Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Benedict's Lecture at Former University

Wow. That's all I can say.

This week, Pope Benedict returned to the university where he had taught theology and served as vice president. He delivered a lecture there on the relationship of faith and reason. There are so many wonderful nuggets here, it will take me a couple of posts to unpack it all. You can read it all here. However, this is a provisional text--one with footnotes will be provided by the Holy Father.

One thing that he stressed was the contrast between Christianity's understanding of the role of reason and that of Islam's. Here's a bit...
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I was reminded of all this [i.e., the coherence of faith and reason] 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." 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. 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.

6 comments:

Danny Garland Jr. said...

We truly are blessed to have such a great theologian as Pope!

Mark said...

I was taken aback when I read the Holy Father used this quote from the Emperor: "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." I know he was not espousing this position but it was clumsy, and now I read that some in the Muslim world have begun to react:

http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/60F307D9-8A08-48E0-8AD6-C3731B7F66EE.htm

driver9 said...

Further interesting thoughts and comments on Mark Goodacre's blog http://ntgateway.com/weblog/2006/09/pope-on-harnack-and-new-testament-and.html

Xochilt said...

Mark-

Benedict XVI is anything but "clumsy." The violent reaction of so many in the Muslim world is only proof that the quotation cited was on the money.

Steve Bogner said...

Given the violent & vehement response in the Muslim world to the pope's speech, I wonder just how or if real dialog can take place...

Xochilt said...

Steve:

To these people, the Pope is the great Satan. I don't think they are interested in dialogue. The future ominous, to say the least. Pray for our beloved Benedict and for Holy Church!