Saturday, May 28, 2011

Benedict and Kirill: The Future of Europe

We have often heard the voice of Pope Benedict XVI on the importance of a transcendent, Divine foundation for the objective guarantee and constructive force of human rights and human dignity.

In presenting this message to 21st century Europe, however, Benedict has a vitally important collaborator a couple of thousand miles east of Rome. The Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill I, has expressed similar observations from his own distinctly Russian perspective.

Today I finally received my copy of Freedom and Responsibility: A Search for Harmony--Human Rights and Personal Dignity, a collection of addresses published by the Moscow Patriarchate in cooperation with the British publishing house of Darton, Longman, and Todd. This book is not yet available in the U.S., which meant paying a little more for postage and ordering it from But it was worth it.

Kirill's approach is open, clear, direct, and refreshing. He testifies to the perpetual validity of the Christian view of the human being, drawing on the Church Fathers and on Russia's unique experience in the 20th century. It lends particular weight to his words on the dictatorship of relativism:

For the believer who is aware of the problem of the self-determination of the will [in light of the Fall and the human person's need for redemption], the claim that moral anthropo- centrism is a universal principle that should regulate social and personal activity gives cause for doubt. Conscience is an important criterion that helps distinguish between good and evil. It is not by chance that folk wisdom calls the conscience the voice of God, for the moral law placed by God into human nature is known in the voice of conscience. But the voice of conscience can be stifled by sin. Therefore, when making moral choices one must also be guided by external criteria, above all by the commandments given by God....

Unfortunately, today the absolutisation of the State characteristic of modernity is being replaced by the absolutisation of the sovereignty of the individual and his rights without moral responsibility. This absolutisation can destroy the foundations of modern civilisation and lead to its downfall.... Humankind cannot live outside a moral context. No laws can help us keep society viable or put an end to corruption, the misuse of power, the break-up of the family, the abandoning of children, the reduction of the birthrate, the destruction of nature, militant nationalism, xenophobia or the mockery of religious sentiments....

No one contests that a society in which the individual is disdained, in which the State and the collective possess all rights over the person, is unstable and inhumane. But societies in which human rights become an instrument for the emancipation of the instincts, in which the notions of good and evil are confused and driven out by the idea of moral autonomy and pluralism, become equally inhumane. Such societies lose their mechanisms of moral influence on the personality. In civilised society--let us call it so--the balance between these polarities must be maintained. It should base itself on the understanding that each person by nature possesses unchanging value, and at the same time that everyone is called on to grow in dignity and bear civic responsibility before the law and moral responsibility for his actions.

Freedom and Responsibility, pp. 63-65 (my emphasis)