Tuesday 25. January 2022
#222- January-February 2019

What is the meaning of unity in diversity?

His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, explains how the principle of unity in diversity is at the heart of Christian theology and an essential constituent of the European project.

The articulation of unity and diversity is both paradoxical and an antinomy. These two realities are related to one another, yet differ so much in their nature. For Christian, especially Orthodox, theology the one and plurality coexist, above all in the context of the Trinity. God is both the one and Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Christian faith is particularly attached to this revelation which is presented with particular force in the Gospels, as well as in the writings of the Fathers of the 4th century. The Cappadocians, in particular gave depth to this notion, finding the perfection of existence in God’s one essence and three persons (hypostases).


The principle of communion


The reality of the divine is not so perfectly made manifest in creation and yet the one remains inseparable from the multiple. The language of the Church talks of communion in the sense of fellowship; as a principle of being it is closely related to social and political projects such as that of Europe. Communion and society have the same Greek roots. We read in the Holy Scripture: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship (koinonia) with us; and our fellowship (koinonia) is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3)

This fellowship or communion differs, however, from social cohesion in that it remains an eschatological vision, beyond time and space. The principle of communion, koinonia, is at the crossroads of the one and the many. It is founded in the incarnation of Christ, whose person unifies the divine and human nature, and comes about from the union of the creation with its creator. The environmental dimension of ethical issues thus becomes central. The Encyclical of the Holy and Great Council (2016) states: “The approach to the ecological problem on the basis of the principles of the Christian tradition demands not only repentance for the sin of the exploitation of the natural resources of the planet (i.e. a radical change in mentality and behaviour), but also asceticism as an antidote to consumerism(i.e. the deification of needs and the acquisitive attitude).” (paragraph 14)


Against a desire for isolation and populism


Finally, in the context of Orthodox activity in the arena of public debate, it is important to emphasise that the declination of these theological principles may serve as a catalyst, especially in a political context that is particularly polarised, and where these polarisations are used to restrict the range of unity. The isolationist and populist desires that are currently threatening Europe not only pose a risk to unity, but also to diversity. The fragmentation which results achieves nothing except to generate ever smaller cells. In order to think and live as a united group, they in turn depend on an Other, which is acceptable only for their qualities of opposition,. On the other hand the one embraces all, unites and includes by respecting individual distinguishing features. These same features are in danger if the field of activity of the one is reduced by losing its universal dimension. This is an appropriate place to recall the universal, qualitative meaning of the term “catholic” (which means, etymologically, in respect of the whole).


For a dialogue between civilisations


Numerous thinkers, such as Régis Debray, have reflected on the nature of the links that enable unity and diversity to be articulated. From the point of view of orthodoxy, it is not possible to have mediology without dialogue, without an exchange of words which is both primary and essential in the treatment of otherness. This is not only a theological question, or even a philosophical one; it has political ramifications. Some are keen to talk of social “dialogue” while others would speak of “dialogue” between civilisations. Dialogue connects and establishes contact. It combats prejudice and reduces hatered.


But for the most beautiful expression of this dialectic of the one and plurality, we must look to St Paul himself: “ For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:5)


His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France


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

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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.