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Dialogue or monologue?

University of Chicago historian David Nirenberg dissects the pope's Regensburg lecture at the New Republic. A sample:

Benedict's plea for Hellenization draws on a German philosophical tradition--stretching from Hegel's The Spirit of Christianitythrough Weber's sociology of religions to the post-World War IIwritings of Heidegger--whose confrontations of Hebraism with Hellenismcontributed to, rather than prevented, violence against non-Christianson a scale unheard of in the Muslim world. We may grant that such anintellectual dependence is hard to avoid, given the deep and abidinginfluence of this theological and philosophical tradition on the modernhumanities and social sciences. From a Eurocentric point of view, wemight even concede the pope's well-worn claim that, as Heine put it in1841, the "harmonious fusion of the two elements," the Hebraic and theHellenic, was "the task of all European civilization."  

What we cannot accept without contradiction or hypocrisy is the pope's presentation of the speech as an invitation to dialogue.

For the rest of his analysis, click here.

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This is a major error of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. To wed culture with the faith. I know there are other rites but that did not stop the sanctification of Latin.When will Rome concede that the days of Charlemagne are over?

Using Hellenization as a hegemonic tool should come as no surprise from the man who attempted to squash Latin American liberation theology with innuendo and vague accusations.

Sadly, Nirenberg misses the point. In his speech, Pope Benedict contrasted the God of reason (intellectualism) with the God of pure will (voluntarism). He argued in favor of the former, saying that a God not subject to reason could well be seen as a capricious God. He criticized Catholic theologian Duns Scotus for favoring voluntarism. During the "Islamic golden age", faith and reason were indeed intertwined in the Muslim world. But things took a sharp turn downwards when Islamic leaders began to reject intellectualism and turn to voluntarism instead, which is always tempting in a religion that relies solely on text as the source of divine revelation. For Catholics, in constrast, the Word of God is a person, Jesus the Christ, who is also the reason and the wisdom of God-- not just a book. So in Islam, the Mu'tazilite school, dominated by rationalist philosophers, eventually gave way to unbridled voluntarism, most notably under the influence of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111). The pope's call was for the Islamic world to reclaim its own rationalist roots. The idea that he is telling them to convert to Catholicism is just silly. I detect an anti-Catholic undertone to boot.

I'm mystified about the claim in the article that the Pope's thesis "will be immediately intelligible to connoisseurs of German academic theology and to almost no one else."The professor himself seems to belie that contention, for he explains Benedict's speech as a continuation of earlier efforts to block Turkey's entrance to the EU. He also sees, in his words, the Rottweiler making one more dogged defense of doctrine. Where are Hegel, Weber and Heidegger? And what happened to the German academic theologians that are supposedly needed to understand the speech?

The anti-Benedict slurs just never stop. The Pope did not "wed culture with the faith," Mr. Mazella. Purified Greek philosophy is already present, as he pointed out, in the Gospel of John (and in 1 John, as well). You act as though the Roman Catholic faith does not have its own culture, that it can be transferred from one locus to another in a package and deposited there. Well, that's not the case. Catholicism has a culture and it is found in Scripture, i.e., from the beginning. And it must interact and purify other cultures. Your definition of the faith, Mr. Mazella, is the badly-defined and passe "inculturation." That's so 60s and so retro. It was bad scholarship then and even worse now.

Janice--I remember reading somewhere that BXVI, when he headed the CDF, preferred "inter-culturality" instead of "inculturation." Perhaps BXVI's term has some nuances that inculturation doesn't, but inculturation is hardly a 60's or "retro" term, and I don't think the Catholic culture is intended to "purify other cultures." In 1990, in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, JPII said that inculturation is "the incarnation of the Gospel in native cultures and also the introduction of these cultures into the life of the Church." It seems to me the Pope saw inculturation as synergistic for both the Church and the local culture.

the Roman Catholic faith as a package that's deposited? Are you kidding? "From the beginning" the Christian faith was adopted by peoples of many cultures. Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Rome ... and it is precisely in the richness of these cultures that the faith has grown and found myriad expression. To claim a monolithic, 'purifying' culture is absurd

I am not a subscriber to the New Republic and so I confine my remarks to what appears above. I would not say that Benedict made a "plea for Hellenization". Rather he said that he was opposed to dehellenization, and in the context he was talking about the dehellenization of theology. I am inclined to agree with him broadly, although I might have reserfvations about this or that. I always do. You know who is always in the details.As for German philosophy, it is not particularly to my taste, but for all that I do not think Benedict is a follower of either Hegel or Heidegger, and the idiocies of National Socialism have mutliple and extremely vulgar roots and for all the vanity of philosophers, that movement had little to do with anything I would call philosophy. The category of subphilosophy is useful here.

For what it's worth, I posted this at the NR site:Perhaps some, like Professor Nirenberg, can find in Benedicts speech evidence of intellectual dependence upon Hegel, Weber and Heidegger. Its much easier to find Thomism. In fact that is more surprising since at his election Benedict was initially described as more Augustinian than his Thomist predecessor, John Paul. Equally a surprise was Benedicts earlier invocation of Dante in his first encyclical. Some trivia: Professor Nirenberg is described as a member of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. In a previous generation Paul Ricoeur, Leszek Kolakowski, and Edward Shils were also members of the Committee. From time to time all three participated in the Castel Gandolfo colloquia at the invitation of Pope John Paul II. Trevor-Roper recalled Shils engaging in what he called Tusculan disputations, held, by invitation of his friend Pope John Paul II, in the papal summer palace of Castel Gandolfo One wonders if anything similar occurs with religious leaders of contemporary Islam.

It seems to me foolish to not take into account the colonialization of Muslim countries by Christian ones. This is an old and severe hurt which is underneath much of the rage in Islam.In line with the takeover of Muslim countries the effort to convert them added to the indignity. In Catholic textbooks prior to 1970 Muslims appear as weak and uneducated. One would never have believed the richness that the East produced if one had only Catholic texts to rely on. So the resentment to this falsification of history has been in Islam for a couple of centuries.On the other side of the coin is the spread of Islam to other countries via their followers. This should not be combatted by foolish directives like keep Turkey out of Europe...If our faith and message is right we can do well by example not by the sword---a sorry path that Augustine bequeathed to Christian history.Too many of us easily blame modernity for the alienation of Muslims. Rather we should help them regain their pride and dignity which Christianity has not well regarded for a few hundred years.

Maid of Kent (Virgo Cantiensis):We are missing the whole point here.Who are we? I am not at all sure I missed the whole point.Bernward Loheide explains on Free Republic religion (excerpts)Benedict's ideas can be traced back to St. John the Evangelist whose gospel began, 'In the beginning was the logos.' Logos is a Greek term that means both reason and the word. Johannine-Hellenist theology was developed by St Augustine in the late classical period, then by St Bonaventure, who died in 1274, in the Middle Ages. Benedict would say theology has been going downhill ever since as the synthesis of Greek and Jewish thought unravelled.This account is rather lacunose. A millennium of theological history in a very few words. No wonder some may have missed the point hereBy quoting emperor Manuel II, Benedict was criticising a modern view of God as radically free, an utter mystery who cannot be known through human reason. In that view, God and reason are things independent of one another. In that view you should see that reason is still created by God and not independent of God. And in any case you must not suppose that God is dependent on anything. Quite the contrary everything that is not God is dependent on God. I think Jews, Christians and Muslim would agree on that.This philosophy was developed by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), whose critique of reason was an attack on Greek philosophy. Kant, a German, contended that each human being is a law unto him or herself. There is a sense in which the moral agent is autonomous in Kants philosophy, but the consequence is not relativism. You need to learn more about Kant. Benedict sees this as the fount of what he calls the modern error of 'relativism.' He need to reread Kant. It would be better to say that the social sciences are the source of modern relativism, if there is a need to say anything.The subject then decides... what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective 'conscience' becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical... Ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter,' Benedict said.These ideas need to be developed further before there can be points to be missed.This is why so many Leftist Catholics are troubled by the Popes speech. Actually I wasnt troubled by the speech, but then I am not a Leftist Catholic, whatever that may be. Unfortunately however some people took it as an excuse to behave badly. I think it would have been better to have avoided provoking them and I think Benedict was a bit careless in doing so. I tend to agree generally with Fr. Madigans points on this subject.God can be known by reason he is not so removed from us that we cannot know Him.I agreeWe can know his will for us and must form our conscience according to that will.Reason is some guide to Gods will for us but it does not provide a simple list of dos and donts. Even the Decalogue leaves some gaps to be filled in. You should read Jean Porters books. Some want to imagine a God so far removed that we are left forming our own conscience independent of the Magisterium. It's not so.You have skipped several steps here. The result is incoherence.

The full text of the NR article can be found at Mirror of Justice. (INAL, but they are. They ought to be careful about copyright laws.)

We are missing the whole point here.Bernward Loheide explains on Free Republic religion (excerpts)Benedict's ideas can be traced back to St. John the Evangelist whose gospel began, 'In the beginning was the logos.' Logos is a Greek term that means both reason and the word. Johannine-Hellenist theology was developed by St Augustine in the late classical period, then by St Bonaventure, who died in 1274, in the Middle Ages. Benedict would say theology has been going downhill ever since as the synthesis of Greek and Jewish thought unravelled. By quoting emperor Manuel II, Benedict was criticising a modern view of God as radically free, an utter mystery who cannot be known through human reason. In that view, God and reason are things independent of one another. This philosophy was developed by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), whose critique of reason was an attack on Greek philosophy. Kant, a German, contended that each human being is a law unto him or herself. Benedict sees this as the fount of what he calls the modern error of 'relativism.' The subject then decides... what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective 'conscience' becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical... Ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter,' Benedict said.This is why so many Leftist Catholics are troubled by the Popes speech. God can be known by reason he is not so removed from us that we cannot know Him. We can know his will for us and must form our conscience according to that will. Some want to imagine a God so far removed that we are left forming our own conscience independent of the Magisterium. It's not so.

And it's run by lawyers!