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Samuel Gregg: Looking Back on Benedict’s Regensburg Speech

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Five years ago today, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a talk titled “Faith, Reason and the University” at the University of Regensburg in Germany. The lecture set off a firestorm of controversy concerning Christian-Muslim relations. On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg reflects, noting that calling it “one of this century’s pivotal speeches is probably an understatement.”

Gregg says that the reaction to the pope’s speech “underscored most Western intellectuals’ sheer ineptness when writing about religion.” More seriously:

… Regensburg shattered the inconsequential niceties that had hitherto typified most Catholic-Muslim discussions. Instead of producing more happy-talk, Benedict indicated that such conversations could no longer avoid more substantial, more difficult questions: most notably, how Christianity and Islam understand God’s nature. Regensburg reminded us that it matters whether God is essentially Logos (Divine Reason) or Voluntas (Pure Will). The first understanding facilitates civilizational development, true freedom, and a complete understanding of reason. The second sows the seeds of decline, oppression, and unreason.

But perhaps above all, Regensburg asked the West to look itself in the mirror and consider whether some of its inner demons reflected the fact that it, like the Islamic world, was undergoing an inner crisis: one which was reducing Christian faith to subjective opinion, natural reason to the merely measurable, and love to sentimental humanitarianism. The West, Benedict suggested, was in the process of a closing of its own mind.

Read “Benedict at Regensburg: Why It Still Matters” on NRO.

John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in news and publishing fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.


  • The Gnu

    To be is to be intelligible. Unless that is true then no other truth is possible. The pope is right that this is something extreme Islam and modern Western thinking deny in common.

  • Roger McKinney

    “Thus astrology began giving way to astronomy, as humans accelerated
    their quest for truth, confident that humanity’s existence was not the work of
    mere chance or a master clock-maker, but rather was freely willed by a God who
    was simultaneously Veritas and Caritas.”

     Thus was the birth of modern science. Francis Schaeffer and
    many other Protestants have preached this message as well, but it needs to be
    repeated to every generation or it is forgotten.

     Keep in mind that philosophers didn’t “drive the question
    concerning God into the subjective realm, as being unscientific…” because they
    had discovered overwhelming evidence or strong logic that it was true. They did
    it in order to ovoid the truth. Alister McGrath’s “Twilight of Atheism”
    demonstrates that atheism was an act of the will, not of science or reason.
    Atheists have rarely given any reasons to be atheist; they merely ridicule

     Paul wrote that they suppress the truth they know about God
    and Jesus said that men love darkness (falsehood) more than light (truth).

     Schaefer developed an evangelism technique around the
    contradictions inherent in modern philosophies: either God and rationality go
    or God and rationality stay. Without a rational God, rationality, morals,
    meaning, love and everything that distinguishes humans from animals dies and
    mankind dies. He has some success with it.

     These differences in perceptions of God also explain why
    nine out of ten of the poorest countries on this rock are Muslim. If God is
    nothing but will and is capricious, as Muslims claim God is, then all wealth
    comes from God’s arbitrary will to bless some and impoverish others. There is
    no reason to try, to learn economics, to plan or do anything. That’s why
    Muslims are fatalists.

  • Pingback: Samuel Gregg: Pope’s Work Cut out for Him in Germany | @ActonInstitute PowerBlog()

  • J.E. Rendini

    Robert Reilly, the author of “The Closing of the Muslim Mind,” has a good post on MercatorNet on some hopeful signs from Muslims attempting to reconsile Islam and reason over at But I think the problem is that God as Pure Will, rather than intellect, is a core Muslim teaching. There’s no getting around it. Benedict was right to engage the Muslim world on this level, but the engagement is one-sided and is likely to have no more success with Islam than did St. Francis.

    The real aim of the Regensburg address was to make the West wake up and realize that its own modern, atheistic secularism is seeking to supplant Christianity with an ideology of Pure Will, an idol that resembles Islam’s Allah more than it does the Judaeo-Christian God it rejects.