Joseph Weiler.

The True Battlefield

He is one of the greatest jurists in the world, and among those who know Europe best. We asked him to compare himself with the interpretation of modernity as presented by Fr. Julián Carrón.
Luca Fiore

I n 2010, he defended Italy before the European Court of Human Rights against those who were asking for the removal of crucifixes from schools. He did so wearing the kippah. He is Joseph H. H.Weiler: a NewYorker, born in South Africa in 1951, the major American expert in European Law, the President of the European University Institute in Florence, and university professor and Director of The Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law & Justice and The Jean Monnet Center for International and Regional Economic Law & Justice at NYU School of Law.His knowledge of European treaties is equal to his knowledge of the Torah, and this says it all. Mr. Weiler read Fr. Julián Carrón’s presentation of the CL document issued in light of the European elections. Furthermore, he participated on a panel discussion, on May 15th , at the Cultural Center in Milan. The priest from Spain and the Jew from NewYork are separated by more than a geographical ocean, and yet the consonance of their thought runs deep and beyond all expectations.

Person, work, progress, freedom: these are all words that are continually losing their original meaning. Why is that?
It is a difficult question, because sometimes the “original meaning”is unclear and in some cases it has a tremendous meaning. Think about the concept of “person” that did not include slaves. Even in the Bible, women were not considered as subjects in the Sinairevelation. Believers don’t have to base the value of their Weltanschauung [worldview] on the “original meaning,” but on a concept of the world in which the person is humble and understands the limits of the human condition–a theocentric, not an anthropocentric, conception. It is in this sense that the concepts of person, work, and freedom become different.

Joseph Ratzinger said that the illuminist attempt to mold society by separating it from the idea of God has failed. Do you agree?
Pope Ratzinger’s thought is much more refined.In any case, the failure is the result of incorrect, at times even suppositional interpretations of Illuminism. We do not need to be equally suppositional. We do not have a monopoly on the idea of good society. We have a different concept of holiness, one that values laborious research, almost always imperfect and destined to fail.Let us always remember the words of the prophet Micah: “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: only to do right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Fr. Carrón affirms that the road to regain the foundations of Christian society is neither through a confessional state nor through a Europe based on Christian laws but through witnessing to the suitableness of a Christian life.What do you think?
These are lapidary words, a fundamental teaching; God smiled with satisfaction while listening to them.

In the face of the debate about the “new rights,” we are witnessing a strange mix of fascination and aversion.Why is this? What is at the source of these new petitions?
The problem does not lie with the request for new rights, some good and others questionable, but with a culture in which the belief in duty and personal responsibility has been lost. I’m referring to the culture of virtue shared by Aristotle, Thomas of Aquinas, and Maimonides.However, if you allow me, it seems to me that this question is tied to a way of thinking that is unable to free itself from the dictatorship of politics. Surely politics are very important and should not be neglected, but let us not allow them to colonize our soul.

In what sense?
To give in to the logic that sees the rights as the battleground and gaining one more right is the war to be fought. Instead, the real battleground is the human and personal responsibility toward the other person; to give and not to have. Read Chapter 18 of Leviticus: forget about ritual aspects; concentrate on moral normativity. You will see a society founded on justice, solidarity, and social conscience. You will notice something interesting: they are all contemporary values, but they are based on responsibility and duty and not on rights.Does it make us think? Our contribution to contemporary thought cannot be limited to obtaining one more or one less right.

Fr. Carrón says that we cannot be misled to believe that the desire to succeed, at the root of those in favor or against the “new rights,” can be satisfied at the legislative level. It is necessary, he says, citing Msgr. Giussani, to deepen the nature of the subject. What does this means for you? That we would be truly poor if we thought that every normativity of values had to be ruled by law.We would be really foolish.

Is there a need to go deeper into the nature of the subject?
I’m modest; it is enough for me that we become adults.

What do you mean?
That, although they are important, human law, the right and the rights, must again become a modest part of the human condition and of the relationship among people.

Cesare Pavese said, “What man seeks in pleasures is an infinite, and nobody would ever give up on the hope to attain this infinity.” Yet experience tells us that desire dozes off. What reawakens in you the desire for this infinite?
Surely it depends on the type of desire. I would suggest that you go and read again the book of Psalms and also the beautiful book, Poesia dell’uomo e di Dio (Poetry of Men and of God), the poetic version of the Psalms by Davide Rondoni, and you will understand why the question you asked is poorly posed. Personally, I do not search for the infinite: daily life is a sufficient challenge. To spend a day without a lie, without any embarrassment in front of God, is more important to me than all the imaginable infinites. Sadly, I have had very few days like this. What is my desire? Let us make an exchange: you give me 20 days of my life without embarrassment in front of God and I let you have the infinite. For me, it would be a good deal….

Even your desire to please God isincomplete, infinite. Am I wrong? Perhaps we are saying something not so different. What helps you to retain the desire to avoid embarrassment in front of God?
Oh, well, you have understood everything. Yet even the way things are done is important.I like Saul’s road a lot: he went to look for donkeys, and without wanting to, he found the Kingdom... But notice: what he was looking for were donkeys!

Can politics alone defend religious liberty?
As far as the exterior elements are concerned, which are very important, yes. The internal element, however, depends on the human conscience, especially the interiorization of the sovereign possibility to say no to God. Only this interiorization guarantees a true yes. A child doesn’t know that he can say yes or no to his parents. The parents await the moment in which their children rebel against them because, after that moment, when they will adhere to what the parents have told them, they will do it in a truly freeway.

How can Europe become a free meeting space for those searching for truth? Europe already offers this possibility. That encounter will take place when the believers stop being embarrassed by their creed and when more people stop deluding themselves, as Fr Carrón suggests, that the way would be to return to a confessional state or to a Europe based on Christian laws. The problem with European believers is that they are not yet used to being a minority and to having to defend their creed daily.