The Eight General Conference:Islam And The Future Dialogue Between
RELIGIOUS CULTURE AS THE ETHICS IN POLITICS
RELIGIOUS CULTURE AS THE ETHICS IN POLITICS
Antonio Panesso Bogota Colombia
At the end of the second millennium The World experience a very similar situation to the crisis and the turmoil in the beginning of the first century in The Mediterranean region. Then, as now, political and religious fanaticism were the roots of disorders, wars, rivalries between nations and misunderstanding even among the followers of the same faith. Judaism had been dispersed after the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70. Christianity was born under the constant persecutions of the Roman emperors and the Roman Empire itself was subject to innumerable plots and rebellions in the different regions of its dominions. Fanaticism, hate, ambition of power and greed took the place of the ancient wisdom of Greece, whose language fortunately still predominated as an instrument of culture.
It is curious and sad to remark how the parallelism of those disasters in our own time happens after centuries of material progress and spiritual renaissances, which nevertheless did not overpower the political corruption. The first five centuries were the scenario for the gradual disappearance of ancient cultures, which barely could resist the inevitable evolution of history. Two monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity, branches of the same tree, The Old Testament, remained as hidden forces for the spirit of man while history was developing in remote place for the appearance of the last Prophet.
Then, in the seventh century, it was Arabic the tongue of God and the third monotheistic religion came about as a sort of culmination to the promise to Moses. In those turbulent years, there was a part of The Mediterranean region where the new faith of the Christians flourished in a different guise. It was Egypt. The North of Africa still keeps in historic memory and in archeological remains the glory that was Rome. And the new religions shone with a different light. 1 will mention now the life and work of two great Egyptians: Clement and Origen.
Clement felt himself at home in a World of this kind; he wrote for it and enjoyed a wide public, because he was already one of themselves, and had no need to struggle for recognition. In Alexandria, mental life and culture had developed more rapidly than elsewhere, a fact which signified a better pathway for Christianity. Clement was a philosopher and a gnostic, a philosopher at the beginning, a gnostic at the end, but both as a Christian: and he tried to prove to The World that it was in this very combination that the solution of its problems was to be found; at the same time it afforded complete insight into the apparently simple and broadly outlined doctrines of the church catholic. He expressed these opinions to his readers in a vocabulary and style expected of a writer of belles- lettres. He took trouble to write Attic Greek, and, where it seemed to him appropriate, he made use of the optative mood although it was already dying out in living speech. Occasionally, he interwove elegant acrostics, and other grammatical tit-bits. He constructed rhetorical sentences effectively, and his balanced clauses in twos and threes or longer series, frequently even with a rhythmic movement, made pleasant reading. Then again, artistic periods rolled musically along, filled with the vocabulary of impassioned language. The modes, which were usual at the time as effective oratory, were applied by Clement to attain his purpose, nor did he refrain here and there from contrasting the "unsophisticated" and "simple language" which he used "merely to serve his purpose", with the ornamental "cooing of doves", usual in the "ear-ticklings of the Sophists": these very phrases are quoted from his Handbook. Like Tertullian in the West, so Clement in the East (where it was more difficult) was the first Christian whom the literary world was compelled to recognize as a modern writer in the full sense of the term. It regarded Clement as a Sophist equally with Aristides or Philostratos, and felt that it was possible to take up his writings, with their special content, without spoiling one's good taste.
Succeeding ages have not done justice to Clement, and the Church has paid him only small thanks for his outstanding contribution. It was his lot to be only the forerunner of a greater man who completely overshadowed him: the greater man was Origen, the most outstanding teacher known in the Church of East. For two centuries, the Church loved and honoured fervently, but only to condemn him as a heretic a century later. When he was condemned by the Church, his influence was shattered, and, as a consequence it came about that, of the most unbelievable multitude of his writings, only very few have survived in the original, and somewhat more in translation. His letters have disappeared, although these would have been most valuable for enabling us to understand his personality, but we must be grateful that at least a sketch of his life has been preserved in the sixth book of Eusebius's History of The Church. Eusebius had collected the letters, and he was fond of making use of them along with other trustworthy sources.
It would appear that Origen was born A.D. 185, he was the oldest son in a large and probably prosperous Christian family; he was carefully educated, and, at an early date, showed uncommon gifts. When his father, Leonidas, was imprisoned during Severus's persecution, A.D. 202, the son, who was scarcely a full-grown man, conceived a passionate desire for martyrdom. His mother, in her concern, hid his clothes so that he could not leave the house. All he could do was to write and tell his father what she had done; he then exhorted him bravely to confess himself a Christian! Leonidas died as a Roman citizen, for he was executed by the sword: his possessions were confiscated. Thereupon an eminent lady took care of the highly gifted youth, and as a consequence he entered a house which vividly reflected the religious spirituality of the city. The lady had adopted a son, a gnostic named Paul who had been born in Antioch, who, on account of his recognized and outstanding talents, had many attentive hearers, whether gnostic or orthodox. Contact with this person greatly influenced Origen; at any rate he began to show himself actively opposed to what gnosticism stood for.
His excellent academic education availed him for tutorial purposes, and he soon became financially independent. Since the Christian catechumen school had been broken up under pressure of the persecution, he acceded to the request of pagans who were anxious to learn, and gave instruction in Christianity. He continued this work in spite of all hostile attacks, and all threats on the part of the police, and enjoyed increasing success. The school, conducted by the youth of scarcely eighteen years, was officially recognized by the bishop, and soon attended by such numbers that he was no longer in a position to continue both and give instruction in Christianity and to conduct the secular courses by which hitherto he had made his living. He abandoned the latter lectures and sold the library, which it had given him much pleasure to collect, in exchange for a current income of four obols a day, i.e. one denarius per week. That was literally starvation pay, and during the next years Origen actually lived a life of strictest asceticism, carrying it through to the last extremes of need in regard to food and clothing, and by allowing himself insufficient sleep. This "philosophy" of his made a deep impression and gained imitators; it also converted educated pagans, who regarded Origen as combining the ideal of Cynicism with a living faith in God. Moreover, Eusebius our informant, records, with justifiable pride, that six martyrs belonged to this stern school of the young teacher, martyrs who testified to their faith with their life. During this period of thorough-going asceticism Origen followed literally the saying in Matt. 19: 12 and emasculated himself, an act which, in spite of all his care, did not remain secret in the end. Bishop Demetrius forgave him but did not forget.
Eusebius also asserts that Origen had been a disciple of Clement who, on his part, had followed Pantainos as a leader of the catechumen school. Whether the relationship of teacher and pupil, asserted by Eusebius, ever really existed is, however, by no means certain. In spite of all theological similarities Origen never mentions Clement, not even in passages where one might expect it. Origen may have attended Clement's lectures but did not enter into closer relationship with him. On the other hand, he remembered Pantainos with respect, and mentioned Ammonios Sakkas as his teacher in philosophy.
We must not regard the famous catechumen school is any way as formally organized, teaching institution with appointed professors, but rather as voluntary lectures given by men who felt themselves called to do so, and who were willing to introduce others into the secrets of Christianity without being paid in cash. If The Church liked their work they would be officially recognized and recommended by the bishop. Origen was the first to begin something in the nature of an organization, in as far as he divided up the instruction, and handed over the introductory course to his friend Heraklas, in order that he might be able to deal with the increasing crowds of pupils. Origen had made the acquaintance of Heraklas at the lectures of Ammonios, lectures which he had already been attending for five years when Origen first came, Ammonios, who had developed from a porter into a philosopher, dominated men's minds at that time with his doctrine based on Plato; and he founded a school which produced the two greatest thinkers of late Greek antiquity: Origen The Christian and Plotinus the classical exponent of Neoplatonism.
Origen was the first Christian of whom any record has survived that he had a close personal contact with the known head of a philosophical school. The contact of Christian beliefs with the extant Greek culture in The West was not always fruitful. Sophistry invaded frequently the teachings of the masters and soon the docent Church entangled itself in abstruse lucubrations on the nature of God and the divine person of Jesus. Theologians split among themselves frequently on subjects such as whether Christ had two wills, one divine, another one human; or two natures, one divine, another one human. Diverse schools of thought were the roots of heresies, which plagued the primitive Church for centuries. Simplicity of language and common sense in the interpretation of the Word came from a quite different culture. The Quran, in beautiful and expressive language, spoke with words like these: 21. To serve Our purpose We ordained that their identity be revealed so that they, as well as others, would realize that the promise of God is truth personified and that The Day of Judgement is a certainty. The aftermath of the event resolved itself in the manner that was inevitably expected. The people (who by then had conformed to God's will- Christians) debated the number and the event and its significance and some concluded to construct a memorial on the site, whereas others whose decision prevailed resolved to erect a house of worship thereon". 22. Tossed with their unballasted wits in fathomless and unquiet deeps of controversies, People of The Book were divided in opinion relative to the number of the young men, and in the course of time, some will say: `They numbered three and their dog the fourth", others will say; "Five, their dog the sixth", an exercise of divination, whereas others will say: "Seven, their dog eighth", Say to them (O Muhammad): "God, my Creator, knows best their number; it is only a few who have been given the knowledge of the number and the significance of the event", Therefore, do not involve yourself (O Muhammad) in the heat of their dispute but treat the subject from an objective standpoint only so as to exhibit the actual facts and never seek counsel from any of them upon the event". AL KAHF (21 - 22) At the end of the century our World experiences and ethical crisis are similar to the mental confusion in the first years of the past century. The main difficulty is politics without morality and the use of force as a means of domination and resistance. The product is terrorism. And it has affected all ways of life, everywhere. Here in the Middle East terrorism destroyed the unity and autonomy of Lebanon, one of the democracies of the region. In the middle of the century Lebanese survival was possible only by a series of gentlemen's agreements among the lites of the religious groups: Maronites (Eastern Christians in communion with Rome), Orthodox Christians, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and Druzes. Such agreements were made workable only by self-denying ordinances among the religions and sects to forswear fanaticism.
In 1975, following The Yom Kippur War, President Sadat of Egypt took the historic step of opening peace negotiations with Israel. That was the first root for the peace treaty which brought immense benefits to both parties: a mortal threat to Israel was removed and Egypt was released from the burden of a vendetta which had nothing to do with her and which was wrecking her perspectives of economic growth. This was the most creative act of that dismal decade.
The precarious balance of power in Lebanon was again preserved by the conciliatory attitude of the local High Muslim Council, which spoke for all the sects. Peace was then and has always been possible when the best human instincts are working in the realm of politics: Nothing in Judaic religion permits the murder of Rabin; nothing in The Quran permits the murder of Sadat; nothing in Christianity permits the kidnapping and murder of innocent people by a sect whose chief is a Spanish Catholic priest, as it is happening in my own country.
Only the common cultural heritage of our Mediterranean civilization can stop the disasters of war and the moral menace of terrorism. It is only the religious morality of the three great monotheistic families, which can impose the ethics in politics.