It appears that Muslims weren’t the only ones shaken up by the Pope’s recent address reguarding dehellenization. Indeed, the references to Islam were far from the primary point of his lecture. Instead, Benedict XVI was seeking to enliven and direct the current theological and philosophical debate over Truth and reason, the ability to know God etc… There are many within contemporary theological circles who would call this turn to Plato damaging… they all have their own favorites though, such as Kant etc… Having been called a Platonist on occasion, and appreciating the neo-platonic thought that influenced the formulation of the Nicene (or Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan if you want to get picky) Creed, I can appreciate the negativity directed at the Pope… especially since I inspired quite an outburst by a former Roman Priest/ethics professor when I pointed out during a discussion of Mormonism (which he defended as fully Christian) that at the very least one had to consider them heretical on the level of the Arians when one considers their Christology, such as it is, against the rule of the Nicene Creed…a sentiment which was for him that day, the straw that broke the camel’s back. At any rate, here’s a selection of the Pope’s speech, with some interesting points highlighted.
encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance. The vision of Saint Paul, who saw the roads to Asia barred and in a dream saw a Macedonian man plead with him: Come over to Macedonia and help us! (cf. Acts 16:6-10)– this vision can be interpreted as a distillation of the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry. In point of fact, this rapprochement had been going on for some time. The mysterious name of God, revealed from the burning
bush, a name which separates this God from all other divinities with their many names and declares simply that he is, is already presents a challenge to the notion of myth, to which Socrates’s attempt to vanquish and transcend myth stands in close analogy. Within the Old Testament, the process which started at the burning bush came to new maturity at the time of the Exile, when the God of Israel, an Israel now deprived of its land and worship, was proclaimed as the God of heaven and earth and described in a simple
formula which echoes the words uttered at the burning bush: I am. This new understanding of God is accompanied by a kind of enlightenment, which finds stark expression in the mockery of gods who are merely the work of human hands (cf. Ps 115). Thus, despite the bitter conflict with those Hellenistic rulers who sought to accommodate it forcibly to the customs and idolatrous cult of the Greeks, biblical faith, in the Hellenistic period, encountered the best of Greek thought at a deep level, resulting in a mutual
enrichment evident especially in the later wisdom literature. Today we know that the Greek translation of the Old Testament produced at Alexandria– the Septuagint– is more than a simple (and in that sense perhaps less than satisfactory) translation of the Hebrew text: it is an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of revelation, one which brought about this encounter in a way that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christianity.There is an interesting
discussion of Augustine’s understanding of inspired translation by Matt over at Fragmenta. Additionally, he asks some pertinent questions about the New Testament’s position toward translations and the establishing of doctrine. A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion. From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought
now joined to faith, Manuel II was able to say: Not to act with logos is contrary to God’s nature.
In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which ultimately led to the claim that we can only know God’s voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God’s freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This
gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazn and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions. As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator
Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language (cf. Lateran IV). God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love transcends knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving
more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is logos. Consequently, Christian worship is worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1). This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history- it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising
that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe. The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a dehellenization of Christianity- a
call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age. Viewed more closely, three stages can be observed in the program of dehellenization: although interconnected, they are clearly distinct from one another in their motivations and objectives.
In other news, Muslims have continued to show no evidence at all to justify the charge
leveled at Mohammed by Manuel II Palaeologos via Benedict XVI’s speech.