In this fascinating exchange, Italian novelist and semiotician Umberto Eco (The Name of the Rose,Focault’s Pendulum and others) and Carlo Maria Martini, the archbishop of Milan, discuss a few issues surrounding the Church today. Specifically, they discuss the nature of the end of time, abortion, the question of women priests, and how those who do not believe in God do right and wrong. Eco is an agnostic and a secularist, and Martini is a believer.
In all this is a fascinating exchange. It can’t really be called a debate in a formal sense. The men agree on much and the format never really allows them to return to the topics once they state their positions. Eco poses the first three questions and Martini the last.
The Protestant reader will immediately realize that this is a debate between a nonbeliever and a Roman Catholic, but there are enough common points of interest here to hold anyone’s attention. The two men are scholars and the tone of their letters might occasionally be difficult, but they do seek to make the discussion readable overall.
Believers will be impressed with Martini’s answers on questions of abortion, the end of time, and even women priestesses. He is solid and well spoken and does a more than amiable job. However, the reader will also be impressed with the openness and honesty of Eco. He is not a hardened skeptic by any stretch of the imagination and, in fact, was a member of the Roman Catholic church until age twenty two. He is respectful and asks very penetrating questions that it would do all believers good to sit down and consider. I disagree, of course, with Eco’s agnosticism. What a champion he would be if he would return to Christianity! And, fortunately, he may just be open and humble enough to come home again one day.