Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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How Arab learning laid the foundations for the European Renaissance

Alcázares Reales, Seville

Alcázares Reales, Seville.

I’ve just spent a restful evening on my sofa watching the last of Bettany Hughes‘s somewhat epic series of documentaries The Ancient World with Bettany Hughes: When the Moors Ruled in Europe. It’s always tempting to criticize this kind of documentary (as I have done in the past; mea maxima culpa!) on what it simplifies or leaves out. However, Bettany Hughes has been helped by having a two-hour time slot on More4 (or Mo-Fo as I’ve heard it called) for each episode.

Never explicitly mentioned, When the Moors Ruled in Europe is clearly set against the 21st-century backdrop of the War on Terror. Aired on the evening before the general election in which two parties — UKIP and the BNP — have anti-Islamic policies in their manifestos, this episode serves as a corrective to the unthinking assumptions of white/European/Christendom superiority. For here we glide endlessly through the mesmerising earthly paradises of Al-Andalus, through Granada’s Alhambra and Córdoba’s Grand Mosque (and not to forget Al-Karaouine University, Fez, Morocco), all set against a backdrop of golden mountains. Here we have liberal, tolerant and highly educated Muslims teaching ignorant Christians about ancient Greek learning before finally falling to the Talibanesque Spanish Inquisition. Although this was a little overwrought in places, there are plenty of moments in the documentary in which the complexities of Christian and Muslim relations and politics are explored, especially setting the Reconquista in the context of stability and cooperation among the northern kingdoms and the reliance of the southern kingdoms on mercenary soldiers.

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My kingdom is not of this world

Christus Rex

Christus Rex

This coming Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King. I’m going to give a 3-minute wonder at the BCP communion (on Jeremiah 23.5–8 & John 6.5–14). In an emergency, I may have to preach at the parish eucharist also (on Daniel 7.9–10, 13–14; Revelation 1.4b–8 & John 18.33b–37), which is most definitely Christ the King.

I expect many sermons will fail to get across what ‘Christ is king’ means. In Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary, which draws to a close this coming week, we have John’s account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate (or is Jesus putting Pilate on trial?). The key phrase in understanding Jesus as king here is his words, “My kingdom is not of this world” (ἡ βασίλεια ἡ ἐμὴ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου, hē basileia hē emē ouk estin ek tou kosmou toutou). Again there is the danger of misunderstanding the line to think he is talking about heaven. That interpretation completely disarms and voids the words of any meaning. It is basically putting on Jesus’ lips the idea that he doesn’t care about earthly life and all that matters is ‘pie in the sky when you die’. Continue reading


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Two Christendom anniversaries

28 October is usually recognised as the feast of SS Simon & Jude in church calendars, but it’s also the anniversary of two difficult political moments in church history: one global (or at least European), the other English.

On this day in AD 312, Constantine defeated Maxentius in the Battle of Milvian Bridge, near Rome. Constantine certainly thought his victory, against the odds, to be due to divine intervention. At some point it became clear that the divinity involved was the God of the Christians. It is unclear whether the divine intervention was interpreted as Christian from the outset, , not, when it became considered Christian. Constantine and Maxentius were rival claimants to be emperor of the western half of the Roman empire, an empire still very much attached to the ancient Roman religion. Continue reading