Monday, October 30, 2006

The last days

I know, I haven't been writing in a while, but the fact is I had not the mood nor the inclination. One can actually go down writing having one of them and lacking the other, but missing both together makes it simply impossible. Yet, yesterday brought some clearings in the situation which was sort of clouding my horizon and the week has started in a definitely better way that it had closed.

So, the past days. Friday I skipped work, or rather I was working in a different way. Together with another 160 people, meaning almost everyone under 35 years of age working in my firm, I was sent to a convention in Frascati to "workshops of brainstorming over the future prospectives of the firm". I'm uttermostly skeptical about such meetings, but at least was an interesting and different way to spend time with my colleague and meet new ones, and lunch was great. I was also once again announced my internal transfer to a different office, but as usual I replied with a "When I'll see it, I'll believe in it".. sooner or later someone will nickname me Thomas. In the evening, the usual 1.5 km of swimming at the pool and then I turned down a couple of invitations for the evening in order to be able to speak with Susanne.

Saturday was, well, not a good day. Thoughts of the unpleasant kind kept going around my head for the whole evening and despite all my attempts and the various chances provided by events to distract myself in the morning (for instance, together with my family we did the first half of the yearly visit to the graveyards were my relatives are resting), those thoughts were still there. Just as we got back home I got a message from Liesbeth and two hours later we were in front of a cinema to see "The departed".

The wrong cinema tho, as it turned out the newspaper was wrong and the one shown there was not in english. A quick walk to a different cinema and a quick aperitivo later, we went and saw Woody Allen's "Scoop". A good movie indeed, I must say. Then we walked, we talked, I took her home and eventually we ended up talking of what was grieving us until past 11, when I finally took her to a pub where some friends were waiting for her and turned down an invitation to stay, preferring to head back home to see if Susanne was maybe around. She wasn't. Well, the rest of the evening, the night and even the next morning were of the awful kind, but then sunday improved somewhat (although the plan of going with Alessandro to an outlet, more like an excuse to see each other than anything else, fell thought due his disappearance) and was closed in a nice way and with a great dinner, which helped too... nothing like the combination of good roasted meat, good roasted potatoes and great red wine.

And so, the week has started under a better light (and a good natural light as well, it still feels like late spring rather than middle autumn, even if forecasts see a quick and huge drop of temperatures soon) and with some unexpected events in the form of an email from my ex, Christina, as a follow up of a birthday wishes sms exchange a couple of weeks ago. An email which I hadn't been expecting but of which I could guess most of the content and even part of the exact wording even before opening it. We'll see. As the sms of 3 weeks ago, I do not know if and how to reply and, in case, what to write. And as usual, I can't wait for friday to be here, anyway...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

O Beware...

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on; that cuckold lives in bliss
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger;
But, O, what damned minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves.

Shakespeare, Othello, Act III, scene III

It's not that I'm in a particularly Shakespearean period, but have you ever noticed how basically the bard has written everything that could be written, and better than anyone else, about the human spirit? An unlimited source of quotes about every aspect of the human soul. Which is the reason why, four centuries after he wrote, and in four thousand years to come (if we'll not destroy ourselves) he will still be on scene, as human nature hasn't changed much nor will do. Ambition, Love, Jealousy, Passion, Desire... how much they rule our moods and actions, and how little we do rule on them and at what cost, when we do.

Jealousy. Where does it come from? Lack of trust? Or the knowledge that we instinctively have that it takes but a moment of distraction for losing what we love, or for what we love to lose itself while we can't do anything or do not even know? But if it is in our nature, why do we fall under its spell in a different way, and whole cultures can be more inclined to jealousy than others? And what's that relly terrifies us, the fear of loss, or the anger that someone else will, or simply could, have what we dearly love and treasure?

But truly, when sleep won't come at night, we are short on breath and a ton of invisible bricks has been laid upon our heart, all those are pointless questions, aren't they?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

"The world must be peopled"

Apparently, people I know are taking that Shakespeare's line (Much ado about nothing, act 2, scene 3) very literally. Just weeks after I got to know of Jelena's (my serbian friend) baby, yesterday night I got a message from Irina, an ex of mine, announcing she also had entered motherhood. I was actually even announced a picture that never came, which isn't surprising given that, for unknown reason, already her marriage pics, husband's name and anything related to that are taboo for me... but that pretty much fits with her character.

Now, besides the smile the news brought over my lips for unspeakable reasons, the whole thing sure made me wonder again (as Jelena's news had already, after all) about the fact that apparently the whole world is moving on except my closest, italian, male friends and me, who are, in many ways, living a much teenage-like life, at home and stuff. Yes, italian economical situation, with salaries which in big city just don't allow you to live by yourself managing to make ends meet, more or less forces us in the position we are. Yes, italian general attitude about staying home until getting married doesn't push us to move on either. But the two things things mixing together are sort of catastrophic, giving us also a psychological excuse to, often, not even trying as we are sort of justified in what we do or don't.

I wonder who's going to be next. Elisabetta, perhaps, married since a couple of years now. Or maybe I will just getting another mail where, as a by the way, I will get to know of another marriage and another baby in another country which will bring back old memories and new self questioning.

I'm definitely in a mixed mood today.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Back from Mainz, again

Yes, last week-end I was again in Mainz, despite the grumbles of my (few) closest friends who actually might have a reason in saying I'm never around anymore. I shall be in Rome this week-end, anyway, and then not again for the next three.

It was a very nice week-end which included the search for the curtains for Susanne's house, a japanese dinner, a walk in the neighborhood "markt", meaning an impromptu market with various food stands (included one with a very interesting cherry-wine), walking around, seeing a movie... all those things that would be totally normal for a couple, after all, if only we weren't living a thousand kilometers away.

The highlight of the week-end was Susanne asking me if I'd be up to go with her family in Denmark for new year's eve. Now, that would not be a simple "vacation together", it would be sort of intruding in what has always been a family-only retire covering the whole Christmas's vacations. A sort of rite, in a way, or at least that has always been my impression when she told me about it. I'm not sure if that will actually happen (too many ifs to consider), but the simple question made my day.

For the rest, not much news. My inside-firm transfer should be a done thing only to be announced to my present boss, but I will believe in it only the moment I shall see the paper signed by the HR director.

I've a scheduled appointment tomorrow with a doctor to see and solve my nose problems (deviate septum and chronically swollen turbinates, with consequent disorders), even if that will probably mean a surgery sometimes in january (and that is definitely not a nice thought, considering the full anesthesia and the week or two of pain that will follow).

In the meanwhile, in Rome (and in Mainz as well) weather and temperature keep being the ones of a late spring/early summer rather than the ones of mid-fall...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

When it rains, it pours

Yesterday has been probably the worst day of my professional life, and even the other fronts haven't brought many good surprises.

It happened that, for having refused to sign something that, if not blatantly illegal, was indeed way irregular, I had to sustain a good two hours of verbal abuse from my superior, which I simply ignored, closed by an open threat at my physical integrity. Now, not that a overweight 53 years old neanderthalish man would actually impress me with such a threat, yet it was definitely annoying, even because yelled at me from less than half a meter of distance and so strong that I could smell his breath (not a pleasant one, either). Yet, I am amazed of how much I can stand without even flinching and I wonder if that was actually the right strategy, considering that he got over and over annoyed as he noticed his verbal exploits (not even imaginative at that) were simply unable to make me even turn my eyes from my monitor.

On the other hand, the very same day, it turned out I have made a consistent mistake in a contract. I suppose it's unavoidable after three years, I'm only human, and the fact that other 4 people didn't notice it (despite it being as big as a mammoth) makes it slightly better, but still the mistake was mine and that's it, I shall have to find a way to correct it and bear the consequences.

In the meanwhile, I got to know I'm not going to see Susanne for new year's eve (yes, considering the situation, we usually have plans 3 months ahead in order to get cheap plane tickets). She's going to Denmark with her family, just like last year. While on one side I understand that and I can't but support the decision (after all, she doesn't see her family every day anymore, not even every week or month since she moved to Mainz), on the other hand that trashed my plans for fireworks in Prague or Budapest.

Eventually, yesterday I didn't have lunch (my stomach was too closed) and didn't have a real dinner either. I didn't go to see Alessandro as planned (he's suffering from a pretty severe back pain) because I had to get rid of the adrenaline, which I did swimming my usual legs in a third less of the usual time and getting out feeling as I hadn't done anything (power of adrenaline, indeed).

Anyway, today is a new day and some good news seem to be pouring in. Apparently the switch of office, which became even more necessary after yesterday, will become effective soon while it would maybe be possible for Susanne to be in Rome right before Christmas. I think I found a way to patch up the mistake I did and got approval for that as well. Now, if it only wouldn't be raining right now, it would be almost a decent day...

In the meanwhile, I restyled a bit the site and by that I noticed that it's a while I do not write an entry about books or politics. It's not that I have stopped reading or following the news, is just that... I don't know really. I'll get back to both the things.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mainz - The past week-end and the new week

Passing from Berlin to Mainz has the gravitational centre in Germany has been definitely an experience and I am unable, despite her attempts at explaining, to fully imagine how it must have been for Susanne. Anyway, the week-end has been as intense and pleasant as exhausting.

Having been out until late on thursday didn't help either. Despite giving up swimming for the day on friday, I was definitely tired by the time I reached Ciampino for my flight at 10 pm, which turned out to be 30 minutes late. Considering that the last bus to leave Frankfurth Hahn directed to Mainz is at 0.30 am, some 30 minutes after the expected landing time of my plane, the delay brought an intense wave of nervousism that accompanied me all along the flight. And since things come in waves, as I sat in the plane thinking I would had to dash out of the cabin a second after the touch down (good thing I only have hand luggage with me), the two chairs next to me were occupied by one of the fattest individuals I've ever seen, which eventually meant I was one of the last persons leaving the plane. Note for next friday: despite hating it, sit on the corridor side next time.

Anyway, I managed to take the last coach at the airport and ,despite dozing off now and then, I noticed when we were entering the city and sent a sms to Susanne which turned out to be pointless given she was indeed already on her way. So it happened that I arrived at the main station of Mainz exactly as Susanne was dismounting from her bike. It was 1.40 am and about 40 minutes later, after a 3 kms walk in the night, we were home or, rather, in Susanne's home. It's actually incredible how quickly she managed to turn what had been a nice, but pretty anonymous, place just 2 weeks ago in a homely, cozy apartment with such a definite personal flavor.

Saturday was spent mostly home (I had to recover from the days before) and we ended up going out only for dinner, in this very typical restaurant just behind the cathedral, and then for a couple of drinks at the very nice place where we had dined at on our very first time in Mainz (and that had seen a pretty mighty discussion between the two of us too...). Another 4 kilometers march home, added to the intoxicating effects of a single mojito (I'm allergic to menthol, I know it, but it has never before been so strong on me when on the natural form of a few mint leaves), closed the day.

And it came sunday and the time to head back home. A kebab on the way, the coach at 5.30, the plane at 8, the discovery of having printed the wrong ticket (having 7 tickets with the same destination makes mistakes easy, after all) and the even more surprising discovery that it makes absolutely no difference for Ryanair, despite what they say, if your confirmation number is there or not, the landing in Rome, the drive home, sleep, work on monday, a new confrontation with my present superior because I insist on do things in the legal way over his 20 years old praxis, swimming pool, home, the usual longing feeling when seeing Susanne over the webcam rather than in front, or even better, next to me...

The new week, tho, may bring some news as I've been offered to move to a different office than the one I'm in right now. It's not the new job I'm seeking, but it could be a beginning or at least an interesting intermezzo. We'll see, I've a talk with the one who could be my new superior after lunch...

Friday, October 13, 2006

A very nice evening

Yesterday's evening turned to be one of the nicest in quite a long while, considering the times when Susanne is not with me. Having finished at the pool (another 50 legs, but this time my shoulders are crying so much that I shall skip today's round) I headed home, changed quickly and headed to pick up Liesbeth. Then, we headed towards Piazza Trilussa, arriving a few minutes late and finding Dalma already waiting for us.

Now, Dalma is one of my half dozen hungarian friends I've met over the years thro ELSA (one of the exceptional sides of that association is the kind of people you can meet and lasting relationships you can build). She was studying as an Erasmus student in Naples a few years ago and we met at one of the ELSA National Council Meetings, sometimes in 2001 I think. We sort of lost track of each other until I met her again in Budapest, in 2004, and since then we have more kept in touch, even because, in the meanwhile, for one of those intricate chain reactions of life, she ended up becoming the girlfriend of one of my best ELSA friends, Valerio.

Anyway, she was waiting for us, together with her parents, and I had already booked at my favourite restaurant, so after a quick exchange of pleasantries and update on the people missing, we headed for dinner. The usual warm welcome from the restaurants' owners and waiters (after all, I end up there about a dozen times a year) and we sat in this table that, not knowing what kind of temperature we would had found, I had asked to be prepared inside, but close to the window.

At the moment of placing the order, I finally could hear again fluent, uninterrupted hungarian as Dalma translated the various dishes to her parents and they exchanged comments back and forth. Now, I must say, hungarian is very special to my ear, for a number of reasons dating back five years. Ok, one reason, really. Anyway, it might be harsh and at time the typical intonation makes it sound as chant, but nevertheless whenever I hear it my heart grows warmer.

Order placed, everything followed with flawless precision. Drinks arrived within 2 minutes, mixed bruschettas arrived within 5 and the main courses, despite being of three different kinds (pasta, flesh and fish) arrived within 2 minutes one from the other. As the dinner was moving towards the desserts, I turned myself in a taxi driver, a not so unusual thing. Valerio had finally arrived at the train station, late obviously, and I jumped on my scooter to pick him up and deliver it to the group. As I got back, less than 45 minutes later, I made the acquaintance of an hungarian friend of Dalma and her italian boyfriend, we had dessert and then it was time to take a tired Liesbeth home. Half a hour later, I was back again to the restaurant, in time for a round of drinks offered by the restaurant's owner and chef-in-chief.

As we finally decided to leave, definitely overfed and possibly slightly overdrunk, we headed for a long walk encompassing Trastevere, Campo dei Fiori and Sant'Andrea della Valle, all the time reminiscing episodes of our ELSA life, things I had totally forgotten and that once upon a time had became little myths, like when Valerio and me disappeared from a meeting to be found hours later in the company of 6 estonian girls. Things I hadn't thought about for years and definitely made me smile.

At Largo Argentina we finally parted ways and it was a wise thing, given I ended up in bed at 2.30 am, which means I'm today with less than 5 hours of sleep with a very very long day to face. But the end of it, if everything will go well, will surely make me forget my total tiredness. Next stop, Mainz.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Winter is coming

Last night, for the first time since mid april, I placed a thick blanket over my bed. Ok, it's the 12th of October, and yet it's always a bit sad when you have the definitive evidence that the warm days are going away, not to mention that it was so hard to get out of the nice, welcoming warmth this morning.

Now, if I feel already somewhat cold in Rome, with averages temperatures between 12 (at night) and 25 (by day), I somehow shiver thinking of this week-end in Mainz, where temperatures are between 7 and 17. We'll see, I suppose, but it's a good thing I've already taken out from the wardrobe my heavy motorbike jacket.

On a totally unrelated matter, it's now two years I've this fancy of renewing my computer system and/or get myself a new laptop. My old desktop system is now entering his 6th year, while my old Compaq EA720 is still performing reasonably well for a computer of its age (it became my father's computer) but it is antiquate, to say the least.

Then, as always when I have to buy something economically relevant (except plane tickets), it started the price/quality/performance research which, in the computers' world, means waiting indefinitely as new products take the place of the ones you have decided to get as soon as they are reaching the price level you have set as the minimum for yourself. Now, considering that your product then simply disappears from the shelves overnight, one has to wonder: where do the left-overs end up to? Is there a secret deposit of good? And do you need to be initiated to some secret circle to know its location?

Anyway, while I abandoned the idea of upgrading my desktop system, I think I've decided which laptop to get: A6T-AP025H (and that, despite some horror stories regarding Asus technical support). Now, the piece of hardware appeared in the 1.300 € range months ago and is now entering the 1.000 €'s orbit. I di set myself to get it at 999 or lower. Will it once again disappear from the shelves when reached 1.010? Just about at Christmas' time?

Anyway, later today the plan sees swimming (yesterday reached 50 legs, while the plan is reaching 60 in 45 minutes every single day) and then dinner out with a hungarian friend, her parents, possibly a friend of hers and Liesbeth.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The last days

The weekend was a very busy one. The fact is that, considering I will be in Germany for 7 of the next 9 week-ends, I tried to concentrate everything over the last 4 days. And in fact:

Saturday morning I had lunch out with most of the Nova Romans of the roman community. It was nice and for a chance, there were new faces (wives and children of a couple of members), food was good and wine even too abundant. So much that most of us went walking in that little and scarcely known gem that is the a-catholic graveyard afterwards (from which, incidentally, one can enjoy a very different view of the Cestius' Piramid).

Just the time to get back home and rest a moment, and was time to leave again for the bi-weekly VCN happy hour, held in testaccio this time. Weather is being so good these days in Rome that we spent the night sitting at the outdoor tables chatting, drinking and making new acquaintances (most notably, this time, Karina and Sofia, respectively Sweden and Honduras). Also birthdays were celebrated as, we found out, between the 5th and the 7th october, three people had they birthdays (ok, one was me obviously) and a cake was presented. All in all it was a very good time, made even better by the fact Liesbeth was there (for a change) and even Alessandro and my former highschool's mates made a brief appearance.

As the group split (some to go dancing, some home), it was already quite late and it was only at around 3 that I got back home. At that point, with Japan's F1 GP starting at 7, I decided not to go to bed at all in what turned out to be a very poor decision, given the final outcome. As a consequence, sunday I was, for most of the day, totally dazed.

Monday the week started again and the only positive news was that I started to go back to swimming in what seems to be a very nice, and not too crowded, pool. For the rest, more bad news at work in what is becoming a torture. The end line is, i want to change sector in my firm and possibly change firm altogether as it has been a long time since I learned something new here, it is pretty evident they simply do not want me to learn anything more (first, I thought they just didn't care, now I know it's done on purpose) and I'm starting (or maybe I've started a long time and just realizing now) to forget what I knew. Very dangerous.

Anyway, today I'll be heading again to the pool (despite my shoulders are crying not to) to forget, tomorrow never knows and on thursday I will have guests from Hungary. And friday... finally... Mainz.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Wishes, events and the curse on my scooter again

And so, my birthday did pass once again. Eventually, I got wishes from Croatia, Hungary, Netherlands, Belgium, Kazakhstan (but living in Scotland), Russia (2), Belgium (but living in Italy), Hungary (2), USA, Serbia, Romania and Germany (2). It's nice to know people who in some cases you haven't seen in quite a while still remember you, even if in one case the wishes opened up a bit of a problem for me. But anyway.

I haven't really celebrated the birthday, I must say. On one side, I was not in the mood (read on) while, on the another hand, it was a working day followed by another working day. So, the whole celebration amounted to a mini-sachertorte (with a single symbolic candle on it, we didn't want having to call the fire brigade...) and champagne with my family, which added itself to the one a colleague of mine surprisingly got me at lunch break (with unspeakable consequences on my readiness level at work in the afternoon).

Now, as I said a few posts earlier, there is undoubtedly a curse on my scooter. To prove even more the point, I celebrated my birthday leaving my office, reaching my scooter, finding the trunk forced open and my waterproof suit and gloves gone. Now, I do not know if 6 burglary cases on the same scooter, two of which within 6 days, are a record. I surely hope so in general, but in my particular case is demoralizing.

The only good news of the day is that I probably found myself a swimming pool relatively close to my house where going to swim at any time I want, but most notably right after getting out of my office. I must say, I still think swimming is boring, but I have to admit that I rarely felt so well in the last times as in the month I had taken to go every day swimming so...

Yesterday I went to the monthly Happy Hour of the American International Club of Rome and was favourably impressed. Much more business and professional minded than the VCN crowd 8almost everyone was dressed up for the occasion, good thing I went directly from work and consequently having my suit), a very nice host (Helen) and a very nice place (which I knew already, having had the last VCN HH before summer break right there). To be noted that the honorary president of the club is the american ambassador in Italy and not only in name it seems, as he is actively involved in the events organize by the club. An experience to repeat, if possible. After the happy hour, I visited Liesbeth's at her place and talked of this and that for hours. A nice evening, all in all.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


And so, right at the moment I write this (9.15 am) I officially walk in my fourth decade. Yes, because when you turn 30 you actually are closing your third decade, just as much as the year 2000 closed the second millennium, didn't start the third, which is the reason why the millenarists out there should had been scared of 2000/s last day, not 1999's one. Speaking of numerology, I've to say, I like the date of my birth, there's something magical in it: 5/10/75. Think about it: it's 5*1/5*2/5*3*5.

Anyway, 31. So far, I've received wishes from Germany, Russia (2), Belgium (even if living in Rome), Romania, Croatia and, obviously, Italy (already too many to count). It's strange, yesterday I had the classic "day before the birthday" blues, which I didn't have last year... well, of course last year I had Susanne here, which sort of kept my thoughts on the happy side.

And it is time of balances, or is that the last of the year? Or maybe it's like firms, which present them quarterly? But I really don't feel like it today. Truth to be say, birthdays in my family are not such big events and it's a thursday too. I caressed the idea of taking a day off from work, but then decided I had much more useful ways to use my scarce and precious off-time. I then had a half plan of going out this evening, but I'm having second thoughts about it as well in favor of looking for a swimming pool. Yesterday I found out two of them whose addresses are more or less on the way back to my house from the office and I think I'm going to check them out.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Brief Notes

As a result of a very nasty email exchange (actually, monologue, I did post two mails all in all against the dozen of the other side), I'm one step short from leaving the VCN community. That would be quite an interesting day to celebrate my birthday 2 days from now, but there's a limit to the harassment one can take, I suppose. We will see.

And yes, I do not know how it happened, but it seems I'm moving well in my thirties the 5th. At least, last year, the one i reached the fateful 30, I had Susanne here for the whole week of my birthday, this year I'm going to be on my own and I've absolutely no plans. Not to mention, Susann'e has such a bad net connection at her new house in Mainz that is doubtful that video conferencing will be an option from now on.

At least, the scooter reparations were less expensive than I expected. The only good news of the day.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Curse on my Scooter and Something Good out of it

Friday evening my scooter was almost stolen in Piazza della Cancelleria, behind Campo dei Fiori, at 9 PM of a friday, with hundreds of people passing by and a company of policemen just 50 meters away. What happened, I returned to my scooter after having had a drink with a friend and caught two people happily and undisturbedly intent in connecting the wires of my scooter and,as it turned out, only within seconds from the moment thay would had started it and taken it away. They fled as I approached, but left my scooter crippled and unable to start. I left it in a garage nearby for the night and today I was looking for a solution to the problem.

Now, to put this into contest, this particular scooter I have must be under some kind of curse as in the last 2 years it has been targeted by "micro-criminality" acts 5 times. The first time, while in the guarded garage under my former house, someone opened it and took away my new helms. The second time, again in the garage, someone (maybe the same person?) took away the whole plastic frontal section of the scooter. The man of the garage paid for all the repairations, but still that was pretty annoying. Months later, while parked in the street, someone took away the little lamp that lights the scooter plate. Some months later again, in broad daylight and when parked in a very busy street with hundreds of passer-bys, someone tried to open the small back-trunk and get the helms once again (the attempt failed, but I had to change the trunk as the lock got broken and couldn't be opened anymore)

What's the good out of it? Saturday morning, after some searches, I found a mechanic that was opened on saturday morning even being downtown, which it's not so easy indeed. It was at 1, 5 kms from where my 120+ kgs the scooter was parked, but better than nothing.

As I was walking form the mechanic back to the scooter, my thoughts lost in a sad analysis of how heavy it would had been to push the scooter all the way back, I heard behind me a "scusi" (something like "I beg your pardon" in the italian formal way). Now, I'm not so used to be addressed in the formal way, especially when I'm dressed with a simple and worn t-shirt, so I kept going, thinking it wasn't me the one addressd. But the "scusi" repeated itself twice and at the same distance, despite my walking on, so it was clear that someone was following me. I stopped, turned and, given my wretched mood, I prepared myself to confront a bold beggar or, at best (but I really didn't hope so), a foreigner looking for directions (I've this thing about me that leads foreigners to always ask me for directions, which is fun in a way, but not that morning).

Instead, I found myself in front of a girl who, still using the very formal third person, simply asked, in italian, something like "Sorry, are you the famous Guido of the VCN?". I was, to say the least, caught off guard and I can't even remember what I said and in which language I said it, but she just added something like "I just wanted to tell you get recognized and wanted to thank you for all the help you give over the list". Well, again, I have no idea what I said, and we just parted.

The whole thing did last less than a minute, but the point is, while I still had to push my 120+ kgs scooter for a kilometer and a half, but I did that smiling, rather than grumbling... ok, not while I had to push it up a slope, I'm only human after all, but you get the point.

So, the end of it is: thank you, whoever you were (she knew mine, but I didn't get to know her name), for having made my effort lighter and my mood better that morning. Pity that today some asshole from the very same list turned sour that very nice moment. Such is life, I suppose, and the world is full of idiots.

The Pope's words - II

Socrates or Muhammad?
Joseph Ratzinger on the destiny of reason.
by Lee Harris

To the memory of Oriana Fallaci
On September 12, Pope Benedict XVI delivered an astonishing speech at the Uni versity of Regensburg. Entitled "Faith, Reason, and the University," it has been widely discussed, but far less widely understood. The New York Times, for example, headlined its article on the Regensburg address, "The Pope Assails Secularism, with a Note on Jihad." The word "secularism" does not appear in the speech, nor does the pope assail or attack modernity or the Enlightenment. He states quite clearly that he is attempting "a critique of modern reason from within," and he notes that this project "has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age. The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly."

Benedict, in short, is not issuing a contemporary Syllabus of Errors. Instead, he is asking those in the West who "share the responsi bility for the right use of reason" to return to the kind of self-critical examination of their own beliefs that was the hallmark of ancient Greek thought at its best. The spirit that animates Benedict's address is not the spirit of Pius IX; it is the spirit of Socrates. Benedict is inviting all of us to ask ourselves, Do we really know what we are talking about when we talk about faith, reason, God, and community?

For many, it will seem paradoxical that the Roman pontiff has invoked the critical spirit of Socrates. The pope, after all, is the embodiment of the traditional authority of the Church, and the Church is supposed to have all the answers. Yet Socrates was famous as the man who had all the questions. Far from making any claims to infallibility, Socrates argued that the unexamined life was not worth living, and he was prepared to die rather than cease the process of critical self-examination. Socrates even refused to call himself wise, arguing instead that he only deserved to be called a "lover of wisdom."

Socrates skillfully employed paradox as a way to get people to think, yet even he might have been puzzled by the paradox of a Roman Catholic pope who is asking for a return to Socratic doubt and self-critique. Benedict must be perfectly aware of this paradox himself, so that we must assume that he, too, is using paradox deliber ately, as Socrates did, and for the same reason: to startle his listeners into rethinking what they thought they already knew.

But why should Pope Benedict XVI feel the need at this moment in history to emphasize and highlight the role that Greek philosophical inquiry played in "the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe"? Christian Europe, after all, was a fusion of diverse elements: the Hebrew tradition, the experience of the early Christian community, the Roman genius for law, order, and hierarchy, the Germanic barbarians' love of freedom, among many others. In this cultural amalgam, Greek philosophy certainly played a role, yet its contribution was controversial from the beginning. In the second century A.D., the eminent Christian theologian Tertullian, who had been trained as a Roman lawyer, asked contemptuously: "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?" For Tertullian, Athens represented hot-air and wild speculation. Many others in the early Church agreed, among them those who burned the writings of the most brilliant of all Greek theologians, Origen. Yet Benedict's address can be understood as a return to the position of the man who taught Origen, the vastly erudite St. Clement of Alexandria.

St. Clement argued that Greek philosophy had been given by God to mankind as a second source of truth, comparable to the Hebrew revelation. For St. Clement, Socrates and Plato were not pagan thinkers; they prefigured Christianity. Contrary to what Tertullian believed, Christianity needed more than just Jerusalem: It needed Athens too. Pope Benedict in his address makes a strikingly similar claim: "The encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance." This encounter, for Benedict, was providential, just as it had been for St. Clement. Furthermore, Benedict argues that the "inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history." For Benedict, however, this event is not mere ancient history. It is a legacy that we in the West are all duty-bound to keep alive--yet it is a legacy that is under attack, both from those who do not share it, namely Islam, and from those who are its beneficiaries and do not understand it, namely, Western intellectuals.

Let us begin by taking seriously Benedict's claim that in his address he is attempting to sketch, in a rough outline, "a critique of modern reason from within." He is not using his authority as the Roman pontiff to attack modern reason from the point of view of the Church. His approach is not dogmatic; it is dialectical. He stands before his learned audience not as the pope, but simply as Joseph Ratzinger, an intelligent and thoughtful man, who makes no claims to any privileged cognitive authority. He has come, like Socrates, not to preach or sermonize, but to challenge with questions.

Ratzinger is troubled that most educated people today appear to think that they know what they are talking about, even when they are talking about very difficult things, like reason and faith. Reason, they think, is modern reason. But, as Ratzinger notes, modern reason is a far more limited and narrow concept than the Greek notion of reason. The Greeks felt that they could reason about anything and everything--about the immortality of the soul, metempsychosis, the nature of God, the role of reason in the universe, and so on. Modern reason, from the time of Kant, has repudiated this kind of wild speculative reason. For modern reason, there is no point in even asking such questions, because there is no way of answering them scientifically. Modern reason, after Kant, became identified with what modern science does. Modern science uses mathematics and the empirical method to discover truths about which we can all be certain: Such truths are called scientific truths. It is the business of modern reason to severely limit its activity to the discovery of such truths, and to refrain from pure speculation.

Ratzinger, it must be stressed, has no trouble with the truths revealed by modern science. He welcomes them. He has no argument with Darwin or Einstein or Heisenberg. What disturbs him is the assumption that scientific reason is the only form of reason, and that whatever is not scientifically provable lies outside the universe of reason. According to Ratzinger, the results of this "modern self-limitation of reason" are twofold. First, "the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology, and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity." Second, "by its very nature [the scientific] method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question."

In making this last point about God, it may appear that Joseph Ratzinger, the critical thinker, has switched back into being Pope Benedict XVI, the upholder of Christian orthodoxy. Defenders of modern reason and modern science can simply shrug off his objection to their exclusion of God by saying, "Of course, the question of God cannot be answered by science. This was the whole point of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Science can neither prove, nor disprove God's existence. Furthermore, by bringing in the question of God, you have violated your own ground rules. You claimed to be offering a critique of modern reason from within, but by dragging God into the discussion, you are criticizing modern reason from the standpoint of a committed Christian. You are merely saying that modern reason excludes God; we who subscribe to the concept of modern reason are perfectly aware of this fact. Maybe it troubles you, as a Christian, but it doesn't bother us in the least."

Can Joseph Ratzinger, the critical thinker, answer this objection? Yes, he can, and he does. His answer is provided by his discussion of jihad. Contrary to what the New York Times reported, Ratzinger is not providing merely "a note on jihad" that has no real bearing on the central message of his address. According to his own words, the topic of jihad constitutes "the starting-point" for his reflection on faith and reason. Ratzinger uses the Islamic concept of jihad to elucidate his critique of modern reason from within.

Modern reason argues that questions of ethics, of religion, and of God are outside its compass. Because there is no scientific method by which such questions can be answered, modern reason cannot concern itself with them, nor should it try to. From the point of view of modern reason, all religious faiths are equally irrational, all systems of ethics equally unverifiable, all concepts of God equally beyond rational criticism. But if this is the case, then what can modern reason say when it is confronted by a God who commands that his followers should use violence and even the threat of death in order to convert unbelievers?

If modern reason cannot concern itself with the question of God, then it cannot argue that a God who commands jihad is better or worse than a God who commands us not to use violence to impose our religious views on others. To the modern atheist, both Gods are equally figments of the imagination, in which case it would be ludicrous to discuss their relative merits. The proponent of modern reason, therefore, could not possibly think of participating in a dialogue on whether Christianity or Islam is the more reasonable religion, since, for him, the very notion of a "reasonable religion" is a contradiction in terms.

Ratzinger wishes to challenge this notion, not from the point of view of a committed Christian, but from the point of view of modern reason itself. He does this by calling his educated listeners' attention to a "dialogue--carried on--perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara--by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both." In particular, Ratzinger focuses on a passage in the dialogue where the emperor "addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness" on the "central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.'"

Ratzinger's daring use of this provocative quotation was not designed to inflame Muslims. He was using the emperor's question in order to offer a profound challenge to modern reason from within. Can modern reason really stand on the sidelines of a clash between a religion that commands jihad and a religion that forbids violent conversion? Can a committed atheist avoid taking the side of Manuel II Paleologus when he says: "God is not pleased by blood--and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. . . . 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."

Modern science cannot tell us that the emperor is right in his controversy with the learned Persian over what is or is not contrary to God's nature. Modern reason proclaims such questions unanswerable by science--and it is right to do so. But can modern reason hope to survive as reason at all if it insists on reducing the domain of reasonable inquiry to the sphere of scientific inquiry? If modern reason cannot take the side of the emperor in this debate, if it cannot see that his religion is more reasonable than the religion of those who preach and practice jihad, if it cannot condemn as unreasonable a religion that forces atheists and unbelievers to make a choice between their intellectual integrity and death, then modern reason may be modern, but it has ceased to be reason.

The typical solution to the problem of ethics and religion offered by modern reason is quite simple: Let the individual decide such matters himself, by whatever means he wishes. If a person prefers Islam over Christianity, or Jainism over Methodism, that is entirely up to him. All such choices, from the perspective of modern reason, are equally leaps of faith, or simply matters of taste; hence all are equally irrational. Ratzinger recognizes this supposed solution, but he sees the fatal weakness in it. Modern reason asserts that questions of ethics and religion

have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science," . . . and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective. The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective "conscience" becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it.

If the individual is free to choose between violence and reason, it will become impossible to create a community in which all the members restrict themselves to using reason alone to obtain their objectives. If it is left up to the individual to use violence or reason, then those whose subjective choice is for violence will inevitably destroy the community of those whose subjective choice is for reason. Worse still, those whose subjective choice is for violence do not need to constitute more than a small percentage of the community in order to destroy the very possibility of a community of reasonable men: Brute force and terror quickly extinguish rational dialogue and debate.

Modern reason says that all ethical choices are subjective and beyond the scope of reason. But if this is so, then a man who wishes to live in a community made up of reasonable men is simply making a personal subjective choice--a choice that is no more reasonable than the choice of the man who wishes to live in a community governed by brute force. But if the reasonable man is reasonable, he must recognize that modern reason itself can only survive in a community made up of other reasonable men. Since to be a reasonable man entails wishing to live in a community made up of other reasonable men, then the reasonable man cannot afford to allow the choice between reason and violence to be left up to mere personal taste or intellectual caprice. To do so would be a betrayal of reason.

Modern reason, to be sure, cannot prove scientifically that a community of reasonable men is ethically superior to a community governed by violent men. But a critique of modern reason from within must recognize that a community of reasonable men is a necessary precondition of the very existence of modern reason. He who wills to preserve and maintain the achievements of modern reason must also will to live in a community made up of reasonable men who abstain from the use of violence to enforce their own values and ideas. Such a community is the a priori ethical foundation of modern reason. Thus, modern reason, despite its claim that it can give no scientific advice about ethics and religion, must recognize that its own existence and survival demand both an ethical postulate and a religious postulate. The ethical postulate is: Do whatever is possible to create a community of reasonable men who abstain from violence, and who prefer to use reason. The religious postulate is: If you are given a choice between religions, always prefer the religion that is most conducive to creating a community of reasonable men, even if you don't believe in it yourself.

Modern reason cannot hope to prove these postulates to be scientifically true; but it must recognize that a refusal to adopt and act on these postulates will threaten the very survival of modern reason itself. That is the point of Ratzinger's warning that "the West has long been endangered by [its] aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby." Because it is ultimately a community of reasonable men that underlies the rationality of the West, modern reason is risking suicide by not squarely confronting the question: How did such a community of reasonable men come into being in the first place? By what miracle did men turn from brute force and decide to reason with one another?

It is important to stress that Ratzinger is not repudiating the critical examination of reason that was initiated by Kant. Instead, he is urging us to examine the cultural and historical conditions that made the emergence of modern reason possible. Modern reason required a preexisting community of reasonable men before it could emerge in the West; modern reason, therefore, could not create the cultural and historical condition that made its own existence possible. But in this case, modern reason must ask itself: What created the communities of reasonable men that eventually made modern reason possible?

This was the question taken up by one of Kant's most illustrious and brilliant students, Johann Herder. Herder began by accepting Kant and the Enlightenment, but he went on to ask the Kantian question: What were the necessary conditions of the European Enlightenment? What kind of culture was necessary in order to produce a critical thinker like Immanuel Kant himself? When Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason, methodically demolished all the traditional proofs for the existence of God, why wasn't he torn limb from limb in the streets of Königsburg by outraged believers, instead of being hailed as one of the greatest philosophers of all time?

Herder's answer was that in Europe, and in Europe alone, human beings had achieved what Herder called "cultures of reason." In his grand and pioneering survey of world history and world cultures, Herder had been struck by the fact that in the vast majority of human societies, reason played little or no role. Men were governed either by a blind adherence to tradition or by brute force. Only among the ancient Greeks did the ideal of reason emerge to which Manuel II Paleologus appeals in his dialogue with the learned Persian.

A culture of reason is one in which the ideal of the dialogue has become the foundation of the entire community. In a culture of reason, everyone has agreed to regard violence as an illegitimate method of changing other people's minds. The only legitimate method of effecting such change is to speak well and to reason properly. Furthermore, a culture of reason is one that privileges the spirit of Greek philosophic inquiry: It encourages men to think for themselves.

For Herder, modern scientific reason was the product of European cultures of reason, but these rare cultures of reason were themselves the outcome of a well-nigh miraculous convergence of traditions to which Ratzinger has called our attention as constituting the foundation of Europe: the world-historical encounter between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry, "with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage." Thus, for Herder, modern scientific and critical reason, if it looks scientifically and critically at itself, will be forced to recognize that it could never have come into existence had it not been for the "providential," or perhaps merely serendipitous, convergence of these three great traditions. Modern reason is a cultural phenomenon like any other: It did not drop down one fine day out of the clouds. It involved no special creation. Rather, it evolved uniquely out of the fusion of cultural traditions known as Christendom.

A critique of modern reason from within must recognize its cultural and historical roots in this Christian heritage. In particular, it must recognize its debt to the distinctive concept of God that was the product of the convergence of the Hebrew, Greek, and Roman traditions. To recognize this debt, of course, does not require any of us to believe that this God actually exists.

For example, the 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was an atheist; yet in his own critique of modern reason, he makes a remarkably shrewd point, which Ratzinger might well have made himself. Modern scientific reason says that the universe is governed by rules through and through; indeed, it is the aim of modern reason to disclose and reveal these laws through scientific inquiry. Yet, as Schopenhauer asks, where did this notion of a law-governed universe come from? No scientist can possibly argue that science has proven the universe to be rule-governed throughout all of space and all of time. As Kant argued in his Critique of Judgment, scientists must begin by assuming that nature is rational through and through: It is a necessary hypothesis for doing science at all. But where did this hypothesis, so vital to science, come from?

The answer, according to Schopenhauer, was that modern scientific reason derived its model of the universe from the Christian concept of God as a rational Creator who has intelligently designed every last detail of the universe ex nihilo. It was this Christian idea of God that permitted Europeans to believe that the universe was a rational cosmos. Because Europeans had been brought up to imagine the universe as the creation of a rational intelligence, they naturally came to expect to find evidence of this intelligence wherever they looked--and, strangely enough, they did.

Ratzinger, in his address, draws our attention to the famous opening passage of the Gospel of John, in which the Biblical God, the Creator of the Universe, is identified with the Greek concept of logos, which means both word and reason--"a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason." Though Ratzinger does not mention it, the Roman tradition also comes into play in this revolutionary new concept of God: For the Christian God, like a good Roman emperor, is a passionate lover of order, law, and hierarchy. He does not merely create a universe through reason, but he subjects it thoroughly to laws, establishes order in every part of it, and organizes hierarchies that allow us to comprehend it all: Our cat is a member of the species cat, the species cat belongs to the order of mammals, all mammals are in turn animals, and all animals are forms of life. What Roman legion was ever better organized than that?

For Schopenhauer, as an atheist, the rational Creator worshiped by Christians was an imaginary construction, like all other gods. For Ratzinger, as a Christian, this imaginary construction is an approximation of the reality of God; but for Ratzinger, as a critical thinker, there is no need to make this affirmation of faith. In offering his "critique of modern reason from within," it is enough for his purposes to point out how radically different this imaginary construction of God is from the competing imaginary constructions of God offered by other religions--and, indeed, from competing imaginary constructions of God offered by many thinkers who fell clearly within the Christian tradition.

For example, Ratzinger notes that within the Catholic scholastic tradition itself, thinkers emerged like Duns Scotus, whose imaginary construction of God sundered the "synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit." For Scotus, it was quite possible that God "could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done." If God had willed to create a universe without rhyme or reason, a universe completely unintelligible to human intelligence, that would have been his privilege. If he had decided to issue commandments that enjoined human beings to sacrifice their children, or kill their neighbors, or plunder their property, mankind would have been compelled to obey such commandments. Nor would we have had any "reason" to object to them, or even question them. For Scotus and those who followed him, the ultimate and only reason behind the universe is God's free and unrestrained will. But as Ratzinger asks, How can such a view of God avoid leading "to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness?" The answer is, it cannot.

Intimately connected with the concept of God as a rational Creator who wishes for us to be able to understand the reason behind the universe is the concept of a God who will behave reasonably toward us. He will not be delighted when we grovel before him, nor will he demand that we worship him in "fear and trembling." Instead, he will be a God who prefers for us to feel reverence and gratitude towards him.

Ratzinger notes that Socrates' mission was to challenge and critique the myths of the Greek gods that prevailed in his day. These gods were imagined as behaving not only capriciously, but often wickedly and brutally. The famous line from King Lear sums up this view: "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods--they kill us for their sport." But, asked Socrates, were such gods worthy of being worshiped by reasonable men, or by free men? True, we may feel abject terror before them; but should we have reverence for them simply because they have the power to injure us? In The Euthyphro, Socrates quotes a Greek poet, Stasinus, who, speaking of Zeus, says "where fear is, there also is reverence," but only to disagree with the poet's concept of God. "It does not seem to me true that where fear is, there also is reverence; for many who fear diseases and poverty and other such things seem to me to fear, but not to reverence at all these things which they fear." For Socrates, it was obvious that good was not whatever God capriciously chose to do; the good was what God was compelled by his very nature to do. Socrates would have agreed with the Byzantine emperor when he said, "God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature."

The Emperor Manuel II Paleologus pondered this question in his debate with the learned Persian. How can a god who commands conversion by the sword be the same god as the emperor's god--a god who wished to gain converts only through the use of words and reason? If Allah is happy to accept converts who are trembling in fear for their lives, with a sword hovering over their necks, then he may well be a god worth fearing, but not a god worth revering. He may represent an imaginary construction of god suitable to slaves, but he will not be an image of god worthy of being worshiped by a Socrates--or by any reasonable man.

The New York Times expressed dismay that Pope Benedict XVI, by quoting the words of Manuel II Paleologus, had betrayed the ecumenical tradition of John Paul II, who insisted that all of us, including both Christians and Muslims, worship the same God. Many others have joined in the criticism of the Regensburg address; Ratzinger, in his role as the Roman pontiff, has apologized if his remarks offended Muslim sensibilities. Perhaps, as Pope Benedict, he was wise to do so. But Ratzinger, the man of reason, the critical thinker, owes no one an apology. He spoke his mind, and he challenged his listeners and the world to ponder questions that have haunted thoughtful men from the first age of Greek philosophic inquiry. He has thrown out an immense challenge to modern reason and to the modern world. Is it really a matter of subjective choice whether men follow a religion that respects human reason and that refuses to use violence to convert others? Can even the most committed atheist be completely indifferent to the imaginary gods that the other members of his community continue to worship? If modern reason cannot persuade men to defend their own communities of reason against the eruption of "disturbing pathologies of religion and reason," then what can persuade them to do so?

Human beings will have their gods--and modern reason cannot alter this. Indeed, modern reason has produced its own ersatz god--a blind and capricious universe into which accidental man has found himself inexplicably thrown. It is a universe in which all human freedom is an illusion, because everything we do or think was determined from the moment of the Big Bang. It is a universe in which there is no mind at all, but only matter. Yet without mind, how can there be reason? Without free will, how can there be reasonable choices? Without reasonable choices, how can there be reasonable men? Without reasonable men, how can there be communities in which human dignity is defended from the indignity of violence and brute force?

On his last day on earth, Socrates spent the hours before he drank the fatal hemlock talking to his friends about the immortality of the human soul. Next to Socrates was a Greek boy, whose name was Phaedo--Ratzinger mentions him in his address. Socrates had come across Phaedo one day in the marketplace of Athens, where he was up for sale as a slave. Distraught at knowing what lay ahead for the handsome and intelligent boy, Socrates ran to all his wealthy friends and collected enough money to buy the boy, then immediately gave him his freedom. Socrates' liberation of Phaedo was a symbol of Socrates' earthly mission.

Socrates hated the very thought of slavery--slavery to other men, slavery to mere opinions, slavery to fear, slavery to our own low desires, slavery to our own high ambitions. He believed that reason could liberate human beings from these various forms of slavery. Socrates would have protested against the very thought of a God who was delighted by forced conversions, or who was pleased when his worshipers proudly boasted that they were his slaves. He would have fought against those who teach that the universe is an uncaring thing, or who tell us that freedom is an illusion and our mind a phantom. Ultimately, perhaps, Socrates would have seen little to distinguish between those who bow down trembling before an irrational god and those who resign themselves before an utterly indifferent universe.

In his moving and heroic speech, Joseph Ratzinger has chosen to play the part of Socrates, not giving us dogmatic answers, but stinging us with provocative questions. Shall we abandon the lofty and noble conception of reason for which Socrates gave his life? Shall we delude ourselves into thinking that the life of reason can survive without courage and character? Shall we be content with lives we refuse to examine, because such examination requires us to ask questions for which science can give no definite answer? The destiny of reason will be determined by how we in the modern West answer these questions.

The Pope's words - I

While I was busy finishing the chronicle of the journey, the world obviously went on. Everyone who is not stranded in a desert island knows the turmoil caused by Benedictus XVI's lectio magistralis in Regensburg. Everyone who knows me knows or can guess what I think about the whole issue, but given that I've spoken (sometimes, argued) with so many people who hadn't even heard or read what the Pope said and simply relied on hearsays without really knowing what they were talking about, I will report here two things: the whole speech itself and a comment that shares my position on the issue in general, but getting there from another point of view.

Your Eminences, Your Magnificences, Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a moving experience for me to be back again in the university and to be able once again to give a lecture at this podium. I think back to those years when, after a pleasant period at the Freisinger Hochschule, I began teaching at the University of Bonn. That was in 1959, in the days of the old university made up of ordinary professors. The various chairs had neither assistants nor secretaries, but in recompense there was much direct contact with students and in particular among the professors themselves. We would meet before and after lessons in the rooms of the teaching staff. There was a lively exchange with historians, philosophers, philologists and, naturally, between the two theological faculties. Once a semester there was a dies academicus, when professors from every faculty appeared before the students of the entire university, making possible a genuine experience of universitas - something that you too, Magnificent Rector, just mentioned - the experience, in other words, of the fact that despite our specializations which at times make it difficult to communicate with each other, we made up a whole, working in everything on the basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason - this reality became a lived experience. The university was also very proud of its two theological faculties. It was clear that, by inquiring about the reasonableness of faith, they too carried out a work which is necessarily part of the "whole" of the universitas scientiarum, even if not everyone could share the faith which theologians seek to correlate with reason as a whole. This profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: it had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God. That even in the face of such radical scepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: this, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question.

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between - as they were called - three "Laws" or "rules of life": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point - itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole - which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason", I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". 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 (σὺν λόγω) 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...".

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry.

At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? 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. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the λόγος". This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts, σὺν λόγω, with logos. Logos means both reason and word - a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist. The encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance. The vision of Saint Paul, who saw the roads to Asia barred and in a dream saw a Macedonian man plead with him: "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" (cf. Acts 16:6-10) - this vision can be interpreted as a "distillation" of the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry.

In point of fact, this rapprochement had been going on for some time. The mysterious name of God, revealed from the burning bush, a name which separates this God from all other divinities with their many names and simply declares "I am", already presents a challenge to the notion of myth, to which Socrates' attempt to vanquish and transcend myth stands in close analogy. Within the Old Testament, the process which started at the burning bush came to new maturity at the time of the Exile, when the God of Israel, an Israel now deprived of its land and worship, was proclaimed as the God of heaven and earth and described in a simple formula which echoes the words uttered at the burning bush: "I am". This new understanding of God is accompanied by a kind of enlightenment, which finds stark expression in the mockery of gods who are merely the work of human hands (cf. Ps 115). Thus, despite 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. A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion. From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith, Manuel II was able to say: Not to act "with logos" is contrary to God's nature.

In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God's voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God's freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God's transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions. As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which - as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated - unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language. God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love, as Saint Paul says, "transcends" knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is Logos. Consequently, Christian worship is, again to quote Paul - "λογικη λατρεία", worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1).

This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history - it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.

The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a dehellenization of Christianity - a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age. Viewed more closely, three stages can be observed in the programme of dehellenization: although interconnected, they are clearly distinct from one another in their motivations and objectives.

Dehellenization first emerges in connection with the postulates of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system. The principle of sola scriptura, on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself. When Kant stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this programme forward with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen. He thus anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.

The liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ushered in a second stage in the process of dehellenization, with Adolf von Harnack as its outstanding representative. When I was a student, and in the early years of my teaching, this programme was highly influential in Catholic theology too. It took as its point of departure Pascal's distinction between the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In my inaugural lecture at Bonn in 1959, I tried to address the issue, and I do not intend to repeat here what I said on that occasion, but I would like to describe at least briefly what was new about this second stage of dehellenization. Harnack's central idea was to return simply to the man Jesus and to his simple message, underneath the accretions of theology and indeed of hellenization: this simple message was seen as the culmination of the religious development of humanity. Jesus was said to have put an end to worship in favour of morality. In the end he was presented as the father of a humanitarian moral message. Fundamentally, Harnack's goal was to bring Christianity back into harmony with modern reason, liberating it, that is to say, from seemingly philosophical and theological elements, such as faith in Christ's divinity and the triune God. In this sense, historical-critical exegesis of the New Testament, as he saw it, restored to theology its place within the university: theology, for Harnack, is something essentially historical and therefore strictly scientific. What it is able to say critically about Jesus is, so to speak, an expression of practical reason and consequently it can take its rightful place within the university. Behind this thinking lies the modern self-limitation of reason, classically expressed in Kant's "Critiques", but in the meantime further radicalized by the impact of the natural sciences. This modern concept of reason is based, to put it briefly, on a synthesis between Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism, a synthesis confirmed by the success of technology. On the one hand it presupposes the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently: this basic premise is, so to speak, the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature. On the other hand, there is nature's capacity to be exploited for our purposes, and here only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield ultimate certainty. The weight between the two poles can, depending on the circumstances, shift from one side to the other. As strongly positivistic a thinker as J. Monod has declared himself a convinced Platonist/Cartesian.

This gives rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised. First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity. A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned.

I will return to this problem later. In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology's claim to be "scientific" would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: if science as a whole is this and this alone, then it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science", so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective. The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective "conscience" becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.

Before I draw the conclusions to which all this has been leading, I must briefly refer to the third stage of dehellenization, which is now in progress. In the light of our experience with cultural pluralism, it is often said nowadays that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was a preliminary inculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures. The latter are said to have the right to return to the simple message of the New Testament prior to that inculturation, in order to inculturate it anew in their own particular milieux. This thesis is not only false; it is coarse and lacking in precision. The New Testament was written in Greek and bears the imprint of the Greek spirit, which had already come to maturity as the Old Testament developed. True, there are elements in the evolution of the early Church which do not have to be integrated into all cultures. Nonetheless, the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.

And so I come to my conclusion. This attempt, painted with broad strokes, at a critique of modern reason from within has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age. The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly: we are all grateful for the marvellous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and for the progress in humanity that has been granted to us. The scientific ethos, moreover, is - as you yourself mentioned, Magnificent Rector - the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which belongs to the essential decisions of the Christian spirit. The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures. At the same time, as I have attempted to show, modern scientific reason with its intrinsically Platonic element bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology. Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought - to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding. Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: "It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being - but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss". The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur - this is the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. "Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God", said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.