Comments, please…: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
“The Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire…”
Discuss this quote in context and discuss its veracity, or lack thereof, in the context of the European religious situation of the 18th century.
This is a standard question that I pulled off of a Church History examination for a course that I have often taught through the years. To answer this question, certain facts and concepts would need to be known by the person taking the exam. Recognizing that it was Voltaire who made this comment would be a good start. Having a sense of the foundation of the Holy Roman Empire in the time of Charlemagne would be helpful. Knowing the power of the electors of the Emperor at the time of the Reformation, would aid in understanding the growth of the Reformation in northern German speaking lands. The involvement of the papacy would aid in tracing the involvement of the Hapsburgs and the Austrian empire and the largely Roman Catholic orientation of those German speaking lands. In other words, having some knowledge, or even some curiosity, about what was being asked or presented would be beneficial.
Yet, in classrooms both in America and Europe one encounters those who, although they have sat in the class for weeks or months, are neither curious nor knowledgeable. Most of these will simply refrain from attempting to answer the question. There are, however, others…
“I remember being in Rome in 1998. I didn’t think it was holy or an empire…”
“Rome has seven hills, is the seat of the papacy and, therefore, the place from which the anti-Christ will arise…”
“This is a ridiculous question!”
“Rome, New York is a nice place, but nothing seemed special about it…”
“I used to date an Italian guy from Rome…”
Now, I am exaggerating for effect, but I’ve actually seen responses similar to these… especially in seminaries!
When one writes an article, for a blog, or a magazine, or a journal, it’s always nice to get a response. Sometimes, especially online, the response will simply be someone thanking you for taking the time and trouble to write on a particular subject. (After all, no one is being paid to do this work and provide content.) At other times, someone might disagree with what you have written and suggest other references or even another way in which one might look at the subject being examined. Such comments and responses are to be welcomed. Some comments will be personal, drawing upon experiences that help to illustrate or even expand what was written in the article. Such comments encourage learning and a community of ideas which is beneficial to all. Moreover, unlike an examination, questions can be offered which will clarify or even expand what has been presented.
In many quarters, however, one increasingly sees responses to written pieces, that much more resemble some of those above. Often, the comments have nothing whatsoever to do with the article or the subject that is being discussed. At other times, assertions will be made that damn the content of the article, but with no attempt to provide arguments or materials that might help the reader to see the subject at hand from another point of view. By far the worse sort of response is the ad hominem attack on the writer of the article, so that by “killing the messenger”, whatever has been said or written is, therefore, of no value. Such attacks can be blatant character assassination or, perhaps worse, it may take the more subtle form of religious or tribal bigotry in which someone’s view can be instantly dismissed owing to the fact that they are a Roman Catholic, or Orthodox, or a Methodist, or a Baptist, or a Lutheran, or, yes, even an Anglican.
To prove one’s point in a discussion at the cost of destroying or devaluing another person is simply wrong.
Moreover, whether we wish to admit it or not, all of us drink from a wide variety of streams within the Christian tradition. If you value your Greek New Testament, give thanks for the German higher critics (mainly Lutheran), Presbyterians and Anglicans who labored to place it in your hands. If you value the work of evangelism, give thanks for the Baptists like Billy Graham who inherited the mantle of the 18th and 19th century great awakenings. If you value small group bible studies, give thanks for John Wesley and the early Methodists who introduced and perfected the form. The icon that you admire, or hangs in your home, is from the Orthodox tradition. This, of course, is not even to speak of the Roman Catholic tradition of scholarship.
All have made a contribution and all are worthy of respect, even though you need not agree with all.
Civility in conversation and public discourse is waning. In some quarters, it is now almost fashionable to be rude or obnoxious. Sad to say, we even see it among those who claim to be Christian leaders. Such are the days in which we live… but it need not be the way WE live.
So, comment please, here and on social media, but do it with grace. We’ll all be better off.
“…But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”