I was very happy to find an english translation of the pope’s controversial address at Regensburg on PhDiva’s blog – it is good to see for yourself what the fuss is all about.
Enough has been written and said about the ‘Mohammed’-passage. According to one of the commentaries on the speech, the pope’s rationale behind quoting emperor Manuel II Paleologus was:
…to suggest a Christendom under threat – both from without and within – by quoting the leader of a dying empire surrounded on all sides by Muslims who would, within a century, take its capital and hold that city up to the present day.
If this indeed was his reason, I would only like to add that the pope Benedict XVI here quotes an orthodox (i.e. from a Roman Catholic viewpoint schismatic) Byzantine emperor, who’s Empire was saved not by the Avignon pope’s abortive 1396 crusade, but by the timely intervention of the Mongol leader Timur Lenk – a proud Muslim! So the Christendom-Islam antithesis the pope tries to evoke isn’t that clear. How troublesome can historical niceties be when you are trying to make a point.
The remainder of Ratzinger’s speech contains comparable rhetoric, more based on his wish to conjure an image than to give a balanced view of history. I especially like the following lines:
Given this convergence [of biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry], 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.
Ratzinger makes brilliant use of our preconception that ‘Greek philosophical inquiry’ is something essentially European – hence non-Eastern. Without that preconception his statement doesn’t make any sense. He probably knows that the ancient world is much too fuzzy to allow equations like “Philosophy = Greek = European = Western”. To give you an example: not only was it in Alexandria, in Egypt, that the Hebrew bible was translated into the Septuagint (according to his Regensburg Address “A profound encounter of faith and reason (…), an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion”); a few centuries later, Clement of Alexandria was born and educated in that city, maybe the first to try to reconcile Christianity with notions from Greek philosophy; and last but not least, a few years before Clement died Plotinus grew up there, the founder of Neoplatonism, which was to strongly influence Augustine – of Hippo, in North Africa. So much for the equation. I won’t waste time on his statement that Chritainity “finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe”.
But all such details are of course subsidiary to his main stance: that Europe is, and should be, Christian (preferably Roman Catholic, I guess):
This convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.
I can’t help wondering if he is alluding to the debate over Turkey’s membership of the EU here.