Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the conference “Saint Martin and Europe”
November 10, 2016, Budapest
Your Excellencies, Bishop Veres, Conference Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Honourable Mayor of Szombathely,
Thank you for the opportunity to hear the thoughts of the professors and lecturers who have spoken before me. I respectfully welcome you all – laity and clergy alike. It is good to see and hear that the person and work of Saint Martin has attracted so many people here today from such vastly diverse academic backgrounds. Here there are people of the spirit and representatives of the sciences. So the question arises: how did Pontius Pilate find himself in the Credo? And how did the Hungarian prime minister find himself here, at this conference?
I am here for three reasons. First of all, because Bishop Veres invited me – and as you yourselves know all too well, a bishop’s request is always a serious matter. The second reason I am here is to express the Hungarian government’s gratitude and appreciation for the service of the Catholic Church. We are proud of the values and traditions you represent, and it fills us with joy that in many ways we can be each other’s allies and fellow-workers. Finally, the third – and the main – reason I am here is that I, too, should pay tribute to the memory of Saint Martin, who was born in the city of Savaria in Pannónia 1,700 years ago, and whose spiritual legacy indisputably forms an integral part of Hungarian culture. His place of birth and the missionary work he performed here are proof that here we live in a two-thousand-year-old Christian culture. One thousand one hundred years ago we arrived in this cultural environment, and this is where we found our home. And in these parts it was St. Martin who became one of the principal intermediaries of this universal Western, Christian tradition and way of thinking. For us Hungarians, therefore, he is not just one saint among many, but a person whose name became synonymous with two momentous events in our history, which took place at the same time: conversion to Christianity and the establishment of the Hungarian state. It was in his honour that Grand Prince Géza established the Archabbey of Pannonhalma; it was his name on the flag under which our first king led his army to victory against the pagans; and probably because of this he is shown wearing a Hungarian hussar’s pelisse in his equestrian statue in our coronation church in Bratislava.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The stories of the saints serve as compass points helping us – including prime ministers – to find our way in the disorder of everyday life. The story of Saint Martin gives us today, in the 21st century, a touchstone, and an example to be followed which we should reflect on. He sets an example in the battle for faith, an example of humility in the exercise of power, and an example of mercy in turning towards others.
The first lesson for politicians is that, even as a bishop, he remained a man of the people. What’s more, he did not even aspire to the title of “bishop”. Not only did he not crave power, but tradition has it that when his name was mentioned, he hid in a barn full of geese; then he was elected Bishop of Tours in the most democratic manner, by public acclamation. This is how the words of the Scriptures came to be fulfilled for him: “So then, it is not of the willing, nor of the running, but of God showing mercy”. So this is the first lesson for politicians.
The second way in which he can set us an example – we heard the story earlier – is that, when serving in the Roman army, he saw a man shivering in the cold by the roadside, cut his cloak in two and gave half to the man. Many, including those who have spoken before me, interpret this story in terms of mercy – and with good reason. A politician, however, may also discover something else, something more. In the eyes of many of us today this act also qualifies Saint Martin as the patron saint of the social market economy, as it is in this act that one can immediately see a spirituality which gives meaning to dry statements of revenue and expenditure. Because, Ladies and Gentlemen, for us to give something to those who have nothing, we also need people who have something to give. We need committed people, businesses and government policy which have both a heart and common sense. No matter how infinite our heart may be when we see the suffering of others, our capacities will still have limits. This is why Martin gave the beggar only a piece of his cloak – a piece which was big enough for his needs. If my understanding is correct, he gave him neither more nor less. Had he given away his entire cloak, he would have frozen to death on the road, and we would have no one to talk about today. The imperative to exercise mercy must never be equated with our own ruination. In the same way, we say that a country can only cut its coat according to its cloth. If we go beyond this – for whatever benevolent reason – it is only a question of time before it ruins the entire nation, because the economy will collapse. I believe that this is the message of Martin’s act for us today, together with the second half of the great commandment which defines the honour of ourselves as the basis for the love we must show to our neighbours: let us help, but according to our strength and capacities; let us help, but we should do so where the need arises, by always giving the needy their necessary and appropriate share. We can proudly profess these thoughts as deriving from the Christian roots and traditions of our policy. We can proudly profess that, thanks to these, for us social solidarity is not an abstract concept, but is tangible and rational behaviour. This is a joint mission in which the Hungarian government can rely upon the Catholic Church, as one of its principal allies. So let us be proud that we Christians learnt about the market economy not only from Adam Smith, but also from Saint Martin.
This is how much a head of a government inspired by Christianity derives from the teachings of Saint Martin. To this day Saint Martin teaches us: the soldier teaches us, the missionary teaches us, the hermit and the bishop teaches us, the patron saint of Hungarian kings and a patron saint in Hungary teaches us. Our duty is to have the courage, like our forebears, to take guidance from his life, to have the courage to approach him in faith, in perseverance, in hope and in love, and also to have the courage to set his life and his service as a model for generations to come. If we do this, we can firmly stand our ground in attending to the tasks which Providence has allotted to us all, each in our own sentry post.
Thank you for your attention.