Pope’s Regensburg lecture

Media coverage of Pope of Rome Benedict XVI’s lecture at the University of Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany, yesterday, is focusing on some comments he allegedly made on jihad. All he really implied about that is that it’s not Christian to spread belief in the One True God by violence because God is “reasonable” and would have His Good News spread by persuasion and reason, and because faith pertains to the soul, not the body, and so is not appropriately spread by threats to the body. He critiques those streams of Islam that seem to him to deny God’s reasonableness, that put God so far away from humanity that they can’t even talk about Him being reasonable, good, loving, etc., that He could be completely capricious.

His main goal, though, was to affirm the Western Christian teaching of a usable analogy between God and humanity and human reason as currently constituted…and to attempt to tie it to pagan Greek and Byzantine, i.e., Eastern Christian, including Orthodox, thought. And this is where he is mistaken, perceiving Orthodox “thought” through the lens of the pagan Hellenism adopted by the West ultimately in the “Rennaissance,” rather than the other way around. Because as Fr. John Romanides reminded us, there is no analogy between Creator and created. This is not to deny that God is reasonable, good, loving, etc., but rather to affirm that it is God Who is Reason/Logos, so whenever God seems faulty to us, it’s our fallen reason that is at fault. God is most “reasonable” to His Orthodox Saints whose energies/activities have become united to His own, and it is they we must trust, not just any human or ostensibly Christian philosopher – Orthodox Saints are the true Theologians. True Theology is empirical, as Fr. John also reminded us, but just as with physical or human sciences, we need to be trained, disciplined, to be able to do it – what an Evangelical T-shirt I once saw called punningly “Cross Training”! I don’t know enough about Emperor Manuel II Paleologos, but if he was knowledgeable enough about his Orthodox Faith, he wouldn’t have confused the human reason of the fallen, with that Reason/Logos that is God. This is another example of a Western theologian mis-reading Orthodox theology.

The pope’s most telling quote was this: “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.” This displays the usual Western Christian overconfidence in fallen human reason, and also attributes it to those certain streams of Islam. For such ‘philosophers’ God is close enough to being a creature that we may manipulate Him like chemicals – or babies – in a test tube. They think they’ve got God ‘down’ enough that they can fight over whether they want Him to be more transcendant or more immanent or anything else. Rather, they should submit themselves to Orthodox teaching, practice, and experience – “Cross training” – the way of the Orthodox Fathers and Mothers of the Church and the Orthodox Saints – and learn that way. Their words left to us are to guide us to the same life and way and experience as they, as feebly as those words may encapsulate or hint at their experience.

All that said, he has some good points. Reformation anti-Traditionalism has indeed individualized, privatized, and de-historicized (Western) Christianity, reducing it to (further) hyper-rationalism and/or emotionalism and/or moralism. It, and its later modern Catholic outworkings, by (as it thought) “de-Hellenizing” Christianity, simply ‘Germanized’ it rather than ‘universalizing’ it! (A better model for this would be the Orthodox missions of Sts. Cyril and Methodius to the Slavs in the 10th century, and St. Innocent of Alaska to the Aleuts and Tlingits in the 19th. [Or even the initially-successful Nestorian mission to medieval China as discussed in The Jesus Sutras, or the initial approach to China by the Jesuits under Fr. Mateo Ricci before the Vatican ordered him to ‘Latinize’ them.] They made their audiences Christians without turning them into Greeks, Russians…or Germans…but without abandoning the good lessons for Christianity learned through the help of Greek and Byzantine expression.)

His wisest words are: “In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.” Not only that – it’s imperialistic, without being, as it thinks, “universal.” *Is* nothing universal? Orthodox Christianity believes Orthodoxy is universal, but incarnatable in any culture, without losing Communion/koinonia/fellowship with Orthodox outside that culture.

What about the question of religious violence? Orthodoxy is not incarnated in a culture by violence, but by a profound translating, by face-to-face ministry, by spiritual eldering and the leadership of the new culture’s Orthodox Saints.

(The pope forgot to ask forgiveness of those peoples on whom Catholicism did indeed seek to impose itself by violence. Islam is not the only offender in that respect.)


  1. Anonymous

    Hi Leo,

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge from your years of study with the RCs.

    check out: http://ochlophobist.blogspot.com/
    and http://www.prochoros.blogspot.com/

    I think you three could be an interesting combination of words, theology and thoughts.

    sincerely, Tamara

  2. Dean Calvert

    Hi Leo,

    Very well put…there’s no question that the Pope was using the term “hellenism” in the more ancient context, i.e. signifying the learning of the ancient, pagan Greeks.

    I think you will also agree that whatever the Pope’s intentions in using the word “hellenism” it is certainly different than those who would use it today in the Orthodox Church.

    Isn’t it ironic how this whole thing has turned? Think about it…”hellenism” as originally intended by Alexander meant “inclusive”, light coming to the barbarian world. We in the Orthodox world have bastardized the term, turned it on its head, almost the the point of ethno-racism.

    The West, on the other hand, having become enamored with ancient philosophly during the Renaissance, seemingly attempted to use that pagan learning to interpret God’s Word. Also pretty ridiculous if you ask me.

    In any case…excellent analysis

  3. Leo Peter O'Filon

    Thanks, Tam and Dean. (Hey, sounds like a ’50s duo!) Actually, I can’t take much credit for my critique, most of it is based on Fr. John Romanides’ critique of Latinism. I didn’t study much philosophy as a Latin, and certainly not much critical of Latinism. Whenever Fr. John talks about the West’s analogia entis (analogy of being) and analogia fidei (analogy of faith) – Catholic terms I never encountered as a Catholic! – this is the stuff he’s talking about. In fact it led him late in life to despair of ecumenism with the Catholics and Protestants, to which he’d dedicated most of his life as a representative of the Church of Greece (though born and raised in the States). He concluded that excessive analogy is so foundational to the Western Christian “theological” enterprise, that as long as it remains so, there will never be a proper union between them and Orthodoxy. It’s a stereotype that Orthodox theology is “apophatic,” but in contrast to Western Christianity perhaps it needs to be emphasized that what we are unable to say about God is infinitely more, and more important, that what we are able to say about Him, and to take that seriously, as the West – both Catholicism and Protestantism in any of its forms – doesn’t. (Witness the Evangelicals, so keen to nail down God and the Gospel in just the right phrase, so that if you don’t use the slogan du jour in their presence, they assume you’re going to hell.)

    I took a look at Ochlophobist and Prochoros, but I have to confess, the journalist in me doesn’t have much patience with philosophy, even when it’s trying to be Orthodox! My loss maybe…. (Maybe it’s the theologian in me. There is a difference….)

    As far as “hellenism” in Orthodoxy today, I don’t wish to drag this blog through Greek Archdiocese politics, but since I haven’t mentioned it here before, and it’s something would-be converts and inquirers may run into, I should mention it. The “Greek Church” – meaning the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem (mostly Arab and Russian, but still Greek-led), the Archdioceses of Greece and Cyprus, and ethnic-Greek jurisdictions throughout the world – consider part of their task as Churches to be the preservation and propagation of (in chronological order) pagan Greek philosophy and political ‘values,’ Byzantine Liturgy served at least in substantial part if not in toto in Biblical Greek, pre-modern Greek culture (i.e., food, dance, music, etc.), devotion to the modern Greek state (i.e., the Hellenic Republic with its capital at Athens), and modern Greek language, tourism, and ethnic solidarity. All of this seems to be what they mean by “Hellenism.” It was recently said to attract some converts to the Greek Archdiocese of America, in fact. A version of this might sometimes be seen in some other ethnic jurisdictions or parishes – just change the “Greek” to their own ethnic adjective. You might see alot less of it at so-called “pan-ethnic” or “Pan-Orthodox” parishes.

    Although I attempt to speak merely descriptively, ethnic culture is sometimes a live “issue” in any jurisdiction, or segments of one. In its defense, I’ll say that even the Alaska Natives, among whom St. Innocent and others so well inculturated Orthodoxy, sometimes sing in Slavonic, Russian, Ukrainian, and even Greek – voluntarily – along with English and their Native language(s). And the Russians never bothered to translate “Eis polla eti despota,” a Greek exclamation chanted to a Bishop. (It means, “Many years to you, Master.”) It is debated whether Orthodoxy is better transmitted by attempting to abstract it from the Eastern cultures in which it dwelt exclusively for 1600 years, or by virtually requiring converts to “go native” (‘go immigrant,’ actually!), or something in-between. And sometimes you’ll find differing approaches within the same jurisdiction, even the same parish.

    Just so you know what’s out there.

    I hear American Lutheranism is sometimes still a pretty “ethnic” experience – Swedish or German, for instance. And if you ask Andrew Greeley, ethnicity still matters even in ‘integrated’ American (Western-European-rooted) Catholicism. The last time I fell in love, my mother’s first question was, “Is she Irish?” (In fact, she was, “half”!)

  4. Destination Macedonia

    I am curious to learn the Orthodox Church link with the Hellenic culture. So I’ve suggested some readings on my blogsite. Could you help me with your comments?


  5. me

    Please see here for my response, and if you don’t mind, please post further comments, if any, there rather than here. Thanks. Leo Peter

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