COI Gazette – 1st April 2016

Dialogue between faiths in Cyprus discussed as vital model for wider Middle East peace

From left: Salpy Eskidjian, Dr Atalay and Bishop Porfyrios (Photo: Peter Kenny)

From left: Salpy Eskidjian, Dr Atalay and Bishop Porfyrios (Photo: Peter Kenny)

The value of dialogue among religious leaders in Cyprus can become a model for the Middle East and other regions, Greek Orthodox Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis and Turkish Mufti Dr Talip Atalay have said.They were speakers at a recent meeting entitled ‘Interreligious Communication, Freedom of Religion and Peace Building’.Hosted by the Swedish Mission, the gathering took place as a side event at the United Nations in Geneva during last month’s 31st sitting of the Human Rights Council.Those interested in a solution to the Cyprus problem should support such dialogue in whatever way they can, said Bishop Porfyrios of the Church of Cyprus.



It is remarkable that the writings of an 18th-century Bishop of Durham, whose main works were Fifteen Sermons and a lengthy treatise entitled Analogy of Religion (1736), are still discussed among present-day philosophers, especially in relation to arguments against some major figures in the history of philosophy, such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.

As late as the early 1960s, the first three sermons were still on the course of the Entrance examination for the Divinity School in Trinity College Dublin. The late Professor Vokes, normally an advocate of all things modern, defended their inclusion on the grounds that they taught divinity students to “think theologically”.

Butler’s gnomic utterance, “Every thing is what it is, and not another thing” is still cited by people, not all of whom may realise where it came from.

Butler was originally destined for the Presbyterian ministry and attended a dissenting academy at Gloucester for that purpose. However, following an exchange of correspondence with a strong defender of the Church of England, he entered that Church in 1714 and attended Oriel College in Oxford. He was ordained deacon and then priest in 1718 and from then to 1726 was preacher at the Rolls Chapel where he delivered the sermons which, when published, established his reputation.

After four years in his first incumbency, Butler was presented to the wealthy benefice of Stanhope, Co. Durham, where he divided himself between a careful attention to pastoral ministry and the preparation of his magnum opus the Analogy of Religion.

In 1738, he was appointed to the rather impoverished bishopric of Bristol, where he had a celebrated ‘run-in’ with  John Wesley who, nonetheless, valued the Analogy. “The pretending to extraordinary revelations and gifts of the Holy Ghost,” said Butler, “is a horrid thing, a very horrid thing!” and refused to license Wesley to preach in his diocese. From 1740 to 1750, he also held the Deanery of St Paul’s until his appointment to the Diocese of Durham two years before his death.

The aim of Butler’s writing was essentially defensive, his approach being to accept the received systems of morality and religion and defend them against those who thought that such systems could be refuted or disregarded. He argued that nature is a moral system to which humans are adapted through conscience. His view was that his opponents (who included the sceptic Thomas Hobbes) were denying human beings’ very nature and that this was untenable.

So far as Butler was concerned, both religion and morality are grounded in the natural world order. He was strongly opposed to the Deists of his time, who believed in a God who was in some sense the creator but who was otherwise not actively involved with human life. On the contrary, he argued that the difference that God makes to humanity is the difference that a lively sense of God’s presence makes. Another major controversy was with Locke on the nature and duration of human personality and the implications of this for the doctrine of eternal life.

Overall, Butler’s mode of argument relied to a large extent on rational argument, with an emphasis upon probability which he regarded as a rule of life.

This editorial is one in a series of occasional reflections on figures in Church history, following a chronological sequence as they appear.


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