Pope Pinocchio is at it again. The pontifical proboscis has grown a good two inches over the last week. Pope Francis is telling porkies—“pork pies” is Cockney rhyming slang for “telling lies”. The Holy Father’s intentions are noble—he wants the US to welcome the caravan of migrants who are marching like the prophet Joel’s army of hopping locusts into America’s southern border.
So what if Pope Francis has to tweak the truth a wee bit to attain virtuous goals? His Jesuit maxim Cum finis est licitus, etiam media sunt licita (When the end is lawful the means also are lawful) should provide him the license to rewrite history and reinterpret biblical theology. Or as the Roman poet Ovid puts it more pithily: Exitus acta probat (the outcome justifies the deed)—never mind pork pies or Pinocchio’s protruding schnoz.
Migration is one of the pet themes of Francis’ pontificate. Alongside his Spielberg-like warnings about climate change, “rarely does a day go by that the pope does not speak to the issue of immigration”. Migrants today are “ignored, exploited, raped and abused before the guilty silence of many,” Pope Francis said in his address to the World Social Forum on Migrations last Friday, evading the high rate of sexual assault committed mostly by Muslim migrant men in Europe.
Is Pope Francis unaware of the contagion of rapes by migrants, spreading to every one of Germany’s sixteen federal states in 2016? Even Die Welt was forced to finally admit that the suppression of data about migrant criminality was a “German-wide phenomenon”. In 2009, Norway police said that immigrants from non-Western backgrounds were responsible for “all reported rapes” in Oslo. The Swedes began canceling music festivals not because Abba went on strike, but because of the epidemic levels of sexual assaults by migrant men.
But this is papal spin, not one of Pope Francis’ big lies. Last Monday, the Holy Father told a delegation of Scalabrini missionaries at the Vatican, that migrants were responsible for the birth and building of Europe. “Migrants build a country; this is how they built Europe. Europe was not born this way, Europe has been made by many waves of migration over the centuries,” Francis said.
The Pope isn’t infallible when addressing migration or history! So how does Francis make a claim that can only be maintained by a complete distortion and rewriting of history? Not even the most regressive leftwing historians would advance such an outrageous proposition. Non-European migrants did not build Europe.
Three hundred years ago Western Europe was a sparsely populated rural society in which the vast majority of people inhabited small villages, notes Leslie Page Moch in her monograph Moving Europeans: Migration in Western Europe Since 1650. Britain retained an extraordinarily static population throughout most of its history and during the first millennium, notes Douglas Murray in The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam.
Moch divides her study into four epochs. First, in pre-industrial Europe (1650-1750), migration was part of rural routines as people sought work in agriculture across the countryside or moved to marry, buy land or inhabit cities. Second, in the period of rural industry (1750-1815), people migrated to industrial villages and small towns. Third, in the premier age of urbanization (1815-1914), the move was towards an urban labor force. Fourth, following a pause in migration during the world wars, migrants from areas of the Mediterranean basin and former European colonies came to fill Europe’s industries because of an economic boom and demographic stagnation (1914-present).
By this era, Europe, as we understand it culturally and economically, had already been built—in fact, following the world wars it was poised towards decline. As a matter of course, during the third period of Moch’s research, Europeans from Portugal, Scandinavia, Britain, Italy, Poland, and Germany, migrated to find work in North and South America. This overlaps with the age of colonialism—where, it may be argued, European migrants to Asia, Africa, and the Americas built those countries and contributed to their modernization.
Non-European migrants did not build Europe! Rather, European migrants built the rest of the world. Such a claim is instantly rubbished as racist or Eurocentric. But if Europe weren’t “superior” Europeans wouldn’t be successfully colonizing half the world and non-Europeans (post-1961) wouldn’t be flocking to Europe as migrants to seek a better life!
Who, then, built Europe? What contributed to the technological and political superiority of Europe—resulting in science, inventions, democracy, capitalism, human rights and the concept of nationhood? Ideas, not migrants, built Europe. It is not geographical location as a continent that defines Europe; it is cultural space that defines Europe as an idea.
The Greeks invented Europe—with their penchant for dividing the world into ecumene, the known world, and the anecumene, the unknown world. With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Church preserved Greco-Roman legacy and European civilization became identified with Christendom. Hence, scholars view Europe as the ideal synthesis between Athens and Jerusalem—the European idea germinating from the cross-fertilization between Greco-Roman philosophy, polity and law and the Judeo-Christian meta-narrative of history and its moral code of ethical monotheism, followed by the Renaissance, Reformation and the Enlightenment.
Of course, one of the most seminal ideas that built Europe was Asian—the Hebrew Bible and Jesus of Nazareth are Asian, not European. “Christianity was to provide Europe with much of its subsequent sense of both internal cohesion and its relationship with the rest of the world, and Christianity began as an Asian religion,” writes historian Anthony Padgen.
Even someone like Mikhail Gorbachev who quietly dropped Christianity from its pivotal position in Europe, happily agreed that “‘Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals’ is a cultural-historical entity united by the common heritage of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, of the great philosophical and social teachings of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries”—not created by migrants.
Leftwing historians like Gerard Delanty following the British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm would like us to believe that Europe is a “contested concept” with “no coherent idea” running through its history and hence “it is not possible to see European history as the progressive embodiment of a great unifying idea”—a proposition Pope Francis would willingly embrace.
But even Delanty in his book Inventing Europe: Idea, Identity, Reality, concedes to the widespread consensus today that the cultural foundation of Europe is deeply rooted in Latin Christendom, humanist values and liberal democracy. Does Pope Francis not recognize that mass migration from Islamic regions of the world to Europe is a threat to these very values that make Europe an open door to those who are genuinely fleeing persecution and seeking asylum?
Pope Francis not only rewrites history; he also distorts the biblical theology of “welcoming the stranger”. In his off-the-cuff remarks Francis pontificates: “You have to teach others how to welcome the stranger and give all the possibilities to the nations that have everything or enough to welcome foreigners. I am very struck by God’s Word: already in the Old Testament it underscored this, welcoming the stranger, ‘remember that you too were once a stranger.’”
Francis is partly right. The Jewish sages noted that on only one occasion does the Hebrew Bible command us to love our neighbor, but in thirty-seven places it commands us to love the stranger. However, in the same biblical texts, the stranger is also enjoined to observe moral and ceremonial Israelite laws. The Torah commands “one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you” thus rejecting any form of religious pluralism or multiculturalism.
According to the Mosaic Law, “For the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you” (Numbers 15:15). The word “assembly” (qahal) is significant here because it indicates acceptance within the congregation of Israel’s God. Indeed the entire logic of the law regarding the stranger is to draw him more and more into the Israelite community leading to full membership and full religious communion with Israel, notes Thomas Horner.
“For one can be a sojourner only so long; then he must move on to a new place or a new relationship,” Horner writes. Nowhere does the Old Testament envisage mass migration into Israel’s borders. Indeed, any dislocation or displacement of a population on a mass scale is regarded as God’s judgment—as in Israel’s exile to Assyria and Babylon. It is God who brings massed populations of Assyrians and Philistines from their ancestral homelands to places from which they could harass Israel.
“Migration often stands for dispossession, a loss of patrimony or habitat. Adam loses Eden, Cain loses the security of the group, Israel loses land, kingdom, and temple. In all these cases, migration is punitive, the result of wrongdoing, leading to dislocation and deprivation,” writes missiologist Andrew Walls. So from a more comprehensive reading of the Bible, will Pope Francis tell us whether God is punishing migrants by dislocating them from their homes? Or is God punishing Europe by displacing the native and replacing the European with the stranger?
Whatever the papal response to the historical and theological conundrum of migration, Pope Francis displacing the truth with good intentions will help neither Europe nor the migrants. It was Saint Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote (ca 1150), “L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou desires” (hell is full of good intentions or desires).