Sight-Seeing with Kuyper at Hagia Sophia

The idea that a building like Hagia Sophia, which had been a Christian cathedral, then became a mosque, and then under a secular state committed to neutrality became a museum — the idea that Hagia Sophia should remain a site free from religion seems odd for neo-Calvinists to embrace. David Koyzis, a political philosopher who identifies with Neo-Calvinism seems to be ambivalent about what’s happening to this ancient building:

Last month it was reported that a Turkish court has cleared the way for the historic Hagia Sophia, an ancient Roman church built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, to return to its former use as a mosque. Known as Ayasofya to the Turks, it functioned as a Muslim place of worship between 1453, when the Ottoman armies of Mehmed II, the Conqueror, conquered Constantinople, and 1934, when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk turned it into a museum.

Since then this architectural wonder has seen millions of tourists file through its interior, which once echoed with the sounds of Byzantine chant and Muslim prayers but now houses the ancient artefacts of two civilizations and two religions. Because Islam prohibits the presence of images in worship, the status of the building’s Byzantine mosaics, uncovered in recent times, remains uncertain.

This development is consistent with the efforts of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to move his country away from the secularizing Kemalist legacy towards a more Islamic identity.

When Koyzis concludes that his hope is for the cathedral to return to Christian worship, he avoids having to side with either Ataturk or Erdogan:

It’s possible that the authorities will come up with a compromise for Hagia Sophia. The mosaics may be covered temporarily during the Muslim prayer hours but will be visible at all other times for the benefit of the tourists, whose preferences Turkey cannot afford to ignore. However, given my paternal Greek heritage and my Christian faith, I cannot but hope that one day the praises of the God who revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ might again echo through the cavernous space of what was once the largest church in Christendom.

What might help Koyzis and other Protestants (not to mention Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox) is to remember what Abraham Kuyper experienced when he visited Istanbul during the first decade of twentieth century. To introduce his series on the Lordship of Christ (published as Pro Rege), Kuyper invoked his time at Hagia Sophia, according to James Bratt:

Kuyper introduced [the Lordship of Christ] from his fresh memory of observing prayers in Hagia Sophia. A faithful Muslim venerated the Prophet about 10,000 times a year, he computed. To kindle a lie devotion among Christians, it was necessary for them to understand their Master anew. (339)

In other words, visiting Hagia Sophia as a mosque was not something of which Kuyper disapproved.

In fact, Kuyper had respect to the point of envy for Islamic civilization:

Islam was the object of his supreme envy — a faith that, adapting itself to every culture, steeped its adherents in the conviction that the will of God was supreme over everything from the personal to the political, from the deep roots of time into the everlasting future, and under that conviction had spread a common worldview [w-w] from Gibraltar to the Philippines. This was Kuyper’s dream for Calvinism, the Dutch Golden Age times ten. As to particulars, he admired Muslim achievements in architecture . . . and he rhapsodized about Al-Azhar University in Cairo, where progressive scholarship had once flourished for seven hundred years in organic connection with religion and life. He noted the rise of pan-Islamic consciousness as a kind of liberation theology against colonial rule. It grounded independence in religious unity and ethical purification. If the “fanaticism” this produced worried him as a European, it echoed all his tales of heroic Beggars in the Dutch war for independence. (332)

Anyone tempted by Kuyper’s thoughts on Islam should obtain a copy of On Islam.

More than about Mmmmmm(eeeeeEEEE)e

It’s about the cats.

Spring break is in session. Chicago is not doing a very good impersonation of Spring. But after having coffee with one of our favorite writers we took even more public transit out to Wilmette to see this:

Hard to beat a combination of a glorious city, the greatest of God’s furry creatures, and the Turks who care for Istanbul’s felines.

What A Turkey! Part I

The trip started in Istanbul (I write from Izmir fka Smyrna). We saw the spectacular Aya Sophia, the former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum. The patron of the current building was Justinian I, the last emperor to speak Latin. Though churches were on the site from the late fourth century, the current Byzantine design was a product of builders’ efforts between 532 and 537.

One feature that stood out in the tour guide’s comments, reinforced by the architecture, was that this was a church for the emperor. He had a grand door to enter the sanctuary and he alone of the laity went into the sacred space. The empress had a view of the proceedings from the balcony. And the rest of the city’s Christians had to stand outside in the narthex.

To a citizen of the United States and a Reformed Protestant to boot, the idea of a facility like this being reserved for the worship needs of one man seems a tad excessive. I understand emperors were big kahunas and needed special care and feeding. But this?

And then I remembered a comparable dome in the United States where the father of a certain country is deified. That got me to thinking that we moderns are not that more skeptical about rank and privilege that the ancients were. And when you remember that Justinian was not depicted as a god the way that George Washington is, you wonder just how much the modern nation-state has abandoned the pieties of ancient kingdoms.

Did the Apostle Paul Suffer from Malaria?

I have arrived with the better half and a contingent of Hillsdale College faculty and students in Istanbul. We will be touring Asia Minor and seeing where the early Christians lived, moved, and worshiped their maker. So far, we are still in Europe — that part of Istanbul in the West.

So far the trip has presented few complications. In fact, a stroll after dinner to a nearby park tonight disclosed a pack of cats that were as beautiful as they were feral. The biggest problem so far has been getting health insurance companies to pay for the pills that prevent Malaria. The Mrs.’s insurer ruled specifically that her plan did not cover prophylactic medications. That suggests that a more expensive plan might cover the prescription. But if my wife contracts Malaria, won’t it cost the insurance company more for her annual treatments? So a lower priced plan should actually cover the Malaria medication. By the way, my own plan, which did cover the pills, only knocked about 30 percent off the price.

Which raises the question of why we have health insurance. I’m sure many have heard the comparison that we don’t buy car insurance to pay for tune-ups and oil changes. So why do we need the insurers to monitor all of our regular physical maintenance? I get it about life-threatening medical treatments. None of us can afford the six-figure bill that might come with surgery and chemotherapy. But why should the insurance companies take a cut of the cost of ordinary health care? Why not let people like me pay for doctors appointments and regular prescriptions right out of pocket, directly to my physician or pharmacist, the way we do with auto mechanics and auto supply companies?

Mind you, this is no brief for national health insurance. If the private companies have already mucked up medicine I can’t imagine the feds doing anything but adding to the inconvenience.

Granted, if we only had insurance for life-threatening diseases or injuries people who now don’t have health insurance would continue to use emergency rooms at hospitals for basic treatment. But if that were the case, just imagine what a service Roman Catholic and other religious hospitals could provide (along with a public relations windfall). Instead of having to offer a full range of medical services, they could simply offer medical treatment to the indigent. And their development officers might also be able to raise funds for some kind of insurance that would cover their patients when they have to send them to the hospitals with all the bells and whistles.