18 September 2006

What Does Boston Have To Do With Regensburg?

Largely lost in the uproar following Benedict XVI's address at Regensburg was the bold thesis that the Pope was advancing, namely, that Christianity is inherently Hellenic, as shown in its identification of the divine with reason. You may read his arguments in the official Vatican translation.

It has not generally been observed that the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy may claim a special timeliness here. As you know, Raphael Woolf's BACAP lecture last week was concerned with the 'misology passage' in the Phaedo. And yet Benedict, in his address given only two days before, had concluded his discussion by a reference to that same passage. Indeed, in some ways, that passage, in his interpretation of it, expresses his central concern and point:

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. At the same time, as I have attempted to show, modern scientific reason with its intrinsically Platonic element bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology. Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based.
Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought -- to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding.

Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: "It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being -- but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss."

The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur -- this is the program with which a theology grounded in biblical faith enters into the debates of our time.

"Not to act reasonably (with logos) is contrary to the nature of God," said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.