Sunday 26. September 2021
#211 - January 2018

The European Year of Cultural Heritage and the church

The European Commission has made 2018 a “European Year of Cultural Heritage”. This recalls the statement attributed to Jean Monnet: “If I were to do it again from scratch, I would start with culture.”

Monnet never actually said that. In fact, Europe did start with culture, in connection with Christianisation. This was apparent in the Europe of the first century, when the monasteries were centres of cultivation and civilisation. It was apparent in the Europe of the Middle Ages, when the universities were unique forums of academic exchange and encounters. It was apparent in the Europe of the Enlightenment, when cross-border spiritual interaction was more lively than ever before or since.


In an earlier edition of Europe Infos, Stefan Lunte correctly termed spiritual and religious heritage as the main pillar of European cultural heritage. The Preamble to the Treaty on European Union (TEU) states that the signatories “draw inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe”.


Europe’s cultural diversity is one of its greatest resources. In contrast to new identity discourses, the European Year of Cultural Heritage can demonstrate that the foreign, the other, is not a threat to our identity but an enrichment. This applies to all areas of art and culture. For example, the musical works of Georg Friedrich Handel are the fruit of a creative synthesis of the German, Italian and British musical traditions. If the young Handel had not spent two year in Italy, his “Messiah” would certainly not sound like the piece we now know and love.


The diversity of Europe also includes its multiplicity of languages, in which its true unity is founded. Umberto Eco expressed it thus: “The language of Europe is translation.” This can be seen in the European Parliament, where every member can speak in his or her mother tongue. The work of the interpreters, who convey contributions in the other 23 languages, cannot be valued highly enough.


In his major speech on Europe in the Sorbonne in September 2017, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, proposed the establishment of ten full universities. Would the foundation of a European Catholic university also have been conceivable? Ways should at least be sought to improve the networking between the existing European Catholic universities.


Macron also declared his intention to expand the Erasmus programme further, so that at least half of the young people in France will have spent six months in another European country by the time they reached the age of 25. Here, too, a network of Catholic schools and colleges in Europe would offer a great deal of additional potential for intensifying exchange and cooperation.


Back in 1983, Milan Kundera said that, for Poles, Czechs and Hungarians, the designation of Europe had spiritual rather than geographical connotations. The promotion of cultural exchange between East and West during this Year of Cultural Heritage could contribute to bridging the political gulfs that have recently opened up.


Martin Maier SJ



Translated from the original text in German


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Editors-in-Chief: Martin Maier SJ

Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.