The Flag of United European Christendom
|"A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. "
And it is not only in this passage from the Book of Revelation that the number twelve appears as a symbol for completeness and fullness -- although this passage would be enough. We see the number twelve (as also the numbers seven and seventy (-two)) again and again in the Canon used to mean fullness and completeness. We see in Genesis 29-35 the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
In Matthew 10:1-5 we are told: "Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him. Jesus sent out these twelve ..." In 6:70 John records Jesus saying: "Did I not choose you twelve?" Mark 3:13-19 recounts how the Lord called the Twelve, as does Luke 6:13-16. In Acts 1:15, after recounting our Lord's Ascension to His Father, we see a group of brothers gathered in the upper rooms in Jerusalem and here fullness is again with reference to twelve, here appearing as twelve times ten, as one hundred and twenty.
These considerations were not lost on Arsène Heitz and Paul Michel Gabriel Lévy when they conceived and created the now famous and familiar flag of the European Union. Indeed Heitz was explicitly inspired in choosing the twelve golden stars on a blue field by Christian art depicting the Queen of Heaven, the Mother of God with a crown of twelve stars, as was Levy, an ethnically Jewish convert to Christianity. Which thinking Christian will be surprised that the atheist leadership of the current manifestation of the European Union try hard to downplay or deny this Christian heritage?
Given its actual Christian inspirations, the current configuration of the symbol and banner and flag of the European Union is not without its merits. Of course this timid praise is inadequate. If the circular crown of stars is intended to remind all of European Christendom, as all of non-European Christendom and the whole universe, of the examples of holiness and obedience to God's will of the Blessed Queen of Heaven, then of course the symbol of a circular crown of twelve stars could be retained.
Yet as the author of United European Christendom, I am reminded of something I read years ago in G.K. Chesterton's seminal work, Orthodoxy. If I may be permitted an extensive quote from this work, in a discussion of the existence, and maybe nature, of evil as also of insanity, Chesterton writes:
"The man who cannot believe his senses, and the man who cannot believe anything else, are both insane, but their insanity is proved not by any error in their argument, but by the manifest mistake of their whole lives. They have both locked themselves up in two boxes, painted inside with the sun and stars; they are both unable to get out, the one into the health and happiness of heaven, the other even into the health and happiness of the earth. Their position is quite reasonable; nay, in a sense it is infinitely reasonable, just as a threepenny bit is infinitely circular. But there is such a thing as a mean infinity, a base and slavish eternity. It is amusing to notice that many of the moderns, whether sceptics or mystics, have taken as their sign a certain eastern symbol, which is the very symbol of this ultimate nullity. When they wish to represent eternity, they represent it by a serpent with his tail in his mouth. There is a startling sarcasm in the image of that very unsatisfactory meal. The eternity of the material fatalists, the eternity of the eastern pessimists, the eternity of the supercilious theosophists and higher scientists of to-day is, indeed, very well presented by a serpent eating his tail, a degraded animal who destroys even himself."
That the Freemasons may like and widely use this symbol certainly does not undermine Chesterton's arguments and his chosen symbolism.
Christianity has a very different central symbol, and now I will offer another even longer passage from Gilbert Keith's Orthodoxy:
"Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus he believed that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid. The determinist makes the theory of causation quite clear, and then finds that he cannot say "if you please" to the housemaid. The Christian permits free will to remain a sacred mystery; but because of this his relations with the housemaid become of a sparkling and crystal clearness. He puts the seed of dogma in a central darkness; but it branches forth in all directions with abounding natural health. As we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness, we may very well take the cross as the symbol at once of mystery and of health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its centre it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers."
I hope the reader profits from Chesterton's insights, as I hope that I have. The cross would have been chosen as the symbol for the flag of United European Christendom anyway. But perhaps we can remember this invitation to a Christian version of openness and expansiveness.