Runciman’s Glimpse of Ecumenical Unity Saturday, Oct 22 2011 

I am currently reading the late Sir Steven Runciman’s The Fall of Constantinople, which, like all of his books, is fascinating.  Granted, Runciman was always much more of a writer than a historian, and he was notorious for liberally imagining some of the scenes in his books, but I found his description of 28 May 1453, the day before the final and successful Turkish assault on the Imperial city, extremely moving.

The years preceding 1453 had been marked by inconclusive attempts to end the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western Church, culminating in official reunion at the Council of Florence in 1439.  The act of union was agreed to by Emperor John VIII Palæologus and Patriarch Joseph II of Constantinople but rejected by many of the clergy and laity under their jurisdiction.  Two successive pro-union patriarchs eventually fled to Rome, and attempts by Emperor Constantine XI to enforce the union only created deep resentment among those opposed to it; but the superficial reconciliation may have facilitated the sharing in the defence of the city by Venetians, Genoese, and Catalans.  At any rate, with Sultan Mehmet II outside the walls, the Turkish troops preparing to breach the walls and sack the city, priorities among the defenders soon changed:

The day was nearly over. Already crowds were moving towards the great Church of the Holy Wisdom.  For the past five months no pious Greek had stepped through its portals to hear the Sacred Liturgy defiled by Latins and by renegades.  But on that evening the bitterness was ended.  Barely a citizen, except for the soldiers on the walls, stayed away from this desperate service of intercession.  Priests who held union with Rome to be a mortal sin now came to the altar to serve with their Unionist brothers.  The Cardinal was there, and beside him bishops who would never acknowledge his authority; and all the people came to make confession and take communion, not caring whether Orthodox or Catholic administered it.  There were Italians and Catalans along with the Greeks.  The golden mosaics, studded with the images of Christ and His Saints and the Emperors and Empresses of Byzantium, glimmered in the light of a thousand lamps and candles; and beneath them for the last time the priests in their splendid vestments moved in the solemn rhythm  of the Liturgy.  At this moment there was union in the Church of Constantinople.

As we both now face a cultural enemy more pervasive than the Turks in the form of material secularism, may God grant us the grace to find such a real unity among the Eastern and Western halves of the Church.  May Rome and Constantinople (and Antioch and Alexandria) commune once more in the full beauty and harmony of their traditions, free from angry recriminations and petty accusations, motivated first and foremost not from fear, but by a spirit of true Christian charity.

The Ecology of Man Thursday, Oct 13 2011 

I am a bit late on the ball with this (by three weeks, in fact) but the busyness of life has made me keep putting off reading the speech that Pope Benedict XVI delivered at Berlin in September.  It is a momentous lecture, in the tradition of his Regensburg address (please read the entire speech before dismissing it as anti-Muslim; such comments ignore the text and miss the real point of the lecture, which is about the intrinsic importance of Greco-Roman philosophy to the Christian tradition), an extremely relevant discussion of the importance of natural law and the Christian cultural heritage to European policy.  His essential point is that our rejection of legal imperatives based on naturally revealed truth—our increasing acceptance of positivist descriptions of the universe that, paradoxically, allow for a relativist attitude toward human behaviour—goes hand-in-hand with our treatment of the physical natural world.  Rather than viewing ourselves as complete masters of nature, both in the environment and in law, we must acknowledge the importance of a creative force (God) that has constructed the temporal and spiritual (and therefore ethical) environment within which we exist.  This fact (this ‘is’) requires responsibility (an ‘ought’) in our personal and political behaviour.  Very interestingly, the Holy Father connects the current crisis with a loss of an understanding of European culture.  He says it better than I can:

The positivist approach to nature and reason, the positivist world view in general, is a most important dimension of human knowledge and capacity that we may in no way dispense with. But in and of itself it is not a sufficient culture corresponding to the full breadth of the human condition. Where positivist reason considers itself the only sufficient culture and banishes all other cultural realities to the status of subcultures, it diminishes man, indeed it threatens his humanity.

I say this with Europe specifically in mind, where there are concerted efforts to recognize only positivism as a common culture and a common basis for law-making, so that all the other insights and values of our culture are reduced to the level of subculture, with the result that Europe vis-à-vis other world cultures is left in a state of culturelessness and at the same time extremist and radical movements emerge to fill the vacuum. In its self-proclaimed exclusivity, the positivist reason which recognizes nothing beyond mere functionality resembles a concrete bunker with no windows, in which we ourselves provide lighting and atmospheric conditions, being no longer willing to obtain either from God’s wide world. And yet we cannot hide from ourselves the fact that even in this artificial world, we are still covertly drawing upon God’s raw materials, which we refashion into our own products. The windows must be flung open again, we must see the wide world, the sky and the earth once more and learn to make proper use of all this.

I highly recommend reading the entire speech.  It is a fantastic example of the way in which this pope is tackling the crises (environmental, economic, political) facing Europe (and, in slightly different ways, the United States) today.  His reputation may have been built as a brilliant theologian, but his understanding of the interaction between theology, philosophy, and temporal matters is superb, and very much underreported.  The problems facing modern Western society are all linked in ways that are not immediately obvious to those of us trained to look at them from a materialistic perspective, but Benedict has here, as elsewhere, done a wonderful job of bringing to light the interconnectedness of today’s greatest challenges.

Distributism Occupies Wall Street Tuesday, Oct 11 2011 

The folks over at The Distributist Review have put together a wonderful flyer for distribution (sorry) at the Occupy Wall Street protests.  Unfortunately the Atlantic Ocean is a bit wide for me to make it myself, but in case anyone attending stumbles across this blog, I figured I would post a link to the flyer (just for clarity, it is not the same as the Adbusters image below).  Please print it out and share it.

Current dissatisfaction with the system is great, but it has to offer something positive as well as negative.  Hopefully change will come, but we need to encourage that change in the direction of truly humane economics, not another oversized and impersonal solution, whether corporatist or statist.