As I like to do from time to time, today I want to drop back a bit into history and take note of something that helped to shape the world we know today. It was on this date in 1453 that Constantinople, which had been the headquarters for Eastern Christianity since 324, was conquered by the Turks, who renamed it Istanbul and it became capital of the Ottoman Empire.
I regret that the only time I've been to Istanbul has been to change planes. Some day I'd love to spend time there and get a better sense of the ancient city's history, present and future.
The fall of Constantinople happened at a time of major global geographical discovery as well as scientific and medical discovery. One of the results of the city's fall was to push scholars and others westward. As time went on these scholars opened up ancient Greek writings, such as Virgil's, to new meanings, and helped to usher in the beginnings of the Enlightenment, with such precursors as Erasmus, who wanted to do biblical scholarship in the Bible's original languages of Greek and Hebrew.
Erasmus is a fascinating character who in many ways foreshadowed the Protestant Reformation. He believed that the future vitality of Christianity depended on the laity, he emphasized an inner spirituality, thus de-emphasizing the functions of the institutional church and he argued that scripture should be made available to everyone.
The Islamic world then and for some time afterward was producing astonishingly beautiful architecture and in other ways adding much to civilization. I was privileged a few years ago to see some of that architecture in such places as Samarkand, Uzbekisan.
Today Istanbul continues to be the location of one of the bishops of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and in some ways he is considered first among equals, though the population of Turkey today is nearly 100 percent Muslim, mostly sunni. (For a Catholic take on Eastern Orthodoxy, click here.)
If you've been to Istanbul, tell us of your experiences there. (The photo here today is from http://atlas.geo.cornell.edu/people/seber/jpgs/istanbul04.jpg)
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SCIENTOLOGY IN FRANCE -- OUI OR NON?
Is Scientology a religion or a business? French prosecutors say it's the latter and, worse, one that commits fraud. Well, we'll have to let the French decide for themselves, but it long has seemed to me that the way Scientology operates leaves itself open to this question. And, yes, some other religious operations do, too.
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P.S.: Odyssey Networks will present a United Church of Christ documentary called "Troubled Water" at 6 a.m. CDT this Sunday on the Hallmark Channel. It's about the worldwide water crisis and what faith has to say about it.
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ANOTHER P.S.: In this recent blog book column, I mentioned a book by Esther de Waal, who has written a lot about the Rule of Benedict. She'll be speaking from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2, at the Sophia Center at Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kan., on "The Benedictine Rule as a
Guide for Living Your Baptismal Call in a World of Crisis." A $10 donation is requested and interested
persons should reserve space by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 913-360-5173.
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NOTE: Until June 10, my access to the Internet will be intermittent. So it may take hours and hours -- perhaps even a day or more -- for me to get your comments posted here. I'll do my best, but I'll appreciate your patience.