It is striking that the most influential instance of philosophizing today, or what is likely to be such, strongly promotes the study of Greek philosophy. This is good news, I think, for the field of ancient philosophy.
To give a baseline for a comparison: John Rawls' Theory of Justice is one of the most influential and widely-read philosophical texts in our time, with 300,000 copies sold since 1971. (Some more recent works may have a chance of being more popular, such as The Simpsons and Philosophy, 200,000 copies sold since 2001, or On Bullshit, 150,000 copies since 2005, yet these have a frivolous aspect and are unlikely to be deeply taken to heart by readers.)
However, in contrast, within 10 days after its release, already 1 million copies have been printed and distributed of Spe Salvi, the most recent encyclical of Pope Benedict, and doubtless tens of millions more copies have been either downloaded or read online. To compare: Theory of Justice's impressive numbers work out to 22 copies per day, or 220 for a similar ten-day period.
Spe Salvi is pastoral and primarily theological, to be sure. Yet its tone and manner of presentation are philosophical in a broad sense. Indeed, it will surely serve for millions of readers as an example of how to be appropriately thoughtful about matters that are 'philosophical'.
What I wish to emphasize here is that readers who do regard it as an example will draw from it the lesson that classical philosophy and culture, especially ancient Greek philosophy and culture, provide the framework within which a thoughtful person should begin an investigation of deep questions of human life -- since this is the outlook that is presupposed in the encyclical.
To give only a few examples:
Benedict opens by citing a Latin inscription which captures, he thinks, the outlook with which he contrasts 'hope': In nihil ab nihilo quam cito recidimus ("How quickly we fall back from nothing to nothing"). The footnote, the very first of the encyclical, refers to Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum VI, no. 26003 -- and you can bet that thousands of readers (at least) will wish that they were in a position to consult and understand that source.
He then begins a discussion of a sentence in the Letter to the Hebrews and leaves the crucial Greek term untranslated:
In the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews (v. 1) we find a kind of definition of faith which closely links this virtue with hope. Ever since the Reformation there has been a dispute among exegetes over the central word of this phrase, but today a way towards a common interpretation seems to be opening up once more. For the time being I shall leave this central word untranslated. The sentence therefore reads as follows: “Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen”.This then leads to a discussion of how hypostasis should be translated, in which a comparison is drawn between hypostasis and hyparchonta (both left in transliterated Greek): "In order to understand more deeply this reflection on the two types of substance—hypostasis and hyparchonta—and on the two approaches to life expressed by these terms,..." etc. --Once again, there will very many readers who will say to themselves that it would be good if they could understand the significance of these words on their own.
The encyclical continues with other comments on Greek words ("The word hypostole, on the other hand, means shrinking back through lack of courage to speak openly and frankly a truth that may be dangerous. Hiding through a spirit of fear leads to “destruction” (Heb 10:39)"); an endorsement of the early Christian representation of Christ as a philosopher; and even, near the end of the encyclical, a lengthy quotation from Plato's Gorgias:
Here I would like to quote a passage from Plato which expresses a premonition of just judgement that in many respects remains true and salutary for Christians too. Albeit using mythological images, he expresses the truth with an unambiguous clarity, saying that in the end souls will stand naked before the judge. It no longer matters what they once were in history, but only what they are in truth: “Often, when it is the king or some other monarch or potentate that he (the judge) has to deal with, he finds that there is no soundness in the soul whatever; he finds it scourged and scarred by the various acts of perjury and wrong-doing ...; it is twisted and warped by lies and vanity, and nothing is straight because truth has had no part in its development. Power, luxury, pride, and debauchery have left it so full of disproportion and ugliness that when he has inspected it (he) sends it straight to prison, where on its arrival it will undergo the appropriate punishment ... Sometimes, though, the eye of the judge lights on a different soul which has lived in purity and truth ... then he is struck with admiration and sends him to the isles of the blessed”Again, you can bet that thousands or even millions of readers will conclude from this that they should become acquainted with the Gorgias and other Platonic dialogues.
The encyclical even makes use J. L. Austin's notion of a "performative utterance" -- which we might claim for ancient philosophy also, on the grounds that Austin was trained as a classicist.
Take from this what you will. The observation I principally wish to make here is that, simply viewing the publication of this encyclical, as it were, sociologically, one should expect that it will have a widespread and long-lasting, positive influence in promoting the study of what you and I hold dear.
(Look: Do we think that the classics and ancient philosophy have as central a role in university education as they should have? But why do we suppose that things will remain that way perpetually, or get worse? This is exactly my point -- many readers of Spe Salvi, perhaps especially those who with a technical or scientific training, will implicitly draw a contrast and think that Pope Benedict is better educated -- in important respects-- than they.)