Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why the Christian Presence in the Middle East is Essential for Civilization

While the declared objectives of the “Arab Spring” include establishing democracy and freedom and improving living conditions in Arabic-speaking countries, the reality after close to two years of violence and instability shows an upheaval that threatens the survival of the original Christian people and moderate Muslim brothers in Arab lands. Pope Benedict XVI visited Lebanon in September this year and called for reconciliation between all. From there, he published an Apostolic Exhortation to all in the Middle East and made it available to all consciences in which he shows that true peace must be built upon justice (Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 1).

The Church does not force the Eastern Christian faithful to stay in the Middle East. Decisions to immigrate belong to the individuals and families. Moses and his people escaped from Egypt when they feared a threat to their survival. This is why justice is required, but who can be judge except God himself? Who knows the future except God whose mercy and grace overflow every wicked deed and transform it into abiding peace?

The presence of Christians among Muslims as citizens of equal rights and dignity is the only guarantee that, in this vital region, a stable civilization can be preserved and nourished economically and spiritually. Today, the educated elite in the Middle East are mainly moderate Muslims and Christians who have attained high levels of business expertise in dealing with European and North American knowledge centers. Educated young Christians who graduated from Christian schools succeeded in top universities and professions and have been a solid backbone for much investment and economic activity in their countries of the Middle East. Indeed the modernization of political, social and legal systems in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and the rest of Arab countries, in the “Near East” as it was called, started only when in the 16th to the 19th centuries, Christian missionaries were allowed to come into these lands. These include the Franciscans, the White Fathers, and the Jesuits. They established schools which raised generations of educated Christians and Muslims who were then sent to Europe and North America for more learning and made business networks with the advanced world. But long before the 16th century, the Christian Middle East had already contributed to the growth of scholarship. To be brief, the great Christian civilization started in Jerusalem and Antioch before it reached Rome. Origen, in Egypt’s 2nd century, built Biblical scholarship upon the school of Alexandria which enriched the well-known Library of Alexandria. Many subsequent learned Christians came from the East. They did not shy away from using current philosophical systems to defend the Christian Patristic tradition, and for accuracy the fathers dared to use non-Biblical expressions in the Creed which is still recited today in the Mass.

The Renaissance in Europe, which sought to retrieve the good in Pagan Greek classics, was due to the education in Christian morals carried out by learned monks in Catholic orders. In spite of schisms within the Christian East, the Catholic Church never lost hope for the reunion of all Christians (See for example the Council of Florence in the 15th century and Vatican II Council in the 20th century). In fact the Western Churches learned from the Eastern Churches even when they were separated. The writings of St. John of Damascus, a Christian theologian under Arab Islamic rule, greatly influenced Western thought in medieval times. Divine Providence worked through the Islamic civilization in the high medieval centuries to transport knowledge from one end of the world to the other. Indeed Muslim scholars contributed to the learning from the once-famous library of Bagdad to the Moores in “Andalusia” or Spain today. To preserve Eastern Christian tradition after the Islamic Conquests, Syrian and Assyrian Christian monks, under Islamic rule, translated the writings of the Bible and philosophers from Aramaic and Greek to Arabic. The Bible and writings of the Fathers were known in Latin Europe at least since Jerome, but the writings of Aristotle were unknown except that Ibn Rushd (Averroes in Latin) translated Aristotle’s works into Latin and these in turn fell in the hands of St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest theologian in history to-date. St. Thomas, who taught at the universities in Paris and Rome, built a huge philosophical system based on Aristotle’s natural philosophy. By “baptizing” the work of Aristotle, the Church opened the way to modern scientific research in the cosmos. The key factor in the growth of civilizations is collaboration that leads to proper communication for the benefits of all.

Psychologically speaking, the only way of advancing humanity in life and after-life is through love as taught and lived by Jesus Christ our Lord. For any advancement in the Middle East, Muslims and Jews need the expansion of Christian presence.

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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