Before Brexit: The Catholic Imagery and Origins of the EU

Before Brexit: The Catholic Imagery and Origins of the EU June 24, 2016
(EU Flag, Wikimedia, PD)
(EU Flag, Wikimedia, PD)

The next couple of weeks you’ll watch the British Pound turn into the British Ounce after the Brexit. But did you know about the Catholic and Marian origins of the EU?

The EU is generally identified by American defenders of religious liberty as being anti-religious. However, the European Union owes its origins to Catholic politicians and Catholic imagery.

Here is the story of but one of them:

The President of the [flag] competition commission was Belgian Jew who had converted to Catholicism and was acutely sensitive to the biblical symbolism of the number 12. In ancient symbology, this number stood for completeness and perfection: the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 months of the year, the 12 Apostles, the 12 Tables of Roman Law. Heitz was inspired by the “Miraculous Medal” he wore around his neck: a medal named after apparition of the Virgin Mary to St Catherine Laboure in 1830. It was the Virgin Mary who told the nun to have twelve stars struck on the medal, in representation of the the stars on the crown worn by the woman in the Book of Revelation. Saint Bernadette Soubirous also had a necklace made of tin and string around her neck when the Virgin Mary appeared to her on 11 February 1858, dressed in white and blue.

Arsène Heitz did not reveal the symbol’s biblical origin (he only did so later on), but claimed the number twelve was meant to symbolise ancient wisdom, a “symbol of completeness”. This interpretation stuck and the number was confirmed in the constitutional treaty. So the European flag has a powerful Christian and Marian significance.

The European Union was founded upon the principle of subsidiarity. This is frequently forgotten, because widespread ideologically-skewed interpretations of subsidiarity put emphasis upon power going back to local entities. Yet, subsidiarity also stipulates that whatever cannot be dealt with on lower levels should be delegated to higher levels.

On the other hand, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, strives to keep the tension alive between the personal and the national, even international, rather than collapsing into either one or the other (the latter being what the present-day EU tends to do):

robert schuman neo-scholastic1881 Each community is defined by its purpose and consequently obeys specific rules; but “the human person . . . is and ought to be the principle, the subject and the end of all social institutions.”41882 Certain societies, such as the family and the state, correspond more directly to the nature of man; they are necessary to him. To promote the participation of the greatest number in the life of a society, the creation of voluntary associations and institutions must be encouraged “on both national and international levels, which relate to economic and social goals, to cultural and recreational activities, to sport, to various professions, and to political affairs.”5 This “socialization” also expresses the natural tendency for human beings to associate with one another for the sake of attaining objectives that exceed individual capacities. It develops the qualities of the person, especially the sense of initiative and responsibility, and helps guarantee his rights.6

1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”7

1884 God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.

1885 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.

Finally, here are the nuts and bolts of how the very Catholic founders of the EU attempted to enshrine these principles in the EU, according to an interview with Alan Fimister, author of Robert Schumann: Neo-scholastic Humanism and the Unification of Europe:

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?

A [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.

By the way, did you know that the world also owes it’s post-WW2 human rights revolution to Catholicism, principally Jacques Maritain? One thing to consider is whether the breakdown of the EU doesn’t also represent another crisis of Neo-Scholasticism.

There you have it, Schumann played by the inimitable Claudio Arrau:

You’ll also want to read Churchill’s Dream of a United States of Europe Dies with Brexit and Freedom of Religion Isn’t Free.

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