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Portrait: Catholic “Founding Fathers” of Modern Europe

March 15, 2007

The idea of united Europe has its roots in Christianity. Its foundation is Christianity with the idea of evangelical solidarity and desire for the truth and justice. The first politicians who put this into practice were: Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer and Alcide De Gasperi. They experienced their faith in an authentic way and they drew inspiration to act for the common good. They wanted to give soul to Europe.

– From “St Thomas More: Patron of Statesmen and Politicians,” Fr. Pawel Staniszewski, Sunday, A Polish Catholic Weekly, 2005

A leading pro-Europe organisation is calling for the European Union to return to the ideals of the union’s Catholic founding fathers.

Speaking in the run up to 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the President of the Association of the Europe Foundation Giorgino Salina said it was now time to combat the rising anti-Christian attitude of EU bureaucrats, and praised the “spirit, ideals and hopes,” of the three men credited with founding the European Economic Community; West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Italian statesman Alcide De Gasperi and French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman. The men, he said, were “three Catholic Christians with a great and clear awareness of the common good for which nationalist egoisms must be sacrificed, but also statesmen gifted with great political realism and wide vision.”

He added: “Without this tradition and history, we have a Europe without a soul which does not recognise itself…

– From “Time to reclaim EU’s heritage,” The Universe, February 23, 2007

The European Union, the cardinal [Schönborn] continues, is not a paradise on earth,” but it is “a project for peace, to overcome the shadows of the past.” That goal is a very worthy one, he said– particularly from a Christian perspective. And he reminded Avvenire that the original plans for today’s European Union were formed by “convinced Catholics” such as Charles [sic] Schuman, Anton de Gasperi, and Konrad Adenauer.

As the European Union shapes its political agenda, Cardinal Schönborn said that the task of the Church is to ensure that politicians “do not follow a merely secular vision,” particularly regarding matters that involve the dignity of human life and the welfare of the family.

– From “Austrian cardinal sees ‘true reunification’ of Europe” Catholic World News, June 14, 2004

Europe’s founders, like Adenauer, De Gaspari and Schuman, had put their Christian faith at the centre of their political lives, the Pope said.

“How can we underestimate, for example, the fact that in 1951, before beginning the delicate negotiations which would lead to the adoption of the Treaty of Paris, they wished to meet in a Benedictine monastery on the Rhine for meditation and prayer?”

– John Paul II addressing European Christian Democratic politicians in 2003, from “Omission of Christianity from EU text ‘unjust’”The Irish Examiner, November 08, 2003


Robert Schuman

In 1940 Schuman was arrested for acts of resistance and protestation at Nazi methods. He was interrogated by the Gestapo. Thanks to an honourable German he was saved from being sent to Dachau.Transferred as a personal prisoner of the vicious Nazi Gauleiter Joseph Buerckel, he escaped in 1942 and joined the French Resistance. Although his life was still at risk he spoke to friends about a Franco-German and European reconciliation that must take place after the end of hostilities, as he had done also in 1939-40.

After the war Schuman rose to great prominence. He was Minister of Finance, then briefly Prime Minister from 1947–1948 becoming Foreign Minister in the latter year. On May 9, 1950, seeking to remove the main causes of post-war Franco-German tension and adopting a scheme of Jean Monnet, Schuman invited the Germans to jointly manage their coal and steel industries. This formed the basis of the European Coal and Steel Community, which eventually evolved into the European Union. This became known as the Schuman Declaration, and to this day May 9 is designated Europe Day.

Schuman later served as Minister of Justice and first President of the European Parliamentary Assembly which bestowed on him by acclamation the title ‘Father of Europe’. In 1958 he received the Karlspreis, an Award by the German city of Aachen to people who contributed to the European idea and European peace, commemorating Charlemagne, ruler of what is today France and Germany, who resided and is buried at Aachen. He was also a knight of the Order of Pope Pius IX.

Celibate, modest and un-ostentatious, Schuman was an intensely religious man and was strongly influenced by the writings of Pope Pius XII, St. Thomas Aquinas and Jacques Maritain.

– From Robert Schuman Wikipedia

The moves to beatify Schuman go far beyond his personal qualities. His vision for a united Europe was rooted not only in his experiences of two horrific world wars but in his faith and the social teaching of the Catholic Church. The new community was intended to be built on co-operation rather than cut-throat competition; one of the aims of the much-derided Common Agricultural Policy was to help the poorest agricultural workers in Europe; the key concepts from Catholic teaching of solidarity and subsidiarity are also written into European structures. Of course things often have not worked: but much of this has been to do with rivalry among European nation states – and it was this rivalry that Schuman and the other founding fathers of the new Europe wanted to eliminate.

Today’s European Union needs to return to the vision of Robert Schuman, grounded in the social teaching of the Church…

From “The Church Must Help Europe to Recover its Soul” Fr Ashley Beck, Catholic Herald, March 12 2004

See also:
The Telegraph: Vatican resists drive to canonise EU founder
The Myth of Europa: The Schuman Declaration
Robert Schuman Foundation


Alcide De Gasperi

“The place of the priest,” a churchgoing Italian is likely to grumble, “is in the sacristy, not the public square.” In the 92 years since Italy became united, it has had for Premiers one Protestant, one Jew, several agnostics and many Freemasons, but never a practicing Catholic until Alcide de Gasperi took office.

Catholicism was the state religion under the kings, but few in the royal house were steady communicants. Italians recall that the late Queen Elena enjoyed telling ribald stories about priests, and some even insist that Victor Emmanuel III, on one of the infrequent occasions when he attended Mass, got mixed up at the holy water font and seemed to think he must wash his hands there. To be a Communist is, by decree of the Vatican, a mortal sin, but in some Italian towns the best place to find the leading Communists together is at Sunday Mass. And Catholics in politics sometimes sound like old Senator Tom Heflin lobbing one of his Confederate cannonballs at “the Pope of Rome” Not until the birth (in 1910) of the political party now led by Alcide de Gasperi were Catholics of modern Italy free to participate in politics. Under Pius IX’s 1868 Non Expedit decree (it is not expedient), a Catholic could “neither elector nor elected” be; Pius deemed it a surrender for Catholics to join in the affairs of the determinedly anti-church regime, which had shorn, the Vatican of property and political authority in Italy. But as the political peril to religion developed on the left, the ban slowly relaxed. At the end of World War I, a scholarly Sicilian priest named Luigi Sturzo persuaded Pope Benedict XV to let him form a political party of Catholic laymen. Don Luigi promised that he would resolutely avoid church control, and he kept his promise.

Don Luigi Sturzo’s creation, the Popular Party, set out to bring Christian morality and principles into distinctly non-Christian Italian politics—”a center party of Christian inspiration and oriented toward the left,” he called it.

Among his early and most promising recruits was a somber, mustached man named Alcide de Gasperi….

– From “Man from the Mountains” Time Magazine, May. 25, 1953

Like Schuman, De Gasperi came from a border region that experienced particularly acute suffering during the wars in Europe. This experience marked him for life, and his suffering helped him to form the conviction that: ‘the lesson that all Europeans can learn from their tumultuous past is that the future will not be built through force, nor through a desire to conquer, but by the patient application of the democratic method, the constructive spirit of agreement, and by respect for freedom.

His commitment to Europe was also rooted in his deep faith and guiding principles. A committed Christian, he opposed all forms of totalitarianism. As Chairman of the parliamentary group of the Italian People’s Party, he opposed the rise of the fascist party.

In 1927 he was imprisoned for his participation in the Aventin movement. Sentenced to four years in jail, he was released after sixteen months when the Church intervened, but was then forced to withdraw from political life for fifteen years, and worked as a junior employee in the Vatican library. But from 1943 he was to occupy various ministerial positions, and continued to oppose unceasingly the powerful Italian Communist Party.

De Gasperi responded immediately to Schuman’s call, and worked closely with the latter and with Konrad Adenauer. These three men together launched the movement to build a Europe that was peaceful, prosperous and democratic.

– From “Alcide de Gasperi’s humanist and European message” EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament

See also:
Wikipedia: Alcide De Gasperi
Zenit: Politics is a Mission, ormer Italian President Says Interview with Oscar Luigi Scalfaro
30 Days: De Gasperi and Europe
Instituto Luigi Sturzo: Alcide De Gasperi in European History


Konrad Adenauer

The key to Adenauer’s conception of Christian democracy was the belief that democracy must be based on a “weltanschauung” – a worldview – that provides a complete account of the universe, man, and politics. Adenauer realized that part of the appeal of totalitarianism was the promise of a complete worldview, in contrast to democracy which was seen as a formal procedure that was neutral about outcomes or that simply managed the clash of competing interests. While communism and fascism offered complete worldviews, they were based on “atheistic materialism” which Adenauer steadfastly opposed for reducing the individual to a mere automaton of the state. As he saw it, politics was the struggle between competing weltanschauungen; and democracy could be firmly established in Germany only by possessing a worldview that could compete successfully with Marxism and Naziism. What it needed was a spiritual worldview to replace atheistic materialism and to prevent its own degeneration into egoistic materialism.

Fortunately, Adenauer argued, Western democracy had such a worldview in Christianity….

What is striking about Adenauer’s position is that he viewed the formation of the Christian Democratic Union in 1945 as a non-denominational party open to all people, while insisting on a platform that stated: “The Christian foundation of the Democratic Union is the absolutely necessary and decisive factor. We want to replace the materialistic ideology of National Socialism with a Christian view of the world…Only Christian precepts guarantee justice, order, moderation, the dignity and liberty of the individual and thus true and genuine democracy…We regard the lofty view that Christianity takes of human dignity, of he vale of each single man, as the foundation and directive of our work in the political, economic, and cultural life of our people.” The puzzling feature of this statement is its mixture of nondenominationalism and explicit Christian foundations. The puzzle is deepended when we learn that Adenauer himself was a devout Catholic and former member of the Catholic Center Party – the party that was created in the 1870’s during Bismarck’s kulturkampf (culture war) against Catholicism and that continued through the Weimar Republic which the Center Party strongly supported…Moreover, Adenauer was deeply influenced by the social teachings of the Catholic Church expressed in papal encyclicals, especially Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum and Pius XI’s Quadragessimo Anno, which he read and studied while under Nazi house arrest in 1933. Adenauer discovered in them a “comprehensive and coherent program inspired by belief in an order willed by God which was perfectly practical in terms of modern society.”

To resolve the puzzle in Adenauer’s position, one must see that his affirmation of a Christian Democratic Union that was nondenominational – open to Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and secular people alike – was possible because it offered a moral vision to all people: the belief in the innate dignity of every human being as the basis of democratic equality and freedom, and the grounding of this principle on faith in God and the Western heritage of Christianity. Adenauer believed that all people could rally around this conception of human dignity and could accept its democratic implications as a common basis for sacred and secular outlooks. Nor was this hope confined to Adenauer. It became the crucial article of faith in modern Christianity, a faith that was more and more explicityly articulated by political leaders, churches and theologians in the course of the twentieth century. The crucial insight is that Christianity and liberal democracy are two sides of the same coin – the sacred and secular sides of a common conception of human dignity that is in principle accessible to believers as well as nonbelievers, even if the ultimate source and foundation is Christian.

– Excerpted from Christian Faith and Modern Demcracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World, Robert P. Kraynak, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 2001

See also:
Wikipedia: Konrad Adenauer
CNN Interactive: Konrad Adenauer
Enter Stage Right: Pope Adenauer I
Konrad Adenauer Foundation


When we look at the history of European unity it is essential to remember what most of Europe looked like in the late 1940s. The Christian churches in Europe, and our Roman Catholic Church in particular as the largest church in Europe, was deeply engaged in relief efforts all over the continent – much of our contemporary witness on behalf of the poorest people in the world, and on behalf of refugees, has its roots in the post-war years. It is also true that the depth of horror at the evil of war which is now a part of Catholic identity gets much of its inspiration from these years. Listen to these words from a young Polish priest studying in Rome at that time:

‘My experience at the Belgian college was subsequently broadened through direct contact not only with Belgium itself, but also with France and Holland…I was able to visit these countries during the summer holiday of 1947. There I came to appreciate the broader European context. From different and complementary angles, I was coming to an even greater appreciation of Western Europe: the Europe of the post-war period, a Europe of splendid Gothic cathedrals and yet a Europe threatened by increasing secularisation. I understood the challenge that this posed to the Church …’ (Pope John Paul II, Gift and Mystery [London: Doubleday, 1997], pp. 55-6)

In addition, of course, there was the fear – indeed the expectation – that it was all going to start again, at least from March 1948. Europe was rapidly divided down the middle, an ‘iron curtain from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic’, as Churchill memorably put it. The fear of communists taking over in Greece, Italy and even France was always real, and at this time Catholics were among those who feared this most of all. While this fear led quickly to the formation of a military alliance, NATO, and to the further development of fearsome and immoral weapons of mass destruction, the fear also engendered a determination to secure democratic structures in the countries not occupied by the Soviet Union during the war, and a resolve that the western European democratic countries should co-operate and work together, and not get caught up once again in historical rivalries.

The key to understanding this resolve lies in the two countries at the centre of western Europe – France and West Germany. Conflict between France and most of Germany had been at the heart of European wars since the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century, and in spite of the threat of communism there was no reason to believe after the war that a reconstructed Germany might once again become a threat to France, which is why many among the allies towards the end of the war wanted to keep the country divided into small units.

Wars are always bound up with economic rivalry, and many historians see this as the heart of the problem between France and Germany. This was centred on what you need to make weapons of war – steel, and the coal you need to make steel. This was mined and made in an area over which the two countries had fought for a century, the Ruhr/Rhineland and Alsace-Lorraine. While much of this was devastated in the war, it needed to be reconstructed: would the rivalry resume? During the war some French politicians and statesmen had urged the creation of an enlarged state of Lorraine, distinct from Germany (and France).

Before we look again at what was done about this, I want to consider three men, all Catholics (two of them devout Catholics) who were responsible for the solution to the problem – Monnet, Schuman and Adenauer.

Known as the ‘Father of Europe’ and declared the first (and only) ‘honorary citizen of Europe’ in 1976 (three years before his death at the age of 90), Jean Monnet was one of the most exceptional men of the 20th century. Monnet was a brandy heir and salesman from Cognac; as a young man he was involved, in the First World War, in the rather belated efforts by the allies to co-ordinate military and civil supplies in the common effort against the Germans, – he helped set up at the end of 1917 the Allied Maritime Transport Council (AMTC). He was never an elected a politician – rather he was a fixer behind the scenes, an administrator – indeed this role has sometimes created a negative view of him. And yet public life is not the exclusive preserve of the elected, and Monnet’s career shows how people behind the scenes often get things done. In the Second World War, just before the fall of France in 1940, Monnet was responsible for the last-ditch attempt Churchill made to keep France in the war, the proposal to bring about a total political and economic union of France and Britain (on this, in addition to the Monnet biography, Churchill’s History of the Second World War, volume II (Their Finest Hour) (London: Cassell 1949), pp. 180ff.). Hugo Young describes him thus:

‘Elbow gripper, shoulder-tapper, a wanderer with a fat address-book, he was also a man of action, determined to harness a vision, which anyone might have, to the means of advancing it in the real world, which the average visionary tended to neglect’. (This Blessed Plot [London: Macmillan, 1998] p.47)

There is a lot more one could say about Monnet’s life, but what is important is this: his experience of trying to solve enormous problems in enabling his country to fight a modern war showed him that what was necessary above all was the closest co-operation and integration of decision-making between allies. The failure to do so almost cost the allies the Great War, and certainly contributed towards France being knocked out in the second war. When the time came to rebuild Europe, co-operation and integration were necessary. The two remaining men I want to look at were from the areas I spoke of earlier- the Rhineland and Lorraine – Robert Schuman and Konrad Adenauer. Schuman was from Lorraine, the province constantly passed back and forth between France and Germany from 1870 to 1945. French by descent, he did not become a Frenchman until the end of the Great war, at the age of 32 – he had been a conscript in the German army. This man was on to become Foreign Minister and Prime Minister of France, and he understood the coal and steel which were produced in Lorraine and which had made it so desirable to both nations. Adenauer, the post-war first leader of the CDU and of the new Federal Republic, was from the Rhineland – like Schuman, he had lived all his life in the shadow of Franco-German conflict. These two men, from neighbouring areas which produced the same raw materials, were crucial in the rebuilding of post war Europe.

Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman

Another thing they shared (with Monnet, to a much lesser extent) was commitment to the Catholic Church and its teachings. Schuman in particular was very devout, almost monastic, well-versed in theology and philosophy – they were men who in the midst of war and conflict had tried in the 30s to pursue the Church’s vision, enunciated by Pope Pius XI and others, of how society should be ordered. An example of how this became clear after the war is the place of trade unions in most mainland European states, reflecting Catholic teaching since Pope Leo XIII in the 1890s. The Italian leader Alcide Di Gaspari was part of the same Christian Democrat tradition, encapsulated in the aspirations of Italy’s 1947 republican constitution (although Italian he was a German speaker and had grown up in the Austrian part of Italy). Part of the answer these serious Catholic politicians had to the menace of Communism after the war, which was particularly real in France and Italy, was to stress the need for co-operation in society, and of good welfare policies funded by taxation, in line with Catholic social teaching.

The first big fruit of this common view was the Schuman plan (named after him but essentially conceived by Monnet) in 1950. The reason we mark in our churches Europe Day each year on 9 May, is that it was on this day that it all began – France and Germany set up a joint ‘High Authority’ to run the base materials of their economies, the production, pricing and selling of coal and steel. They surrendered sovereignty voluntarily in order to work together – the European Coal and Steel Community set up by 1952 and including Italy, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg was the fruit of this plan and vision. The subsequent development of the ECSC into the EEC by the time of the Treaty of Rome in 1958 is well documented; we need to remember that the original vision aiming at political union and common defence, faded so that the EEC began by being primarily economic – why? Because of national pride, the turbulence in France in the lat 1950s, and fear of any armed alliance involving Germany. The first thing to remember is what people were doing: resolving to give up a measure of what they prized most highly – independence and sovereignty, to find a new way of working together in the interests of peace and stability. The second thing is to know why they did it – because of what they experienced, and because the key players were steeped in the life and teachings of the Catholic Church.

– From Christians and the Soul of Europe Fr. Ashley Beck

Christian Democracy

Christian democracy is the ensemble of Catholic doctrine, organization, and action in the field of popular social questions, i. e. the vast field occupied by the proletariat, called by some (inexactly, because the term is not wide enough) the labour question. Christian democracy recognizes in principle and in fact that the popular social question cannot be limited to the question of justice, nor of charity; but that it ought to establish a harmony between the claims of the first and the pleadings of the second, avoiding the excesses of anarchistic individualism as well as those of communism, socialistic or otherwise. Christian democracy, then, disapproves of the conduct of those “socialistic” Catholics who despise or minimize the social function of Christian charity; just as it disapproves the position of those other Catholics who would ignore and disregard the question of social justice in such matters as minimum salary and maximum number of working hours, obligatory insurance of workingmen, and proportionate sharing of profits. But real Christian democracy seeks to be, and is, absolutely neutral on political matters. It is not, and never can be monarchical, or republican, or oligarchical, or parliamentarian, or partisan in politics. So much follows from its very nature. On this foundation Christian democracy, emerging from the present crisis, will develop its vast programme for the moral and material redemption of the people, and will be one of the grandest and most fortunate applications of the programme of Pius X, “to restore all things in Christ”.

– From “Christian Democracy” The Catholic Encyclopedia

See also:
Wikipedia: Christian Democracy
EWTN: Pope Leo XIII: Graves De Communi Re (Christian Democracy)
Allan Carlson/Touchstone: The UN—From Friend to Foe: The Fate of the Family in the Triumph of Socialism over Christian Democracy
Questia: Christian Democracy in Western Europe 1820-1953 by Michael P. Fogarty (Online Book)
Brussels Journal: A Lesson on Europe Day: Limited Government Works Best

Additional Links
WWRN: Catholics see devout losing out on EU jobs Vatican concerns on EU Constitution
The Wanderer: English Philosopher/Politico Fears Pope Is Asserting
Temporal Rule

Ethics and Public Policy Center: Review of The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, by Robert Royal

Zenit: Christians Urged to Help Lead European Unification
German Bishop’s Conference: Europe: A responsibility before God and man

Inside the Vatican: A Europe Neither Liberal Nor Christian?
Paul Johnson: What Europe Needs
Jonathan Luxmoore: Rethinking Christendom – The Church and the New Europe

Related Posts:
Report: European church revive drive for EU ‘God clause’


From → Portraits

One Comment
  1. Great blog!
    Interesting article

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