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Reflections on the Dialogue between Faith and Culture


Opening Address, the Irish Centre for Faith and Culture’s Symposium

“Measuring Society: Discerning Values and Beliefs”

St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Friday 22 June 2001


Paul Card. POUPARD

President of the Pontifical Council for Culture



Your Eminence, Monsignor Farrell, Professor McEvoy,

Distinguished guests and friends of the Irish Centre for Faith and Culture,


Good evening and thank you for your welcome. It is good to be back! Some of you will remember that I was here just over six years ago, at Saint Patrick’s College’s Bicentenary Conference on Faith and Culture: Chaos and Creation. I spoke then of my firm conviction that it would be very relevant for you, in this North West corner of Europe, to find a way of recognising and facing “questions of cultural sensitivity” and all that is implied in serious inter-cultural dialogue. Some of you heard me voicing my sincere hope “that Maynooth might establish some centre for reflection on faith and culture for the Irish context” (Paul Cardinal Poupard, “Creation, Culture and Faith”, published in Cultures and Faith III – 2 [1995], pp. 84-93. This quotation is on p. 93). In the intervening years, the Irish bishops have responded to my suggestion by founding the Irish Centre for Faith and Culture. So it is a joy for me to be here, not only to visit the centre, but also to see it in action.

I have no doubt that the Centre for Faith and Culture here in Maynooth will bear abundant fruit as the Catholic Church in Ireland moves forward into this new Millennium. I remember saying, six years ago, that “it is part of the adventure of church history that individual notes in the symphony of faith will acquire a different tone within changing cultures” (art. cit., p. 89). But I am sure nobody here can have failed to notice that this is a time when those who do not share our beliefs encourage us to play our tune quietly. The Catholic Church in Ireland has been bruised by the failures of some of her own members, and by the bitter reactions of those who hoped for so much more from them. Confidence in a venerable institution that once seemed rock solid has been replaced, for so many people, by a cool and critical attitude to the institutional Church and to those who have an official role within it. The tone of the symphony of faith is indeed changing, and it is safer to lie low than to parade one’s Catholic faith in public these days. But is that the right approach?

Christians are not living on some uninhabited island. The tone is changing because the culture is changing rapidly. The world as a whole looks very different at the beginning of the third Millennium. Many people genuinely find it hard to trust the human instinct to search for and believe in truth. In this, Ireland more and more resembles other places whose cultures once seemed so alien and distant. People all over Europe struggled throughout the first half of the twentieth century to achieve democratic freedom, no more so than here. Thank God there now seems to be light at the end of the tunnel for the people of Northern Ireland. Democracy is not a goal, but a system, which has to be periodically purified and refined; there is no place for scandal and corruption in people whose authority rests on the fact that they have been elected to office. So there is a clear need for moral values to shape the way democratic society works.

It would be churlish to ignore the part Christianity has played in forming Irish culture, and shortsighted to pretend it is the influence it once was. Like your European neighbours, you have a society where different value-systems compete for moral space. The Gospel has a place in Irish society, but these days people are used to making choices in so many aspects of their lives that they may easily opt for other values. Whether we like it or not, the Gospel nowadays needs to win its place in people’s hearts. I do not mean to be nostalgic when I say that the meaning of the phrase “new evangelisation” is that the Gospel has to win back the place it once had in Irish hearts. In his Apostolic Letter to mark the end of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Pope John Paul II recognised this. “Even in countries evangelised many centuries ago, the reality of a ‘Christian society’ which… measured itself explicitly on Gospel values, is now gone. Today we must courageously face a situation which is becoming increasingly diversified and demanding, in the context of ‘globalisation’ and of the consequent new and uncertain mingling of peoples and cultures. Over the years, I have often repeated the summons to the new evangelisation. I do so again now, especially in order to insist that we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardour of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 40). Here in Ireland, there has been a healthy dialogue between a long-established Christian heritage and the various shades of political thought. Perhaps that debate more than any other aspect of Irish life needs the dialogue between faith and culture. The future of your nation depends on that dialogue.

I come from another situation, and have no desire to tell you how to solve your problems. The methods you choose depend on your understanding of your own situation. What I would very much like to offer this evening is a reflection on the attitude that might best mould an effective dialogue between faith and culture in Irish society.

On the first of December nineteen ninety-seven, Bishop Donal Murray spoke at the opening of the Irish Centre for Faith and Culture about the soul of Europe. He quoted what Pope John Paul II had said to the Bishops of Europe two months earlier: “We must never tire of saying and repeating to Europe: rediscover yourself! Rediscover your soul” (to the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, 11 October 1997). The same challenge could and should be applied to any cultural area in the world, in fact to any nation. I would say this is a very good time for Ireland to hear those same words: “rediscover yourself! Rediscover your soul!” As I pondered the title of this conference, the idea of “Measuring Culture” struck me quite forcibly, and my mind wandered to the collection of poems by Séamus Heaney entitled The Spirit Level. In the most obvious sense, a spirit level is an essential tool for building. But Heaney’s title fits the theme of this conference, too. Are we not trying to ascertain the spiritual character, in that sense the “spirit level”, of the Irish nation? Is that not because we are passionately concerned about the way its future will be built? This echoes what Bishop Murray said about the task of a Catholic cultural centre in Maynooth at the beginning of the twenty-first century. He encouraged everyone who comes here to engage in a search for meaning and face the uncomfortable, “uneasy” questions it is so tempting and fashionable to avoid. He stressed the need to pay attention to many other questions “being expressed, in however halting and however inadequate and however hostile a manner in contemporary culture. We who are believers need to hear those questions not only from outside, but within ourselves”. As he suggested then, the task of this centre is chiefly to challenge and to illuminate Irish culture. That demands both genuine sympathy for the culture and a new clarity of language. A daunting challenge indeed!

Today I visited Glendalough, the lush green backdrop for a poem Séamus Heaney included in the collection he called The Spirit Level. It is about Saint Kevin and the blackbird. No doubt you know the story, but I want to commend it to you as a motif for the work of this Centre. As the first life of Saint Kevin was written about four centuries after he lived, Heaney wryly comments that “the whole thing’s imagined anyhow”, but he is fascinated by the legend. I think the poem contains several details worth remembering in the context of this conference. First of all, imagine the scene. There is a man of God adopting a very peculiar attitude in prayer. That is the way it seems to the casual observer, someone unfamiliar with the hermit’s way of life. Kevin meant to imitate Christ crucified. His problem was that there was not enough room in his tiny cell – his prayer-posture meant one of his arms had to protrude through the window. You must surely know the rest of the story, how the blackbird came and built a nest in Kevin’s outstretched, upturned palm. Kevin stayed there until the eggs laid had hatched and the fledglings grew old enough to fly away.

People visiting the offices of the Pontifical Council for Culture in Rome often ask how the Council does its work. I can answer in many ways, because it is an operation with many facets. To borrow a military image, the battle is waged on many fronts. But I do not really like to think of it as a battle or a conflict. In fact, just the opposite. Pope John Paul II’s stroke of genius in founding the Council in nineteen eighty-two was to spot the fact that culture is a level playing field for everyone. It is a vital element in the life of society and in every person’s life. Everyone has an interest in expressing his or her own identity as a person, but also as a member of a culture. So cultural questions matter to everyone, and the world recognises this more and more. As communications improve, people know more and more about other cultures, so the fascination grows. I must say, in passing, that it is unnerving to see how many young people know far more about distant cultures in other continents than they do about their own. There are many reasons for this, but it can have a strange destabilising influence on the cohesion of a nation when younger generations seek a new identity somewhere else. Where are they finding their values and beliefs? Why is there more interest in other cultures than their own? Is it purely the appeal of the exotic, or is there something deeper being said about their own culture and their relationship to it? You may well be raising these questions in the next day or so, or perhaps on a future occasion, and I would be fascinated to know what you discover.

Pope John Paul’s principal reason for giving culture such a high profile in the agenda of the Church in the late twentieth century and now at the beginning of the twenty-first is revealed in what he said when he re-founded the Pontifical Council for Culture in nineteen ninety-three, by joining it to what used to be known as the Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Non-Believers. Dialogue with systematic atheism began seriously at the end of the Second Vatican Council, and the Holy Father stressed that, throughout his pontificate, he had “wanted to develop the Church’s dialogue with the contemporary world”. In a particular way, he had “sought to foster the encounter with non-believers in the privileged area of culture, a fundamental dimension of the spirit, which places people in a relationship with one another and unites them in what is most truly theirs, namely, their common humanity”. He “created the Pontifical Council for Culture with the intention of strengthening the Church’s pastoral presence in this specific, vital area, in which the world’s destiny is at stake at the approach of the third millennium” (Apostolic Letter Inde a Pontificatus, given Motu Proprio, 25 March 1993).

It is important to note the real priorities stressed in that letter. What is important is a “pastoral presence” that can work on the basis of people’s common humanity to foster genuine communication on matters of real importance to every man and woman on the planet, at a major turning point in the history of humankind.

But it is also humbling to admit how painstaking and slow it can be to pursue dialogue with the world of unbelief. When my visitors ask how the Council responds to that part of its task I have to take a deep breath and explain that organised dialogue in that sphere is less and less frequent. That is not the result of a conscious decision on anybody’s part. It is probably a sign of the times, in the sense that people are becoming more and more private in what we like to think of as advanced cultures. If any of you have worked in parishes or educational programmes for adults, you will know all too well how difficult it can be to attract people to meetings. If any of you are involved in voluntary organisations – like scouting, for example – you will have seen the change in people’s attitude to commitment. These are signs of “individual privatisation”, if you will pardon that expression. And nowhere is that more true than in the spiritual and religious sphere.

What is challenging is not the encounter between believers and non-believers, or the encounter between faith and culture, but achieving the encounter in the first place. Bringing people together is very difficult. But that does not mean there is no encounter. You all hear complaints from all sorts of people about the way the press and the media deal with religion, or the way poets and playwrights depict the Church or even God. Other religions have the same concerns. But those concerns are the sign that people who claim to have a vantage point outside religion are still very, very interested in what we do as believers, and in the God in whom we believe, as well as the religion to which we belong. Even if it is sometimes a critical relationship, it is still a relationship. It may sometimes resemble the difficult relationship between parents and their adolescent children, but that calls for profound sympathy, genuine wisdom and a sense of humour. Even if partners in dialogue are not always polite to each other, the fact that they are still talking is a very good basis for hope in better communications in future.

Think back to Saint Kevin. The blackbird came to him by mistake, but he did not hurl her away. He was “overcome with pity and constrained by his faith to love the life in all creatures great and small”, as Heaney said in nineteen ninety-five, in his Nobel lecture in Stockholm. The conclusion of the poem brings home the enormity and the beauty of Kevin’s response, which Heaney describes as

“A prayer his body makes entirely

For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird

And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name”.

Heaney described the story of Saint Kevin with a profound insight, one that fits the Irish soul perfectly, if I may say so. For him, it is “a story out of Ireland. But… it could equally well come out of India or Africa or the Arctic or the Americas”. He does not see it as yet another typical folk tale, or something of limited value in a multi-cultural context. “On the contrary, its trustworthiness and its travel-worthiness have to do with its local setting”. He says all this because for him, the story of Saint Kevin is one of those that “function as bearers of value”. He contrasts the defeat of Nazism by force with the “erosion of the Soviet regimes… by the sheer persistence, beneath the imposed ideological conformity, of cultural values and psychic resistances of the kind that these stories and images enshrine”. It is a particularly Irish insight because it fits the character of the “Land of Saints and Scholars”, the culture that did so much to maintain and develop Christianity and culture in general even in distant parts of Europe; that springs from an awareness of common humanity, a bond much stronger than diversity and divisiveness. It is also particularly Irish in that it speaks of tenacity in the form of the patience of a saint.

In the context of the Irish Centre for Faith and Culture, one can see men and women of faith adopting a posture that seems so curious to the many even within Ireland who now see themselves as outsiders in terms of institutional Christianity. But that posture is one that cannot be contained within the four walls of the institutional building. There is an outstretched arm that, sooner or later, attracts the attention of the other, who comes for purposes quite different from those of the person within the Church. People may often come here with their own agendas, with unexpected eggs to lay. The patience of a Saint Kevin will not question that but simply accept it, until the time is ripe. It is more important to welcome than to interrogate, and that is the legendary hospitality of the Irish. It is important to ensure that it is not just a legend from the past, but something lived in new ways in this new Millennium. For women and men of faith, hospitality offered to those who do not believe, or those who are simply curious, is born of the pity or sympathy that overwhelmed Saint Kevin, and of his conviction that all life is to be loved. To be Church in this day and age is to reach outwards, not to be locked away as the disciples were before Pentecost, but to have that fire of the Spirit who filled them with vigour and enthusiasm to find new ways of expressing their faith, a whole new language that all could understand. The Irish Centre for Faith and Culture is a powerful symbol of the Church’s openness to the culture in which it lives, not a readiness to be absorbed by the dominant fashions and trends, but a love for people and places that makes Christians eager to make a real difference.

Wise patience is behind the pastoral method used by one of the Members of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Bishop Adriaan van Luyn of Rotterdam. He has used the image of Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus as a guide to approaching people not sure of their faith. Jesus did not correct the two distraught, confused disciples in their misunderstanding or bombard them with information, but established a rapport of trust by asking them why they were so downcast as they walked along the road. He listened and went with them, gradually unfolding the meaning of Scripture and then revealing himself in the action of breaking bread. What Bishop van Luyn points out is that Jesus went along the road with these two men who were actually going in the wrong direction. He did not abandon them, but kept them company. They turned back of their own accord. It may often appear easier to tell people where they are going wrong, but this wise psychology of Christ is probably far more effective in the long run. It is an example of dialogue that is patient and yet bold enough to tell the truth at the appropriate moment. I have no doubt that a Church known for patience and wisdom in equal doses would have great success in establishing occasions for dialogue, and that is equally true of a Church institution like this Centre.

Sometimes, or even quite often, the work of dialogue, like much of the Church’s work, does not seem to achieve very much. Here again, we are challenged to have the patience of a saint. But we also have great encouragement to persevere, even in the face of apparent failure, from what Pope John Paul has written in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, which marks the close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. He mentions the great number of fish the fishermen in Simon’s boat caught after telling them to “put out into deep water” – Duc in altum – (Lk 5.4). In Luke’s account, we are told that Simon was very dubious, since they had worked hard all night and caught nothing. We all know that feeling. It can be extremely frustrating and discouraging to labour for long hours, days, weeks or even years on some project connected with preaching the values of the Gospel, to be faced with apathy or even failure. The Pope’s challenge, the evangelist Luke’s challenge, is to hear the Lord’s words of encouragement and to persevere in our task, whatever that is. If you are “measuring” Irish society, or any society, you will discover both positive and negative data, and it may be either refreshing or alarming what values and beliefs you discover in the hearts of the present generation, but you and I are asked to have the patience of a saint and not to lose heart in the attempt to understand and to make a difference to our cultures. The areas in which the Pope sees the greatest challenges today are also listed in his Apostolic Letter. They are the prospect of an ecological crisis, the problems of peace, contempt for the fundamental rights of so many people, especially children. He stresses the duty all people have to respect the life of every human being and to use the latest advances of science with clear ethical principles. The whole picture is held together by the fundamental conviction that human solidarity makes every person responsible for every other person (no. 51).

Today would normally be the day your fellow Catholics in England celebrate one of their favourite saints, Saint Thomas More. Thomas, who is now acknowledged by the Catholic Church as the patron of politicians, was praised by Erasmus of Rotterdam in these words: “Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, whose soul was whiter than the whitest snow, whose genius was so great that, though she be the mother of great spirits, England never had an equal and never will”. His erudition and spiritual depth, his piety and his humour were all very attractive features of the man, but something in the prayers for today’s feast is an important reminder of one of the greatest challenges to Christians. It is Thomas’ poignant expression of a double loyalty, when he told King Henry the Eighth: “I am the King’s good servant, but God’s first”. He was executed for treason, because he refused to let a human authority hold sway over God’s will. It is a situation the Irish nation understands well, as do your Catholic brothers and sisters in Britain, but it is not local folklore, any more than the story of Saint Kevin. Saint Thomas More is a beacon in the darkness that descends when we are asked to compromise our beliefs and our values. He is a reminder of what it costs to step outside the limits of our culture and see things from a more universal perspective. We can never leave our culture behind, and we should never despise it, or think ourselves above it. But we should never be culture’s slaves, either.

I shall finish with a reflection from the Pope’s recent Apostolic Letter. “A new century, a new millennium are opening in the light of Christ. But not everyone can see this light. Ours is the wonderful and demanding task of becoming its ‘reflection’. This is the mysterium lunae, which was so much a part of the contemplation of the Fathers of the Church, who employed this image to show the Church’s dependence on Christ, the Sun whose light she reflects. It was a way of expressing what Christ himself said when he called himself the ‘light of the world’ (Jn 8.12) and asked his disciples to be ‘the light of the world’ (Mt 5.14). This is a daunting task if we consider our human weakness, which often renders us opaque and full of shadows. But it is a task which we can accomplish if we turn to the light of Christ and open ourselves to the grace which makes us a new creation” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, no. 54).


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Dans son intervention au Symposium « Measuring Society : Discerning Values and Beliefs », au Irish Centre for Faith an Culture de Maynooth, en Irlande, le Cardinal Paul Poupard a développé le thème du dialogue entre foi et culture. Il a rappelé que la promotion de la rencontre entre croyants et non-croyants, et entre foi et culture, demande beaucoup de patience, mais qu’il faut persévérer. A la fin de son intervention, il a invité l’Irlande en reprenant les paroles du Saint-Père, à se redécouvrir, à redécouvrir son âme.



Nella sua prolusione al Simposio “Measuring Society: Discerning Values and Beliefs”, tenutosi all’Irish Centre for Faith and Culture di Maynooth, Irlanda, il Cardinale Paul Poupard ha riflettuto sul dialogo tra fede e cultura. Ha sottolineato che occorre molta pazienza nel promuovere l’incontro tra credenti e non credenti, tra fede e cultura, e si deve, quindi, perseverare. Ha, infine, esortato l’Irlanda, citando le parole del Santo Padre, a riscoprire se stessa, a riscoprire la sua anima.



En la Prolusión del Simposio “Measuring Society: Discerning Values and Beliefs”, efectuado en el Irish Centre for Faith and Culture di Maynooth, Irlanda, el Cardenal Paul Poupard reflexionó acerca del diálogo entre fe y cultura. Recordó que es necesaria mucha paciencia para promover el Encuentro entre creyentes y no-creyentes, entre fe y cultura y también se requiere perseverancia. En fin, exhortó a Irlanda, citando las palabras del Santo Padre, a volver a descubrirse a si misma, a redescubrir su alma.










Conférence au Conseil de l’Europe

Strasbourg, avril 2001


Père Laurent MAZAS

Conseil Pontifical de la Culture



Mesdames, Messieurs,


À l’initiative de son Secrétaire Général, Son Excellence Mr Walter Schwimmer, le Conseil de l’Europe a entrepris d’organiser à travers une série de Colloques, une réflexion sur l’Identité européenne. Le thème n’est pas nouveau, il est vaste, et le projet poursuivi est de préciser les contours d’une identité propre aux peuples d’Europe et de dégager des lignes directrices pour une politique de la promotion – ou de la sauvegarde ? – de cette identité.

1. Il me revient, et j’en suis très honoré, d’ouvrir la réflexion par une brève considération de nature philosophique sur la notion même d’identité. Chacun, ici, est conscient de l’extrême complexité du phénomène auquel l’identité d’un peuple fait référence. S’il est déjà très difficile de préciser l’identité d’une personne, la tâche apparaît très ardue lorsqu’il s’agit de concevoir ce qui fait l’identité d’un peuple, et plus encore, d’un ensemble de nations. Les exposés qui vont suivre, mettront en lumière, à partir des différents regards que donnent les sciences – le regard historique, sociologique, ou psychologique – cette extraordinaire complexité des différentes composantes de l’identité européenne. Mais le philosophe, et je pense le politicien de même, ne peut se contenter d’une description par la mise en lumière d’éléments, de « valeurs » communes. L’analyse invite à intelliger, c’est-à-dire à lire à l’intérieur du phénomène pour « dévoiler » le fondement d’une identité, et en scruter la finalité.

2. L’identité d’un peuple provient de sa culture, et celle-ci s’enracine dans les capacités créatrices et la faculté d’adaptation de l’homme à ses semblables et à son milieu naturel. Plus encore, c’est parce que chaque personne humaine est unique que, d’une manière ultime les peuples sont différents. En effet, l’homme est capable de créer une société avec ses semblables, société qui n’est vraiment humaine que dans la mesure où elle possède une dimension culturelle. Or cette dernière prend corps dans des conditions spécifiques de développement historique et géographique. La multiplicité et la complexité de ces conditions portent les sociétés à concrétiser leur patrimoine d’humanité à travers une diversité d’identités culturelles.

3. Seul l’homme est capable de culture. Du fait de sa condition historique, parce son existence s’insère dans le temps, il est à la fois le fils et le créateur de sa propre culture, et par conséquent de son identité. Celle-ci prend donc en compte l’héritage du passé et de son histoire ; elle s’enracine par là-même dans une mémoire, tout en impliquant aussi un devenir, un progrès, qui en fait une réalité dynamique. Or, la difficulté qui apparaît immédiatement à qui veut réfléchir sur l’identité d’un peuple, c’est qu’une réalité dynamique, vivante, ne se laisse pas emprisonner dans des définitions, dans des schémas, toujours réducteurs, et si elle permet à l’observateur de poser un regard sur elle, elle paraîtra immédiatement autre à un autre regard, laissant supposer par équivoque des identités différentes pour une réalité qui est portant la même. C’est la problématique qui s’est posée dès les premiers balbutiements de la pensée occidentale, sur les côtes de Milet, dans l’actuelle Turquie, ou dans la Grande Grèce de Parménide.

4.  Si l’identité d’un peuple manifeste sa particularité, elle aspire en même temps à l’universel par le meilleur d’elle-même, du fait de son enracinement dans la nature humaine. Une culture n’est vraiment humaine que lorsqu’elle porte en elle l’ouverture aux autres cultures, à l’universel. Les exigences de la particularité fondent les droits des identités culturelles propres ; celles de l’universalité fondent les devoirs qui en découlent, envers les autres cultures et l’humanité tout entière.[1]

La difficulté d’une réflexion sur l’identité européenne, c’est qu’elle ne se réfère pas à une seule société d’hommes d’histoire, de mœurs, de technologies ou d’expressions artistiques similaires ; elle recouvre un ensemble de peuples, délimités dans une vaste zone géographique où tout semble parfois s’opposer dans les extrêmes. Déjà à l’intérieur d’un même État, il peut exister des communautés minoritaires qui aspirent à vivre d’une manière différente de celle de la majorité, selon des caractéristiques propres, tant linguistiques, qu’ethniques, religieuses ou coutumières, sans pour autant chercher à se séparer d’une organisation politique dont l’État est l’expression juridique. Il faut donc prendre garde de ne pas réduire l’identité de l’Europe à l’identité politique (déjà existante ou seulement encore souhaitée). De même que tout être humain a droit à la reconnaissance et au respect de sa propre identité – ce qui ne lui retire en rien ses devoirs envers la collectivité –, ainsi toute minorité culturelle a droit à la reconnaissance de sa propre identité. C’est un droit inhérent à sa nature propre, qui la valorise aux yeux de l’ensemble de la société, et facilite son intégration dans l’ensemble des peuples. À l’inverse, son non-respect est pour un groupe d’hommes source d’humiliation, suscite une forte revendication et prend, bien souvent, des formes d’une extrême violence.

Il revient donc à l’autorité politique, que ce soit dans les États ou dans les grands Organismes internationaux, chacun dans son ordre, de veiller à harmoniser, à promouvoir ou, le cas échéant, à réconcilier les identités plurielles. La question peut être posée de la possibilité de l’intégration de certains peuples aux caractéristiques identitaires très diverses de la culture ambiante. Sans citer d’exemple, les actualités de ces derniers mois montrent bien, en de nombreuses régions du monde, non seulement l’actualité de cet épineux problème, mais surtout les tristes situations qui peuvent se faire jour. Toutefois, la peur de l’autre est généralement cause du rejet de l’autre, et l’histoire enseigne que les rejets, les déportations, les exclusions radicales engendrent la déstabilisation et la violence. La peur naît de la faiblesse et explose souvent en violence. Une autorité politique capable au contraire de se faire éducatrice, et soucieuse de mettre tout en œuvre pour que les valeurs fondatrices de la civilisation européenne demeurent le fondement stable de nos sociétés modernes en mutation, suscitera l’adhésion confiante. C’est dire combien une politique de l’Identité européenne implique une politique de l’éducation[2], dont tous soulignent l’urgence, mais en même temps mesurent la complexité, en raison de l’interférence croissante de facteurs difficilement contrôlables.

Nul doute qu’à cet égard une réflexion approfondie des responsables, à tous les niveaux, des moyens de communication sociale ne soit déterminante. Les démocraties s’honorent à bon droit de respecter la liberté d’expression. Mais lorsque des acteurs pervers, ou tout simplement irresponsables, la dénaturent en l’utilisant effrontément pour bafouer les composantes millénaires d’une culture, voire tourner en dérision des symboles authentiquement reconnus d’une identité inaliénable, qui ne voit l’urgence d’honorer la maxime forgée par Lacordaire à l’heure du printemps des peuples en Europe : « Entre le fort et le faible, c’est la liberté qui opprime et la loi qui libère. »

5. L’identité d’un peuple se dessine et se découvre à travers un ensemble de traits caractéristiques qui relèvent toujours, quoique selon des accents différents, d’éléments complémentaires : l’art ; la science et la technique ; la langue et les mœurs, les coutumes et les lois ; la dimension religieuse. Toutes ces expressions publiques s’enracinent dans les différentes dimensions de la vie de l’homme. La première, est celle de l’homo faber : l’homme est capable de produire des œuvres, belles ou utiles, qui relèvent des domaines de l’art et de la technique. Une autre dimension constitutive est celle de l’homo amicus et de l’homo politicus : l’homme est capable de rencontrer l’autre, d’entretenir avec lui des relations particulières selon un mode défini à travers des coutumes ou des lois, et en fonction d’un langage et de mœurs qui lui sont propres. De plus, l’homme est aussi homo sapiens, capable de connaissance et épris de sagesse, et il est indéniable que la science constitue un élément irremplaçable de l’identité d’un peuple. Enfin, l’homme est homo religiosus, c’est-à-dire capable de s’ouvrir à une transcendance, et d’entretenir avec elle un rapport qu’il exprime dans des pratiques ou des rites religieux, et qu’il explicite à travers une connaissance spécifique, capable elle-même d’influer profondément sur les autres domaines de sa vie, et donc de spécifier son identité. L’observation du monde, l’histoire, l’art sacré, montrent à l’évidence le rôle civilisateur des religions. Élément constitutif de la culture, la religion ne saurait se réduire pour autant à celle-ci. On peut observer çà et là, certaines tendances à réduire les religions, essentiellement celles qui s’enracinent dans la révélation abrahamique d’un Dieu transcendant, Judaïsme, Christianisme et Islam, à un simple statut d’éthique culturelle. Le regard sociologique pourra dans une certaine mesure constater un réel affaiblissement de l’influence d’une religion donnée dans telle ou telle société humaine, ou telle ou telle frange d’une population déterminée. Mais il n’est pas justifiable pour autant de refuser d’ouvrir à une culture et à une civilisation la possibilité même de l’épanouissement des religions. L’historien anglais Arnold Toynbee en a fait la remarque, reprise par le Cardinal Paul Poupard en exergue de son Dictionnaire des Religions (PUF, Paris, 1993) : « Il n’est jusqu’à nos jours aucune civilisation qui n’ait été religieuse. »

6. Je terminerai par ce qui est, sans conteste, le plus essentiel. Je disais au point de départ de cette réflexion que chaque regard porté sur l’identité d’un peuple, regard provenant de l’une ou l’autre science de l’observation, peut être source d’une identité particulière. Les regards sont divers parce que le phénomène est complexe, parce que l’histoire est complexe, parce que l’homme est complexe. Aussi, la perception d’une identité est-elle quelque chose de fluent, soumis à maintes déformations suscitées par les perceptions d’un phénomène, alors que demeure inchangée la nature de l’homme qu’elle exprime.

Pour ne pas demeurer dans l’impasse de débats sans conclusion possible, le philosophe qui réfléchit sur la notion d’identité se pose ultimement la question de la finalité. Ce regard de la finalité, n’est-il pas le regard « oublié » des analyses contemporaines ? Or, ce qu’il y a de plus important pour une identité collective, n’est-ce pas ce qui la finalise ? Il ne m’appartient pas ici de dégager cette identité, de l’exprimer, mais je pense que cette interrogation est la question primordiale de notre réflexion. Il est possible de dégager des valeurs, des constantes, comme on déterre une statue d’un chantier de fouille pour la mettre ensuite – n’est-ce pas parfois dérisoire ? – dans un musée où seront conservés quelques éléments résiduels du passé. Mais définir une identité est un acte pour l’avenir, j’allais presque dire « une prophétie » pour l’homme européen de demain. En effet, c’est bien de cela qu’il s’agit : bâtir une Europe de l’homme, et la bâtir avec tous et pour tous ses citoyens.

J’ai eu le privilège de passer ma jeunesse en Grèce. Je garde le souvenir ému d’une belle journée de mai où mes parents m’avaient pris avec eux pour faire visiter au Cardinal de Lubac le merveilleux sanctuaire de Delphes. C’était à quelques kilomètres de la maison. Et je me vois encore, tout gamin de 10 ans que j’étais, montrant du doigt à l’un des plus grands théologiens du siècle dernier, l’interrogation gravée dans la pierre : gnothi sauton ! Connais-toi, toi-même ! L’interrogation de Socrate n’est-elle pas au cœur de la quête européenne ? Les siècles qui se sont succédé ont-ils jamais cessé de reprendre dans l’Europe entière cette invitation à orienter toujours les regards sur l’homme ? Permettez-moi donc de vous dire, en prolongeant à plus de deux millénaires de distance l’invitation du Père de la maïeutique : Vous qui réfléchissez sur l’identité européenne, regardez l’homme, tout homme et tout l’homme. C’est lui que vous servez, dans son mystère et sa complexité. L’Europe que vous avez à construire sera pour l’homme, dans toutes les dimensions de sa personne, chargé d’une épaisseur historique et culturelle dont la mémoire est, certes, indispensable, mais qui est résolument tourné vers un nouvel humanisme, dans l’idéal de la liberté des individus, de la fraternité des peuples d’Europe et du monde, et dans le respect de toutes les identités, minoritaires ou non, dont notre continent est riche.


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The Council of Europe has embarked on a series of seminars to reflect on European Identity. Father Laurent Mazas, an official of the Pontifical Council for Culture, took part in the first seminar, held in April 2001, on behalf of the Holy See. He gave a talk on the notion of European identity. He begins with a philosophical reflection and links identity with culture. Having indicated the problematic nature of the notion of a European identity, he raises the whole question of its purpose.



Il Consiglio d’Europa ha iniziato una riflessione sull’identità europea attraverso una serie di colloqui. Al Colloquio, tenutosi nell’aprile del 2001, ha partecipato, in rappresentanza della Santa Sede, il P. Laurent Mazas, Officiale del Pontificio Consiglio della Cultura, intervenendo con una relazione sulla nozione d’identità europea. Partendo da una riflessione filosofica e collegando la realtà della cultura con l’identità, presenta la difficoltà della nozione d’identità europea e conclude con la questione della finalità di essa.



El Consejo de Europa ha iniciado una reflexión acerca de la identidad europea a través de una serie de coloquios. En el coloquio realizado en el mes de abril de 2001, ha participado por parte de la Santa Sede, el P. Laurent Mazas, Oficial del Consejo Pontificio de la Cultura, interviniendo con una ponencia acerca del concepto de identidad europea. A partir de la reflexión filosófica y uniendo la realidad de la cultura con su identidad, resalta la dificultad del concepto de identidad europea. Concluye con el asunto de la finalidad de la misma.











Matthieu Ricci, fondateur de l’échange culturel

entre la Chine et l’Occident


Les rencontres les plus déterminantes entre Orient et Occident, et la connaissance de l’Orient de la part de l’Occident, ont commencé avec les voyages des Portugais, à l’époque des grands navigateurs. Mais seule l’arrivée en Chine de la Compagnie de Jésus a fait de l’échange culturel entre la Chine et l’Occident, un événement fondamental. Lorsque Michel Ruggeri, un compagnon de Ricci, retourne en Europe, il revient au Jésuite la primeur d’introduire la culture occidentale dans la classe cultivée chinoise.

Matthieu Ricci a dessiné la « Mappemonde », la première carte géographique mondiale dans l’histoire chinoise. Pour comprendre son influence sur la Chine, il suffit de se rappeler qu’elle a connu douze rééditions. Pour la première fois, cette carte géographique bouleverse de manière définitive, après des millénaires, la mentalité chinoise sur la « division entre l’Empire du Milieu et les Nations étrangères ». Elle élargit la conscience mondiale des Chinois en termes de temps et d’espace, et secoue profondément la conscience cosmologique traditionnelle de la Chine.

Les écrits Principes de géométrie, Mathématiques appliquées, Introductions des dessins, Le théorème de Pythagoras, Les règles de la mesure, traduits par Matthieu Ricci, avec l’aide de Xu Guangqui e de Li Zhizao, introduisent les Chinois dans la science occidentale, dans sa logique, dans sa philosophie sous-jacente. Cette manière de penser a joué une grande influence pour les Chinois à la fin de la dynastie Ming et au début des Qing. La mentalité introduite par Matthieu Ricci et par ses collaborateurs a contribué de manière déterminante à un grand changement.

L’alphabet phonétique (la romanisation des caractères chinois) proposé par Ricci marque le début de l’histoire des alphabets phonétiques chinois, et joue un grand rôle dans la transformation du système de prononciation chinoise vers la phonétique romanisée (tentée et répandue par Mao Tsé Toung). Depuis Mathieu Ricci, tous les missionnaires venus en Chine ont considéré comme importante l’introduction de la science et de la technologie occidentales : les Chinois n’ont commencé à connaître véritablement la culture, la science et la technologie occidentale qu’avec Matthieu Ricci et les jésuites. Grâce leur diffusion, la pensée chinoise a commencé à changer. Naturellement, la science et la technologie introduites par Ricci sont seulement une partie des acquisitions scientifiques de l’Occident. Quoi qu’il en soit, c’est lui qui a introduit l’esprit grec et l’esprit romain de l’Occident, très différents de l’esprit chinois, qui en a été grandement influencé.

Matthieu Ricci a été le pionnier de l’introduction de « la science occidentale en Orient », mais il a été aussi le fondateur de « la science orientale communiquée à l’Occident ». Grâce à ses initiatives et à son travail, la culture chinoise est entrée en Europe. Les. missionnaires arrivés en Chine ont diffusé en Europe la philosophie, les religions, la science, la technologie, les arts chinois, et sont même parvenus à influencer l’Europe du XVIII’ siècle.

La culture chinoise a joué en effet un rôle très important dans le processus évolutif de la culture occidentale moderne. La curiosité, l’amour, la « passion envers la Chine », typique de l’Europe du XVIII’ siècle, ne peuvent être séparés des efforts de Matthieu Ricci et des autres Jésuites.

Actuellement, 400 ans après l’arrivée de Matthieu Ricci à Pékin, la Chine est sur le point d’entrer dans l’Organisation Mondiale du Commerce. Notre commémoration a plus de signification encore, parce que Matthieu Ricci précisément a construit le pont de l’échange culturel entre la Chine et l’Occident ; il a rendu possible la compréhension, la connaissance réciproque entre Chinois et Occidentaux. Il faut apprécier surtout le regard de Matthieu Ricci, juste et sans préjugés, à l’égard de la culture chinoise. Cette attitude très équilibrée entre l’Orient et l’Occident est un patrimoine culturel très important, et est une valeur précieuse pour nous aujourd’hui.



Matthieu Ricci, père des études chinoises en Occident


Avant le Jésuite de Macerata, l’Occident avait connu la Chine, notamment par Marco Polo, au temps de la Dynastie Yuan, et de Mendoza, au temps des grands navigateurs. Marco Polo n’a pas présenté en profondeur la vie spirituelle des Chinois : il regardait la Chine du point de vue d’un marchand vénitien. « L’Histoire de l’Empire chinois » écrite par Mendoza présente la Chine en profondeur, mais, n’ayant jamais vu la Chine, il se fonde sur des récits faits par d’autres (Kelushi et Bolara).

Matthieu Ricci a vécu longuement en Chine et a connu véritablement la civilisation chinoise. Son ouvrage « Histoire de la Mission en Chine » est rempli d’observations, d’études profondes, d’expériences vécues : c’est la première oeuvre qui présente vraiment le Chine en profondeur et dans sa totalité, une oeuvre représentative de toutes les connaissances missionnaires du temps ; et elle a eu pendant longtemps une grande importance en Occident.

Matthieu Ricci a été le premier à traduire en latin l’œuvre classique chinoise des « Quatre Livres » son ouvrage « La vraie doctrine sur Dieu », traduit en français, est publié au XVIII’ siècle en Occident. On y trouve notamment : l’attitude envers la culture chinoise qui sera typique chez les Jésuites, intégrer, unir et compléter le confucianisme. De la sorte, Matthieu Ricci est devenu un exemple pour tous les missionnaires jésuites venus en Chine après lui, spécialistes eux aussi de la culture chinoise pendant plus d’un siècle » Tang Ruowang (Adam Schall von Bell, en Chine durant la période 1622-1666) ; Nan Huairen (Ferdinand Verbiest, 1659-1688) ; Ai Rulue (Giulio Aleni, 1613-1649) ; Bai Yingli (Philippe Couplet, 1659-1692) ; Bai Jin (Joachim Bouvet, 1687-1730) ; Song Junrong (Antoine Gaubil, 1722-1759) ; Feng Bingzheng (J.M.A. de Mailla, 1703-1748) ; Qian Deming (J-M. Amiot, 1750-1793). Ils ont écrit 760 textes de prières et de livres en langue chinoise, un millier de lettres sur la Chine, en plusieurs langues de l’Occident, une centaine de livres sur la culture chinoise. Ces écrits sont la base des études chinoises en Occident.

Le livre « Principes d’Études Chinoises » écrit par le Jésuite Jean Ma en Chine, fut utilisé pour la première fois par le premier professeur des Études Chinoises universitaires en Occident, Le Mushai. L’œuvre des missionnaires n’a jamais été introduite dans les système scolaires comme matière fondamentale, mais elle a toujours été une base solide pour les études chinoises en Occident. On peut dire que sans les efforts de Matthieu Ricci et de ses compagnons jésuites, il n’y aurait pas, aujourd’hui, d’études chinoises spécialisées. Les oeuvres de Matthieu Ricci sont appréciées aujourd’hui encore, au point que sept de ses vingt écrits ont été publiés récemment dans la collection « Complété Collection in Four Treasuries ».

Avec Matthieu Ricci a débuté cette partie d’études sur la culture chinoise, qui est devenue aujourd’hui un canal fondamental pour la connaissance de la Chine par les chercheurs occidentaux. Nous espérons que tous hériteront de cet esprit.


Suan Yuan

(publié en Agence Internationale Fides, No 4183, 19-10-2001, NF 624-625)




Matteo Ricci: the learned Jesuit who knew how to listen and learn


An international seminar organized by the Istituto Vittorio Colombo, Milan, for the development of cultural, economic and political relations with the Peoples’ Republic of China was held at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Wednesday 24th and Thursday, 25th October, 2001 to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Matteo Ricci in China. On the panel of speakers that addressed the near packed Aula Magna were Senator Giulio Andreotti, His Eminence Roger Cardinal Etchegaray and Archbishop Joseph Pittau and a glittering galaxy of Riccian scholars both from mainland China and Italy.

The Seminar was of a high academic level if one were to go by the topics and themes that were treated, among which were: “Matteo Ricci, an exceptional forerunner”, “The cultural and missionary work of Matteo Ricci in China”, “The Present State of Research conducted in China on the personality and work of Ricci”, “The Jesuits as Promoters of Chinese Culture in Europe: new discoveries”. The atmosphere that marked the Seminar was free, frank and friendly.

Matteo Ricci was born in 1592, the very year that St. Francis Xavier was dying at the doors of China on the island of Sancian. It would appear as though the missionary mantle was being passed from one Jesuit to another, both of whom, though so uniquely different, died rather young having burnt themselves in carrying out the missionary mandate of proclaiming the Gospel to the ends of the world. Is it a stroke of Divine Providence that both Xavier and Ricci died with their mission unaccomplished? Xavier did not enter mainland China but died on its shores and Ricci never met the Chinese Emperor. Their “unfinished symphonies” remind us that they have bequeathed to us a mission that we must carry on and that when one journeys on a mission one never really arrives for the more one travels the further does the horizon recede!

Matteo Ricci on reaching Macao, learned much about the Chinese to a degree that made him review his own concept of mission. He thought he had already become Chinese by the way he lived and acted but he realized gradually that, until he had penetrated the Chinese soul right up to its Confucian roots, he was still far from the Chinese people. He therefore delved deep into research which, even from our point of view, would be considered daring and difficult, to face perhaps the most constant challenge of the Church down the centuries: that of inculturating the faith and evangelizing culture. So much had Ricci identified himself with the Chinese people that the Chancellor of the Ming Emperor who conceded the plot for Ricci’s burial stated: “Never has a stranger so noted for learning and virtue set foot in China as the learned Ricci”. No tribute could be more endearing, no eulogy more enduring!

What, one might ask, were some of the elements that made Matteo Ricci such a success? What is it that made him a bridge between China and the West? What was it that helped him in his mission of inculturating the faith and evangelizing Chinese culture?

First and foremost, Ricci remained strong and steadfast in his own faith and tradition. Thanks to his thorough Jesuit formation and his own personal efforts at study and research, Ricci could hold his ground in any dialogue, discussion or debate. Ricci was adept at drawing and designing geographical maps but also proficient and practical in repairing clocks! Dialogue is never a compromise of truth nor an exercise in false irenicism. Truth, unadulterated and unalloyed, is always the foundation of genuine dialogue. While remaining rooted in his own faith and tradition Ricci dared to explore and enter into the religion and traditions of the Chinese people. Ricci was truly a learned missionary. He harnessed all his academic and practical talents  to proclaim the Gospel and, true to his Ignatian motto, worked for the greater glory of God.

But despite his own education and erudition that made him so well equipped in a variety of disciplines, Ricci had the humility and the honesty to listen and to learn. He gave from his own abundance and received in his own poverty. The wise man knows that he does not know; only the fool thinks he knows everything. Ricci’s capacity to listen and to learn gave him the ability not only to be open and have access to the philosophical and ethical treasures of millenary Chinese culture, but also to appreciate and accept the good that he found therein. Culture, being a human product, remains always ambivalent and at times touched with evil. It therefore needs to be purified. Being firmly anchored in truth, Ricci could discern critically the grain from the chaff.

A further trait that marked Ricci’s rapport with the Chinese people and culture was his profound respect and esteem for their traditions. He strove not to alter but to adapt, not to change but to comprehend, not to demolish but to discern. It was this attitude that earned him their respect and regard. A geographically vast country that remained hemmed in and hidden by an impregnable wall and closed to the West became accessible; cultural treasures and traditions that were sealed for centuries now became available. A bridge had been built, an approach had been made. That bridge indeed was Matteo Ricci.

The life and spirit of Matteo Ricci must continue to guide us. He sought no privilege at the court of the Emperor but that of putting at the service of His Majesty his own person and all that he was able to learn about the sciences from the “great West” from which he came. In his Message to the Participants of the Seminar Pope John Paul II underscores the fact that Ricci based his apostolic and scientific methodology on two pillars: Chinese converts to Christianity would in no way have to be less loyal to their own country and that the Christian revelation on the mystery of God, far from destroying, rather valued and completed all that is beautiful and good, right and holy that the ancient Chinese tradition had intuited and transmitted. The first millennium was Europe’s, the second was America’s. Will the third millenium be Asia’s where two-thirds of the human race live – and which with China and India accounts for half the population of the world – where for millions Jesus still remains unknown and unloved? Will the Church, who by her very nature is missionary, in her zeal to bring the Gospel to Asia remember and rediscover the Asian face and features of Christ? Will we in our apostolic effort to evangelize Asia make Christ feel at home in the continent of his birth? The Holy Father’s thought provoking words and these questions provide us with some matter to ponder and pray for.


Mons. Alex Rebello

Official of the Pontifical Council of Culture



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Au cours de l’année commémorative des 400 ans de l’arrivée du Père Matteo Ricci, s.j. (1552-1610) à Pékin, au Palais Impérial, en 1601, de nombreuses manifestations ont été organisées dans de nombreuses régions du monde. Quelques aspects significatifs de l’arrivée de l’éminent père Jésuite à Pékin sont présentés à travers trois brèves réflexions. Le Père Ricci est un précurseur, fondateur et père de l’Église de Chine, pont entre la Chine et la culture de l’Occident.



Father Matteo Ricci s.j. arrived at the Imperial Palace in Beijing in 1601. Numerous events have been organised throughout the world to celebrate the 400th anniversary of this historic moment. Three brief reflections offer some elements of the significance of the arrival of this eminent Jesuit priest in China. Father Ricci is the precursor, founder and father of the Church in China, and he is a bridge between China and Western culture.



A 400 anni dall’arrivo di P. Matteo Ricci SJ (1552-1610) al Palazzo Imperiale di Pechino, nel 1601, vengono organizzate numerose manifestazioni in diverse parti del mondo. Alcuni elementi significativi dell’arrivo dell’eminente padre gesuita in Cina vengono presentati attraverso tre brevi riflessioni. P. Ricci è precursore, fondatore e padre della Chiesa in Cina, ponte tra la Cina e la cultura dell’Occidente.



En el año de la conmemoración de los 400 años de la llegada del P. Matteo Ricci SJ (1552-1610) a Pequín en el Palacio Imperial en 1610, se organizaron varios actos conmemorativos en diversas partes del mundo. Algunos elementos significativos de la llegada del prominente padre jesuita a Pequín, vienen presentadas a través de tres pequeñas reflexiones. El P. Ricci es precursor, fundador y padre de la Iglesia en China, puente entre la China y la Cultura Occidental.




[1] Cf. Conseil Pontifical de la Culture, Pour une pastorale de la culture, n. 10, 23 mai 1999 : « Si les droits de la nation traduisent les exigences de la particularité, il importe aussi de souligner celles de l’universalité, avec les devoirs qui en découlent pour chaque nation envers les autres et toute l’humanité. Le premier de tous est sans nul doute le devoir de vivre dans une volonté de paix, respectueuse et solidaire à l’égard des autres… À l’encontre du nationalisme porteur de mépris, voire d’aversion pour d’autres nations et cultures, le patriotisme est l’amour et le service légitimes, privilégiés, mais non exclusifs, de son propre pays et de sa culture, aussi loin du cosmopolitisme que du nationalisme culturel. Chaque culture est ouverte à l’universel par le meilleur d’elle-même. »

[2] Cf. Conseil Pontifical de la Culture, op. cit. : « Apprendre aux jeunes générations à vivre leur propre identité dans la diversité est une tâche prioritaire dans l’éducation à la culture, d’autant que souvent des groupes de pression ne manquent pas d’utiliser la religion à des fins politiques qui lui sont étrangères ».