PANEL DISCUSSION 2022
Dominik Cardinal DUKA:
CENTRAL EUROPE IS OUR HOME
Your Excellency, dear guests, ladies and gentlemen,
We are meeting in a city whose skyline is immensely inspiring and fascinating. One Italian journalist once told me: "Can you give me an example of another capital city where the temple and the governmental and royal or presidential palace exist in symbiosis?" I was not able to recall any. I suggested Wawel in Poland, but currently the Polish government and president are seated in Warsaw.
What does this symbol mean? It reminds us that, on the spiritual plane, this country is represented by three important figures. The first one is St. Wenceslas, who has become the symbolic eternal ruler of this country. But St. Wenceslas can hardly have the same relevance for the neighbouring countries. Within his own country, he was able to reach out to the nationalities living in these lands.
The second figure, as has already been mentioned by Professor Drulák, is St. Adalbert. I daresay that none of our historical figures has done more for Europe than him.
The third is St. John of Nepomuk. St. John of Nepomuk, who actually took the reigns, so to speak, when the nation looked for its identity following the revolt of Czech aristocrats against Maria Theresa after which the royal office was relocated to Vienna. And the nation identified with this man. So that is what I wanted to say at the beginning; to kind of present Prague not only as the capital of the Czech Republic, but also to some extent as a city that played and is still trying to play its role in creating the spirit of Central Europe.
I think that the strongest protagonist in this sense was Václav Havel, our first president after the restoration of freedom and sovereignty, who also was the co-inspirer of not only the Visegrad Four, but also of the St. Adalbert Prize, which is awarded for achievements in science and culture by the Vize 97 foundation.
Let us think about the figure of St. Adalbert. Although I am not a professional historian and consider myself only someone who loves history, I am convinced that the words historia magistra vitae are quite apt in St. Adalbert's case. St. Adalbert does not represent the first generation that professed Christianity in our lands. I won't go back to ancient times, where we might mention the Queen of the Marcomanni Fritigil, who corresponded with St. Ambrose asking for instructions on how to convert adults.
As she did not receive an answer, she set out to Milan, but St. Ambrose had already passed when she arrived. We don't know much more about her. We don't know much more about her fate either, but the important thing is that she took the decision to receive baptism. First in Moravia - in 831 in Passau, and then in Bohemia in 845 in Regensburg. Christian missionaries arrive to this space when the ruler of Great Moravia, Rostislav, invites missionaries - not in the true sense of the word, but primarily bishops - to help him Christianize the Great Moravian Empire. De facto, this request was never honoured, because although both missionaries arrived, they were not bishops. Here, of course, one should acknowledge the genius of these two men. To one of them we owe not only the institutional structure of the Church, but also the great gift of statesmanlike wisdom and legislation. To the other one, St. Constantine, Cyril, we owe the translation of the Bible on which the Christian foundation was laid.
Their journey to Rome and back can be seen as the historical moment of the birth of Central Europe. We separated ourselves from Western Europe and we can say that ecclesiastically we actually ceased to be under the influence of Charlemagne, who was very strong in the religious and ecclesiastical sphere, but we did not come under the influence of Byzantium, where the Byzantine emperor nominated himself as the successor of Jesus Christ. This way, a completely autonomous papal fief was established where the most important title was not assumed by a Czech but by a Hungarian. It was the Hungarian king St. Stephen, who was the first to receive the title of Apostolic Majesty, and this fact later became important also within the Habsburg monarchy. I think these are the facts of which we need to be aware when we discuss the figure of St. Adalbert.
St. Adalbert was raised in Libice, in an environment influenced by both Western and Eastern Christianity, as the Christian Church was yet undivided at that time. But this entailed also very important cultural impulses. We know that, culturally, Byzantium stood on a much higher level at that time than the West. This was because the organization of Byzantium was not upset, whereas the West affected by the migration period was still looking for its identity. St. Adalbert thus becomes a man who can refer us to another trinity. We can see St. Adalbert as part of a kind of triumvirate. Pope Sylvester II, known also as Gerbert of Aurillac, one of the greatest mathematicians of his day. After all, it is to Gerbert, and hence also to St. Adalbert, that we owe the use of Arabic numerals. I always stress this fact when I am talking to schoolchildren. Beside these two, besides St. Adalbert and Silvester II, the third important figure is the Emperor Otto II. We know that also his court was under a very strong influence of the Byzantine culture and civilization through Empress Theophano.
However, our civilization, which we call Western, refers itself to another fundamental figure, Pope Sylvester I. We celebrate Sylvester on New Year's Eve without realizing - and I confess that I had not realized that for years - whom we are actually celebrating. We celebrate the first free pope. The Pope, the bishop of Rome, who became the head of the Church established by the Edict of Milan. And this brings us to the figure of Constantine the Great. I do not think that we in our space are fully aware of the importance of the step taken by this man which, however, ensued from another crucial moment. Hopefully, we managed to overcome COVID-19 that originated in China, but now it will be up to us what direction we are going to take next. In the middle of the third century, amidst the greatest plague in history, when half of the population in cities died, it was the Christians, mainly Christian soldiers and their families serving in Roman castra, the fortresses of that time, who did not escape and stayed behind to help the others. Also the fire brigades as we know them now have their origins in these events. This experience changed the social climate to such a degree that it was no longer possible to continue harsh persecutions of Christians. When Diocletian issued an edict on persecution of Christians, on imprisoning them, executing them, confiscating their property, tearing down their churches, Constantius I, the father of Constantine the Great, said only one thing: tear down their churches but do not touch the bishops, do not touch the priests and do not touch the people. This was actually a prelude to the Edict of Milan. And the third important figure is St. Augustine, the teacher of the West.
Now, let me challenge what I have just said. Christianity was not born in the West; it was born in the East. Christianity was not born in Europe either. Saint Augustine lived in Africa. So Christianity is the first to enter the new era as a global civilization of that time and it continues in this way. If we were to mention the most important, most symbolical places - I don't mean just geographically but also spiritually, culturally, creatively - then we can say, using the words of the recently deceased Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Jonathan Sacks, that these are Sinai, Golgotha, and the Alexandrian Museum. Quoting Prime Minister Viktor Orbán - and this is an important observation - it is Calvary, Aeropagus, and Capitol. And we can quote the words of the founding fathers of the European Union, not the EU but the European Community, that these are Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome.
So we need to reflect on whether we can use the term Western civilization. And still, we can. Visigothic Christianity actually grows out of African Christianity. The first Primate of Carthage - after whom others were appointed - gave independence to Spain under the pressure of Vandal ravages and other developments, and Toledo became the centre. This is where Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed was adopted, which became one of the cornerstones of not only our faith but also of what we call Corpus Christianorum. And this is where the familiar term that has not yet been overcome in the dialogue with orthodoxy was added - filioque. It says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son at the same time, whereas according to the Eastern model it is the Father - the Son - the Holy Spirit. It is a different interpretation of the Bible. Each one has its own rationale. But beware, it is the vertical of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit that later gave rise to the Eastern concept of society and state. In Byzantium, the emperor acts as the head of state and the head of church.
In Moscow, they even go a step further. The Russian Tsar acts as God's representative on Earth. These are some influences from the Mesopotamian as well as Egyptian culture and religious life. In the West, in terms of the language of the Western Church and its ritual, we see the application of the principle of the Trinity, of equality in being. This is also the origin of the concept of man elaborated by seven church councils. The man is the image of God, and therefore the Christian God is not a person but a personal God living in a process of communion of three persons who have mutual dignity, mutual equality, and are united by what we can call love, friendship, and brotherhood. Like friendship. I think this is an important aspect on which the developments in the tenth century and the mentioned St. Adalbert, Emperor Otto II, and his son Emperor Otto III were guilding. And Pope Silvester Gerbert is replaced by two important figures, St. Stephen and prince, later king Mieszko.
I think that when we start looking at Central Europe from this perspective, we understand who belongs to it and who does not. Just as we cannot define the border between Europe and Asia, we cannot precisely define the borders of Central Europe. I used the term Home. I used this term because when I was returning from my first ever trip to the free world, from the United States, I landed in Cologne. I was devastated by the jet lag and I didn't feel like at home there. However, as I continued my journey back home I found that in Munich everything except the language seemed familiar - I entered a church for a service and everything was similar, including the music. And then I arrived to Vienna where I boarded the train after receiving a warning from Minister of the Interior Blecha that there were demonstrations in Prague. I said to him that I wouldn't be arriving before the evening. Then, when I crossed the border, I saw that something was changing because the border police behave differently, but at that moment I understood that Vienna was our capital and still is our capital; that it played this role.
Thus, when we discuss the concept of Central Europe, I think that it is important that Vienna and Austria play the role that they should and that the same applies also to the Balkans. In fact, in the ecclesiastical sphere, we convene meetings in the Visegrad Four format. That means the chairmen of the episcopal conferences and the cardinals from these countries meet. Of course, we also held several meetings comprising a wider community, including the Roman Catholic Bishop of Moscow, who, nevertheless, is of Italian origin. I think that these meetings are important and contribute to understanding of what is our home and where our place is on the spiritual level. They help us understand that the Central Europe is our destiny. That it is our culture, because Jože Plečnik made his mark on the architecture of Prague and the Prague Castle in an unforgettable way. Also the yesterday's concert confirms the same. I mean, we know where we feel at home. We know where our spiritual roots are. And we also know what democracy means. A democracy which must show respect for the other, which cannot lack friendship and which cannot lack that very vertical which in our case can tell us in the words of Abbé Lamennais - God is the supreme democrat.
Thank you for your patience and, above all, I confess my sin of not handing in a written material, so I thank the interpreter for her hard work.