Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Is the Roman Catholic Church a bulwark of democracy?

Updated with new Response from Dr Art Kyriazis

Salve readers,

Quod Scripsit is very interested in the critique of our Western Civilization/Culture and the direction(s) it is taking. The basic premise is "Resolve, Western Civilization” is a product of Christianity and the Roman Catholic and Protestant riff in particular which ushered in the Enlightenment and made the "horrors" of the French Revolution possible.

Art Kyriazis Harvard Class 80/81 comments below.
Eques’ response follows Art's argument on the resolution. This exchange is going on the "Harvard Alumni Association Discussion Groups" website as well.

Dear Eques

Hi, Art Kyriazis 80/81' writing here.

I'm a molecular biologist now but an old social studies major so I can't resist taking a chop at your comment on the list serve here.

(1) I just watched the movie " Elizabeth : the Golden Age" with Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen etc. The central thesis of this movie, which centers on the defeat of the Spanish armada by the English, is that the defeat of catholic Spain by Protestant England was something quite important for the development of trade and freedom in the world. as with the defeat of the Persians at marathon and salamis by the ancient Greeks, one can surely argue that the English protestants carried with them traditions of freedom, law and liberty (and parliamentary rule) that later took root in the new world (not to mention Canada, India and many commonwealth nations); not to mention that many historians and social theorists suggest that the Spanish economy was largely feudal and mercantile (as Commodore Perry our old professor at Harvard was wont to
argue) due to its catholic nature hoarding gold and exploiting the new world for the state instead of allowing numerous private companies as did the Dutch and English (Weber's notion of the protestant ethic and capitalism).

(2) corollary to this is the notion that England enjoyed a better nationalism due to the union of their church with the king
(Cesaro-Papism) while the laws resided with parliament, while the catholic powers of the continent were weakened by the church authority residing in Rome while the secular power resided with each king. This weakened Spain , France and the holy roman empire in turn, and was not fully resolved until the French revolution and the Napoleonic conquests which drove the inquisition from Spain and disenfranchised catholic property and dominion in France , leaving in place strong nationalist states in France and finally allowing Germany to unify.

(3) the ottoman empire was very powerful during this entire time, and they certainly enjoyed a union of state and church, in that the sultan was both the secular and spiritual leader of all Islam as well as of the continuing jihad from 1453 until the end of the sultanate in 1922. In addition, he was also after the fall of the roman empire with the taking of Constantinople in 1453, the roman emperor as well as the ruler of the Rumi-Orthodox--the roman christian subjects of his land, who of 12 millions who lived in the ottoman lands, fully 4 million at any one time, Romanian, Bulgarian, Greek, Serbian, etc. all answered to one orthodox christian patriarch ensconced in Constantinople, loyal not to the pope, but to the sultan. While modern nationalist histories portray the sultan and the ottomans in a bad light, the truth is that the Greeks, Armenians and Jews who had no religious liberty in the catholic states prospered in the ottoman empire as bankers, traders, seamen etc, building up large trading cities in Smyrna, Skopje etc. and living in large mansions. The economic contributions of non-Muslims to the Muslim empire were not inconsiderable, and many of these peoples were driven to live in ottoman countries due to the fact that all of the Sephardi Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492; the Greeks (Rumi) felt more welcome in ottoman rumeli and Asia minor to practice their religion as orthodox than they did in Italy, which had but one Greek church in Venice; and the Armenians certainly were tolerated until very late in ottoman history.

(4) The Chinese and Mogul empires in China and India were powerful during the 16th and 17th centuries, as were the Japanese feudal warlords who were quickly assimilating western ways and weapons before they shut the country off from the west.

(5) It is difficult to say what propelled the west to the top of the heap civilization wise. The fall of Constantinople was certainly critical, as it sent a number of Greek and Latin scholars of Greek ancestry to Italy, along with their books, to disseminate original Greek and Latin knowledge to the humanists.
This has been the thesis of Burckhardt in his work on the renaissance and of jb bury for many years. more recently works on George of Trebizond have also cited the critical role of Greek scholars in the revival of Greek study. Certainly the establishment of a chair in Greek studies in England in the early 1500s was a turning point in English science and literary affairs, and led directly to Newton, Shakespeare, Marlowe, and the king James bible as we now know them all. From Newton, all else follows, including Maxwell, Einstein and the atomic bomb.

(6) it's hard to say that the humanists were devoutly catholic.
Galileo was at odds with the Jesuits; Copernicus was afraid to publish his findings; in many ways, the inquisition and the Jesuits were opponents of humanism and of scientific progress. In time, the English developed the faster, lighter ships with more cannon and better engineering because they had freedom of thought and freedom of scientific inquiry--Bacon, Raleigh, drake--all were encouraged to think, to travel until England had reached every corner of the globe with mercantile trade by the time of Elizabeth.
They feared nothing and least of all their own inquisition or Jesuits, because the catholic faith had been suppressed in England.

(7) Two of the greatest crimes in history in the middle ages have to be ascribed to the catholic church, the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by the 4th crusade, and the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathari of Southern France (Provencal France) in 1209). These were not isolated events. Throw in the crusade less than a hundred years later against the knights Templar sanctioned by the pope and you have a picture of what the inquisition was really all about.
In Constantinople, they burned 2/3 of the classical works that had been preserved in the library and melted down the original ancient sculptures, preserved for centuries unharmed, for bronze; and they took all of the holy relics of Christ, which had been carefully collected by the roman emperors over the years, including the crown of thorns and holy lance, and used them as collateral for loans from Italian bankers, and when the Latin emperors defaulted on the loans, the relics were sold and dispersed to the various emperors of the west, included the holy grail itself, which was lost. The Cathari, who had developed Provencal literature and the cult of the troubadours, were silenced forever, and a literary and cultural tradition was forever lost.

(8) On the plus side, the Vatican has managed to keep a large number of items in its own library intact.

(9) The current pope seems anxious to effect another union (more permanent than the councils of Lyon or
Florence) with the eastern church, which now boasts 500 million strong. However the eastern church only recognizes the seven ecumenical councils through the 8th century ad; the western church lists all of the Lateran and Vatican councils, as well as papal encyclicals, as being of importance somehow. Moreover, Vatican II, which the western church ratified and announced, which revoked much of the bad and harmful intolerance that had characterized Catholicism for centuries, is seemingly now being chipped away at by neo-conservatives in the Vatican. It would seem that one pre-requisite for there to be union between the Vatican and eastern church, is strict adherence to Vatican II.

these are just a few points.

--Art Kyriazis ab 80/81
Eques Responds

Salve Art,
Well reasoned response, which I do not have the necessary time to respond to, this being holy Week. I would like to comment in the near future on:
1. That "protestant England at first was not Protestant but schismatic. One could argue that until the 19th century with the exception of the "puritan revolt" the Anglican Church considered itself catholic. Cardinal Newman attempted to prove such, but much to his surprise found that over time, the "Catholic Faith" in England had been corrupted by Protestantism, but he claims it did not begin that way. Therefore, the growth of the British Commercial Empire early still found its roots in what they themselves believed was Catholic but not Papists."
2. I believe that the worse thing to happen in Western and European history was the French Revolution, as Edmund Burke and Dickens (neither Catholic) would agree. It brought to the world the first Modern Totalitarian State , guillotine, secret police, state religion, (as opposed to a nationalized version of Catholicism as in the East and England) and global war, the real First World War being the Napoleonic Wars.
3. No Conservative, Republican, or Roman Catholic philosophically or theologically could rightly support a totalitarian state. Also the international character of Roman Catholicism makes it the only Church capable of resisting oppression form such states globally, in such places as Philippines, East Timor, Sudan, Central America, Poland, Hungary, and many more places in many other times, including the French Revolution and its after math.
4. I do believe that the lingering feudalism in Spain, with its protection of the aristocracy and hence the lack of industrial development, was in part a by product of conservative Catholicism that was leery of democracy, as were all the crown heads of Europe until it was thrust upon them by the debacle of the "First World War." I would also have to attribute this at least in Spain to other cultural factors, which were I admit, rooted in Catholicism.
5. I believe you err in your characterization of the "Two of the greatest crimes in history in the Middle Ages have to be ascribed to the catholic church, the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by the 4th crusade, and the Albigensian Crusade against the Cithara of Southern France (Provencal France) in 1209). These were not isolated events. Throw in the crusade less than a hundred years later against the knight's Templar sanctioned by the pope and you have a picture of what the inquisition was really all about."
a. The "Sack of Constantinople" was a horror to the Pope. It was never contemplated by the church; it was the direct result of Crusader kings and Barons looking for a quick buck.
b. The Albigensian or Cithara heresy was seen as a direct threat on the political stability of medieval Europe. Catholic princes, though they may have cared little for their Catholic Faith believed as Constantine did that there could be a unified state only with a unified religion. Heresy of all kind was not only an attack on the faith but also on the state, moderns have difficulty grasping this aspect of the medieval mindset; it was true then of Orthodox, Muslim, and later Protestant States, and princes.
Remember England is one of the few nation states today that still has an established church, and it was not until the early nineteenth century that the penal laws were relaxed against Catholics and The Catholic hierarchy restored. This was also in part due to the continued Anglican Bishops claim that they were the Catholic Bishops in England right up to the Mid-nineteenth century.
c. The suppression of the Order of the Poor Knights of St John of the Temple of Jerusalem, the Knights Templar was first in no way a crusade. It was the direct result of the greed and debts of King Philip IV of France, who had acquired an enormous debt to the Templars. He eyed their international treasury housed in guess where? The Bastille, as the solution to his problem, therefore he had the usual charges of various heresies, sins drown up against the Templars, and pressured the Pope to allow the arrest and trail, wherever in his realm they could be found, while encouraging the other kings to do the same with the aid of the Bishops he controlled. He was able to do this because he also controlled the Clement V, who was a Frenchman that Philip IV whose election as pope was manipulated by Philip IV. Clement V was the first of the Avignon Popes, and thus at the mercy of Philip IV.
Therefore, what you characterize as a crusade by the power of Catholic Church was an example of what happens when the Church was not independent or sovereign. The suppression of the Templars was the direct outcome of a Pope and Catholic Church that was controlled by a powerful king. The Church would fight this, I believe rightly so by insisting on an Independent and Sovereign Papal State, so that the church could not be manipulated so easily by powerful kings, emperors, or dictators in the future. The Popes fought this battle right up to 1870 when Rome was illegitimately seized by the newly created Italian Monarchy under Victor Emanuel II. The Popes remained “prisoners of the Vatican ” until the Lateran Council of 1927 negotiated by Mussolini for the King of Italy and the House of Savoy. This concordat recognized the sovereignty of “yle="">Stato Della Citta Del Vaticano,” and various other extraterritorial possessions of the Holy See and paid reparations to the Holy See for the seizure of Rome and the Papal States in the previous century, hence in effect legitimizing the Pontifical claims of 1870 to its sovereign status.
d. Therefore, I believe it erroneous to say that any of the events were the result of Church authority but rather the lack of and examples rather of what continues today attempts at the powerful of the world to manipulate the Church for its own purposes.
e. As along as the church does not have the coercive power of the state, that is the power to punish with incarceration, or death, rights it actually only exercised in the Papal States themselves (a necessary embarrassment for a Church, that was also a state with a population, that was in need of all the laws and order of any other state at that time) I believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the greatest institutional and moral guardian against the rise of the totalitarian super state.
Art, thank you for your thoughts, I await your retort.
Vale et Pax

Dr Art Kyriazis answers

(Dr Art does not use upper case letters, it is as he wrote it unedited.)

will state here that I am of the orthodox faith, so my holy week is deferred this year, but I understand there are ecumenical discussions and negotiations underway to at least unite the Easters of the Western and Eastern Churches, which would be a wonderful thing indeed.

I would start with common ground. I believe the passion of the christ and the mysteries of easter and the resurrection of the christ is for me, and for billions of people in the world, one of the most important touchstones of faith in their devotion to god. There is little question that this is my favorite service of the year and of course, our theological calendar begins and ends at easter and the pentecost and the ascent.

I find myself agreeing with the fine points you make. England was indeed quite schismatic; as I point out in my other response, they had a tendency to export dissent to the new world rather than simply supress it. This does not encompass fully the irish question, which is a shameful episode in their history.

The horrors of the french revolution i fully share revulsion for. As I am fundamentally a conservative, Burke has always been one of my touchstones. While I don't agree with all of the points you make extending from the french revolution, I agree it was a horrible event. I would add that it lit the fuse for all of the nationalist uprisings of the 19th and 20th century, starting with the Greek Revolution of 1821-1830, to the bosnian nationalist who shot the archduke of austria and started world war I, to the disintegration of the ottoman empire along nationalist lines and the eastern problem. even the russian revolution.

plus my personal favorite word, "the thermidorean reaction".

I certainly agree that modernly catholicism, especially since vatican II, has been a liberating force against totalitarianism, especially in places like poland behind the iron curtain. however there remains the problem of the concordat of 1938 with hitler, and the complicity of the church with the croats against the serbs in wwII, and other similar scenarios which played out, along with their role vis a via Mussolini.

we agree about spain.

On the 4th crusade and albigensian crusade, your arguments have been made by certain historians, and are well-supported, but so have been mine, and we will agree to disagree. There are a plethora of recent studies on the subject, plus of course the original sources such as Villardhouin, which I have read and re-read. There are both crusader and greek accounts.

On the knights templar, let's leave that one alone. it's been overdone with movies etc.

the pope for many years had a secular state and an army==the papal states. for much of history the pope had coercive means at his disposal and the ability to ally with military forces. there are many works and sources on this point. Obviously france and the holy roman empire have intervened on numerous occasions either to interfere with the pope's secular power or at the pope's invitation; also spain for many years was involved in the affairs of italy. before the arrival of the normans, the byzantines were rulers of southern italy and sicily. Many powers have been involved in italy. If you re-read your machiavelli and other italian writers, you will see the secular role the pope played for many centuries.

i agree modernly the pope, and especially recent popes, have been champions of freedom. i think the recent pope who died should be beatified.

--dr arthur kyriazis

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