One of Cicero’s famous sayings defines history as a thing ‘which bears witness to the passing of the ages, sheds light upon reality, gives life to recollection and guidance to human existence, and brings tidings of ancient days’ (De Oratore II, 9, 36). And it is precisely the witness of history that shows us how the ancient peoples lived, with their cultures given to idolatry, slavery and even human sacrifice. Christ changed all of this by bringing the light of the truth and the law of the Gospel; he gave his disciples the mandate to preach to all nations and to transform the face of the earth. They were to lead all to live by God’s precepts, in his grace, and in fraternal charity. Saint Paul, a paradigm in so many areas, heeded the Saviors bidding and also became a paradigm of respect for all cultures. He sought to purify them of error, and perfect their qualities. With the Greeks he spoke Greek, and preached in the Areopagus of Athens of an ‘Unknown God’ (Acts 17:23); as a Roman citizen (cf. Acts 16:37; 22:25, 27), he understood this people’s jurisprudential leaning, and spoke to them of the Law in legal terms, (cf. Rom 7:1). As a free man, he made himself a slave with the slaves; a Jew with the Jews, he made himself weak with the weak, to win them over: ‘I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it’ (1Cor 9:22–23). As Benedict XVI points out, being the Apostle to the Gentiles, he is even a prototype of the universality of the Church: ‘Paul thus appears to be at the intersection between three different cultures – Roman, Greek and Jewish – and perhaps partly because of this was disposed for fruitful universalistic openness, for a mediation between cultures, for true universality’ (Benedict XVI, General Audience, August 27, 2008).
Which is to say, history bears witness to the fruits of the Pauline apostolate, and that of the other apostles and disciples, in the flourishing of Christian civilization. This civilization, far from “falling into a needless hallowing of our own culture,” has marked, with an array of benefits, the most varied peoples, in their multiform distinctiveness – especially in Europe and all lands receptive to its Christian influence. ‘The history of Europe shows how, at different times, there were institutions that created culture, in a fruitful synthesis of Christianity and humanism. It is sufficient to think of the role of the Benedictine monasteries and the Universities which sprung up everywhere in Europe, from Paris to Oxford, from Bologna to Krakow, from Prague to Salamanca. The institution of the family, since it is called in the salvific plan of God to be the original and first institution of education, should always reinforce its presence in these institutions that are creators of true culture’ (John Paul II. Address to the participants of the Symposium on the Family Apostolate in Europe, November 26, 1982).
And we must not overlook the ‘flowing benefits of charity,’ as Pius XII terms the emergence of such institutions as ‘hospitals, orphanages, Orders for the ransom of slaves, for the defense of pilgrims, houses for women at risk, associations to visit and console prisoners, and in more recent times, leprosariums, institutions for aiding the poor elderly, the blind, the deaf–mute, immigrants, children of prisoners, the mutilated; which are all, together with the names of their founders and associates, among the precious pearls which adorn the Mystical Body of Christ’ (Pius XII. Allocution to the delegates of the Italian National Congress of the Societies of Charity, April 22, 1952: AAS 54, 1952, p.468–469).
Clearly, then, faith is far from being fanaticism or an obstacle; it is a fruitful force behind the creation of cultural.
Enter the various parts of our study
II – Catholics must love, conserve and develop the cultural aspects which are born of the practice of the true Religion, and avoid losing them in the dialogue with non-Christian cultures
III – Europe is where the Cristian faith, received in baptism, most flourished. Thus, the Catholic culture it engendered is rooted in the Gospel. It is not exclusive, but exemplary