Monday, September 25, 2006

Pope Meets Islamic Envoys, Stresses Common Cause

Monday, September 25, 2006 12:00:00 AM GMT

Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed the importance of dialogue between Christianity and Islam, at a September 25 meeting with envoys from Islamic countries and organizations.

The Holy Father stressed the interests that Christians and Muslims share in upholding the importance of faith, in "a world marked by relativism and too often excluding the transcendence and universality of reason."

The Pope did not refer directly to the controversial speech that he had delivered in Regensburg on September 12. But he did remark, near the beginning of his talk, that "the circumstances which have given rise to our gathering are well known." Vatican diplomats had worked quickly to invite Muslim diplomats to Castel Gandolfo, hoping to soothe the tensions that had arisen in the Islamic world after the Pope's talk.

Pope Benedict spoke in French to the group, which included the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See from countries with Muslim majorities, and about 15 representatives of Islamic groups active in Italy. In an unusual break from common practice, the Vatican furnished an Arabic translation of the Pope's remarks. The Arabic television network Al Jazeera provided live coverage of the meeting.

The Pope said that he wanted to express his "esteem and profound respect" for Muslims, and reminded the group that "from the very beginning of my pontificate" he had sought to continue the policies of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in making common cause with Islamic leaders. He cited his remarks to Muslim leaders in Cologne last August, when he said that cooperation between the two faiths is "a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends."

Gently introducing a main theme of his lecture in Regensburg, the Pontiff said that this cooperation is necessary in order to counteract the growing power of secularism and relativism. Christians and Muslims, he observed, can unite in many causes, "especially those concerning the defense and promotion of the dignity of the human person and of the rights arising from that dignity."

In pursuing their dialogue, the Pope continued, Christian and Islamic leaders should learn from "the lessons of the past," and recognize that it is crucially important "to guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence."

The Pope concluded his remarks by sending his greetings to the Muslim world as the annual season of Ramadan begins. The Pope's address received warm applause from the diplomats who were present at Castelgandolfo. After finishing his talk, the Pontiff made a point of greeting each one of his guests individually. The diplomats present for the 30-minute audience included envoys from Albania, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Egypt, Kuwait, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Senegal, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, and Yemen. Also included were representatives of the Arab League and the Islamic Council of Italy.

(This article courtesy of Catholic World News. To subscribe or for further information, contact or visit

Saturday, September 23, 2006

From Manila News Online

ARMM leaders accept apology of Pope Benedict XVI

Several prominent Filipino Muslim leaders have signed a joint manifesto expressing support for Pope Benedict XVI and accepting his personal apology for certain portions of his speech at the University of Regensberg in Germany which appeared to be offensive to some Muslim believers.
Among those who signed the statement were Datu Zaldy Ampatuan, regional governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM); Datu Andal S. Ampatuan Sr., governor of Maguindanao; Datu Bimbo Sinsuat, vice governor of Maguindanao, and Muslimin G. Sema, mayor of Cotabato City.

This was disclosed by their lawyer, Romulo B. Macalintal who, after consulting them on this issue, requested them to make public their position as a sign of peace and unity.
Macalintal quoted the Muslim leaders as saying that this is "one way of showing our sympathy and sincere concern for the

"It is our honest belief that it was never the intention of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, to hurt or offend the feelings of Muslims like us," the Muslim leaders said in their manifesto.
They said that they made their manifestation after consultation with their religious leaders and further "manifest our support for further inter-faith dialogue instead of recriminations so that we can attain peace that Islam and Christianity like to obtain all over the world."

"A man of peace like Pope Benedict XVI deserves the full support of all peace-loving people and communities and we assure His Holiness that the Filipino Muslims, like the rest of the Muslim people in the world, know how to forgive and give a chance to whoever might have offended us," they added.

Sema, in a separate statement said, "I want to assure my Catholic brothers and sisters that Muslims know how (and are obliged) to forgive and accept a sincere and heartfelt apology like the one now being offered by Pope Benedict XVI."

The ARMM region has a estimated population of 4 million, of which 82 percent are Muslims. Cotabato City has an estimated population of about 170,000, of which almost 60 percent are Muslims.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Reaping the Whirlwind
(My Note - The single most intelligent piece of writing I have found to date on this troubling matter)

Benedict's meaning in his Regensburg speech has been misinterpreted by almost everyone — by those who condemn him, but also by his defenders.

Back on May 14, 1999, in the Vatican, Pope John Paul II bowed as “a sign of respect” toward a copy of the Koran which was being brought to him as a gift. When the book was officially “presented to him,” the pope (perhaps a bit perplexed concerning the appropriate protocol for such an official gesture), kissed it.

On September 12 in Regensburg, Germany, Pope Benedict XVI, in a lecture to 1,500 university professors and students, cited an obscure medieval emperor engaged in a dialogue with a Persian Muslim, as saying with regard to the Islamic faith, "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."

We all know what happened next. Protests throughout the Islamic world and in Europe and in America (the New York Times "pontificated" that the pope should immediately apologize for his remarks).Sheik Malin of Somalia called for the pope's murder. Churches were set on fire in the Holy Land. An Italian nun was shot to death in Somalia (though it was not clear that the shooting was related to the pope's words).

In Iran, Islamic newspapers suggested there was an Israeli-US plot behind the pope's words. The daily Jomhuri Islami said: "If we do not consider Pope Benedict XVI to be ignorant of Islam, then his remarks against Islam are a dictat that the Zionists and the Americans have written (for him)." Fellow hardline daily Kayhan, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said there were signs of Israeli inteference aimed at creating conflict between Islam and Christianity.

In Israel, Jewish rabbi Shlomo Amar (the Chief Sephardi rabbi) weighed in, expressing sorrow over "the deprecating things said against Islam" by the pope. "Our way is to respect all religions, nations and peoples according to their customs," Amar said. And (last but not least) in the Vatican itself, a monsignor (anonymous) was cited as saying, "Under John Paul II, this would not have happened."

So the pope was attacked by secular humanists (the New York Times), by conservative Muslims, by a leading Jewish rabbi — and by a monsignor in the Vatican itself.

Talk about being isolated.

Benedict had (in a sense) "sown the wind, and reaped the whirlwind."

How can all this be explained? Did Benedict, a gentle German theology professor who has spent his pontificate being thoughtful and kind, preaching to children and writing an encyclical about love, intend to "insult" Islam, or Mohammed, as claimed?

Sometimes words have unintended consequences. Taken out of context, interpreted in a way the speaker did not intend, they can cause confusion, shock, anger, violence.

And that was the case for Pope Benedict XVI. His address is not a "bashing" or "blasting" or "indictment" of Islam but rather a profound reflection on the need for the West to return to religious faith.

Benedict's main point — and few have noted this — is that the West, unless it recovers a vision of God, cannot engage in a fruitful dialogue with the other great cultures of the world, which have a basic religious conviction about reality. Among these great cultures, of course, is Islam. His entire talk is focused on this point.

He attempts to persuade his academic audience that giving theology a voice in the modern Western university would be of immense benefit to Western society, because it would lead to a rational dialogue on the central meaning of human existence; namely, an investigation of the nature of God. Such an inquiry, he says, would counter Europe's destructive denial of its own origins.

Yes, Benedict did cite a few explosive words from a medieval Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus (Emperor of Byzantium from 1391 to 1425). And the world's media focused on those few words, highlighted them and interpreted them as an attack on Mohammed and Islam, and in so doing inflamed Muslim emotions worldwide.

But are these words — in context — an attack on Islam and Islam's prophet, Mohammed?

No. No, Benedict did not attack Islam, or Mohammed. This is a misunderstanding of what he said, and this is precisely what the pope said on Sunday that he regretted: that he had been misunderstood.

Let us consider very carefully what Benedict does with regard to Islam in this speech. First, he focuses on one very specific point in the Emperor's long dialogue with the Persian, the issue of jihad, or holy war. He writes: In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that surah 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.

Now, the first striking thing we note here is that Benedict is citing the Koran. Rarely in the history of the papacy (if ever — I am not aware of other cases) has a pope of Rome cited the Koran in a public address, and in a positive way. I say "in a positive way" for Benedict here, like the Emperor himself, evidently agrees with the verse of the Koran which says "There is no compulsion in religion."

The second striking thing we note is that Benedict characterizes this passage of the Koran as "one of the surahs of the early period," a period "when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat." What is Benedict doing? He is setting up his argument that this passage has more authority for Islam (because it is earlier) than the later passages which seem to contradict it, and call for compulsion in religion. In an oblique way, he is inviting Muslim theologians to undertake a type of textual criticism of their own sacred scripture, the Koran, to uncover its deepest meaning.

That this is what Benedict is doing is proven by the next phrase: "But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war."

Benedict uses two words to characterize the Koranic passages on holy war: he terms them "instructions" and he says they were "developed later." It seems to me that he is suggesting that these passages on "Jihad," because "developed later," could possibly be — he does not say this, but, in a very unpolemical way, I think, suggests it — of less binding force than the "earlier" surah which quite clearly says "There is no compulsion in religion."

Then he writes: "The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature."

At this point in his talk, Benedict has barely begun. He has 90% of his 30-minute talk to go. And during the entire remaining 90% of his talk — the vast majority of the talk — he doesn't talk about Islam or jihad at all, but only about how man can come to know God's nature. This is the main thrust of his talk, because Benedict is arguing that only by seeking to know God's nature better and more completely can mankind come to walk in the ways God wills.

But this final 90% of the talk becomes, not an indictment of Islamic jihad, as so many seem to think, both in the Islamic community and in the secularized West, but an indictment of the West itself, for eliminating the transcendent, the holy, the divine, from modern consciousness. Benedict's talk is first and foremost a call to the West to convert, to return to its own deepest religious identity.

Then, in addition to being a call to the secularized West to return to faith, it is also a call to both Jews and Moslems to come to recognize a Christ whom Benedict presents as the culminating "Logos" (the "meaning" or "reason"), not only of the ancient world, but of all history.

So in his Regensburg talk, Benedict is actually preaching to all mankind — first to the secularized Western elites, then to both Jews and Muslims — saying that what is needed today to overcome the threats facing humanity, to overcome the threat of a "clash of civilizations," is a conversion to Christ as the "Logos," the "Reason" ("the Word") of God.

It is true: preaching Christ is, in and of itself, offensive to everyone today, to secular humanists, to Muslims, to Jews — even to some Vatican monsignors. But that is what the pope was doing at Regensburg.

The pope said, toward the end of his Regensburg speech:

While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.

With regard to Islam, he was appealing (in a oblique way, since the talk was not addressed directly to Muslims at all) for reflection on those teachings of Islam which seem to be not in keeping with an understanding of God as loving, reasonable, and good.

He was appealing to the "better angels" of those in the Muslim world who take their faith very seriously, asking them whether they did not think that resorting to violence was opposed to their own deepest understanding of God.

It is a call by the successor of Peter to the whole world to consider and, if it might be possible, to accept what he proposes: a profound understanding of the "Christo-centric" ("Logos-centric") nature of all reality, which is ultimately, in terms of human affairs, summed up in a few words: love one another; be at peace with one another; renounce vengeance; lay down one's life for one's brother; be peacemakers.

Some, like Professor Khoury, have suggested that Benedict could have "contextualized" Manuel's charge that Mohammed brought the world only coercion and evil in his new religion.

Perhaps if Benedict had thought a bit longer he would have been very careful to distinguish between Manuel's words and his own views. But then again, perhaps this raging controversy is precisely what is needed to bring all of us — Jews and Gentile, Muslim and Christian, atheist and believer — to a deeper reflection on the nature of our faiths. For it is far better that we debate these matters with words, than with weapons, and all the sorrow that comes with them.

Dr. Robert Moynihan is the founder and editor of Inside the Vatican magazine, a monthly journal on Church and world affairs from Rome. He is regarded as one the world's leading Vatican analysts and has interviewed Pope Benedict XVI over 25 times. A world-renowned commentator on Catholic issues, Dr. Moynihan has appeared on Fox News, CNN, ABC, EWTN and other media to discuss the legacy of Pope John Paul II, Vatican affairs and what to expect from Benedict XVI.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

BY MY COUNT - A Reassuring Bit of Information

In Lebanon, where nearly 40% of the population is Christian and where religious differences have long cleaved the country, there have been no calls for demonstrations and no violence associated with the pope's comments.

NOTE to extremist of any ilk - There is a lesson to be learned here

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Analysis: Pope's remarks are consistent
By VICTOR L. SIMPSON, Associated Press Writer

Pope Benedict XVI's remarks on Islam and holy war that have angered much of the Muslim world are in line with his efforts to spare religion from violence and extremism.

During his 17-month papacy, Benedict has lectured Muslims on the need to teach their young to shun violence, suggested that violent as well as peaceful strains are part of Islam and pressed for religious freedom — part of efforts to extend rights to Christians in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East.

While Benedict's comments on Islam and holy war may not have been "politically correct," said former Vatican diplomat John-Peter Pham, "today much of our dialogue is fruitless because we feel constrained from saying what we really think."

The source of the Islamic anger was a speech last week in which the pontiff cited a Medieval text that characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

While the pope later said he was "deeply sorry" over the reactions to his remarks and that they did not reflect his own opinions, top churchmen rushed to his defense.

"The violent reactions in many parts of the Islamic world justified one of Pope Benedict's main fears," said Australian Cardinal George Pell.

"They showed the link for many Islamists between religion and violence, their refusal to respond to criticism with rational arguments, but only with demonstrations, threats and actual violence," Pell said Monday.

In the Vatican's first response to the Muslim criticism, papal spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said it was clear that Benedict sought to "cultivate an attitude of respect toward other religions and cultures, including of course Islam."

But he also said it was important to the pope that there be a "clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation of violence."

Some Vatican analysts say Benedict is taking a harder line toward Islam then his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, whose efforts for closer relations included a visit to a mosque in Syria — the first by a pope to a Muslim house of worship.

They point to Benedict's decision in March to merge the Vatican's office for dialogue with Muslims with its culture office, and to send the English prelate who headed it, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, — considered a top Islamic expert — to Egypt as papal envoy.
Commenting on the move, the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit authority on the Vatican, called Fitzgerald, "the smartest guy in the Vatican on relations with Muslims. You don't exile someone like that, you listen to them."

"If the Vatican says something dumb about Muslims, people will die in parts of Africa and churches will be burned in Indonesia, let alone what happens in the Middle East," Reese said in April.

Benedict, aides said, wrote the speech himself that he delivered last week to an audience of professors at the University of Regensburg, where he previously taught theology.

It is not known whether any aide was alarmed at the possibility for trouble, although journalists who received advance copies of the text asked the Vatican spokesman for explanations hours before Benedict delivered the address. When reading the lines about Islam, Benedict did add "I quote" twice.

It is not unusual for popes to make last-minute changes or to drop material for reasons that are often never explained.

For example, when Benedict visited the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland in May, then spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters that the word "Shoah" — Hebrew for the Holocaust — would appear in the final version the pope delivered. Its omission would certainly have generated protests.
Rome bureau chief Victor Simpson has covered the Vatican for more than 25 years.

Monday, September 18, 2006


On Saturday, Palestinian Muslims threw firebombs and sprayed bullets at five churches in the West Bank and Gaza.

Sunday they torched a 170-year-old Greek Orthodox church in the West Bank town of Tulkarem and partly burned a smaller church in the village of Tubas.

In Somalia, gunmen shot an Italian nun to death outside a children's hospital in the capital.

In Sydney, Australia several churches, none of them Catholic, have been violated and an effigy of the Pope burnt

There were no arrests during Sunday's demonstration outside Westminster Cathedral, but police have received about 25 complaints of reported remarks calling for the Roman Catholic leader to face capital punishment for insulting Islam

Al Qaeda militants in Iraq vowed war on "worshippers of the cross" and protesters burned a papal effigy on Monday overPope Benedict's comments on Islam, while Western churchmen and statesmen tried to calm passions.
I can't get the "What he said" business off my mind. So much anger over words not read in their full context. If we are all judged on individual words and comments, what will happen to free speech? How hard is it to hear clearly and completely?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I'm finding this "What Benedict Said" fracas very painful. If I feel like this, I can't even begin to imagine what the Pope is feeling.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

An Iraqi insurgent group threatened the Vatican with a suicide attack over the pope’s remarks on Islam, according to a statement posted Saturday on the Web.

“We swear to God to send you people who adore death as much as you adore life,” said the message posted in the name of the Mujahedeen Army on a Web site frequently used by militant groups. The message’s authenticity could not be independently verified. The statement was addressed to “you dog of Rome” and threatens to “shake your thrones and break your crosses in your home.”
The lecture that has elicited so much negativity
from the Muslim world

Aula Magna of the University of RegensburgTuesday, 12 September 2006

Faith, Reason and the UniversityMemories and Reflections

Your Eminences, Your Magnificences, Your Excellencies,Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a moving experience for me to be back again in the university and to be able once again to give a lecture at this podium. I think back to those years when, after a pleasant period at the Freisinger Hochschule, I began teaching at the University of Bonn. That was in 1959, in the days of the old university made up of ordinary professors. The various chairs had neither assistants nor secretaries, but in recompense there was much direct contact with students and in particular among the professors themselves. We would meet before and after lessons in the rooms of the teaching staff. There was a lively exchange with historians, philosophers, philologists and, naturally, between the two theological faculties. Once a semester there was a dies academicus, when professors from every faculty appeared before the students of the entire university, making possible a genuine experience of universitas - something that you too, Magnificent Rector, just mentioned - the experience, in other words, of the fact that despite our specializations which at times make it difficult to communicate with each other, we made up a whole, working in everything on the basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason - this reality became a lived experience. The university was also very proud of its two theological faculties. It was clear that, by inquiring about the reasonableness of faith, they too carried out a work which is necessarily part of the "whole" of the universitas scientiarum, even if not everyone could share the faith which theologians seek to correlate with reason as a whole. This profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: it had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God. That even in the face of such radical scepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: this, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question.

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) 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 presumably 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 those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between - as they were called - three "Laws" or "rules of life": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point - itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole - 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 (*4V8,>4H - 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 the experts, this 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 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 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 (F×<>

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 practise idolatry.

At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the 8`(@H". This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts, F×<>

In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God's voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God's freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazn and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God's transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions. As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which - as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated - unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language. God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love, as Saint Paul says, "transcends" knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is Logos. Consequently, Christian worship is, again to quote Paul - "8@(46¬ 8"JD,\"", worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1).

This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history - it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.

The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a dehellenization of Christianity - a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age. Viewed more closely, three stages can be observed in the programme of dehellenization: although interconnected, they are clearly distinct from one another in their motivations and objectives.

Dehellenization first emerges in connection with the postulates of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system. The principle of sola scriptura, on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself. When Kant stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this programme forward with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen. He thus anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.

The liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ushered in a second stage in the process of dehellenization, with Adolf von Harnack as its outstanding representative. When I was a student, and in the early years of my teaching, this programme was highly influential in Catholic theology too. It took as its point of departure Pascal's distinction between the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In my inaugural lecture at Bonn in 1959, I tried to address the issue, and I do not intend to repeat here what I said on that occasion, but I would like to describe at least briefly what was new about this second stage of dehellenization. Harnack's central idea was to return simply to the man Jesus and to his simple message, underneath the accretions of theology and indeed of hellenization: this simple message was seen as the culmination of the religious development of humanity. Jesus was said to have put an end to worship in favour of morality. In the end he was presented as the father of a humanitarian moral message. Fundamentally, Harnack's goal was to bring Christianity back into harmony with modern reason, liberating it, that is to say, from seemingly philosophical and theological elements, such as faith in Christ's divinity and the triune God. In this sense, historical-critical exegesis of the New Testament, as he saw it, restored to theology its place within the university: theology, for Harnack, is something essentially historical and therefore strictly scientific. What it is able to say critically about Jesus is, so to speak, an expression of practical reason and consequently it can take its rightful place within the university. Behind this thinking lies the modern self-limitation of reason, classically expressed in Kant's "Critiques", but in the meantime further radicalized by the impact of the natural sciences. This modern concept of reason is based, to put it briefly, on a synthesis between Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism, a synthesis confirmed by the success of technology. On the one hand it presupposes the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently: this basic premise is, so to speak, the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature. On the other hand, there is nature's capacity to be exploited for our purposes, and here only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield ultimate certainty. The weight between the two poles can, depending on the circumstances, shift from one side to the other. As strongly positivistic a thinker as J. Monod has declared himself a convinced Platonist/Cartesian.

This gives rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised. First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity. A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned.

I will return to this problem later. In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology's claim to be "scientific" would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: if science as a whole is this and this alone, then it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science", so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective. The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective "conscience" becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.

Before I draw the conclusions to which all this has been leading, I must briefly refer to the third stage of dehellenization, which is now in progress. In the light of our experience with cultural pluralism, it is often said nowadays that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was a preliminary inculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures. The latter are said to have the right to return to the simple message of the New Testament prior to that inculturation, in order to inculturate it anew in their own particular milieux. This thesis is not only false; it is coarse and lacking in precision. The New Testament was written in Greek and bears the imprint of the Greek spirit, which had already come to maturity as the Old Testament developed. True, there are elements in the evolution of the early Church which do not have to be integrated into all cultures. Nonetheless, the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.

And so I come to my conclusion. This attempt, painted with broad strokes, at a critique of modern reason from within has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age. The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly: we are all grateful for the marvellous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and for the progress in humanity that has been granted to us. The scientific ethos, moreover, is - as you yourself mentioned, Magnificent Rector - the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which belongs to the essential decisions of the Christian spirit. The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures. At the same time, as I have attempted to show, modern scientific reason with its intrinsically Platonic element bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology. Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought - to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding. Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: "It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being - but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss". The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur - this is the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. "Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God", said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.

The Holy Father intends to supply a subsequent version of this text, complete with footnotes. The present text must therefore be considered provisional.

© Copyright 2006 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Friday, September 15, 2006

Experts say pope's 'jihad' remarks signal greater push into Islam's internal struggles
Updated 9/15/2006 By Brian Murphy, Associated Press

Pope Benedict XVI's comments on religious radicalism are another sign of his intention to bring his voice into one of the world's most critical showdowns: Islam's internal struggles between moderates and extremists. The remarks — tucked into an address at a German university where he formerly taught theology — were interpreted by many experts in interfaith relations as a signal that the Vatican is staking a new and more demanding stance for its dealings with the Muslim world.

Benedict, they say, appears to increasingly view the West's confrontation with radical Islam as a fateful moment in history that demands the Vatican's moral authority — just as his predecessor, John Paul II, reshaped the dimensions of the papacy by openly taking sides in the Cold War.
The risk for the Vatican is whether it will be perceived in the Muslim world as part of a broader Western cultural and political campaign against Islam.

"We have seen a hard line from this pope," said Ali El-Samman, president of the interfaith committee for Egypt's High Islamic Council. "It's a disappointment for many Muslims. But just because we are disappointed in a pope doesn't mean we are against all Christians."
The Vatican said Benedict did not intend the remarks to be offensive and sought to draw attention to the incompatibility of faith and violence.

The pope quoted from a book recounting a conversation between 14th-century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and a Persian scholar on the truths of Christianity and Islam.

"The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war," the pope said. "He said, I quote, 'Show me just what Muhammad 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.'"
Benedict, who is supposed to visit Turkey this fall in his first trip to a Muslim nation, did not explicitly agree with the words nor did he repudiate them.

In the backlash, some of the more subtle — yet potentially far-reaching — references have been overshadowed.

The speech suggested deep dismay over the current conditions of Christians in the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world, said John Voll, director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington.

"This reflects the intention of Pope Benedict to distinguish himself from his predecessor on his approach to interfaith dialogue," said Voll. "And by this, it means more reciprocity."
Voll said the pope may increasingly instruct Vatican envoys to stress issues of forced conversions of Christians and limits on Christian rights and worship.

"It's the next step after John Paul began opening doors" with historic pilgrimages to Muslim nations, including a visit to a Syrian mosque in 2001, Voll said.

As John Paul's chief watchdog on Roman Catholic doctrine, Benedict — then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — had little role in shaping the Vatican's contact with Islam and other faiths.
Some experts say Benedit's theological scholarship gives him an affinity for Orthodox churches and Judaism because of many shared traditions and holy texts, but leaves him less equipped to deal with Islam at a time when suspicions dominate relations between the West and Muslim world.

The speech, some say, shows the pontiff intends to carry on with his strong defense of the values of the Christian West rather than compromise for the sake of building bonds with Islam.
"They went to the speech expecting to meet Pope Benedict, but instead they met Professor Ratzinger," said the Rev. Khalil Samir, a Vatican envoy for interfaith links in Lebanon.
In July 2005, about two months after assuming the papacy, Benedict was asked if he considered Islam a religion of peace. He said: "Certainly there are elements that favor peace. It also has other elements."

The Rev. Robert Taft, a specialist in Islamic affairs at Rome's Pontifical Oriental Institute, said it was unlikely the pope miscalculated how some Muslims would receive his speech.
"The message he is sending is very, very clear," Taft said. "Violence in the name of faith is never acceptable in any religion and that (the pope) considers it his duty to challenge Islam and anyone else on this."
I suppose it was inevitable that Holy Father would get this sort of reaction. I was really hoping the muslim world leaders would pay better attention. Unfortunately, humankind continues to hear things through a filter and their world is just as guilt as ours.

Muslims Condemn Pope’s Remarks on Islam
Published: September 15, 2006

ROME, Sept. 14 — As Pope Benedict XVI arrived back home from Germany, Muslim leaders on Thursday strongly criticized a speech he had given using unflattering language about Islam.
Some of the strongest words came from Turkey, possibly putting in jeopardy Benedict’s plan to visit there in November.

“I do not think any good will come from the visit to the Muslim world of a person who has such ideas about Islam’s prophet,” Ali Bardakoglu, a cleric and chief of the Turkish government’s directorate of religious affairs, said in a television interview there. “He should first of all replace the grudge in his heart with moral values and respect for the other.”

Muslim leaders in Pakistan, Morocco and Kuwait, in addition to some in Germany and France, were also critical, with many demanding an apology or clarification. The extent of anger about the speech may become clearer on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, in which grievances are often vented publicly.

As the criticisms gathered force, the Vatican worked quickly to snuff out a potentially damaging confrontation with Muslims. It issued a statement saying the Roman Catholic Church sought to “cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward other religions and cultures, and obviously also toward Islam.”

The statement, from the pope’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said, “It should be said that what is important to the pope is a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation of violence.”
He added, “It was certainly not the intention of the Holy Father to do an in-depth study of jihad and Muslim thinking in this field and still less so to hurt the feelings of Muslim believers.”
The remarks came on Tuesday, when Benedict delivered a major address — which some church experts say was a defining speech of his pontificate — saying the West, and specifically Europe, had become so beholden to reason that it had closed God out of public life, science and academia.
But he began that speech, at Regensburg University, with what he conceded were “brusque” words about Islam: He quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor as saying, “Show me just what Muhammad 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 pope also used the word jihad, or holy war, saying violence was contrary to God’s nature and to reason.

But, at the end of a speech that did not otherwise mention Islam, he also said that reason could be the basis for “that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.”
Father Lombardi said Tuesday that the pope did not intend to insult Islam. But many experts on Islam warned that Benedict ran the risk of offense in using such strong language, especially with tensions between religions so high.

On Thursday, the criticism began flowing the way of the 79-year-old Benedict, who has taken a more skeptical, hard-nosed approach to Islam than did his predecessor, John Paul II, who died in April 2005.

“I don’t think the church should point a finger at extremist activities in other religions,” Aiman Mazyek, president of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, was quoted as saying in the newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Thursday, pointedly recalling the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the Vatican’s relations with Nazi Germany.

The French Council for the Muslim Religion demanded that Benedict clarify his remarks. “We hope that the church will very quickly give us its opinion and clarify its position so that it does not confuse Islam, which is a revealed religion, with Islamism, which is not a religion but a political ideology,” Dalil Boubakeur, the council’s president, told Agence France-Press.
In Kuwait, the leader of the Islamic Nation Party, Haken al-Mutairi, demanded an apology for what he called “unaccustomed and unprecedented” remarks.

“I call on all Arab and Islamic states to recall their ambassadors from the Vatican,’’ Mr. Mutairi told A.F.P., until the pope “says he is sorry for the wrong done to the prophet and to Islam, which preaches peace, tolerance, justice and equality.”

In Pakistan, Muslim leaders and scholars said Benedict’s words widened the gap between Islam and Christianity, and risked what one official called greater “disharmony.”

“The pope’s statement is highly irresponsible,” said Javed Ahmed Ghamdi, another ranking Muslim, and an Islamic scholar, in Pakistan. “The concept of jihad is not to spread Islam with the sword.”

The criticism from Mr. Bardakoglu, the Islamic leader in Turkey, was especially strong, and carried with it the prospect of particular embarrassment if Benedict were forced to cancel or delay his visit to Turkey. Many Turks are already critical of Benedict, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2004 opposed Turkey’s entry to the European Union.

In Morocco, the newspaper Aujourd’hui le Maroc questioned whether Benedict’s call for dialogue between religions was made in good faith. “Pope Benedict XVI has a strange approach to the dialogue between religions,” an editorial said. “He is being provocative.”
The paper also drew a comparison between the pope’s remarks and the outcry in the Muslim world over unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published around Europe beginning last year. “The global outcry over the calamitous cartoons has only just died down and now the pontiff, in all his holiness, is launching an attack against Islam,” the newspaper wrote.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Jihad is contrary to God's plan, pope says By Ian Fisher The New York Times

Pope Benedict XVI weighed in Tuesday on the delicate issue of rapport between Islam and the West: He said that violence, embodied in the Muslim idea of jihad, or holy war, is contrary to reason and God's plan, while the West was so beholden to reason that Islam could not understand it.

Nonetheless, in a complex treatise delivered at the university here where he once taught, he suggested reason as a common ground for a "genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today."

In all, the speech seemed to reflect the Vatican's struggle over how to confront Islam and terrorism, as the 79-year-old pope pursues what is often considered a more provocative, hard-nosed and skeptical approach to Islam than his predecessor, John Paul II.

As such, it distilled many of Benedict's longstanding concerns, about the crisis of faith among Christians and about Islam and its relationship to violence.

And he used language open to interpretations that could inflame Muslims, at a time of high tension among religions and three months before he makes a trip to Turkey.

He began his speech, which ran over half an hour, by quoting a 14th-century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, in a conversation with a "learned Persian" on Christianity and Islam - "and the truth of both."

"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread the sword by the faith he preached," the pope quoted the emperor, in a speech to 1,500 students and faculty.

He went on to say that violent conversion to Islam was contrary to reason and thus "contrary to God's nature."

But the section on Islam made up just three paragraphs of the speech, and he devoted the rest to a long examination of how Western science and philosophy had divorced themselves from faith - leading to the secularization of European society that is at the heart of Benedict's worries.
This, he said, has closed off the West from a full understanding of reality, making it also impossible to talk with cultures for whom faith is fundamental.

"The world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion from the divine, from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions," he said. "A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures."

Several experts on the Catholic Church and Islam agreed that the speech - in which Benedict made clear he was quoting other sources on Islam - did not appear to be a major statement on, or condemnation of, Islam. The chief concern, they said, was the West's exclusion of religion from the realm of reason.

Still, they said that the strong words he used in describing Islam, even that of the 14th century, ran the risk of offense.

Renzo Guolo, a professor of the sociology of religion at the University of Padua, who often writes about the church and Islam, said he was struck by the suggestion of Islam as distant from reason.
"This is maybe the strongest criticism because he doesn't speak of fundamentalist Islam but of Islam generally," he said, "Not all Islam, thank God, is fundamentalist."

The Rev. Daniel A. Madigan, rector of the Institute for the Study of Religions and Cultures at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, said the central point was that "if we are really going into a serious dialogue with Muslims we need to take faith seriously."

But, he said of the quote from the emperor, "You clearly take a risk using an example like that."
Marco Politi, the Vatican expert for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, said that "the text reveals his deep mistrust regarding the aggressive side of Islam."

"Certainly he closes the door to an idea which was very dear to John Paul II - the idea that Christians, Jews and Muslims have the same God and have to pray together to the same God," he said.

The speech was a central moment in Benedict's six-day trip home to visit Bavaria, where he grew up, became a priest, a prominent theologian and, finally, a cardinal. Earlier in the day, at an outdoor Mass here attended by some 250,000 people, he expressed similar concerns as in the speech, urging believers to stand up against the "hatred and fanaticism" that he said were tarnishing the image of God.

Again, this critique seemed aimed as much at secular Western society as at any other threat.
"Today, when we have learned to recognize the pathologies and life-threatening diseases associated with religion and reason, and the ways that God's image can be destroyed by hatred and fanaticism, it is important to state clearly the God in whom we believe," the pope said.
"Only this can free us from being afraid of God - which is ultimately at the root of modern atheism," he said. "Only this God saves us from being afraid of the world and from anxiety before the emptiness of life."

The speech at the university was the only significant secular event in a schedule packed with Masses, evening prayers and other religious occasions aimed at Catholics in Germany, where regular Mass attendance has plummeted to under 15 percent.

That low number is connected directly to many of Benedict's long-expressed concerns about Islam. He often urges people not to forget the Christian roots of a Europe waith fewer practicing Christians and more Muslim immigrants, over four million here in Germany alone.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the chief Vatican spokesman, said that Benedict's comments were not meant as any statement on Islam, but only as a small example, at the beginning of four tightly packed pages of text, of his argument of the dangers of the separation of reason and religion.

"I believe that everyone understands, even inside Islam, there are many different positions, and there are many positions that aren't violent," Father Lombardi said. "Here, certainly, the pope doesn't want to give a lesson, let's say, an interpretation of Islam, as violent.

"He is saying, in the case of a violent interpretation of religion, we are in a contradiction with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," he said.

In the weeks after John Paul's death in April 2005, Islam and how to confront terrorism seemed key issues in the selection of a new pope. As a candidate, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who took the name Benedict after his election, embodied the more skeptical school inside the Vatican.
Unlike John Paul, Cardinal Ratzinger did not approve of joint prayers with Muslims and was skeptical of the value of interreligious dialogue, with a faith of many shadings and few representative leaders to speak with.

In 2004, he caused a stir by opposing membership in the European Union for Turkey, saying that it "always represented another continent throughout history, in permanent contrast with Europe." He has not repeated this opinion since he became pope, and he is scheduled to visit there in November.

Once he became pope, Benedict's new approach was apparent quickly: in his first trip outside Italy, he met with Muslim leaders in Cologne, Germany, and politely but clearly told them they had the responsibility to teach their children against terrorism, which he called "the darkness of a new barbarism." He said Catholics and Muslims had the obligation to meet and to overcome differences.

At the end of that summer, he devoted an annual weekend of study with former graduate students to Islam. In that meeting, and since, he has reportedly expressed skepticism about Islam's openness to change, given its view of the Koran as the unchangeable word of God.
As such, and despite Benedict's call for dialogue in the speech on Tuesday, several experts said they did not expect much real progress under Benedict in bridging the gap between Christians and Muslims.

"I expect that he will not push us very far in the way of dialogue," said Guolo, the Padua professor. "He has too many doubts."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

National Catholic Reporter, September 8, 2006

Benedict's evolving thought on evolution

Presumably, Pope Benedict XVI asked his Schülerkreis, the circle of his former doctoral students, to discuss “Creation and Evolution” during the group’s annual meeting this month at Castel Gandolfo, Italy, because he wants to consult theologians, philosophers and natural scientists before addressing the subject -- if, indeed, he feels the need to say anything, a point which remains to be seen.

The fact the pope wants to hear from others, however, by no means implies that he lacks ideas of his own. Over the years, Joseph Ratzinger has wrestled with the theory of evolution in books, articles, lectures and interviews, including a 1990 book-length commentary on the Genesis creation stories.

Whether that past will be prologue to anything Benedict does as pope is still unclear, but these sources, examined at length by NCR in recent weeks, at least provide a picture of his approach.

What do they reveal?

First, Benedict XVI is not a “creationist.” He does not advocate a strictly literal reading of Genesis, nor has he ever made reference to teaching “creation science” in schools. A member of the prestigious secular French Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques (inducted in 1993 along with then-Czech President Vaclav Havel as one of only 12 foreign nationals), Pope Benedict has no desire to launch a crusade against modern science.

Nor is Benedict XVI really an advocate of “intelligent design” in the American sense, since intelligent design theorists typically assert that data from biology and other empirical sciences, by itself, requires the hypothesis of a designer. Benedict may have some sympathy for this view; he has questioned the evidence for “macro-evolution,” meaning the transition from one species to another on the basis of random mutation and natural selection.

Ultimately, however, he sees this as a debate for scientists to resolve.

His concern cuts deeper, to what he sees as the tendency to convert evolution into “a universal theory concerning all reality,” improperly transposing Darwin from the scientific to the philosophical realm. Such a worldview, Benedict believes, excludes God, and therefore excludes rationality, as the basis of existence. In contrast, the pope insists upon the fundamental conviction of Christian faith: “ In principio erat Verbum -- at the beginning of all things stands the creative power of reason.”

Benedict acknowledges that this question “can no longer be decided by arguments from natural science.”

Beyond these essentials, one can outline the pope’s thinking in terms of four concepts.

Whatever the findings of the natural sciences, they will not contradict Christian faith, since ultimately the truth is one.

This confidence is expressed in Ratzinger’s 1990 book, In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall.

“What response shall we make to this view [evolution]?” he asked. “It is the affair of the natural sciences to explain how the tree of life in particular continues to grow, and how new branches shoot out from it. This is not a matter for faith. … More reflective spirits have long been aware that there is no either-or here. We cannot say: ‘creation or evolution,’ inasmuch as these two things respond to two different realities. … The theory of evolution seeks to understand and describe biological developments. But in so doing it cannot explain where the ‘project’ of human persons comes from, nor their inner origin, nor their particular nature. To that extent we are faced here with two complementary -- rather than mutually exclusive -- realities.”

n As a scientific matter, the evidence for “micro-evolution” seems beyond doubt; the case for “macro-evolution” is less persuasive.

“Micro-evolution” refers to developmental changes within a species, while “macro-evolution” is the transition from one species to another on the basis of mutation and selection. Some critics of evolution concede the former but dispute the latter, and Ratzinger has voiced support for this view.

His comments come in a Nov. 27, 1999, lecture delivered at the Sorbonne titled “The Truth of Christianity,” published in his 2003 book Truth and Tolerance.

“No one will be able to cast serious doubt upon the scientific evidence for micro-evolutionary processes,” he wrote. “R. Junker and S. Scherer, in their ‘critical reader’ on evolution, have this to say: ‘Many examples of such developmental steps [micro-evolutionary processes] are known to us from natural processes of variation and development. The research done on them by evolutionary biologists produced significant knowledge of the adaptive capacity of living systems, which seems marvelous.’ … The problem emerges at the point of transition from micro- to macro-evolution, on which point Szathmáry and Maynard Smith, both convinced supporters of an all-embracing theory of evolution, nonetheless declare that: ‘There is no theoretical basis for believing that evolutionary lines become more complex with time; and there is also no empirical evidence that this happens.’ ”

(Ratzinger here refers to the argument, often made by intelligent design theorists, that organic life reveals an “irreducible complexity” that cannot be ascribed to mechanisms of chance.)

The distinction between “micro-” and “macro-evolution” is apparently one Ratzinger began to make in the 1980s, after hearing a series of lectures at the Gustav Siewarth Academy, a small Catholic academy in Germany’s Black Forest. Dominique Tassot, head of a group of European Catholic intellectuals critical of evolutionary theory, told NCR that German Catholic intellectual Alma von Stockhausen has related that Ratzinger concluded macro-evolution is “impossible” based on this experience. Von Stockhausen is the founder of the Gustav Siewarth Academy and a long-time Ratzinger associate.

Whatever his personal views, however, Benedict XVI seems unlikely to render an official judgment on what he sees as a scientific question. In a 1992 Vatican news conference presenting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he said that it is not the function of the church to pass judgment on the scientific merits of evolutionary theory.

Evolution has become a kind of “first philosophy” for enlightened thinkers, ruling out the possibility that life has any ultimate meaning. Here Christianity must draw the line.

Benedict’s deepest concern is that Darwinism has promoted scientific positivism, holding that only empirical science can produce certainty, and hence that religion, if it survives at all, can only do so as a subjective, emotional consolation against the cold indifference of the universe. In response, Benedict argues that Christianity relies on truths deeper than empirical observation, chief among them that life has purpose. In this sense, he believes in “intelligent design” -- not necessarily as the product of scientific observation, but as a metaphysical principle.

In the Beginning, Ratzinger writes: “We must have the audacity to say that the great projects of the living creation are not the products of chance and error. … The great projects of the living creation point to a creating Reason and show us a creating Intelligence, and they do so more luminously and radiantly today than ever before. … Human beings are not a mistake but something willed; they are the fruit of love. They can disclose in themselves, in the bold project that they are, the language of the creating Intelligence that speaks to them and that moves them to say: Yes, Father, you have willed me.”

On the moral level, evolution as a “first philosophy” is dangerous.

Benedict draws this argument out in Truth and Tolerance: “An evolutionary ethic that inevitably takes as its key concept the model of selectivity, that is, the struggle for survival, the victory of the fittest, successful adaptation, has little comfort to offer. Even when people try to make it more attractive in various ways, it ultimately remains a bloodthirsty ethic. … All this is of very little use for an ethic of universal peace, of practical love of one’s neighbor, and of the necessary overcoming of oneself, which is what we need.”

To put all this into a formula, the pope doesn’t want to repeat the Galileo case, but neither does he want to surrender to Auguste Comte -- who in the 19th century predicted a “physics of man” that would render religion obsolete.

With respect to Pope John Paul II’s famous 1996 statement that evolution is “more than a hypothesis,” therefore, it’s meaningless to ask whether Benedict XVI agrees or disagrees. Ever the professor, he would insist upon clarifying what precisely is meant by “evolution,” whether it’s being evaluated on a scientific or philosophical basis, and so on.

What seems clear, however, is that Benedict fears such nihil obtstats for evolution may inadvertently have accelerated the diffusion of a worldview that holds that it’s pointless to ask questions that can’t be settled by laboratory experiments, and that chance and meaninglessness are the ultimate laws of the universe. In that sense, one suspects Benedict would affirm that evolution is indeed “more than a hypothesis” -- for better, and for worse.

Perhaps the best optic on what Benedict is after in the discussion on evolution comes in this comment from Truth and Tolerance:

“This dispute has to be approached objectively and with a willingness to listen, by both sides -- something that has hitherto been undertaken only to a limited extent.”

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR senior correspondent. His e-mail address is
On the Web
John L. Allen Jr. digs deeper into the writings of the then-Joseph Ratzinger to determine what Pope Benedict XVI might ultimately say about evolution. Go to Allen's column All Things Catholic at to read more about this subject.

National Catholic Reporter, September 8, 2006

Monday, September 04, 2006

Pope discusses creation and evolution

Posted on September 03, 2006

AS Benedict XVI begins a three-day symposium with his former students on creation and evolution, a philosophy professor in Rome says that the two theories are compatible.

The Pope's meeting is an annual one that the Holy Father has had with his doctoral candidates and former students for some 25 years, addressing various topics. This is the second one held at Castel Gandolfo. Fr Rafael Pascual, dean of philosophy at the Regina Apostolorum university, said "creation and evolution integrate one another, and do not exclude each other." Fr Pascual, who is also the director of the masters on science and faith, is the author of "L' evoluzione: Crocevia di Scienza, Filosofia e Teologia" (The Crossroads Evolution of Science, Philosophy and Theology) published in Italian by Studium publishers.

The volume is a collection of the minutes of an international congress on the topic held in Rome in 2002. Fr Pascual said that "the debate on evolution is open. A distinction must be made between the different levels: scientific-philosophical-theological, without confusing them or separating them completely." In regard to the debate on intelligent design, Father Pascual pointed out that "it isn't a scientific question, but rather a philosophical one." "But neither is the negation of finality, or recourse to pure chance and to necessity, scientific," that is why "it seems to be a mistake to present intelligent design as an alternative scientific theory to the theory of evolution," he said.

Asked if the theory of evolution should be taught in schools, Fr Pascual replied "yes, but as scientific theory, with the arguments in favor but also recognising the limits and still unresolved problems, and not as an ideology, as a kind of absolute, definitive and indisputable dogma." He continued: "Whereas creationism and evolutionism are incompatible in themselves, this is not so of creation and evolution, which are, instead, on two different levels, and are compatible."

The dean of philosophy cited the book "Creation and Sin," written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, which states: "We cannot say: creation or evolution. The exact formula is creation and evolution, because both respond to two different questions. "The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God does not tell us how man originated. It tells us what he is. "It talks about his most profound origin, it illustrates the plan that is behind him. Vice versa, the theory of evolution attempts to specify and describe biological processes." It does not succeed in explaining, however, the origin of the 'project' man, his interior derivation and his essence.

Therefore, we are before two questions that integrate one another but do not exclude each other." Fr Pascual said that "we must distinguish between theory - or theories - of evolution and Darwinism, and then, within Darwinism itself, between the elements of a scientific character and those of a philosophical or ideological nature."

Pope and former students ponder evolution, not "ID"

By Tom Heneghan, Religion EditorSun Sep 3, 12:47 PM ET
From Reuter's News Service

Pope Benedict and his former doctoral students spent a weekend pondering evolution without discussing controversies over intelligent design and creationism raging in the United States, a participant said on Sunday.

The three-day closed-door meeting at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo outside Rome ended as planned without drawing any conclusions but the group plans to publish its discussion papers, said Father Joseph Fessio S.J.

Media speculation had said the debate might shift Vatican policy to embrace "intelligent design," which claims to prove scientifically that life could not have simply evolved, or even the "creationist" view that God created the world in six days.

"It wasn't that at all," Fessio, who is provost of Ave Maria University in Florida, told Reuters by telephone from Rome. The Pope's session with 39 former students was "a meeting of friends with some scholars to discuss an interesting theme."

"We did not really speak much about intelligent design," said Fessio, whose Ignatius Press publishes the Pope's books in English. "In fact, that particular controversy did not arise."
Creationism -- the view that God created the world in six days as described in the Bible -- was "almost off the radar screen of the people in this group," he added. The Catholic Church does not read the Genesis account of creation literally.

Fessio said Benedict took part in the discussions but said nothing different from previous public statements, in which he has recognized evolution as a scientific fact but argued that God ultimately created the world and all life in it.

As the Pope put it at his inaugural Mass after being elected in April 2005, "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God."

Benedict, who taught theology at four German universities before becoming archbishop of Munich and then the Vatican's top doctrinal official, has held these annual get-togethers since the late 1970s. The international group debates in German.

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has long been rejected in the United States by conservative Christians who want to have a Bible-based view of creation taught in public schools, where the church-state separation bars the teaching of religion.

More recently, Darwin's critics have campaigned to have "intelligent design" taught as a scientific alternative to evolution. President George W. Bush and other conservative politicians support this drive to "teach the controversy."

The "ID movement" does not name the designer as God, but its opponents say that is the logical conclusion and call this an unacceptable bid to sneak religion into the teaching of science.

Schools in some parts of the United States teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution but a Pennsylvania court banned it there last year, saying it was religion in disguise.

Catholic teaching accepts evolution as a scientific theory but disagrees with what it calls "evolutionism," the view that the story of life has no role for God as its prime author.

Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a close associate of the Pope, was one of four speakers who addressed the meeting. He raised eyebrows last year with a New York Times article that suggested the Catholic Church supported the "ID movement." Schoenborn and Benedict have said several times over the past year that intelligence in the form of God's will played a part in creation and that neo-Darwinists who deny God any role are drawing an ideological conclusion not proven by the theory.

They say they use philosophical reasoning to conclude that God created the world, not arguments which intelligent design supporters claim can be proven scientifically.