Ignatius Press has reissued the then Cardinal Ratzinger’s book of 2007, entitled Western Culture. In this collection of conference papers, the Cardinal, now Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, analyses where he thinks Europe has lost its way: by “denying its religion and moral foundations” it has ushered in a “post-European technological-secular world.” Europe’s “identity, its culture and its faith” has come to its end and, as with the Roman Empire “it no longer had any vital energy of its own.”
No-one surveying the European scene in the years since Cardinal Ratzinger wrote his book will disagree with its analysis. The furore in this country for the last three years over Brexit should not distract us from its underlying truth. Even if the UK manages to wrest back its sovereignty from the EU, we will still experience in this country, as George Weigel puts it in his Foreword to the book, “the use of coercive state power to impose a relativistic moral order on all society.”
Nonetheless, behind Ratzinger’s bleak analysis, there is a small sliver of hope: quoting the historian Arnold Toynbee’s view that “The destiny of a society always depends on creative minorities”, he points out that “believing Christians” are “one such creative minority.” As always, it is the leaven, the light not hidden under a bushel that provides the spiritual power for renewal and change.
This forcibly suggested itself to me on watching the Youtube interview between Michael Voris of Church Militant and The Vortex and a young Austrian, Alexander Tschugguel, aged 26 and from Vienna. The latter has come forward to publicly admit he was one of the men who seized the controversial Brazilian tribal Pachamama figures from Santa Maria in Traspontina and threw them into the Tiber. These figures, emblematic of the recent Amazonian Synod, have scandalised many Catholics who see them simply as pagan symbols. Alexander is not alone in his conviction that they should have no place either in the Vatican or in a church dedicated to Our Lady.
What struck me on listening to this young man – he says he experienced a conversion ten years ago – is that he is a committed and passionate Catholic of the kind Cardinal Ratzinger alludes to in his book; that is, not just faithful to private beliefs and devotions but determined to make a difference in the public arena. With great charm Tschugguel unhesitatingly defends his action, despite the Vatican calling him and his friends “thieves”. Stating that “We only obey Our Lord and Saviour”, he emphasises, “We want to be Catholic. We are a missionary Church”, adding “We want to encourage good clergy” – indeed, “We want to be Catholic in public.”
To this end, Alexander and his friends, all young and keen Catholics, have founded the Boniface Institute to uphold the faith in the face of Europe’s determined moral relativism. St Boniface, martyred in Frisia in 754 and known as the “Apostle to the Germans”, is said to have taken an axe and cut down a sacred oak tree being worshipped by north German pagan tribes. The parallels with this group of young German-speaking Austrians seizing pagan statues and throwing them into the Tiber will not be lost on commentators.
Alexander assures viewers that “Europe is not lost”. For him the glories of the Christian culture of Europe are there to be revivified: “Don’t just visit Europe as a tourist” he appeals; “Speak up! Don’t lose hope in Europe. We have a wonderful Catholic heritage. Fight for it!” Unfashionably for someone of his age, he advises, “Pray many Rosaries”, reminding us that “We Catholics have the greatest thing to give other people – the hope of heaven.”