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Friday, September 15, 2006

Excerpt from the Pope's lecture
Tom Smith

Here is an extended excerpt from the Pope's address at the University of Regensburg, entitled"Three Stages in the Program of De-Hellenization", that is supposed to be so offensive.

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by professor Theodore Khoury (Muenster) of part of the dialogue carried on -- perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara -- by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.

It was probably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than the responses of the learned Persian. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Koran, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship of the "three Laws": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Koran.

In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point -- itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself -- which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason," I found interesting and which can serve as the starting point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation ("diálesis" -- controversy) edited by professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 2:256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion." It is 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 Koran, concerning holy war.

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels," he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "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 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 is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably ("syn logo") 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...."

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 Hazn 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 practice idolatry.

As far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma which nowadays challenges us directly. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?

And that's it.  That's what all the kerfuffle is about.  The Pope can apologize if he wants to, but I certainly don't think he has anything to apologize for.  I suppose he could explain that when he quotes a dialog between a 14th century Byzantine emperor and an educated Persian, he does not therefore endorse the views of either interlocuture.  He might even quote something in order ask, as he does, what are we to make of this?  Obviously, the Pope was just putting in context the question the emperor was posing, and that has been posed for a long time, since 1391 anyway -- whether forced religious conversions are religiously justified.

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Comments

Given the Catholic-Orthodox schism, the Pope has no more need to apologize for a Byzantine Emperor's remarks than Khatami does for bin Laden's.

Posted by: Nanonymous | Sep 16, 2006 7:33:21 AM

The obvious point which offended Muslims seem to miss is that anyone who takes faith seriously and is threatened by forced conversion will naturally see the religion of the aggressor as evil. Reacting with violence to the statement of a Byzantine emperor under threat of force conversion does nothing to enhance the reputation of Islam among people who now feel threatened by the current crop of Islamists. They are, therefore, dishonoring their religion by reacting with violence to mere words from long ago.

Posted by: KarenT | Sep 16, 2006 8:20:47 AM

I see the reaction to the Pope's comments as part of a broader movement in Europe and elsewhere to censor ideas that some find insulting. The ability to speak one's mind freely, even if what one has to say is stupid, insulting, inane or absurd, is the cornerstone of liberty. If one is insulted by ideas, then one has the ability to speak freely in response. But to call on the government instead to censor the expression of ideas is wrong. The government is a terrible arbiter of ideas.Unfortunately, Europe is moving is the wrong direction. From the disturbance/riots regarding the Mohammed cartoons and the calls by the government to censor speech that denigrrates a religous belief to German laws that make it illegal to deny the Holocaust to Britain's laws preventing insulting speech based on sexual orientation, this trend is disturbing and should be stopped.Even if the Pope's statements were intentionally made as a denigration of Islam (which they weren't), the correct response is for Muslims to state why the Pope was wrong. Instead, the Pope is condemned. In a society where every person's liberty is respected, ideas of all sort should debated. Never should the government make certain ideas illegal.

Posted by: David C. Brayton | Sep 16, 2006 10:15:46 AM

What I find most controversial in the Pope's speech 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 Hazn 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 practice idolatry."

Is the Pope saying that even if God commanded us to practice idolatry, we should not?

The topic is interesting. I know William of Ockham comes out the opposite way from the Pope. Ockham is not, of course, the most mainstream of scholastics. I wonder what Aquinas said. An article on Divine Command Theory says this:

"In Super 4 Libros Sententiarum, William of Ockham states that the actions which we call “theft” and “adultery” would be obligatory for us if God commanded us to do them."

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Sep 17, 2006 12:16:16 PM

The Pope's point is that Volunteerism always leads to Nominalism, Islam really was not his focus in this talk. For example, when God says "thou shall not commit adultry", is it wrong because God says it is, or does God say it it is wrong because adultry is always wrong in itself? Another example: When a city council says street 'A' will be one-way only, is it wrong to drive in the opposite direction because the city council says so, or because the City Council recognizes that the funamental nature of that street dictates it is wrong to drive both ways? How about when a state says that it is wrong to murder? I bet most would say that the city is just excercising it's 'Will' in the first example, but in the second example, most people would say the state recognizes the eternal truth that murder is wrong in itself. This is the question the Pope was trying to address. Now it just so happens that the best example of Voluteerism (That truth is a reflection of will) is the Muslim idea that all truth is willed by God. Since the Muslim God preordains Hell for non-Muslims, there is no harm in helping them on their way. Ideas have consequences. Christianity on the other hand is based on reason. That the created universe contains eternal truths that inform us of the true nature of God. Most all of our cultural problems today are based in deviations from a Christocentric view of nature. Islam is just one such deviation, but so are others such as Darwinism, modern philosophical trends, and other forms of post-modern thought.

Posted by: Bogman | Sep 17, 2006 8:56:08 PM

This is also the basis on the debate between Oxford (John Scotus and William of Ockham - Volteerism) Vs Paris (Aquinas).. Of course Scotus was responding to Aquinas, and Ockham took it to levels that Scotus did not teach. I doubt either one would be accepting the concepts and affects of Volunteerism as we know it today, they just got the ball rolling with their speculations. You might say that Calvin goes even further.

To ask if the Pope would deny God's right to order us to worship idols misses the Pope's point and the central belief of Christianity. A Christian does not believe that eternal truths and God can be separate. Therefore, God is not someday going to just reverse things and tell us that murder is now OK. For a Muslim however, this could happen.


Posted by: Bogman | Sep 17, 2006 9:24:53 PM

Keep in mind the title of his lecture, "Three Stages in the Program of De-Hellenization".

The Pope was not addressing the subject of Islam, or even of the root of Christianity. He was looking for the specific signs of Hellenistic influence on modern Christian doctrine; the means by which he searched for these ideas was to contrast broad-based understandings of God. Thus the question at the end of this excerpt:

"Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?"

Since it referenced as a documented fact that Islam projects God's will as absolute truth, rather than the subtly opposite idea of God expressing what is intrinsically true for our erudition, the question bascially is: which one is the right consideration? In other words, should God simply state "The sky is red", would the sky become red as a consequence of his Word, or would God never say "the sky is red", because it is not true?

If the first instance describes the nature of God's Word, then tomorrow we could all hear a proclamation from Heaven that wearing clothes is sinful, despite precedent for modesty and privacy, and the fact of that statement being made would override and change any and all previous implications of clothing.

In the second instance, God would never make a proclamation banning clothes, because He has already established his Will on that subject and will not change. The Pope's thought was to examine this idea of Truth to decide which way God's Will represents Truth.

Sadly, the Pope makes virtually no use of the Bible, the book he claims to use in his position as a representative of the Bible's God.

Titus 1:2 - "upon the basis of a hope of the everlasting life which God, who cannot lie, promised before times long lasting" etc, the point of reference here being simply "God, who cannot lie".

Thusly, the statement as referenced above;

"Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn 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."

Is contradictory to the statement of the Bible.

So the question: Is the Pope contending that the "New Testament" writers were thinking under Hellenistic influence? I guess if he has to ask that kind of question, he really ought not be calling himself Christian, as the theme of the so-called "New Testament" is Christ. Does he think Christ was a Greek construct? Then he is a historian, not a Christian.

Posted by: Githerax | Sep 18, 2006 2:44:44 PM

So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? 13: Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14: If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. 15: For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16: Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17: If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. 18: I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me. 19: Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he. 20: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. John 13:12-20

Posted by: n | Sep 26, 2006 8:19:38 PM