Benedict and his critics

Until recently, I took John Dolan’s attacks on Christopher Hitchens (and his patron unsaint, George Orwell) with a huge pitch of salt: Dolan is no doubt a good writer but exaggeration is part of his method. When it comes to excoriating various “Tories” and their crimes against the Irish and the Roman Catholics, Dolan works wonders, of a negative sort though, yet I’m still prefer Wordsworth to Byron, much as I appreciate GG’s humor.

But when Pope Benedict gave that lecture in Regensburg, and Hitchens jumped in to denounce Catholic perfidy, I looked back, put two and two together, and saw in Christopher H. not only an apologist for Trotsky but a hater of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Mention the Pope, and the smart columnist will abandon wit and logic to start spewing up absurdities, not in the least concerned about lying. Since Hitchens is a far cry from an idiot, his refusal to understand the Pope’s speech has to be taken as dishonesty. Daniel Larison has taken time to explain when and how Hitchens got it so wrong.

For those of us not who don’t care much for superficial interpretations, the Pope’s speech concerns the interaction between the Hellenic and Hebrew elements in the Christian tradition. Among other things, it should be of interest to readers of Lev Shestov.


  1. Lee Harris’ is an interesting, idiosyncratic take, as usual. (Let’s give due credit to the rather non-trivial subject, to which the Pope’s speech is an introduction.) He mentions Tertullian and Origen as examples of two opposite approaches, and St. Clement, Origen’s teacher, as offering a middle way. It’s worth noting that Tertullian, according to some reports, joined an unorthodox sect (Montanists) later in his life, and some of Origen’s neo-Platonic excesses were condemned centuries after his death. But the Church did not simply return to the ideas of St. Clement: it befell to later Christian Greek theologians to incorporate the best of Greek heritage into the teachings of the church, overcoming the neo-Platonism of Origen. (I should mention, at least, the great Cappadocians — St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. Gregory of Nyssa — Pseudo-Dionysios, and St. Maximos the Confessor.) It is known that Origen was much respected by, for one, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and through him, influenced St. Maximos the Confessor. This said, it was only appropriate that the Pope should quote a Byzantine emperor, who must have been steeped in the same school of thought — although the Orthodox Church has never considered theology a purely intellectual exercise.

  2. Interesting. Yes, a non-trivial and potentially immensely fruitful subject matter, only introduced in the Regensburg address; though I do think it was a telling and sharp witted introduction. I don’t possess the erudition needed for any particularly insightful commentary, though I gravitated more to the 2nd millenium aspects of Harris’s take on the address, Duns Scotus, then Herder’s and Schopenhauer’s responses to post-Kantian themes, all with a renewed call for Socratic irony and paradox applied to the fides/ratio intersections and dividing lines. All that needs to be rightly understood, rightly formulated, obviously, but potentially some immensely fruitful avenues for discussion.

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