The Spe Salvi Institute Manifesto
Christian Hope in Europe for the Life of the World
A cloud is overshadowing the West — a cloud of despair. Even the believing Christian lives below it in a metaphysical desert, with faith banished to the secrecy of feelings and opinions, and evangelism as a genre of marketing. Meanwhile, the words “culture” and “community” refer not to unifying forces amid disparate groups, but as niche identity markers. Instead of scholars and artisans, we have experts and workers.
Western people are paradoxically too busy and too bored for contemplation. In our material comfort, we ignore the question of whether there is something beyond our everyday lives, and we live in the de facto reality of Roxy Music’s lyrics: “More than this? No, there’s nothing.” Such melancholia is more than psychological, and its effects are more pervasive than individual mental health. The West now has the bearing of a century-old génération perdue. We have failed to strategize for the “lost cause” of the West – a collective intellectual effort that that T.S. Eliot described on the eve of World War II in his seminal essay, “The Idea of a Christian Society,” as requiring “the attention of many minds for several generations.”
Moreover, despite purported widespread fears about the end of the world (nuclear annihilation, climate change, chronic infertility, biological warfare, pandemic illnesses, etc…), death has become trivialized because of our ignorance. People in the modern West avoid real discussions of death as something that will happen to each of us – and therefore as the focal point of what we are living for. As the French poet Charles Péguy wrote, “Whereas the Christian prepares himself for death, modern man prepares for retirement.” In his book Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, Joseph Ratzinger noticed the “bourgeois taboo” in which “death is rendered banal.” In response, he called the modern world to remember, “Death becomes the key to the question: What really is man?”
What really is man today?
Over the last century, destructive, false-messianic ideologies have taken the place of Christian hope across Europe, North America, and by extension, throughout the world. Man’s destiny in Christ has accordingly been obscured and if not completely forgotten. Today's mixture of consumerist capitalism and social progressivism offers what Pope Benedict XVI described as merely “greater and lesser hopes” in his encyclical Spe Salvi, to which this Institute pays tribute in its name. Our late pontiff explained, “these [greater and lesser hopes] are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything.” It is this great hope for union with Christ who reigns over creation, that Christians are still called to proclaim as Good News not just for individuals, but for societies.
From almost the earliest days of Christianity, the continent and peoples of Europe have been the stewards of hope, the great gift of our heavenly sovereign. It is no accident that Saints Peter and Paul were called to Europe to be the vanguard of paganism’s demise and to serve as the founding fathers of Christendom. Since then, even amid official versions of secularism, a “Christian mark,” as Pierre Manent calls it, has remained constantly visible throughout the European continent, inviting rediscovery and refreshment.
Moreover, as Rémi Brague notes in his important study Eccentric Culture, it may be that geographical non-Europeans may now be in a unique position “to become more European than those who believe themselves to be European,” appreciating the continent’s ancient but still outward-looking Christian identity. Although by God’s providence the Christian faith has taken hold in every corner of the earth, we believe that the old European beacon of Christ’s light must continue to shine forth as a signal of the triumph of Christ’s reign everywhere. Christianity and Europe are absolutely inextricable.
Just before the catastrophe of World War I, the aforementioned Charles Péguy published a long poem called The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, which is a profound mystical meditation on his native France. He frequently returned to the refrain “France must, Christianity must go on.” Throughout his meditation, Péguy proposes hope as the engine of motion towards his nation’s and every human life’s purpose. Hope comes as a surprise, often overlooked – as a little girl upholding her two older sisters, Faith and Charity. Péguy explains that despite her diminutive stature, Hope guides the other, larger virtues, thereby teaching us that growth in this smaller theological virtue can move us away from that cloud of despair over our heads today, revealing a surprising reversal of fortune: A new Christian humanism, a renewal of virtuous individuals, and the rebuilding of Christian society on the Christ-marked stones of European civilization of days past.
The great tradition of European art to which Péguy belongs bears the light of Christ across the centuries, pointing to hope amid the complexity of modern problems. The European tradition also prioritizes the mystical rose, Mary, whom Dante describes as the “living font of hope” (Paradiso, XXXIII, 12). Like Dante, Péguy venerated Mary as “an exultation of the temporal by the eternal, and a glorification of the flesh by the spirit.” Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, concludes by looking to Mary, “the sign of created hope and solace to the wandering people of God.”
The Angel Gabriel told Mary, “With God nothing will be impossible;” but also, Simeon prophesied over her that “a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” Mary is therefore our intellectual guide, helping us not to confuse hope with optimism. We are not naive about the problems of secularism, Islamism, mass migration, gender confusion, and all manner of ideological fanaticism to be mourned and resisted. Winsomeness is no match for the Enemies of Truth.
Rather, as much of European culture developed around the cult of Mary, hope is in the foundation of Europe as well; and this hope is dynamic while at the same time sober. When Péguy made a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Chartres he declared, “Our Lady saved me from despair.” Likewise, although Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned in 2019, we take courage that this great edifice of Christian hope rises again.
Modern European art may be a surprising source of hope too, and cinema is its highest expression. The best of European films from the silent period through the auteur era right into arthouse avant-garde provide powerful encounters with the human condition, and these encounters strike us as beautiful, inciting us to return to the deep sources of experience where we may find something like religious ecstasy. As Pope Benedict XVI explained in a meeting with artists in the Sistine Chapel in 2009, genuine beauty “gives man a healthy shock,” as it “reawakens him, opening afresh the eyes of his heart and mind, giving him wings, carrying him aloft.”
Whereas much popular American entertainment diverts us from reality, European cinema tends to invite us into the depth of the human experience as ensouled, rational subjects. In this way, even the most provocative, complex, or ambiguous art may have a prayerful quality, reflecting a fundamental orientation towards things from above. Putting aside the purely abstract, the best of modern cinema, painting, poetry, and other art forms, even by “secular” artists, have an almost unrivaled potential to enthuse an audience and inspire real hope. An ideal film, for example any one of the entries on the Vatican Film List of 1995, has a way of at least sprinkling the desert in which modern man wanders.
The Spe Salvi Institute’s founders, Bobby Mixa and Andrew Petiprin, are both Americans who believe that celebrating the enduring Christian character of modern Europe will bear fruit for the renewal of Christian society in the New World as well.
Green is the color of the Institute because it is the color of hope and new life. Green is also associated with the great celebrations of hope: the Annunciation and Easter.
Charles Péguy (1873-1914), a poet of hope, is the patron of the Institute. He was killed in the first days of World War I; but just before his death, he was on his own journey into the heart of faith, making a pilgrimage to Chartres to adore Mary, the Mother of God. Despite the gathering gloom on his native continent, Péguy came home transformed, trusting in God. In the spirit of Péguy, as if with him on pilgrimage and in the expectation of his prayers, the Spe Salvi Institute carries out its work. Naturally, we seek the intercession of Pope Benedict XVI as well, confident that his intellectual and spiritual legacy will continue to grow by our modest contribution to promoting it.
Summits of Hope: Immersive Experiences
The Spe Salvi Institute’s approach begins with organizing immersive experiences in European cities built for human flourishing; e.g. Krakow, Vienna, Rome, Lyon, and Oxford. These events will bring together distinguished scholars, professional commentators, passionate amateurs, and curious pilgrims who are committed to conserving and rediscovering the intellectual depths of the faith as expressed in European art, literature, philosophy, and leisure pursuits. We seek to gather and transmit the treasures of our faith by providing a space for dialogue, reflection, and fellowship that will foster the growth of new creative minorities. Like pilgrimages, these events will be a journey into the Christian legacy of hope for the sake of personal transformation and renewal, so that participants may carry this hope back to their local communities.
Publications: Magazines, Podcasts, and Essays
In addition to the immersive experiences, we aim to highlight the marks of the faith and invite more people into our movement through publications. We will publish a handsome magazine, which will feature original writing and photographs, as well as contain the proceedings from seminars, talks, conferences, and other gatherings. The magazine will be triannual, with issues numbered according to the Oxford academic terms of Michaelmas, Hilary, and Trinity. We will also maintain a podcast, both in video and audio-only formats, featuring interviews with prominent Catholic intellectuals and other noteworthy cultural figures. In our second year, we will add additional podcasts focused on theological commentary, city guides, and film reviews. We will publish regular essays on our website (spesalviinstitute.com), using an e-mail list and social media accounts to share electronic work that further amplifies the message of Christian hope.
To maximize our impact, the Spe Salvi Institute will seek strategic partnerships with like-minded apostolates, media organizations, academic institutions, and influential individuals. Collaborations on joint events and publications will extend the reach of our mission and contribute to the broader conversation on hope, Europe, and human flourishing in today’s world.
May God’s blessing be with all who support our work and journey with us in hope.
Robert Mixa and Andrew Petiprin
Founders, The Spe Salvi Institute