Papal Problems with Palaeologos
The row over the Pope's quoting of the words of Manuel II Palaeologus has missed the context in which the emperor was speaking (Report, September 16). Manuel presided over the disintegration of the Byzantine domain, crushed between the competing powers of the mercantilist adventurism of the Catholic west and the equally expansionist ambitions of the Ottoman Turks who, through assumption of the caliphate, claimed the leadership of the Muslim world. Their sultans repeatedly justified the assault on Byzantium by quoting a (subsequently largely discredited) hadith (saying) attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, which predicted the conquest of the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, by a jihadist army. Little wonder Manuel was so reticent about Islam, and yet he had little inclination to celebrate Catholicism either.
|Emperor Manuel Palaeologos|
of Byzantium, ruled 1391 to 1425
In this context, Manuel's criticism of the jihadists of his days was matched by similar Byzantine criticism of the Catholic church's commitment to impose its particular form of Christianity by force. The Ottomans, in contrast, were tolerant of their Christian subjects, although later waves of Islamist fundamentalism were to change this.
The irony of the debate today is how Manuel's exasperation so resonantly echoes the sense of anger and futility felt by many of all faiths at those in both the Christian and Muslim communities who, while worshipping the same God, hijack both faiths by seeking to justify violence against each other in the name of that same God. One might have hoped, after five centuries, that the world might have moved on.
Foot note: one of Manuels' Ministers, Lucas Notaras, famously stated, when asked to choose between Islam and Catholicism that "Rather the Sultan's turban than the Bishop's Mitre."