THE RULE OF LAW INSPIRED BY CHRISTIAN MORALITY
“Europe Today and Tomorrow” is a series of essays in which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI touches on several themes about the definition, foundations and future of Europe. One theme prevalent throughout the essays is that a Christian morality, inspiring the rule of law, is one of the foundational pillars of Europe.
Benedict recognizes that Europe is defined more by its Christian culture than by geography. “Europe is not a continent that can be comprehended neatly in geographical terms; rather, it is a cultural and historical concept” (Europe: It’s Spiritual Foundations Today and Tomorrow at 1). Europe was founded on Christianity, plus the tradition of Greek philosophical inquiry coupled with the Roman heritage. Moreover, this Christian tradition was reflected even in the actions of Europe’s political leaders until quite recently:
(The Grace of Reconciliation at 115-116). Without this Christian tradition as a foundation, Europe will lose its identity and risks becoming something else.
Those in positions of political and legal influence should recognize that an important aspect of this tradition is a legal system, the rule of law, inspired by Christian morality. The rule of law ensures that the law of the jungle, in which only the stronger prevails, does not become the norm. Moreover, this legal system should be based on certain fundamental moral precepts, including the notion that every citizen has rights given them by the Creator, even before the legislator takes any action. The concept that Marriage should be monogamous and between a man and a woman should also form a basis of any European legal system.
Man has a certain dignity derived from natural law, irrespective of whether or not the state recognizes this dignity. The legal system of Europe should be consistent with what is written in our hearts and with natural law. Therefore, any European constitution should, at a minimum, recognize those rights that are given by God to every individual.
(Europe: It’s Spiritual Foundations Today and Tomorrow at 29-30). It is self-evident that there are some core of rights, including the right to live, that must be respected in any European legal system.
A second pillar of any truly European legal system is the traditional notion of marriage. Marriage not only facilitates procreation, but also imparts stability to the lives of individuals and society at large. According to Benedict, another:
(Europe and Its Spiritual Foundations Today and Tomorrow at 31). An erosion of the marriage unit could lead to an erosion of society at large. Given the recent developments in Europe that have undermined the traditional notion of marriage, one could speculate that Benedict would consider those developments as contributing to a further crisis of identity and therefore to the potential disintegration of Europe, rather than to its unity.
I am not prepared to enter into a detailed discussion of the future European Constitution. I would just like to note briefly the foundational moral elements that in my opinion should not be missing from it. The first element is the ‘unconditional character’ of human dignity and human rights, which must be presented as values that are prior to any governmental jurisdiction. These fundamental rights are not created by the legislator or conferred upon the citizens, ‘but rather they exist in their own right; they must always be respected by the legislator and are given to him previously as values of a higher order.’ This validity of human dignity, prior to any political action or decision, is ultimately derived from the Creator: only God can establish values that are based on the nature of man and are inviolable.
The fact that the politics of reconciliation triumphed [in Europe] is to the credit of a whole generation of politicians: let us recall the names of Adenauer, Schumann, De Gasperi, De Gaulle. These were objective, intelligent men who had a healthy political realism. But their realism was rooted in the firm ground of the Christian ethos, which they recognized as an ethos of reason, an ethos of enlightened, refined reason. . . .
For these men it was quite clear that the Ten Commandments are the fundamental point of reference for justice, a reference that is valid for all times; and they had reread, elaborated, and reinterpreted this reference, in light of the Christian message. There is no disputing the historical role of the Christian faith in giving life to Europe. It is to the great credit of Christianity that it gave birth to Europe after the decline of the Greco-Roman Empire and after the period of the barbarian invasions. Not only that, but the rebirth of Europe after World War II was likewise rooted in Christianity and, therefore, in man’s responsibility before God . . . .
area in which the European identity appears is marriage and the family. Monogomous marriage, as a fundamental structure of the relation between man and woman and at the same time as the basic cell in the formation of the larger community, was modeled on the basis of biblical faith. . . . Europe would no longer be Europe if this fundamental cell of its social edifice were to disappear or if its nature were to be changed.