Looking at the edition of the 25th of November 2013 of L’Osservatore Romano, and the online version of the article
Between Dignity and Transcendence
we read the report on the pope’s visit in Strasbourg, where he addressed the European Parliament and the Council of Europe.
Opening that page, I saw on the top one of Raphael’s most beautiful frescoes:
The School of Athens
Now, one may take it simply as nice ornament. And actually meaningful as it is frequently claimed that Europe today has the still strong roots in ancient history in particular of Athens and Rome. Looking at Plato and Aristotle at the centre — it is surely a remarkable reference to European tradition then: can we interpret their appearance together as hinting to the claim for a “moral, ethical state”? Plato’s obviously pointing on a merger of dialectics and the trinity – we may take from the book in his hands: the Timeaus the famous passage:
“For whenever in any three numbers, whether cube or square, there is a mean, which is to the last term what the first term is to it; and again, when the mean is to the first term as the last term is to the mean—then the mean becoming first and last, and the first and last both becoming means, they will all of them of necessity come to be the same, and having become the same with one another will be all one”.
And we see Aristotle, holding the Nichomachean Ethics in his hands, as a kind of secular challenge, asking for the goodness in the here an now, guided by the two sets of virtues
- moral virtues are in his view prudence, justice, fortitude, courage, liberality, magnificence, magnanimity, temperance;
- intellectual virtues are in his view justice, perseverance, empathy, integrity, intellectual courage, confidence in reason, autonomy.
There is so much more in it, even the positioning of the various colleagues of the two central figures is telling: For instance Diogenes – the personification of putting into practice of complete modesty and self-sufficiency – somewhat degraded on the stairs, “scientists” as Heraclitus, Euclid or Parmenides somewhat sidelined, working “on the ground”, though it is left open if this is meant to be a positive or a negative reference to the “exact sciences”.
But there we may actually hesitate, assuming that is not so open.
Obviously, at Raphael’s time such fresco had not been a standalone work, and indeed we all know that it is part of La Stanza Della Segnatura, The Room of the Signature. And such “being part of” means nothing less than the different sides of the room being in a “communicating relationship.
This means that the Scuola di Atene is actually only one part of a wider dispute: it is confronted with
accompanied on the one side by the
and on the other side by
Taken together it reflects the dispute between philosophy, theology sidelined by jurisprudence and poesy.
It may be open for dispute in which way La Stanza actually is mainly a reference to humanism and universalism. And it may be left open in which way each of them finally has to be defined. In any case the perspective in particular of the two main sides is eye-catching: the philosophers, “walking out” of the painting, into the room and slightly stepping down … passing the realities: “exact science” science (Heraclitus, Euclid or Parmenides) and “self-chosen modesty” (Diogenes), from there taking us – all of us who are standing in the middle of La Stanza, and thus being part of the entire scene, part of this history – with them: now “ascending”, open for the dispute of the sacrament which is not much different from the last judgement (for that, of course, my favourite is that by Rubens — former students of mine may remember the tour I made with them through the Alte Pinakothek and the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich.
Having read the speech in Strasbourg and the interview Francesco gave on the return trip, I realise that … – I think I realize just some surprise. Of course, Im a not against reference to some ancient philosophers — but I am surprised if we stepped from there only about 300 to 500 years (I know, generous with figures) forwards.
Coming back to one on the lower levels, Parmenides. He reflected on
Being is all there is.
According to him there are two realities: the one of truth, i.e. the one that objectively is and cannot be changed; according to him, the other is a reality of opinion and appearances – deceitful and tempting on the basis of nothingness.
Sure, the solution sounds simple: acceptance of reality, rejection of appearance.
The tricky thing however is …, well, a world in which appearance is reality. In other words: a world in which a virtual economy: speculation on financial markets, faked insurance of risks which is assessed by corrupt systems … where such a world is the world of Parmedian truth.
Indeed, we have to return to Plato here, and to what he said about dialectics — and to how dialectics had been put on its feet, much later.
Raphael, surely one of the most outstanding artists of the renaissance … —
— … the pope’s visit in Strasbourg under the umbrella of La stanza della Segnatura … —
— … the positioning of the event under the heading Between Dignity and Transcendence … —
all this may be a reminder to think about some aspects of what I wrote under the title
Prolegomena. Encore Citizenship – Revisiting or Redefining? in the book I edited under the title
World’s New Princedoms. Critical Remarks on Claimed Alternatives by New Life
(Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers, 2010 and Bremen/Oxford: academicpress, 2012)
Worrying and enlightening is in particular what had been said at the end of the interview, and it should be the Italian (as far I know original) version. It is about a certain denial of the past, of having been archbishop of Buenos Aires – though this personal history remains as such present, the emphasis is now laid on being successor of St. Peter which is strangely interpreted in a highly Eurocentric way. Is there so little from Latin American historical experience – past and present – that is worth to arrive at a truly global respective, a perspective that is inspired also by the wealth of indigenous people?
So, where are we going? And to where is the pope actually leading us?
It is something that needs to be discussed further – not so much the Vatican’s perspective but the perspective for instance emerging from the socialist movements in Latin America.
A tiny contribution may be found in a chapter I wrote for a book. The chapter is on
Social pedagogy and liberation theology,
written for a book titled
Latin American Social Pedagogy: relaying concepts, values and methods between Europe and the Americas”?
edited by Jacob Kornbeck and Xavier Úcar (forthcoming)