‘The genius of Europe is what William Blake would have called “the holiness of the minute particular”.’
– George Steiner, The Idea of Europe, 2004
It was in this way that George Steiner once expressed the essence of the old continent. Europe is a remarkable and rich patchwork of languages and cultures, one smaller than the other. That is easy to see. What is, however, harder to capture is the holiness that resides in our unity in diversity.
Discussing holiness has in recent decades become philosophically unfashionable. The death of God has entailed the death of concepts that originate in religion. Yet the sacred can also have a secular meaning. Rites of passage are still important in the lives of non-believers. And perhaps the concept of holiness too should be preserved and rescued from the dustheap of history.
Holiness is immanent and transcendent: in and beyond the world. Holiness is in a way similar to beauty. An aesthetic experience is not merely a physical, sensory phenomenon. It is also a metaphysical one. Couperin’s Leçons de ténèbres, the paintings of Botticelli, the poems of Rilke; their beauty is in this world, and opens the doors of perception to a realm beyond.