Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

In 2006, then-Pope Benedict made a speech at Regensburg. As papal speeches go, it wasn’t a “biggie;” it was an address to a meeting of scientists. What was to be a reflection on faith, reason and science quickly became a firestorm. Benedict was accused of being anti-Islamic, offensive, insensitive and out-of-touch.

The primary problem was that what he really said was taken entirely out of context. In his 30 minute speech, the pope quotes an ancient emperor on the theme of “holy war.” It is important to note here that Benedict was quoting someone else; this is one of the things his critics got wrong. From Benedict’s remarks:

In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις – controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion”. According to some of the experts, this is probably one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “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, after having expressed himself so forcefully, 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”, he says, “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…”.


What many people heard was a pope saying that Muslims everywhere were violent, evil and inhuman. Acton’s Director of Research Sam Gregg notes the problem was that the world was tone-deaf to this master theologian:

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.

Writing at LifeSiteNews, Hilary White says the world owes Pope Emeritus Benedict an apology. Not only were so many wrong about what the pope said at Regensburg, the pope was right. Really right. The pope said one thing; the media heard another.

He called quietly for a return to the supremacy of reason in religious discourse, and he politely asked Muslims to abjure violence.

The smug western secular media, busy with their attacks on one of their favorite targets, failed to quote the rest of the paragraph. But there can be found the thesis not only of Pope Benedict’s lecture, but of Christianity’s real response to both the uncontrolled violence of Islamism and to our own intellectually impoverished pleasure-obsessed libertinism: reason and faith, “fides et ratio” and their harmonious collaboration to create a moral and just civil order.

“The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, 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,” Pope Benedict said.

And now, well, now we have ISIS. And beheadings. And persecution. And hatred. And war. Pope Emeritus Benedict, in a polite speech to a group of academics, rationally explained why the world – especially our shrinking world – needs God, and that God is eternally love. He spoke words that said we cannot beat someone into faith and reason, we cannot assault someone with religion and expect them to reasonably convert to a faith tradition. Hilary White:

Given the images burning like acid into our minds now, how mild, how utterly calm and reasonable do the words now seem. And how plainly wicked the demands that he retract and apologize because of the “offence” they had caused Muslims: how feigned and deceitful, how self-serving the manufactured “outrage”.

One of the saddest things to come out of the horrors of the past few weeks were a few simple sentences from Archbishop Amel Nona, the Chaldean Catholic Archeparch of Mosul. They were from a man whose heart is broken, words with none of the academic panache of Pope Benedict, but spoken with the same truth:

Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future. I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. But my community is still alive.

Please, try to understand us. Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here. You must consider again our reality in the Middle East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims. Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your principles. You think all men are equal, but that is not true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.
Islamic Theology, Constitutionalism, and the State

Islamic Theology, Constitutionalism, and the State

In Islamic Theology, Constitutionalism and the State, Lukas Wick engages in a detailed analysis of the relevant issues and offers some sober, well-researched answers. Avoiding exaggeration and focusing on the history and writings of prominent Muslim scholars, Wick illustrates that theology matters in the framing and answering of these issues in ways that are unexpected and which should give us all pause for thought.

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  • Elijah fan

    But why didn’t Pope Benedict foresee that the rash commentators of the Islamic world would isolate the offending text and fume over it? Why didn’t he discuss the Emperor’s subsequent words without mentioning the sure to enrage words at all…they are not necessary to the thesis? That in fact was a mistake by Pope Benedict.

    • http://www.acton.org/ Elise Hilton

      Because he is an academic who was speaking to academics. The meaning within the text was clear to anyone who heard/read it. Only those who took it out of context had a problem. It is not the job of the pope – any pope – to spoon-feed theology to people.

      • Elijah fan

        But he, besides being an academic, has a very public and watched role as Pope unlike those who are academics simply. A Muslim Brotherhood spokesman at the time said the address threatened world peace. Yes…nuts.
        But Popes in the media age which historically is very young must think three times prior to giving such an address. They can be frank but the offending words, taken as they were as ventriloquism, were something beyond frank.

    • http://rdmckinney.blogspot.com/ Roger D. McKinney

      I don’t think Benedict would have included those words if he thought they would offend people. He assumed, wrongly, that Muslims are reasonable people.

      Muslims are trying to you extortion to silence critics by holding their own people hostage and threatening to riot and murder people if anyone says anything they don’t like. Radical Muslims do not care about innocent people dying but they know Christians do care. We cannot submit to that extortion for the sake of the many Muslims who want the truth and convert to Christianity.