Britain Can Benefit from Benedict, declares George Weigel in the cover story of the latest issue of the English magazine Standpoint, a very helpful summation of Benedict’s thought on “the spiritual roots of Europe” (the title of his famous lecture to the Italian parliament) and of the West in general. “The key to grasping Ratzinger’s analysis,” writes Weigel,
is to see that he thinks of Europe’s contemporary crisis of cultural morale as a matter of self-destruction. Or, as he put it in an earlier version of his address to the Italian Senate, it is impossible not to “notice a self-hatred in the Western world that is strange and can even be considered pathological”. For as “the West is making a praiseworthy attempt to be completely open to foreign values…it no longer loves itself. [Indeed], it sees in its own history only what is blameworthy and destructive [and] is no longer capable of perceiving what is great and pure.” . . .
And that, in turn, is why Ratzinger constantly asks the contemporary West to reconsider its hyper-secularist reading of the past, in which black legends of Christian perversity dominate the historical landscape and the dignity of man is asserted only with effective cultural and political force in the Enlightenment.
Chief among what is great and pure, Benedict insists, is the cultural and intellectual heritage of Christianity, without which Europe cannot be Europe. What that means for him Weigel goes on to explain in detail. If you want to know what the pope offers modern society, and why he is the great figure he is, start with this article.
As it happens, also from George Weigel is today’s second “On the Square” offering, The Solidarity Difference, his reflection on the great and history-changing Polish union — which grew from Pope John Paul II’s great and history changing trip to his homeland — on the thirtieth anniversary of the signing of the Gdansk Accords.
Speaking of the former pope, Weigel’s The End and the Beginning, subtitled “Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy,” is being published on September 14th.