“On Europe’s Christian Heritage” – An Excerpt

By Alexandru Paleologu

[…] Huntington is what you call a politologist. […] I wouldn’t give any job to a politologist, because this is the type of person who thinks that they can philosophize without an entire philosophical basis. A politologist is a specialist who lacks width of vision and does not know how to connect things that only seem to be outside of his expertise.

Huntington’s idea – that the Carpathians could become a fracture line that will lead to inevitable conflicts (since the Western world stops at the Carpathian line, and beyond it, the Slavic-Orthodox one begins) starts from ignoring some actual facts. Only Russia, Bulgaria, and Serbia are Slavic-Orthodox. Greeks and Romanians are not Slavs. There is – it is true – a Slavic background among the Romanians, too, which it would be absurd to deny. Whoever denies it is just as passion-driven as the ones who at some point held that we were entirely Slavic. The Romanian people has some interesting “precedents”: the Cumans, the Pechenegs, the Slavs – in addition to its Latin background and perhaps, the Greek-Latin one, too.

What I would like to point out is a text with a very beautiful title (and obviously, a valuable content, too) by [*Romanian historian] Pârvan, called „Thoughts about the World and the Life of the Greek-Romans on the Left Bank of the Pontus” [*the Black Sea]. It sketches the original structure of a civilization that started from what Europe consists of essentially, nowadays. In the articles I wrote and lectures I held in France I always stated that Europe did not exist before Christianity. Ancient Greece and the Roman world were not Europe. They were an Asian-Mediterranean world. Europe’s formation starts with Christianity. The three strata that Valéry lists when he defines the notion of “European” – the spirit of the Greek thinking, the Roman hallmark, and Christianity – are true. However, Christianity is the element that has triggered the “leap” from the two ancient variants, to Europe. Europe has a tradition of thinking, a way of thinking, a tradition in its culture that have been deeply marked by Christianity, no matter if an European today is Christian or not, or whether he is Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant – that is completely irrelevant.

* * *

To fail to look at the Christian world as a whole, regardless of its diversity – which isn’t that big, after all – means to be completely short-sighted and to fail to see the world and life for what they really are. There can be no “fracture lines” and civilization clashes in the Christian world. That we, the Orthodox, are “lazy” – as some Protestant activists call us, whose sole criterion is the ethics of work (by the way, it’s the wrong criterion) – is an “accusation” that proves a completely erroneous view. What is manifest within our culture is an awareness of relativity and obsoleteness of external action. There are achievements in our world, too. Not all the 15th-16th century buildings were left standing, because of the Tatar invasions and the Turkish pressure, which prevented people to lay the basis for productive capital. We even had a form of Renaissance, which corresponded to the Italian one. Local voivodes like Petru Rareş, Lăpuşneanu, and other rulers were Renaissance princes, while the architecture and mural paintings of Moldavia and Wallachia are Renaissance products.

We have never been a barbaric country. We had buildings, we had a tremendous theological and sapiential culture in the 18th century, which we do not know today – and we had a subtlety, a certain flexibility and flavour of the spirit that were “inoculated” to us – especially here, in Wallachia – through the Balkan inductions. We are not Balkan (because we are North-Danubian), but we owe the Balkans personalities such as Anton Pann, Nicolae Filimon, Ion Ghica, Caragiale (father and son), Ion Barbu, and Arghezi. And that’s not a small thing.

We owe the Balkans this spirit which is cosmopolitan and slightly pragmatic at the same time, the sense of irony, the quality of our humour, and the way in which we bear misfortune. Let us not forget that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were Balkan. The authors of the ancient tragedies were Balkan, too. The creators of Euclidian geometry were also Balkan. At the time when the civilization where we, the Orthodox, come from – which includes both the Byzantine and the Kievian one (because people always tend to forget Kiev and Novgorod) – were thriving, the West was barbaric. King Robert I of France was very proud to be able to take a Kievian princess as his spouse. It was from the Byzantines that the Westerners first learnt how to use the fork and the knife at table.

I think this Western sufficiency and their ignorance about the East needs a little “shaking up”. And this is where I get back to Huntington’s “regional strategies” and to that lamentable Richard Schiffer’s quality [as an analyst], who have no idea what Europe is about and yet they want to give it lessons.

The West without Eastern Europe is a crippled Europe. Instead of conceiving a whole Europe, with its two stylistic “mountain slopes”, just as it was until the Ottoman invasion, [Western Europeans] indulge in such arbitrary speculation. For a century and a half, we were left amidst an oriental lifestyle, which was however countered by the French culture, brought in right from Constantinople by the sons of our boyars and princes. Just as during that time, the Moldavian and Wallachian boyars’ eyes were set towards France and the illuminist ideas, so during the fifty years of communism later on – which here, in Romania, included fourteen years of armed anti-communist resistance (and no one in this Eastern part of Europe said better than us: “Better dead that communist!”), people spent heavy years of prison for such “things” as Plato, Dante, or the French language. Therefore, we should receive the arrogance and sufficient and superior look that the West casts upon us with a certain indulgence, a polite contempt, and the tolerance of the teacher who gently teaches the ignorant ones what they should know.

Excerpt from „Despre moştenirea creştină a Europei” (“On Europe’s Christian Heritage”)

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