Fr. prof. Bortkiewicz: It was not Europe that created Christianity, but Christianity created Europe

“It was not Europe that created Christianity, but Christianity created Europe and promoted its development” – Fr. prof. Paweł Bortkiewicz said (after John Paul II) during the conference “Called to serve in a foreign land – according to the concepts of John Paul II, August Hlond and Robert Schuman”, which took place on November 4 in Wrocław. This conference was a summary of this year’s edition of the Animators of the Poland’s Image in Europe project.

Fr. prof. Paweł Bortkiewicz, analyzing the concept of culture in the Christian context, recalled the famous speech of St. John Paul II delivered in 1980 at UNESCO. “St. John Paul II presented the concept of culture in an extremely expressive and extremely significant way in his speech at UNESCO in Paris in 1980. He said then: ‘Man lives a truly human life thanks to culture. (…) Culture is the proper way of existence and existence of man. (…) Culture is what makes man as a man more human: he “is” more (…) For a nation is this great community of people connected by various bonds, but above all by culture. The nation exists “from culture” and “for culture”. And that is why it is an outstanding educator to “be more” in a community that has a longer history than man and his family. (…)”. Then came the words that constitute an integral part of this speech and at the same time give the entire content of the papal speech a special power: “I am the son of a nation that has survived the most terrible experiences in history, which has been sentenced to death many times by its neighbors – and it has remained alive and remained itself. It has preserved its own identity and retained its own sovereignty as a nation during the partitions and occupation – without taking as a basis for survival any other means of physical power than its own culture, which in this case turned out to be a power greater than those powers. And therefore what I say here about rights nation growing from the foundations of culture and heading towards the future, is not an echo of any “nationalism”, but remains a permanent element of human experience and humanistic perspectives of man. There is a fundamental sovereignty of society, which is expressed in the culture of the nation. It is also the sovereignty through which “Man is the most sovereign” – the theologian said.

In his opinion, “these words deserve double attention”. “On the one hand, we have the definition of culture, which clearly refers to St. Thomas Aquinas – this is the concept that culture is the basic way of human existence. This is Thomas’s approach, but it takes place in the realities of the modern world, in the era of various situations, on the one hand dramatic situations, such as wars, on the other hand, situations related to the globalization of the world and multicultural projects, the phrase that culture is the basic way of human existence simply gains a new sound” – he noted.

“As I mentioned, the power of this speech is given by the Pope’s testimony contained in the second part of this quote. It is this testimony: “I am the son of a nation that has survived the most terrible experiences of history”, “has preserved its identity” ” without taking any other means of physical power as a basis for survival “as long as one’s own culture” – these are the words of a testimony that is eminently Polish, although, as Saint John Paul II later noted in the book “Memory and Identity”, after this speech many representatives of the so-called Third World approached him and confirmed their solidarity, identifying with the papal diagnosis that sovereignty is born through culture” – he recalled, emphasizing that “sovereignty is confirmed by culture”.

The second important understanding of culture from the papal perspective is the reference expressed by John Paul II in his book “Memory and Identity”, where the Pope shows culture from the perspective of the act of creation, specifically in the form of the divine command “Subdue the earth”. “The Pope wrote in the book “Memory and Identity”: “To subdue the earth means to discover and confirm the truth about one’s own humanity, about the humanity that belongs to men and women in equal measure. God gave this man, his humanity, the entire created visible world and at the same time gave it to him. Thus, God gave man a specific mission: to realize the truth about himself and the world. Man must be guided by this truth about himself so that he can shape the visible world according to it, so that he can use it properly without abusing it. In other words, this dual truth – about the world and about yourself – is the basis of all the work that man does, transforming the visible world” – Fr. Prof. Bortkiewicz said.

“The Pope reminds that this description of transforming the earth in an integral way is related to the imperative “Subdue the earth”, an imperative given to man by God. This means that this transformation of the earth is not an arbitrary action. It is and should be an action subordinated to the law given by God, God’s plan showing the order and harmony of this world” – he added.

Fr. prof. Bortkiewicz pointed out that as a result of modern philosophical trends in the 20th century, we could observe processes in which the nation was incorporated into a state and replaced by some fundamental myth, or due to certain philosophical concepts, related to earlier ones, we could observe, for example, the twilight of the classical idea of Europe and the twilight of the category of nation, which is manifested, for example, in the neo-Marxist concept of the idea of Europe by Altiero Spinelli. “Let us note that the history of the 20th century has introduced, through philosophical concepts and political concepts, these characteristic processes trying to incorporate the nation into the state and replace the concept of the nation with some fundamental myth, either of a racial nature, as in the case of German Nazism, or of an imperial nature, as in the case of fascism, or of the nature of a utopia of a new man and a new earth, as in the case of socialism” – he enumerated.

“What is very important in each of these philosophical processes is that the emphasis in these philosophies is on the will to power – the will that gives rise to power, and power allows this will to be translated into action, overcoming the resistance of reality. The struggle that is to be the driving force of history, is to be a mechanism of history, is to be a driving force of reality. From this perspective, even if there is a desire for sovereignty, it means a fight for things and a fight for dominion over them, and as Nietzsche pointed out, the desire to rule is greater than the desire for bread “- he explained.

“Meanwhile, Karol Wojtyła, basically from the first experiences of his youth, formed the belief that what only frees man from enslavement is not the will to power, it is not the fight for a thing, for domination, but the affirmation of the objective truth about being and good” – the theologian noted.

Fr. prof. Bortkiewicz recalled the words that Saint John Paul II addressed to the youth in 1979: “Culture is an expression of man. It is a confirmation of humanity. Man creates it – and through it man creates himself. He creates himself with the internal effort of the spirit: thought, will, heart. And at the same time, man creates culture in community with others. Culture is an expression interpersonal communication, co-thinking and cooperation of people. It is created in the service of the common good – and becomes the basic good of human communities”.

Fr. prof. Bortkiewicz pointed out – following John Paul II – that man cannot be understood without Christ, but the nation and its history cannot be understood without Christ, because “Christ fully reveals man to man himself”.

“It was not Europe that created Christianity, but Christianity created Europe and promoted its development” – he concluded.


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