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Juan Cole weighs in on Benedict's apology

Juan Cole, one of the most knowledgable Middle Eastern/Islam experts, had this to say on Friday about Benedict's talk:

Pope Benedict's speech at Regensburg University, which mentioned Islam and jihad, has provoked a firestorm of controversy.

The address is more complex and subtle than the press on it represents. But let me just signal that what is most troubling of all is that the Pope gets several things about Islam wrong, just as a matter of fact.

He notes that the text he discusses, a polemic against Islam by a Byzantine emperor, cites Qur'an 2:256: "There is no compulsion in religion." Benedict maintains that this is an early verse, when Muhammad was without power.

His allegation is incorrect. Surah 2 is a Medinan surah revealed when Muhammad was already established as the leader of the city of Yathrib (later known as Medina or "the city" of the Prophet). The pope imagines that a young Muhammad in Mecca before 622 (lacking power) permitted freedom of conscience, but later in life ordered that his religion be spread by the sword. But since Surah 2 is in fact from the Medina period when Muhammad was in power, that theory does not hold water.

In fact, the Qur'an at no point urges that religious faith be imposed on anyone by force. This is what it says about the religions:

' [2:62] Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow theJewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians--any whobelieve in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall havetheir reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall theygrieve.'

See my comments On the Quran and peace.

The idea of holy war or jihad (which is about defending the communityor at most about establishing rule by Muslims, not about imposing thefaith on individuals by force) is also not a Quranic doctrine. Thedoctrine was elaborated much later, on the Umayyad-Byzantine frontier,long after the Prophet's death. In fact, in early Islam it was hard tojoin, and Christians who asked to become Muslim were routinely turnedaway. The tyrannical governor of Iraq, al-Hajjaj, was notorious forthis rejection of applicants, because he got higher taxes onnon-Muslims. Arab Muslims had conquered Iraq, which was then largelypagan, Zoroastrian, Christian and Jewish. But they weren't seekingconverts and certainly weren't imposing their religion.

The pope was trying to make the point that coercion of conscience is incompatible with genuine, reasoned faith. He used Islam as a symbol of the coercive demand for unreasoned faith.

But he has been misled by the medieval polemic on which he depended.

In fact, the Quran also urges reasoned faith and also forbids coercion in religion. The only violence urged in the Quran is in self-defense of the Muslim community against the attempts of the pagan Meccans to wipe it out.

The pope says that in Islam, God is so transcendant that he is beyond reason and therefore cannot be expected to act reasonably. He contrasts this conception of God with that of the Gospel of John, where God is the Logos, the Reason inherent in the universe.

But there have been many schools of Islamic theology and philosophy. The Mu'tazilite school maintained exactly what the Pope is saying, that God must act in accordance with reason and the good as humans know them. The Mu'tazilite approach is still popular in Zaidism and in Twelver Shiism of the Iraqi and Iranian sort. The Ash'ari school, in contrast, insisted that God was beyond human reason and therefore could not be judged rationally. (I think the Pope would find that Tertullian and perhaps also John Calvin would be more sympathetic to this view within Christianity than he is).

As for the Quran, it constantly appeals to reason in knowing God, and in refuting idolatry and paganism, and asks, "do you not reason?" "do you not understand?" (a fala ta`qilun?)

Of course, Christianity itself has a long history of imposing coerced faith on people, including on pagans in the late Roman Empire, who were forcibly converted. And then there were the episodes of the Crusades.

Another irony is that reasoned, scholastic Christianity has an important heritage drom Islam itself. In the 10th century, there was little scholasticism in Christian theology. The influence of Muslim thinkers such as Averroes (Ibn Rushd) and Avicenna (Ibn Sina) reemphasized the use of Aristotle and Plato in Christian theology. Indeed, there was a point where Christian theologians in Paris had divided into partisans of Averroes or of Avicenna, and they conducted vigorous polemics with one another.

Finally, that Byzantine emperor that the Pope quoted, Manuel II? The Byzantines had been weakened by Latin predations during the fourth Crusade, so it was in a way Rome that had sought coercion first. And, he ended his days as a vassal of the Ottoman Empire.

The Pope was wrong on the facts. He should apologize to the Muslims and get better advisers on Christian-Muslim relations.

And then, Cole had this to say today about the apology:

Pope Benedict said on Sunday that the quote he had cited from Byzantineemperor Manuel II, which said that the Prophet Muhammd brought onlyevil and conversion by the sword, did not reflect his own views. He said:

"I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a fewpassages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which wereconsidered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims . . . These in factwere a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way expressmy personal thought. I hope this serves to appease hearts and toclarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was andis an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with mutual respect."

Although there were protests in Iran and some scattered acts ofviolence, mostly in already-violent areas, this statement seemed tomollify some Muslim leaders.

A Muslim Brotherhood official inEgypt initially said that the statement was a clear retraction andsufficient as an apology, but apparently under popular pressure, hebacked off that stance slightly, saying that the Pope hadn't actuallyclearly apologized, though he had taken a good step toward an apology.But the Brotherhood clearly was looking for a way to defuse the crisis,and that it initially latched on to the Pope's relatively impenitentremarks so eagerly, shows that it is eager to see things calmed down.The Egyptian MB thought the controversy was now likely to subside, andI hope they are right about that.

Some Western observers think that this episode was the Pope's play for moral authority at a time of a clash between Islam and the West.

Ithink that is right. Benedict was trying to stake out a position thatWestern godless atheism is actually unreasonable, and that hard linecoercive religion that disregards reason is wrong (he incorrectlyidentified this position as that of Muhammad and the Quran). Thus, theCatholic Church, with its reasoned faith, becomes the ideal, avoidingthe errors of the two extremes (Western secularism and Islam). Toaccomplish this positioning, Benedict XVI had to reduce to cardboardfigures all three traditions--Western rationalism, Roman Catholicism,and Islam.

Read the rest here


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"One of the most knowledgeable Middle Eastern/Islam experts" is one way of describing Juan Cole. There are many other ways. I'm surprised no mention was made that, like Manual II Paleologus, he's considered by many to be far from the most trustworthy source.Here's another view of Juan Cole:

I've been waiting with interest to see what sort of response Commonweal would make to the controversy over the pope's remarks. It is a response which would do the NyTimes proud.

I have no way of evaluating Juan Cole's expertise in Islamic Theology, but I would like to hear from someone knowledgeable. I did find myself disagreeing with Cole on other matters. The PBS News Hour tonight featured an Islamic spokesman, whose name I will not attempt to spell. I was impressed by his demeanour and his citing of texts, probably some of those that Cole cited. Opposite was George Weigel, by whom I was not impressed. The foundation for a serious dialogue with Islam ought to be a serious study of Islamic Theology. I doubt the Pope is really expert. Does he read Arabic? Does he have an expert to keep him informed? A first step in dialogue is to entertain no misunderstandings about what your opposite number really believes.By the way, did JP II really kiss the Quran? This should hold up his beatification. Or is it only a legend spread by his enemies

Very good post, Peggy. You referred the facts I know exist but did not dig out yet. Good work. So in addition to everything else the history that Benedict alludes to is not true. Benedict did well in citing the violence of the extremists in Islam. His characterization of Muhammed was inacurrate and foolish.Benedict put his foot in his mouth and those who sang his deep praises will not admit his sinking to these depths. Give him a chance to recover, yes. But don't lie for him. Well does Cole refer to the forcible implantation of Christianity in native cultures with the raping of their lands and women. So the real problem is lack of respect and regard for "other" cultures. This is the reason Christianity is weak in Japan, China and other Easter countries.And now Kasper has the gall to lecture on culture. is well ingrained in many Christian leaders.

I think Peg Steinfels hit the nail on the head; but, unfortunately, the initial posts seem to offer little but partisan simplicity.Clearly, Benedict has tried to move apart from JPII and seems to place Muslims at the bottom of the non-Christian pecking order in dialogue. This seems to undermine his own desire to dialogue for peace among all beliefs which presupposes some equality of participants.Perhaps his intellectualization of issues made it difficult for him to see the political outcome of his presentation.

Joe,I believe JP did kiss the Koran and applaud him for it. He was showing respective for 'another's' faith. Nothing wrong with that. I wouldn't make JP a saint either. But if you refer just to his ecumenism, he gets every vote.B16 should really learn from Karol.

Bill I could not disagree more. That a pope should kiss the Quran is absurd. What next? Politeness and respect are one thing, kissing the Koran something else. Why not the Book of Mormon? Comparing JPII and BXVI I cannot help thinking of a good cop-bad cop routine. It would be comical if it were not serious. Dialogue requires thorough going knowledge of the other and respect based on that knowledge, not facile and fatuous gestures whether of adulation or defiance.

Given the Vatican's long-time support for Palestinians - JP2 met many times with Yasser Arafat - and the Vatican's opposition to the Iraq war, it is distressing to see how vitriolic and violent some of the reactions have been to Benedict's speech, however wrong-headed it was. Doesn't the recent past count, too?

Paul--At her blog, Amy Wellborn has a still taken from an animation purportedly being run by Al-Jazeera on its website. The still shows a dejected JPII sitting on the chair he used for public appearances in the last years of his life. Standing next to him is BXVI looking calm and detached. He's leaning on a rifle, and at the feet of both of them are several bloodied doves of peace that have been shot down by BXVI.This URL will hopefully work to view the still:'m not much of a fan of Al-Jazeera, but at least some in the Arab seem to be lamenting the destruction of goodwill that was generated by JPII between Catholics and Muslims.

Robert Nunz wrote, "Perhaps [the Pope's]intellectualization of issues made it difficult for him to see the political outcome of his presentation."That has been my gut reaction. I saw the speech as the blunder of an old man yearning for his hey day in academia, when he and his colleagues could toss around theoretical notions and cite antique sources (apparently sources modern scholars no longer consider reliable) without "real world" repercussions.While the blunder may reveal something of the Pope's thinking about Islam and ecumenism, I think it says more about his detachment from the world. And perhaps his inability to wield the considerable political clout of the papacy, which is the legacy of Pope John Paul II.Sadly, the reaction of some Muslims to the Pope's speech will simply "prove" that his assertions about Islam were right.

You might have to register, but Anne Applebaum delivers what I believe is the correct take away on this matter: as I do wholeheartedly with Ms. Applebaum, I have to say that it's usually dangerous to start dabbling in the texts of foreign sources when one doesn't understand the language and probably not the historical context as well. Never mind that large swaths of Christians do just that to their own religion. But in reality, if the Pope had been completely fluent in Arabic and a well-known Q'ranic scholar, he would still have incited violence. At the risk of sounding disdainful in the extreme, you cannot reason with someone whose only reaction is the adult equivalent of a temper tantrum. I think gratuitous slights and religious triumphalism should be kept to a minimum by the Pope and anyone else, (especially in light of how native Americans were "converted" by the Spanish and Portuguese) but honestly, I doubt if many of those who are reacting thus could even explain what was wrong or inaccurate about what he said.

Here is another opinion:Is it good for the West?By SERGIO I. MINERBI it out!And remember the Pope was chosen by God, he is not as terrible as some would lead you to believe. Pray the rosary and Divine Mercy watch how prayer works!

For anyone who has carefully read Benedict's other writings, the reactions in this comments space have been baffling. Benedict is certainly one of the most learned (in both theology and languages) of any theologian of the past 50 years. It seems very unlikely to me that he either made a mistake with his source material or made a political faux pas Jean describes.The one possibility no one has mentioned here that I think is much more likely is that a.) his read of the source material is at least as good as Juan Cole's and b.) he knew exactly what he was doing when he made his comments. The lecture is too well-structured not to be deliberate. Much more likely, I think, is that Benedict has begun to outline the framework for Muslim-Catholic dialogue. So far, this is in what it consists: reason unencumbered by threats of violence. My understanding is that he was relying on a Muslim consensus about the dating of the sura in question. Speaking with little knowledge (a dangerous thing, I admit!) I can offer two conjectures: perhaps there is just as much dating controversy with the Koran as with the Bible and Benedict and COle operate out of two different dating traditions. Or, perhaps Juan Cole is right as to the actual dating fo the sura, but Benedict is right about how Muslims themselves date the sura.Then again, perhaps Jean Raber and Margaret Steinfels are correct, and Benedict was imprudent and sloppy. It seems very odd to me that commenters and posters on this blog seem to have jumped to this conclusion fairly quickly without any discussion of the possibility: "What if the pope is correct?"

Tom, I'm not attacking the Pope.The Pope has the right and the duty to condemn violence in the name of religion--any religion.I'm not questioning the Pope's scholarship or grasp of languages.I'm not questioning the Pope's having been chosen by the cardinals with the help of the Holy Spirit, the point Robin seems to feel we have all overlooked. (But given that not all our Popes have been canonized, I think we have to accept that at least some of them are prey to some of the human frailties as the rest of us.)I'm not questioning the Pope's fitness to speak authoritatively on matters of morals or Catholic doctrine.I am only questioning the Pope's political acumen. For me the fundamental question is this: Has he made it easier for Christians and Muslims to work together for peace? Doesn't seem like it right today.Cclearly, you feel that there is a larger context in which this speech needs to be placed. So enlighten us.

Juan Cole's views, it seems to me, are enlightening, and suggest that Benedict needs more expert advice on Islam than he seems to be getting. Here's another sidelight, from the (Swiss) Basler Tages-Anzeiger of today (my translation):"The Swiss theologian Hans Kng doesn't believe that Pope Benedict XVI, in his comments about the Prophet Mohammed, intentionally wished to provoke the Muslim world. He has always spoken out for dialog between religions. "'The Pope wishes to present a positive image of Christianity, and has done it in an unfortunate way,' said Kung in a talk on "Echoes of the Day" (Echo der Zeit) on Radio DRS (Swiss-German radio). . . ". . . . As to the question of whether the Pope should apologize, Kung said, "It's not obvious that the Pope should not be incapable of apologizing."

Jean Raber wrote:"Sadly, the reaction of some Muslims to the Pope's speech will simply 'prove' that his assertions about Islam were right."Isn't it possible that his assertions have some merit to them? That there was such a violent reaction to this one paragraph in an academic lecture may well be telling--maybe not of all Muslims, but perhaps of a number of them. And of the ones who seem to be the most influential.Why do we find it so hard to condemn outright the violence that has erupted in response to Benedict's speech? Why is there little analysis of the state of Islam that helps to explain such destructive reactions?And while we're at it, why do we keep dredging up the ancient sins of our forefathers and foremothers as a way of implying that Chrisitanity is just as compromised as Islam? Perhaps if St. Timothy's parish CCD program in Boise, Idaho, included a segment on the heavenly rewards awaiting those who killed Muslims we could make that comparison. But it's just plain not the case. By contrast, madrasahs all over the Middle East teach the virtue of jihad.Of course we need dialogue and respect for moderate Muslims. Of course we need tolerance and patience. But we also need to speak plainly about the differences in our religions--and about the defects that we perceive in the way Islam is practiced.I just read a column by Anne Applebaum in The Washington Post ( and another by John Allen in the New York Times ( that speak to this issue. Rather than beat up on the pope, shouldn't we be taking the leaders of Islam to task for not condemning the actions of their people?

Last sentence of my Swiss post should read:". . . . As to the question of whether the Pope should apologize, Kung said, "It's not obvious that the Pope is incapable of apologizing."Sorry -- too many double negatives, in both German and English.

John Allen offers some thoughts on Benedict's outlook in today's NY Times--op-ed page.

If one wants to read more from Juan Cole, "one of the most knowledgeable Middle Eastern/Islam experts" here's a quote from his Monday blog entry:"The problem with the Pope's Regensburg lecture is that it laid out three intellectual traditions as unchanging, undifferentiated essences and then contrasted them with one another, to the edification of his own position. There aren't any essences." Coles conclusion is as good an example as any of the dehellenization of reason the Pope warned against in his lecture.In addition to the work of Cole one might want to consult the work of another knowledgeable medievalist, Etienne Gilsons Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages. He describes developments under the headings of the primacy of faith (Augustine and Anselm), the primacy of reason (Averroes and the Latin Averroists), and the harmony of reason and revelation (Aquinas), the latter a short-lived period followed by Duns Scotus and Occam. The period was full of developments and contrary to Cole the Pope's lecture fully acknowledged them, as do treatments like Gilson's. What may disturb people like Cole is that the Pope also believes in essences.

While sound arguments have been made that the Pope's references to the 13th/14th century text have been taken out of context in a tightly argued lecture on reason and dehellenization probably not understood by most who are protesting, and that the reaction in the Islamic world has therefore been overblown, we have to remember that we in the West are viewing the Pope's lecture through a different lens than those in the Islamic world. Earlier this summer, William Pfaff, in his Commonweal article "Clash of Cultures," made the point that Muslims--specifically jihadists--view the world from a much different perspective than we do: "The jihadist reaction takes the classical form (repeatedly found in colonial history) of a violent and utopian attempt to recover a Golden Age. Its emotional force comes from a popular sense of threat and the need for cultural affirmation. This is in turn fueled by material backwardness and Western political oppression experienced after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I." I'm not excusing the violent reaction to the Pope's lecture, of course, but arguments that the Pope should continue to speak plainly about the differences between Christianity and Islam, and the defects he perceives in Islam, miss the dichotomy that exists between Western and Muslim perceptions of the Pope's remarks. If Pfaff is right, the Muslim world hears the Pope's words only after they are filtered through the negative effects of a long history of colonialism and insecurity. Just as the U.S. has made many missteps in the Middle East because of its failure to understand fully Muslim culture and expectations, the Pope will make more missteps, including the loss of much needed moderate Muslim support, if he does not become fully attuned to Muslim sensibilities. He needn't abandon his message about reason and religion, only find culturally and religiously sensitive ways to deliver it.

Bill, your points by way of William Pfaff are well taken.But I also think it's somewhat patronizing to imply (if indeed you or Pfaff are implying it), that devout Muslims cannot rise above politics and history and refrain from reacting violently to remarks or cartoons that offend them. The Muslims in my community have engaged in vigorous debate about American foreign policy, but they have never responded with or advocated violence. Ever. I agree with Mark that teaching violence under the guise of religion is to be condemned, utterly and completely.But making statements about violence and Islam, even off-handedly, is not my idea of how we build bridges with those of other faiths.

Irshad Manji was on Laura Ingraham's radio show please check out her web site: is alot of very good info.Irshad agrees with the Pope and said that the whole text needs to be read. I am very disillusioned that some people tend to think that the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Father are always at fault. I realize you need to hear both sides but when the Church and the Pope are being condemned constantly it is appalling, If some one who is investigating the Church or is from another faith I think they certainly would have second thoughts of not becoming a Catholic.

"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own" (Illustrated London News, August 11, 1928). G.K. Chesterton

E.J. Dionne in the link above claims that Pope Benedict initiates religious dialogue with Muslims by slapping them in the face. Perhaps this news, just in from Scrappleface, will soothe his frazzled nerves:(2006-09-18) A day after violent Muslim riots spurred Pope Benedict XVI to apologize for implying that Islam has brought more evil to the world, the Pontiff today agreed to consider a petition to add the name of Islams founder to the pantheon of Roman Catholic saints.A Vatican spokesman said that, as part of the Holy Fathers self-imposed penance to atone for his ill-advised remarks about Muhammad, he has given permission for the Roman Catholic church to investigate canonizing the founder of one of the worlds three great monotheistic religions.Vatican researchers said the application is already being processed and they need only find one more verifiable after-death miracle attributed to Muhammad.'The first is indisputable,' a Vatican source said, We already have ample evidence that the long-dead prophet miraculously caused a major religious leader, with a reputation for infallibility, to apologize for telling the truth.

Theres a common thread in several of the earlier posts:Nicholas Clifford: Benedict needs more expert advice on Islam than he seems to be getting.Bill Collier: Just as the U.S. has made many missteps in the Middle East because of its failure to understand fully Muslim culture and expectations, the Pope will make more missteps, including the loss of much needed moderate Muslim support, if he does not become fully attuned to Muslim sensibilities.Joseph Gannon: The foundation for a serious dialogue with Islam ought to be a serious study of Islamic Theology. I doubt the Pope is really expert. Does he read Arabic? Does he have an expert to keep him informed?John Paul had such an expert: Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, who served as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. But, as John Allen notes, Benedict removed him from office on February 15. A recent BBC story has more: The British-born cleric ran a Vatican department that promoted dialogue with other religions. A distinguished scholar on Arab affairs, he was an acknowledged expert on the Islamic world. The decision by Benedict XVI to remove him from his post, and send him to Egypt as papal nuncio, was widely seen as a demotion. Some wondered about the wisdom of the move. Father Thomas Reese, a Jesuit scholar and an authority on the workings of the Vatican, told the BBC news website of his concerns: "The Pope's worst decision so far has been the exiling of Archbishop Fitzgerald," he said in an interview in April this year. "He was the smartest guy in the Vatican on relations with Muslims. You don't exile someone like that, you listen to them. "If the Vatican says something dumb about Muslims, people will die in parts of Africa and churches will be burned in Indonesia, let alone what happens in the Middle East. It would be better for Pope Benedict to have Fitzgerald close to him." That warning now seems prophetic. The entire BBC story can be found at

I just want to say that the Church is alive and well. Those who acted as children, for the last 150 years especially, have taken responsibility like Paul and told Peter he must include more people in God's love.We are a much better church. We will not agree with warring clerics, nor with sending back known pedohiles to teach our children, and niether with simplistic pastors who say they know best. We are becoming a more responsible church and from this is ensuing a more responsible Christianity.We are not changing the church. We are changing some very bad structures. Accountability is getting stronger.

"Posted by Mark Jameson on September 19, 2006, 10:40 amJean Raber wrote:"Sadly, the reaction of some Muslims to the Pope's speech will simply 'prove' that his assertions about Islam were right."Isn't it possible that his assertions have some merit to them? That there was such a violent reaction to this one paragraph in an academic lecture may well be telling--maybe not of all Muslims, but perhaps of a number of them. And of the ones who seem to be the most influential.Why do we find it so hard to condemn outright the violence that has erupted in response to Benedict's speech? Why is there little analysis of the state of Islam that helps to explain such destructive reactions?And while we're at it, why do we keep dredging up the ancient sins of our forefathers and foremothers as a way of implying that Chrisitanity is just as compromised as Islam? Perhaps if St. Timothy's parish CCD program in Boise, Idaho, included a segment on the heavenly rewards awaiting those who killed Muslims we could make that comparison. But it's just plain not the case. By contrast, madrasahs all over the Middle East teach the virtue of jihad.Of course we need dialogue and respect for moderate Muslims. Of course we need tolerance and patience. But we also need to speak plainly about the differences in our religions--and about the defects that we perceive in the way Islam is practiced.I just read a column by Anne Applebaum in The Washington Post ( and another by John Allen in the New York Times ( that speak to this issue. Rather than beat up on the pope, shouldn't we be taking the leaders of Islam to task for not condemning the actions of their people?"Thank you, Mark!!!Why is no one analyzing whether the reactions of Muslims to the Pope's comments are even appropriate?His comments were deserving of mass rioting and burning him in effigy?! Really?! That makes sense to someone?!We're going to deconstruct every word and nuance of the Pope's comments and not address the level of reaction?Are you telling me that every Muslim who took to the streets in protest a) read the Pope's comments; b) understood the Pope's comments in context; c) is a scholar well trained in both the Koran and in Christian texts; and d) was offended to the degree that they could not respond in a rational fashion?Because I don't buy that at all. What I see is a group of people whipped into a frenzy by some well publicized propoganda fed to them by extremist leaders and moderate leaders who are too frightened to respond.

I would love to hear an exchange between E.J.Dionne ("We Need a Real Dialogue") and Anne Applebaum ("Enough Apologies") with John Allen filling Jim Lehrer's role.

Jean: short answer to your question is: yes.Benedict has put his finger directly on the quetion that is at the very base of dialogue between Chritianity and Islam: Is God Logos, or somhow beyond Logos? Can God's commands contradict each other, or not?Have later passages in the Koran advocating the violent conversion of the infidel abrogated the earlier passages resisting conversion by the sword?Now, Muslims need to give us answers, so we can respond. That's real, mature dialogue that respects and works to clarify difference (which, by the way, doesn't exclude affirming things we have in common). Without the step Benedict has taken, there is no real dialogue with Muslims.

Instead of the violence the fanatical Muslims are getting away with and defended by even people in our country they should be doing just what this group is doing check out this link:

Tom, thanks for your perspective. I'm not sure whether I agree that the Pope has made it easier for dialogue to proceed, though I see your point about his remarks helping to define parameters of any dialogue.As I try to put all this in a larger context, I trolled several news organizations, including Aljazeera, for a round-up of reactions from Muslims around the world..There has been strenuous, and sometimes strident, protest, but most has been nonviolent.Here's the round-up with sources below:Protesters in Kashmir region of India staged a one-day strike to protest the Pope's comments. Some demonstrated and burned tires.Maylasia's foreign minister said the apology wasn't enoughIndonesia's president hoped the apology would put the anger to rest. One Muslim cleric in Indonesia said that the Pope's apology was insincere. Protesters in Jakarta were numbered in the dozens.One Iranian cleric called for a "day of anger"; several hundred several hundred protested.Turkey's most senior Muslim cleric said the Pope's apology was "civilized."British Muslim group said they were satisfied with the apology.Egyptian Brotherhood accepted the "retraction," but said it might not be enough to satisfy others. An Egyptian cleric called for demonstrations after Friday prayers but stressed they should be peaceful. Dominican missionaries in Cairo said the Pope's quote reminded many Muslims of "the polemics of the past" and could only serve to hurt relations.Seven Christian churches in Palestine have been attacked with fire bombs.A nun was killed in Somalia by what is believed to be Muslim extremists.Al-Quaida said the Pope was a cross-worshipper and was doomed and said their holy war would continue until the necks of the infidels were chopped.An Iraqi cleric called the Pope a pig and said the "armies of the religion of right" would knock on the walls of Rome. Hundreds of protesters carried black flags in Basra.200 Syrians protested the speech and dismissed the apology.German Muslim group welcomed the apology.A Saudi professor said he was concerned that the Pope's comments would give Al-Quaida legitimacy with some Muslims.Sources: (AP reports)

Friends,No one who is here criticizing Benedict support jihad Muslims. We are fighting them everyday. We are just saying that Benedict gave that lunatic fringe unnecessary ammunition. Most of all it insulted sincere, peaceful Muslims. All of us are pursuing peace. We have to find ways to find that peace with each other while doing constructive criticism. How can we make Benedict better?

As I reflect on this whole incident and its aftermath more, I'm reminded that the man who gave us this quote from an obscure Byzantine emperor is also the man who gave us the phrase "dictatorship of relativism." He is also the man who wrote that other world religions are "gravely deficient." It seems that for all of his precision and attention to detail, this fellow is also known for blunt, sometimes impolitic, wording.So perhaps we should not be too shocked to see a slip up in this situation as well. It's just that this time, the infelicity struck a very nervous nerve *outside* of the church as well as within.

Let us look at the facts. In a rambling discourse, in which the Bishop of Rome treats of more subjects than he has time to do justice to, that learned gentleman cites the opinon of a Byzantine emperor, Manual II Palaeologus, that Mohammed has contributed nothing new to the world that was any good. The point was not necessary to his argument about faith and reason. One naturally concluded that the Bishop was using this citation for some purpose, probably to indicate his opinion of Mohammed. The followers of Mohammed are offended. Some of them behave badly, even irrationally, but it is understandable that even the most rational and sober among them should have taken offense. They regard Mohammed as the prophet sent to them for their salvation. At length, the Bishop of Rome responds by indicating that he had no intention of offending and that he does not share the opinions of the emperor that he cited. This is generally admitted to be an apology, although some think it is not quite enough of one. He does not explain why he cited the emperor in the first place.What are we to make of this? Some say that the Bishop of Rome said something that that the followers of Mohammed needed to hear. If so, why did he disassociate himself from the opinon he cited. If we believe he was sincere in his apology, we must concede that he had not meant to suggest what he seemed to have suggested, viz., that Mohammed contributed nothing new to the world that was any good. Are we really going to deny that the Bishop of Rome was sincere in his apology. I hope not. So we must agree with His Holiness that His Holiness has spoken without due consideration of the interpretation likely to be put upon his words. We all make mistakes.Someone said that the Pope was chosen by the Holy Spirit. This seems to me quite unfair to the Holy Spirit. Whoever thinks that Popes are chosen by the Holy Spirit should read, or reread, Eamon Duffys Saints and Sinners.

Words have consequences. As a former CWL editor and still a writer, I think I can imagine that the pope found the quote congenial to the point he wanted to make. Like many academics, writers, and popes, he probably didn't expect his words to pass much beyond the audience of his intended remarks. He is probably as surprised as anyone at the consequences. Next time, he will presumably have a good editor at hand--a very good editor--to call attention to the unintended consequences.I have often been taken aback at what people take from what I have written--a transition put in to get me from one part to another can loom larger in the mind of some readers than the the really BIG point I was making. So it goes....

Aside from the issue of what the pope said about Islam, what his provisional text says about reason deserves some comment. (The Italian paragraph that Fr. Imbelli has kindly provided does not affect the point I want to make.)The pope apparently endorses the thesis that "the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith...." What does this say about this Greek sense of reason? Does the Greek heritage establish the norm against which any purported exercise of reason in any culture is to be measured? For example, is Buddhist religious thought to be measured against this Greek heritage to determine whether or to what extent it can shed any light on Christian Revelation? Or, perhaps better, does some Eastern body of thought, e.g., Buddhist thought, have to pass the test of the"purified Greek heritage" to have anything constructive to contribute to a dialogue with Christian thought? So far as I can tell, reason is not a univocal concept. There is no norm of reason that is detachable from the assorted efforts to make sense that we find in the various forms of "discourse" or communication. There is reason tha animates poetry, drama, painting etc. as well as that which animates theology, prayer, and philosophy. No particular expression of reason is the "queen" of reason. Similarly, Christian faith can animate these many forms of expression. But the Greek heritage enjoys no unequivocal primacy. Indeed, we Westerners may very well have to start ou by drawing on that heritage. But we can learn to supplement it with other heritages that are not dependent on it.

Pope Benedict should have been more careful, knowing that his speech would be front-page news, to edit it with that in mind. And no doubt he has learned a valuable lesson. But the mistake having been made, he is now faced with the problem of how to clarify his intentions without falsifying them or inadvertently offending anyone further. This obviously hasnt been easy. His initial statement acknowledged regret for the pain anyone might have been caused by what he said, but refrained from going so far as to say he should not have said it. I suspect that he will have to return to the issue againmaybe more than once-- to lay it to rest, but that he will do so with great care and restraint. However there are a number of apologists for the Pope who have jumped to the defense of his references to Islam with the sort of glib doubletalk used by press representatives of foot-in-mouth-prone politicians. For example, George Weigel on the PBS News Hour couldnt manage a straight answer to a simple question, but talked, non-stop, in circles. It was in more than one sense, a mystifying performance. And today Zenit reports that Bishop Tommasi, the Observer from the Papal See to the UNs Geneva office, is blaming the usual scapegoat, the press, for the whole furor, on the ground that actions in protest started before the Popes speech was even translated into the languages of those who protested. Yet they were misled , it seems, by inflammatory headlines. (With friends like these, who needs hostile critics?)

You've touched on a good point, Bernard, one that's been on my mind, too, now that the Manuel II controversy has subsided a bit and attention can be turned to the intricacies of the Pope's lecture. I don't think that the Pope is limiting the touchstone for reason to the "critically purified" Greek philosophy and heritage that he so clearly believes is "an integral part of Christian faith" and that has been permanently inculturated into Christianity. He seems to put Greek thought the first among equals, however, and to be even considered as an equal, another system must recognize that God can act in a rational way only, not, as the Pope says in his shot across the bow of Islam, in a manner that would support the belief that God condones irrationality, including violence. BXVI speaks of the unique historical "convergence" of Christianity and Greek thought, alluding to the fact that the NT was written in Greek and is filled with the "Greek spirit." He also dwells at length on the Greek concept of "logos" and its importance in Christianity's conception of God and reason. What may seem like overemphasis on Greek thought, or its recognition to the exclusion of other philosophies, becomes clear, I think, when we consider the Pope's primary audience. I think he intended to send a message to the Islamic world about not linking God and violence, though he did it in a clumsy way. The Pope's real target was the secular West, especially Europe. Sando Magister makes the point that the Regensburg lecture must be read in the context of all of the Pope's speeches, homilies, etc. during his trip to Bavaria. (Magister has posted the text of all of them.) As we know, secular Europe is a favorite target of BXVI, and his public statements in Bavaria, when considered as a whole, bear out the Eurocentric theme of the Pope's trip. In the Regensburg speech, the Pope reveals as much:"Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its hitorically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe." The Pope's warning about dehellenizing Christianity also is centered on western efforts to strip Christianity of its Greek heritage. He discusses three stages in the western world's efforts to dehellenize--the Reformation, 19th and 20th century liberal theology, and modern attempts at cultural pluralism that ignore the permanent inclusion of Greek thought into Christianity. There's room for other systems of thought in Christianity, the Pope seems to be saying, so long as they don't exclude "the divine from the universality of reason," and so long as they don't try to dislodge the special place that Greek thought now occupies in Christianity.Though cogently and forcefully stated, I'm still not sure that I agree with the Pope's convergence premise. He is clearly enamored with the metaphysics found in Platonism and Neo-Platonism, and he uses that metaphysics to counter the modern day belief that rationality is based on scientific inquiry only, but I'm not sure it was necessary to "inculturate" Greek thought into Christianity in order to make the point, which I agree with, that " a reason which deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures."Very weighty stuff from the Pope, and I'm interested in hat others have to say about the substance of his lecture.

BXVI speaks of the unique historical "convergence" of Christianity and Greek thought, alluding to the fact that the NT was written in Greek and is filled with the "Greek spirit.">>Bill C,I think these words of Benedict are extremely offensive. We are just trying to get rid of Latin as intrinsically imbued with holiness. Now we want to do it with Greek..All other cultures are "other." This is outrageous and what is wrong with Christendom.

Yes, Pope John Paul kissing the Koran was a real step in interreligious dialogue. Just enough to endear himself to the lunatic fringe and more than enough to be considered a heretic for elevating Muslim "scripture" above his own.

It is so sad to see so many just complain and complain about the Roman Catholic Church and The Pope on this blog. I am a convert, this is the Church that Jesus founded do you know how blessed you are to belong to this Church? I have learned so much about this Church taking classes and then teaching the faith on to chilldren in confermation clsses. I find such a wonderful relationship with my Lord, Jesus Christ, I will never be the perfect one but how wonderful! The Catholic Church has the fullness of the faith! Please pray for the grace to understand.

Bill M--I don't think the Pope is equating Greek thought or language with holiness. Plato, Aristotle, et al. pre-dated Christianity by several centuries. The "inculturation" he speaks about is the incorporation of Greek philosophical thought, especially about reason, into Christianity. Remember, the Christian intellectual giant Augustine, whom we know BXVI admires greatly, finally found the Christian God in large part because he was persuaded by the concept of "the One" in Neo-Platonism. Alexander the Great hellenized much of Euope and Near Asia (also several centuries before Christ), inculturating (by force) Greek thought into many societies. We can't deny the great influence of Greek thought on Christianity, but are they inseparable as the Pope says? Unless we believe they are, the Pope's dehellenization proscription will not carry as much intellectual weight. Again, I don't think the Pope believes other concepts of reason are foreign to Christianity, or that they have to be excluded, but he does believe that "other," as you say, have to have come to the same conclusion that reason includes a divine component and that divinity always acts rationally.Janice--Did we ever establish as fact that JPII kissed a Qur'an? Even if he did, however, it doesn't mean that he elevated Muslim scripture above the Bible. I'm sure the Muslims who witnessed such an event did not think that JPII had undergone a conversion, though I'm betting their respect for him for his act of respect grew exponentially that day and broke down walls of distrust and suspicion.Robin--I don't think most people on this blog "complain and complain" about the RC Church. Like you, most people here love the Church dearly and want to see it prosper and grow. There's a difference between complaining and constructive criticism, and I think the latter is more common.Vatican II made clear that the Church itself is also a pilgrim on a salvific journey. Sometimes the humans--at every level-- who make up the Church stumble and fall and make serious errors. I see respectful and charitable comment about such errors to be part of the duty of being a good Caholic, and I respect your opinion that maybe such comment has gone too far at times.

I also was intrigued by Benedicts insistence on the special role of Hellenism in Christian thought. Actually I alluded to one aspect of this earlier, viz., the way he talked about the Septuagint or Greek O.T. and its role. The authors of the N.T. in almost every case where they cite Scripture seem to be using the Septuagint rather than making their own version from the Hebrew. The first Latin translations of the O.T. were based on the Septuagint, not the Hebrew, in other words they were translations of a translation. There are obvious problems with this. Hebrew expression is very different from Greek. That is why Jerome decided that a version of the O.T. should be made directly from the Hebrew. In their correspondence Augustine indicates quite clearly that he is unhappy with Jeromes project. It seemed to me that Benedicts heart, but ssurely not his head, would be with Augustine. There was a legend that seventy or seventy two translators of the Hebrew had produced precisely the same Greek text. This was invented to argue that the Septuagint (Greek for seventy) must be an inspired translation. Surely Benedict does not believe such nonsense. But Augustine was taken in. In reality the Septuagint sometimes points to a better reading on the Hebrew than what is in the Hebrew text that has come down to us. But often it translates rather freely. One notorious passage is the one in which Isaiah (7:14) in the Greek version says that a virgin shall bear a child and they will call his name Emmanuel. In the Hebrew the virgin is merely a young woman. Matthew (1:23) relying on the Septuagint took this to be a prediction of the virginal conception of Jesus.On the more general question of Greek thought, I find the idea that the N.T. is imbued with the Greek spirit--whatever that may be--very dubious. Actually there is a Hebraic spirit underlying and often very close to the surface of the Greek text of the N.T. Paul more than any other of the authors of the N.T. shows a mastery of Greek rhetorical technique, but in is his style there are also evidences of Hebraic influence and background. If you read past the prologue, you will not find much that could even be called Greek thought in Johns Gospel. It is with the conversion of philosphers like Justin and of course Origen that Greek (especially Platonic) thought came to play a major role. (By the way Jerome and Origen too, for all his Hellenism, seem to be the only Christian theologians before the 15th century who made a serious attempt to learn much Hebrew. I find something sad in that. But like a good follower of Benedict I digress.) As Christian theology developed after the age of Jewish Christianity, Greek thought certainly played an important part. The Council of Nicaea was a largely Greek affair and the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity developed in Greek terminology as did its Arian rival. Basil and Gregory of Nyssa made important contributions. This suggests to me what may be really on Bnedicts mind. I think there is a school of theological thought that could envisage letting cultures remote from Hellenism develop their own versions of the Trinity, and doubtless the Incarnation also, starting from Scripture, of course, but without necessarily being held to the fomrulations that appear in classical form in what is loosely called the Nicaean creed. I more than suspect that Benedict wants to say a very firm no to such proposals.

Interesting that Augustine may have misinterpreted Paul on Original Sin because of his ignorance of Greek. Augustine was a neo-platonist but knew no Greek.

Cf. Romans 5:12 Douay translation of the Latin Vulgate:Wherefore as by one man sin entered the world, and by sin death; so also death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.This is a fair translation of the Latin but it is hard to understand, The words "in whom" refer back to the "one man" at some distance in the text.Here is NRSV translation from the Greek:Therefore, just as sin entered the world throught one man, and through sin death, and so death spread to all human beings because all have sinned--Note that "in whom all have sinned" has been replaced by "because all have sinned"The translator of the Greek who produced the Latin of the vulgate (it may not have been St. Jerome here) misunderstood the Greek text.This is the passage referred to in the precious comment, as I think.

Advised by my favorite critic let me say: for "precious" read "previous" and the "whom" of "in whom" is Adam, i.e., the Vulgate appears to say that all men sinned in Adam, which, as you can imagine, affected the understanding of original sin, and goes some way toward explaining the difference in perspective on this subject between Latin and Greek theologians of the past. I hope Bill agrees with my explication of his posting.



About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.