Sunday, May 05, 2013

Regensburg Revisited

Manuel II Palaeologus
From theodori despotae laudatio funebris (Manuel’s funeral oration for his brother Theodore)
First quarter 15th century
Supplément grec 309, Folio VI
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

Front cover: Scenes from The Passion I
Manuscript of St Denis the Areopagite
A gift of Manuel II Palaeologus in Constantinople to l'abbaye de Saint-Denis, Paris 
Made 1503 - 05
Sent 1408
Outside covers: elephant ivory, enamelled and engraved silver, precious stones
Inside: Illuminated parchment
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Scenes from The Passion 2
Manuscript of St Denis the Areopagite
A gift of Manuel II Palaeologus in Constantinople to l'abbaye de Saint-Denis, Paris 
Made 1503 - 05
Sent 1408
Outside covers: elephant ivory, enamelled and engraved silver, precious stones
Inside: Illuminated parchment
Musée du Louvre, Paris

St Denis the Areopagite
Manuscript of St Denis the Areopagite
A gift of Manuel II Palaeologus in Constantinople to l'abbaye de Saint-Denis, Paris 
Made 1503 - 05
Sent 1408
Outside covers: elephant ivory, enamelled and engraved silver, precious stones
Inside: Illuminated parchment
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Manuel II Palaeologus accompanied by his wife Helen and their three sons under the protection of The Blessed Virgin Mary and Child Jesus
Manuscript of St Denis the Areopagite
A gift of Manuel II Palaeologus in Constantinople to l'abbaye de Saint-Denis, Paris 
Made 1503 - 05
Sent 1408
Outside covers: elephant ivory, enamelled and engraved silver, precious stones
Inside: Illuminated parchment
Musée du Louvre, Paris

London has played host to many visitors of state over two thousand years or so.

The Roman Emperor, the successor of Augustus, was paying a visit to the king of England. They met at Blackheath and spent Christmas at Eltham Palace in Kent.

He stayed two months then left for France

The Chronicler Adam of Usk described the visit:
"The Greek emperor visited London during the feast day of Saint Thomas the Apostle to seek aid against the Saracens and was received honourably by the king of England with whom he spent two months to his expense though he was compensated in return with great gifts. 
The emperor was constantly dressed in long robes like tabards in a single colour, namely white, with his retinue finding fault with the many fashions and distinctions in dress of the English asserting that it signified fickleness and changeable temper. No razor touched the heads or beards of his chaplains. The Greeks were most devout in their church services, in which both soldiers and priests joined indifferently in singing in their native tongue. 
I thought within myself what a grievous thing it was that this great Christian prince from the East should be driven here to the far western isles by the infidels to seek aid against them. 
Oh, God! What is become of the former glory of Rome? Gone is today the glory of your emperor; truly might the words of Jeremiah be spoken unto you, “Princess among the provinces, how she is become tributary! 
Who would ever believe that you could sink to such a depth of misery, that, although once seated on a magisterial throne lord of all the world, now you have no power to bring succour to the Christian faith? 
The king kept Christmas with the emperor at Eltham."
Adam of Usk. Chronicon (ed. and trans. by Edward Thompson). London, 1904 English trans. 219-220

Another chronicler in 1471 described the visit thus:
"This same yeer cam the emperour of Constantinople in to Englonde, to axe helpe and socour of the kyng ayens the Turkis, and broughte with him a pardon fro the Pope, be the whiche he gadrid moche money, and was longe in this lond on the kyngis cost, and thanne the kyng yaf him iiij m l. li.; and so he wente hoom ayen" 
From An English chronicle of the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI written before the year 1471; with an appendix, containing the 18th and 19th years of Richard II and the Parliament at Bury St. Edmund's, 25th Henry VI and supplementary additions from the Cotton. ms. chronicle called "Eulogium." Edited by John Silvester Davies. Davies, John Silvester, ed. 1829 or 30-1909,

Henry entertained the Emperor splendidly, and gave him three thousand marks at his departure, but could not give him military help against the Turks.

Henry IV (he of the Shakespearean play) had major political problems at home and could hardly hold onto his own throne

Perhaps overwhelmed by the learning of the Emperor`s court, in 1401- 02 Henry commissioned  a novum stadium (new study) for the Palace at Eltham which was probably the foundation for the present Royal Library. That perhaps is the only reminder left of such an important visit

It was part of a trip to Western Europe which the Emperor made after the defeat at The Battle of Nicopolis  on 25 September 1396

By their victory at Nicopolis, the Turks discouraged the formation of future European coalitions against them. They maintained their pressure on Constantinople, tightened their control over the Balkans, and became a greater threat to central Europe

The Emperor visited the two Popes. It was a time of schism. There was a Pope in Rome and another in Avignon. Apart from exhortations not much aid was forthcoming. Aid from secular sources was required

He also visited Charles V, the king of France

His great gift to the Royal Chapel of St Denis can be seen above. St Denis to whom the chapel was dedicated is of course St Denis the Areopagite

"The Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos was a remarkable expert on Islam and polemist with Muslims in the late Byzantine period.  
His treatises against Muslims are the most extensive in the history of Byzantine polemic against Islam.  
E. Trapp and T. Khoury edited a part of the emperor’s polemical legacy, while K. Förstel edited the whole series of his treatises against Islam, consisting of twenty-six dialogues with a Muslim about Christianity and Islam. Unfortunately, with the exception of one article of S. Reinert, there are no studies directly dedicated to these treatises of Manuel. 
Manuel knew well the polemical works of his predecessors and especially the treatises of his grandfather John Kantakouzenos. Through him, Manuel had access to the treatises of the Florentine Dominican monk Ricaldus de Monte-Croce. My research has also shown that as writer and polemist Manuel did not go beyond the framework of Byzantine literary and theological tradition.  
Many Byzantine polemists with Islam recognized with regret that any attempt to convert Muslims was destined to fail. Manuel Palaiologos also wrote with sorrow that Muslims did not abandon their faith even when their arguments were refuted as false. He was convinced of the senselessness of attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity. 
... In this sense, the writings of Manuel II are interesting as representing the highest level of the knowledge of Islam during the Byzantine epoch."

As the successor to Constantine, for over a thousand years the Byzantine Emperor sat in his palace, ruling over the empire as God’s regent on earth. His was the ultimate authority. 

The emperor was the font of all law, granter of titles and offices, distributor of largess, master of the Church, commander of the army, head of the bureaucracy, and supreme judge. The decisions of the individual who sat on the throne had repercussions throughout the Byzantine world and far beyond. 

He was supreme ruler in the State and in the Church

But Manuel II was a man of culture. He surrounded himself with men of letters. He himself produced many literary works as mentioned above

For most people he was forgotten. Until recently. 

For some reason Pope Benedict XVI in his Regensburg Address in 2006 decided to use one of his works to make a number of points.

It was an important address at his old University on the theme of Faith, Reason and the University Memories and Reflections

But Regensburg was not simply chosen as the venue because the Pope once taught there

In its history Regensburg had been the scene of violent religious struggle and persecution. And attempts at dialogue which failed disastrously. 

Surely everyone in the audience at the University of Regensburg would have been aware of this historical background ?

There had been persecution of the Jews and attempts at forced conversion of the Jews in the city and in other cities along the Rhine

The city became Lutheran in 1542 and the Catholic minority did not attain legal equality until the nineteenth century

During The Thirty Years War the area was devastated as were most other German states. 

It was the permanent seat of the  Imperial Diet (Reichstag) of the Holy Roman Empire from 1663 to 1806, the successor to Charlemagne, the Western equivalent of the office occupied by Manuel II Palaiologos 

Conflicts continued into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

The whole address was forgotten about in the furure over a quotation which was widely misinterpreted, innocently and deliberately

Very few people read the lecture in its entirety. Most relied on the wrong glosses and spins reported in the press

It had a number of important themes or messages which Benedict was trying to get across which were totally lost in the furore

He recalled a time in living memory when universities (and society) worked happily and harmoniously "on the basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason" (emphasis added)

That harmoniousness among people of various backgrounds and beliefs was possible when the right use of reason (as properly understood) prevailed

He then dealt with the question of forcible conversion: spreading the faith through violence
"The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... 
To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".

For Manuel and Benedict, forced conversion is unreasonable and contrary to God`s will and Law

Is this not damning criticism of the treatment meted out to those of Jewish faith in Europe over the centuries ? Also of the political wars in Central Europe after the Reformation where religion was the excuse for power grabs by princes ? And what of the Crusades ? Or the attempts by atheist regimes to impose ideology over religious belief after the French Revolution ?

More importantly, he said quoting Manuel:
"not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature."
He then went on to consider the question:
"Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?"
In short his conclusion was: 
"I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God."
A large part of the lecture is a tour de horizon discourse based on history, philosophy and Scripture to illustrate that faith (as properly understood) and reason (as properly understood) are two sides of the same coin.

Most importantly he said that the rapprochement between Greek thought and Christianity did not begin at the time of the New Testament. Rather it started many centuries before in the times of the Old Testament and is part of the Christian inheritance from the Jewish faith:
"[D]espite the bitter conflict with those Hellenistic rulers who sought to accommodate it forcibly to the customs and idolatrous cult of the Greeks, biblical faith, in the Hellenistic period, encountered the best of Greek thought at a deep level, resulting in a mutual enrichment evident especially in the later wisdom literature. 
Today we know that the Greek translation of the Old Testament produced at Alexandria - the Septuagint - is more than a simple (and in that sense really less than satisfactory) translation of the Hebrew text: it is an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of revelation, one which brought about this encounter in a way that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christianity"

It was a challenging speech and a speech designed to lay down the foundations for proper Christian dialogue. 

The speech has ramifications for:
- the dialogue between Catholics and non-Catholics
- the dialogue between Catholics and representatives of the Jewish faith
- the dialogue between Christianity and science
- the role of the State in such dialogues
- the purpose of such dialogues and how the dialogues should be conducted
It was not surely coincidental that on the same day the speech was delivered Pope Benedict then conducted an ecumenical Vespers with other Christian faiths (Orthodox Christians and Protestants) and some of the Jewish faith

It is a speech worth going back to and pondering in view of recent times. 

The Vatican’s Commission for religious relations with Muslims selected a theme for discussion over the next four years: ‘Christians and Muslims - beacons of hope’. 
A three day meeting has just finished in London about the  pastoral challenges of promoting dialogue with Islam as an integral part of the Church’s mission 

The forthcoming canonisation of the Martyrs of Otranto will be later this month

This was the last official act of the consistory when Benedict XVI announced his retirement

Perhaps we are now seeing the fruit of that lecture in Regensburg

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