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 asserts being, "I am", already presents a challenge to the notion of myth, to which Socrates' attempt to vanquish and transcend myth stands in close analogy. … 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. …If the task of extricating truth from myth is fundamental to biblical religion, the contribution that Girard has made constitutes, as I have said, an extraordinarily important turning point. This is especially so in light of the multicultural environment in which this task is today necessarily being undertaken, and that multicultural environment was clearly uppermost in Benedict’s mind, for on the recovery of a genuine and determined quest for truth the future of Europe and of western civilization depends.
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 fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason,” writes Benedict, “are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.”
All of this came flooding in on me once again last week as Liz and I stood in the Stanza della Segnatura (a few steps from the Sistine Chapel) at the Vatican. For there the young Raphael, at the dawn of the modern age, gave perhaps the greatest artistic tribute we have to the deep interrelationship between faith and reason, one that amounts to a visual backdrop for the main point of Benedict’s Regensburg lecture. The room is dominated by the two giant frescos that face one another on opposite walls of the room and which serve in a way to interpret one another: The School of Athens and The Disputation on the Sacrament, commissioned by Pope Julius II and painted by Raphael in 1509 when he was only 27 years old.
Each of the frescos depicts the quest for truth in the form of lively philosophical-cum-theological discussions among those most committed to finding truth. The School of Athens depicts the great philosophers of the ancient world with Plato carrying his “Timaeus” and pointing heavenward and Aristotle carrying his “Nichmoachean Ethics” and pointing to the earth at the center of the fresco. The architecture of the School of Athens resembles the nave of the Basilica of St. Peter’s which Raphael’s friend Donato Bramante had begun in 1506, and which would have been recognized by Romans of the time. The architectural suggestion is clear, and it is precisely the suggestion Benedict make explicit in his lecture: that the efforts of Greek philosophy to extricate truth from myth serves in its own unique way as a praeparatio evangelica, a necessary preparation for humanity’s ongoing attempt to understand how its situation was fundamentally altered by the events of Golgotha and Easter. In the fresco other famous figures from the philosophical tradition are recognizable: Socrates, Heraclitus, Ptolemy, Euclid, and so on. Though some of the figures are alone and in thought, the overall feeling of the scene is of a philosophical movement toward the viewer, giving the sense that the philosophical past is moving toward the viewer and beyond toward the fresco on the opposite wall: The Disputation on the Sacrament.
In this fresco, the movement is away from the viewer with a decidedly vertical thrust to it. This shift from the horizontal to the vertical suggests something that is extremely important to our own predicament, namely, that an essential concomitant of the interplay of faith and reason is the interplay of history and eschatology. Raphael has depicted a “disputation” – that is a theological exploration – regarding the mystery of the Trinity and of Christ as represented by the Eucharistic sacrament, the viaticum Christ left as manna-like nourishment for the sustenance of his disciples in their arduous journey through history. The Disputation is divided horizontally between what the medievals called the Church militant (meaning those still struggling in the midst of a fallen world) and the Church triumphant (meaning those who had entered into the truth toward which the earthbound were still reaching).
There is ever so much more to find in these marvelous frescos, but simply standing between them was something of a religious experience, a reminder not only of the deep interrelationship between faith and rationality but, more importantly, of the liturgical meaning of history and the eschatological horizon which gives it its true meaning.