The Pope’s recent comments

September 14, 2006 at 8:38 pm (Christianity, History, Islam, Religion)

On September 12, 2006, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI delivered a lecture at the University of Regensburg during “the Meeting with the Representatives of Science.” I am quoting a portion of his lecture that has been popularized recently, put it in context, and then muse on it for a bit.

Vatican Radio has the lecture on their website; The Holy See also has the lecture on their website. They are practically identical. Both end with a disclaimer of sorts: “The Holy Father intends to supply a subsequent version of this text, complete with footnotes. The present text must therefore be considered provisional.”

What has been popularized online is the following bit:

“Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably (συν λόγω) is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”.

I will now present the above in context (please be aware that the following is not a short excerpt; italics are in the original, text from The Holy See’s version, Greek from the Vatican Radio’s version where available):

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on – perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara – by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur’an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between – as they were called – three “Laws” or “rules of life”: the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur’an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point – itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole – which, in the context of the issue of “faith and reason”, I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις – controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion”. According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”.

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practise idolatry.

At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: “In the beginning was the λόγoς”. This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts, [...], with logos. Logos means both reason and word – a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist. The encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance. The vision of Saint Paul, who saw the roads to Asia barred and in a dream saw a Macedonian man plead with him: “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” (cf. Acts 16:6-10) – this vision can be interpreted as a “distillation” of the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry.

Now, from this it becomes clear that Pope Benedict’s much-lauded statement was made in the context of supporting God’s rationality (by contrasting it with Islam’s God’s irrationality) and he was not, as it may at first seem, criticizing Islam. Indeed, the bit popularized were not even his words but, rather, those of Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus. Furthermore, this was delivered before scientists at the University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany, and Muslims were certainly not his intended audience. Indeed, I would not be surprised if the Pope himself is surprised that these comments are going around as proof of his ability or willingness to challenge or criticize Islam.

Having said that, as Pope he chooses his words carefully. It cannot be denied that he chose those particular words in their particular context by their particular speaker to be spoken at that particular event before those particular people. What exactly this means, and what else he is trying to say, escapes me right now. But it cannot be denied that these words were chosen carefully and, therefore, cannot be dismissed, ignored, or considered irrelevant.

Thoughts?

Update: And the backtracking has begun. *sigh*

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14 Comments

  1. John (AGJ) said,

    The emperor was right.

  2. Vince Aut Morire » Blog Archive » Muslims protesting again said,

    [...] As you may by now know, Muslims all over the world are protesting Pope Benedict XVI’s recent comments. See the post where I put it into context: these people are taking the issue way out of context. The key proof is that the words that have incensed the Muslims were not even the fruit of the Pope’s mind: he was quoting a Byzantine emperor. [...]

  3. Ann said,

    Good post! It kills me when islamic fascists protest over any utterance by anyone in the world. It only shows their ignorance. Islamic Fascists only care that you are silenced. They do not understand the concept of free speech. Speech, to them, is not a right for the ordinary person, only those in charge like mullahs.

  4. Chloe A said,

    Free speech is all and good. However, as a main symbol of Christianity the Pope has a responsibility to realize the potency of his remarks. It is very hard to make friends, but quite easy to make enemies. Decades of work by the former Pope and other religious figures could be eroded as a result. You have to understand, the notion of holy war is in fact a Christian born one. Crusaders, the Spanish Inquisition and the connection of the Vatican and Nazi Germany all set the stage for anyone to question the Pope’s remarks as an attack on other religions by one that is just as tainted. I expect a lot more from a moral leader who should build bridges than to tear them apart.

  5. Muslihoon said,

    However, as a main symbol of Christianity the Pope

    The Pope is seen as a main symbol of Christianity, but in reality he isn’t. Not even Catholics follow the Pope: many ignore what he says.

    It is very hard to make friends, but quite easy to make enemies.

    In that case it seems that Muslims have no desire to many any friends whatsoever, flying into a rage at the slightest provocation and feeling quite free to insult and attack the leaders and followers of other religions.

    Decades of work by the former Pope and other religious figures could be eroded as a result.

    And where does the fault lie in this? Can’t Muslims be mature and accept criticism or a negative remark? Their behavior is quite childish and, in fact, makes a mockery of any attempt to develop positive relations with them. Not to mention their utter hypocrisy and double standards they expect us Christians to honor.

    You have to understand, the notion of holy war is in fact a Christian born one.

    Actually, this is false. Holy war began with Muhammad and his sweeping wars of conquest.

    Crusaders, the Spanish Inquisition

    Mainly in response to Muslim aggression against Christians and Christian polities.

    and the connection of the Vatican and Nazi Germany

    This has been conclusively disproven. Far more damning are the links, connections, and collaboration between Nazi Germany and Arabs. Which, I must remark with some surprise, no one has made a big deal of. (Yet?)

    all set the stage for anyone to question the Pope’s remarks as an attack on other religions by one that is just as tainted.

    As your previous points have been refuted, this supposedly logical result is invalidated. Muslims, of all people, have no right whatsoever to be offended by the Pope’s remark. Furthermore, from your comments it seems you haven’t read what the Pope said and the context he said it in.

    I expect a lot more from a moral leader who should build bridges than to tear them apart.

    And an essential duty of a moral leader is to speak the truth. Only a coward would cower before a childish and irrational people.

  6. ptg said,

    At least the Pope stopped short of calling for a new Crusade. It could still happen.

  7. A Muslim said,

    As a muslim I believe that the Pope & the so called civilized Free World should understand that there are millions/billions of people out there that do not share the “Free World vision & principles” that does not make them Childish and/or Irrational or stupid etc. The Western World must understand that religion is other parts of the world still -believe or not – plays a crucial role people’s daily lives…They live by it or at least they believe so! That does not make it wrong or right ! IRemember we are talking faith not math…! Why can’t the Free world understand this…The world is not homogenious in its thinking or in religion or in culture! I believe that the pope and the scholars & academics have the right to disucss and to even dissect Islam if they wish HOWEVER they have to take into account the fact that we are not all academics and scholars and “open minded”…Out there, billions of people are illiterate and the only thing that they hold dear to their hearts is their faith -right or wrong- it is still FAITH…Who are we to tell them how to feel, or what to think or what to believe?!
    I personally believe that the Pope , a well respected religious figure and certainly very educated man, has badly chosen the time and the place to quote a medieval Empror who waged wars himslef and even against his brother to take the throne apparently! He and many International Figures must be aware and must be respectful, diplomatic and very careful when they talk because -unlike you & I- they are addressing the world with all its cultures, religions, peoples backgrounds & beliefs!
    Besides show me any religions that was not spread by the sword in any moment or another in its history! Is the Religion or is it man’s thirst for power? I believe that God is innocent…the rest I leave it to the voices of reason, compassion & wisdom which to me these voices are becoming more and more scares these days…

  8. Laura said,

    “Who are we to tell them how to feel, or what to think or what to believe?!”

    Well, when they are demanding that everyone else comply with the tenets of their faith – as in, show respect for Mohammed, don’t draw pictures of Mohammed, etc., then I feel quite justified in telling them they are irrational and unreasonable. I’m not a Muslim or a dhimmi and I have the right to not obey Islamic law. They need to adjust their beliefs to include that fact.

    Why should anyone be careful? The people you refer to have no problem going out in the streets and demanding our obedience to their requirements – I find that *extremely* offensive but they don’t seem to mind offending ME.

  9. rafikul said,

    it is a violent comments .such type of comments are not suitable for such a powerful person.

  10. J. Van Dyke said,

    Mohammed came 500 years after Christ was crucified. Mohammeds Quran copied format and verse of the Jewish Tora which also, became the foundation of the Christian Old Testament Bible. Like Christ, Mohammed was mayrtered and accepted as truth by those people who, either were not accepted by Christians or those who could not relate to Christ, His works or His crucifixtion. Time is the only visible real remnant of Christ B.C. and A.D. after Death 2006 is the accepted date by most people around the world. To spread truth with a double edged sword is of fear and submission. Christ’s works was to put the light on the table where it belongs to light the whole room, not under the bed. The Devil being the father of all lies is the key to enlightenment. The Devil was thrown out of Heaven because he put his Throne over God’s Throne. The Devils purpose is to corrupt mankind with earthly pleasures over our moral sense of right and wrong. Killing non suspecting innocent people is the Devils due. You can pervert the truth in the name of Allah but, every Knee will bend and every head will bow and proclaim our Lord God as savior upon their death. Upon death everyone shall know at that crucial time and every head will bow in dear and forgiveness. The New Testament was written to do away with the Old Testament because the only way to the Father is through the Son. The last days and the mark of the beast to eat or live may be upon us but no man, knows that Time. And so it was written. If your ears are blocked up and you are to blind to your own infamy, so shall you be.

  11. Laura said,

    >it is a violent comments .such type of comments are not suitable for such a powerful person.

    Hmmm… like this, you mean? Or this? How about this? This guy seems *much* more reasonable and concilatory.

    But since, as any parent can tell you, other people’s bad behavior is not a sufficient excuse for your own bad behavior, why not try scrolling up and reading what Muslihoon posted – what the Pope said, in context.

    Now, from this it becomes clear that Pope Benedict’s much-lauded statement was made in the context of supporting God’s rationality (by contrasting it with Islam’s God’s irrationality) and he was not, as it may at first seem, criticizing Islam. Indeed, the bit popularized were not even his words but, rather, those of Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus.

    On the other hand, for anyone who wants to take it as “the Pope said Muslims are violent” – turn on the news and have it confirmed. In the U.S., the best defense against slander is to prove that what you said is true. Believe me, I’d like nothing better than to be proved wrong.

  12. Zia Sheikh said,

    As an imam (Islamic religious leader) of a community, I always have to measure my words carefully, so as not to cause a backlash/misunderstandings/misconceptions etc etc.
    I only have a congregation of about 1000 people. When the Pope talks, millions of people listen. When you keep this in mind, what he meant and the context in which he said it doesn’t even come into the picture.
    As far as I am concerned, all of the good work done by John Paul II, whose funeral was attended by many Muslim dignitaries is being undermined by such statements.

  13. Ann said,

    Everyone still misses the point. Keep in mind that the Pope was quoting someone else’s statements. Quoting others should always be taken in context. Quoting others does not imply you agree with the statements. Quoting others means you are making a point about someone else’s words. Even I can tell the difference when people quote others. If a mullah quotes a 14th century Christian who comments that the crusades are “still on” no one would attribute the quote directly to the mullah as his own thoughts except those who have never learned to distinguish the art of literary context. The does not represent the minds and hearts of all Christians only Catholic ones. Again, perspective is called for here. Please, can we just move on??

  14. Ann said,

    My sentence should read:
    “The Pope does not represent the minds and hearts of all Christians only Catholic ones.”

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