Father John Saward ponders the worrisome state of Europe and speaks, with hope, of Europe’s Return to the Fathers. “The faith that comes to us from the apostles passes perpetually, as St Athanasius says, ‘from fathers to fathers’. Now, among our past fathers-in-God, the saintly and orthodox doctors of the early Church (most of whom were bishops) have a special status and authority. Every succeeding generation in the Church refreshes itself at the fount of their teaching and measures itself by the standard of their lives. The fatherhood of the Church Fathers radiates the light of the Gospel unfailingly.”
The Fathers of the Church are the Fathers of Europe. In the first millennium, they gave our continent its Christian birth; at the dawn of the third Millennium, they can aid its re-birth. They ‘inculturated’ the faith, in Greco-Roman antiquity; they can guide us in re-evangelizing the Europe of post-modernity. They are of special encouragement to those who, with Pope John Paul II, seek new bonds of Christian solidarity between East and West, for in the Patristic age the Church still breathed fully with her two lungs. We cannot pretend that there were not, even then, many cases of cultural incomprehension and in the end an apparently unstoppable drift towards estrangement. But equally we must not obscure, we should take heart from, the innumerable examples of lived Catholic communion. Let me cite one. In the second century, St Irenaeus, a Greek from Smyrna, ministered as priest and bishop in Lyons, among the Celts of Gaul. In the far West he heard preached, and himself preached, the same apostolic creed he had received from Polycarp in the East. The one Church of Christ, says Irenaeus, ‘even though dispersed throughout the whole world’, holds in all the places one and the same faith, ‘as though having only one soul and one heart’. And what is the visible principle of this unity and orthodoxy? The succession of bishops from the apostles and the accord of the local Churches with ‘the very great and very ancient Church, known to all, which the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul founded and established at Rome’.