Vol 40 No 4
Martin Wilson MSC
GSELL CENTENARY. MISSIOLOGICAL REFLECTIONS
COMMENT ON THE GSELL LECTURE
COMMENT ON THE GSELL LECTURE
Pat Mullins SJ
COMMENT ON THE GSELL LECTURE
Peter Hearn MSC
COMMENT ON THE GSELL LECTURE
John Wilcken SJ
THE ALICE SPRINGS ADDRESS AND THE CONCEPT OF NATION
THE ADDRESS OF POPE BENEDICT ON FAITH AND REASON
DEMONISING AUSTRALIA'S CHRISTIAN AND MUSLIM ARABS IN CARTOONS
WHAT'S IN A NAME? PART II: 'ORDAINED' AND 'LAY APOSTOLATE'
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS FROM AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS
Address of Pope Benedict on Faith and Reason
ON THE 12th of September 2006 Pope Benedict XVI visited the University
of Regensberg where he used to teach and gave an academic lecture entitled
Faith, Reason and the University.1 His theme was the necessary
compatibility between reason and faith, and the reverse side of that same
position, the necessary incompatibility of religion and violence. His
address was directed primarily against an aggressive Western
secularism that denies the inherent intelligibility of faith and relegates
religion to the sidelines of public life as a matter of private opinion.
To introduce his topic Pope Benedict quoted from his recent reading of
Professor Khourys account of the 14th century dialogue between the
Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and a Persian scholar on the controversial
topic of holy war. The Pope first affirms that the emperor
must have known the Quranic injunction in surah 2:256: There is
no compulsion in religion. Secondly, he quotes the emperors
accusations against Muhammad in relation to spreading faith by violence.
And thirdly, he again cites the emperor: God, he says, is
not pleased by bloodand not acting reasonably (óõí
ëüãù) is contrary to Gods nature. Faith
is born of the soul, not the body
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
All of the above is preamble
to the decisive statement in the [emperors] argument against
violent conversion, a statement which the Pope repeats in the middle
of his lecture and again in his conclusionnot to act in accordance
with reason is contrary to Gods nature.
The Popes first and third steps are largely uncontested,2 but his
inclusion of the middle quotation was most unfortunate because it could
have been omitted without any detriment to the case he was making, which,
as noted above, was against an aggressive secularism that discounts the
reasonableness of faith, a point on which nearly all Muslims would agree,
and was not against Islam or its Prophet.
The offending quotation is a negative stereotype associating the spread
of Islam with violence. However, the mediaeval emperors accusation
can hardly be considered impartial and unprejudiced, since it was made
when his city was under siege from Muslim armies. Pope Benedict had noted
this historical context but had not elaborated its modifying significance
with regard to evaluating the reliability of the quote. He had also noted
the quotes startling brusqueness,3 a tone which
sounds surprisingly harsh to our ears,4 and even crude.5
He cited the emperor as having expressed himself so forcefully6
or as having lashed out7both of which translations indicate
the emotive intensity of the mediaeval accusers assessment of Islam
and the Prophet. However, despite the above indications, because Pope
Benedict did not clearly dissociate himself from either the content or
the tone of the offending quote, he left himself open to the impression
of being in agreement with it.
Finally, the quotation was unfortunate because the negative furore that
has subsequently arisen (or been deliberately provoked) by sound
bite presentations of the quote divorced from the academic context
of his lecture has prevented many people from appreciating the very positive
point that the Pope was making about the rationality of faith, indeed,
of all faiths. To the dismay of most Muslims, the very irrationality of
the more impassioned protests by a tiny fringe of extremists supposedly
in defence of Islam and the Prophet but usually in order to promote their
own Islamic credentials to a gullible audience, and the scattered
acts of violent reprisal have merely served to confirm the violent stereotype.
But this sad outcome underlines and confirms the importance and necessity
of reasoned discourse within and between believers from the two religions,
the very point that Pope Benedict was making.
Christian and Muslim representatives have commented on the Popes
lecture and on the various reactions and responses from around the world.
The Pope has since apologized, not for his words, but for the adverse
reactions to his address; has clarified his positive intent; has clearly
distanced himself from the content and tone of the offending quotation;
and has re-affirmed his personal respect for Muslims in line with the
teaching of Vatican II:
I wished to explain that not religion and violence, but religion and
reason, go together. I hope that my profound respect for world religions
and for Muslims, who worship the one God and with whom we
promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values for the
benefit of all humanity (Nostra Aetate, 3), is clear. Let us
continue the dialogue both between religions and between modern reason
and the Christian faith!8
All religions claim high ideals of spirituality, of morality, of rationality,
and we believers must keep on proclaiming these ideals. But history shows
that not all believers have lived up to these high ideals at all times,
and Christians and Muslims are no exception, both having used imperial
force, financial gain and emotive discourse to win converts, to spread
their rule, to suppress heresy and schism, and to prescribe the practice
of other religions.
Despite the Gospels clear injunction - Give therefore to the
emperor the things that are the emperors, and to God the things
that are Gods (Mt 22:21) - Christianity since Constantine
has often aligned with empire for religious ends: for example, in the
mediaeval inquisition, in the religious wars of 16th and 17th century
Europe, in complicity in the European colonial enterprise, and in shabby
alignments with political parties.
Islam too, despite the equally clear Quranic injunction against violence
quoted above, and because it does not clearly distinguish religion and
state, has also at times availed of empire for religious ends: for example,
the expansion of Islamic rule within a military context (e.g. the 14th
century army that besieged the city of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II
Paleologus), and in state-sponsored preferential treatment for Islamic
institutions to the detriment of non-Muslim minorities.
Believers in each tradition may rightly claim that the above instances
were aberrations, that they are not true Christianity, or true Islambut
that very admission confirms the discrepancy between ideal and practice.
Although Judaism and Christianity were both transformed by their encounters
with Hellenic rationalismPope Benedict summarizes both developments
in his lectureChristians cannot claim exclusive propriety of reason.
The collaboration of Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars in the 8th
century ensured that the Greek heritage of reason was gathered, preserved
and developed in the Arab Muslim world, where the application by scholars
to all fields of learning contributed to the flourishing of Islamic civilizations
while Europe languished in the superstitions of the Dark Ages. Then in
11th-12th century Cordoba, Toledo and Sicily the collaboration of Jewish,
Christian and Muslim scholars passed this heritage back to Europe, where
the encounter between Christian systematic theology and Greek rationality
provided a new synthesis which contributed to the high achievement of
mediaeval scholasticism, leading in turn to the European Renaissance and
the subsequent technological advances of Europe.
Despite their respective claims to rationality, Christianity has often
opposed and only reluctantly conceded modern scientific developments,
and Islam too has been reluctant to subject its tradition to modern critical
scholarship. While both are rightly wary of a scientism that
a priori excludes religion, both will surely benefit from an authentic
engagement with the whole breadth of reason and be better
able to serve the modern world.
Our long histories of both positive and more cautious engagements with
reason remind us to keep a balanced perspective, especially in times of
controversy. The stereotype of any religion as being wholly prone to violence
and irrationality is an exaggeration, but has a grain of truth; and the
pretence of any religion to being wholly benign and wholly rational is
also an exaggeration, but it too has a grain of truth. The reality is
that we are all a mixed bag.
We cannot justly accuse any other of all ills without first taking responsibility
for our own shortcomings, nor can we truly claim that we alone know all
truth and goodness without first acknowledging the truth and goodness
that is in the other.
While the more impassioned reactions of both attack and defence of the
Popes address have inflamed sensibilities, this very fact confirms
the basic positive intent of the Popes speech, the importance in
todays global village of a reasoned, courteous, sensitive and respectful
dialogue between people of different cultures and religions.
This year, depending on the sighting of the new moon, Ramadan, the Muslim
month of fasting began around the 25th of September. In the light of the
recent controversy, may Christians and Muslims both avail of this sacred
time to turn to God and to each other to build friendship and mutual
understanding on the basis of our shared spiritual bonds.
The many people of good-will from all faiths and none who followed these
recent events will recognize that Pope Benedict clearly did not intend
to offend but intended the good. But people of ill-will from all faiths
and none will find in those same events opportunity to condemn religions
other than their own, or to dismiss all religions as irrational. What
the final outcome of the Popes lecture will be is best expressed
in the following story, versions of which appear in nearly all traditions
Once there was a wise old man who lived at the top of a mountain. This
wise old man meditated and shared valuable insights about life with people
from a nearby village.
One day, three teenagers decided to trick the wise old man. One of the
boys said, This old man thinks he knows everything. Well, Ill
show him. Im going to hold a bird behind my back and ask the old
man if the bird is alive or dead. If he says its alive, Ill
crush the bird. If he says its dead, I will let the bird loose to
With the plan set, the three boys climbed to the top of the mountain.
There they saw the wise old man meditating in peaceful splendor. The boys
walked over to the man and the one boy asked, Wise old man, what
do I have in my hand?
Because the wise old man knew everything, he continued looking straight
ahead and said, Its a bird, my son.
Now the boy winked at his friends and said, Wise old man, is the
bird dead or alive? The wise old man turned and looked the boy in
the eye and said, The answer is in your hands, my son.9
Fr. Patrick McInerney is a Columban missionary
priest with long experience in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. He is
a staff member of the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations in
1 The Vaticans English translation of the lecture is available at
2 On a technical matter, the Popes citing of experts who posit the
occasion of the revelation of surah 2:256 as early does not enjoy the
consensus of scholars, either Muslim or non-Muslim. Consequently, his
implication that this instruction was subsequently abrogated by the Prophets
later teaching and practice regarding armed hostilities cannot be established.
3 Official English translation from the Vatican.
4 English translation by Christa Pongratz-Litppit in The Tablet.
5 Comment on the German original by Donald Senior in The Chicago Tribune.
6 Official English translation from the Vatican
7 English translation by Christa Pongratz-Litppit in The Tablet.
8 Benedict XVI, General Audience, Saint Peters Square, Wednesday,
20 September 2006 http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20060920_en.html
POPE BENEDICT POST-REGENSBERG
I am pleased to welcome you to this gathering that I wanted to arrange
in order to strengthen the bonds of friendship and solidarity between
the Holy See and Muslim communities throughout the world. (
) I thank
all of you for responding to my invitation.
The circumstances which have given rise to our gathering are well
known. I have already had occasion to dwell upon them in the course of
the past week. In this particular context, I should like to reiterate
today all the esteem and the profound respect that I have for Muslim believers,
calling to mind the words of the Second Vatican Council which for the
Catholic Church are the Magna Carta of Muslim-Christian dialogue: The
Church looks upon Muslims with respect. They worship the one God living
and subsistent, merciful and almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, who
has spoken to humanity and to whose decrees, even the hidden ones, they
seek to submit themselves whole-heartedly, just as Abraham, to whom the
Islamic faith readily relates itself, submitted to God (Nostra Aetate,
3). Placing myself firmly within this perspective, I have had occasion,
since the very beginning of my pontificate, to express my wish to continue
establishing bridges of friendship with the adherents of all religions,
showing particular appreciation for the growth of dialogue between Muslims
and Christians. (
) As I underlined at Cologne last year, Inter-religious
and inter-cultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced
to an optional extra. It is, in fact, a vital necessity, on which in large
measure our future depends (
) In a world marked by relativism
and too often excluding the transcendence and universality of reason,
we are in great need of an authentic dialogue between religions and between
cultures, capable of assisting us, in a spirit of fruitful co-operation,
to overcome all the tensions together.
) faithful to the teachings of their own religious traditions,
Christians and Muslims must learn to work together, as indeed they already
do in many common undertakings, in order to guard against all forms of
intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence; as for us, religious
authorities and political leaders, we must guide and encourage them in
this direction. (
Dear friends, I am profoundly convinced that in the current world
situation it is imperative that Christians and Muslims engage with one
another in order to address the numerous challenges that present themselves
to humanity, especially those concerning the defence and promotion of
the dignity of the human person and of the rights ensuing from that dignity.
When threats mount up against people and against peace, by recognizing
the central character of the human person and by working with perseverance
to see that human life is always respected, Christians and Muslims manifest
their obedience to the Creator, who wishes all people to live in the dignity
that he has bestowed upon them.
Dear friends, I pray with my whole heart that the merciful God will
guide our steps along the paths of an ever more authentic mutual understanding.
Benedict XVI to the Ambassadors of countries with a Muslim majority
and to the representatives of Muslim communities in Italy, 25 September