Deconstructing Pope Benedixt XVI
I’ve been discussing this topic elsewhere, but it seems useful to try to draw a few threads together here.
The Ochlophobist: in gratitude of grand rhetorical strategies makes some interesting points:
The Pope gave this speech to European secularists knowing full well that Islamic extremists (that is, a sizable portion of Muslims in both Europe and the Middle East) would react to the speech in an uncivil manner. Their uncivil reaction would highlight to those European secularists who heard the speech or read it that the secular European world and the Catholic intellectual world share something in common that is not shared with them by the Islamic world in general – civility and a cultured intellectual reserve. By highlighting this the Pope suggests in a subtle manner that this shared civility may just have something to do with a common intellectual heritage – the synthesis of Christian and hellenic thought which is found in the intellectual patrimony of Europe.
and, even more interesting,
This week, six days after the Pope’s speech was given Catholic-Eastern Orthodox dialogue resumes. All of the significant players are meeting in Serbia. Pope Benedict already enjoys much better relations with the Russian Church than did JPII, in part due to relationships Ratzinger has quietly worked on over many years. Note that of all the quotes Pope Benedict could have used to make a point that has been made many times in Christian intellectual history, he chooses to quote a Byzantine emperor. Now, there are substantial differences between the way that many Orthodox view the relationship of faith and reason (and specifically the proper Christian appropriation of classical Greek thought) and the Catholic view of the relationship between faith and reason. Pope Benedict in his speech may have been sending a message to the Eastern Orthodox in which he attempts to convince them that there is common ground with regard to the understanding of the relationship between faith and reason. Furthermore, that message was sent in the context of a quote which refers to what we must now regard (once again) as a real common enemy that is a serious threat to both Churches. The fact that the Pope basis his argument on the sayings of a Byzantine emperor, combined with the fact that this results in violent Muslim over-reaction against Christians everywhere, only serves to build a sense of “us vs. them” between Catholicism and Orthodoxy (the two Churches comprising the us; Islam the them).
I had already commented on the interesting point that militant secularists and militant Islamists appeared to have made common cause in strident calls for apologies from the Roman pope, and there have been interesting discussions about his aversion to de-Hellenisation in the Christianity and society discussion forum. This seems calculated to draw the Orthodox, but I wonder about how that fits in with his connection with the Bavarian Catholic Church, which played a significant role in promoting the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession in the 1990s.