There is obviously a lot of media buzz and Muslim outrage over the comments of the Pope at his address to the science faculty at the University of Regensburg. While time could be spent discussing the wisdom of the Pope’s Byzantine reference or the level of Muslim outrage in reaction to the comments, I decided to actually read the whole address and see what the Pope was really getting at. The whole address can be found here.
Initially, Benedict speaks of his time at the university, when he was professor and vice rector, and a colleague (obviously from a different faculty) expressed view that it was odd for a university to have two faculties “devoted to something that did not exist: God.” His thesis seems to be in the next line:
That even in the face of such radical skepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: This, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question.
Thus, the topic of the address is the use of reason and its place within the Christian tradition.
He says that his thinking on the subject was spurred when he was recently reading the
edition by professor Theodore Khoury (Muenster) 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.
This served as a starting point on his reflections on the issue of faith and reason.
It could thus be reasonably inferred that Benedict had a topic he was going to examine during his address, faith and reason, and that in his ruminating over what he would, this text stood out and prompted his thinking. It seems that in his quoting of the now famous text he was simply recounting how he came to the particular topic at hand rather than offering any sort of proof-text to make a point about the nature of Islam. Indeed, he says that the section he quotes in the address is “itself rather marginal to the dialogue (of the rest of the work) itself.” Perhaps I am reading too much into the text of the lecture, but it seems that Benedict did not seek out this particular text as he was researching for his address, but instead the text found him.
Anyone who has ever had to give a lecture, give a sermon, or teach over a certain topic understands that as you read for your own pleasure and edification or for seemingly unrelated research, you tend to make ties between what you are reading and the impending talk. This phenomenon is simply natural as the things which are on our mind highlight certain passages during our reading. It appears that this could have been the case with Benedict’s text of choice. Even if he did seek out this particular text, it is for the reason that will be expounded in the next few paragraphs below.
The quote that has sparked the controversy, though it has been printed in media outlets much more influential than mine, is as follows:
Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels,” he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: “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.
However, most newspapers stop there and do not explain the rest of the story:
The emperor 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 is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably (“syn logo”) 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….”
Benedict sums up the quote as saying that the “decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.” So, this is the theme of the quotation: violent conversion is contrary to the nature of God because it is contrary to reason; reason is in coherence with God’s nature. This passage of text has nothing to do with Muslim violence in particular, but instead is used to illustrate the understanding of the time that reason and God’s nature go hand in hand.
After this description of the text, Benedict goes on to make the real point of using this quote. After this conversation in the text, the editor of the book makes the point that the Byzantine emperor’s Greek philosophical heritage allows him to think this way naturally, while the Muslim’s understanding of God, and thus violence, is not bound by Greek philosophy or any other category imposed upon God, even rationality. For the Muslim, God is utterly transcendent of any philosophy, making any course of action commanded by God a viable one, even violence. Not so with the emperor. So says the editor of the text.
This is what generates the main question of the lecture. In this lecture, Benedict is not concerned with Muslim violence nor does he care about what the Koran has to say on the subject of violence or peace. His concern is with the editors comments about the conversation. The following quote shapes the rest of his argument:
As far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma which nowadays challenges us directly. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?
Again, this is the question that shapes the rest of his lecture. Through this point in the lecture, his English transcript is approximately 960 words long. The rest of the lecture, which is used to answer this question, is over 2,800 words long. Clearly, this is all merely introductory material concerning the real question at hand: Is our theology held captive by Greek philosophy or is it not?
Since this post is already getting quite lengthy, I will be brief with the remainder. Benedict goes on to say that the connection between faith and reason is found in the scriptures themselves: the Gospel of John even uses the word logos (which means “reason” or “word”) to describe Jesus. He also goes on to admonish that reason is not limited by only that which is empirically verifiable, thus theology should remain an academically viable department within university life.
As far as I can tell, Benedict’s academic and complicated lecture on the nature of faith and reason has been castrated in the name of political correctness and overreaction by those who have not taken the time to read and understand his address.
While today’s post is longer than I had hoped, it still does not discuss two thirds of the address in as much detail at the first third. Perhaps next week I will look at the rest of the transcript. For a different analysis of the address, you can go here.