Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 25, 2001
The constant quest for European unity
One of the dreams of Pope John Paul was to create the conditions for a united Europe from Iceland to the Urals under the Christian banner.
The idea of a Western, democratic and Christian Europe is not new of course. Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer spoke optimistically about reuniting Europe after the Second World War.
And to some extent, as far as Western Europe is concerned, some headway has been made economically, politically and, more important perhaps, there are signs of union in the psychological and cultural spheres.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the inclusion of the Eastern sectors of Europe has become more of a reality.
The dreams of Pope John Paul are even greater. He envisions a Europe not only united economically or politically, for self-interest reasons as a bastion against U.S. domination, but a Europe united in thought and a single faith.
The conversion of Russia, so earnestly prayed for in our childhood years, was the first step towards unification. The pope has often been credited with facilitating the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This spring he made a pilgrimage to the East to beg for forgiveness for ancient sins that led to a schism between Constantinople and Rome. It is clear that many obstacles must be overcome before unity becomes a reality.
There has been enough division in the West since the days of Reformation to keep even the most optimistic dreamer busy for a lifetime.
But unity of a sort existed before, and it might happen again. After the defeat of Hannibal, the Roman Empire expanded and embraced southern and Western Europe, North Africa and the Near East in a common language and citizenship.
With Constantine it became a faith community. Then the empire split into two separate units. Rome fell to the Goths and the two empires drifted apart.
Some four centuries later, in response to advancing Islam, Europe united again under Charlemagne. His method of converting infidels relied heavily on the sword.
Europe divided again after his death, but it ultimately reinvented itself as the Holy Roman Empire. It is during the period around the first millennium, especially at the time of the Fourth Crusade, that the West made itself very unpopular in the East.
A great deal of common piety united the West against a common foe, but once they were in foreign territory they tended to behave like barbarians.
The idea of Europe as a single Church empire faded away and was replaced during the Renaissance by an international community of poets, artists and humanist thinkers who still used Latin as their language of communication.
Any attempt at political union was disrupted however by the Reformation and Counter Reformation and the ensuing religious wars.
Out of the ruins of disunity rose a fourth attempt at unity during the age of cosmopolitan enlightenment. Napoleon, considered an ambitious brute by most historians, nevertheless stirred intense romantic feelings for his almost-successful attempts to impose French rule on all of Europe.
Hitler had a similar ambition to impose German rule and oust "the aliens" at the same time.
The current diplomatic efforts to unite Europe under a common market prove to be more successful than any previous attempts by force of arms.
It may well be that the pope's humble appeal for forgiveness paves the way for Europeans to respect each other as brothers and sisters from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains.
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