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Friday, September 15, 2006

The Hitler comparison is used again - What Pope Benedict said 

We'll get to today's Hitler in a moment. But first, before we consider the allegedly offensive statement that the Pope quoted, I'd like to present something written by a theologian. I'll tell you which theologian wrote it at the end of this post.

[T]he world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.

This theologian was speaking of multiple "profoundly religious cultures," including three of the cultures in question here - Islam, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and Roman Catholic Christianity. But we'll return to this quote later.

Now we'll get to today's Hitler, Pope Benedict. The sound bite version of the story:

Benedict quoted from a book recounting a conversation between 14th century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and a Persian scholar on the truths of Christianity and Islam.

"The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war," the pope said. "He said, I quote, '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.'"

Benedict did not explicitly agree with the statement nor repudiate it.

Actually, Benedict said a lot of things in his lecture, 99% of which is being ignored here. (We'll get to the Pope's lecture later.)

The reaction:

The comments raised tensions ahead of his planned visit to Turkey in November — his first pilgrimage to a Muslim country.

Salih Kapusuz, a deputy leader of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party, said Benedict's remarks were either "the result of pitiful ignorance" about Islam and its prophet, or a deliberate distortion.

"He has a dark mentality that comes from the darkness of the Middle Ages. He is a poor thing that has not benefited from the spirit of reform in the Christian world," Kapusuz was quoted as saying by the state-owned Anatolia news agency. "It looks like an effort to revive the mentality of the Crusades."

"Benedict, the author of such unfortunate and insolent remarks, is going down in history for his words," he said. "He is going down in history in the same category as leaders such as (Adolf) Hitler and (Benito) Mussolini."

Did Salih Kapusuz read all of the Pope's lecture? As will become obvious later, he didn't.

Meanwhile, in Lebanon:

In Beirut, Lebanon's most senior Shiite Muslim cleric denounced the remarks Friday and demanded the pope personally apologize for insulting Islam.

"We do not accept the apology through Vatican channels ... and ask him (Benedict) to offer a personal apology — not through his officials — to Muslims for this false reading (of Islam)," Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah told worshippers in his Friday prayers sermon.

Did Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah read the Pope's lecture? Doesn't look like it.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan:

[A]nger still swept across the Muslim world, with Pakistan's parliament unanimously adopting a resolution condemning the pope for making what it called "derogatory" comments about Islam, and seeking an apology from him.

"Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said.

"What he has done is that he has quoted very offensive remarks by some emperor hundreds of years ago," she added. "It is not helpful (because) we have been trying to bridge the gap, calling for dialogue and understanding between religions."

Aslam said Muslims had a long history of tolerance, adding that when the Catholic kingdom of Spain expelled its Jewish population in 1492 they were welcomed by Muslim nations such as the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

Did Aslam read any of the Pope's lecture, other than the quote? I doubt it.

Well, since we're back in the past anyway, let's take a look at Manuel Palaiologos II:

Manuel II Palaiologos was the second son of Emperor John V Palaiologos (1341–1376, 1379–1390, 1390–1391) and his wife Helena Kantakouzena....

Created despotēs by his father, the future Manuel II traveled west to seek support for the Roman Empire in 1365 and in 1370, serving as governor in Thessalonica from 1369. The failed attempt at usurpation by his older brother Andronikos IV Palaiologos in 1373 led to Manuel being proclaimed heir and co-emperor of his father. In 1376–1379 and again in 1390 they were supplanted by Andronikos IV and then his son John VII, but Manuel personally defeated his nephew with help from the Republic of Venice in 1390. Although John V had been restored, Manuel was forced to go as an honorary hostage to the court of the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I at Prousa (Bursa). During his stay, Manuel was forced to participate in the Ottoman campaign that reduced Philadelpheia, the last Roman enclave in Anatolia.

Hearing of his father's death in February 1391, Manuel II Palaiologos fled the Ottoman court and secured the capital against any potential claim by his nephew John VII. Although relations with John VII improved, the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I besieged Constantinople from 1394 to 1402. After some five years of siege, Manuel II entrusted the city to his nephew and embarked on a long trip to western courts (including those of the Kingdom of England, France, the Holy Roman Empire, and Aragon) to seek assistance against the Ottoman Empire.

So why didn't he think that Muslims were absolutely wonderful? "Please invade me," he should have shouted.

Manuel II stood on friendly terms with the victor in the Ottoman civil war, Mehmed I (1402–1421), but his attempts to meddle in the next contested succession led to a new assault on Constantinople by Murad II (1421–1451) in 1422. During the last years of his life, Manuel II relinquished most official duties to his son and heir John VIII Palaiologos, and in 1424 they were forced to sign a peace treaty with the Ottoman Turks, whereby the Roman Empire undertook to pay tribute to the sultan. Manuel II died on July 21 1425.

Manuel II was the author of numerous works of varied character, including letters, poems, a Saints's Life, treatises on theology and rhetoric, and an epitaph for his brother Theodore I Palaiologos.

And it's one of those works that produced the quote in question.

In 2006 he was quoted by Pope Benedict XVI in a speech at Regensburg University as saying, "Show me just what Muhammad 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," triggering outrage from Muslim organizations...

Here is the "provisional text" of the Pope's September 12 lecture at Regensburg University. The complete text is here:

Lecture of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
at the Meeting with the Representatives of Science
(Tuesday, 12 September 2006, Regensburg, University)

Faith, Reason and the University
Memories and Reflections

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a moving experience for me to stand and give a lecture at this university podium once again. I think back to those years when, after a pleasant period at the Freisinger Hochschule, I began teaching at the University of Bonn. This was in 1959, in the days of the old university made up of ordinary professors. The various chairs had neither assistants nor secretaries, but in recompense there was much direct contact with students and in particular among the professors themselves. We would meet before and after lessons in the rooms of the teaching staff. There was a lively exchange with historians, philosophers, philologists and, naturally, between the two theological faculties. Once a semester there was a dies academicus, when professors from every faculty appeared before the students of the entire university, making possible a genuine experience of universitas: the reality that despite our specializations which at times make it difficult to communicate with each other, we made up a whole, working in everything on the basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason - this reality became a lived experience. The university was also very proud of its two theological faculties. It was clear that, by inquiring about the reasonableness of faith, they too carried out a work which is necessarily part of the whole of the universitas scientiarum, even if not everyone could share the faith which theologians seek to correlate with reason as a whole. This profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: it had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God. That even in the face of such radical scepticism 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.

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 probably 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 the responses of the learned Persian. 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 of the three Laws: the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point - itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself - 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 jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: There is no compulsion in religion. It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threaten. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without decending 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."

There's the quote in question. Let's see what the Emperor, and the Pope, have to say about it:

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 (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.

Allow me to interject here. After a recent re-reading of portions of the book of Job, I don't know that we Christians can rightly assume that God has to be reasonable. Now let's continue, and you'll see that the Pope isn't speaking about Islam at all:

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.

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? 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, 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.

Wow. I didn't intend to add Greek content to the blog this morning, but I ended up doing so. Heh.

In point of fact, this rapprochement had been going on for some time. The mysterious name of God, revealed from the burning bush, a name which separates this God from all other divinities with their many names and declares simply that he is, is already presents a challenge to the notion of myth, to which Socrates's attempt to vanquish and transcend myth stands in close analogy. Within the Old Testament, the process which started at the burning bush came to new maturity at the time of the Exile, when the God of Israel, an Israel now deprived of its land and worship, was proclaimed as the God of heaven and earth and described in a simple formula which echoes the words uttered at the burning bush: I am. This new understanding of God is accompanied by a kind of enlightenment, which finds stark expression in the mockery of gods who are merely the work of human hands (cf. Ps 115). Thus, despite the bitter conflict with those Hellenistic rulers who sought to accommodate it forcibly to the customs and idolatrous cult of the Greeks, biblical faith, in the Hellenistic period, encountered the best of Greek thought at a deep level, resulting in a mutual enrichment evident especially in the later wisdom literature. Today we know that the Greek translation of the Old Testament produced at Alexandria - the Septuagint - is more than a simple (and in that sense perhaps less than satisfactory) translation of the Hebrew text: it is an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of revelation, one which brought about this encounter in a way that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christianity. A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion. From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith, Manuel II was able to say: Not to act “with logos” is contrary to God's nature.

Well, we're only halfway through the lecture, and I can't get through the whole thing. Here's a link, if you're so inclined. For the record, the Pope never returns to the subject of Islam again in the lecture, merely using it as a starting point to examine the question of whether God is reasonable. But he does tangentially talk about us Lutherans:

Dehellenization first emerges in connection with the fundamental postulates of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system. The principle of sola scriptura, on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself.

After some more discussion of dehellenization, the Pope arrives at his conclusion. Allow me to emphasize particular points he makes:

And so I come to my conclusion. This attempt, painted with broad strokes, at a critique of modern reason from within has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age. The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly: we are all grateful for the marvellous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and for the progress in humanity that has been granted to us. The scientific ethos, moreover, is the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which reflects one of the basic tenets of Christianity. The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures. At the same time, as I have attempted to show, modern scientific reason with its intrinsically Platonic element bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology. Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought – to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding. Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: “It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being - but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss”. The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur – this is the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. “Not to act reasonably (with logos) is contrary to the nature of God”, said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.

Perhaps critics of the Pope should read his whole message, including this part which I will quote again:

[T]he world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.

Will the Turks and Lebanese and Pakistanis condemn the Pope for saying that?

Danged sound-bite politics.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

I agree: the Hitler comparison (whether to B-16 or B-ladin or to any other bette noir du jour) is overworked. In response to your question though: while I can't speak for the Turks etc. I suspect most of us would agree that lesser mortals couldn't be bothered to pursue arcane theological questions with quite the intensity with which B16 (and his Roman Catholic flock) do. The answer to his question therefore is a big YAWN!
Speakers will target their presentation for the audience in question. A lecture at the University of Regensburg will, by necessity, differ from a speech in St. Peter's Square, or in Yankee Stadium.

It should also be noted that the interest in this lecture isn't limited to Catholics. The "sola scriptura" comments are obviously of interest to Lutherans and other Protestants, and there has been intelligent discussion in the Muslim world on the ramifications of these theological thoughts.
I posted a followup on my MySpace blog. Go here.
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