Archbishop of Canterbury: Europe’s confidence comes from the Gospel

Pope Benedict XVI with Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace on the second day of his State Visit.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams told members of the Belgian University of Leuven that Christian universities have a responsibility to remind Europe of its Christian roots.

He was speaking yesterday at a ceremony honouring contributours to Europe. He was awarded an honorary degree for his contribution as a public theologian.

Dr Williams spoke of a “long record of European triumphalism” the cultural echoes of which are still very clear “not least in the bland assumption often made the European secularism is the destined future of the rest of the world”. He said Europeans needed to be reminded Christianity is not a product of our civilisation but that our civilisation is the product of Christianity

He said:

“Universities like this have the responsibility to say to our culture that the light which enlightens the human world is not the product of European civilisation – indeed, the opposite is more true, that European civilisation, with its high valuation of dialogue and critique and its suspicion of absolutism, is the product of the light that Symeon speaks of in the Nunc Dimittis. Our specific European legacy is precious, but precious as a gift among others. Freeze it into a self-image of finality and decisive authority for the rest of human culture, and it becomes an idol and a danger to the truth.

“The paradox of Europe’s intellectual history at its best is the belief that a relentless self-questioning can be sustained by the human spirit as an essential dimension of travelling into fuller life and light, and that this questioning is not ultimately destructive. But such confidence rests not on a self-evident secular rationality, but on the message of the gospel itself. The awareness of the gospel is often deeply buried in the European psyche, yet it is still profoundly active; it remains alive in the intuition that the truth is indeed light and joy, that the truth is somehow already flowing towards us for our life and fulfilment.

“Our calling, then, is to hold the connection between that conviction, grounded in the revealed humbleness and stillness of God in Christ, and the restlessness of European cultural history, so that we have a true (and a truthful) gift for the whole world – a vision of the transfiguring energy of the God who will never consent to be anything but himself, who will never give way to violence and coercion, who moves by loving. As the prophet reminded us, that is anything but an easy vision, because it tells us a good deal about what has to die in us before the truth can become manifest, about the wounds we may feel in our spirit and imagination. Yet this is glory, for God’s people and for the whole world; this is salvation, healing. When we see this, we can, like Symeon, let go, and entrust the world, the life of mind and body and imagination, to the hands of God, so that the offerings that the world makes to its creator may be the authentic reflections of his own active love. “

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