Saints Cyril and Methodius as Co-Patrons of Europe

Saints Cyril and Methodius as Co-Patrons of Europe

“The heirs of Benedictine monasticism had saved the culture of Western Europe during the dark ages; Cyril and Methodius had created the possibility of an enduring culture in east central Europe.” George Weigel, Witness to Hope, p. 408

Weigel explains that Pope John Paul II named Cyril and Methodius as co-patrons of Europe in an apostolic letter Egregiae Virtutis (1981); some in the West thought this but a “pleasant but inconsequential papal gesture of Slavic fraternity.” But the figures of Cyril and Methodius served the Pope in highlighting the spiritual and religious basis of culture during the crisis of Solidarity; and in 1985 he returned to the figure of Methodius to confront the communist crackdown in Czechoslovakia. The regime refused him a visa to attend a celebration of the 1,100 year anniversary of Methodius. So John Paul wrote a letter to the priests of Czechoslovakia to secure these lessons from the life of Methodius: i. courage to accept history and humility before divine providence; ii. the religious character and mission of the priest; iii. responsibility for choices in history (Weigel, pp. 500-501).

Further, to establish the model of Cyril and Methodius for the universal Church, Pope John Paul II devoted his fourth encyclical to their witness, The Apostle of the Slavs (1985)[find it here]. He summarizes their lives and achievements in the first two sections.

The brothers were Byzantine in culture, obedient to the Roman pontiff, and immersed in the slavic culture. They are signs of Christian unity and models for evangelization. They embody the very thing called for by Vatican II — a new evangelization characterized in Lumen gentium (§13) as follows: “The Church or People of God takes nothing away from the temporal welfare of any people by establishing that kingdom. Rather does she foster and take to herself, insofar as they are good, the abilities, resources, and customs of each people. Taking them to herself she purifies, strengthens, and enobles them.”

Thus, the brothers ennobled the slavic culture; they had to argue for the use of slavic language against those who would impose either latin or Greek on the Church — “The Gospel does not lead to the impoverishment or extinction of those things which every individual, people and nation and every culture throughout history recognizes and brings into being as goodness, truth and beauty. On the contrary, it strives to assimilate and to develop all these values: to live them with magnanimity and joy and to perfect them by the mysterious and ennobling light of Revelation.” (§18)

The unity of the Church, John Paul II claims, is not static and not uniform. It embraces a true diversity and richness of cultures (purified, strengthened, ennobled).

There is a dynamic, forward looking quality to Cyril and Methodius. “Being Christians in our day means being builders of communion in the Church and in society. This calls for openness to others, mutual understanding, and readiness to cooperate through the generous exchange of cultural and spiritual resources.” (§27) In their dialogue and openness, Cyril and Methodius did not abandon their commitment to orthodoxy nor did they forsake their loyalty to Rome.

The goal of the common Christian vision is the city of God, integral Christian humanism, or the civilization of love. John Paul II ends his letter with this prayer to the communion of saints:

 The future! However much it may humanly speaking seem filled with threats and uncertainties, we trustfully place it in your hands, Heavenly Father, invoking upon it the intercession of the Mother of your Son and Mother of the Church, the intercession of your Apostles Peter and Paul, and of Saints Benedict, Cyril and Methodius, of Augustine and Boniface and all the other evangelizers of Europe who, strong in faith, hope and charity, proclaimed to our fathers your salvation and your peace, and amid the toils of the spiritual sowing began to build the civilization of love and the new order based on your holy law and the help of your grace, which at the end of the age will give life to all things and all people in the heavenly Jerusalem. Amen! (§32)

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