Sunday, January 20, 2008

Delicious Ironing

So Benedict XVI found himself punted from a lecture he was going to give this week at Rome's La Sapienza University--founded some 700 years ago by, well, a Pope actually, Boniface VIII--and, as with the last time His Holiness was embroiled in such a scandal, the righteous ire of right wing commentators has managed to miss the obvious.

The complaint against Benedict's speaking at La Sapienza, made by certain factions at that university, is summed up thus:
... 67 professors at the university signed a letter saying the pope should not be allowed to give the inauguration speech for the academic year.

The professors accused Benedict of being opposed to science, and cited a speech he gave two decades ago. They argued that the pope would have supported the Church's 17th century trial against Galileo for claiming the earth revolved around the sun.

David Warren gives us a typical conservative reaction:
... [We] see [here] exposed the grounding assumption of every politically-correct proposition in the post-modern, so-called “liberal” mind. The speaker assumes there is an official "open-minded" position, that must be protected by law or force. He then insists on banning any deviation from this official “open-minded” position.
Which, incidentally, I think is absolutely correct. But! But, but, but!--This is to miss the point; it is to miss the real jelly-filling of irony at the centre of all this left-liberal intellectual dough.

Kevin Jones, of Philokalia Republic--who, I should like to point out to you, in the absence of an official translation of the Pope's more recent lecture undertakes to provide his own!--explains that the lecture that the Sapienza 67 use to indict Benedict was, in fact, a vindication of Galileo and, what's more, it was a condemnation of the legacy of the Inquisition that has found its spiritual home in the post-modern intellect. (I mean! The blistering irony of it all!) Indeed--calling to mind the recent absurdity of Mark Steyn's having to defend himself against accusations of inciting hatred against Muslims for quoting, directly, a prominent Scandinavian Mullah--Mr. Jones points out that Benedict was not speaking for himself when he said that the Inquisition's verdict against Galileo was "rational and just," but was quoting post-structuralist philosopher Paul Feyerabend ... in order to attack the position!

A good explanation is given here:
They accuse him of having said - in a lecture he gave at La Sapienza on February 15, 1990 {cfr J. Ratzinger, Wendezeit für Europa? Diagnosen und Prognosen zur Lage von Kirche und Welt, Einsiedeln-Freiburg, Johannes Verlag, 1991, pp. 59 e 71) - a statement that was actually from the philosopher of science, Paul Feyerabend: "In the time of Galileo, the Church was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself. The trial of Galileo was reasonable and just."

But none of them bothered to read the lecture in full and carefully. Its theme was the crisis of faith in itself that science has, and he cited as an example the changing of attitudes about the Galileo case.

If Galileo had become - in the 18th century, the century of the Enlightenment - emblematic of the Church's 'medieval obscurantism', the attitude changed in the 20th century when Ernst Bloch, for instance, pointed out that Galileo never showed convincing proof of a heliocentric cosmos, to the statement by Feyerabend - described by Ratzinger in the lecture as 'an agnostic-skeptic philosopher' - and by Carl von Weiszsacker who said there was a straight line from Galileo to the atom bomb.

These citations were not used by the cardinal to seek vindication or to make justifications: "It would be absurd," he said "to construct a hasty apologetics on the basis of these statements. Faith does not grow out of resentment or the rejection of reason."

The citations he made were clearly used as proof of how much "modernity's doubts about itself have now involved even science and technology."

In other words, the 1990 lecture could well be considered - by anyone who reads it with the minimum attention - a defense of Galilean rationality against the skepticism and relativism of post-modern culture.
Surely this is the real story! That either the given interests at La Sapienza are intentionally misconstruing the Pope's words in order to advance a nakedly anti-Catholic agenda or, far worse to my mind, they have misunderstood them--and, needless to say, to the detriment of their own goddamn cause!


... I sometimes worry that conservatives have as little faith in reason as the left does.