity University on June 9th.

This is an extract from the full text of his lecture. You can download the full text by clicking on the button to the right. Or you can watch the video of the full lecture made by Leeds Trinity University

In June 2003 in a Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, “Ecclesia in Europa: On Jesus Christ alive in His Church: The Source of Hope for Europe”, the Polish Pope, now St.John Paul II delivered an invitation to hope:

“Europe, you stand at the beginning of the third millennium. “Open your doors to Christ! Be yourself. Rediscover your origins. Relive your roots”.

He was not offering a view on sovereignty, the single currency, or the European Central Bank, any assessment of VAT contributions and agricultural subsidies or the national costs of being in or out. Rather it was a spiritual reminder:

“Down the centuries you have received the treasure of the Christian faith. It has grounded your life as a society on principles drawn from the Gospel and traces of this are evident in the art, literature, thought and culture of your nations. But this heritage does not belong just to the past; it is a project in the making to be passed to future generations, for it has indelibly marked the life of the individuals and peoples who together have forged the continent of Europe”. …It is the invitation to everyone, believers and non-believers alike, to blaze new trails leading to a ‘Europe of the spirit’ in order to make the continent a true ‘common home’ filled with the joy of life”

Full Lecture Text

title page of lecture pamphlet


The full text of the lecture is available as a 12 page (A5) pamphlet in PDF format.


Lecture Video

In his usual enthusiastic style, John quotes liberally from Pope John Paul’s ‘Ecclesia in Europa’ and Pope Benedict’s ‘Caritas in Veritate’. The full lecture lasts about one and a half hours including questions.

How far is Pope John Paul II’s positive vision from the depressingly reductionist referendum debate we have been witnessing in the media? No mention of cultural roots, art, languages, literature, histories, philosophies or theologies. ‘Project Fear’ and ‘Project Brexit’ seem to have eclipsed all hope.

As John Paul II stressed in Ecclesia in Europa, our continent has

“a growing need for hope, a hope that will enable us to give meaning to life and history and to continue on our way together.”

There is little doubting the influence of Catholic Social Teaching (stretching back through centuries of theology and practice, and spelt out in the last century and since in Papal Encyclicals from Rerum Novarum to Laudato Si) in the principles underlying the workings of the EU . From the focus on ‘workers’ rights’ in Rerum Novarum and Pope John Paul II’s Laborens Exercens to the need for us tackle climate change and ‘care for the earth’ drawn out in Laudato Si, based on the fundamental dignity of the human person, and person in community, the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching has stressed the twin pillars of Solidarity and Subsidiarity, both of which underpin the organisation of the EU.

Solidarity  As Pope Benedict spelt out, “Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone” (Caritas in Veritate para 38). Bishop Casaldaliga describes Solidarity as “the tenderness of peoples”.

Subsidiarity explicitly referred to in the Maastricht Treaty, is defined as the need to ensure that decisions and responsibilities are rooted as locally as possible – rather than accumulated at the centre and issued top-down. In other words, Government should only perform those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at local level. Despite efforts at regional devolution the UK remains the most centralised country in Europe.

These twin pillars support the overarching central concept of “The Common Good” – the antidote to the current western cultural focus on the consuming individual, now so dear to liberal democracy. The German theologian Pope Benedict refreshed the tradition most recently in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, addressing the specific emerging social, economic and political challenges of the twenty first century. Published in 2009, it provides a supplement to Ecclesia in Europa, and an updating of Populorum Progressio (Pope Paul VI’s seminal encyclical on International Development as ‘integral human development’). Placing the market above the state and democratic institutions at the centre of policy-making is challenged by Pope Benedict. He insists that without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust the market cannot fulfil its proper economic function (Para 35).

A market society driven by maximising profit by reducing regulation has become a dominant ideology in many of the member states coupled with an emerging nationalism. Though, as the recent papers by IMF researchers and the OECD suggest, the orthodox neo-liberal paradigm has now reached its limits with calls for rich and strong countries to provide financial help (re-distributing wealth) to poor and weak countries.

Pope John Paul II reminds us that the Church’s concern for Europe is born of her very nature and mission: “From the biblical conception of man [for which read ‘person’] Europe drew the best of its humanistic culture, found inspiration for its artistic and intellectual creations, created systems of law, and not least, advanced the dignity of the person as a subject of inalienable rights” (Ecclesia in Europa Para 25). In other words, the Church is keen to help Europe to build herself by revitalising her original Christian roots.

Ecclesia in Europa is not a generalist abstract evasion of the particular issues. We are reminded us that Christians are “called to have a faith capable of critically confronting contemporary culture and resisting its enticements; of having a real effect on the world of culture, finance, society and politics”. There are specific references, for example, to the need to confront the challenge of unemployment which “in many nations of Europe represents a grave blight on society “ (para 87). Moreover, “The church is called to remember that labour constitutes a good for which society as a whole must feel responsible”. Furthermore, it continues “ to this can be added the problems connected with the increase in migration”.

Pope John Paul II acknowledges that “the phenomenon of migration challenges Europe’s ability to provide for forms of intelligent acceptance and hospitality”. He points out that “a universal vision of the Common Good demands this; we need to broaden our gaze to embrace the needs of the entire human family. The phenomenon of globalisation itself calls for openness and sharing if it is not to be a source of exclusion and marginalisation but rather a basis for solidarity of all in the production and exchange of goods.” (para 107). This includes welcoming refugees (Para 109). Coupled with this is the reminder that “the whole church is called to give new hope to the poor….preferential love for the poor is a necessary dimension of Christian existence and service to the Gospel” (para 86).  Nor can the proper use of the goods of the earth and care of the environment be discounted (para 89). The debates on the effects of migration and environmental regulation will continue doubtless against a background of ill-informed panic (e.g. the scurrilous notion of all of Turkey’s population of 78 million migrating to the UK). More fundamental is Ecclesia in Europa’s insistence on the need for dialogue “aimed at building a Europe seen as a community of peoples and individuals, a community joined together.” Moreover, Europe is already a hopeful experience of unity, “it is a unity which rooted in a common Christian inspiration, is capable of reconciling diverse cultural traditions and which demands at the level of both society and Church, a constant growth in mutual knowledge open to increased sharing of individual values” (para 4).

A final word from the Synod of Bishops who composed Ecclesia in Europa

“Europe today must not simply appeal to its former Christian heritage: it needs to be able to decide about its future in conformity with the person and message of Jesus Christ” (para 2)