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Patrick Lang weigns in on Benedict

This from Patrick Lang on Benedict. A very different take than Juan Cole's, equally intriguing.

"Faith, Reason and the University" Benedict XVI

Constantinexidragases "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 Hazm 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." Benedict XVI


Gripping stuff isn't it? Not for most of us. For a theologian it must be like catnip. I reproduce below the entirety of Benedict's address to the University of Regensburg (where he was once vice-chancellor). I do that so that those who are fascinated by his quotation from the dialog of Manuel Paleologus and the Persian scholar may see the quotation in its proper context rather than in the sensationalized and irresponsible isolation that the mass media placed it in.

0006b5d2f79a1265be3780bfb6fa0000 In fact, Benedict quoted Manuel not to make points about Islam, but, rather to make points about Manuel and the intellectual tradition of Hellenistic thought in which Manuel resided. This pope is engaged in a defense of the rigor of theological discourse within the Christian world. He is certainly one of the leaders of Christendom. He believes that we Christians have become slovenly and confused thinkers and he seeks to restore the clarity of our ideas. I would say that this should not be surprising considering that he is a German university professor by "trade." In other words, this talk was not about Islam at all, and the Byzantine/Persian dialog quotation was incidental to the argument. If that was so, then why have we seen such a fierce and heated response from so many (not all) Muslims?

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About the Author

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



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Two comments from a graduate student whose doctoral thesis is on early Christian-Muslim literature (8th-9th centuries): 1) Pope Benedict gave no mention in that speech to the intellectual tradition of Syriac Christianity, illustrated in the Oriental Fathers. 2) Islam for several centuries had a flourishing intellectual life. Scholars of St. Thomas Aquinas note the seriousness with which he took the work of Arab commentators on Aristotle (e.g., Averroes and Avicenna). I think this Islamic intellectual tradition lasted longer than Lang suggests. It would have been possible, then, for the Pope to appeal to a tradition of faith-and-reason working together in the history of Islam itself.

To answer Lang:The media talked about the quote because it was "news" or at least it appeared to be to some journalists, and others naturally followed suit. That is what happens. The Muslims were angry because the quote was thoroughly offensive to them! This is not to justify violence. But given recent history, what was to be expected? To say that the quote was peripheral to the Pope's argument is no defence; actually he could have made his points quite well without it. It must then have been read even by moderates all the more as a gratuitous slur on the work of their prophet. I fail to see why anyone would not get this.

Having read Benedict's address, I am puzzled by this: The quote doesn't exactly jump out of the text. It is part of a longer argument that Manuel Paleologus is having with a Persian scholar and that Benedict inserts into his own rather long argument. Presumably there were/are agonistic elements to this. Benedict didn't give the scholar's rejoinder; undoubtedly there was one, nor did Benedict give his own response, at least at Regensberg. So how exactly was this quote transmitted from the text at Regensberg to the media to the Islamic world? And then: granting Benedict invincible ignorance on the consequences, there is something strangely imprudent about his using it--unless he isn't as invincibly ignorant as I think.And then: I have talked to a number of people, liberals even! who think whatever the pope's intent, the reaction is truly and strangely overwrought; one person saying what many neo-cons say: it only proves Paleologus's point. The accumulating reactions tells us as much about our own divided country and church as it tells us about the Islamic reaction.

Thanks, Peggy, for the link. I had no idea that Patrick Lang had a blog. Oh the wonders of the "net."The following paragraph from his post I found intriguing. It seems to me to have serious implications for the future, and may have been in the background of the Pope's remarks."The high culture of Islam has been exposed throughout its history to the "blandishments" of Hellenistic philosophy and rationality. Within two hundred years of the emergence of Islam (Sadr al-Islam) there was a fateful competition in learned circles over this very issue, the issue of whether or not Islam would be saturated with Hellenistic thought as Christianity was, and is. This contest was won by the pietists, traditionalists and scripturalists who in my opinion have bound Islam (especially Sunni Islam) in golden chains ever since. The losers in this struggle, and here I am thinking of the "Mu'tazileen," were variously disposed of and others of similar inclination toward "reform" were later exiled or marginalized. That process continues to this day in one form or another although there is now some measure of debate in learned circles as to what it means to be Muslim in the 21st Century."

Margaret, I want to thank you for your post! I believe this tells us quite a bit if you sit back and look at all the different ways every one has acted. I believe the Pope really just wanted to explain the way things are in the world and how it can be repaired. But there are leaders in the radical movement from the Muslim world and just try to stir people up so they can have power plan and simple. The media in that part of the world then help because they can be in on the power too. There are many more moderates than fanatics but the moderates are afraid because they know what can happen to them and tier families if they speak up even when they live here how many have family left in the Middle East. Then we have media here in our country that sometimes don't act very responsible with information. All it takes is so simple Faith and reason within balance it really is not that complex!

All these comments about reason, Aquinas and Islam are on point and we could discuss them better if we can just all agree that Benedict made a prodigious blunder in that he condemned all of islam in his remarks. Secondly, we cannot separate these from other awful things BXVI continues to do. His absence in Assissi was scandalous, not withstanding the marvelous spin his commentators put on it. Thirdly, His debacle at Auschwitz was equally shameful. One of the reasons Jewish leaders were generally light on him was that they do not need Benedict as an enemy.Fourth, Islam really liked John Paul II. How responsible is it to blow all that good will?Fifth, where does the pope get the gall to say that Turkey should not enter Europe? What is his point except that it is a threat to Roman Catholic (formerly?) Europe. Will Charlemagne be quoted next?I am sorry but I just can't see how Islam's reaction proves Benedict;s point. Many Christians clamored loudly before the Islam crescendo. Moderate Islams did not ask for a Jihad against the pope.What Benedict did do was to give Islam a reason (no pun intended) to criticize a respected word leader and look righteous in the process. No one seemed to have mentioned this. Benedict is asking his envoys to placate Islam and he apparently will go to Turkey. Maybe some good will come out of it after all.

How in the world do you get the idea that the Holy Father is so awful? Yes, I read your comment but all you see is what is wrong with the Pope can you name any good things the man has done, he was choosen by the Holy Spirit through the college of Cardinals. After being Protestant some of my life for the life of me I can not understand! Do you love the church Jesus started when he handed the keys to Peter, thus apostolic seccession , or the one you think it should be?

Pardon my excessive blogs.Robin, the scriptures themselves abundantly criticize Peter. Somehow too many of his successors do not take criticizm as humbly as Peter.Benedict himself says that the Holy Spirit cannot have chosen all the popes since we had many bad ones. The church Jesus started will last until he comes again. The People are the church, which includes the hierarchy. Humility is among the most essential virtues of the Christian.

Bill, your not answering my question really answers my queston. I'm sorry but I disagree with you, the Pope is not wrong in every issue and the Holy Spirit does choose the Pope some just have not listened to the Holy Spirit. Yes, we are to be humble, it is a very important virture but I see that some think they do not to be humble. I hope that there comes a time in your life that you do not see so many wrongs and that you start seeing some positive things in the Roman Catholic Church when that happens it will be wonderful. I will pray for your conversion!

To Komonchak:To the two points raised by a graduate student: so what? and so what?No matter how long the "faith and reason tradition" lasted in Islam, it has been in abeyance for centuries by now. There was no reason for Pope Benedict to have spent precious time rehashing a debatable point. As to the Syriac tradition, that was not even remotely tangential to his thesis. Why would he even have brought it up?My question to you is this: did you read the Pope's address? If so, you might not have brought forth two absolutely irrelevant questions to the fore.

To Janice:Here are the two somewhats: If in fact There is a tradition within Islam of dialogue between faith and reason, this represents a point of contact and agreement.The student's point was that Christianity cannot be simply identified with the western tradition, and Syriac Christinaity is relevant because Islam arose within that cultural context and in fact, if this student is correct, parts of the Koran are illumined by knowing something about Christian Syriac traditions. So her point is not irrelevant.And, yes, I did read the speech, and liked it very much. I thought the Muslim reactions overwrought.Remove the chip from your shoulder, and give courtesy a try.

I have been out of internet contact for the past three days, and so am confused by phases like "Muslim reactions are 'overwrought'." It seems like it must be an euphemism for such ACTIONS as burning churches and putting out fatwas on the Pope, etc., etc. ........,etc. If so, are the Pope's WORDS more "overwrought" or less? Oh, I guess I am getting more confused.

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