The Malta Independent 12 July 2024, Friday
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Christian roots

Mark A. Sammut Sassi Sunday, 9 October 2022, 07:35 Last update: about 3 years ago

For the past months, former MP Edwin Vassallo has been organising “Dialogue Meetings” all around Malta. Liberals dismiss Mr Vassallo, unaware that the man’s a well of knowledge, a veritable bookworm: he keeps some half-dozen philosophy books by his side in his shop – at all times.

I attended the latest one, hosted by the Burmarrad Franciscan monks. Liberals probably also dismiss the Franciscans, unaware of Europe’s great debt toward them as they devised the investment strategy that evolved into capitalism.

(For more on this: Giovanni Ceccarelli’s Il gioco e il peccato, Giacomo Todeschini’s I mercanti e il tempio, Oreste Bazzichi’s Alle radici del capitalismo, Alejandro A. Chafuen’s Faith and Liberty. The Economic Thought of the Late Scholastics.)

Before the Dialogue Meeting started, Mr Vassallo shared with the early comers that Assisi is his only holiday destination. I reacted by inviting him to consider visiting other places with Christian ties. Like...

Cluny...

...is in France, not far from the Swiss border. More than 1,100 years ago, a monastery was founded there which over the next few centuries grew into the leader of western monasticism. Its church was the hugest in Europe until St Peter’s Basilica in Rome was constructed.

But Cluny Abbey is important, I argued, neither because of its architecture nor because of the monks’ strict adherence to the rule.

Instead, Cluny Abbey symbolises the de-Christianisation of Europe.

During the French Revolution, revolutionary zealots decided to dismantle the ancient abbey; they would have entirely succeeded hadn’t a more level-headed revolutionary raised the alarm, halting the havoc.

Cluny was huge – today, just 10% of its original footprint survives.

In the eyes of the revolutionaries, Cluny represented the Church side of Ancien Régime excesses. And perhaps, from this point of view they were right.

But now that a couple of centuries have lapsed from the intellectual adrenaline rush that was the French Revolution, we can conceive the destruction of Cluny Abbey as a metaphor for the de-Christianisation of Europe. Or, at least, of that Christian Europe.

The Enlightenment rhetoric we’ve inherited targeted a Christian Europe characterised by excess, and the Enlightenment’s topmost objective was to contain it. Power had to be shared, wealth had to be shared. But the system favoured those who were already rich and powerful, who were obviously not at all keen to share.

Ironically, a Christian quarrel

On the political level, certain Christian monarchies had forged alliances with their local Christian Church to construct the absolute State – but there was the Catholic tradition of the Pope as the Emperor’s conscience.

On the economic level, certain Protestants concluded that the pursuit of wealth was a religious duty – whereas the Catholics believed that wealth cannot be humanity’s final end.

Wherever you turn, the debates were always, in some way or another, Christian.

The destruction of Cluny Abbey symbolises the dismantlement of the Christian context in which political debates took place.

The de-Christianisation of Europe has meant the removal of the Christian worldview, with all its moral, ethical, and also arbitrary restrictions, its place being taken by a worldview based only on the freedom to make money and to participate actively in the political process. Liberal capitalism and liberal democracy emerged to replace the Altar and the Throne of the Old System.

In reality, however, de-Christianisation replaced the Christian worldview with Nothing, the Latin word for which is nihil. Europe denuded of Christianity was robed in Nihilism, the philosophy of Nothing.

Dialogue

Edwin Vassallo seems to have launched these Dialogue Meetings to talk with people about this philosophy of Nothing that has engulfed de-Christianised Europe.

He is pushing a pro-life, pro-family agenda. It seems to me that for him being pro-life isn’t simply being anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia. For instance, on Facebook he has recently commented on the current situation in Ukraine. As pro-life, he hopes for a diplomatic resolution to the conflict.

He argues that war brings death: after the war, everybody’s a loser. He’s worried that NATO’s seeking war at all costs, ultimately for the benefit of the arms industry. In a sense, he follows Pope Francis’ observation: the attack on Ukraine wasn’t completely unprovoked. Russia had long been arguing it doesn’t want more NATO along its borders. Over the centuries, Russia was invaded numerous times by its neighbours to the West – the Russians need buffer zones for their peace of mind.

Mr Vassallo believes that war between Europe and Russia can only bring hardship on all Europeans, lowering our quality of life.

His pro-Life message logically becomes a pro-Peace message. He seems to suggest “Make love not war” – with a twist: if that love-making produces a new life, remain consistently pro-life.

All in all, Edwin Vassallo’s against war, sanctions, death. He calls for a solution, for peace.

A return to (Christian) roots.

Either/Or

An Inspector Søren Farrugia Story

Emanuele Eremita, a native of Pisa who had moved to Malta, entered the Station as though a troop of ghouls were chasing him. He rushed to the reception desk and asked to see Inspector Farrugia.

“I came to report a murder,” Eremita announced to the inspector, trying to catch his breath. His Italian accent made his speech sound funny. “My cousin Vittorio Eremita was an actor. He was starring in a tragedy, as a clown. A fire broke out backstage in the theatre. My cousin Vittorio came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater –”

“Is this a joke, Mr Eremita?” asked the inspector, quickly running out of patience.

“No, Sir. Of course it’s not.”

“So what happened?”

“Since nobody paid any attention, my cousin ran back to the fire to try to extinguish it…”

“And…?”

“And he died.”

“When did this happen?”

“Twenty minutes ago.”

“Was the Fire Department informed?”

“Yes.”

“So why are you here?”

“I needed you to know.”

“Of an accidental death outside my district?”

 “Earlier today, my cousin Vittorio told me he intended to meet you.”

“Meet me? Why?”

“To give you some information.”

“What sort of information?”

“I don’t know. About a Minister and a huge project…”

Søren Farrugia scrutinised Eremita’s face for clues.

“Inspector, I don’t think it was an accident. I think it was murder.”

* * * * *

Either one or the other.

If it was an accident, then the chapter was closed.

If it was murder, and the corruption connection firmly established, then this would be the second political murder in the last few years.

Inspector Farrugia needed to think. For some reason, of all the officers in the Force, the late Vittorio Eremita wanted to talk to him. Why him? Had he earned a reputation for acting without fear or favour?

Anyway. The problem now was that Emanuele Eremita didn’t know what his cousin Vittorio knew. He just knew it was about a “Minister” and a “huge project” – a dead end.

What to do with this information?

Immediately a plan flashed through Farrugia’s mind.

* * * * *

“Please don’t tell the boss,” Søren told Theophanu. She smiled, and filled her mouth with spaghetti.

For some reason, the boss’ secretary’s name was Theophanu. He couldn’t resist the temptation any longer and asked her what secret lay hidden in her name.

“Oh, no secret at all. My parents spent their honeymoon in the Netherlands and conceived me in Nijmegen. It was June 15, 1991. The Empress Theophanu had died in that same town one thousand years earlier to the day, on June 15, 991AD. So they decided to call me after her!” Her eyes smiled as she spoke.

“The Empress Theophanu…?”

“Yeah. A Byzantine princess who married a Holy Roman Emperor. Otto the Second.”

“I see…”

“And what’s your story? Why Søren?”

“Oh, that’s because my Danish mother loves their national philosopher… His Christian name was Søren.”

Inspector Farrugia started getting fidgety. The conversation wasn’t going according to plan.

“Listen,” he told her in a tone that sounded conspiratorial. “I need to ask you something.”

“Sure. Go ahead.”

“Somebody told me that the Italian actor who died in that fire at the theatre a few days ago had information on a corruption case…”

“Yeah, we all know you’re not afraid of the powerful. You should join Repubblika. You know, my father knew their president’s father-in-law… a decent man… died relatively young … a generous man too… my father considered him a friend…”

Inspector Farrugia smiled, but the leopard inside him growled. Was the prey trying to elude him?

“Thing is, the person who spoke to me believes Vittorio Eremita’s death wasn’t accidental.”

“Oh. Do you want me to pass this information on to Mr Zahra?”

Bingo!

“Without mentioning my name…”

“Well, he doesn’t know you’ve finally taken me out to dinner. And, as I want to please you, I’m going to humour you and won’t be telling him either. But I will tell him I got wind of a probable informer killed in the fire at the theatre.”

Into this immensity Søren’s anxiety sank ever drowning, and it was sweet to shipwreck in such a sea.

The curtain came down on Act I. And as the night was still young, Søren looked forward to Act II, at his place or hers, as she preferred.

And if he one day she’d have his baby, he’d convince her to go for “Giacomo” or “Jackie”.

* * * * *

The days crawled by like sap creeping down a tree trunk. But nobody called from HR from HQ. His boss didn’t need to have a word with him.

Had Theophanu reneged on her word?

After their date, and the night they spent together (which he considered rather above-average), she hadn’t returned his calls or messages.

Farrugia was growing increasingly frustrated. What was going on?

Then, out of the blue, Theophanu texted him, inviting him for a night out.

“What did he say?” he asked her as they walked along a moonlit sandy beach in the so-called “north” of the island.

“Nothing,” she replied, with a smile.

“Nothing?”

“Nothing.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that. He listened. Nodded. And said nothing.”

As the clouds drifted away, the two lovers could see that the moon had been eavesdropping on their conversation, and that it too was disappointed.

“I know how you’re feeling,” whispered Theophanu, squeezing his hand. “But there’s nothing we can do. Unless you want to confirm Mr Zahra’s impression that you’re some sort of Jack Reacher.”

“Jack Reacher?”

“Yeah. You know, some sort of guy who wants to bring down the Establishment all by himself.”

“I don’t like Reacher.”

Søren couldn’t conceal the grumpiness in his voice. Nor could he stomach the defeat.

* * * * *

He would think of it all tomorrow. After all, tomorrow was another day.

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