September 19, 2006

Storm in a teacup

Both sides of the debate over Ratzinger's recent speech seem to completely skip the introductory part, where the subject matter is introduced and his approach to it in this speech is elaborated. The subject matter is the place of reason in faith, and his approach is to use, as a starting point, an obscure tract on theology from the 14th century. By his own admission, the subject of reason in faith only enters at the margin in this tract. But Ratzinger is a theologian, after all, and aims to teach, especially when addressing his Alma Mater. There's no surprise that he would quote from an ancient and little-known theological text, the way American politicos love to quote words from the (slave-owning, misogynistic, genocidal) Founding Fathers. And he probably just read Khoury's book, and wanted to show that he keeps current ;).

While the subject of violent conversion seems to be the centerpoint of Paleologus' (probably largely imaginary) discussion, it isn't a part of the pope's speech. The point he is making is that even in those dark ages, violent conversion was ruled out because it isn't reasonable. From this starting point, his discussion moves far away from the issue of conversion, and goes into the nature of god and reason. He also elaborates on the christian theologians that proposed a concept of god that surpasses reason, which Paleologus would probably condemn as similar to the islamic faith of the 14th century.

The core of Ratzinger's thesis is that Christianity is essentially a Greek cultural concept, much more than a Middle-Eastern one. Personally, I would agree that Catholicism is a western construct, but only because of its continued evolution through the work of western theologians. If you just take the bible, you end up with a largely Middle-Eastern concept of god, especially if you take any part of the old testament seriously, as many protestants do. But in any case, his speech wasn't about violent conversion, nor was it about Protestantism or even about Islam. He didn't defend Paleologus, and only used his words to ground his own discussion on reason and faith. The entire storm about this speech is baseless.

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Blogger Alice said...

Interesting. The rest of Ratzinger's speech isn't publicized, is it?

5:31 AM  
Blogger Endorendil said...

Just click on the title of the post, it will get you there. Have a cup of coffee handy.

9:32 PM  

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