Basil in today’s Basel

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In Heylers Ausgabe der Episteln und Fragmente Kaiser Julians (Mainz 1828) findet sich auf Seite 522 die auf Kurznachrichten reduzierte Kommunikation zwischen dem heidnischen Kaiser einerseits und Basilius von Cäsarea andererseits, Bischof und der Tradition nach Freund aus Kindertagen des abtrünnigen und mit folgenden Worten provozierenden Staatsmanns:

[Die Christenschrift] habe ich gelesen, verstanden und verworfen.

Darauf der Bischof:

Gelesen aber nicht verstanden. Hättest du verstanden, hättest du nicht verworfen.

Damit machte Basilius die Interpretation der Bibel vom Fürwahrhalten abhängig. Egal, wie man dieses Buch interpretiere, so Basilius, müsse es als wahr interpretiert werden, sonst sei es missinterpretiert. Für einen im Großen und Ganzen guten Autor war dieses Zitat keine Glanzleistung von Basilius. Denn die Bibel besteht nicht aus Tautologien. Damit ist deren (von mir aus unwohlwollende) ungläubige Interpretation nicht zwingend eine Missinterpretation.

Ähnlich und wie eine Replik des spätantiken Heiligen argumentieren diese jungen Leute, welche unser Fürwahrhalten zum Kriterium unserer Interpretation des Klimawandelnarrativs erheben. Nicht nur klingen sie wie fromme Apologeten des vierten Jahrhunderts, sondern ich war auch noch vor nicht langer Zeit ihr Lehrer in Sachen Argumentation…

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Two years ago, some of the students who quite recently hung this banner, were visiting my argumentation classes. And definitely the following things did not happen there:

They were not introduced into Heyler’s old edition of emperor Julian’s epistles and fragments (Mainz 1828) and, of course, never knew a kind of texting cited on p. 522 there, between the pagan apostate and – rumours say – his childhood friend, Basil, the bishop of Caesarea. The renegade emperor wrote:

I read, I comprehended and I condemned [the Bible].

To which the bishop replied:

You read it but did not comprehend it. If you had comprehended, you would not have condemned.

If I had brought this historical example, I would have had the opportunity to explain my students that Basil sees the correct interpretation of the Bible depend on whether one takes it to be true or not. But the Bible is not a collection of tautologies. There are interpretations according to which the contingent sentences in the Bible are false and these interpretations – call them malevolent if you want – do not have to be misinterpretations for this reason. Normally, Basil (church history nicknamed him “the Great”) was an author much better than this.

The fact that my previous students sound in my ears like him when they address the issue of climate change (“The ones who have understood but do not flip out, have not understood at all”) is, as I said, is not an acquaintance they would have with the aforementioned fourth-century texting. They know nothing about the saint whose rhetoric was similar to theirs. I did not introduce him to them. As I said, the subject they had with me was argumentation, not church history.

But I have to declare: I would have told them one more lesson to be learned from logic if I had guessed somehow that they would turn out to be apologists.